Life After Life a winner at the Senior Movie Film Festival, Szczecin, Poland

I’m very happy to announce that my short experimental film Life After Life, an official selection for the first edition of the Senior Movie Film Festival in Szczecin, Poland, has been awarded second prize, consisting of a statuette and cash prize. 

I grew up in the 70s and 80s in the shadow of the threat of nuclear war. TV shows and commercials depicted the various ways in which we would meet our collective end when the big fireball broke all hell loose. All that anxiety had drifted into the deeper background recesses of my mind until Trump was elected the 45th American president. Now the possibility of total nuclear annihilation is once again on the table and I despair that this unhinged man will destroy us all. Life After Life is a metaphorical examination of this possibility.

60 Seconds or Less Video Festival

 

I’m happy to announce that my short film An Accident of Being has been selected for the 60 Seconds or Less Video Festival in September 2018.

In addition to showcasing great works that are 60 seconds or less they also  screen Short Films that are longer than 60 seconds, but no longer than 30 minutes. The 60 Seconds or Less Video Festival embraces short-form videos in all genres. Sponsored by Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, the festival offers awards and screening opportunities for an international audience.

 

 

Bye Bye Vallarta – Hasta La Proxima!

Road Trip!! On a recent Sunday Nathalie, the duena and powerhouse of Art Vallarta, took us two hours up the coast to the small beach town of Chacala, Nayarit to visit the printmaking studio of Grafica Chacala, owned and run by Miguel Perez.

Chacala is a tiny place on the coast home to about 400 permanent residents, a number that swells to about 1,000 in the winter when the snowbirds visit. But for such a small town, it has quite a lot going for it in the arts department.

We found parking at a beachfront campground, where a number of tents were encamped under the swaying palm trees on a glorious sunny, breezy day. The beach was busy with locals, whose families tend to spend Sundays, their only day of rest, on the beach.

Like all the beach towns we’ve been to along the Pacific coast, the bay here is large with a long sandy beach. At this one the beach is shallow, making water access and swimming easier than at Vallarta, where there can be dangerous currents and enormous waves at certain times.

While we waited to meet up with Miguel, the owner of Grafica Chacala, we had a beer at Chac Mool, one of the beachside restaurants and well-known for its support of the arts in this community.

While we were sitting under the palapa, we saw a small parade of people for a quinceanera (celebration when a girl turns 15) pass by under the trees.

The workshop is a quick ten minute drive from the beach up into the jungle surrounding the town; at this time of year it is hot and dusty, yet still lots of flowers and plants are abundant.

Miguel and his wife designed and built the home that contains the print studio, as well as another building with two rental apartments just above the house. Artists-in-residence can also use these places when working at the shop.

The print workshop is on the lower level of the house, and contains three presses and an electric piano, as well as the usual paraphernalia for making art.

Miguel is a well-known artist here and also collaborates with various American universities on classes and workshops in his space.

His studio is nice and bright and clean, with views out the window to the jungle beyond. It also has a nice little patio area out back where artists can rest and have refreshments.

He showed us his collection of monoprints, woodcuts, linocuts and collographs, all printed on his presses.

He was kind enough to let each of us try out the press with monoprints, a first for Ty and Nathalie.

None of us had prepared anything to print so we just “winged it” – my creation was a staple of Mexican iconography, a smiling skull. To make this sort of monoprint first you roll black ink on the plexiglass surface. Then you draw into it with different tools; a rag can also be used to wipe away the ink to create white areas.

Once the image is prepared, the plate is put onto the press bed, covered with paper (usually the paper is dampened with water ahead of time but Miguel sprayed the back of the page with water instead – the damp paper allows the ink to be released from the plate onto the page when pressure is applied), then covered with the blankets, and finally run through the press.

The most exciting part of the printing process is the big reveal, when the paper is lifted off the plate and the creation is exposed to the world.

Super fun! The skull and I have the same smile.

Nathalie gave it a whirl as well, drawing and printing a shrimp from memory.

Lastly Ty had his turn, creating a dragon and knight piece, complete with big puff of smoke emanating from the creature’s mouth.

Miguel has done many different kinds of prints over the years, and showed us several series of his figurative pieces, as well as relief prints done by visiting artists.

Miguel is also an arts powerhouse and runs a gallery in town as well, unfortunately closed for the season during our visit; he also hosts artist residencies during the winter and collaborates on cultural events with other organisations, including an art, music, and literary festival. For more information on the arts in Chacala, click here and here.

After our fun with printing, we returned to Chac Mool for some nourishment before rolling back down the road to Vallarta.

Chacala has one main drag, a sandy, unpaved road along the beach, with the usual shops and souvenir stalls.

The ride back down the highway was an adventure, much busier than in the morning, with many cars, buses, and large trucks all jockeying for position. For some unknown reason many white cars seemed to be driven by madmen who found it necessary to tailgate and then scream past us on blind corners at top speed. We did, however, arrive safely back in Vallarta in one piece. From my window the view included quite a few roadside churches.

Back in PV for our last few days, we have been eating out and taking taxis much more often. I continued to work away on my paintings at Art Vallarta, where they kindly set me up with a standing fan, as well as the two ceiling fans, in an effort to cool down the space. It does get warm there in the afternoons this time of year!

The other day two folks from Sayulita were in town to work on some small ceramic pieces for their retail store.

Lots of art pieces around the place – I enjoyed these two mixed media works which must have been created for the Frida Kahlo show a while back.

Painting teacher Doug has been working away in his downstairs space and will be painting and teaching there over the summer.

Below are a couple of the paintings that I’ve completed while here – I really enjoyed having the time and space to work on these – fun!

Since it is so hot and muggy here during the day, the evennings are even more pleasant once it has cooled down. Although we have not walked down the Malecon too often since we moved to the north, we did check it out the other weekend and as usual really enjoyed seeing all the action and colours along the boardwalk.

There have been what seems like non-stop evening free music and folkloric dance presentations here in May, some associated with Vallarta’s 100th anniversary as a city.

In addition to cultural events, the city has also hosted the 2nd annual Down Vallarta, a cyclocross mountain biking event in Centro, in which participants rance down the hill from the Cross lookout to the Malecon, dodging obstacles and zooming over jumps to the delight of the roaring crowd.

Here are a few everyday shots of our neighbourhood Palo Seco. There are a few murals in the neighbourhood.

And our usual route to Las Glorias Beach, across several busy roads.

Below are a few photos of the flowers blooming along the way of my walk through Old Town to the art studio. Bouganvillias never seem to stop pumping out blooms here in so many beautiful colours.

The mosaic decorations in Lazaro Cardenas Park, executed by many volunteers under the direction of local artists, are now complete and almost every cement surface here is covered with colourful designs.

All the trees are regaining their leaves with all the humidity in the air – beautiful!

Puerto Vallarta is in the middle of a construction boom right now, with 17 high rise condo buildings being erected, mostly in Old Town, all of which have 8-12 stories. People who know about such things have said that this will change the wind and weather patterns in this area, such that parts of the city away from the ocean will be heat sinks without the ocean breeze that they currently enjoy. Below are a couple of examples.

Below you can see the stack of air conditioners that run up the building, swinging in the breeze.

Vendors here are having a field day with the “F*ck Trump” Tshirts and paraphernalia.

Sometimes the most difficult part of the evening is deciding between the white and the red …

The last week in May is Pride Week here in Vallarta, the highlight of which is the Pride Parade which we took in after the theatre performance.

Lazaro Cardenas Street was closed to taffic for the big block party.

For the last several weeks we have been working on Torch Song with the Boutique Community Theatre in Old Town. The show runs from 6 – 8:15 pm and for the last week of its run, from Monday to Saturday night. After spending the afternoon painting at Art Vallarta, I would meet Ty at Page in the Sun for a coffee to generate some caffeine-energy for the production.

We both really enjoyed the experience of working on the play – here are Frank and Ty back stage left, Frank waiting to go onstage and Ty ready for his stint as crew.

The Boutique is a dinner theatre, so patrons can have a meal at the theatre before the show.

After our last performance on Saturday we had a cast party and surprise 50th wedding anniversary celebration for the Theatre’s founders, Ken and Karrie.

3 photos of theatre folk below by Colette Zarry.

