Ceramics and other Fun in the Sun

While I wait for El Diablo to be dry enough to fire and glaze, I am working on a new creation.  This piece began life as an alien with three eyeballs and five tentacles, inspired by the octopus piece Froylan is helping Andy build.

First El Maestro threw a pot on the wheel which then became the rock on which the octopus sits. Then he and Andy crafted a hollow head for the beast and eight curling tentacles which I greatly admired.

I decided that my alien, too, would have curling tentacles; however, I didn’t have the skill to create as beautiful ones as those on the octopus.

The first two smaller tentacles I adhered in place of eyebrows, while three others were attached below the nose. These ended up looked like moustache whiskers. A further larger couple I initially intended to attach below the mouth but, upon further thought, I decided against it.

After asking me whether my creation was a predator or a vegetarian – vegetarian – Froylan had an idea for the mouth, based on a trumpet fish he’d seen while diving. He crafted me a very nice small mouthpiece on the wheel; subsequently, we decided that one of the smaller tentacles would be best placed coming out of the mouth for feeding purposes.

As I continued to work on the piece, it mutated from an alien into the Vegetarian Sea Santa you see here. The shape of the mask suggested a beard, so I carved wiggly lines into the clay to indicate wavy hair.

Scales were cut into the cheeks and algae into the area around the forehead; if I had time, I’d probably have made the algae hair more three dimensional by attaching separate fronds and leaves. Given that there’s not much time left to complete the piece, that will have to wait for another opportunity.

The other night Ty and I made our way down to the Sea Monkey beach bar to watch the pelicans swim and wait for the sunset.

While there we enjoyed watching a pair of golden long-haired dachshunds play on the sand, running and digging holes.

Other than that, we have drunk cups of coffee at various outdoor cafes – Caffe del Mar, also an art gallery containing the ceramic work of Rodo Padillo and the paintings of Angie McIntosh –  is a good one,

as is A Page in the Sun, a combo bookstore and coffee shop,

played a few games of pool at the Crowbar in our neighbourhood, run by a woman from Chilliwack,

had a few lunches at Mi Cafe, a fantastic spot around the corner from us,

and spent Sunday evening at a potluck film fest put on by Nathalie at Art VallARTa, watching Birdman and Gone Girl, while sampling some spicy chili, pasta salad (made by me from scratch), pizza, and lots of baked goodies – fun!

I really love the colourful streets here, with fabrics of many colours and stripes, beautiful flowers, and vibrantly painted cement buildings.

See more here and here.

The Devil is in the Details: The Evolution of El Diablo at Art VallARTa

I am so happy that Art VallARTa  studio in the Old Town is fully functional now and doing so well. Monday Ty and I went for a visit and Nathalie showed me around what is now a well-equipped large studio and gallery space.

The theatre is also well set up with cushions and blankets for the weekly life drawing sessions held there. The 2nd annual Romance in the Romantic Zone exhibition of art on the theme of love drew four hundred people to its opening night, offering, in addition to framed two dimensional pieces, ceramic and glass wear, and a gigantic wall mural of a heart, a tunnel of love installation through which visitors walked to gain entry to the show – fantastic! wish I could have been there. Nathalie’s piece is the Love Roulette wheel below.

On Monday a large group of folks were painting water colours in one part of the space while a few others worked on clay projects in the high-ceiling multi-media area.

I have decided to take a ceramics course offered by Froyland Hermandez, a Mexican clay maestro, and attended the first class today. Froyland is a very experienced artist who is very patient with newcomers to the medium.

He is able to explain all aspects of the technique clearly and is very patient, particularly with people like me who are not the best students. I have tried wheel-throwing before, and while I really enjoyed Charmian Nimmo’s class, realised soon that it was not for me, given that I don’t really have the arm and shoulder strength necessary to centre and raise the clay higher than about two inches off the wheel. Makes for a rather limited repertoire of objects that can be made, essentially small candy bowls. Although I did make one bowl that I was quite happy with, the only one that did not have walls that were way too thick and heavy.

I decided instead to try hand-building since I am interested in sculpture and particularly like masks. Froyland showed me how to wedge and prepare the clay correctly and how to roll it out like dough ready to be used. After deciding that I wanted to make a mask, Froyland prepared an armature of bubble wrap and tape around which we placed my rolled out piece of clay.

From this humble beginning the mask grew and took shape. After scoring the surface to indicate where the facial features would go, El Diablo, the devil, was begun by pressing indentations for the eyes and mouth, being careful not to press too hard so as to break or crack the clay’s surface.

