Killing Kathi in Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Before Christmas, I was fortunate to be able to spend time in Puerto Vallarta and kill my friend, Kathi. Not literally, of course, but she didn’t get the quiet booze and book-filled lazy beach vacation she had anticipated either. Nor were we shy on the booze department, but Vallarta is definitely different during the “season.”
It was my twelfth visit to the Bay of Banderas, but every other time I had been there in the summer, which is the hot, humid, rainy season. I first went in 1991 because Vallarta was close to where the total solar eclipse would pass the continent. I was prepared to dislike the city since I disliked Cancun. I wanted to be in Mexico, not a resort town built for American tourists. Much to my surprise I found a real residential Mexican town with real groceries, taquerías, and dulcerías. Over time I made friends and discovered a paradise with mountains and sandy beach and one of the largest bays in the world. The Bay of Banderas or “Bay of Flags” is home to dolphins, sail fish, tuna and, from December to April, the humpbacked whales come to breed and nurture their young before trekking back to Alaska.
The beautiful Bay of Banderas
It is also the months when many “snowbirds” descend to live in their second homes or their first homes. I found that many American and Canadian citizens have embraced Puerto Vallarta as their first home, taking vacations from the heat during the summer months by traveling then. I overheard one lady mention that she trades her house during the summer months for London, Amsterdam, Paris, etc. Of course, her house was a million dollar property – perhaps more. You see, I was able to see her house and some other million dollar plus properties. Some were for sale; some could possibly be rented (at not a bad price either considering dividing the prices among a group), and some were private homes where the maid or the owner welcomed busloads of visitors for a tour.
The International Friendship Club of Puerto Vallarta sponsors home tours twice a week on Wednesday and Thursday. They leave from the Posada Rio Cuale on Calle Aguila Seredan (in old town, one block south from the bridge closest to the beach.) They visit four homes and change the tours every two weeks so that you can see different homes if you are on a two-week vacation. The price is $30 and all the money goes to support the cleft palate program and other local charities, such as the library and the schools. Cleft palate is congenitally prevalent in Mexicans and the club pays for surgeons and other medical staff to come from Guadalajara to do reconstructive surgery.
Mostly the homes are located in Gringo Gulch where Elizabeth Taylor has a home and south on Playa Conchas Chinas, the Beverly Hills of Puerto Vallarta. Kathi and I did two tours and saw a gorgeous open-air villa with seven bedrooms, seven baths, three kitchens, and a full tennis court. There were infinite pools and special play homes for children. Casa Azul had a shower that was built under a cupola that extended out from the roof of the top floor. With the shoulder high windows you could gaze at the bay from your open-air shower. All the homes were outstanding examples of Mexican architecture decorated with some of the best examples of Mexican art. Show up at the Posada Rio Cuale (PV’s oldest hotel) at 10:00 AM to register. The Club also sells a cookbook that any “foodies” on your shopping list would certainly appreciate.
Kathi and I did the first tour on our fourth day and, over a conversation about cats with one of the guides, we ended up learning about one of the free concerts that was to be held at the Camino Real Hotel and the weekly gallery walk. Each week during the season, one of the hotels offers a free concert with such artists as famous flamenco guitarist, Paco Renteria, and the equally well-known, Ottmar Leibert.
On Wednesdays, 12 of the galleries in Old Town sponsor an art walk. Pick up a brochure at any of the galleries and follow the map. As you sip the complimentary wine and nibble on hors d’oeuvres, you can view the works of such artists as Gabriella Uribe, Marta Gilbert and Daniel Palma. Even if you can’t afford the price tag, if you enjoy art, it’s a wonderful way to spend the evening, and who knows, maybe you will be invited to some other affairs. By the end of our first walk, we had been invited to the cocktail reception for the Guadalupe Invitational Auction for the Make a Wish Foundation at the T. Fuller Gallery (Hidalgo 424) and a Christmas party/jewelry showing at the June Rosen Lopez Gallery. Our social calendars were being booked.
Plus, this was the season of the Festival of the Virgin of Guadeloupe. Beginning on December 1 and continuing for 12 nights, all of Mexico celebrates. Each night pilgrims march to the cathedral while singing songs. There are floats with children dressed as angels and Aztec dancers costumed in feathers and Indians wearing traditional dress. Kathi and I marched with a group from Lindo Mar on Playa Conchas Chinas. As we walked the three kilometers to the church with our float and band and dancers, we joined with our friends, Francisco and Luis and their families in the singing. Luis was carrying his baby daughter lifting her high as if inviting the Virgin to especially bless her. Francisco carried his granddaughter. It was magical to be included in this typical Mexican celebration.
