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.

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.

More Art Walkin’

Artists Austin Young and David Burns from Los Angeles are in PV to work on a collaborative art project entitled Fallen Fruit. The project is designed for people to reimagine their communities as “fruitful places”: “to collectively re-imagine the function of public participation and urban space, and to explore the meaning of community through creating and sharing new and abundant resources. Fruit Trees! Share your fruit! Change the world!”, as their write-up describes it.

We participated, along with dozens of others, in helping to create a Fruit Magazine in one night in the garden of the Oficina de Proyectos Culturales; it is entitled “¡Estás Como Mango!” and features collage images of fruit-inspired art and original texts and images about fruit and the history of Puerto Vallarta. Contributors were asked to bring photographs, stories, poems, drawings, recipes, and other visual material that connects with the subject of fruit in Vallarta.

When we arrived, several white tables and chairs were set up and people were already in the throes of creation to the inspirational sound of jazz music. Each table was decorated with a centrepiece of fruit and art supplies, including piles of magazines and advertisements to be used as collage material.

Ty enthusiastically jumped in to create a “fruit taxi” from the material provided, while my piece featured female figures, many with fruit heads. Fun! For more information on this project, click here. For information about the OPC Cultural Centre, click here.

After completing our offering, we visited some of the Art Walk galleries that we had not made it to last time, including the Mata Ortiz Ceramic Gallery (incredibly delicate and detailed small vessels)

and the Loft Galeria,

as well as a majolica shop selling many multi-coloured and costly ceramic vessels.

Our walk home to us back along the Malecon, where we saw a pirate ship floating on the bay, several sellers of spray can paintings, many crepe vendors, and the colourful lights of the boardwalk bars and restaurants.

Back in the ‘hood, and feeling a hankering for grilled shrimp, we wound our way through the streets to El Brujo, a restaurant well-reviewed on Trip Advisor, to sample some seafood.

The grilled shrimp was tasty, the octopus, not so much.

See more pics here and here.

Hasta Luego, Puerto Vallarta!

Well, we are back in Vancouver after a wonderful trip, luckily to some beautiful sunny, albeit cold, weather. Here are some photos and thoughts from our last couple of days in and around Puerto Vallarta.

The beach vendors have a tough job, trying to sell stuff to vacationers who, in many cases, have been here many times and already have all the trinkets and Mexican clothing they want. These pictures are from Playa de los Camarones just past the north end of the Malecon.

These black and yellow birds are beautiful.

This little guy hopped up onto my umbrella just as I was trying to take another picture of him.

The banana boat didn’t see much action in these parts but this day a group of young men decided to give it a go. With the high waves, it was a bit difficult for the operators to get the banana to the beach so that they could jump on.

Coming back in after the ride was tricky, too; the waves were still high, some of them couldn’t swim, and one of the beach folks had to go out on the paddle board and bring them in.

This sculpture of sea gods near Rosita’s Hotel is a favourite roosting place for the pelicans that hang around here.

Pelicans are large! And have attitude in keeping with their size. This beast, who obviously considered this patch of sidewalk his turf, gave Ty a run for his money, coming after us with his beak open.

These two, dressed all in black under a black umbrella, were an interesting sight on the beach.

We took one last stroll down the Malecon to admire the sculptures and the roof top line-up of chubby aging rock gods.

Feeling the need for something cold after a hard day on the beach, we stopped in at Da Vino Dante, the wine and tapas bar upstairs from Gallery Dante – great spot!

Our very last day was spent at Swell Beach Bar on Playa Los Muertos; everyone was commenting on the condition of the beach; just as we saw elsewhere in the world, rising sea levels are eroding the playa here, leaving a smaller expanse of sand and an abrupt tide’s edge cliff of sand.

On our way back to the ranch the Pope blessed us from his balcony.

Last supper at the Blue Shrimp on the beach was just OK in terms of food but the guitarist, a Gypsy King’s tribute artist, was fantastic.

Micro dogs!

Coronas with ice!

Cemetery sculpture!

Ravens!

Tattoos!

Colourful paintings!

Skeletons!

Tiny parrots!

Big pelicans!

Sayonara, PV – Hasta Luego!

See more photos here.

Puerto Vallarta Walkin’

Coming to you more or less live from the hills of old town Puerto Vallarta, high above Los Muertos beach … We are ensconced at the Vista del Mar condominiums in Colonia Amapas, not too far from, but far above, where we stayed the last time we were in PV – Easter 2012. The weather is great, about 26 degrees, cloudless and sunny. From our two balconies we have a grand view out over the Bay of Banderas and the shining crown of Our Lady of Guadalupe church, PV Centro’s architectural landmark.

The view is beautiful both day and night.

“Our” condo is located in a pretty quiet complex; yesterday there was not a soul on the pool deck just below our apartment.

Our plan for this year is to try and pretend that we are living here and to do as the locals do … shop local, eat local, and use local transport, buses and our own two feet. Since we are basically on top of the mountain here, that means a pretty loooooonnnng trek back up the hill after a hard day out and about beating the pavement.

We arrived yesterday, after a 3:15 am wake-up call, a taxi ride to the airport, and a 4.5 hour direct flight, and spent a few hours casing the neighbourhood. Ty was delighted to discover that just down the hill from us is a little beer store, so we don’t have to schlep the cases of beer we will no doubt consume up from the beach. Check out the fashion statement below: I particularly like the striped socks and black oxfords combination, a must for PV explorers … sigh.