For the eyes, I rolled two balls of clay which were placed into the indentations, then scored the surface around each eyeball to accommodate the bits of clay that would form the eyelids. These pieces were rolled out and placed above and below the eyeballs then massaged and stroked with wooden tools to create what eventually looked like a pretty decent set of eyeballs.

Next I created a free-standing nose from a separate lump of clay which was kept flexible by being covered with plastic. Two tusks and several teeth followed, each made by rolling out a cone of clay, first using my hands and then the surface of the table.

This process was trickier that I thought it would be; some of the teeth rolled out too long and thin, while others were too big and thick. Getting a few teeth the right size took quite a bit of time, as did getting the two tusks the right dimensions and curvature. These were carefully placed in the mouth indentation so I could get an idea of what the finished mouth would look like. Having decided that they were good, I then scored the bottom of each tooth, and the area of surface on which each would sit, and attached them with slip, very liquid clay.

I was very excited about the horns. These were made with cones of clay rolled out, like the tusks, first with my hands and then on the table top. Froyland and I had a bit of discussion about what kinds of horns would be appropriate. I didn’t really care but he thought bull’s horns would be best so I took his advice.

He believes that, when working on an object from nature, such as a face, one should look at the details of the face, or, in this case, the horns, to see what they are actually like, rather than simply making something up that doesn’t necessary correspond with the actual “thing”. So the horns took a bit of work to get the right dimensions and curvature. Froyland cautioned me not to put the horns on too quickly because they’re heavy and might crack the piece. I am looking forward to completing the mask tomorrow.

While I was crafting El Diablo, Kelly, a former air traffic controller from the States, was working on a wheel-thrown lidded vessel, on top of which she planned to affix a snail and two sea turtles.

To my right Rosemary, from Lethbridge, painted glaze on her projects, a head with small legs on top, and a mask, for her synchronised swimmer grand-daughter.

At another table several others worked with Carol Ann on silk-painting, a process that also looked very interesting. Some of those folks wore beautiful fused glass bracelets made at another workshop with Carol Ann.

Below, El Diablo so far!

After a hard several hours slaving over my clay piece, I met Ty down by the pier and we spent a very pleasant few hours under a palapa at the beach, including a refreshing dip in the ocean, the first one this year. Had the best guacamole and chips with hot salsa ever at the Mahi Mahi Beach bar with excellent service – highly recommended.

See more photos here.

South Side Strolling

Every second Friday night is the South Side Shuffle along Basilio Badillo. Some of the venues have changed from last year; Kathleen Carillo’s gallery has moved around the corner to Constitucion St and the Color Pod lady has packed up her palm fronds, left PV, and gone back to Florida.

However, the main galleries along here, Galeria Dante, Ambos Galeria and Contempo Gallery, are still rolling and bringing in the crowds, at least as long as the vino doesn’t run out …

Live music still gets the crowd going and adds to the festive ambiance. I particularly love the outdoor sculpture courtyard at Dante – I could sit there for a very long time – it is extremely pleasant.

I also really enjoyed meeting a small Mexican hairless dog in front of Cassandra Shaw’s jewellery shop. Poor old Ty has been fighting a cold for the last few days so unfortunately he was not well enough to join in this time.

Some of the things I love about this place are interesting roof lines, including this imitation Greek temple across the street from us, and cupolas;

skeletons and skulls, found all over the town;

angels, including this beauty at the Hacienda San Angel in Gringo Gultch;

dogs and cats, including these guys on Los Muertos beach;

and cold cervesas under an umbrella.

In my desire to be living “local” in PV, I had forgotten some of the idiosyncrasies of living in a typical Mexican neighbourhood. Let me give you an idea of what these are:

1) The small cluster of buildings in which we are staying which seemed so quiet when we arrived is now the site of a small-scale construction operation. Two guys showed up two days ago with jackhammers and buzz saws and proceeded to generate an enormous racket while presumably installing plumbing in two of the empty apartments. And, since PV does not seem to have any noise regulations, or at least none that are enforced, who knows how many days and hours this will go on.

2) Doggies and roosters I have already mentioned; there are several in the immediate vicinity. One rooster gets going at 2:30 am.

3) Our first Friday night in the Old Town was last night and it brought all new noise joys, above and beyond what we have already experienced. About 11:30 pm a blast of music startled us when a mariachi band, from the volume seemingly right in our living room, but actually on the street just around the corner, began playing at full volume to the delight of the local youth whose cries of joy added to the general mayhem. Then, around 3 am, when the mariachi band had finally finished their set, the tourist folks down the block, who’d obviously been having a few brews, began blasting their music at a thousand decibels, while screaming, yelling, and fighting, until 4:45 am. Even the animal noises disappeared into the background with all the commotion. Viva Mexico! Viva la difference!

