Centro Art Walkin’

Every Wednesday night in Centro an Art Walk happens from 6 until 10 in the evening. Good ol’ Ty humours me by indulging my mania for both art and walking; rather than going home from the beach after an afternoon’s strenuous lounging we headed straight downtown for the walk, with only the briefest of pauses to flag down the donut man  and scarf down two huge donuts for sustenance.

The dozen or so art walk galleries are found just north of the main church and east of the  Malecon. Helping to encourage folks to come out are the small glasses of vino served by each, the better to attract eager, and thirsty, art patrons. We began our art journey at the Peyote People gallery of folk art, mostly from Oaxaca and Chiapas, where the attendant showed us some Catrina skeletons, full torso female figures in fancy clothing designed to mock the pretensions of the rich, who, like everyone else, irrespective of their wealth, end up as bones. We also saw some incredibly intricate beaded skulls with tiny insects atop them – really fabulous.

From there we pounded the pavement to the galleries further north, stopping at a cluster of three selling beautifully decorated ceramics and the Loft Gallery, a three storey emporium of mostly realist painting. It had a wonderful view out over the rooftops of PV and the setting sun. Around the corner was Galeria Uno, packed with art lovers consuming tiny margaritas. Ty lurked in the shadows, practising his best travelling incognito mode.

A few blocks farther north are five of what I consider to be the most interesting spaces, Gallery Corsica, Gallery Omar Alonzo, Gallery Pacifica, Galeria des Artistes, and La Pulga, all of which have wonderful architecture and good art, especially the sculpture.

I particularly enjoyed the mixed media portraits at Omar Alonzo by Rogelio Mango, which incorporate silk and oil paint.

After a few hours of dedicated art viewing, hunger overcame us, necessitating a hasty hike to Old Town and grilled shrimp at a packed Joe Jack’s Fish Shack.

See more Art Walk photos here.

I really love walking around the old town area and Isla Cuale is one of my favorite spots. Oscar’s restaurant near the beach has a second floor gallery that right now is showing portraits of Indigenous people by local artist Marta Gilbert. At the studios on the other end of the island, I ran into (not literally) one of the artist patrons of Barclay Manor in the West End, Tavia, who looked very startled to see me. I think it was the hat that did it. She, and lots of others, both locals and visitors, was painting up a storm under guidance of maestro Hector.

Yesterday we decided to spend our beach day at Conchas Chinas Beach, the next bay south of Los Muertos where we usually go. It is accessed by a path that runs along the high tide line at the beach’s edge, over a rocky point and along the waterfront homes south of here.

We did not make it all the way but chose to set up our stuff in the shade of a rocky outcrop between two small rocky bays.

The current is very strong here and the waves high; we had to relocate from our first spot because the waves inundated it.

Just after we had been  talking about what we would do if someone got into trouble in the water, it happened. An older man had decided to go out swimming in this very dangerous place and couldn’t get back in; the current was dragging him out to sea. It became quickly apparent that he needed help and his wife was rushing back and forth on the beach, trying to call for help on her cell phone. Two young tourist guys just happened to be there, saw what was happening, and saved him by running up to a nearby hotel, grabbing a life preserver, swimming out to him, putting it on him, and towing him back in to the thunderous applause of everyone watching from the shore. Lucky man.

See more photos here.

El Tuito and the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens

There are several small colonial towns in the Sierra Madre Hills around PV. Most require an overnight stay but one,  El  Tuito, is close enough for a day trip. We decided to combine Tuito with a visit to the Vallarta Botanical Gardens since both are in the same direction. While local tour companies ask upwards of $85 dollars for a tour of these two places, it is very easy to go by local bus for 27 pesos instead.

We  caught the Tuito bus in Old Town at the corner of Carranza and Aquacate at 10 am and were whisked south along the highway past Mismaloya. At Boca de Tomatlan we turned inland and headed up into the mountains. Sitting on the right hand side of the bus, I had a tremendous view of the cliff face and jungle,  all the better to see any boulders rolling downhill to crush us. Every 100 feet or so just such a  boulder sat by the side of the road…  The road, a one lane highway, twists and turns as it switchbacks up the mountain.  As usual, I was a bit of a nervous Nellie with a death grip on the back of the seat in front of me as the driver sped around the hairpin turns.

As luck would have it,  after zooming through several small hamlets and going ever higher into a beautiful feathery pine forest, we arrived alive after an hour and a half at the sleepy burg of El Tuito, the capital of Cabo Corriente province. At 1100 meters, this town is cooler than the coast and has a completely different feel. The town’s name means “little beautiful bay” in Nahuatl, the local indigenous language. El Tuito is not at all dependent on tourism; in fact,  almost no visitors make it out here, except the few who come by bus and, this day, one jeep-load of guided tour people.