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Small lizard skittering across the grass at the hotel pool.

Second to last night in Vallarta at the rooftop restaurant – La Traviata in 5th of Diciembre. Wonderful breeze and pretty good Italian food with Barb and Treni.

Well, that’s it from Vallarta! We fly out June 1 for Vancouver – hasta la proxima vez! See more pics here.

This and That in Vallarta

Just another day at Los Muertos Beach …

Early morning at Swell’s Beach Bar looking south towards Conchas Chinas; the high season crowds have dissipated and the snow birds have flown away home so it’s pretty quiet here until later in the afternoon. The Boca to Las animas group hikes are now over for the season; below Ty, Doug, and Larry drink a cold one at Langostino’s by the pier.

While there, we were visited by Diana and her beautiful Mexican hairless dog. I had never had a chance to see one up close and personal before – what a lovely beast with short tufts of hair on his head and ears.

Also, I did not realise that these dogs could be so large – photos that I’d seen suggested that they were a smaller species. Diana explained that, like Schnauzers, they come in three sizes: small, medium, and large. This one is large.

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Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican hairless dog): “Xoloitzcuintli is called “the first dog of the Americas” because it was one of the earliest dogs to be domesticated by human populations, and has existed in Mexico for more than 3,000 years.”(Photo credit to Diana Simmons and her dog, “Mee-too”. ARTIST: Tony Collantez)

We have been missing our time at the local beach this past while; Flamingos Day Club has been pretty quiet, except for the weekends and Mexican holidays.

We watched a fisherman bring this small catch in, including a trumpet fish, the long skinny one hanging here. We love this place! It’s usually pretty low key and relaxing under the palapa.

Most of the snowbirds that live in this area six months of the year tote their own gear down to the beach, rather than taking advantage of bar service or renting from vendors. However, this man took the prize for most elaborate set-up hauled down to the sand. All of this equipment was packed on his back from his car down to the waterfront. We were told that local vendors, when seeing this sort of thing, rub one elbow with a hand signalling one another, along with a meaningful head nod – the gesture means “cheap”.

Back in April Ty’s aunt Pat and several of her friends were in town for a week and we spent a day with them on the Isla Cuale, having lunch at the Babel Bar, watching them shop, and margaritas on the deck chairs at Oscar’s.

I keep saying to myself that I must try swiming in the river mouth here where all the locals go, but haven’t had a chance to try it yet. Every weekend it is crowded with kids and families picnicking down here.

Every season has beautiful flowers in Vallarta.

Except for the weekends the Malecon boardwalk is pretty quiet now, so the vendors are even more persistent than usual in trying to get our attention.

One of our favourite spots in Old Town is the Sofa Cafe on V Carranza, where we watched the proprietor dress her papier mache Katrina in a swanky new paper dress.

Street art proliferates around the city, with ever more murals popping up in different locations.

The images below, in Colonia Agua Azul, were painted by a group of students under the direction of local artists; the Frida below is by Adrian Rojas, a local favourite muralist who also teaches at Art Vallarta. He also has a huge acrylic on canvas version of this work.

We joined Ken and Linda for dinner at one of their neighbourhood seafood places one evening as a huge local family was having a birthday party.

This place specialises in whole grilled fish – yum!

Puerto Vallarta manages to support four local theatres, among them Incanto, a riverside venue with an outside dining area and two theatre spaces inside. This evening we were there to hear French Canadian chanteuse Sylvia sing Edith Piaf and the songs of the 20s, 30s, and 40s. She was great!

And more recently we went to hear the last in-town performance of the Media Luna band, who are now off on a tour through Canada. Below is the outdoor seating for Incanto, where you can have a full dinner if you wish before the show.

I love Media Luna, a group of relatives, two brothers and a cousin, plus friends, who play mostly Latin music of various kinds with enormous energy and verve. This night they were joined by singer Santiago Martin, all the way from Spain, who belted out Gipsy Kings songs with a fantastic voice.

One of the most beautiful springtime trees here is the Primavera tree, with its incredible yellow flowers.

We spend a lot – a lot! – of time on the buses here and I find it very interesting to see how these vehicles have been personalised by the drivers. Most have images of Jesus, the Virgin of Guadalupe, or the Cross …

but others have more secular messages, like the stencil below of a pig’s face with the injunction to put garbage where it belongs (not on the bus)

And, below, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”, “Today I go by Uber”, and “My little angel Jared”. These buses are not at all a comfortable ride and some of them are driven by what can only be described as maniacs who mistake their vehicles for Formula One race cars.

When we feel the need for more cardio exercise than that given by a stroll to the beach, we hike to the Cross, up through Centro’s hilly streets.

There are quite a few derelict “fixer-uppers” in this neck of the woods.

Work continues on the concrete steps leading up the last part of the trail.

While quite steep, the hike isn’t long. From the Malecon to the top is probably about 30 or 40 minutes.

While the South Side Shuffle has ended for the season, art continues to happen. Local trans artist Francine Peters (formerly Fred Peters of British Columbia) had a live painting show and sale of her artworks at the Act Two entertainment complex recently.

The beginning of May saw the Parroquia of Santa Cruz have a weeklong celebration for the Church’s birthday, consisting of music, dancing, and rides and games for the kids, blocking off the area around the church for the festivities.

We took in some of the dance performances and had hoped to hear some of the singing, but the volume of sound was just too much to bear (really screaming loud) and chased us out to the taco stands near the Guadalajara Farmacia.

Ty loves the quesadillas with everything, including piquante salsa. All the street taco stands include beans, onions, radishes, and cucumber slices with their food, gratis.

Another food favourite is tortas, portuguese-like buns with meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato, heated, with a variety of salsas. This place, near us on the main drag, has the best selection of condiments.

We’ve also discovered the Escondida Sports Bar a block from Santa Cruz church and have visited a few times to see a game or play pool.

Since the end of April the heat and humidity has increased here noticeably, from  a steady 28 degrees to about 32 with almost 100% humidity. The skies are not as clear and blue as before, with clouds forming in the afternoons. Today it was 32 in the shade (feels like 38 with the humidity, according to my weather app) and cumulous nimbus clouds forming over the mountains and around the bay periphery. No rain yet, though. Many of the local hotels offer day passes to use their pools and other facilities so we checked out the Plaza Santa Maria near our place for the day and I really enjoyed having their big pool to myself for some lap swimming.

The building in which the Art Guild had its co-op studio is being converted into condos and we all had to vacate the premises. Dauna was trying to finish her commissioned Notre Dame painting before she left.

I am amazed at folks who have the patience to do this kind of meticulous work.

Marg also managed to get a few more pieces done before leaving.

I have done a series of four acrylic on paper paintings at this studio, the last one below. All feature strange looking figures in a tropical landscape.

PV’s cathedral and main square downtown continues to hop on Sunday nights, with dancing to the Municipal Band and live music at the amphitheatre at Los Arcos.

This night we watched a hula hoop dancer doing her thing with several multi-coloured hoops to the joy of the sizable crowd. (Barb, I thought of you!)

And a live painting performance by local artists of works depicting the history of Puerto Vallarta for its 100th birthday this month.

Another beautiful sunset …

Ty contemplating life …

I am an Artist-in-Residence at Art Vallarta for the month of May and Nathalie and Alan were kind enough to set me up with a painting table in a prime spot. Below is the studio entrance with Frida murals by Tony Collantez and Quetzal, I think.

The facility is located near the end of a dead-end street in an Old Town apartment complex and has several studios, including clay and glass as well as painting, a gallery, and a theatre.

Below is my space in front of the window, facing east.

Below Tom takes a spin on the wheel in the pottery area. Clay classes with Rob continue all year round, as well as acrylic painting with Doug in the “cool room” downstairs.

I’m working on the piece below, acrylic on super-cheap paper that I got from the papeleria for 14 pesos each. I wanted to work large so this fills the bill.

I’m not sure whether this piece is finished or not – will have to think about it.

We’ve also gotten involved with the Boutique Community Theatre, located in Old Town above Nacho Daddy’s restaurant. The theatre and the restaurant share the building, with dinner theatre happening early in the evening and live music afterwards in the large upstairs venue. The director of their next production, Torch Song, put out a request for helpers on Facebook and we answered the call. The play, the story of a drag queen, his bisexual lover, and his disapproving mom, opens next week and runs for three weeks, right into Pride Week here in PV.

