Puerto Vallarta Markets and Beaches

Old Town Puerto Vallarta is lucky enough to have two Saturday markets, one at the Paradise Community Centre and the other at Lazaro Cardenas Park, just off the Malecon. We decided to hit them both, since the day was cloudy and a bit too cold for the beach (says she whose home town is only 5 degrees …).

The Paradise Community Centre market was packed with throngs of people and lots of vendors sending vintage clothes, jewellery, kids’ items, art, books, and especially, wonderful food and baked goods.

I sampled an apple square and Ty gobbled down a huge cinnamon bun as we pondered the wares for sale. A local artisan was selling some beautifully-made bracelets and necklaces; we bought one of each.

A few blocks north of Paradise is the Lazaro Cardenas Market, also busy, and I bought three little foot decorations – like earrings for feet – which, hopefully, one of these days when my left foot has healed from whatever is ailing it and I can walk in sandles again, I can wear.

After browsing, feeling some drops of rain hitting the top of our heads, we ducked into the nearby book cafe and had the good fortune of meeting Jay, a fellow from Iowa sitting at the next table with a group of ex-pat friends.

After a delightful chat, and telling him that we were looking around for long-stay accommodation, he told us the story of meeting Lily, their house’s owner, and how he and his wife Ardis came to be staying in an apartment in Conchas Chinas, the next colonia south of Amapas. Jay was kind enough to invite us over to see the place, thinking it might be a possibility for us in the future. (Apropos of nothing … below is another majestic Queen Death figure, this one on the steps of the Hotel Catedral downtown. I love these figures, even thought their implications are sobering …)

Back wandering around the old town again, this time looking for a barbecued chicken, we walked past the vegetable stand which had had few fresh veggies before. This day it was full of great looking fruits and vegetables, obviously just having been replenished by its suppliers. The key is to figure out which day the new shipment of goodies comes in and shop for vegetables on that day. We also saw the closed hulk of a former supermarket, which Jay told us had closed down after people stopped buying there when their fresh produce deteriorated.

Sunday saw a return of the sun and a trip to the beach was in order. We plopped ourselves down on the sun loungers at the Swell Beach Bar and whiled away the afternoon sipping and munching.

Puerto Vallarta is full of pelicans roosting on the fishing boats; they are wonderful animals and I love to see them fishing and diving in the waters here. Coming screaming down out of the skies, they easily scoop up fish in their gigantic beaks.

The picture above shows Los Muertos Beach, “our beach” at the foot of the hills where we’re staying.

Although we are, as usual, on a fairly tight budget here, we want to spread a little of our cash around the place so I indulged in a reflexology foot massage by Rosalie, whose hands were incredibly strong and left my old feet feeling very relaxed.

 

Monday we visited Jay and Ardis, and met Lily, a lovely Mexican woman who rents out the three story hillside house they stay in. She has the ground floor suite, a couple from Edmonton stay on the middle floor, and Jay and Ardis have the top. Their space is incredible, huge, with two bedrooms, a full kitchen, and an enormous sunny roof-top deck with a view that lasts forever out over the Bay and the Marietas Islands.

While sitting and visiting on the deck, we could see, and hear, the many small green and yellow parrots flitting around in the treetops. Occasionally, when a gigantic frigate bird cruised by, they screeched and squawked up a storm – funny creatures. Many butterflies also fluttered about; one landed on my hand and stayed for quite a while, a very tiny, gentle presence.

Later, we hopped the orange bus to Mismaloya, the next settlement south of PV along the coast, made famous by the film Night of the Iguana, starring Liz and Dick, filmed there in the 60s. The beach there is accessed down a path that runs along the outside of a hotel compound and over a small wooden bridge across the creek.

Many small boats are docked here and pelicans roost on them hopefully. The bay is small, with a few beach bars, and was pretty quiet this day. The place felt a bit desperate and we wondered if the tourist trade here is much diminished because of the weakness of the North American economy. Likely, the tourists who visit Puerto Vallarta are not spending as much as in previous years. We hope that the ill effects of the economic downturn will not damage the economy of this city too much; it really is a beautiful place to be.

Today, back on the road again in Old Town, I headed back to Isla Cuale and the printmaking studio. Lo and behold, it was open and I had a chance to speak to the maestra, Ireri Topete.

