30 November 2009

Pitillal & Piñatas

The guy at the tequila shop had told me I could take a short bus ride out to Pitillal to visit a tequila factory. He said it wasn’t really a factory, but a place set up for tourists to get an idea of how things work and also to sell the final product. My friend said there was no charge, so today off I went on the green bus. The driver alerted me when we got to the main square, and I stepped off the bus and into Mexico.

Puerto Vallarta has enough small streets for me to wander through, and plenty of locals to can talk to, yet this place is overrun with North American tourists and retirees. I am also a tourist, so try not to wish they weren’t all here. But I do. I am in the loveliest of little neighborhoods, but on every other block there is an ex-pat bar or coffee shop or something else non-Mexican. You walk by and hear loud Americans whooping it up. They stroll by with their dogs in tow, or nearly run you over in their cars.

Pitillal has the requisite main square with massive church on one side. The rest of the area is small streets lined with little shops. On my way to find the tequila factory, I browsed through several stores and bought a cheap purple tank-top in one of them.

I was so happy being in a real Mexican town, that I didn’t care if I found the tequila shop or not. My friend had told me that people in the town don’t even know it exists. I was within two blocks and kept asking and no one had a clue. About to give up and head back to the t-shirt shop, I ran smack into it.

This was at about 11:00am, and a tour by a group of old folks was just ending. They sat around tables in a courtyard sipping margaritas and eating chips and salsa. As I stood in the entryway, the manager came up to me and asked if I already had a ticket. I said I thought that it was a free tour. He told me that tickets were 70 pesos, ($5), and that included a folkloric dance show and that margarita and chips.

This was not what I had anticipated. I told him I would come back another time with friends. He told me that there would be no charge and he would get a tour guide for me. It took some convincing, but he finally told me I could just walk around sans guide. He offered me a Maggie on the house. I declined.

It is a small place and I stopped to talk to the older gentleman who was hand-tooling a saddle, then quickly past some machinery. In the last room was a man giving the tequila 101 course to a group of five tourists in their 60’s. These folks were tasting everything. I checked my watch; not yet noon. Oh well, they were on vacation.

Soon after I had arrived in town, it had started to drizzle which I hear it is not supposed to do this time of year. Several times in the past week I could have sworn it was about to rain but was assured that wouldn’t happen. So when it finally did rain today, (and it still is sprinkling), I was surprised.

Heading back towards the town square, I passed a large store with piñatas hanging from the ceiling. I walked in and asked if they would mind if I took some photos. It was then that I realized that this was the fiesta shop of the century. The aisles were packed with bags of every piñata-stuffing candy imaginable. I have been looking for hard candies since arriving and finally I had found not just one type, but at least fifteen. There was gum and suckers and candy I have never seen. The other aisles had party bags and balloons and porcelain princesses. It was the most fun I’d had all day.

Back to the saga of the internet connection: every time I think I have a clear understanding as to how this pre-pay kit works, I find I am wrong. I was so proud of myself when I telephoned the manager on Saturday, and spoke entirely in Spanish, trying to find out why I had no balance left on my account. That evening, I went to the Oxxo, (the 7-11 equivalent that is on every corner), to add another 150 pesos to my account. My math said that that would last me at least 5 days. By Sunday evening I couldn’t connect which meant I was back down to zero. I had decided to go in this morning, hand in the stupid piece of costly equipment, and get my money back.

José finally got me to understand. I can pay as much money as I want, but still must “buy” a unit of air-time every 24 hours, which is done by sending a text message through the internet site. What I have been doing is sending the message once, and after 24 hours I can still connect, so haven’t sent another. Bad move on my part. Even though it is either 14 or 39 pesos per 24 hours, if you neglect to send the text message, the clock starts running and your leftover 100 pesos are gone by the next day.

When I finally understood this insanity, I referred to the company as banditos. José laughed. Had I clearly understood that I would only be able to use the internet for about an hour or two a day, I probably would not have bothered with this. I am hoping I can get some sort of credit for all the money I have stupidly lost on this adventure. Oh, and there is no return policy on the USB I purchased.

It also turns out that in Mexico, there is no such thing as a flat, monthly internet charge, even in your own home.

Tonight I will try a new method for posting this. First I will go on line with my connection to do the written part. Then I will disconnect and walk down to the 2nd floor hall to upload pictures, since that is what is using up all my KB’s or MB’s or whatever it is that calculate usage by.

I am hoping this rain stops by tomottow morning. I had plans to try and find this out of town beach that has seashells.