** I realise that the whole noise issue is a cultural thing – we come from a culture of large houses (mostly) and concrete condos which mute neighbouring noises. Mexicans, at least those who are not wealthy, mostly grow up with lots of noise in the neighbourhood, houses that lie very close together with not much in the way of sound-proofing, and are accustomed to being surrounded with lively, noisy activity day and night.

One of the benefits of staying in this area is the plethora of local bars and restaurants; below is Que?Pasa just down the road from us. Here live music entertains the crowd seven nights a week and they do have delicious tortilla soup.

The Emilano Zapata farmers market is the place to buy food in this area, with several fruit and vegetable tiendas and a central area of butcher stands, as well as this little taco stand just outside.

Mid-day today, though, the scent from the meat stalls was too ripe for my sensitive nose.

While we were strolling around the area a tiny beautiful butterfly took advantage of my hat to hitch a ride. After riding around with us for quite some time, and showing no inclination to fly off, I gently swept it off my hat and onto a welcoming flower branch nearby.

See more 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.

Greetings from Puerto Vallarta!

After a 2:30 am wake-up for trip to the airport, Ty and I were out on the sidewalk at 3:20 waiting for our pre-booked-the-night-before yellow cab; as time ticked past and still the taxi did not appear, we were starting to get very anxious. A passing driver, seeing me pacing along the sidewalk, had the presence of mind to realise that we were waiting for a ride that hadn’t come, picked us up and whisked us off for an on-time arrival.at the Air Canada desk for our early morning departure.

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We are staying in the Zona Romantica, Old Town Puerto Vallarta, in a great local neighbourhood right next to the river and the Cuale Cultural Center. “Our” street, Aquiles Serdan, is one of the only streets in the old city on which the great rumbling buses do not run, so it is quieter than other areas.

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That it not to say that it is quiet, though; since we are in a typical Mexican neighbourhood, we are treated to the sounds of loud TV shows emanating from the neighbours’ apartments, the yells and car honks of the passing gas man, the cries of the water vendor, the barking of the many dogs, and the strenuous crowing and cock-a-doodle-doing of the next door rooster. We have not yet had a night of uninterrupted sleep but perhaps it will happen as we get used to the various noises of the city.

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Our studio apartment is on the second floor of a small three storey building; it is cute and clean, with a couple of large easy chairs, the tiniest ever wall-mounted flat screen TV (which I don’t watch) and a very hard bed. The kitchen is fully-equipped with everything we need to cook our usual fare. On the roof is a shared deck with a table and four worse for wear leather bucket chairs which offers nice views out over the neighbourhood. Just across the street, on the neighbour’s rooftop, is a very funny small black dog who patrols the deck, rushing to and fro barking at anyone who comes along the street, a very officious beast.

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In this area are many small tiendas, bars, local eateries and food stalls, including our favourite roast chicken stand, and the farmers market, with several butchers and vegetable and fruit vendors. We are slowly easing into the daily life here and really enjoying getting to know the area. It is a balmy 25 degrees with a gentle breeze most days – yippee!

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Art Vallarta

Well, briefly, I did have a short term job here in Puerto Vallarta. Kathryn, the Color Pod artist, offered me a couple days of work beginning today but when I showed up this afternoon for my shift, the place was closed.

All three storefront studios in the building were closed with signs on the window describing the same sad situation: legal problems with the building. Too bad! I was quite excited about the prospect of working on the art strip – perhaps I will have another opportunity in the future …

This morning I discovered a really great multidisciplinary co-operative Art Studio facility just starting up in the Old town area, not too far from the Paradise Community Centre, just a couple of blocks from the beach. Run by Nathalie Herling a ceramic artist and chef from Brooklyn who has lived here for a couple of years, it is a fantastic initiative of which I hope to be a part. I think she and her husband own the building, and they are putting together an art centre, including visual art studios, a store selling art supplies, a gallery, a theatre, and a roof top clay cooking and dining restaurant and teaching centre.

So far, the clay studio is up and running; today there were two Canadian women working in it, one of whom bought a brand new kiln in Houston and had it shipped down from there. The painting studio, up a short flight of stairs, is also in the process of being put together, with easels, canvases, and other supplies ready to go.

I was very excited about the theatre space. Formerly it housed a comedy club but it has not been used for five years.