She explained how the studio works and told me it would be possible to use the space, either by enrolling in classes or as a visiting artist. It’s a nice space with a good sized etching press and a small litho press not currently in use. Good to know for the future. This day there were about five students working on etchings in this space, and quite a few others in the painting and sculpture studios across the way. This will be a great place to work if we are successful in being able to come here for the winter in the future.

See more pictures here, here, and here.

Thoughts on Bees, Light, and Fog

Cultivate, up recently at the Roundhouse, was an exhibition of community-based art practices in Vancouver and featured the work of artists exploring ecological and environmental concerns. I was particularly taken with the work of Jasna Guy who presented an incredible, and enormous, silk tissue and beeswax printed “bee carpet”. The artist was interested in representing the “miracle of bees together, teeming thousands, living cooperatively and interdependently, raising their brood, foraging for nectar and pollen and creating unique products of honey and wax” (artist’s statement).

As most of us know by now, much to our distress and anger, bees are dying around the world in staggering numbers. Many scientists link these losses to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides; new studies have shown that neonicotinoids block the part of their brain bees use for learning, leaving them unable to make link between floral scents and nectar (Damian Carrington in The Guardian).  When all the bees die, so, too, will we … hand-pollinating crops can only take us so far. Guy visually makes this point in her bee carpet through the giant skull image that is the centrepiece of the work.

This work is really exquisite, both visually stunning and also appealing to the nose with its lingering scent of beeswax. Also visually stunning are the coloured lights that illuminate the Roundhouse Turntable Plaza at night, their shifting and changing hues giving the plaza a darkened rainbow affect.

Our fog-drenched few weeks in October made for some nice skies, below a view from our balcony above the fog bank out over the bridge.

“Sometimes fog makes me thirst for fields aflame with flowers” (David Marshall, Haiku Streak). Since I don’t have fields aflame with flowers, I will leave you instead with a painted tree.

See more pictures here. Read the Guardian article on bee death here.

Okanagan cycling and wine tasting – La Dolce Vita

All saddled up and ready to go wine tasting! Nothing like a beautiful weekend of bike wine tasting to put one in a good mood. Our home for the weekend in Oliver, the “Wine Capital of Canada”, was the Bel Air Cedar Motel and RV Campground, a sweet little facility on the highway just outside of town.

Barb, Christine, Ty, and I rolled along the 18 km riverside Hike and Bike on a hot, cloudless day – who needs Tuscany when you’ve got the Okanagan!

The trail is flat, with beautiful views of the rolling desert hills and river. Next to each of the pedestrian river crossings are signs warning of extreme drowning dangers due to submerged weirs. I wonder how many people have actually tried to swim in this area …

We started out fairly early, trying to avoid the mid 30s heat, but by 10:30 it was getting hot.

Someone had kindly left a couch riverside for anyone in need of a rest.

Periodically we had to stop in the shade to let poor Brubin cool down.

However, the best way to cool down is a dip in the river … which Ty proceeded to take, from a convenient rope swing, helmet and all.

He hit the water with such force that he lost the visor on his bike helmet … splash!

Ty at river Ty at river2

The views along the river were beautiful.

Our first wine tasting stop was the Church and State, a rather lavish outfit on the hillside; as it happened, this winery had received a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in BC Wines and the LG was on site with her tour bus entourage presenting the winery with the award for their Coyote Bowl Syrah 2010.

After stationing Brubin in the shade of the grape vines, we sampled four of their vintages.

Next up on the wine route was Silver Sage, a smaller family-run operation that specialises in fruit wines.

As you can see, Ty was excited about the possibilities …

The folks at the Silver Sage have their patter down pat, a very amusing running commentary on the wines and their characteristics. After tasting our crew did pick up a case load of it.

Silver Sage has a lovely rose garden out front and a beautiful view out over the countryside.

Further down the trail was the Oliver Twist Estate Winery; here Christine contemplates the Sauvignon Blanc.

We loaded some of our wine catch into the wine-mobile trailer.

Although I do love my bike, I was tempted to score a new ride at the Oliver Twist, something a bit more colourful.

Back at the Bel Air ranch, Christine had fun with the doggies, Doug’s two Duck Tolling retrievers.