29 November 2009

Sunday Evening

I promised myself all day that I would go out in the early evening to see Puerto Vallarta in a different light. What happens to me when I live anywhere, is that I may go out two or three times in a day, but rarely leave the house at night. One reason is that I don’t particularly like being out alone when it’s dark. Another is that by the time the sun is getting ready to set, I feel like the day is over and can’t be bothered to get ready to go out.

At 4:30 I set off thinking that it should be cooling down and I had an hour or so before the skies started to change colors. Walking along the malecon I soon realized that I should have stayed in my sarong and not switched to long pants; it was still hot and super humid. By the time I got to the central square my hair was soaking wet and I needed to sit in the shade.

I sat on a bench under some trees and listened to the jungle sounds of probably 100 birds in the trees above me going crazy before sunset. I have never known why they do this both in the evening and in the morning right before the sun comes up. These are iridescent, black birds that might be mynah birds or maybe a South American mockingbird, or at least some sort of species that makes as much noise. It was sheer magic to sit there and listen to this incredibly load singing. The birdies did not seem to notice that they were in the middle of a city, with people milling around.

In the center of the square is a small bandstand where a brass band was tuning up to give a concert. There were about ten members, both men and women. People had gathered around, sitting on iron benches or on the edge of the large planter boxes. Promptly at 6:00, they began to play.

I couldn’t tell you what type of music it was, although several of the tunes were familiar. It wasn’t mariachi music or anything else that I’ve heard on Mexican radio stations. Whatever it was, it was wonderful and I was tapping my feet and swaying to the beat the moment they started.

And then couples, mostly of the senior set, got up from their seats and started to dance. You could tell most had been dancing together for years. I wouldn’t say it was salsa; they were much more reserved, but the steps and movements were much the same. It was a joy to watch and I wished I’d had a dancing partner.

I asked the women sitting next to me if this happened only on Sundays. She told me that there is live music both Sundays and Thursdays from 6:00-7:00, but that they play a tape the other nights.

I did notice that there were women dancing together and others dancing alone. When I returned to the hotel, I told the women at the front desk about where I had been and how I had wanted to dance. She said that it didn’t make any difference if I were alone, and that next time I should just join in.
Maybe I will.

27 November 2009

27 November

The morning started with breakfast at an upscale hotel on the beach. They have this huge open-air restaurant situated right in front of the beach. I’ve had a craving for heuvos rancheros since arriving so that was what I ordered.

I was very clear that I wanted the eggs well done; thoughts of bird flu and salmonella are always in the back of my mind. The eggs arrived runny and with an order of toast. I’m not one to send things back so threw caution to the wind, although I did ask for tortillas instead of bread. They were not all that spectacular, but they did have the proper essence of what they should taste like and that was enough to satisfy me. No comment on the coffee.

I overate so headed straight down to the beach for a walk. It’s interesting that the only place you can really walk or lie on the beach is down towards the end where I am staying. Further into town, on the malecon/boardwalk, no one is sunbathing. I don’t know if it is actually prohibited or it is just that there is no easy access from the malecon.

As I walked along the beach I was treated to what has become my favorite sight here; pelicans swooping down to glide across the water’s edge in search of a snack, then winging back up into the air. No matter how many times I see it, I find it utterly beautiful and amazing. I hope the video I took of it will upload. Otherwise, I will post a still.

After my beach walk, I got a haircut. I had passed a couple salons that had looked decent enough. One was closed and the other just opening. Fidel, the owner, said he had time to do my hair and so into the chair I went. It’s a decent cut and was at a decent price. After the past three months of cutting it myself, I guess I should really say it is a great cut.

The weather seems to have cooled down a lot in the past few days. Today, like yesterday was overcast and pleasant. There weren’t any clear blue skies all day but at around 3pm it seemed that the humidly increased by 300%. I was pretty sweaty when I got home and opened all the windows and threw on the fan. Regrettably, that meant that whatever it is that they burn in the early evening permeated my room. I just tough it out because it is usually over in a few hours.


26 November 2009

Just Another Thursday

Today has been the best day yet for walking the streets. It was overcast but not really very grey. The temps stayed in the mid 70’s and the humidity seemed to be very low. It meant I didn’t get dehydrated or totally drenched in sweat. Once I am out patrolling, I often forget to stop and consume enough liquids or even just rest. That was the case again today, but it didn’t do any harm.

I keep looking for those cheap, tire-soled huaraches like I bought in Guadalajara eons ago. They may be made for the common man, but the prices here are for the tourists. I don’t want them that badly that I am willing to pay what they are asking. I’ll spend my money on other things.