Apparently, all its digital projection equipment is still there, intact, and in good working order, all ready to go for videographers and mixed media artists. Upstairs, at the apartment level, is an enormous salt water pool with a huge white wall perfect for more projections and water art. What a fantastic space! Nathalie is an energetic and enthusiastic director and I wish her all the best in getting the space going. The grand opening is scheduled for Feb 14, with art happenings and an exhibition of work on a Valentine’s Day theme. If I can find someplace to get a digital image printed, I will submit a piece to the show.

See more information 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 South Side: Zona Romantica, Old Town … art and culture

The Paradise Community Center right near us was started by two expats and is a bustling hive of activity.

We spent some time there this morning while the Artisans Co-op Market was on and sampled some great Thai food as we watched the crowd come and go. Kitten adoptions, chair massage (by our condo neighbour Sunny), jewellery, food, clothes … it’s all there every week.

Sitting under an umbrella in the courtyard was a very pleasant way to pass some time on a warm and sunny day.

Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town isn’t really all that old but it has the atmosphere of old: cobbled streets, three story walkup concrete apartments, lots of multi-coloured bougainvillea winding itself around poles and up walls.

It also has a fair number of abandoned, vacant, and condemned properties, some of which are huge and cavernous.

I’m not sure whether this is a result of the recent harsh economic conditions or local conditions but it’s an interesting juxtaposition with the evident liveliness of the art scene.

Old Town also has lots of restaurants and bars and a Saturday morning market. And it has art. As in the Centro area further north, here, too, are a cluster of galleries and shops selling contemporary and Mexican folk art. This area also has an Art Walk, every second Friday, centred on Basillio Badillo Boulevard, but it ends the first week in April. So, we strolled around the area without the benefit of a map, trying to find the galleries hidden on shady streets, as well as those out in full view in the blaze of sun.

Galeria Contempo is one of the newest, and largest, spaces on the South Side. The work here is eclectic, comprising abstract painting and figurative bronze sculpture.

And the space is wonderful, two storeys with a wraparound balcony on the second floor, perfect for plants and sculpture.

Galeria Dante bills itself as the largest gallery in PV; the first two times we came by, it was closed; we finally we able to see it on Monday.

The space occupies almost an entire block and consists of several rooms and some outdoor areas, every inch of which, it seems, is packed with art. Paintings and sculpture, mostly, and very colourful. The nicest space is the outdoor sculpture garden, with a variety of figurative bronzes and a lovely fish pond sans fish.

The problem with many of the galleries here is the same problem I found with almost every shop I entered in Turkey – horror vacui! Fear of vacant space – seemingly, everything in the place must be on display. It’s hard to concentrate on any one thing because everything else impinges on one’s consciousness – there’s simply too much stuff!

However, even given that problem, this gallery is an enjoyable experience with the grand variety of art on display, some of it excellent.

We spend an interesting bit of time in the Jose Marca Studio and Gallery on Lazaro Cardenas. Jose was kind enough to show us around his studio space and explain the artistic philosophy behind his neo-expressionist primitivism, telling us that early on in his career other artists and galleries had told him that his work was “good for nothing”. I guess he’s proven them wrong, in that he’s been doing his thing in PV for over twenty-five years and looks at least 15 years younger than his 70.

His good for nothing art has been good for him.

Galeria Puerco Azul features folk art; it used to be a family house and the place is huge, with many rooms full of sculpture, jewellery, painting, and other objets d’art.

They also have a few paintings of archangels done by Peruvian artists – I was really tempted by one of a sword-wielding Michael … still thinking about it.

We also visited several shops which sold masks of all sorts, wooden, beaded (a parrot-headed one was especially cool), papier mache, and more coil pottery.

Puerto Vallarta: if you did nothing but go to the beach and walk the malecon, you’d have one kind of experience – just like anywhere in the world, really, sun, sand, sea – but two blocks off the strip and away from the water, there’s a whole much more interesting world out there. This city is moving up our “Place to Stay in the Sun When We’re Old” list fast, for several reasons: it’s beautiful, it’s on the ocean, the climate in winter is fantastic, it’s got a lively cultural scene and lots of artists;

it has a big English-speaking community and most of the locals speak English well enough (this is a plus and minus; I wanted to improve my Spanish but, whenever I speak it, the local respondent speaks back in English, making me think that my accent is execrable! However, I continue to persist); it is drivable from Vancouver (we could bring the dog and cat with us).

See more pics here.

For more information, click on the links below:

Paradise Community Center

Galeria Contempo

Galleria Dante

South Side Shuffle

Jose Marco

Art scene in PV