Since there was a pretty short timeline for the set, we decided to leave a couple of the potted plants that Dauna had done for the last production, paint around them, and add some abstract geometrical deigns to what is meant to be the wall of Arnold’s apartment. Ken built a new door and voila – the set is complete.

Once we decided upon the design, it took Ty and I three mornings to complete the painting, first rolling over the previous backdrop twice with white to cover it up. Ty’s Dad was an industrial painter and he learned some tricks of the trade at his Dad’s knee, wielding the roller with aplomb. Below Tom, playing Arnold, and Ralph, the director, check out the proceedings.

Ty has his moment in the sun, or at least in the spotlight, for a light cue check.

Tom occupies the loft where the torch singer will be spotlit.

Co-star Frank sitting in the apartment’s living room for a light cue check.

After overpainting the wall in white, then adding a pale robin’s egg blue, we taped off the abstract designs that decorate the apartment’s walls, referred to by Arnold as “having stencilled them himself.” I was originally going to actually use stencils to create the scene but couldn’t find any here.

Below Ty works on painting in the design in colour.

Amazingly, the colours of the wall match the colours of Ty’s butterfly T-shirt.

Below is the completed wall, ready for the furniture to be added.

After a hard day’s work, we rolled down the stairs to Nacho Daddy’s bar to sample some Happy Hour refreshments.

The Three Hens and a Rooster market, with which the Art Guild used to share premises, has moved for the summer to Encanto Restaurant; we paid a visit on Saturday to check out the new digs.

The space is nice, although not as large and open as the old spot.

One of the cultural differences between Mexico and Vancouver is that here, doggies are welcome many more places: they can come into many hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, etc, although prohibited in some. Many of the snowbirds and expats have pets, and the businesses that cater to this segment of the community are most accommodating. Most have smaller dogs, such as the lovely girl below.

Below Ty discusses jewellery with Marcia, a local designer who works with found materials and fabrics to create one of a kind pieces.

Another day, another taco stand … there are so many taco stands on the streets here that we would need another year to sample them all.

Another cultural difference relates to freedom, or libertarianism: the individual fends for him or herself more here and there are fewer regulations, especially in the area of safety and health. For example, people riding in the backs of pickup trucks. I haven’t seen that since I was a kid in North Vancouver but it’s the norm here. Smoking in bars and restaurants is still allowed in some venues. Riding a skooter or motorcycle without a helmet on old, unmaintained, and cobblestoned roads, also the norm. Pedestrians have no rights, it seems; the car really is king here and trying to cross the roads, especially busy multi-laned ones, is a trial. You have to be quick and nimble because the cars will not stop for you.

The only day when it’s not a death wish trying to cross the road is Sunday:

Hasta le vista from PV for now! See more pictures here.

Road Trip to Guanajuato 2

Another day, another period of time spent under the laurel trees at the Union Garden staring at El Gigante. It really is an extremely odd and compelling work of art.

Since we had been looking up at the Pipila monument since we got to Guanajuato, we decided to take the funicular up and savour a panoramic view of the city. A one way trip costs 25 pesos (about$1.80) and takes about 5 minutes to ascend the hill up behind the Teatro Juarez.

From the terrace at the top we had a 260 degree view of the valley in which the city sits. The large yellow and orange structure in the middle of the photo is the Basilica of Our Lady and the white buildings behind it are part of the University. In the right foreground the pinkish structure is the Teatro Juarez.

You can get a bit of a sense of the vibrant colours of the buildings from this picture. The hills are very dry this time of year and have little vegetation. But the city itself has quite a few parks and small green spaces.

Next to the viewing terrace are several bars; we decided on one with a great view over the city but unfortunately the rap music was blasting out too loud for these old ears and after one cervesa, we beat a hasty retreat.

From way up there, we could actually see our room; in the picture below it is the pink building on the bottom left with three narrow windows and two balconies, ours being the right-hand one.

It was quite hot this day and we enjoyed a shady bench in the plaza below before heading off to check out more art (poor Ty!).

Back up to the Positos neighbourhood, we visited the remaining galleries that we could find that were open this day. Some of them, like the below-ground one below, are quite tiny, and subsist on sales of very small works, mail art, postcards and the like.

Kuchi Gallery housed an interesting exhibition of terracotta portraits and peculiar baby-skull-skeleton sculptures

These may be cast plaster painted but I’m not sure …

The  Cultural Centre for Contemporary Art has a lovely cafe and courtyard area, and three or four exhibition rooms of paintings and sculpture.

Since it was getting quite hot, we ventured into the Reforma Garden on our way to a glass of something cold in San Fernando Plaza. Almost everyone who could get out of the sun was hanging out under the trees in the shade. If the fountains had generated a bit more water, I would have been tempted to dunk myself in one of them.

The fountain in the picture below was the only one that had any amount of water and it was not exactly gushing forth, either. But beautiful to look at as we sampled a cold one under our white umbrella.

Although Guanajuato is not known as a “foodie” town, there are about 10 or 12 good restaurants, according to those who know, and we decided to sample as many of them as we could. Mestizo, serving Mexican fusion, was one of them, with three rooms all full of art work to contemplate while enjoying our ribs.

Our stroll downtown that evening took us to the set of a movie production in progress and we watched as the director ordered the cast and crew about the streets.

Our final day in Guanajuato, Ty’s birthday, saw me visiting the Iconographic Museum of Don Quixote whose Cervantes Chapel is its highlight, with a bronze sculpture of the writer surrouded by murals of his imaginary creations. Ty, having had enough art for the moment, waited outside while I indulged.

A final museum stop on the art tour was the City Museum of Guanajuato, with historical religious and secular paintings and portraits and three different galleries of contemporary art. I suspect this building must originally have been a convent and it still contains a small and beautiful chapel.

The exhibition of works by Jose Fors was a tour de force of portraiture executed in pastel and oils. Having tried the odd portrait, I can really appreciate the skill that these demonstrate.

In the Museum’s chapel a triptych illustrating the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards and the ill-treatment of the indigenous people packs a large visual punch, with the gods of money and power replacing the Jesus and angels of traditional religious iconography.

For Ty’s birthday dinner he choose a small venue, Los Campos, a highly rated fusion food spot in Centro. It looked like it might have been someone’s wine cellar in a previous incarnation.

Since the place only has 8 tables we were lucky to get in without a reservation. The food was really fabulous; we shared an enormous salad and each devoured our entrees of chicken and lasagna.

Back out on the street, we had another whirl around the garden before heading back to PV on the night bus, which left from the terminal at 11 pm, arriving in Vallarta at 9 the next morning. While Ty was able to sleep for most of the journey I only managed about 3 hours worth – the bus was packed so no stretching out for comfort for me. Even though the bus ride was horrendous, a great time in the city was had by all! If you are ever in this neighbourhood, I really recommend a visit to Guanajuato.

See more here. To read more about Guanajato and see our pics from 2012, click here.

Road Trip to Guanajuato

On the road again …

to Guanajuato, one of the silver cities in central Mexico, an hour or two north of Mexico City by air. But we weren’t travelling by air, oh no sir, it was the Primera Plus bus for us, 10.5 hours worth, leaving Vallarta at 2 pm and arriving lo those many hours later, in Guanajuato. Although the Primera Plus is billed as first class, the seats don’t fit me – I am too small – and ten hours of it was painful! However, one good thing was that the bus was nowhere near full, so I was able to stretch out a bit for the journey.

We booked the Hotel Mansion von Humboldt online, billed as a historical character venue in Guanajuato’s centre, but do you think the taxi driver could find it? Nope – we rode round and round the underground tunnels following Ty’s google maps dot as it moved. Finally we just jumped out of the cab and started walking, at last locating the place in an arched arcade – through the open door in the photo at the top right. Since we arrived at the hotel at midnight, they gave us their least preposessing room, this beauty, with a “specially-designed” bathroom pod dropped like a space ship in the corner of the room.

