Puerto Vallarta!

Thanks so much to Jill for generously hosting us in Vancouver! After a not-too-bad but loonnnnngggg day flying from YVR (up at 2:30 am for the taxi to the airport) through Mexico City to Vancouver, we arrived at the hacienda in Puerto Vallarta. We are staying at the Hotel Posada Lily, corner of Basillio Badillo and Olas Altas, the epicentre of Old Town tourism, until Feb 25, in the same room as last year, number 20. Slightly unfortunately, and surprisingly to me, there is construction right across the street at the Hotel Los Arcos. They are adding a wing that is another story or two higher than the original hotel, somewhat impacting the charm of this location.

However, in the early mornings and evenings, when the banging and grinding has stopped, the place is pleasant. Below is the view from our front balcony, out over the elementary school (may they never tear it down!) and the Lazaro Cardenas Park, zumba-central here in Old Town.

Our room has a small kitchenette and we cook lots and eat out on the balcony overlooking the activity below. On any given night we are treated to Aztec dancers, guys doing acrobatic tricks, young boys singing La Bamba (out of tune), the donut man, chess players, drunken tourists trying to cross the street, muscle cars with blaring Latin music, and huge crowds lined up, for some unknown reason since tacos are everywhere here, at the taco stand du jour across the street … the whole panoply of Puerto Vallarta life.

Maggie has joined us for the first month and is in room 19 next door; we have taken over the top floor of the Lily.

One of the first couple of nights we headed out to grab some pesos from the bank near the Church of Guadalupe, with its gorgeous silver crown lit up at night glowing in the dark, and to sample some shrimp tacos from Ty’s favourite taco stand near the Municipal Market.

Luckily, the tacos are still great and we savoured the street-side feast.

One of the great things about this location is its closeness to the Malecon, the seafront boardwalk that stretches from Old Town out to 5th of Diciembre; we walk it every second day, enjoying the scene; everyone from vendors to dog-walkers to joggers to cyclists to segway riders is out and about in the morning. As usual, Ty is accosted by folks trying to sell him pipes and other assorted smoking paraphernalia (pssst Mr Whiskers, how about some weed?) Volunteers are adding more beautiful mosaics to the grandstand area of the Park.

Pro tip: the best place to get a great cup of coffee is in Old Town at Page in the Sun. We stopped further down the Malecon at an Italian Coffee shop right on the Boardwalk where Ty was given a cup of dark brown liquid that looked like coffee but had zero coffee taste (the grounds had obviously been run through about 5 times before his cup, leaving nothing of coffee for him – weird). My cappuccino was ok, though. (First world problems!)

Also down here for two months are Pam, Cec, and Beatrice, in residence at Selva Romantica, a lovely condo complex quite near our place, where we have been treated to delicious dinners a couple of times.

Each evening around 9 there is a short burst of fireworks which we were able to see from their balcony, looking north.

Another sunny morning, another stroll along the Malecon. Below is part of Isla Cuale, the green oasis of art and culture in Puerto Vallarta.

Below is a photo of my favourite Malecon sculpture; I don’t know the name of the artist but every year we enjoy sitting on these bronze creatures’ laps. Each body has a different selection of animal extremities which I find very amusing.

I love how areas of the bronze have been rubbed golden by the thousands of hands and bottoms that have enjoyed these sculptured beings.

The Mexicans seem to love Surrealism, in art, literature, and film. These creatures remind me a bit of the monster with eyeballs in his hands in the film Pan’s Labyrinth from a while back.

Puerto Vallarta’s art scene is still lively, with new murals springing up around the city. The one below, on the Isla Cuale, is still one of my favourites. Every Friday afternoon expats and tourists play social bridge at the International Friendship Club, whose headquarters are above the HSBC across the river from the Isla Cuale. Maggie and I gave it a whirl, along with about a hundred other people at a forest of white plastic tables set out in the building’s interior and courtyard.