As I came out of the shoe shop, the owner of the tequila store next door started talking to me. I started asking about the various types of tequila. Roberto invited me in and gave me a crash course on how to rate a tequila without even tasting it.

Firstly, there are four different types: blanco (white); reposado, (rested); añejo, aged; and añejo extra. Roberto explained that the blanco, the stuff the smells and tastes like rot-gut booze, comes straight from the young agave plant. The reposado, is aged in oak for 6 months. The añejo is aged 18 months, and the añejo extra, for 18 months. (once again I should have taken notes because this may only be 98% accurate). He told me that if anyone tries to sell you a tequila that is aged more than two years, don’t buy it because you can’t do that with tequila.

He also pointed out that there is a sub-division of agave: agave blanco and agave azul, (blue). Turns out that agave plants are rather green until they are 5 years old and then turn blue, making for a more flavorful tequila. (now go check your backyard agave plants to see how old they are.)
Then there is the mark on the bottle that you must be sure to find. The letters NOM, followed by four numbers, followed by CRT. This assures you that the tequila was actually made in a certified factory.

He then showed me the visual test of a good tequila. He poured a few drops into a little plastic tasting cup and tilted it sideways so that I could see how the liquor slowly ran off the bottom of the cup, more like a sticky concoction and less like the way you would expect booze to flow. He said this was a sign of proper oak barrel aging.

The best test is when he poured a few drops in my hand and told me to rub it in like lotion. I was totally amazed to find that it was like rubbing aloe vera into your skin. You can actually feel the agave. I told him in all the years I had been a bartender I had never noticed that and, believe me, I have had a lot of hooch on my hands. He said that was probably because I was pouring Cuervo tequila which has too much sugar cane added to it making it sticky.

I did do a sniff test of the various varieties because although I absolutely hate the smell of tequila, (which is why I never drank it with the exception of one unfortunate night of 10 cent tequila shooters back in the day), I still have a perfumers nose for all things alcoholic. I almost gagged when I smelled the blanco and had a brief flashback to the aforementioned night. But the really good stuff came very close to smelling really good. As I think about it now, I am even considering going back for a taste test.

Roberto told me that I can take a short bus ride to a local factory to see the way they make it. He said they don’t really produce it there but it is set up for tourists to see the process. That will be a trip over the weekend.

I thought I had known a little about tequila, but it turns out I hadn’t.


Blogging note: you will notice how beautifully I have reproduced that “ñ” in añejo. Yes, I am typing on a Spanish keyboard that has 2 different keys to make the tilde. But no matter how many different combinations of keys I press, I can’t get it to work. I tried the symbol insert application but it has no lower case ñ. I pulled up another way to insert the letter but it doesn’t work with this keyboard. I had to get creative which meant that I typed in a Spanish word, hit the Spanish thesaurus check, came up with a different word that had a ñ, inserted it, then cut out all the letters expect the ñ, added the letters to the left and right, and have been copying and pasting ever since. I need to get an award for dedication to proper accent marks.


25 November 2009

Tortuga Liberación

Yesterday I went on my very first eco-tour to help hatchling turtles make their way safely to into the sea.

I met up with my group at the Ecotours office that is just a few blocks from my hotel. Our group consisted of a father and 5 year-old daughter, a retired couple, a couple with 2 school aged kids, and me. Our guide was Fernando, a marine biologist. We piled into the van at 4:30 and headed off towards the north end of Baia de Banderas.

We turned off the highway onto a narrow dirt road and soon were driving past mango orchards and then into the mangroves, stopping whenever Fernando spotted birds like a hawk or a stork. The first stop was at a little reserve that is also a restaurant. It was closed for the day, but open for us.

Fernando walked us past the first crocodile pit. One lone guy, I think his name was Albert, only had his nose out to breathe. He had been found in a populated area and placed at the reserve where he would be safe. He apparently is very docile and the guy who runs the place gets inside the enclosure with him. He has to be kept separated from the other aggressive male who’d been found living in a garbage dumb, terrorizing what ever happened by. There were also two females in a big pond that sometimes came over to talk to Albert.

We then saw the coatis. (if I spelled that correctly) I immediately thought of a raccoon when I saw them walk, although they have a very long snout and don’t really look like coons. Turns out they are related. There were two adults in a good sized cage, and a baby in a small cage. The bigger ones might tear the baby apart so he will be separated until he’s larger. All three had been rescued from people who had thought that they would be nice pets. Since they were not raised with their own kind, they would not survive were they to be released into the wild.