Actually, the bathroom looked more like a stagecoach; just put it on a set of wheels, hitch it to Don Quixote’s horse, and off we could ride into the sunset. Rather than renovating this historical house to add a bathroom, each of the four rooms has one of these babies deposited into it: the self-contained unit has a tiny sink, toilet, and shower stall, all of which are small enough to fit into a Boler trailer, not optimum for a man Ty’s size …

We thought we had booked a “premium room” with a view balcony – here’s the view:

Something you may not know, if you’ve never heard of Guanajuato before, is that it is a hotbed of Don Quixote activity. The city boasts the most representations of the quixotic knight anywhere in the world, I’m sure, from the most outlandish statues to paintings to prints to coins. Below you can see one such sculpture tucked into the corner of the room that serves as the Mansion’s “lobby”. Images of Don Quixote and sidekick Sancho Panzo are second only to those of Jesus Christ and the Virgin of Guadalupe here.

Here’s another example, located outside the Iconographic Museum of Don Quixote, about two blocks away from the Mansion.

And one more, gigantic over-life-size (as you can tell by the comparative sizes below) mounted figures of the Don and Sancho, standing (actually sitting) to attention outside the Cervantes Theatre. A huge event in October called the Cervantino, with presentations on all things Cervantes, takes place here every year, drawing attendees from all over the world.

Guanajuato was founded around 1500 by Spaniards who came to this part of the world to seek their fortune in silver mines. At one time it was one of the wealthiest cities in the world and evidence of this wealth is everywhere here, in the fabulous baroque architecture, the many guilded churches, and the cafe society restaurants and bars that stud the gorgeous central area.

After an aborted attempt at breakfast presided over by a cook who coughed into our omlette, we beat a hasty retreat to the Truco 7, an eccentric establishment near our hotel, its walls covered in an extensive, and varied, collection of objects: artworks, both sacred and secular, masks, animal horns and skulls, oldfashioned radios, typewriters, small flying machines hanging from the ceilings, and crucifixes made of palm leaves.

The food here was excellent and the service swift. No sooner did we ask for something than it appeared. After discovering this place, we came every morning for breakfast, each day discovering something new to look at on the walls.

This city has a wealth of art, including street art such as the examples below (lots of wood and linocuts wheatpasted onto the old walls here).

Guanajuato’s historic centre has one advantage over many, in that it is pedestrian only. Cars travel below through a series of underground tunnels, which makes walking around the place very pleasant.

There are an enormous number of elaborate and highly decorated churches here, including a Temple of the Jesuits, in which there are multitudes of effigies of Jesus in varied tortured poses.

I have been in all of the churches in Centro and their life-sized polychromed Christ figures all appear to have been made from the same model so similar are they in execution. Usually there’s a bit of variety in the images, but here no.

Another exceptionally attractive part of this city is its colourfulness: almost all the houses are painted beautiful and vibrant shades of yellow, red, deep blue, purple, fuschia, and lime green. They tumble down the hills of the valley like brilliantly coloured children’s building blocks. It is also exceptionally clean, with almost no visible garbage (unlike Vallarta in this regard). Many of the streets are narrow alleyways, curving in twists and turns up and down the hills.

The epicentre of the city is the Union Garden, a triangular space of marble sidewalks and greenery, shaded with enormous old Indian Laurel trees that have been shaped into blocks and shade the entire sidewalk area,

fountains, and many decorative metal benches. Surrounding the garden on three sides are bars and restaurants with outside seating, from which one can be serenaded by the roving bands of minstrels who frequent this place: mariachi bands, buskers, and estudiantes, young musicians in medieval costume who sing and play and take tourists on walks through the streets to the accompaniment of stringed music and vibrant singing.

At night all the buildings in the central core are lit up and the streets are thronged with people – really wonderful.

In the photo below you see the main cathedral, located in the Plaza de la Paz, the Peace Plaza, another visitor favourite.

Another of the really great things about Guanajuato is that it’s a university town, with  a student population of about 30,000 in a total of 170,000, meaning that the city is full of young energy. And it has art – lots of contemporary art, printmaking, painting, and sculpture. And many museums; below you can see one of the contemporary art spaces, the gallery in the University of Guanajuato, exhibiting photographic artwork by a German artist in conjunction with a festival of European cinema happening all month.

Another interesting and rather odd thing about this town is that it likes horror, having a torture musuem, a mummy museum, and a haunted house, the Casa of Tia Aura, through which we were whizzed in a whirlwind tour by a bored student guide.

Since the tour was entirely in Spanish, and I was not familiar with the story of the place, my language skills were not up to the rigours of deciphering the whole thing, although we did get the gist … It reminded me of one of the PNE haunted houses that I used to love going through in the past. I am a sucker for this sort of thing. And I do love the dramatic lighting!

In addition to creepy dolls, hooded red-eyed figures, and fake rats, the displays also had animatronic figures that burst into movement and came through false mirrors.

After that semi-scary afternoon, and a siesta back at the ranch, Ty & I visited one of Guanajuato’s top-rated restaurants, the Casa Valadez, one of the more formal venues around the Jardin de la Union, complete with live music. As you can see, we dressed for the occasion!

Along with the churches, the Teatro Juarez in centro is also lit up at night, its figures of the muses lining the rooftop shining against the night sky,

It is amazing the number of mariachi bands that this city supports, and they all have beautiful embroidered costumes.

See more here.

On Tuesday morning we were fortunate enough to be able to move to one of the better premium rooms in the Mansion, one whose balcony actually did have a view of the city and the Pipila monument. This room was much bigger and more nicely appointed that the other one, although the bathroom pod was exactly the same as the previous one.

The photo below shows the view from our balcony, including the funicular that travels up to the Pipila monument (the two red boxes on the hill).

The one down side of this room is that it is just across the street from a disco that runs from 10:30 until 5 in the morning; luckily, though, it was only open one night while we were there and, with the windows closed, all we could hear was the thump of the bass. We spent the morning at the Casa Museum of Gene Byron, a Canadian artist whose hacienda home has been converted into a museum a 15 minute taxi ride from the city centre. The Casa contains a small concert hall in which musical events are held, as well as exhibitions, this day photos by a Japanese artist.

The rest of the house contains a wide variety of Gene Byron’s artworks, as well as her collection of ojects d’art from the Americas.

This casa is part of a four casa ex-hacienda called Santa Ana; the stone walls are very thick, and the interior lighting is quite dim, typical here to keep the heat down, as well as the electricity bills. There are several ex-haciendas in town, former residences of the early rich and famous of the silver era. All are now either hotels or museums. Below is the courtyard and guest house of the Casa Gene Byron.

Back in town and at the Jardin de la Union there are several bronze sculptures dotted throughout the area but the oddest is the figure in the photo below, standing between the Teatro Juarez and the church. Called El Gigante, it is by Jose Cuevas, and has the attributes of a woman in front and of a man behind, according to the artist’s statement, meant to represent his love for and union with, his wife.

As you can see, it has a tiny head with what looks like testicles hanging from either side and enormous protrusions from its torso, not breasts exactly but possibly meant to indicate fecundity. And the arms are enormously long. I spent quite a bit of time looking at this piece.

The afternoon saw us heading up Positos Road to the university and contemporary art district to check out some of the museums, galleries, and studios. Since we were last here six years ago, contemporary art has really expanded in Guanajuato. This area now has a contemporary art circuit, including the university, the City Museum, the Diego Rivera House Museum, and a whole bunch of other small studios and galleries, some student-run.

Our first stop was the Factoria de 7/Primer Deposito Museum, a repository of major Mexican artists’ works in sculpture, ceramics, painting, and printmaking, which also hosts music, lectures, and other manifestations.

I was surprised and happy to see many bronzes sculptures by the surrealist artist Leonora Carrington, an Englishwoman who emigrated to Mexico in the mid twentieth century. In fact, Mexico probably has more surrealist-inspired art than any other country. Surrealism really seems to strike a chord with the people in these parts.

In one of the many small rooms is a display of ceramics by local artists, including some gigantic circular and mural-like wall pieces.

The Diego Rivera House Museum houses early works by the famous muralist, who was born in Guanajuato, and also has three large temporary exhibition spaces for contemporary art. In the Exposicion Pictorica gallery was Et Nihil, surrealist-inflected paintings by Ricky Grana from Guadalajara on the idea of Limbo. Below Ty is sitting in a room filled with images of bearded men preforming various obscure duties.

The Sala Diego Rivera featured paintings by Jose Parra called Splendour and Decadence, modelled after European Baroque and Roccoco art.

