Exploring Bucerias and Los Muertos Beach

Bucerias! Never having visited this beach town before, Barb, Janet, and I made the treck out on a Saturday, first grabbing a cab to the Walmart bus stop and then the ATM green bus along the highway in the direction of Sayulita. The bus, whose driver had affixed an enormous metal crucifix to his windshield, deposited us at the Centro intersection and we rolled down towards the water, stopping first at the church, whose cement fence was topped by interesting cement animals.

Inside the church scores of local kids were running around, playing games, eating lunch, and just generally having a good time. It was nice to see the space being so well used, courtesy of the priest who allows them to use the nave because they have no other public place to congregate.

One of the interior statues features Christ with a large wooden flame in the middle of his head.

The plaza in which the church is located is lovely and green and only a block from the water.

At the bottom of the lamp stands are a variety of shells embedded in concrete, attesting to the fact that one used to be able to find such shells locally, even though I’ve never seen anything larger than a tiny clam shell in the years I’ve been coming here.

The beach is quite nice, long and sandy, although narrow and steeply dropping off, as all the beaches here seem to be now. We decided to set up shop at El Gordo seafood restaurant, drawn by the welcoming Canadian flag.

Even though it was a Saturday there were not very many people at the beach; this meant that the parade of vendors, mostly jewelry salespeople, paid us more attention that ideally I would have wanted.

A small crowd of kids flocked around us, trying to tempt us with rubber toy animals. They expressed interest in the pins attached to my hat so I gave one to each of the four of them. The boy below, a pretty shrewd operator, wanted the small pin that had been my Dad’s, the only one that I was unwilling to part with.

Two cowboys with three small horses cantered by and tried to get us to go for a ride; Janet, a horsewoman, had a look at one of them, a lovely white boy, but decided against it.

After purchasing some fake silver rings from one of the vendors (I’m sure mine are fake but Janet’s seemed real – if I get a rash on my fingers after wearing them, I will know for sure), our day at the beach concluded with small shots of kahlua on the house.

For our final full day in PV, we had breakfast on the beach at La Palapa in very pleasant beachside seats. Unfortunately, my pancakes were cold; the huevos rancheros looked pretty good, though.

After settling ourselves at the Swell Beach Club for the day, we watched a high flyer show off on his flyboard, dipping and diving like a sea serpent.

Barb and Janet each took home Frida sarongs, while Maggie and Kathy purchased tablecloths and a woven rug.

So long, Puerto Vallarta! Thanks for another great time – hasta luego!


Urban Hike in PV – to the Cross!

I had read about an urban hike up to the cross above the hills in Puerto Vallarta and four of us decided to attempt it. After all, it could not possibly be as onerous as our first trip out to Las Animas, on which we bushwacked up the side of a mountain. It was a bit difficult to find the route, but after a bit of searching, I was able to find a map that showed the way up.

The best place to begin the hike is at the foot bridge to Gringo Gultch from the Isla Cuale. Passing by the buildings on the island, you can see all the murals painted by local artists on the walls of now-disused former retail shops.

We met a fellow out walking his dog there who told us that the city was planning to turn this island into a casino – I really hope that’s not the case! Although the island seems to be pretty depressed, in that there’s not much commercial activity there anymore, it is such a lovely green space in a city that doesn’t really have much of that downtown. And casinos have zero interest for me.

On the trees are quite a few signs warning people not to dump their animals here; however, there are still lots of cats roaming around from illegal dumping – people here do feed them, though. They are all pretty fat and sassy.

Once up and over the footbridge, we made a left turn and walked up past Casa Kimberley, now the Iguana Restaurant,

and then a right onto Calle Miramar past Hacienda San Angel, pausing to admire the angel statuary on the facade.

Past the Hacienda our route took us right for one black on Iturbide, then left along Emiliano Carranza to a steep narrow unnamed lane one block past Corona.