We walked on and then out onto a pretty dilapidated little pier through the mangroves, and right up to the edge of the estuary. Out across the water we saw flocks of egrets, a blue heron resting on a log, and several other birds. There are crocs in there, but we didn’t see any. Apparently the two dudes fishing out in the water weren’t worried about the crocs. Fernando told us that the ones in that area where rather small.

Back in the outdoor restaurant area, we watched a video on sea turtles. There are 8 different types in the world, and 7 of them are found in Mexico. Some types only lay eggs every three years, but in that one year period, they may come up to the beach to deposit eggs as many as eleven times. Others lay every year, and maybe three times during the season. (perhaps I should have taken notes)

Fernando had answers to all our wildlife questions. I had always thought that turtles laid eggs only once a year and was asking about this. He said that the females, after mating, are able to guard some sperm in reserve, and then fertilize the next set of eggs. That still doesn’t sound right to me. We also found out that they can live to 100, and cannot be sexed until they reach maturity at about 10 years old.

By this time, it was dark and we were on our way to the beach. The area we went to is covered by a massive resort that looks to be the size of a small, gated kingdom. Even with all this going on, the turtle population is growing.

The Baderas Bay Marine Turtle Conservation project has been going on for some twenty years. The first project started over 30 years ago in Oaxaca, which had been the biggest turtle marketing spot in the world. When the Mexican government outlawed the killing of turtles, displaced workers got creative and decided to turn turtle egg laying and hatching into a tourist industry.
In Puerto Vallarta, there are numerous “Turtle Camps”. Some are in areas that are accessible to tourists, others are not. I think Fernando said they it was a year-round job for the turtle caretakers, because different groups of turtles lay at different times of the year.

At least for now, the guys patrol the beach several times a day looking for mama turtle tracks. They then follow those to the nest and carefully remove the eggs, bringing them back to an enclosed area and re-burying them. 45 days later, (again, my facts may be a bit off), the little babies hatch. We didn’t actually get to see them come out of their shells, but that had emerged that day.

We walked a short ways down the beach to where there were hundreds of nests and a covered tub of 100 bambinos. Fernando gave instructions on how to hold the babies. After we held one, and flashed its baby eyes out with our cameras, we had to put it in a bucket. He said one flash was ok, but no more.

It was wonderful! They are as cute as can be. We were all thrilled, but it was especially fun to watch the kids with the turtles. I found that I was not the only adult baby-talking to the turtles.

Fernando made sure that he used each person’s camera to get a picture of them and a turtle. The parents will have enough pictures and videos to make documentaries. And then it was time to take the babies, now all carefully placed in a bucket, to the waiting sea. Each kid got a chance to carry the bucket a few feet and they were all took their job quite seriously.

When we got far enough away from the hotel lights, Fernando put his camp light down and drew a line in the sand about four feet from the waterline. He said he was going to give us each 2 babies, and we were not to move from our spot. When he gave the go-ahead, we were to put them down and not touch them again. He counted down, we wished our little ones good luck, and they were off.

As we cheered them on, Fernando deposited most of the remaining guys on the sand. Then he stood in front of them with a giant flashlight to entice them into the sea. One by one, he led us around so that we faced the oncoming turtles and started taking pictures which also helped them to run towards the water. He warned us that once we were standing in front of the turtles, we were going to get wet but that we could not move. Too easy to stomp on a baby.

Before anyone could move, he checked to make sure all the turtles were out to sea. Then he had all the kids lined up at the water’s edge to release the final few. The water came up, he counted to three and told the kids to let them go.

I was walking back next to Fernando when we spotted a baby that had been washed back in. I was upset but he told me that happens and he picked it up, handed it to me and told me when to put it back in the water. I probably scared the crap out of the little guy by yelling “swim baby, swim!”

It was an extraordinary experience; one of those events you see on the nature channels but never imagine you will have a chance to be part of it.

We released about 100 turtle babies and I remembered the statistics from the movie that only 1 in 100 survive. With all the good wishes that went out with our little group of newborns, I’m sure their survival rate will be higher.

This is a picture of the turtles heading out.....use your imagination.


23 November 2009


I did it! I got internet in my room and am as happy as a clam. I also bought a keyboard so that I can actually use this computer without having thoughts of tossing it out the window.

At 9 this morning, I went back to the Movistar store to get set up. The young sales woman, who had helped my yesterday, was there and I assumed it would only take a short while to get everything in order. It was well over an hour before I left and am still not exactly sure about my service. But since it is working, I’m not going to worry about it.

She’d told me yesterday that I didn’t need to purchase a phone to get the USB internet to work, something I was prepared to do. But when she told a senior tech what I wanted, he said I did need to buy a phone.