While all of these works are fabulously clever and well-executed, my favourite was the portrait of a thoughtful and sad-looking siamese cat.

The painting above seems to have been inspired by Thomas Couture’s 1847 romans of the Decadence (below). Jose Parra has a miraculous talent for representing the human body realistically, something I really appreciate and struggle with in painting.

The Decadence of the Romans, by Thomas Couture, 1847. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Full-size effigies of Diego and Frida preside over one part of the House Museum, stationed on an outside balcony.

This year I was surprised to see how many print shops there are now in Guanajuato, with both workshop area and galleries. Below is the entry into El Pinche Grabador, whose work includes lino, woodcut, engraving, and litho, with Mexican folk art inspiration – lots of skulls, skeletons, and fantastical beasts.

The picture below was taken through the window, since we weren’t allowed into the actual printing space.

Nearby we found EnVisionArte, a space run by a collective of artists, which features audio-visual, new media, and multi-media work. I had a very interesting discussion about the digital and calligraphic works on display with Gibran Haneine, who was kind enough to tour me through the space.

After intense art-viewing we were developing a powerful thirst and just happened to glance into an open door down the road and see this little vision of paradise. Naturally we rolled on in for a refreshment.

Here Ty discovered the taste of Tecate beer with his michelada.

There are quite a few pleasant small squares in the centro area to while away the time and people watch. Many locals cluster around the street food carts; the one below features bags of nachos covered in various creative and unusual toppings.

Plaza San Fernando is a local favourite at night, with musicians and vendors selling their wares around the beautiful illuminated fountain.

Nearby is the Plazuela San Roque, in which there was a concert this night by a German reggaeton star invited over as part of the University’s film festival.

A temporary seating area was installed in front of the church and we stayed for a bit to enjoy the show.

Rolling back towards the Jardin, we strolled through the streets and came across yet another printshop, this one called the Corazon Parlante, in which there were still people working late into the night.

Seeing all the wonderful graphic art reminded me of all my time spent at Malaspina Printmakers and also of the studio where I was in residence in Paris a long time ago, Atelier 17. I would love to come here and make some prints one of these days.

It is fun just to sit under the laurel trees and watch the passing throng here, a changing mass of humanity every night.

See more here.

Semana Santa in Puerto Vallarta

Almost every Tuesday (and one Wednesday) we have gone hiking from Boca de Tomatlan to Las Animas, a trail through forest, up and down hills, and along the water of the gigantic Banderas Bay that takes between one and a half and two hours, depending upon the heat and the state of our legs. We meet the group at the corner of Constitution and Basilio Badillo for the 40 minute bus trip down the coast to Boca, from which the trail begins. Since we were last here, Boca has really been spruced up, especially the area near the beach and trail head, including, oh joy, new washrooms.

The group size varies according to the time of year; the largest number of people was in mid-March, when 55 of us jammed the bus, and a few days ago we were down to 12. As per usual here, the bus ride is an experience, not always a good one! All depends upon the state of the vehicle’s shocks and the driver’s mind.

Once through the town of Boca, the first part of the trail runs along the bay, beneath the haciendas that have been built cliff-side. When we hiked during Semana Santa, the Holy Week before Easter when the entire world comes to Vallarta, palapa tent structures had been erected on the beach at the river mouth for Nationals and their families to camp for the week. Some of these even had electrical cords running to them to power TVs and other small devices.

The first part of the walk is relatively flat and easy but soon the trail runs up the hill and we get into sandy switchbacks that have to be negotiated carefully.

Once over the first hill and down again, the worst of the uphill is done as we come down into Colomitos Beach, usually pretty quiet except for Semana Santa, when boatloads of tourists from Mexico City hit the beaches.

Colomitos is a tiny beach and, once crossed, the trail rises on cut stone stairs again and along the ocean cliffside. This year the trail has new handrails on some sections, though, a great addition.

Down and up, the trail follows the coastline as it heads towards the southern part of the bay, passing small strips of sand and larger sandy bays, into some of which boats bring daytrippers for a visit.

Las Trovas is one of the more swanky destination resorts along this strip of coast, running some $500 dollars a night for its beachside “bungalows”.

One particular large rock along the way – the Lizard rock – always has one or two largish iguanas sunning themselves. I assume it’s the same ones but who knows?

The longgggggg beach strip below is the toughest part of this section of the trail. Once we reach it hot and sweaty, I know how far we still have to go. And it’s still a ways from here.

A welcome sign, this one pointing the way lets us know that we are getting there. Here we turn back into the shade of the trees as the trail runs through a bungalow development that reminds us of some of the Thai islands that we’ve visited.

At last, the oasis of Las Animas appears and we’re almost there, our final destination the Caracol Restaurant next to the Pier.

Rob enjoys a well-deserved margarita.

Big water toys are new this year.

The reward for our exertions: a cold, damp facecloth, salsa and chips, beer, and a delicious shrimp lunch,

along with the foul Raicilla shot that everyone loves to hate.

Gunther tracked Ty down to hs beach chair in the sand to deliver his share of the gasoline fuel, traditionally knocked back with an orange slice.

Doug, a former firefighter from Calgary, has been leading these hikes for several years, along with his dog Chester.

Apres-hike and apres-beach, the group rolls up to Langostino’s on the beach for Happy Hour margaritas (and I unfortunately forgot to ask for them “sin popote” – without straws – will remember next time!).

The pierside restaurant/bar Cuates and Cuetes, a live music destination, had an epic 6 hours long music festival on the beach for the end of the season, featuring jazz, Latin and drum music, action painting, and Aztec and fire dancers on the beach paying homage to the sinking sun. You can see their large feather headdresses in the middle of the photo below.

Brothers of the beard (below); this fellow, also Canadian, wanted his picture taken with Ty, figuring that they were two peas in a bearded pod.

After enjoying the merriment for a while, we found a nice bar in Old Town to play pool, then sampled some street-side tacos nearby. A person could live very cheaply down here if she could survive on tacos alone: here they are 14 pesos each (about $1).

Frida Kahlo’s effigy and image is everywhere here, even in the pool hall.

I have joined the PV Art Guild and am using their shared studio space on via Carranza to do some painting for a month or so. Located in a wonderful old hacienda, formerly a restaurant, the Guild has rented space in one of the large upstairs areas. As a shared space member, I can use this place pretty much any time to create whatever I fancy and store my stuff when I’m not there.

Edwige, below, is one of the founders and driving forces of the Guild and she, along with a few others, has a small private studio and gallery space on the second floor.

Saturday markets continue here year-round, as do various workshops run by Guild members. In one of the photos below, Barb leads some enthusiasts in painting bedazzled cacti.

Among the other artists are Marg and Cassandra, who share a larger studio space on the second floor. Cassandra is also a jewelry designer and has a very well-regarded store in Old Town where many extravagant pieces can be found, as well as some of her paintings.

This day the shared space was all mine, as I worked on an acrylic version of a plein air watercolour I’d  done earlier downtown.

Here it is below at a slightly later stage in its evolution.

Shirley, a Canadian from Vancouver Island, also has studio space here and is there some days with me, working on playful and colourful animals and local characters. Many of this group of women, year round residents of PV, met for years at the studio of a longtime Vallarta resident who just recently sold her home in Gringo Gulch.

Our plein air group has shrunk now that many have returned to the north; last time out it was just three of us working streetside on Hidalgo, me, Donna and Paulette, while Rod takes photos.

Donna is a well-known watercolour painter here who shows her work at Galleria Dante; this day she executed a small pen and ink and watercolour sketch of a cafe patio.

Below is a view of the painting subject.

Ty and I hit the last Southside Shuffle of the season and had a good time playing chess with a beautiful bronze set of figures created by a local artist Alvaro Zardoni.

The game started out very promisingly – a well-fought match but ultimately I had to concede … Ty did only minimal gloating.

Outside on the sidewalk one of the local drag entertainers was strutting her stuff for an enthusiastic audience in front of Cassandra Shaw’s place, drumming up interest in an upcoming show at Act II.

As mentioned, Semana Santa is the busiest time of the year here, when all of Mexico brings their families to the beach for a week or two. Among the visitors was this crowd of bikers on choppers and hogs from Guadalajara staying in a hotel just down the road a piece.