All the action takes place on and around the main square, a trapezoid paved two block area surrounded by government buildings, a Cultural Centre, and a couple of restaurants.

Huge fig trees dominate the Plaza, under which the local community sat enjoying the shade. We spent some time investigating the Cultural Centre, a beautiful orange clay building with a lovely interior courtyard and a dramatic mural decorating its main staircase.

This painting, by local artist David Edmundo Castillon Sanchez, is entitled Universal Revolution and illustrates the history of Cabo Corrientes.

In it are a vast cast of characters, including the Magellan brothers, Admiral Armando Castillon, aboriginal leaders, and figures from the Mexican revolution. The painting occupies three full walls and in the bottom left hand corner the artist has depicted himself holding a banner with his name and the date, not unlike artists of old like Durer used to do. One of the Centre’s employees, Efren, was kind enough to give me a document outlining the painting’s program. From it, I learned that, because one of the conquistadors’ ships had been sunk on arrival in 1517 by rough seas, they named this area Cabo Corriente, Cape Current. Apparently the beaches along this stretch of coast are not swimmable because of the currents.

After stopping at Los Mariachis for a Nescafe and chat with a couple of other visitors from PV, we rolled around the corner to the Church of San Pedro Apostoli, beautifully painted and decorated inside with flowers.

The scent was fantastic. After asking the fellow cleaning whether the flowers were for a special occasion, he told me in Spanish at length about the community’s grand Fiesta of the Virgin Mary on January 12th each year.

He explained that people come from all the outlying areas to join in celebration. Also of note in this church is the boulder altar, an enormous hunk of granite not unlike those that could potentially kill bus passengers as they scream down cliff faces… José explained that the Saint’s name, Pedro, is like Piedra, which means stone, hence the stone altar.

My Spanish was not up to the task of understanding how the boulder had been transported and installed in the church. Just outside the church we noticed the yellow jeep of a tour group whose clients, like us, were wandering around the back streets. A territorial doggie on a rooftop barked officiously down at us as we strolled by –  such are the joys of small town life. Back at the Town Square again we were lucky enough to hop on the bus out just as it was about to leave.

After a harrowing ride down the hill we were deposited at the entrance to the Botanical Gardens, a paradise of coolness and greenery.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the trails and lounging in the garden’s hacienda where they have kindly supplied couches and pillows for that very purpose.

Part of the twenty acres is devoted to forest trails that reminded us of Lynn Canyon Park, including a river trail that descends to the swimmable Emerald Pool, and a black diamond hike called the Jaguar trail.

Next to the hacienda is a pond with aquatic plants and a solarium with varieties of orchids. Inside the building is a restaurant with a nice deck and tasty food and on the main floor an exhibition of infrared photos, some of which were very good. I really enjoyed having a little siesta on a lounge chair and watching the hummingbirds come and go. I could have stayed there for a very long time.

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See more photos here.

Isla Cuale Stroll and Random Observations

Today we decided to spend our time photographing Isla Cuale and the area around it,  an oasis of green that divides Old Town from Centro. After walking over on a pretty warm day we stopped to refuel at Las Brazzas,  a small bistro on the eastern end of the island near the art studios. It’s the only restaurant left at that end of the  island; all  the others that were open last year are now cat colonies.

Joining us on the patio were Heather, an expat from Ontario, and Irma, a native PVer. Heather has been here for seven years, living in and around the Old Town and working as a care aid. She likes it, but is sick of all the tourists in the winter and says the place is like a tomb in the summer, empty and screaming hot. Just as in every tourist town we’ve been to, the locals have a love – hate relationship with tourism and who can blame them? It was interesting talking with Heather about her experiences here and hearing her insights into the various communities that make up this town.

This day the printmaking studio was open and we had a chat with Dan from North Carolina who was working on a black and white woodcut, his first. He wanted to know why Canadians were less apt to be taken in by news stories about how dangerous Mexico is than Americans. We postulated that more people watch CBC than Fox News…

From the print studio we wandered over to our usual taco stand and then to Le Cuiza, a restaurant, bar, and gallery near the beach end of the island.

Very colorful paintings adorn the walls here and all the wooden furniture is vibrantly painted. The artists here offer workshops and classes and the bar does a good business with Canadians on karaoke nights.

Outside in the gigantic banyan tree iguanas race overhead on the tree’s huge limbs. It is interesting that we have seen hardly any insects here – no mosquitoes, no bees, just a few wasps and a few tiny butterflies. I wonder if they spray the bejeezus out of the place. I don’t miss the mosquitoes but it is curious that most insects seem to have disappeared from the landscape here.