Next morning saw Ty, Brubin and I out again on the bikes, this time on the trail heading north towards Gallagher Lake.

Our destination this morning was Jackson-Triggs; below you can just see Ty and Brubin disappearing around the corner towards the winery.

Since we were early in the day, there were relatively few visitors at this facility; a very pleasant attendant helped us sample some of the varieties.

After wine tasting we had intended to spend the afternoon at Gallagher Lake but were disappointed to discover that there was no public beach access there, only a private campground which did not allow dogs.

Back on the road again, we headed south to check out Tuc-el-Nuit Lake right in Oliver Town; while it did have a small public beach area, it, too, did not allow dogs. Brubin had to remain in the trailer. We wondered about this apparent antipathy toward dogs in this area …

In amongst all the private property signs (never have we seen so many private property signs – Karl Marx would be spinning in his grave), we managed to find a small trailway taking us back onto the Hike and Bike Trail down past a housing development.

Saturday evening saw us hillside at the Tinhorn Creek winery’s amphitheatre for a show by Canadian band the Matinee.

Since, unbeknownst to us, we had arrived rather late, we had to walk up the hill to the theatre to get to the concert venue.

The band put on a great show, thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Our final day in the Okanagan was spent riding along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail that hugs the side of Skaha Lake, running from OK Falls to Penticton.

Since the trail follows the old railway bed, it’s flat and relatively wide, with interesting vegetation and rock formations, including a couple of lightning-blasted trees.

Just as in Turkey, where trails like the Lycian Way wind past ancient ruins, here, too, are ruins, these ones the hulk of the former Kaleden Hotel built in 1913.

Past Kaleden, a land dispute has made a small section of the biking trail private property, so we had to push our bikes up through some trees and around a fenced off area.

I got pretty tired of all the Private Property signs in this area … obviously, this seagull is trespassing.

Skaha Lake is beautiful and also has a really nice public beach area on its shoreline.

Being a fan of ancient cities, I did love the old hotel ruin; we decided that it would be a great venue for an art installation.

Back at the ol’ Bel Air, the pool was a refreshing end to the day.

Our final wine-testing was at the La Stella winery just outside Osoyoos on the way home.

They specialise in Northern Italian style wines; here Christine savours a nice Gewurztraminer.

See more photos here.

Here’s the link to our accommodations at the Bel Air.

Here’s some info about the 2013 BC Wine Awards.

Summer in May

It’s summer in May – global climate change, anyone? Seemingly overnight, the temperature here on the rain coast has gone from 9 degrees to 25, and the cloudless skies continue … We decided to hop on the aquabus and head over to Habitat Island for an afternoon exploration of the area around the Olympic Village.

Approaching the area along the south seawall, you can see the highrises of Main Street and Telus Science World in the distance. Habitat Island is the small peninsula directly in front of them.

The bushes and undergrowth along the shoreline here are home to more than one resident; along with a colony of crows whose rookery occupies the higher trees, folks sleep rough here.

The rotting remains of a public art project are still here; this was once a card- and particle-board replica of a caterpillar digger.

From the City of Vancouver website, here is a blurb about this area: “Habitat Island is an urban sanctuary along Southeast False Creek. Deep layers of soil have been added to the area to provide nourishment for new trees to grow. Boulders and logs commonly found along the coastlines in this region of British Columbia provide a home for plants, small animals, insects, crabs, starfish, barnacles and other creatures. Surrounded by water at high tide, the island is also a sanctuary for birds.

More than 200 native trees, as well as shrubs, flowers, and grasses that grow naturally in this region have been planted along the waterfront path and on the island. The island was created as part of the development at Southeast False Creek, site of the 2010 Winter Games Athletes Village. To build Habitat Island, shoreline and inlet, about 60,000 cubic metres of rock, cobble, gravel, sand and boulders were used. The ebb and flow of the tide on the rocky shoreline creates an ideal home for starfish, crabs, fish, shellfish and other creatures.”

The tall leave-less trees jutting up in front of the mountains provide resting places for birds, including bald eagles.