Lots of explaining and moving SIM cards between phones and USB and it seemed to be ready. She went back to talk to someone else, who may have been the manager, and returned to tell me that I did not need to buy the phone.

All the while, other people were coming in and neither she, nor the other five employees who were in the store, ever even acknowledged them. I felt uncomfortable, but was so absorbed in trying to understand their system that I blocked them out.

I think the difficulty in understanding had more to do with the concept of what I was purchasing, than the language. You can’t even get a one month, pre-paid, USB connection in the US. Added to that, I doubt that she, or maybe anyone at the store, had ever sold a package like this.

My only question is how long, in hours, I will be able to access the internet before my money runs out. I suppose I will try to connect one day and be told to go pay more money.

When I finished there I crossed the street to Office Max, where I bought a keyboard. I am getting used to it even though it is an international keyboard and there are all sorts of symbols and letters that are not on US ones. And even though the: “, ‘, @, and other things are in the same place as they should be, the key says something completely different than what it types. In fact, I have no idea how one types the Euro sign or that Spanish N that are right in front of my eyes.

Later in the afternoon I went by one of the eco tour centers and signed up to spend tomorrow evening helping hatch baby turtles and send them on their way into the sea. I made sure that this was actually a government sanctioned, environmentally correct, organization.

From there it was back down to the beach looking for a bench in the shade to sit under and contemplate the waves. But there never are any. Anything in the shade usually is filled with the beach-walking vendors and all the other seating is directly in the sun. I finally came upon one that had partial shade and since it was around 3pm, wasn’t so hot. I stayed there awhile and then went to sit on the sand. This will probably become my routine. I have a feeling those bikinis are going to stay in my suitcase.


22 November 2009

Earrings & Tales

The plan was to buy earrings in Mexico rather than bring them with me. My idea of a reasonable price would be $2 or $3. I thought I had found the best place to shop at the Municipal Market. However, although it looks like a typical Mexican market which sells to the locals as well as tourists, the one here is solely for tourists. No problem except that there are no back alley lanes to sneak into to find the good deals and fun people.

Both at the market and at every other shop I’ve dropped into, I was shown “silver” earrings. Possibly they were and possibly they weren’t. When I’d explain that I was looking for inexpensive, lose-at-the-beach-don’t-care earrings, sales people would actually look at me in disgust. They kept insisting that $25 and up was a good price. I agreed with them but said I didn’t want silver; I wanted the pseudo-stuff. I got huffed at a lot.

Two day ago I encountered a place that had what I was looking for: those fake-silver, enameled, typical Mexican ones. He wouldn’t go below $6 and I bought two pair, feeling very pleased with myself. I intended to go back and get more at a later date. That is until this morning when I found the store.

I’ve been here less than a week but have walked down Calle Insurgencia at least twice a day since arriving. But today was the first time I noticed this store and when I saw the tables of bargain-priced jewelry, I walked in.

It was a large store, as stores go here. It was crammed with items from every available space including lanterns hanging from the ceiling. An older woman sat behind a wooden table that served as a desk, eating lunch and watching a 1950’ western on the TV.

The earrings hung on the wall to her left and I quickly spotted what I wanted. I asked the price; almost a dollar cheaper than what I had paid the day. I started pulling down pairs and making a little pile on the table.

Then I went to take a brief look at the bargain table and necklaces. The woman walked over and hand me a basket to keep my purchases in. We started talking about the store and I noticed some classic PV postcards. She said something and then began to sort through the cards until she found the ones with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, circa 1960, in front of their PV house.

She went on to tell me that they used to come into her store, which she has owned for 45 years, and buy everything, especially all the Mexican ceiling lamps. Rich used to walk in with no shirt and looking sloppy, but Liz was always well turned out.

I told her I would be back for more items and more PV history at a later date.

Continuing my walk, I went down a small street and saw an old guy sitting out front of his modest home, making a fishing net. I stopped to admire the work and talk. He was 80 and a retired fisherman. He agreed that the younger generation did not know how to make fish nets and said that he did it to keep busy.

As to my search for a way to get internet n my room; problem solved! I will be able to buy a USB internet connector thing and pre-pay for one month. I went to the distributor today, (it was next to where I was yesterday but I didn’t know abut this service, nor did anyone I spoke to at the three places I stopped in). They were open today, Sunday, but only to give out info. I will have to wait until tomorrow to get it set up.