Semana Santa in Puerto Vallarta is not at spectacular as it was in Guanajuato when we were there a few years back. While there almost every business and private home had an elaborate altar set up to honour the Virgin of Guadalupe and a long parade on Palm Sunday, we wouldn’t find any altars here. The only evidence we saw of traditional Easter was a display and sale of palm frond Virgins and Crucifixes in front of the Cathedral.

Although there wasn’t much in the way of Easter traditions, the beaches have been packed for two weeks with frolicking families enjoying their Spring break. Extra lifeguards and police patrols have been put on – many of the Mexicans do not know how to swim.

A very pleasant discovery was the VIP Cinema here at La Isla shopping centre north of us. When you just don’t want to be out in the sun anymore for a bit, a visit to this theatre is a great treat. Only a year old, the place is spotless and each theatre has leather recliners, push buttons to call waiters, and an extensive food and drink menu.

We enjoyed our film in air-conditioned comfort! La Isla itself is very upscale and a world of difference from the Old Mexico ambience of downtown Vallarta.

For me, a large part of the enjoyment of being here is the art opportunities, both to see it and to make it. I took two different afternoon acrylic painting classes at Art Vallarta last week and enjoyed both. The painting area has expanded since I was last here; what was formerly a gym on the bottom floor is now the “cold room”, a lightly air-conditioned space for painting classes and artists in residence. At the moment it also hosts a display of local artist Tony Collantez’ works on canvas.

Doug Simonson’s Harnessing the Power of Painting class was really good. He has been teaching people the magic of acrylic for 35 years and his experience shows. We began with a slide show demonstrating how to break down images into shapes, values, and vector lines to make simplification of the motif easier. Then we were given a selection of images and asked to draw them quickly, eliminating the detail and focusing on the lights and darks instead. Below is my plant drawing.

I found this process to be quite frustrating, in that using a pencil was not as conducive as charcoal or pastel might have been but I gave it my best shot.

Doug has lots of followers who attend all his classes and come back year after year. This Good Friday afternoon’s class was full, with 10 or so people. The final exercise involved a similar process, except using acrylic paint rather than pencil. I found this easier, although I was not particularly enamored of what I worked on (the swimmer below).

I did learn some things and I enjoyed the class – Doug is a very good teacher. He’s not afraid to critique students and most seemed to take the instruction well.

Lalo, below, one of Art Vallarta’s team, was doing his own thing in the corner, working on a large black and white portrait head.

The following Saturday afternoon was Freestyle Acrylic Painting with Adrian Rojas, a local muralist and crowd favourite. A very nice person with a gentle style, Adrian, too, teaches to a full house three times a week, twice in another studio at Art Vallarta and once on the beach. In the photo below, that’s one of his murals on the wall.

For this class, offered twice a week, participants bring in what they’ve been working on and he gives guidance and tips. This day most of the canvases were large and varied in terms of imagery: portraits, landscapes, flowers, and abstract compositions. Some of these folks are experienced, others have never held a brush in their hands before – Adrian takes all comers.

Although I would have liked to have used a much larger canvas, I was happier with what I produced this time, the fire angel below.

Easter weekend saw us down along the malecon for sunset, enjoying the throngs of people out and about in holiday mode.

Vast crowds of Mexicans, with multitudes of kids and grandparents in tow, enjoyed the vendor offerings and music all along the boardwalk.

Ken and Lynda were kind enough to invite us to Easter Sunday lunch at Moro Paraiso in Paso Ancho, a riverside restaurant way up the hill from PV in eijido land (collective land deeded to the poor in years gone by).

It was warm and quiet while we were there, later to be descended upon by hordes of ATVers (this restaurant is a stop on the ATV tours up the hills).

The food was very tasty, as you can tell!

After lunch we rolled further up the hill to a ranch with several gigantic palapas and a fleet of ATVs, as well as an enormously long and high suspension bridge from hilltop to hilltop. From the restaurant’s deck we could see a strip of the ocean in the far distance.

In the photo below, you can just see the thin silver line of the suspension bridge against the green of the hill in the background – none of us tried it this day, though.

Lynda and Ken, who have lived here ten years, showed us their two places, one a four level rental house on the hill in Colonia 5th of Diciembre,

and the other a two house combination in Agua Azul, just across the highway and about a 15 minute walk from our place. Ken designed both these places and had them built by local constractors. Inside the Agua Azul place is a large open courtyard area with a pool – gorgeous!

Ty and I strolled through the cemetery one day, enjoying the quiet and all the flowers and other decorations put out for Easter. On the wall surrouding are several murals, some of which could use a touch-up.

In 5th of Diciembre many of the walls are adorned with murals, including these below (the photo below of Einstein is not by me, but unfortunately I neglected to record the name of the person who took it).

Finally, for this post, we checked out the Centro Art Walk the other night with a much diminished crowd – all the snow birds have flown away home. At Galeria Corsica was this Mexican riff on Leonardo’s Woman with an Ermine.

The fabulously-decorated Nord-South Gallery had live music, with a pianist, violinist, and singer, as well as an array of chocolates and vino, and we spent a bit of time there admiring the art and design pieces.

Here are a few more samples of the artistic wares on offer:

Also, I’m super happy that my short film Awash has been selected for Voices from the Waters – 2018, the 12th International Travelling Film Festival on Water, in Bangalore, India. Over the last eleven years the Bangalore Film Society, in collaboration with a consortium of organizations, has brought together film directors, grass-root level water activists, environmentalists, scientists, policy makers, scholars and artists, from all walks of life to engage in a process of learning and debate on various water issues from around the world.

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See more photos here.

Random Vallarta Days and Nights

Guess who? Put a couple of hats on the beasts above and lo and behold, voila – you get the shadow below.

The beasts below are working burros who haul stuff up and down the hills of PV. These ones are responsible for hauling the cement and other materials to build the staircase that travels up the hill to the cross viewpoint.

We are loving every moment down here and feeling very grateful to be able to be here for this long stretch of time. Below just one of the many early evening views of the Los Muertos Pier, illuminated in changing colours of light.

For live music lovers, Cuates and Cuetes, right near the pier, is the place to be, especially when Tatawari and Media Luna are playing, fantastic guitarists all.

This place is paradise, and even things that would normally bug me a bit, like the noise and some of the chaos of Mexico, mostly just roll off my back these days. I say “mostly” because sometimes the craziness of some things here just makes us shake our heads.

Skeletal figures are everywhere here; the females are known as “Katrinas” (not sure what the males are called). Many full- and over-sized papier mache creations of these happy skeletons grace the stores and restaurants.

Sometimes we just like to loiter on street corners and watch what comes by …

The burro below can be found next to Andales bar in Old Town every evening, not sure why.

One of our favourite spots is Page in the Sun, a cafe/bookstore next to Lazaro Cardenas Park, with excellent coffee and shelves of paperbacks, mostly secondhand, the remains of tourists now departed.

Since I have a nerve issue in my left foot, I can’t wear flip-flops or elegant shoes walking around any more, so it’s the big black orthopedia Oxfords or the new runners I’m trying to break in that are always on my feet. The ol’ black shoes were getting a bit scruffy so I took the opportunity of getting them polished by one of the guys at the main square; he did a fabulous job for 20 pesos (aboout $1.75).

A new artists’ space has opened in Old Town on V. Carranza, called the Art Guild.

They are renting studio space in a wonderful converted hacienda, with individual rooms, a shared space, and a gallery, all around an open air courtyard in what used to be a restaurant.

To introduce the group to the city, the guild had an “Evening of Local Colour”, with lots of artistic and artisan wares, as well as refreshments.

For the remainder of our time here, we have moved north to Palo Seco, down near the Hotel Zone north of town. Our new neighbourhood is very quiet, except for the insanely barking dogs, one large one with a deep voice and two really maniacal terriers, one with a high-pitched screech and another as yet unidentified, a special needs person who screams, mostly in the night, and the buses that roll by every 10 minutes until around 11 or so. Thankfully, the screaming person lives about a block away, so, while I am woken up by it, I can usually get back to sleep again. I feel for the family.

Below is the front view of our hacienda; there are four apartments in this building and we are on the second floor at the front.

