Hike to Las Animas Take Two

Barb and I decided to do the Monday hike to Las Animas again, except this time taking the low ocean-front route rather than the stairs up the mountain. We met Doug, Judith, John, and Charlie at the Boca bus stop on Constitucion, boarding the first bus to leave after 10:30 am. Doug had to sneak his dog Chester on board, since only dogs who are small enough to sit on their owner’s lap are really allowed on the bus.

Often on Mexican buses there is entertainment provided by people who travel along with the bus for a bit; this day it was two clowns doing some sort of comedy routine but my Spanish was not up to it.

After a quick pit stop at the Boca beachside washrooms, we headed across the bridge and onto the trail, passing several horses on the way.

We picked up a group of six young Argentinians on the trail and hiked with them to Los Colomitos, the first bay along the trail. The young woman ahead of me was wearing flip-flops, not a very good choice for this trail.

Charlie’s dog Dutch, an older poodle, did a very good job of keeping up with the group.

Dutch and Chester had a little encounter with Wilson, the great Dane who lives at the Ocean Grill.

So after that, it was time to move on …

The lower trail is very narrow and without handrails for the most part so we had to be careful and watch our steps.

It’s a very scenic route. Luckily, we were walking in shade for most of the way.

Along the whole route dogs started barking furiously as soon as they noticed Chester and Dutch; two looked like they were going to chase after us but didn’t in the end.

Maggie and Janet had planned to join us by boat for lunch. As the minutes ticked past, we figured that they weren’t coming but lo and behold, we saw a flash of white hair, and there they were on the last boat to Yelapa pulling onto the beach.

Once again, a great day out! Cheers! See more here.

Birthday Dinner at Le Bistro

Happy 21st Birthday again, Maggie! The gang of six strolled down the hill to Le Bistro on Isla Cuale to celebrate Maggie’s birthday with what we thought would be a Cuban music-inspired evening riverside. Well, the cubans were a no show but the local pianist on the restaurant’s white grand piano was good, and his entourage of young women in long lacy gowns was also interesting.

The restaurant makes a great setting for art exhibitions, and at the moment has quite a few local scenes on display, one of which, the cathedral piece here, looks a lot like the one I’m attempting to finish right now.

When we arrived the place was aglow with candle light and lots of people enjoying their dinner.

It was nice the see the place busy, since it had been pretty much a ghost town at lunch.

Our meal began with an amouse bouche of chicken on a tiny cracker, down the hatch in one bite. As you can see Maggie was happy with her lobster bisque.

And Barb with her spinach salad.

Everything was beautifully presented (and very expensive). Barb and I had a pepper encrusted beef medallion (not the dinner below but one like it – this is Christine’s steak).

Janet and Kathy decided on the catch of the day, red snapper.

After the main course, I wandered around the restaurant, taking a few pictures of the eclectic decor.

I had told the waiter the other day when making our reservation that it would be Maggie’s birthday, so for desert they brought out a lovely birthday platter and several servers sang Happy Birthday to the Queen of the Evening.

Everyone but me decided to be Frida for the evening, taking turns going to the washroom and returning with a black unibrow, courtesy of Barb’s eyebrow makeup.

Janet was the best incarnation, since she also has the Frida hairstyle.

Maggie’s brow made her look a bit crazed.

After dinner, Janet the cat whisperer saw a kitty cat in the distance, made the call, and lo and behold, from all corners of the island, they streamed toward us.

Here are the five unibrows on the way home – Cheers!

See more pics here.

Strolling around Centro, PV

Barb found a new friend in PV; hope Frida doesn’t know.

Lucha libre, anyone?

Walking across the bridge towards Isla Cuale, we saw two new murals recently created by our painting master Quetzal.

This year, for the first time since I have been coming here, the Jazz Bistro, formerly home to a large colony of feral cats, is open. The 2 for 1 margarita sign drew us in like moths to a flame.

The place is huge, with a lovely seating area out over the river, and decorated with lots of eclectic artwork and, strangely to me, several old wooden printing presses. Possibly the owner was formerly involved in the printing trade? Quien sabe?

