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.

Day tripping to Yelapa

We were interested in seeing some of the less developed areas of the coast south of PV and decided to take the bus to Boca de Tomatlan, the last town on the route south. We were up and out the door by 8:30 for the half kilometer walk to Insurgentes and Basillo Badillo and the bus stop. Just as we rolled up, the bus arrived and off we went down the winding coast-hugging road. Almost all the fancy waterside villas along this road seem to be for sale by “Timothy” real estate – is this the only real estate game in town? And what is not for sale is for rent. There are lots of high rise hotels and condo developments south of PV about as far as Mismaloya, famed for the 1960s movie Night of the Iguana with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. After this point the real estate pickings are slim and Boca does not have much in the way of newer accommodation, although a few palatial residences do dot the bay there.

Boca seems to be a town in transition from its earlier incarnation as a fishing village and its not-yet-established identity as a tourist centre. When we arrived there at 9:30 there were a few bodies about and some drunks sleeping off last night’s bender under a restaurant veranda.

Seeing that there wasn’t too much of interest there for us, we decided to keep on heading south, and caught the ten o’clock water taxi to Yelapa, the last stop on Banderas Bay, accessible only by water.

The water taxi was about half-full and the seas were high; seated at the front, I just about got blasted into the air as one huge wave hit us. Luckily, I held my ground, or boat bench, and we were deposited, after a ride of about 40 minutes and three stops at smaller settlements, at the pier at Yelapa.

We crashed at the first shaded restaurant we saw, the Lagunita, for a breakfast burrito and coffee – big and delicious – and spent our time under a palapa on the beach, watching dogs chase seagulls, kids play frizzbe, vendors vend, and iguanas walk.

I had my picture taken with Peter the iguana (he’s very forward – I’d only just met him and already he’s feeling me up …).

In the afternoon parasailers rode the sky, and paragliders swooped down from the surrounding hills. The vendor parade wasn’t as active there as in PV but, for a small burg, there were still quite a few people plying the sand.

As we were driving down the coast, we had noticed what looked like a sewage outflow pipe dumping crap into the ocean. And while on the boat to Yelapa we saw a slick of yellowish-white bubbly crud floating on top of the water along the current all down the shore, ending its run in Yelapa Bay. We weren’t sure whether this was indeed effluent but it did not look very appealing so we didn’t swim – too bad.

After we got back, I read the following account of the foam, which explains the phenomenon (although that pipe is definitely pumping out sewage, so that’s there as well):

In Banderas Bay during February and March you might encounter what looks like stretches of filth and foam along the coastline. It is NOT sewage or filth. Professor Fabio Cupul explains (in the PV Tribune) : A word about ‘Sea Foam’ … For a couple of months, usually February and March, Vallarta has a strange ocean phenomenon which appears as, well, filth floating near the tides of the beaches. This foam is due to the presence in the water of an infinite number of acorn barnacles or sacabocados (animals related to shrimp that live attached to rocks). These organisms shed their skin every time they increase in size. There are also small fragments of plants and animals within it, that complicate matters.

These elements gather along the coastline of the bay and on the surface of the water to form a net that catches small films of sea water as the waves break on the beach, creating a dirty looking color, a situation that makes many think of contamination. A fraction of the material is generated by the acorn barnacles and the rest comes from the mechanism of an action known as upwelling. Cold water, rich in organic matter, upwells from the ocean’s depth to its surface. As the temperature on the bottom is lesser and it receives the waste and offal of plants and animals that live along that area of water, that precipitate and accumulate on the ocean floor, thus enriching it. This results in important economic benefits, maintaining the health of the biological ecosystems. This dirty looking sea foam offers an infallible indication of the beginning and continuation of life within the natural environment.


Yelpapa is hotter and drier than Puerto Vallarta and has a river leading inland to a waterfall, an attraction we did not bother investigating, having seen many over the past several months, most disappointingly small or dried up. After several hours under the palapa enjoying the sun and breeze, we ran across the sand to catch the 3:30 boat back to Boca where the bus was waiting as we climbed the hill to it for our ride back.