There are quite a few barking dogs and friendly cats here. We walked probably the equivalent of four or so blocks up this small street before the pavement, such as it was, petered out into scrub forest. Luckily, an old man just happened to poke his head out his door so I asked him about the best way to get to the cross. He told us to take the set of stairs just in front of his building, good thing because otherwise we would likely have missed the correct route.

The stairs took us up past several local houses, and a lovely friendly pup, as they wound up the hill.

The last bit of the route is steep, but recently paved.

At the top of this path is the electrical tower and it’s not at all obvious how to get to the cross from there. Around the tower is a metal fence and inside is a pit bull …

… but I saw a young man digging in the sand and he directed us across his work area to the new observation platform and cross.

This area is still a construction site and one of the older workers took a moment to wipe the sweat off Janet’s feet as she walked past. Update from Janet: “The sandal cleaning was much more than sweat. I had stepped into a pile of the workers’ mixed, wet cement. Deep enough to feel it between my toes. Smile. The younger workers just laughed. The older man came over and tried to clean off the drying cement. Chivalry is not dead.”

From the platform we had a panoramic view out over Banderas Bay and a gentle cooling breeze.

After hanging out on top for a while, we made our descent down the newly constructed cement stairs, watching as the workers continued to build a second set of very steep stairs.

Possibly once this project is completed there will be sign posts to the cross. At the moment, without a map it’s a bit tricky to get here. Since the path is so narrow, we were wondering how all the construction materials found their way up here. That question was answered when we saw the burro train passing by.

Although the path back down is paved, it was a bit slippery with dry soil and dust.

Back down on Calle Carranza, we saw one of the burros being loaded for a return trip up the hill. Poor beasts, I wonder how well they are treated.

See more pics here.

Here is a map of the route.



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.


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.


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.


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!

Cheers from the Playa

I haven’t really noticed this elsewhere in Mexico but here, lots of the cars have small shrines on their front bumpers: “Bless my home and my family” on this brand new SUV.

The bougainvillea in this town are amazing, huge and fantastically coloured.

From the Adoquin there are many peek-a-boo views of the playa between whitewashed buildings. One of the big main local hotels along the beachfront here is for sale; perhaps you have always wanted to be a hotel proprietor in a warm climate …?

Down at the Playa Marinero the fishermen have a unique way of “docking” their boats. They all have small round logs that they put out to make a pathway across the sand between the ocean and their “parking spot” up on the beach.

When the guys know that a fishing boat is coming in, they set out these logs,

while the fisherman waits at sea in his boat.

Then the man onshore waves “all clear” and the fisherman revs his engine and blasts onto the sand and up the beach to rest at the stop of the sandy incline.

Once parked, the bins are opened and the caught fish are for sale – lots of sierra and red snapper this time.

And swordfish.

We tried Los Crotos Restaurant beachside the other night for dinner and had a ringside seat for all the action, that being one or two wandering troubadours and a couple of begging dogs.

The dishes of shrimp were enormous, all this for 148 pesos (about $12 CAD, I think).

I have been surprised not to have seen much in the way of wildlife here, but the other day an iguana appeared in one of the trees around our pool; the cat was very interested in it but they didn’t get into a fight, luckily.

On our usual walk up Playa Zicatela yesterday, we saw enormous waves and the red flag was flying.

As usual, someone was swimming out beyond where the waves break, even though the red flag means no swimming. People who do this always think that the flags don’t apply to them, until something happens and they get into trouble … this beach is not swimmable – the waves are too big, the currents are too strong, and there are hidden riptides all along the beach.

No-one was having much success catching the waves this day.

After a tasty breakfast at Dan’s Cafe, we checked out a few places with rooms to rent: this one with a beautiful outdoor space looked great!

I also investigated one of Puerto’s language schools, the Experiencia Puerto off the Adoquin. In addition to classrooms, it also has rooms for students to stay in while taking classes. The compound, which is in the style of an old colonial hacienda, was very attractive. The language schools here all teach surfing as well; although I’m too old for that, if I were younger, Spanish and surfing would be a great combination of stuff to learn while spending some time down here …

And, finally, here’s Pam preparing our afternoon poolside treat – cheers!