Our final stop on the photo tour was Fireworks ceramic studio on the second floor of Los Mercados, a tiny shopping arcade in a beautiful building  in Old Town.

Arranged around a central courtyard and painted a warm yellow-orange,  the place reminded me of Italy.

Fireworks occupies an airy area with lots of different kinds of vessels and tiles waiting to be painted, as well as books of illustration, patterns, and designs for inspiration. It is a U paint it studio, where one pays for the greenware, paints it, and has it fired by studio personnel. I may give it a whirl.

On the main floor of the arcade was –  glory be – a good looking wine store and a deli with several different cuts of meat, including our favourite hot Italian sausage – joy! Naturally we had to patronize both; I have been missing a nice glass of wine in the evenings. Both places are a bit pricey,  charging close to Canadian prices for their food and catering to the expat community. And they are air-conditioned; I think that was the first air-conditioned environment that I’ve been in  here. Be that as it may, we rolled home with a small bag of goodies that we are surely going to enjoy.  It is good to know that if we crave food and drink that we are used to from home,  we can get it here.

In other “news”:

Some local young artists have started a gallery right down at the beach, selling and showing very colourful paintings and painted furniture.

Here is another of the plethora of VW bugs in this town.

We sampled some mole sauce with chocolate from our favorite taco stand.

Here is another great anabolic steroid ad –  get your roid rage here cheap, cheap, almost free.

Another thing that is “almost free” here is parasailing (oh autocorrect how I hate you. Not parasites, parasailing). One woman high over the beach, ignoring the frantic whistles of the sail master trying to get her to turn the sail towards the beach, just about came down far out in the deep water.

I spoke to two lifeguards on the beach up north near Ley Supermarket who told me that they make at least five rescues a week every week of the year, mostly of people who don’t know how to swim and go in the water after drinking. At this beach there are strong currents not far offshore and the water gets deep very quickly, none of which is evident from the shore unless you know what to look for. Most locals can’t swim, and people drown here every year.

Every day on the waters of PV is a pelican party.

See more photos here

Sayulita Snapshots

Sayulita on a sunny day …  We decided to take the bus to explore this small surfing town up the coast from PV after having done research that said it was a one hour trip. Well, the driver who could do that trip in an hour should present himself to the Formula One tracks; our bus took at least two hours, after the 40 minutes it took to get to the North End of town to catch the Sayulita bus across from Coppel.

On the way we passed through the Hotel Zone in which the massive all-inclusive developments reside,  as well as the gigantic condo towers of Marina Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta. As our taxi driver from the airport noted, these developments are sucking the life out of Centro, since the people who stay here seldom go downtown and the resorts don’t contribute much to the local economy, particularly if they import their own staff rather than hiring locals.

As a result, in the downtown core many businesses have closed, leaving empty storefronts with forlorn Se Renta signs yellowing in their windows. In addition, these places are entirely generic and not at all Mexican. Anyway, we rolled through north Vallarta and several small towns and hamlets on the way, in each of which stopping to take on more passengers.

After a somewhat harrowing brakes-free careen downhill,  bringing back bad flashbacks of crazy drivers in Thailand and Fiji, we arrived on the outskirts of Sayulita. The road into town was hot, dry, and dusty and gave us no reason to stop before arriving at the beach, a conclusion presumably reached by most other visitors given the shuttered storefronts on that side of the river. However, we did see a local cowboy canter into town  accompanied by his dog running in unison, not something you see every day of the week in Vancouver.

A walk through the colourful stores,  bars,  and restaurants brought us down to a gently curved bay with medium-sized surfing waves and a large throng of beach goers watching a surfing competition.

In Puerto Vallarta I had wondered where all the young 20somethings were. Now I know;  they are all in Sayulita surfing or watching surfers.

We stationed ourselves beachside under a shady awning and watched the flow of people come and go and an acrobatic demonstration by one of the surf dudes.

After a couple of cervesas we wandered back through the town,  checking out some of the galleries and jewelry.

Someone had told us that the rich and the hippies have been fighting about the direction the town will take; we saw some evidence of that struggle in the somewhat uneasy coexistence of high end retail and cheap bars.

After watching an artisan paint clay piglets and having purchased a tiny hand painted skull to add to my collection of Memento Mori memorabilia, it was time to hit the road again Jack for the long bus ride home.

One of the interesting aspects of Mexican bus riding is that often local musicians, some of them very good, will jump on for a few stops and serenade the captive audience. The fellow who sang to the accompaniment of his boombox on the way out was good.  The same can’t be said, though, for the guy on the way back, whose three note guitar strumming and very loud singing directly into my ear did not endear him to me. Another facet of Mexican travel is the number of vendors selling stuff on the highway right in the traffic: squeegee guys,  newspaper sellers, performing artists, flower sellers,  and men in cowboy hats thrusting chiclets in the bus windows. We were told the story of one poor fellow who on a bad day sold nothing and on a good sales day was routinely robbed of his day’s take. A difficult way to make a living.