For more Yelapa info, click here.

See more pics here.

Puerto Vallarta nights: Dancing and Art Walking

Traditional Mexican dance demonstrations are held twice a week in Puerto Vallarta, Sunday nights at Los Arcos small amphitheatre on the Malecon and Friday nights at the park in the South End. Sunday was a beautiful day and glorious cloudless evening; the crowd on the Malecon was thick as we wove our way towards the amphitheatre.

The place was packed and the only spot where we could see the dancers was behind the stage – less than optimal …

We watched a flamenco-like version of Ravel’s Bolero and a couple of regional dances by a troupe of brightly-clad and beautiful people before crossing the street to the main square where a competing crowd of folks danced in front of the bandstand to recorded Glenn Gould big band music.

Sitting in between these two gave us a somewhat schizophrenic musical experience. The church of Our Lady of Puerto Vallarta, with its beautiful silver crown, glowed against the sky as the night darkened.

The tiny dog you can see in the shadows below was quietly waiting for its master while the Easter Sunday mass progressed.

Both Ty and I were sick for a couple of days; after fighting off a cold, we headed back out to the beach, frolicing in the high waves and enjoying the people-watching.

Wednesday night saw us out on the streets of centro again for the weekly Art Walk, a PV staple for the last fifteen years. Since we didn’t have a map of the walk, we asked in a few local restaurants if they knew where the Art Walk was; although it’s been going for such a long time, none of them did … sigh.

We did eventually find one of the galleries and from there, with map in hand, we were able to make our way around to almost all of the participating galleries. PV’s contemporary art scene is apparently second only to Mexico City’s but this night there weren’t too many people out, possibly because it’s nearing the end of the season here.

We saw some beautiful Mata Ortiz pottery at the Galeria de Ollas. Each of these exquisite pieces is hand built from coils (no wheels are used) and painted freehand – the detail is incredible. Just down the street at the Galeria Serendipity, the collection is eclectic, with surrealist painting, bronze sculpture, and folk art co-existing.

The weary looking gallery owner welcomed us effusively, happy that someone had seen fit to cross his doorway on a quiet night. Around the corner at the Galeria Colibri, specialising in Mexican folk art, we did break down and buy two painted coconut masks from their vast selection (although I’m not sure where in our bags they’re going to fit).

From there we followed the small crowd to Arte 550, the gallery and studio space of Patricia Gawle and Kathleen Carillo, two women who are a going concern.

They paint and sculpt, run a B&B and “art experience” workshops and retreats, and offer lessons in their studio. I loved their space – it’s big enough to have separate work and display areas with a largish open courtyard at the back.

The biggest and most diverse collection of art is housed at the Corsica Gallery, a vast complex of bronze figurative sculpture and surrealist painting, some of it soft-core-like images of young girls with their panties exposed a la a mid 20th century European painter whose name (beginning with a “B”) escapes me at the moment. While the painting did not appeal, some of the bronze sculptures were excellent and what a fantastic display space.

Across the street, at the Omar Alonso, abstract paintings co-exist with an interesting installation of bricks and water, with which we were encouraged to interact. I obliged, making a small inukshuk as my contribution to the PV art scene.

Our final stop on the Walk was the Galeria Whitlow, the showroom and studio of self-taught painter Michael Whitlow, orginally from California and now resident in PV.

He specialises in photo-realist still lives, framed and lit enticingly, and also carries the work of other realist painters; David was kind enough to chat to us about the PV scene and how he came to be there.

After a few hours of art, the stomach was rumbling and we rolled into Pipi’s for what turned out to be the most enormous burritos I have ever seen. I couldn’t do more than nibble on the corner of mine like a mouse; we packed them home for lunch later.

Walking back along the Malecon was like being in some other world; while the streets two blocks away were quiet and laid back, with art, artists, and good food, the boardwalk was absolutely packed with vacationers in a scene that could have been anywhere … Waikiki Beach came to mind.

See more pics here.