The margaritas, of which we had two each, were deadly. After stumbling out of the restaurant, we made our way down the isla to the bridge over the water leading up to Gringo Gultch.

And past the Casa Kimberly, formerly the home of lovebirds Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, of which there is a bronze statue decorating the casa’s forecourt.

Walking past the Hacienda San Angel, we saw that the door was open and decided to check it out. Don, a fellow Canadian here for several months, kindly showed us his room and the attached roof top terrace with a commanding view of the bay and the cathedral just below.

On Sunday evening the six of us decided to join the dancing throngs in the plaza right downtown, to the accompaniment of a live brass band (with a woman tuba player).

See more photos here.

Clay Cooking in the Art Kitchen, Puerto Vallarta

The gang of six on the way to Art Vallarta.

Diego, Frida, and her monkey welcomed us to the Mexican-Morrocan cooking class at Art Vallarta last Wednesday evening. Hosted by the wonderful Nathalie, the class is held in the Art Kitchen penthouse of the San Franciscan condo complex in Old Town Puerto Vallarta, in the air above Art Vallarta.

The artist-painted chair backs are a new addition to the terrace dining table this year and they are gorgeous, as are the beautiful handmade textile place-mats.

Nathalie, dressed in colourful Frida-inspired clothing and apron, greeted us with refreshing blended drinks of tequila, cilantro, and pineapple juice (so much for my swearing off tequila …).

The first order of business was removing the pistils from a bowl of zucchini flowers to be used in a crepe dish.

Next, Janet was deputised to wash the banana leaves for a clay-cooked fish dish, while Maggie stoked the fire in the chimenea, in which the fish was to be cooked.

In addition to the raw clay platters Nathalie had pre-prepared, looking like enormous peanut butter cookies, the dish required a sauce of passion plant seeds from her enormous flowers, lots of cilantro, red onion, and cream.

This is the passion plant flower; it is at least four times as big as the ones I grow on my deck.

After patting out the clay and covering it with a banana leaf, we added a chunk of red snapper, drenched it with sauce, sealed it up in a banana leaf, and wrapped the entire package in clay, being sure that the clay had no holes.

Nathalie was pleased with our creations.

While we made the clay fish pockets, Brook whipped up the batter for the crepes in a large clay dish.

Once the chimenea was hot enough, Nathalie inserted the clay fish pockets deep into its belly, finding room for all nine pieces.

For the main dish, Nathalie had marinated chicken thighs and placed them in the bottom of one of Froylan’s whimsical clay tagines.

Building up the dish into a pyramid of food, we added prunes, red onion, herika sauce,

carrots, zucchini, garbanzo beans, potatoes, lots and lots of cilantro,

pomegranate seeds,

and covered the whole enormous pile with cabbage leaves at the end. The tagine is simply placed on a stove top element and left to cook for an hour or so; since the food that requires the most time to cook is placed on the bottom and that which requires the least at the top, all of it is ready to go at the same time.

The zucchini flowers were rolled into the crepes with a mild white cheese and covered in a roasted tomato sauce.

It was a bit tricky getting all of the clay pockets out of the chimenea’s belly.

Unfortunately, two of the pockets exploded while cooking but mine survived intact.

Once seated at the dining table, we each took turns whacking the clay with wooden mallets to reveal the fish inside.

My favourite dishes were the spicy cold avocado soup and the crepe.

This is what the crepe, when cooked, looked like. I really love the unusual ingredients and unique ways in which Nathalie’s recipes are prepared and cooked – her class is highly recommended!

And here’s the tagine dish. Thanks to Nathalie for a wonderful cooking class and great evening on her terrace!

See more pics here. For more info on the Art Kitchen, go here.

 

Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens

Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens is one of the most lovely spots on the coast here, founded in 2006 by some flower folks and kept going mostly by donations. It’s an easy 35 minute trip south of PV on the El Tuito bus, costing about 20 pesos.