After having jumped off the bus in old town we headed over to the local BBQ joint where we joined a crowd of hungry,  jostling chicken lovers fighting for takeout chicken packets. Having secured our bag of eats without any blood loss,  we made our weary way hillward.

A few other things of interest, at least to me:

Old volkswagons abound here, all red.

Steroids must be legal here; they are advertised in pharmacies.

The other day I purchased a handmade woolen sheep from one of the indigenous vendors downtown. She had a very colourful stand full of woolen animals and wall hangings to which I was drawn like moth to a flame or crow to shiny metal. As I was looking at her wares, she brought out her smartphone and showed me pictures of the family farm in Chiapas where six girls spin the wool of six sheep to make their products.

I was charmed by her but Ty, cynic that he is, reminded me of the time in Merida when I had been taken advantage of by two guys with a story about poor orphanage kids. However, I believed her and, even if it were not true, I don’t care. I love my sheep (although I did feel a moment of buyer’s remorse at how much I paid for it.)

The ceiling of the now shuttered Le Bistro Cafe,  home to multitudes of cats on Isla Cuale, has a ceiling fresco inspired by, and possibly an homage to, the Oculus of the Camera degli Sposi in the Palazzo Ducale, Mantua by Italian artist Andrea Mantegna.

 

Art Vallarta

Well, briefly, I did have a short term job here in Puerto Vallarta. Kathryn, the Color Pod artist, offered me a couple days of work beginning today but when I showed up this afternoon for my shift, the place was closed.

All three storefront studios in the building were closed with signs on the window describing the same sad situation: legal problems with the building. Too bad! I was quite excited about the prospect of working on the art strip – perhaps I will have another opportunity in the future …

This morning I discovered a really great multidisciplinary co-operative Art Studio facility just starting up in the Old town area, not too far from the Paradise Community Centre, just a couple of blocks from the beach. Run by Nathalie Herling a ceramic artist and chef from Brooklyn who has lived here for a couple of years, it is a fantastic initiative of which I hope to be a part. I think she and her husband own the building, and they are putting together an art centre, including visual art studios, a store selling art supplies, a gallery, a theatre, and a roof top clay cooking and dining restaurant and teaching centre.

So far, the clay studio is up and running; today there were two Canadian women working in it, one of whom bought a brand new kiln in Houston and had it shipped down from there. The painting studio, up a short flight of stairs, is also in the process of being put together, with easels, canvases, and other supplies ready to go.

I was very excited about the theatre space. Formerly it housed a comedy club but it has not been used for five years.

Apparently, all its digital projection equipment is still there, intact, and in good working order, all ready to go for videographers and mixed media artists. Upstairs, at the apartment level, is an enormous salt water pool with a huge white wall perfect for more projections and water art. What a fantastic space! Nathalie is an energetic and enthusiastic director and I wish her all the best in getting the space going. The grand opening is scheduled for Feb 14, with art happenings and an exhibition of work on a Valentine’s Day theme. If I can find someplace to get a digital image printed, I will submit a piece to the show.

See more information here.

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.

Puerto Vallarta Art & Shuffle

My laptop seems to have packed it in so I am attempting to compose this on a tablet with only a virtual keyboard. Not easy. I have to admit that I am an addict when it comes to the internet.

Anyway, yesterday I discovered the website of the House of Wind and Water, an artist’s studio and residency owned and operated by American artist Kathleen Carrillo, who has been here since 2008. Since I am always interested in how artists live in other parts of the world, I made contact and we headed up into the wilds outside the city to check out her facility. Above is a picture of the outside of our condo in the Amapas Colonia, high above the beach.

The cab driver had no idea where Kathleen’s House was; he seemed a bit concerned as we drove deeper and deeper into the hills behind the city. However, after a journey along the river and what seemed like back in time, we finally arrived at the big red gates of the casa. The drive reminded me of our trip to the restaurant in the back of beyond in Siem Reap, except in this case it was in the middle of the day and we could see where we were going (even though we had no idea where we were).

Kathleen was just concluding a portrait workshop with her students, each of whom was engrossed in the study of a female head in closeup. The assignment was to translate a black and white photograph into an acrylic painting, using a palette selected by the instructor. All of the students were doing a pretty decent job of it, as far as I could tell. We also had a chat with the housekeeper Ginger, a Canadian who has lived in P.V. for 15 years. Above is the dusty country road that leads to the casa, as you can see, it does not get much action.