Although I had not played at all while up in FSJ, I wasn’t too bad, albeit rusty. I seem to have forgotten some of the finer details of the bidding, though, but Maggie did not get too exercised about my incompetence.

Below is the courtyard of the Centre; one side is occupied by the Friendship Club, the other by the University of Guadalajara.

Having worked up a thirst with our afternoon of cards, Ty met us and we headed over to the Island for a drink at one of our favourite watering holes, the Brazzas Cafe.

After a few tasty margaritas at the bar, we rolled over to Marisco Cisneros for their fantastic seafood soup.

Friday nights in Old Town see the local Folkloric Ballet company dancing in the Lazaro Cardenas Park to lively Latin music, featuring dances and costumes from several of the nearby States.

We finished that evening by meeting Beatrice for music at the Mole de Jovita cafe, listening to singer and guitarist Neiri.

A nice find was the Bar La Playa right next to the Saturday market; sitting there sipping a cold one, we chatted to several people we knew passing by after visiting the Market.

Having had the Los Lirios Seafood restaurant recommended to them, Pam, Cec, and Beatrice invited us to join them for dinner. A small family-run place which does not take reservations, the restaurant was packed when we arrived. The one hour wait was worth it, though – our seafood burritas were huge and stuffed with hot, spicy shrimp – yum!

Puerto Vallarta is packed to the rafters this season. People have told us that they have never seen the place so full. The hotels are full and if you do not get to the beach by 10, a lounger is not to be had.

So naturally Ty and I were up and out the door early, to be the first people on the beach at Swell Beach Bar, one of our fave haunts on the Playa de los Muertos. Ty is getting into the swing of retirement, project-managing his consumption of cervesas in the most optimum manner.

Sunday is the day when all the local families come down to the beach with all their kids and gear, playing volleyball and frolicking in the water.

And Sunday night is the night for dancing at the main square with the Municipal Band, attracting both locals and tourists. The couple below have probably been dancing together for 40 years and they move together like magic.

I popped into Art Vallarta to see what was up there and to check out my friend Angie’s Pillars of Painting class in the centre’s downstairs painting studio. All four of the students were painting up a storm and seemed very happy with what they were able to produce in only 3 days.

Some of the works from the Women and Men Paint Women show were still up in the Centre’s Gallery, a beautiful, colourful space.

A new clay maestro from North Carolina, Rob, is in residence teaching ceramics and creating a clay portrait bust for the upcoming Magical Mar show featuring works about water and the ocean. The exhibition will feature one of my films, Awash, and paintings, ceramics, textile installations, and sculpture by local and international artists.

Veronica is also there, teaching watercolours to an eager crowd of beginners.

And Carol Anne offers acrylic pour painting, painting on silk, and fused glass classes weekly during the high season. The place was alive with creative buzz.

Lest you think that I’m doing nothing but drink beer and lie on the beach, here are some photos to show that I am easing into the art-making down here as part of the Puerto Vallarta Plein Air Painters, a group of people who head out into the streets every week to paint the local scene.

Every week the group paints at a different location; today’s was the back streets of Gringo Gultch, made famous by the lovebirds Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton who canoodled here in the 60s while making The Night of the Iguana, the film that brought the world to PV.

This is the spot I chose to paint, first sitting on stone steps but then chased off by a constant stream of ants and a very affectionate cat who insisted on rubbing against me and all my gear. He also walked across my paint palette, leading Angie and I to franticly try rubbing all the turquoise paint off his four paws. We later learned his name is Pasquale; he is the cat of a local singer here, Sylvie.

There are quite a few street cats here who look to be in pretty good shape; the one below watched me balefully, definitely not as friendly as Pasquale.

I did the first layer of a street scene that I wasn’t particularly enamoured of, but will see how it looks after adding more colour, lights, and darks.

Here is Angie in the middle of working on her piece; she ended up staying there almost all day to finish it. As you can see, she has all the requisite gear for painting outside, including the umbrella.