Before they left us, we had Pam, Cec, Beatrice, and Barb over for dinner, managing to cobble together a couple of bistro tables and enough chairs to seat all of us.

People are friendly to us here, seemingly the only gringos in the neighbourhood. The apartment, on the second floor of a three storey building, is nice and cool which is great after a hot day of stomping around the place. No A/C necessary, just fans. The huge tree out front shades us all day long.

Sometimes, when Ty is in need of a cervesa to refuel, we roll along the sidewalk in the direction of the northern hotel zone, bisected by a river inhabited by crocodiles – Ty saw one the other day, but I only saw the sign warning of them.

The rainy season is the time to really watch out, when they are more active and conceivably could swim down into the river mouth or crawl out onto the sand. Ty told me that some of them only eat once a year, not sure whether I believe him or not.

Palo Seco area has a large Saturday market, with clothes, toys, tools, and kitchen wares, as well as food, being the big sellers. This past Saturday I scored a couple of tops and a sharpening stone.

Compared with Old Town or Centro, Palo Seco is much quieter and family-oriented. Everything is pretty much closed on Sundays and the businesses also take siestas still between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, a pretty good idea, if you ask me. Note the style in the photo below, not much exposed skin …

Throughout the day and evening in the streets of the various barrios, vendors walk and drive, advertising their wares with particular cries, sounds, or music: the gas man, the water man, the ice-cream man, the tamale man, the political party man, the donut woman, all have their own specific call, just like back when I was a child and the ice-cream van rolled down my street in Lynn Valley tinkling his chimes like the Pied Piper, calling all the children out from their homes.

Recently, a nice restaurant has opened up in the neighbourhood, the Lattey Bistro, which has live music in the form of a pianist and sometimes a singer with a great voice.

We had a very tasty meal while listening to the tunes.

It’s great to have the bus stop right outside our front door, but it’s amazing how many times just as we are trying to unlock the front gate, it rolls past, leaving us behind. In Mexico all the properties have locked gates, as do the windows and doors. We were woken the other night by a strange noise, thinking that perhaps someone was trying to climb our tree to get in via our balcony, shaking it and raining down hundreds of seed pods. We later saw the culprit, a cheeky grey squirrel. This character squawks every morning, adding to the dawn chorus of animal voices in the yard.

I’m continuing to enjoy the plein air painting group which meets most Friday mornings.

At our last session, we trudged up to the top of Argentina Street in the 5th of Diciembre neighbourhood to paint on the rooftop deck of Donna’s building, with a beautiful pool area and dramatic view out over the Bay. If I lived here, I might never leave the building.

Donna, a Canadian originally from Vancouver, I think, is lucky enough to be able to teach her painting classes under a covered area in one section of the top deck. Most of my painting buddies are leaving by the end of March to head back north, so only a few of us will be left as we move into late Spring.

Rob, Ty, and I did a nice riverside hike up to a waterfall near the Garza Blanca resort south of town one Monday.

Jumping off the bus before we hit Mismaloya, we followed the Garza fence for a while, then around and over boulders and rocks in the dry stream bed until we reached the first of a series of waterfalls, this one created by a human-made dam of rocks, with a lovely deep swimming hole.

We watched as a couple of local kids clambered up the steep sides of the canyon, using a metal rope put there for that purpose. I almost didn’t want to watch for fear one of them would slip and tumble down.

We should have jumped into the water as soon as we got there but another group appeared and we watched them frolic in the water instead. Several of the group jumped from the canyon side into the pool, luckily without incident. I was reminded of Lynn Canyon and all the people who have lost their lives over the years by doing just that (although that is a much steeper jump than this one).

Almost all of our pals have left town and we miss them! Maggie flew away the end of February and, the last few days before they left in March, we spent time with Pam, Cec, and Beatrice eating, drinking, and generally being merry. A night-time stroll along the Malecon, music, art, and dancing were all on the menu.

Every weekend during the high season it seems like there is free music somewhere; this group was playing at the arches stage next to the main square.

The abandoned and bordered up building on the left (above) would provide a wonderful surface on which to project a film – I should keep that in mind for next year. I love the changing colours lighting up its blank surface.

I love the way the buildings along the malecon are all lit up at night, pulsing colour along with the pulsing music. Crowds throng the malecon every weekend, with music, food vendors, and statue artists aplenty. These folks work very hard for a pittance late into the night.

Among the frozen-statue guys on the boardwalk was this monstrous fellow from the Alien movies, the first time that I had seen him.

Every weekend come hotdog, crepe, taco, tamale, corn, and dessert vendors, set up under tents with lamps illuminating their seductive goodies. Although both Pam and Angie said that these cakes were from Costco, rather than home-baked, we still found them pretty apealing. What is it about concentrations of sweet things that appeals so much, I wonder? (Check out the paintings of pies by Wayne Thibault – you can find them online). These treats come out on weekend nights and the excess of it is muy rico.

Every Friday night at Lazaro Cardenas Park the Folkloric Ballet group dances for a large appreciative crowd which fills the amphitheatre steps. This night we couldn’t find a seat but managed to get a standing room spot at the back of the top tier.

Every times the dances and costumes are different; the company must have an almost inexhaustible supply of clothing, all of it gaily decorated and, of course, colourful, with complex and elaborate headgear.

Angie and Rob were here until mid March and we enjoyed hanging out with them, taking in art, film, theatre, and food. They have a cute studio in Old Town and Angie has converted what was a tiny hole in the wall in the bottom of their building in her painting studio.

At the Boutique Theatre on Basilio Badillo we saw Par for the Corpse, billed as a homicidal comedy, the cast of which was mostly amateurs from PV’s large expat community.

It was also great to see Barb briefly, in town before and after her butterfly tour, with whom I hiked up to the cross atop one of the hills a couple of times.

When we feel like a beach day, Ty and I go to the Flamingo Beach Club at Playa Las Glorias, still blissfully construction-zone-free, since the derelict building demolition seems to have come to a halt again – glory be!

Daily, three horses and an accompanying dog ride up and down the beach, sometimes alone and sometimes with tourist passengers. Unlike our dearly-departed doggo Brubin, who used to howl with outrage whenever he saw a horse, this dog is obviously the horses’ buddy.

On a recent long weekend, the wooden lounging areas that we thought were the derelict remains left behind by a hurricane were spruced up for a three day Skyy vodka-fest on the beach, complete with bused in loads of scantily-clad young women, much to the joy of the usual male beach suspects.  Electronic Euro pop pulsed at top decibel out onto the sand, while us oldersters sat under our palm frond palapa.

We’ve met some new friends at Flamingos, Linda and Ken from Saltspring, who have lived here for 10 years, and enjoy hanging with them on the beach, this day joined by Fran, her husband, and beautiful old dog. Amazingly, Fran was one of the folks that Maggie and I had played bridge with at the Friendship Club back in February.

One of our favourite places now is the Babel Bar, an expansive newish venue on Isla Cuale, with a riverside beach seating area perfect for plein air painting.

Ty took the photos below, the first slightly modified with a filter, of me at their beach bar.

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The recent long weekend saw a Raicilla festival on Isla Cuale, with horses, cowboys and girls, raicilla tastings, music, folkloric dancing, singing (very loudly) and big band music, attended by a mostly local crowd of well-heeled nationals and a few, less well-heeled, tourists.

After watching the horse procession from the malecon lighthouse to the island, as we were walking by Las Brazzas, I saluted a group of older expat men who invited us to join them for a tasting of their fire-water, which to me was undrinkable, although those three were having no difficulty putting it away.

It was great to see so many people down on the island, since usually this place is Sleepy Hollow. Interestingly, Las Brazzas had installed fake flowers and pieces of sod to spruce up their garden area for the occasion.

Along with the alcohol-fest the Cultural Centre had an exhibition of local art, unfortunately less well-attended than the raicilla tastings, including two painted toilets on their way to Mexico City for a water-themed show.

After a late dinner at the Casa Tradicional near the Church of Guadalupe, a beautiful, but very touristy, venue, we also hit the opening of Quetzal’s Flower Show down in Centro, where he presented many huge, brightly-coloured paintings of flowery figures, locating the studio using our trusty Google Maps app.

Vallarta at night is beautiful, with colours and lights that glisten against the night sky. I really love the main cathedral, with its gigantic filigree silver crown and its lit-up brick carapace.