We had a good look around the studio and living area but could not see the artist casitas because both of them were full. Rather than bother with a cab on the way back, we strolled down the hill to the dusty road to wait for the one bus that rolls through these parts. This is really the back of beyond, one store, one cafe with nice cold beer, four half dressed old men, and many hungry street dogs, a world away from tourism central on the beach. The bus ride back was interesting, full of school kids and one lost Gringo who had caught the wrong bus on his way to the Marina. All the school kids were fascinated by Ty, staring at him and giggling behind their hands.

Later that evening, we made our way back down the 1001 cement steps from our apartment to the dark hillside road to Basilio Badillo and the South Side Shuffle, PV’s biweekly art, music, and shopping extravaganza. Since neither of us see all that well in the dark anymore, we both brought our headlamps to shine a thin bead of light on the pavement. Between 6 and 10 pm, most of the galleries and shops are open late in this area, serving wine and cookies to the culterati throngs, who mix, mingle, and sometimes dance up a storm to the retro beats of the 60s and 70s. (In the afternoon I had a moment with her majesty below, whose skeletal well-dressed beauty reminded me of the more serious memento mori art works one can see all over Italy. Here death smiles rather than frowns.)

There are several interesting galleries on Basilio Badillo, some small one person operations like Color Pod, a studio specialising in coconut pods collected locally and vibrantly painted by Kathryn Graves, and others enormous emporia, such as Galeria Dante, Vallarta’s largest and most eclectic art space. Kathryn’s color pods are great and I really enjoyed chatting with her for a bit about her work and how she came to be in PV after having retired from the banking business in San Francisco. That’s her in the picture below in orange and green.

Although Gallery Dante is stuffed to the rafters with paintings, most some variety of surrealism, I most appreciate the sculpture in their wonderful outdoor courtyard. At the Ambos Galeria next door I also enjoyed the abstract canvases by Hector Jiminez. After a few hours of hard core art viewing, we had to rest the weary eyes and slake the dry palate with two enormous, and strong, margaritas at the Margaritaville Cafe.

Puerto Vallarta Walkin’ II

Up early in the morning, I see the big cruise ship pull into Banderas Bay and release its launch-load of tourists on the beach.

I brought our yoga mats with us, since we intended to carry on with our practice while here.

Although we had planned to go to the drop-in class at the Paradise Community Centre, we didn’t make it this morning; instead, we rolled out the mats on the very hard tile living room floor and did a 40 minute vinyasa flow session to the sound of screeching mynah birds, setting us up nicely for the walk to come.

Once again rolling down the hill, we first stopped into PV’s version of a dollar store, nothing over 25 pesos, looking for the ever-elusive pasta pot and finding nothing larger than a thimble in terms of cooking pots.

From there, we proceeded to Isla Cuale and the arts and culture centre on the island’s sandbar, hoping to see the printmaking studio in action.

Again this year it was closed … is it ever open, I wonder … but the music, sculpture, painting, and drama studios were open and we watched some folks carving plaster

and painting landscapes for a bit before climbing the new staircase from the island up to Gringo Gultch from where we had a beautiful view out over the south side hills.

Some of the restaurants and bars that we saw last time are shuttered and taken over by cats; in fact, each of the closed buildings has become a home for what looks like a fair colony of felines.

What was formerly the Bistro Jazz Bar is now a cat mecca; this guy gazed at me balefully as I snapped his picture.

Do they like jazz music, I wonder?

Down alongside the Municipal Market, just a block from the beach, we found the small food stand that had impressed us last time.

Ty sampled the tostado con pulpo (octopus) and a shrimp taco, while I enjoyed a really good chicken taco, and the obligatory coronas.

The beer was more expensive than the food; if we could just forgo the coronas, we could eat very inexpensively here!

Thus fortified we continued our search for a large pasta pot and a cheap place to stay in the future.

We stumbled across the Hotel Catedral Vallarta, a boutique property just a block off the beach and Dante was kind enough to show us several different varieties of rooms with kitchenettes, all really very nice but too costly for us. Below is the spiral staircase leading to the penthouse’s private rooftop terrace.

After checking out the Municipal Market and some appliance stores and finding nary a pasta pot to be seen, we strolled back across the Cuale River’s pedestrian suspension bridge, Ty amusing himself by jumping up and down and rocking the bridge-boat as we were trying to cross.

On one of the side streets we did find an inexpensive pasta pot finally – huzzah! small joys – and pot in hand, investigated the Hotel Bel Mar,  located near the Hacienda de Vallarta. Its lobby was full of quite nice black and white woodcuts which impressed me, but the price was a bit too high for what it offered.

On our stroll back up to the hilltop ranch we stopped at the beer store for a Michelada, one of PV’s best drinks, under a gigantic tree. We had seen people drinking these concoctions the other day and been amazed at their fantastic appearance.