See more photos 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.

Puerto Vallarta seaside

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We are very happy to be staying right near the Isla Cuale, the green heart of Puerto Vallarta’s south side. Almost all of the restaurants and bars that formerly occupied this neck of the woods have closed over the last few years, leaving their empty shells as homes to the feral cats that roam around the island. However, this year a new restaurant has popped up, Eddie’s on the River – we haven’t tried it yet but apparently it has good live music on Tuesday nights.

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We have decided that the best way to get down to the ocean is to stroll under the shady trees of the Isla Cuale rather than along the hot, dusty cobblestones of the Zona Romantica, now that it’s about 29 degrees out.

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I guess that we no longer stand out as tourists, since very few of the vendors tried to sell us anything as we rolled past. Today on the Malecon a lovely breeze moderated the heat and we enjoyed walking north to the church, stopping every once and a while to do some power people- and pelican-watching. The beast photographed above chases people off his turf in front of the seafood sales shack with alacrity.

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One thing that does surprise us about the main square here in front of the church is that there are no restaurants or bars, with the exception of a Starbucks on one corner which we have no particular interest in frequenting. Other than that the only action this morning was the shoe-shine guys and a couple of jewellery vendors sitting in the shade.

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Once back on the boardwalk again heading south, we stopped for a cervesa at Cuales y Cuetes, next to the new pier, and then planted ourselves sandside at Ritmos Cafe on the south end of Los Muertos beach.

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Along with the usual jet skies and parasailing options, a new fun in the sea activity, fly-boarding, is being offered here. We watched a couple of people give it a go, not having much success at getting further out of the water than about three feet. To me, it does not look that interesting …

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As you can see from these photos, erosion continues to be a problem on the beaches of Mexico. High tide creates a cliff drop-off of about three feet at this end of Los Muertos which these workers are sandbagging in an attempt to keep the beach from being washed away.

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The usual cast of characters were out in force, the tiny women in Mayan dress selling trinkets and jewellery, the men trying to sell Ty pipes and smoke, the guys wanting to regale us with “information” of various kinds, the tour sellers, and cheeky crow-like flying beasts.

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We really like our neighbourhood; the gas man drives past every hour or so, honking and playing his horse-racing music, the water man rolls up on his bicycle with trailer of gigantic water bottles, and the young guys in their muscle cars with very loud stereos serenade us late at night and early in the morning, competing with the chickens and dogs.

See a few more pics here.

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.

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

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 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.

Aztec Dancing and Isla Cuale Culture, Puerto Vallarta

Just hanging on the beach yesterday, we were treated to an Aztec Fire Dance by a troupe of five dressed in fabulous traditional regalia.

For a change of pace from the beach, we decided to visit the Isla Cuale, a small strip of island dividing the River Cuale into two channels and centro Puerto Vallarta from the south end.

The island can be accessed from the beach or by a couple of pedestrian only foot bridges. Its western end comprises a huge restaurant, pumping out “YMCA” as we passed this day, a small Pre-Columbian museum containing mostly pottery artifacts, an art-cafe,

complete with three parrots in a huge cage and lots of colourful abstract and surrealist paintings, and the usual stalls vending the same old stuff we see on the beach all the time.

Beneath an overpass, a couple of artists had their paintings set up in the shade.

Ty took advantage of the opportunity presented by this display of Jesuses to join his brothers.

We saw an iguana in a huge tree, moving slowly along the branches and sunning itself.

After my encounter with Peter the iguana at Yelapa, the first lizard I’ve ever been really close to, I’ve realised that these beasts are really awesome – very sentient.

At the eastern end of the island are several cafes and bars, some with live music, and the Cuale Cultural Center, a series of small studios for the visual arts and music, as well as a small theatre.

This morning none were open but they do offer courses at various times during the week.

For more info on the Isla Cuale, click here.

See more pics here.