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One half of the garden consists of trails through the jungle, not unlike those through Lynn Canyon Park, except that there’s no river at the bottom of the gulch.

The structure in the background is the rhododendron house; I don’t remember seeing it before so perhaps it is new this year.

Lots of the plants in the cacti gardens are blooming, with tiny flower buds perched on top of big cactus leaves.

We followed the trail down to the river but didn’t take a dip; for some reason, it doesn’t really appeal to me.

This year the most interesting plants for me were all the tiny orchids with beautiful bell-shaped flowers.

I love these face-pots, possibly a ceramic project for another year.

Lots of beautiful small butterflies flutter around the flowers here.

The second half of the garden consists of smaller areas with different species of plants, and little memorial areas, such as the one below.

This chapel also looks to be a recent addition, possibly to provide a space for weddings to take place.

Right next to the chapel is a tiny pet cemetery with headstones dedicated to the animal dearly departed.

One of my favourites is the orchid house, seen below.

Right outside the Visitors Centre is a lovely lily pond with lots of big koi, who rise to the surface of the water with mouths agape for whatever nibblies people toss in.

While waiting for the others to return, I sat next to the pond and did a small watercolour painting of it.

From the restaurant terrace on the upper level of the visitors centre, I could see the abandoned pool referred to in the Garden’s map. I have no idea why it’s there or what it’s about, but it would make a fabulous site for artistic experimentation – too bad it’s strictly off limits.

In the tops of trees we could see from the dining area large platters of food drew bluebirds, with beady black eyes, and black and yellow birds – I was only able to get photos of the greedy bluebirds, who hogged the feeders.

See more here.

 

Plein Air at Los Muertos

Four of the six amigas decided to do plein air painting on the beach at Los Muertos today. Instead of Adrian Rojas, the usual teacher who is out of town, we had Quetzal Cocoatl instead, who arrived at Art Vallarta with a big smile.

After paying our dues and buying canvases, we rolled down the hill will all our supplies to set up shop under the palapas at the Tropicana hotel.

We were each given a portable easel, selection of acrylic paints and brushes, and the guidance of Quetzal for the morning. It took a few moments to decide where to set up our easels for the most optimum subject matter. I decided to face north towards the pier.

Quetzal sketched out a beach scene of umbrellas and chairs for Barb to paint, while Janet, Maggie and I opted for landscapes, and Kathy decided to do a portrait of Maggie.

A group of French Canadian men from Montreal came by to see what we were up to and spent quite a bit of time admiring our work. As you can see here, I began by sketching out the motif in yellow ochre and started to block in non-naturalistic colours.

Maggie’s first landscape started off well with a beautiful cloudy sky the colour of her shirt.

My piece progressed more or less slowly, since I got a little bored with the subject long before it was actually done.

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Barb’s piece came along nicely, and Quetzal embarked on a portrait of Maggie painting.

Kathy blocked in the background colours around Maggie’s figure.

Janet decided to go for a more naturalistic approach, using blues and greys for her beachscape.

After completing the landscape of Conchas Chinas, Maggie began a new figurative piece we called “The Pink Man”, a portrait of the seated man in front of her.

Everyone continued to work away assiduously on their respective paintings, adding colour and detail.

Below is the actual pink man, a very suntanned French Canadian from Montreal.

I was beginning to like my painting more as I added more pinks, purple, and lilacs to the foreground.

Somehow, the pink man became aware that he was the subject of a portrait image and he, along with his posse, strolled over to check it out.

Happily, the pink man decided that he had to have the canvas as a souvenir of his vacation and a deal was made; he walked off with a MM original, to the delight of all.

Whereapon, Maggie decided to buy the portrait that Quetzal had painted of her, once again to the delight of all.

In these photos, my piece looks a bit washed out – it’s more vibrant in the flesh, so to speak.

All in all, a most successful day of art-making – huzzah! See more photos here. See some of Quetzal’s work here.