Although it can be a pain sometimes, I always do at least one timeshare presentation. As you walk the streets of Vallarta, don’t be surprised if you are offered all sorts of “money saving deals” to get you to participate in the newest resort’s sales program. I find it a way to see what they’ve been building as Vallarta spreads around the Bay. Old Town, once called Los Pinos, was first surrounded by condos to the south and the hotel zone to the north. Next came the marina area and Nuevo Vallarta. With the latest boom of Paradise Village, the resort I visited this year, they are saying that Bucerías will become the new “Old Town.” You see, the Bay of Banderas covers almost 55 miles and is divided by the two states of Jalisco and Nayarit and two different time zones. The development is spreading northward; up the Pacific coast past Sayulita, a haven for surfers to Guayabitos, a beautiful little beach community, and yet unspoiled by luxury condo developers.
Whenever I book a timeshare presentation, I do fully warned that the sales pitch will take no longer than the promised 90 minutes, and I am fully aware that they will try every trick to close, but I also make sure that I will get good value. I cringe when I overhear that someone has agreed to a presentation for only a blanket or a bottle of Kaluha. I hold out for better goods. So when I ran into my friend Hugo at the Huichol Gallery on Olas Altas, I was willing to listen to his pitch. For going to the sales presentation, Kathi and I would each receive six small items from the Huichol store and a free ticket for the Huichol Reservation tour.
The tour only takes place once a week (on Thursdays). It is run by Harris Tours and takes a whole day with meals included. They say that the Huicholes were the original Indian tribe who went into the mountains when threatened by the Aztecs and further into the mountains when pressured by the Spaniards. They have maintained their indigenous culture, only recently allowing outsiders to visit one village that is nearest to civilization. Most villages can only be reached by helicopter or foot. One shaman, Santos, has promoted this interchange so that there can be a better understanding of the Huichol lifestyle.
We took a bus for four hours along the coast line by Guayabitos and San Blas, and over the Sierra Madres through Tepic, the capital of the state of Nayarit. Then we took a small speeding boat across a choppy lake. After having our teeth rattled by slamming up and down in the boat, we went through a ceremony to cleanse our auras. Then we walked up the stony path to the village. There is no electricity or running water. A word to the wise – one lady on our tour slid on the path and broke her ankle. Sturdier shoes could have prevented this accident. Since there is no emergency services, she had to wait until we returned to Vallarta for medical attention. I don’t know exactly what the shaman gave her, but she seemed quite content on the trip home.
The Huichol Indians are noted for their art work, colorful yarn paintings and beaded sculptures. Many pieces are signed and have become quite collectible. I will always treasure the little blue and white beaded bag that I purchased from one of the women at the end of our tour. But I treasure it not so much for a funky, cool accessory, but for the light in the woman’s eyes when, without spoken words, she acknowledged her appreciation of my admiration for her artistry.
By the end of the night, Kathi was begging for a couple of days of rest. Not only had I roused her before dawn to catch the bus at 6:30 a.m., but I did it after a night of beers at one of the cantinas in town. We had sat on a balcony overlooking the parade route and enjoyed muchos Pacificos with lime. Pacifico is the beer of choice in town. Around Old Town you can find them for about $1.00 USD.
Restaurants we enjoyed
Our favorite spot was a little out of the way place called Paraiso Rio Cuale. We ate there four times. At this family run restaurant, Olympia and Nick specialized in fresh seafood prepared in the open air kitchen. It’s relaxing to sit by the meandering river as you enjoy giant shrimps stuffed with pineapple and cheese, then wrapped in bacon and grilled. Kathi had the whole red snapper, which she said was the best she had ever had. Don’t miss the flaming Mexican coffees! Take a taxi up into the hills or catch the Paseo Ancho bus and get off at the bridge.
A new restaurant this year was Gatos y Cats. It is upstairs two blocks south from the Cathedral of Guadalupe at 222 Hidalgo. Decorated with everything feline, the two owners serve good Mexican food at very reasonable prices. We had a chicken mole pie topped with a corn meal crust and a dried beef dish (secca) for under $10 USD each. For a chocolate lover, the spicy rich mole sauce is a taste sensation.
Our favorite taco stand was on the corner of Basillo Badillo and Insurgentes by the big Guadalajara Farmacia. Try the chorizo quesadilla with everything. If you want, you can take your tacos into Fridas, the bar across the street to enjoy with a refreshing cold beer. Frida’s, named after the famous artist, caters to an alternative lifestyle, but the owner, Tomas, a transplanted Canadian, is welcoming to all.
The Boots We Wore
I always wear my trusty Tevas here, because what other shoe can go from surf to sand to hiking to shopping and dinner. I’ve scrubbed them in the shower after particularly nasty toilets, and their tire track treads keep me stable on stony, steep paths through the jungle and the cobblestone streets of Vallarta, which are picturesque, but can also be treacherous to ankles.