Art in Iassos

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Friday morning we had an all day excursion to the ruined Greco-Roman city of Iassos, about an hour and a half north of Gokcebel. We rolled out in a convoy of two vehicles, heading through Torba, past Guvercinlik, past the atrocious monstrosity of an illegal hotel put up by Erdogan and his people, up and over a mountain, down the other side to the back of beyond – Iassos – passing forests of dry brown korek plants on the way. A former Roman city with a small harbour, Iassos is only partially excavated. Apparently it will rival Ephesus when it’s finally done many moons from now. We had a cup of tea at the fish restaurant fronting the harbour, with a view of the Byzantine Palace floating on the water, and then headed with all our painting gear to select a site for the next painting project.

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People stationed themselves throughout the agora, picking a place from which a good perspective view could be seen. Eljay wanted us to execute a small thumbnail sketch, and then a painting or pastel drawing focusing on perspective.

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I found a spot under an olive tree facing the bouleterion, a small theatre-like space used by the senate in Roman times, and did a painting of the recession of columns and the green hills in the distance. Most found this assignment a bit tricky, perspective being something that usually does not come easily. However, everyone gave it a go and it was interesting to see the variety of results. A couple of small tortoises wandered through our group and I saw several black lizards darting among the rocks; while walking across the stones, I was stung by some kind of insect but luckily it did not swell up – just hurt for a few moments.

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Due to its location, its marble and fishing, Iassos had been inhabited since the earliest days of the history. The city was founded by Greek colonists coming from Argos in the 9th century BC and then inhabited by immigrants from Miletus. In addition, Italian archaeologists have found Minoan houses and Mycenaean pottery which indicates that the site had been inhabited at much earlier date than arrival of the Greeks.

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The digs started 1960s reveled that oldest part of Iassos was on the top of Acropolis hill, later taken over by the Byzantine fortress. These show some similarities between the Crete, Greece and Anatolian cultures. The chief divinities of Iassos were Apollo and Artemis. One of the inscriptions discovered in Iassos mentions Artemis Astias, apparently a mixture of the old Carian deity Goddess and Artemis the hunter. Her temple had an unroofed cella. As well, the theatre and festivals arranged for Dionysus show the importance of the god Dionysus in Iassos. More info and pictures of Iassos here.

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Later in the afternoon, after a huge meal of meze, salad, fries, and fish, some people walked up to the acropolis to see the mosaics, others dipped their feet in the harbour, and Lidia, Eljay, and I drove to the little museum, hoping to get a look at the artifacts removed from the ruin site; however, it was closed and no-one about to open the door. After gathering everyone up, we were off down the road in the setting sun to close another great day here on the peninsula.

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The Eagle Has Landed in Gokcebel

Well, I had been stressing for quite a few days about my upcoming flight to Turkey. I had purchased the ticket on Ty’s tablet while we were in Mexico; I was angry with myself because, on its tiny screen I had difficulty reading the information and, even though I had said to myself “That flight is one I definitely don’t want because it has such short transfer times”, in fact that stupid flight was exactly the one I clicked on in my rush to buy the ticket. Visions of being left behind in Amsterdam as my KLM flight to Istanbul was winging its way eastward danced in my head, and not in a nice way, either.

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I attempted to check-in online the day before the flight, but because I hadn’t entered the passport information when I bought the ticket (because my passport, inconveniently, was expiring), half way through the process I discovered that without this crucial bit of info, I could not check-in online. Nor could I select a seat, another thing that I had wanted to do so that I could make sure of getting a spot on the aisle close to the front of the plane for speedier exit … sigh. Major cock-up.

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So … I got to the airport four hours early, checked in at the self-serve kiosk, and found out that my assigned seat was a middle seat right in the back of the plane (of course). Luckily, because I was so early I was able to change my seat at the kiosk to a more congenial row 26 aisle seat …. closer to the target. Even more happily, the plane left on time, and, since it wasn’t full, I was able to move to an even more strategic seat on the aisle row 16. We had a smooth flight over the North Pole and arrived in Amsterdam a bit early; I leapt out of my seat the moment the seat belt sign was turned off and hustled myself and my carry-on bag down the hallway to my connecting flight, already boarding at a gate somewhere far away … after a speed walk through the terminal I arrived at a long line sneaking its way through the security clearance with 5 minutes to spare before the gate closed – huzzah!

Unfortunately, the Istanbul flight left late and confronted strong head winds on the way east, Ataturk International was exceptionally busy, with every gate full of planes and others waiting to taxi in, and we had to wait to park at the gate. When I had originally booked the Bodrum flight, I had had enough time to transfer, but the airline had changed the departure time twice after I had already purchased the ticket, each time moving it earlier. As a consequence, I had only one hour to get off the KLM plane, through passport control, into the domestic terminal, and onto the next plane … Once again the mad dash down the airport hallways, rushing past folks clogging up the moving sidewalks, only to arrive at an unbelievably crowded passport control point, full of a surging mass of international humanity. Unlike other big airports – Mexico City, for example, where people with connecting flights can go through a separate streamlined transfer passport control process – here everyone has to trudge through the same slow snake of a line towards the control booth – scheisse! It was not at all looking good for my connecting flight to Bodrum. While I walked slowly through the line, the group of eastern European men behind me kept trying to budge into line in front of me; not feeling very charitable and not willing to ignore it, I told them that actually I was ahead of them and proceeded to push my way past them as the minutes ticked inexorably by.

