Summer in the City II

Cycling through downtown Vancouver is one of my favourite things to do, and I love Chinatown, Strathcona, and the area around the docks. When wandering through the back alleys there I am always fascinated to see how the street art has changed and developed.

This small labyrinth is tucked away near Union Street.

Many murals grace the walls of buildings and bridges down here; this first nations sun is part of a large image beneath an overpass near the old Sugar Factory.

On Alexander Street, in Gastown right near Chill Winston’s restaurant, is the gallery and studio of Choboter, an artist whose name was previously unknown to me. His works are vaguely reminiscent of Pollock’s drips, although more kitschy, with women’s faces and bodies embellished upon the paint drips and drops.

One of the blocks along Hastings is constantly metamorphosing. Every time I ride by, another piece of old time Vancouver has disappeared to be replaced by yet more restaurants, coffee shops, and palaces of consumption.

SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts faces off against the not-so-Regal Hotel across the street, its windows usually full of interesting art.

I have been photographing the alleyways between Cambie and Richards for a few years now; each time I return, the images have changed. Having been away from the area for a year, it was interesting to see what has happened with the street art and graffiti.

The alley behind the Dominion Building yielded some cool stencil art.

These large-scale wall stencils represent the contemporary evolution of printmaking art. Rather than the small, rather intimate aesthetic of traditional printmaking, these works are big, bold, and often have a socially conscious point to make.

However, there’s also lots of the usual guys with huge guns, death’s heads, and rampaging monsters thing …

A few weeks ago we checked out Tomoyo’s small installation Yearning at Solder and Sons books and cafe, 241 Main Street. Originally from Japan, Tomoyo has lived in Vancouver many years. She also spends part of the year in Ladakh, India where she is involved with the Tibetan community. Her drawings speak to issues of community, spirituality, and the injustices perpetrated on the people of Tibet.

Solder and Sons is right near the Main Street viaduct, from the top of which is a great view out over the docks, the harbour, and the North Shore mountains.

Riding along the Carrall Street bikeway from False Creek to Gastown, we pass the Sun Yat Sen Park and Gardens, recently voted the World’s Top Urban garden. It is an oasis of calm and green beauty in a sea of concrete.

From the gardens we can see the revolving “W” of the former Woodwards Department Store, now the epicentre of downtown eastside Vancouver gentrification.

While vestiges of the gritty downtown eastside remain, such as the West Hotel, the areas untouched by real estate hipsters are shrinking in the face of an influx of expensive doughnut shops and trendy restaurants.

At the yearly Powell Street Festival, the remains of Vancouver’s original Japanese community gather in Oppenheimer Park (between Powell Street and the waterfront).

See more pics here and here.

Cancun: El Meco and Isla Mujeres

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

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

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

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

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

The site previous to this was believed to be home to a small native village going back to the 6th century AD. … Speculation based on artifact finds and architecture places El Meco at the heart of one of the Chichen Itza periods and further speculates that the city was amongst the then extended realms of the rulers of Chichen Itza.” (

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not bad advice …

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

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

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

See more pics here.