The Michelada is not unlike a Bloody Caesar, except with beer instead of vodka, and topped with a huge and  incredible garnish of giant shrimp, roasted peanuts, carrots, cucumbers, radish, spices, paprika, and a large slice of a mysterious white vegetable.

Ty is trying to learn Spanish and has decided to learn one or two phrases a day; today’s phrase was “How much is the dog in the window?” but we had a bit of trouble with the similarity between quando (when) and quanto (how much), and the resurgence of hitherto unsuspected words from childhood French lessons.

Determined to remember the phrase, Ty needed a mnemonic device – “toe” for quanto and “doh” for quando – which yielded the ever-handy “How much is that toe fungus in the window” that metamorphosed into “How much is that doggie with toe fungus in the window” … stay tuned for later innovations in Spanish learning.

See a few more photos here.

Puerto Vallarta Walkin’

Coming to you more or less live from the hills of old town Puerto Vallarta, high above Los Muertos beach … We are ensconced at the Vista del Mar condominiums in Colonia Amapas, not too far from, but far above, where we stayed the last time we were in PV – Easter 2012. The weather is great, about 26 degrees, cloudless and sunny. From our two balconies we have a grand view out over the Bay of Banderas and the shining crown of Our Lady of Guadalupe church, PV Centro’s architectural landmark.

The view is beautiful both day and night.

“Our” condo is located in a pretty quiet complex; yesterday there was not a soul on the pool deck just below our apartment.

Our plan for this year is to try and pretend that we are living here and to do as the locals do … shop local, eat local, and use local transport, buses and our own two feet. Since we are basically on top of the mountain here, that means a pretty loooooonnnng trek back up the hill after a hard day out and about beating the pavement.

We arrived yesterday, after a 3:15 am wake-up call, a taxi ride to the airport, and a 4.5 hour direct flight, and spent a few hours casing the neighbourhood. Ty was delighted to discover that just down the hill from us is a little beer store, so we don’t have to schlep the cases of beer we will no doubt consume up from the beach. Check out the fashion statement below: I particularly like the striped socks and black oxfords combination, a must for PV explorers … sigh.

We are always interested in accommodations, having in the back of our minds the possibility of spending the winter months here. This lovely place is just down the hill from our place, likely an inexpensive option requiring no air-conditioning, given that it lacks windows.

After walking around for a bit getting tired and hungry, we rolled into a deserted comida casera just off Olas Altas and dug into some tacos and enchiladas before wandering down Basillo Badillo and exploring the area.

Today our mission was to get some electronica that we’d left behind, some minutes for the ol’ cell phones, and groceries. It’s interesting that there are no grocery stores in this area – none. Oxos galore, all selling FUD processed cheese and meat products – not too appealing – but no real food to be found. Yesterday we had  come across one small and decrepit tienda selling some sad looking fruits and vegetables, mostly way past their consumption date, and managed to pick out a few veggies that were still edible among the carcasses of the rotted, and found a gigantic pharmacy that sold the same inedible processed FUD-stuff as Oxo, where we nonetheless picked up some bread and milk.

Today, having stopped in at the Hacienda de Vallarta, drawn in by their Room Special sign, we were lucky enough to meet Pierce, one of the expat residents, and he filled us in on where the supermercado Ley, the local Safewayesque food emporium, was.

After a really good lunch at another inexpensive comida casera right next to the Church, El Campanario, where we got an amazing spread of tortilla soup, chicken fajitas, stew of the day, and pudding,

we walked north along the Malecon and eventually arrived at the Ley store, after a pause for liquid refreshment at Mango’s Beach Bar.

I love the super markets in Mexico; as you can see from the giant black speaker strategically placed near the avocados, they all blast out lively dance music, possibly to generate a general feeling of energy and well-being that manifests in more food purchases. Bags in hand, we grabbed a bus southward that dropped us in the general direction of our place and made our way, hot and sweaty, uphillward home.

We managed to negotiate the day with only a few minor meltdowns after having purchased credits for our cell phones only to find that they’d been uploaded to some random Mexican guy’s phone rather than ours. Below are a few more pictures of the Malecon sculpture art.

You can just see Ty peeking out from beneath these pairs of legs.

This sculpture, El Gordo – the Fat Man, not our late and unlamented mug-shotted premier – reminds me a little bit of the open-mouthed gigantic pelicans that roost on the boats around here waiting to consume vast quantities of caught fish.

After being inspired by the panorama of portly past their prime rockers displayed atop one of the restaurants lining the Malecon, Ty picked a too-tiny tree to hide behind …

See a few more photos here.