From Boca de Tomatlan to Las Animas

The five of us were up early-ish and off down the highway on the standing room only Boca bus for our hike to Las Animas. Rather than walk all the way into town and over the bridge, we elected to take our shoes off and ford the river at Boca de Tomatlan.

Ty and I had done the first half of the trail last year so I knew that part of the hike. The first bit past the ocean front houses is easy walking right along the water’s edge.

I remembered this enormous fig tree from last year.

We saw lots of pelicans and frigate birds sunning themselves on the rocks, as well as this iquana.

There are some very nice oceanfront villas here, none of which appear to be occupied at the moment. Quite a few are for sale.

After the first bit, the trail winds up and up the mountain and down the other side. Catching a glimpse of the gorgeous emerald blue-green water from the hill on the way down is fantastic.

This small bay is as far as Ty and I got last year so I wasn’t exactly sure where the trail heading south was. One map I looked at showed it running along the water but another blog said to look for the high trail. We came to a fork in the road and, after Barb saw that the waterside trail looked a bit sketchy, we decided to opt for the 1,000 step staircase heading up the hill.

We traveled quite a ways uphill into what was pretty dry brush, with dry leaves and dry dusty ground making it a bit difficult to navigate in spots.

We got to another fork in the road and met a family coming up the hill who said that the boats did not come into the bay below and that we should continue upward. Unfortunately, this turned out to be incorrect advice. After some debate as we were standing almost at the top of the mountain on a trail to nowhere, we decided to cut our losses and head back. Thankfully, we met Tammi on the trail back and she told us that, yes, we were supposed to go down the trail that the family had told us was the wrong one. Feeling a bit more chipper now that we were back on the right track, we headed down the hill in a canter.

Walking the last bit towards Las Animas was like following a mirage in the desert; first one beach, then the next, then the next, Las Animas always receding in the distance.

Some of the group were pretty weary by this point, since by now, we had been walking for about three hours and one of our party didn’t bring enough water.

The first couple of beaches here are private, with no facilities available unless you’ve booked in to stay.

Coming into the home stretch, we crossed this vast expanse of sand, only to see yet another sign pointing the way around yet another corner to Las Animas.

At this point I was beginning to feel like the character in the Monty Python movie that keeps turning to the audience as he’s walking away, saying, “Follow me, it’s not much further …”

Finally, after almost four hours of walking, we arrived at our destination and met Tammi and her group of intrepid hikers at the Caracol restaurant.

This group of Canadians shared their bottle of raicilla moonshine with us, pouring out shots served with slices of orange. OMG was it strong!

 

Along with the people were two lovely dogs in their group, Chester the pointer and Chino the terrier-chihuahua mix.

Doug, Tammi, Larry, and the others offered us a ride back in their boat, and the free margaritas that went with it. They do this hike every Monday during the season and are the restaurant’s best customers, so they get a great price on the drinks and the boat.

At four o’clock we all piled on the boat and headed back to PV, stopping at Los Arcos along the way to feed the fish.

The one hour ride back is timed to arrive just in time for Happy Hour at Langostino’s on the beach, which is where our group rolled to.

It was a great day and now I have sworn off tequila for the rest of the trip …

See more photos here.

 

More art and fun in the sun

One of the reasons I love Puerto Vallarta is because of the art and old town has some lovely galleries and artists’ studios. On a walk around Basilio Badillo area our first stop was the ceramic studio and gallery of Patricia Gawle. Originally from Florida, I think, Patricia also gives classes in hand building and tile painting in her space.

This day two people were in making clay figures; it was obvious that one of the folks had done this before – her piece was quite sophisticated.

Patricia specialises in half-length figures with various attributes atop the heads; this piece looks as though it has space for something to be added later on.

I would love to take a class here one day. Patricia also has a lovely small dachsund dog who watches over the studio and gallery. For more info on Patricia and her work, click here.

A new addition to the street is a majolica pottery shop with some lovely tiles and painted wooden figurines. Kathy was interested in purchasing some tiles but, unfortunately, the sales girl didn’t know how much they were … surely, as a sales person that would be the one thing that you’d be sure to find out.