Habitat Island is interconnected with the adjoining wetlands which take in water from the storm drains in the area and rehabilitate it before it enters False Creek. This shoreline restoration has resulted in herring returning to spawn in False Creek; often you can see great blue herons fishing, too. Originally, this peninsula was to be an actual island but the powers that be were afraid that people would be stranded on it at high tide; the small causeway connecting the island with the seawall was raised to prevent that possibility.

These wetlands were also recently home to a young urban beaver; although we hoped to get a glimpse of it, the beast was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he’s moved on to a larger watering hole.

Along with the mysterious beaver, another wild life visitor has captured the hearts of Vancouverites, the juvenile elephant seal currently molting on Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver. Barb and I rode our bikes over to take a look.

As you can see from this photo, the moss on the trees along the stream at Ambleside is incredible, a testament to this area’s status as temperate rain forest, not that you would know it from our current weather.

From the beach we watched as a Turkish freighter came into the port.

The elephant seal occupies a fenced off area on the west end of the beach. Looking decidedly unhappy, this day he was lying mute and stationary near the water, seemingly indifferent to all the curious spectators.

While over there, I took the opportunity to gather some drift wood for an art installation I’m preparing.

Farther down the waterfront a woman was feeding the seabirds and crows near John Lawson Park.

There are quite a few arts spaces along this stretch of water; we stopped in at the Silk Purse Gallery, formerly the home of an eccentric local who donated it to the West Van Arts Council some years ago.

See more photos here.

Invoking Venus, Feathers and Fashion

Marsha, Ty, and Dana at the opening of Invoking Venus, Feathers and Fashion.

INVOKING VENUS, Feathers and Fashion features photo-based images by Catherine Stewart and accessories from the clothing collections of Claus Jahnke and Ivan Sayers.

Using bird specimens from the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, Vancouver-based Stewart explores the role colour, patterning and adornment play in courtship and attraction. Through the juxtaposition of images of bird plumage with images of vintage fabrics and actual feathered fashion accessories, the parallels in human and bird behaviour become apparent. The lush and sensuous images magnify details in avian plumage and vintage fabrics, revealing a multitude of rich and varied hues that combine to create the colours, textures and patterns observed when viewing birds and humans at their finest.

“On the surface, birds and humans are very different. Yet, if you really observe these two groups you can start to draw many parallels in their behaviour,” explains Yukiko Stranger-Jones, Exhibits Manager, Beaty Biodiversity Museum. “Through pairs of images, Stewart engages us in a visual dialogue that examines the role adornment plays in the courtship of both birds and humans.” (text from the Beaty website)

The opening reception included a fashion show featuring historical clothing and accessories from the collections of Ivan Sayers and Claus Jahnke. The show was hosted by Ivan Sayers and explored the history of feathers in fashion. Clothing from about the 1880s to the 1970s was worn by a series of models who strutted their stuff on the red carpet running beneath the gigantic whale’s skeleton in the Museum’s atrium.

Seated right below the whale’s huge jaw bones, we contemplated the possibility of being crushed if the “big one”, the huge megathrust earthquake overdue in these parts, were unhappily to occur this evening.

In his comments Sayers pointed out the action and reaction of clothing designers whose dresses became longer or shorter, tighter or looser, bigger or smaller depending upon the changing political and social status of women through time. (It was difficult to get a photograph that was in focus – the models did not stand still for very long).

Similarly the hats alternated between gigantic feathered confections and small, close-to-the-head caps and bows.

One of the most bizarre hats included the head and feathers of a small animal on its front face. A break in the proceedings allowed the audience a chance to view Catherine’s photos works hung along a corridor framing the Beaty collection.

I rather like the Francis-Bacon-like effect in the picture below. See more pictures here. More information about the show is here.

Back home again …

Here is a photo with our lovely hosts in Cancun, Gabby and Aldo, plus Frida the dog (named after artist Frida Kahlo), standing in front of their Cancun home.

We’ve been back in Vancouver for a week and a half now; in that time, it’s gone from a Junuary winter-summer of 13 degree temperatures to a full-on July Vancouver summer, with blue skies, sun, and 19 degrees (still cool for this old body used to the mid 30s of Mexico!). We’re renting an apartment downtown, just around the corner from our own place, back to which we move the beginning of August. It is nice to be back in the neighbourhood.

From our balcony, we can see the Emery Barnes dog park below.