Trip Recap: Best of, Worst of …

Well, we’ve been back about three weeks now and the Round the World trip is fading into memory … What a fabulous journey. I feel so fortunate to have been able to do this trip – it was amazing. Even the (few) parts that weren’t so great were great (if you know what I mean). Time to recap the highlights and lowlights:

Best (non-urban) Beach

Hong Island, Krabi, West Coast of Thailand

Hong Island, the largest of the group of islands in Than Bok Thoranee Marine National Park, is beautiful: powder white sand, glorious green vegetation, turquoise-green water, and towering orange-tinged limestone cliffs. Two small bays are separated by smaller limestone clifflets, through a gap in which we could see boats come and go. See my original post here.

Best Beach (urban)

This is a toss-up between three very different beaches: Jomtien, Pattaya, Thailand, Cancun, Mexico, and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Jomtien, because the beach is decent, with great restaurants, a lively vibe, great people-watching, and very cheap transportation around the area.

Cancun, because the beach is long and wide, twenty six kilometers of sand. Playa Gaviota Azul, in Cancun’s Hotel Zone, was a favourite spot for us. The large, wide beach was often full of local families, with kids large and small enjoying the day. Because this area of the beach has a sand bar not too far offshore, a shallow pool of ocean water untouched by the big surf is created so it’s perfect for small children. Read more here.

Los Muertos beach in Puerto Vallarta, because it’s sandy, has big waves and great beach restaurants, and the weather was amazing. Read more here and here.

Best Accomodation (apartment/condo)

Our fully-equipped, nicely decorated 4th floor apartment 1/2 block off Los Muertos Beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, an incredible deal at Easter for $45 a night.

See my post here for more on Puerto Vallarta’s South Side.

Best Accommodation (hotel, B&B, hostel)

This is a tricky one – in the running, are: Merthayasa Bungalows in Ubud, Bali; Blue Star Bungalows in Amed, Bali; Sabai Mansion in Ao Nang, Thailand; and Hotelito Swiss Oasis in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Each of these was great in its own way. We loved the pool at the Merthayasa and the price was right at 180,000 IDR ($19) a night.

The Blue Star, right on the beach at Jemeluk Bay, had wonderful staff, great snorkelling and swimming, and a pleasant enough room for 200,000 IDR a night ($21.50 – a special price because we didn’t use the air con).

Sabai Mansion was well-located 500 meters from the beach, with a great pool, a restaurant, and nice staff for 855 bht a night ($27.50).

And we also loved the Hotelito Swiss Oasis, 1/2 block from Playa Zicatela in Puerto Escondido, with a pool and small communal kitchen, for 450 pesos night ($34.50).

The Pool and Palm villa in Siem Reap had the best pool, large, beautiful, and clean, very refreshing in the heat of central Cambodia.

Best Recreational Activity (Land-based)

Bali Eco Cycling, a cycle trip beginning at a volcano, then riding downhill through a coffee plantation, village homes and temples, and rice fields, finishing with a Balinese food feast. Read all about it here.

Runner up: Cycling the North Head, in Manly, Australia: wildlife, artillery, ecological projects, golden chariot, cemeteries. Read more here.

Best Recreational Activity (Water-based)

Our private longtail boat trip to the Hong Islands, Krabi, Thailand, a great day out on the water visiting several different beaches, lagoons, and islands in the Andaman Sea. Read my post here.

Best Temple(s) Ancient

This one is no contest – Angkor Wat/Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia is an epic, once-in-a-lifetime Must See for all you temple and archeological site lovers. Incredibly beautiful architecture and sculpture in a huge and beautiful park setting. See my posts here, here, and here.

Runner up: Uxmal and the Puuc route south of Merida in the Yucatan.

Wanting to see some of the less well-known Mayan ruins in the Yucatan while in Merida, but not wanting to drive ourselves, Ty and I decided to do a day trip with a driver from Yucatan Connect to the Lol Tun Caves and the sites along the Puuc Route, south and south east of Merida. Highly recommended – read more here.

Best Temple (Modern)

Bang Rieng, Krabi, Thailand, a mountain-top temple about an hour and a half’s driving north of Ao Nang along the road to Phuket. It sits atop Khao Lan or One Million Mountain, overlooking the Thaput countryside. The temple and grounds are spectacular, as is the view from the top; green hills and tended fields spread out in a vast panorama below the temple precincts, looking very much like central Italy. Read more here.

Best visual art scene

This category is a tie between Ubud, Bali and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Ubud has lots of great contemporary art galleries, as well as a couple of excellent art museums focusing on modern Balinese and Indonesian art. Read more here and here.

Puerto Vallarta also has a great contemporary art scene, with lots of commercial galleries, artists studios and residencies, and two weekly art walks in the old town and centro areas. Read more here and here.