See more photos here.

Barra de Navidad, La Manzanilla, and Melaque

Ty and I decided on the spur of the moment to grab a bus down to Barra de Navidad to visit Carol, Ty’s aunt, and Sandra and Joe, his cousin and her partner, while they were down. Carol is staying in Barra for 4 months and Sandra and Joe zipped down for a week or so to visit. Although Ty had driven through this neck of the woods about 35 years ago with some buddies, I had never been to this part of the Mexican pacific coast. Our tickets on the Primera Plus first class nonstop bus leaving from Old Town PV and tavelling to Melaque (the bus doesn’t go to Barra) cost about $80-$90 for the two of us return, a journey of about 4 hours (this time will improve once the Costa Alegre highway improvement project is completed).

Primera Plus buses usually have wifi, as well as a non-stop selection of movies to pass the time and the ride is relatively comfortable. Leaving PV at 8:30 in the morning, we arrived at the Posada Pacifico, a smallish local hotel in Barra, around 2:30, after taking a taxi from Melaque. This place has simple rooms with fan, some comfortable outdoor seating areas, and a small dipping pool for around $25 Canadian a night.

After meeting the family at the Cabo Blanco music fest, a weekly live music event at one of the town’s more upscale hotels (pool below), we headed out to check out the pueblo and get some food.

A nice oceanside restaurant is Nachos, where we sampled their killer Pina Coladas and shrimp tacos.

Sandra and Ty practice outdoing one another with their arms wide.

Barra doesn’t really have a beach scene, as such. There aren’t many places on the sand where one can lie on a lounger and contemplate one’s navel and, without shade, it is killer hot here. The waves are large, crashing against the rocky shore at this end of the bay. Barra and Melaque lie at opposite ends of a two mile long crescent of golden sand; below is a photo looking north towards Melaque, a much larger town than Barra but still small compared with Vallarta, just barely visible in the distance. The orange material you can see in between the rocks on the shoreline is membrane designed to stop shoreline erosion, not very successfully in this case, however, since it is all torn up and destroyed by the waves.

At the Barra end of the bay it’s possible to swim and Carol does that daily with her group of women. This part of town lies on a thin strip of land between the ocean and a large lagoon.

Below is a picture of the lagoon side of the strip, with a few beach restaurants and lots of boats coming and going, both fishing and tourist vessels. In the distance, on the hill, is an enormous, expansive all-inclusive resort that looked virtually deserted while we were there.

Barra has a small malecon with a sculpture that is a duplicate of one of the bronzes on Puerto Vallarta’s malecon, the merman and maid.

A few blocks of shopping, restaurants and bars runs along the seafront, with the usual assortment of clothing and tourist paraphernalia.

My first impression of Barra was that it is very clean and tidy and, even though it was still “high season”, not too busy. Carol told us that, these days, while Barra used to be known as a fishing village with a drinking problem, it’s now a “drinking village with a fishing problem”. Definitely, folks are enjoying themselves here.

There are two small “Maleconcitos”, tiny pockets of road where tourists and locals come out each evening to watch the spectacular sunsets. One of these, two blocks from our hotel, you can see in this picture.

One of the big attractions of Barra is the active live music scene and we were lucky enough to catch Vancouverite Bonnie Gibson at her last gig before heading off to Thailand. Bonnie has been coming to Barra for many years and has a big following here. The show was held in the lobby of one of the nicer seaside hotels with a killer view out over the ocean.

Sandra, Joe, Carol, Ty and I enjoyed the tunes, then headed out onto Barra’s smallish Malecon in search of dinner.

Carol has a great apartment on the top floor of a building right near the Posada Pacifico where she spends four months of the winter, with a nice outdoor seating area right outside her front door.

The Posada Pacifico has a small breakfast cafe, where we chowed down on hotcakes for the days we were there, chatting with the various expats who call this place home.

Lots of people head north on the bus to La Manzanilla for beach days and we joined the throng for the one hour journey back up and down the switchback highway, luck enough to get a seat in the back of the bus, a rickety old contraption without a back exit. As usual, I spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about what I would do if the bus were in an accident, since getting out of there from our seats would likely have been next to impossible. In Canada we take our safety for granted, since every building must have fire exits and every bus has front and back doors that you can actually exit from; not so down here.

La Manzanilla is much smaller than Barra, with a tiny strip of three blocks for a “downtown”, and a couple of beach bars with umbrellas. Everyone on our bus headed to the same restaurant, known as the place with the best food (I can’t remember its name at the moment), where we stationed ourselves beachside for the day.

A friendly beach dog joined us, as did the owner’s lively grandchild who insisted on pulling the doggo’s hair, while Sandra tried to get her to just pat it nicely instead.

Like the beach between Barra and Melaque, here, too, the sand is a long, curved golden stretch of miles, but this beach is much more rugged and undeveloped.

Ty and I took a walk to see what there was to see, which was not too much, with the exception of several campgrounds and trailer parks right along the beach.

We spoke to one fellow from Victoria who was tenting here for a couple of months, paying 90 pesos a night for his spot.

Also right along the beachfront was a small cemetery, giving the departed a wonderful view out over the ocean while they rest.

Back in Dodge after our day on the beach we enjoyed an evening at one of the more popular watering holes, the Time Out where a local band with a great singer were playing. The band played too many old 70s cover songs for my liking (catering to the crowd’s taste) but their Latin tunes were really great.

On Saturday Ty and I decided to walk the two mile beach to Melaque, taking along an umbrella kindly lent to us by the front desk staff, since the beach was completely unshaded. I also learned that the word for umbrella is “paraguas” not sombrilla.

Although it doesn’t really show in this photo, the beach is quite slanted and steep, making the walk a bit more difficult that it might be. I didn’t have as much difficulty walking as Ty, who sank much deeper into the soft sand than I did.

There are crocodiles in the lagoons here; the one pictured below had a sign on the fence warning the unwary to be careful.

We tried various options, walking further up the beach on a flatter area, taking our shoes off, walking further down by the water where the sand was harder. But it was a bit of a hot slog.

Ty had to put his shoes back on because the sand was burning his tender feet. He’s that small dark speck on the sand in the photo below.

Melaque occupies a longish strip of real estate right along the beach. One block back the new arts centre is just about ready to open; its lobby is in the photo below. It will be a great addition to the culture of this area when it gets going.

After working up a powerful thirst with our hot walk, we reached the end of the line and plopped ourselves down at Tito’s beach bar for the day.

We noticed several hand painted political and social  injunctions on walls here, including the one below on a school perimeter, on education and revolution.

Strangely, there is one enormous derelict hotel development right on the beach, taking up a huge amount of real estate, whose only occupant is this sleeping dog.

On our final day in Barra we stolled around the back streets of town and took a look at the Sands Hotel, formerly a five star property right on the lagoon now becoming more and more run down, almost derelict.

Apparently its heyday was in the 40s and 50s when film stars spent time here. Now it looks as though every decorative detail and ornament has been stripped from the place, the paint is peeling, and half the hotel is about to fall into ruin. The pool area, though, is still kept up nicely and looks beautiful.

Around the back of the development, all on its own in a metal cage, is a very old monkey, the pet of the hotel’s similarly old owner. Very sad to see this beast caged up there.

Barra has beautiful colourful buildings throughout, glistening in the sun.

While we were having a drink at one of the lagoonside shops, an iguana popped his head out of a nearby cement hole to watch the world go by.

Sunday afternoon Carol had arranged a women’s lunch trip for 18 to Mary’s Restaurant, a venue on a nearby peninsula accessed by boat.

There and back we passed by the enormous resort and its marina full of expensive yachts, dwarfing the small local boats at the lagoon docks.

For our final evening we had a sunset drink at the rooftop bar of the Alhondra Hotel and watched the glowing orb slowly sink past the horizon.

The view from here was panoramic.

From the rooftop to the Sunset Bar beachside, we had a last drink with Carol and friends and a wonderful dinner of whole grilled fish.

Monday morning saw us up and out earlyish for our Primera Bus back to PV after an excellent coffee and breakfast at the bus station breakfast stand. Hasta le vista, Barra – thanks to Carol, Sandra, and Joe for squiring us around town!

See more photos here and here.