Our next stop was around the corner on Constitution to see the studio gallery of Kathleen Carillo, whose specialty is “celebrating the colorful magic of life”. Apparently a number of these figurative works are painted with her non-dominant hand, a technique that allows the artist to work more freely and expressively.

She has a beautiful large airy space, with an outdoor courtyard and a room in back where she paints and hold classes.

Kathleen also runs painting classes abroad and this June is taking people to the French Riviera. For more info on Kathleen, click here.

Along Basilio Badillo the bougainvillea flowers are really beautiful; I never get tired of looking at them.

Contempo Gallery has a nice open air terrace space that overlooks the street, on which they show metal sculpture.

My favourite gallery, for the ambiance and the fabulous sculpture courtyard, continues to be Galleria Dante, run by Claire, originally from Saskatchewan.

I could sit in their courtyard all day admiring the sculpture and the huge flowering bushes.

This year an artist is installed and painting in the courtyard.

We had quite a long chat with her; her name is Consuelo, from California, living the dream in Puerto Vallarta. She told us that she had always wanted to have her work in a prestigious gallery and now she does; it hangs in one of the hallways just off the entrance gallery.

She is a delightful addition to the gallery environment.

The gallery used to be a large family hacienda and you can still see remnants of that past in some of the corners, such as a large marble bathtub. More info on Galleria Dante here. See more of my pictures here.

Yesterday we decided to spend the day at the beach and so the six of us grabbed a taxi truck to the Mango Beach Club at Playa Camerones, north of the Malecon, arriving just as they were opening the place. We were lucky enough to get six loungers and umbrellas in the first row overlooking the ocean.

Two local guys were there with their dog Tango, a young black beast with a perpetual grin who was just dying to get off his leash and chase seagulls.

Around the bay from Playa Camarones we could see the towers of Nuevo Vallarta and the all inclusives in the distance.

It was interesting to watch the pelicans fishing; they must have incredible eyesight to spot fish from so high in the air and be able to catch them in one swift dive to the ocean. One cagey small bird followed the pelicans around, capitalising on their spotting ability to snag some fish of its own.

Small rocks dot the sand here, making the scene look quite a bit like the watercolour painting exercise we did the other day.

This place has pretty good margaritas, as you can see from Maggie’s expression.

A local brother and sister were playing at the sea front, she making sure that he didn’t get into any trouble.

The sparkly foot bling of one vendor caught our eyes, and, before you knew it, an entire flock of vendors were circling around us, tempting us with jewelry, hats, and sarongs of multi colours.

We tried on several of the foot designs, before selecting quite a few, Barb having bargained for a good price on multiple pieces.

What a beautiful place this is!

Walking the Waterfront in PV

Here is our pool at the Condominios Loma Linda, a fantastic development just above Highway 200, with a panoramic view of the bay. Since it’s after Semana Santa, this place is very quiet and we have had the pool to ourselves every day. It is really beautiful.

Kathy continues to work poolside on her watercolour staining technique, using sea salt to get interesting and unpredictable textures.

We decided to walk the Malecon the other day and took the very loonnnnng set of stairs down to the beach from our place. I was surprised to see that the stairs came out exactly at the entrance to the condo where Ty and I had stayed four years ago, just half a block from Los Muertos Beach.

The beach was just waking up from its night slumber, with vendors and salespeople getting their wares ready to go and limbering up their voices for the calls to buy.

We walked out on the pier to watch the boats and birds; lots of people were already lining up for the water taxis to Yelapa.

 

Some of the bronze sculptures along the Malecon are really starting to show their age and there’s a bit of wear and tear that the city really should repair on some of the statuary.

My attempt to climb the ladder was not nearly as elegant as Janet’s.

My favourite sculpture is the one below, of many strange creatures with multi-animaled heads and dissimilar feet.

The male figure in the group below has lost an arm; Janet kindly replaced it for him

Very intricate sand sculptures rest along the water here, with boxes for tips. If one takes a photo, one is supposed to drop a few coins into the receptacle – I obliged.