So my only remaining problem is this piece of junk laptop. How could have all the research I had done on netbooks have been so wrong? It heats up so terribly within five minutes that I am actually burning my hands. I have just finished cutting up a pair of socks to use as hand protectors so that I don’t do any permanent damage. It sort of works. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about the crappy keyboard. It is like typing on a 10 year old computer. The letters are slow to come up, and if I type quickly, half the letters don’t even appear. I swear I spend 2 minutes on each paragraph fixing all the mistakes. It is maddening. I am supposed to be working on my book, but having to stop the train of thought to fix errors that are not of my making is seriously going to affect what I will be able to accomplish. It is driving me nuts!


21 November 2009


Today I took pictures of the church with the crown that my friend designed. I’d never realized that there were angels holding up the crown. I went inside the church again hoping to find some priest or someone who might have known my friend. Looks like might have to go back on a Sunday.

Then I went and got another cup of crap coffee, only this time they had added cinnamon. But the view was beautiful, so I sat there watching the water but not drinking the coffee.

After that morning walk of a few hours, I went back to the hotel to cool down for awhile, then went out to try and find an air-card so that I could get internet In my room.

This mini laptop is quite a pain to use even in good light sitting at a table in my room. A good many of the letters just don’t type, so I spend way too much time going back and filling in missing parts. I write the blog in my room, then have to go down two flights to sit on a bench and upload everything to the blog. What little lighting there is, is florescent so it is always a mad rush to get it all blogged before the headache sets in. After I do that I check emails and only later realize that because of the typing difficulties + the poor light, my emails just might be incomprehensible.

The fix-it guy at the hotel said to go to the TelMex office because they were the distributors for mobile internet cards. I’d hoped it was within walking distance, but it wasn’t so a bus ride was on the itinerary.

I actually enjoyed the short trip and wondered why the bus wasn’t decorated like other buses in Mexico. Maybe they don’t do it anymore or maybe PV never did.

The trip mostly wound through narrow cobblestone, tree-lined streets, getting more packed as we headed out towards the new hotel/resort area. We passed a two-block long supermarket, Office Max, and Pizza Hut before arriving at the Plaza Caracol mall.

After a bit of explaining, I was told I could get a set-up to receive satellite internet for a month for about $25. Then it turned out I needed to have a land line so that didn’t work. The ladies told me to go over to Radio Shack, in the same mall, to see what they had. From there I was sent to another place and the upshot is that it is not possible to get a WIFI connection to beam up through 4 floors of concrete. Only a cable will do it. I will politely mention this to the management tomorrow, but am not holding out much hope.

After my afternoon break, I went down to the beach and really hoped maybe I could buy a cheap meal. I am sort of freaked by the prices here. Unless you go for the food stalls on the street, nothing much can be had for under $10. Mainly because there doesn’t seem to be any place that will serve you just one taco, or one egg.

I took a left on the section of beach that I had only been on in the morning and was disappointed to see that in the late afternoon it looks and feels really dirty and crowded and totally unappetizing. I ended up going to a place I had looked at a few days ago. They served single tacos at a reasonable price, they had tables in the sand, and the kitchen looked clean.

As the sun went down I knew there would be no colors in the sky so took pictures of a rather grey sunset. After the sun was down, a little pink began to show up. A waiter came by and we chatted for maybe 30 seconds. When I looked back out over the bay, the sky was vibrant pinks and oranges. I couldn’t believe how fast it had taken place.

I kept taking more pictures and got home to find that most had these ghostly globes floating around. I have never been able to figure out why this sometimes happens with my camera. I also had the waiter take a picture of me and since I had no reading glasses with me, relied on his opinion that it looked great. Not quite the case. I’ll have to get a good shot of me and a sunset some other time.

Tomorrow morning, honestly, I am going to try to go to the beach to get a tan. I have been scoping out various locales with beach chairs since arriving, and no place feels right. The nice ones are connected to hotels and charge you a hefty daily rate, even though I would stay no more than two hours. Added to that is the age-old question of who watches your stuff when you go in the water? I just might come back with no tan.


20 November 2009

PBS in Puerto Vallarta

This evening I took my first sunset stroll. I walked down to the malecon as the sun was getting low in the sky. It didn’t seem like there would be much of a sunset, but I didn’t care. For me, the amazing aspect of an evening walk here is that even when the sun goes down the temperature does not drop into single digits.

Venders were setting up their stands with food and maybe other things. Early diners started to fill the restaurants across the street from the malecon. Families with little kids, couples of all ages, and group of teenagers were just beginning to fill in the promenade.

I saw a video camera man setting up a shot of a guy who seemed to me to be standing perilously close to the edge of the walkway which could end in quite a fall to the beach. Because of his serious face and tweed sports coat, the guy looked kinda goofy. A well-dressed woman held one of those large light-reflector panels to the side of his body.