Most Intriguing Cultural Performance

The Balinese Classical Legong and Barong Dance at the Ubud Palace was fascinating and beautiful. See a video of part of the performance here. Read more about Ubud’s cultural scene here.

Best Local Experience

While staying at the Blue Star Bungalows in Amed, Bali, the owner Iluh, a lovely woman, invited me to join her at a village temple ceremony. She showed me how the offerings are made, gave me her temple clothes to wear, and drove me there and back on her motorcycle – an incredible experience.

Read about it here.

Runner up: Nox’ tours in Levuka, Ovalau, Fiji

We did two tours around Levuka with local guide Nox, one exploring all aspects of the town and the other up into the surrounding hills to visit local plantations. Really fascinating! Read more here and here.

Best Food

This category is also no contest – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has an amazing food scene and, remarkably, without even knowing it, we stayed in absolutely the best place for restaurants in KL, Bukit Bintang. Read my post here.

Best Nightlife

While Ty and I are not exactly nightlife junkies (and sometimes I can barely make it to 11 pm), we did enjoy the lively night scene in Ubud, Bali, particularly the great Spanish band at the Smiling Buddha and the jazz at Cafe Luna. Other nightlife options include Balinese dance, the Jazz Cafe, a gazillion great restaurants and bars …

Best transportation experience

The Pattaya/Jomtien baht bus, the song thaew pickups plying the roads in the area. Go anywhere for only 10 baht (30 cents).

And the tuk-tuks in Siem Reap, Cambodia: padded seats, beautiful fabrics, comfortable rides. Go anywhere around the town for $2.

Worst accommodation

None of the places we stayed were really terrible; some were just less good than the rest and a few were too expensive for what they offered. Sometimes the weather affected our view of a place – Fiji in the rain, for example. Janes Fales in Manase, Savaii, Samoa had a wonderful location right on a beautiful sandy beach, but the food was bad and we had a bad experience at their beach bar there that caused us to leave much sooner than we had planned. More info here.

Worst Food

Mostly, the food everywhere was good, if often not spicy enough for our liking. I guess the worst food I had was this terrible lunch at the Hornbill Restaurant in the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park – blecchhh. Read more about this day here.

Worst Beach

Surprisingly, particularly since the last time we were there it was lovely, the beach at Playa del Carmen was the worst we saw. Almost everywhere in the world erosion is a problem, as is high water and storm surges, all playing havoc with the beaches. One of the last days we were in Playa, after a rain storm, we could smell the sewage that had obviously overflowed the storm sewers and was just gushing out from pipes into the ocean, turning the turquoise water a dull dark brown in places.

Worst local experience

Nadi, Fiji. While in Nadi, we walked along the few rather decrepit blocks of the downtown area, asked for a restaurant recommendation, and were directed to a curry and seafood restaurant which, unfortunately, had bad food. The downtown area was pretty much deserted on a Friday night, which I found somewhat surprising, but the whole place seemed dreary, desperate, and depressing – we didn’t miss it when we left. Read more here and here.

Worst transportation experience

Wow – this is a tough category. Once again, it’s a tie, between the crazed maniacal minibus driver in Fiji, whose insane driving drove us out onto the road and into a school bus; the tweaking idiot in Bangkok whose meth-fuelled speed racer drive from Bangkok to Ayutthaya terrified me; and the overloaded and top heavy ferry boat back from Koh Laan to Pattaya, almost capsizing a couple of times along the way.

Most surprising place

Siem Reap, Cambodia, a lovely city with vibrant nightlife and proximity to the great Angkor temples and Samoa, a beautiful small country.

And Guanajuato, Mexico, a fabulous colourful hill-top town in the central highlands with loads of museums, haciendas, good restaurants, and a vibrant local scene.

For us one of the most surprising things was Semana Santa in Guanajuato – who knew that Easter would be so fabulous there?

Perhaps surprisingly, given how much we liked Bali, especially Amed, East Bali, our choice for retirement living in the sun when we’re old is, at the moment, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Why? Well, let me count the reasons:

1) It has a beautiful beach and a long malecon with sculpture and art.

2) It has a vibrant contemporary art scene, dancing, theatre, community centres with classes in language, art, yoga, tai chi, and the like. Lots of artists around the place.

3) It has great coffee shops and restaurants, especially in the Old Town.

4) Although there are lots of gringos, it’s still a Mexican town, especially a few blocks off the beach.

5) Great day trips to small towns and villages are easy by inexpensive local transport. For an example, see my report on Yelapa here.

6) Inexpensive accommodation can be had a few blocks off the beach

7) Rentals are pet-friendly. We can easily bring Brubin and the cat with us when we visit.

8) Easily and cheaply accessible by direct flight in only a few hours.

9) I speak Spanish, albeit not yet fluently.