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After receiving a desultory look at my visa and a loud clang of a stamp in my new passport, I raced through Ataturk International in the direction of the Domestic Terminal, along a seemingly interminable series of hallways as the time was running out and “Last Call” for the Bodrum flight flashed on the Departure screen. By this time I was a ball of sweat, and the ol’ legs were not as strong as they might have been. I was losing steam and starting to give up on making the flight. But with a superhuman effort I ran up to the Atlasjet counter yelling “Bodrum – help!”. An employee took pity on me, I was tossed a boarding pass, conducted to the front of the security line, through screening, had my bag carried down to the bus, radioed the plane that I was on my way and the door held open for me as I stumbled up the stairs, into the cabin, and collapsed in a sweaty, stinking heap into my seat at one minute before departure (not a good look) – huzzah!

In an interesting turn of events on the flight, I was having a nice chat with a very pleasant Turkish woman heading to Gundogan from Frankfurt and the fellow sitting on my other side heard me say I was from Canada. He asked “Which city?”, I responded “Vancouver”, he asked, “Where in Vancouver?”, I replied “Downtown – what about you?”, he replied “Yaletown”, I said “No kidding – where?, he answered “The Elan – 28th  floor”. I was stunned – we were actual neighbours! The Elan is the building right across the street from our place – we could have seen one another through our windows! How small is the world! Originally from Iran, resident in Vancouver for 14 years, Dema is now a financial planner in Dubai but still considers himself Canadian. It was a lovely end to a long, long day to meet these nice folks.

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Eljay retrieved me from the airport and drove me to our digs for the coming weeks, the Old Stone House, in tiny village of Gokcebel, a lovely drive of about 45 minutes along the beautiful coast of the Bodrum peninsula. After a nice glass of cold white wine, and some homemade soup, I was ready to hit the sack. Over and out for now!

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.

 

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.

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.

Road trippin’ on the Island

Now that I no longer have to commute weekly to Vancouver Island, and have had a year away from the ships, the BC Ferry trip aboard the SS Coastal Renaissance from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo on a sunny day is actually quite pleasant. Surprisingly, on this sunny day, the ferry wasn’t full, perhaps a testament to the hike in prices that’s driving away business these days.

Spending some time with a friend living in Cedar, a small community south of Nanaimo formerly a subdivision for Harmac Pulp and Paper mill workers, was lovely. Cedar’s quiet and beautiful on a sunny summer day; we decided to take advantage of the weather to do a road trip up island to the Milner Garden and Woodlands just outside Qualicum Beach. Our first stop was the Petroglyph Park in south Nanaimo just off the old highway. Here’s information on the Park from the BC Parks website:

The high concentration of prehistoric rock carvings is the main attraction at Petroglyph Provincial Park, located at the south end of Nanaimo. Visitors can get a glimpse back to a time more than 1,000 years ago, when First Nations peoples created these traditional carvings. This day-use park offers excellent viewing opportunities of these petroglyphs. Locations for rock art carvings were chosen carefully, and were almost always made at places of power or mystery – places where the forces of nature were believed to be especially strong. These areas are usually marked by natural features such as waterfalls, rock formations or caves, and most are near water.

A short walkway leads from the parking lot to an interpretive area with information boards that offer details about the history of the area and help to decipher the petroglyphs. The images – depicting everything from mystical wolf-like creatures to fish and human figures – were made for a variety of reasons, including territorial ownership and to commemorate special events among a people with no written language. The sandstone gallery of petroglyphs, located on a hill overlooking Nanaimo Harbour, is just a short distance from the interpretive area along the walkway. Concrete replica castings of the petroglyphs can be found in the main interpretation area.

Petroglyph Park is tiny – two hectares – and has a couple of huge sandstone rock formations, underneath which may be more First Nations artifacts.

Rolling up the highway, we stopped briefly at the McColl Fossil Centre on the campus at Vancouver Island University, my old stomping grounds. The Centre, a wooden pagoda-like structure, contains a gigantic Cretaceous Palm, according to Maggie, after whom the Centre is named, it is the biggest plant fossil in North America – very cool

On this day the Milner Gardens and Woodland was very quiet, just us, a few volunteers, and the local butterflies, birds, and dragonflies. Paths winding through a small old growth Douglas Fir forest lead down to the gardens and house, past the gift shop and pool, the latter currently being refurbished as a water feature which will look beautiful when it’s done.

At the moment, several pink water lilies are floating on its placid surface, attracting many brilliantly-coloured dragonflies. I love water features, water temples, water palaces – anything to do with water, plants, and sculpture. This pond would look beautiful at night with small candle-lit boats drifting over it …. perhaps one day.

A gigantic Chinese Dogwood tree covered in a blanket of white blossoms sits next to a labyrinth recently etched into the grass near the Milner house. While Maggie walked the labyrinth, I wandered around looking at the various small ponds and attendant statuary.

Inside the house a few folks were having tea on the premises where Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip and Princess Di once dined. One can see their enormous signatures in the guest book, Di’s scrawl and happy face graphic, written not too long before she died, taking up an entire page.

Here’s a link to more info about the Gardens, gifted to Vancouver Island University which runs them now.

Since we were in the area, our road trip concluded with a late lunch on the terrace at the Cuckoo Italian Restaurant at Coombs, famous for its rooftop goats (the town, not the restaurant). We had a excellent lunch, highly recommended, and I patted a sweet female goat hanging around near the restaurant’s fence.

I had no idea that goats have horizontal pupils – guess I’ve never been this close to one before …

Above is a view of the Gabriola ferry dock and the island beyond. “Have heads, will travel”: below is a picture of me with one of my head transport bags; packing my seven painted heads and mannequin parts aboard the ferry and bus for the return trip was amusing – many folks were quite interested and the quips were flying. After getting on the public bus at Horseshoe Bay and asking what the fare was, the driver said $2.75 for me but “What about that guy there?”, indicating the dummy in my bag – being told that the mannequin was a senior, he said, “Well, no charge then”.

See more photos here.