Here’s the view looking north to the mountains of the North Shore.

Brubin is happy that summer’s here, too.

Now that the sun’s out, everyone who has been huddled in the darkness and rain for the last few months is out and about (although not as early as me – Brubin is up at 5 am these days).

One of the things that I noticed right away when we returned is that all the trees and bushes have grown tremendously. This seawall garden was pretty sparse when we left a year ago; now it is huge and luxuriant. The huge sculpture “A Brush with Illumination” is still a favoured resting spot for the cormorants around the Creek.

It’s lovely to see the Great Blue Herons fishing along the False Creek shoreline.

This huge sculpture on the seawall across from Granville Island really captures the beauty of these birds.

As usual, there are lots of big freighters in the harbour.

I love the red of this one against the blue background of the North Shore mountains and our frigid ocean. Barb and I went for a skate around the seawall yesterday, one of the joys of living here (although my sore feet weren’t so joyous).

We stopped at the Brockton Point lighthouse in Stanley Park, with several other passersby, to watch the beginning of a wedding service against the backdrop of the harbour and Lions Gate bridge.

This couple was very lucky with their choice of day – it was beautiful.

Near Lumbermen’s Arch, this ship’s Chinese figurehead has finally been restored.

I love seeing all the sea birds here; here’s a cormorant giving the snorkeller sculpture the hairy eyeball.

Living up to his reputation, here’s a geagull consuming whatever’s around, in this case an unfortunate purple starfish. With all the rain in the last little while, the foreshore is green with moss and mold and the kelp fields are thick and rich with food.

Ty and I have really noticed how incredibly green it is here compared with where we’ve been. Also, how few people there are; some days, especially when the weather is bad, the streets here are virutally deserted. We almost never experienced that while away. It’s no wonder that visitors to this city, especially those from South East Asia, would wonder where everyone is … While every morning we awoke to the sound of song birds, I have not heard a single one here. The only birds we’ve seen are seabirds – cormorants, seagulls – and, of course, crows. But where have all the song birds gone?

See more pics here.

 

Cancun: El Meco and Isla Mujeres

We are enjoying our little apartment in downtown Cancun. The neighbourhood is pleasant, with lots of small casita comidas and a gigantic Soriana grocery store. A few blocks away is the bus stop where we can catch a R-2 or R-15 down to the hotel zone beaches for 8.5 pesos each.

Today, since the morning was pleasant, we decided to visit the second set of ruins here, the El Meco, north of Puerto Juarez, where the boats to Isla Mujeres depart. Rather than taking two buses, we elected to splurge and take a taxi. After negotiating a cost of 90 pesos for the trip, we headed out through the downtown traffic, past Puerto Juarez, to the ruin site, a small area just across the road from the ocean. Just as we pulled up a truck was blasting pesticide into the place to take out any fugitive mosquitoes – blechhh.

El Meco is Cancun’s version of Tulum, the waterfront ruin site down the coast from Playa del Carmen, although it’s not nearly as large and not right on the water. “The city is … believed to have been a major commercial port for the Maya and overlooks the beach and docks from across the road at Punta Sam where nearby claims indicate that there’s the last vestiges of the ancient port hidden along the beach line.

The city’s importance to the Maya is thought to have occurred from its proximity across the coast from Isla Mujeres, its location along the coastal trading routes and the area of calm but deeper water for vessels.” Architectural evidence dating back to the early Classic period (300-600 ce) show that El Meco was a small, self-sufficient fishing village dependent upon the larger capital of Coba.

“At the center of the site is the large El Castillo Pyramid surrounded by a dozen or so smaller structures believed to be used for governmental, religious and commercial trading purposes by the Post Classical period Maya starting in the 10th or 11th century AD.

The site previous to this was believed to be home to a small native village going back to the 6th century AD. … Speculation based on artifact finds and architecture places El Meco at the heart of one of the Chichen Itza periods and further speculates that the city was amongst the then extended realms of the rulers of Chichen Itza.” (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g150807-d1108603/Cancun:Mexico:El.Meco.Ruins.html).

As has happened lots on this trip, we were the only visitors to the site, enjoying walking through the well-treed ruins and throwing bits of apple to the tiny iguanas.