My first thought was that they were doing a wedding shoot but I didn’t see any gals in white. Then I thought maybe it was a Mexican politician, and was about to ask some of the locals who had also gathered to gawk. From what I heard, they had no idea who he was. Finally I gave up trying to decipher the situation and started to walk when the guy began to talk into the camera. I heard, “This is Ray Suarez….”, and I came to a full stop.

Holy Crap! PBS is filming in Puerto Vallarta and I just happened to happen upon it! (to my non-American viewers; think BBC). I cupped my hand to my ear to try and hear what he was saying. Turns out they are here doing a program on Mexican medical tourism. Ray kept taking and talking and I kept looking for the teleprompter or for him to finish because he couldn’t possibly have memorized a speech that long. But he just kept going without missing a beat, without one “um”.
When he finished they walked towards me and the cameraman and I started to ask what the heck PBS was doing in PV. The woman was very friendly and even asked my name. She was probably the producer. I asked where the teleprompter was and she said that they had been filming for some time now so that Ray could just rattle it off. Right. Now we know one of the reasons he has that job and we don’t. Ray joined in the conversation and then they were off.

I am proud to say that I acted with dignity and did not pull out my camera and start taking pictures of the whole event. In retrospect, it might have given Ray a thrill; a little paparazzi buzz. He probably doesn’t get fans stopping him in the street too often. In fact, none of the tourists seemed to notice who he was. Oh, that’s right, they are all Canadians.

I just checked the one picture I took of the sun going down, right after Ray and producer ambled off. The cameraman is on the left-hand side probably getting a much better shot than I did.
Ray told me that the program will air sometime between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. Keep an eye peeled for that report on The News Hour and visualize me standing somewhere over to his left.

What a day!

20 Noviembre

This morning’s plan was to get to the beach early in hopes of finding some seashells and catching a glimpse of some fisherman at work with their nets. Usually I get my best angler shots just when the sun is coming up at around 6am. Although I was up at 5, it was pitch back until closer to 7 so I waited for the sun.

The guys who work at the shore front hotels were busy raking the sand and setting up chairs and tables. Several people were out walking their pooches. Seems a lot of the people here are Canadian retirees, and a good many of them have dogs. I wouldn’t have thought it was so easy to transport animals across country lines.

There is a little pier a ways down the beach and it always seems to be filled with guys fishing, but there wasn’t a net to be seen. And the other bummer is that there weren’t any seashells.
Walking back I stopped at a beachfront café for another cup of the most god-awful coffee I have ever had, even worse than the one I had at a different café two days ago. Sort of tasted like watered-down instant coffee that was made two days ago. And I do know that they have good coffee here. I drank a few gulps, watched the sun sparkle on the water, and left.

I did run across two men seated on the beach, fishing with only lines. A pelican had planted himself 3 feet away, waiting for breakfast. (and I had forgotten my camera at the hotel, but I bet it is a daily routine for said savvy pelican.)
As I walked back home I saw that streets were cordoned off and groups of school kids were lined up for a parade. Then I remembered that today, 20 de Noviembre, is Mexican Independence Day. (no, 5 de Mayo is something else.)

The parade started a few blocks from the hotel at 10am and went all the way to the center of town, a good truck in this heat. Every secondary school in the city, lead by what I assume where PE teachers, must have been there. Many were drum and bugle corps’. I was particularly pleased to see that a the drummers were young women, seeing as when I played drums it was barely allowed for a girl to pick up a set of sticks. Then there were troupes of rather seductive cheerleader types in tiny outfits, gyrating and bumping the hips. One volleyball squad and a boxing group. They stopped every few blocks, did their thing, then moved on.

At the huge construction site along the route, all the workers had stopped to lean out the windows and watch the dancing girls. I’m sure it made their day.

I feared for the beauty queens who sat atop cars with absolutely nothing keeping them from taking a slide off the roof onto the pavement.
I wanted to stay until the end and watch the military band that stood at a corner waiting for their turn, but it was getting a little warm.

I have spent the rest of the afternoon waiting for them to fix the safe in my room. I was told when I arrived, that I could keep anything I wanted in the safe at the front desk, but that if I wanted to use the one in the room, it was a dollar a day. Yesterday I decided that a total of $30 was well worth me not freaking out every time I left the hotel, wondering if my laptop was safe.

As I pulled the key out last night, the whole locking mechanism came out with it. It still worked once the lock was in place, but very difficult to open the door. The hotel fix-it guy took it out, did a bunch of stuff, but now the key is difficult to get in and out. I will try to use it today, and they will get another one tomorrow.