“El Gordo”, the pear-shaped fat one, is eternally eating his pear.

Our reward for the walk was beers, guacamole, and ceviche at the Mango Beach Club on Playa Camarones. This one’s for you, Ty – cheers!

See more photos here.

Art in Puerto Vallarta – Ole!

Greetings from beautiful Puerto Vallarta! We are here to enjoy some sun and sea and to do some artwork at the fantastic Art Vallarta studio in Old Town. Here we are at the door of Art Vallarta, with Frida mural by local artists Tony Collantez and Quetzal Cuatl.

In the facility is a great show of Valentine’s Day-themed and Frida Kahlo-based artwork curated by Nathalie Herling, featuring art by 40 international and local artists, and other pieces, including paintings, pottery, and murals.

All the work is so colourful and fills the space with energy and joy. Nathalie showed us around as we waited for the watercolour course to begin.

On display are several clay tagines by my clay maestro Froylan Hernandez, very whimsical animalistic pots.

Nathalie is converting the building’s gym into a painting studio; already oil and acrylic classes are taking place here.

This piece is a take-off on the famous Pre-Raphaelite painting of the Lady of Shalott by JM Waterhouse, featuring Frida in the lead role.

Here’s a picture of me wearing one of Nathalie’s Easter bonnets.

Local artist Veronica Rangel is the watercolour teacher and the four of us had her all to ourselves.

She started us off on a exercise in which we painted a seaside scene, using washes and masking.

The classes include paints, brushes, and paper and each of us were given a palette with the same selection of colours to create our landscape image.

I was moderately happy with my work, until, in a frenzy of impatience, I ripped the masking tape off my edges and tore a strip off the paper.

As you can see, Barb and Kathy were pretty happy with their creations.

As well as the landscape exercise, Veronica also showed us a staining technique, which Janet demonstrates below.

Below is my second attempt at the landscape. It looks like a rogue waterspout. Barb decided for her second attempt that she would try a volcano.

Here we are at the end of the class, three hours of fun, and very happy with our productions. Veronica is very lovely and a patient teacher.

See more photos here.

For more info on Art Vallarta, click here.

If it’s Wednesday night in PV, the Centro Art Walk is the place to be; the five of us grabbed a cab from Amapas that whisked us first to the bank to withdraw some needed cash, then to the first stop on the art trail, the Colektika Galeria of contemporary Mexican folk art.

I hadn’t been to this gallery before – it is huge with many rooms and a courtyard out back, run by a guy originally from Toronto who came here to study Spanish.

They have some really fabulous stuff, like this painted wood unicorn, and the skulls below with objects atop. I love these.

The Gallery also has a small section of old artifacts in a glass case, presided over by a grinning skeleton.

Galeria Corsica was next on the tour; here Barb and Maggie are admiring the large impasto portraits.

This gallery, too, has a lovely outdoor sculpture court.

Janet tried out her swimming stroke …

I really love these photographs of figures with faces caked in mud and other organic materials.

My favourite gallery for really contemporary art is the Galeria Omar Alonso, kitty corner from the Cafe des Artistes. Right now it has some fabulous white clay sculptures, as well as knitted wire and chain pieces.

This figure, made from clay, looked like it was constructed from hundreds of white golf tees. The piece below comprises wooden chains dropping from the ceiling to touch a mirror on the floor, making it look as though they drop away to infinity.

Fabulous!

La Pulga Gallery didn’t have much going on, but it has a beautiful outdoor space where we stopped to enjoy some pretty good white wine.

Galeria des Artistes, right next door, has some interesting paintings of male figures in lucha libre masks.

One of the most interesting spaces we visited was the Starving Artist Studio Gallery, started by Rodolfo Blanco, seen below, a really nice guy who chatted to us about the place and his projects.

See more pictures here.

We finished the evening with some tasty nibbles at Florio’s on via Galeana, just off the end of the Malecon, an Italian-Argentinean pizza place with an artsy vibe. Good Times!