We were surprised to see only very small, skittish lizards here (except the medium-sized guy below), none of whom were willing to come near enough to get the pieces of apple we placed for them.

Ty speculated that the lizards are not well-treated here and as a consequence those that survive are afraid of humans. Can they be eaten for food, I wonder? If so, this would explain why there are no big iguanas here.

After our visit we walked along the very quiet highway, saw a beachfront chapel, and flagged down a collectivo which dropped us at Puerto Juarez.

We took a look at the old dock where the first passenger ferry to travel between Cancun and Isla Mujeres runs – it’s almost deserted now that the new Ultra Mar catamaran plies the water between the newly-built Gran Puerto dock and the island.

Although we hadn’t planned to visit Isla Mujeres today, since we were there anyway, and the boat left in five minutes, we bought our tickets and hopped aboard for the twenty minute run across the incredible clear blue water.

Arriving on the other side, we walked through downtown Isla M, enjoying the bright colours of the buildings, the wares on display, the graffiti, and the laid back island vibe.

Not bad advice …

After having a dockside beer at the Bally-Hoo Inn, we walked five minutes down the road to Playa Norte, where we stationed ourselves beachside for the rest of the afternoon, swimming in the placid water.

Unlike in Cancun, where the high waves have prevented actual swimming (as opposed to frolicking in the waves), here it is possible to swim laps in the roped off area.

Unfortunately for Ty, his burned stomach meant no sun for him, just relaxation under the ol’ sombrillo. Yesterday, both of us had spent quite a bit of time in the high waves of Gaviota Azul beach and the glare from the water and sand must have been too much for the sunscreen to cope with.

See more pics here.

Cancun: The Ruins of El Rey and Playa Delfines

Can’t get enough o’ those great iguanas, those rocky piles, those sands o’ white and waves o’ blue. We discovered that there are two – count ‘em, two – ruin sites in Cancun, one north of the city near Puerto Juarez, and the other in the southern hotel zone, across the road from Playa Delfines, Dolphin Beach. Since today was a beautiful sunny day, we opted to visit El Rey and then head to the beach.

When we arrived at the ruins, no-one was visible at the front desk, but lo and beyond the caretaker emerged from his poker game and newspaper reading as soon as he saw us heading into the site.

The structures here are quite small, built between 1300 and 1550 AD, and the main activities of the inhabitants were fishing and Mayan trading with salt. This city was abandoned after the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, and being located so close to the Caribbean sea, the area became a haven for pirates for a long time.

But what El Rey lacked in size it made up for in numbers of iguanas, many of whom emerged from their burrows and followed us around the site when they saw that we had apples for them.

At one point the lizard master was interacting with about nine lizards and a bird, and several other iguanas were streaming towards him from other parts of the ruins, all with one thing on their minds – food.

The birds and the iguanas duked it out for the bits of apple thrown by Ty and I. We saw the remains of a dead iguana, its carcass stripped almost to the bone, presumably by the other beasts.

It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of these thousand year old ruins against the backdrop of the more recent ruins of an abandoned hotel in one direction and the gigantic pyramid-shaped Iberostar hotel in the other. Ozymandias, anyone?

After our fun with iguanas, and a climb up the small pyramid,

we walked back across the road to Playa Delphines, a beautiful wide local beach with a few palapas and loungers and no hotels in the immediate vicinity (very unusual for Cancun). There are no restaurants or bars here, so I hopped aboard the bus, went to the nearest Oxxo, and returned with snacks to stave off starvation and dehydration.

There are some food vendors on the beach, including a few guys selling something called “jeebie-jeebie” or “heebie-jeebie”, small edible pouches of fish or meat carried in what look like small aquariums.

Once again the surf was up. The ocean along this coast is rough; every single day we’ve been to the beach the red flags have dominated, with the occasional yellow flag indicating caution.

Many of the people ignore the red flags and frolic in the waves anyway, even if they can’t swim. At Playa Delfines were mostly local families enjoying Fathers’ Day and big numbers of people were in the waves, keeping the lifeguards busy. Right in front of us a middle aged lifeguard with a strong freestyle stroke and a red lifesaving buoy made two saves in the space of an hour, hauling in two men who’d gotten into trouble too far out.