We are always interested in accommodations, having in the back of our minds the possibility of spending the winter months here. This lovely place is just down the hill from our place, likely an inexpensive option requiring no air-conditioning, given that it lacks windows.

After walking around for a bit getting tired and hungry, we rolled into a deserted comida casera just off Olas Altas and dug into some tacos and enchiladas before wandering down Basillo Badillo and exploring the area.

Today our mission was to get some electronica that we’d left behind, some minutes for the ol’ cell phones, and groceries. It’s interesting that there are no grocery stores in this area – none. Oxos galore, all selling FUD processed cheese and meat products – not too appealing – but no real food to be found. Yesterday we had  come across one small and decrepit tienda selling some sad looking fruits and vegetables, mostly way past their consumption date, and managed to pick out a few veggies that were still edible among the carcasses of the rotted, and found a gigantic pharmacy that sold the same inedible processed FUD-stuff as Oxo, where we nonetheless picked up some bread and milk.

Today, having stopped in at the Hacienda de Vallarta, drawn in by their Room Special sign, we were lucky enough to meet Pierce, one of the expat residents, and he filled us in on where the supermercado Ley, the local Safewayesque food emporium, was.

After a really good lunch at another inexpensive comida casera right next to the Church, El Campanario, where we got an amazing spread of tortilla soup, chicken fajitas, stew of the day, and pudding,

we walked north along the Malecon and eventually arrived at the Ley store, after a pause for liquid refreshment at Mango’s Beach Bar.

I love the super markets in Mexico; as you can see from the giant black speaker strategically placed near the avocados, they all blast out lively dance music, possibly to generate a general feeling of energy and well-being that manifests in more food purchases. Bags in hand, we grabbed a bus southward that dropped us in the general direction of our place and made our way, hot and sweaty, uphillward home.

We managed to negotiate the day with only a few minor meltdowns after having purchased credits for our cell phones only to find that they’d been uploaded to some random Mexican guy’s phone rather than ours. Below are a few more pictures of the Malecon sculpture art.

You can just see Ty peeking out from beneath these pairs of legs.

This sculpture, El Gordo – the Fat Man, not our late and unlamented mug-shotted premier – reminds me a little bit of the open-mouthed gigantic pelicans that roost on the boats around here waiting to consume vast quantities of caught fish.

After being inspired by the panorama of portly past their prime rockers displayed atop one of the restaurants lining the Malecon, Ty picked a too-tiny tree to hide behind …

See a few more photos 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.

Puerto Vallarta: Beaches and Art

We made it to Puerto Vallarta on Tuesday without any trouble (other than the hours of waiting around at the airports) and were sitting on the balcony of our condo in the Old Town, cervesas in hand, by 7 pm. This place, a nicely decorated one bedroom in the Brisas del Mar complex one block off Los Muertos beach in the south end of PV, is beautiful and perfect for us, much more comfortable than the colonial house in Guanajuato.

The weather has been spectacular since we got here, high 20s and sunny, and we’ve walked the Malecon, hit the beach, and visited the Hacienda Mosaico, an artist’s retreat and B&B near the Hotel Zone in the north of town.

Puerto Vallarta is one of the favoured destinations for west coast Canadian and American tourists, often for a short week-long fun in the sun vacation; however, I’ve never been here before. I didn’t really have any particular image in mind but I didn’t realise that the city would be so large or so built up. Apparently, the population is around 350,000 and the beaches along Banderas Bay are chockablock full of hotels, restaurants, condos, stores (big box and all), and high rises. The Old Town where we’re staying is sometimes referred to as the Zona Romantica (I’ve got no idea why) or the South End and is a lively area with an eclectic mixture of people and entertainment options.

The sculpture and other public art along the one mile long malecon (or oceanfront boardwalk) is great – lots of gigantic bronze statues with which everyone enjoys interacting. And of course Ty had to climb to the top of one of them and throw his arms and legs out as I was yelling at him to get down …

A temporary exhibit of painted wooden boats is also installed here.

Local people have various ingenious ways to express themselves creatively and garner tips – sand sculpture, imitation statues with which one can take pictures, and, most impressively, acrobatics by a group of local Indians who descend (wihtout harnesses) flying from a pole while their colleague plays the flute.

There are also many sea birds here, including lots of pelicans, one of which gave me the hairy eyeball.

The two weeks before and after Easter are traditionally PV’s busiest time and the city is packed with vacationers from around Mexico, the States, and Canada. Yesterday we spent the day at the Lido Beach Club near our place; after a quiet morning, by noon the entire beach was full of people frolicing in the large, and sometimes enormous, waves pounding the shoreline – fabulous!

This morning we took the bus north, past the Sheraton, to visit Sam, the artist owner of Hacienda Mosaico, an artists’ retreat and B&B that also hosts various artmaking workshops during the tourist (winter) season.

She had just finished hosting her last group for the year and was kind enough to show us around the place. The Hacienda is lovely, full of art of all kinds (mosaic, glass, painting, sculpture, jewellery), and has seven double rooms for guests, both indoor and outdoor workshop areas, lovely gardens, and a beautiful pool. It would certainly be a fabulous place to be creative!

For more info on Hacienda Mosaico, click here.

For more info on PV’s Malecon sculpture, click here.

For more pictures, click here and here.