The currents here are very strong and it’s easy to get pulled out if you’re not careful. Many people drown along this coast every year.

Ty and I enjoyed playing in the waves but made sure that we were in the yellow flag section where the current wasn’t as strong – the waves were just as high, though – whooshhhh! Ty took a pounding surfing in on one gigantic wave, while I managed to duck down underneath it.

Our apartment in downtown Cancun is really sweet. It’s the upper floor of a two story row house in what used to be a townhouse community. The young couple who own it, originally from Argentina and resident in Cancun for the last ten years, built the structure and made all the furniture inside from hard wood, mostly with what looks like old ship’s fittings. Many beautiful shells are displayed on the shelves – Aldo is a diver and gathered these from local dive spots.

Aside from the usual insanely barking dogs, and the renovations sometimes going on next door, the place is pretty quiet.

See more pics here.

Tulum: Leaping Lizards and Hot Rocks

The weather hasn’t been great here the last few days and so when today dawned with a bit of sun we decided to head on down the highway to visit the Tulum ruins and beach. I had thought that the collective taxis stopped on the main boulevard beneath the highway next to the Chedraui grocery store and so we stood there on the side of the road. But, no, several of them blew right past us as we were frantically waving them down. Shit! I asked a woman sitting at the bus stop where to catch them and, after asking another couple of people as we walked, we eventually found the collectivo station downtown near the bus station. We got the last two seats in our van and were off down the highway for an hour long ride to the Tulum archeological site.

Although we had expected to pay more, the entrance fee was only 57 pesos each and the day, overcast but clearing, was perfect for touring the ruins. Tulum is situated right on oceanfront cliffs, obviously the prime real estate of the post classical Mayan world. It is very much a manicured area and none of the buildings are climbable – too bad because the view from El Castillo out over the sea would be wonderful.

The city of Tulum was at its height during the 13th-15th centuries, and is thus one of the later Mayan outposts. When the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century it was still inhabited. Tulum was an important trading post for the Post classic Mayans, having a beach where merchants could come ashore with their canoes. The highest building, El Castillo, was also a lighthouse to make navigation easier: when two torches aligned, these showed voyagers the way through the reef.

During the Post classic period, the Maya started to use large seagoing canoes and made trading voyages ranging from trips to the Gulf of Mexico, the coast of the Yucatán peninsula, and all the way to what is today Honduras. There is even evidence that they went as far as Costa Rica and Panama. Standing on the cliff here, gazing out to sea, I could imagine a fleet of fifty foot hardwood canoes cruising into the bay below.

In 1518, an expedition lead by the Spaniard Juan de Grijalva sailed past Tulum. The captain and crew were amazed by the sight of this walled city, with its buildings painted red, blue and white and a fire atop the main temple. Some 75 years after the conquest, Tulum was abandoned, but was still visited over the years by Mayan pilgrims. During the War of the Castes, Indian refugees took shelter here from time to time. (See more at http://www.playa.info/playa-del-carmen-info-mayan-ruins-of-tulum.html)

When we had been in Tulum last about 5 years ago, it was very crowded; today, luckily, while there were a number of people, it was not completely packed out.

One of the most delightful features of the ruin site is that it is home to many, many iguanas, all of whom are very tame. Ty discovered an apple in his backpack and proceeded to feed three of the beasts who came racing over when he took the fruit out of his bag.

Another fellow was taking a sandwich out of his pack when a huge lizard jumped onto it, climbed over the pack, and started up his body before receiving the piece of sandwich he desired!

After our visit, we grabbed a collectivo and taxi to Tulum Playa, the two kilometer long beach just north of the town. Here the sand is blindingly white and the water an incredible shade of light cerulean blue.

We had lunch at Playa Paraiso and spent a few hours on the beach before heading back on the collectivo to Playa del Carmen. Tulum Playa has a very different vibe than Playa del Carmen; it’s north of the town proper and accessed by a road that runs along a coastline of low sand dunes.

Tulum beach is more like a warm weather version of Vancouver Island’s west coast beaches (although with more in the way of services like restaurants, bars, sun beds, boat trips, etc). And the beach hotels seem to be much more modest in scale (although probably not in price) here than the vast gated communities along the coast between Playa and Tulum pueblo.

See more pics here.