I also broke down and got the remote for the TV, which was just a small deposit. Generally, I don’t watch TV while on vacation, but this is longer than a week so figured I needed to stay abreast of world news.

Yesterday was spent walking the streets again. I’d known that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had had a place here, but thought that was ancient history. But on all the maps there is a note; Elizabeth Taylor’s house. Not being far away, I cruised over.

All was going as planned until I realized those last 2 blocks were straight up a hill. I saw another retired Canadian couple, who looked like they knew what they were doing, heading in the same direction. I followed along as they filled me in.

There are actually two houses across the street from each other, connected by a bridge that runs above the street. Whenever Dick would get too drunk, Liz would kick him out, make him walk over the bridge, and sleep it off in the other home. (Which, by the way, could only be entered by the bridge).

They also said that there was a little museum and maybe still a B&B. Unfortunately, it had been totally gutted and was in the process of renovation. I’m not sure if she even still owns it.
OK, this goofy mini netbook is so darn hot my hands are burning, so I guess it is time to quit writing.

18 November 2009

The Artist I Knew

I got the lay of the land today; or at least a start. I got up early after not really being able to sleep well. I’d blame it on jet lag and a long trip, but neither of those excuses will fly. There is, however, a time difference. Puerto Vallarta is on Central Time, which is 2 hours ahead of California time.

I still can’t quite figure that one out. Seems to me I flew straight down the Pacific coast and the time should be the same. We must be at the far reaches of Central time since it was dark at 6am. I have always said that a contributing factor for my love of Mexico was 5am daylight. Not to be found in PV in the month of November.

My morning walk started by gong 5 blocks down the street to the beach. I turned right onto the malecon (boardwalk), and thought maybe I was in Ft Lauderdale or South Beach Miami. On the right were giant, new, American style condos, right up to the edge of the wide, concrete pathway which is lined with palm trees and sculptures. It’s all very neat and clean and I might not have thought I was somewhere other than Mexico were it not for all the older folks out for their morning stroll. Rather freaky, it was.

I continued down a ways then walked up a block to the main street that is lined with places like the Hard Rock Café.

But I was headed for the Iglesia De Guadalupe. This is the grand, brick church with the crown-topped steeple that one sees in every tourist shot of PV. So now I am going to tell you a little story about my connection to that famous sight.

Last time I was in Mexico, (and I just checked my resume and it was 18 years ago), I spent a lot of time in the artisan town of Tlaquepaque, just outside of Guadalajara. On my first trip there I wandered into the small courtyard of an art studio. An older gentleman was busy working on a sculpture. We started talking and over the next month I spent many weekends visiting him while he sculpted a bust of me, which was later to be cast in some sort of metal.

He told me of his life as a well known artist in Mexico and how he had designed the crown at the top of the Guadalupe church in Puerto Vallarta. I told him that one day I would go there to see it. I believed everything he told me about his life, but today I wanted to see the church and see if I could find any reference to him.

At the tourist office, I picked up a brochure entitled Vallarta art & life. And there on page 32 were the magic words I was looking for: “Between 1953 and 1959, the Stations of the Cross were molded directly from plaster by the sculptor Jose Esteban Ramirez, who also designed the crown of the central tower completed in 1965.”

I wrote a whole book about that trip and will now have to go back and dig out the pages detailing what an incredible experience it was to have met and posed for Sr Esteban. I do remember, with complete clarity, writing how I had felt blessed by our friendship. And when I looked up at that glorious tower today, I whispered to the heavens that I had finally made it.

There was an unfortunate piece of information at the bottom of page 32 stating that the original crown had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1995 and been replaced by a fiberglass replica. Wonder how I could have missed that in the news.

In that same brochure, they gave details about all the sculptures that line the malacon. Reading about them back at the hotel, I didn’t think I would be too thrilled with the assortment. But on my afternoon walk, that changed.

My favorites were the group of massive, bronze, sea-creature/alien chairs, by Alejandro Colunga. I took pictures and will include them with this post.

Aside from all the walking around, I still needed a few items for the apartment and went in search. Guess where I found them? Woolworth’s! Didn’t they close down? It was awesome. The same nasty, cheap smell that the Woolworth’s I grew up with permeated the store. I got in and out as quick as possible but now know where to go for inexpensive necessities.

I also made a quick run through the tourist market, salivating at the thought of all the really good shopping I head ahead of me. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get some earrings. The night before I left the states, I was trying to decide what earrings to take when I realized, hey, I’m going to Mexico, jewelry heaven, – I don’t need to bring anything.

I sort of got dehydrated today, so will be more alert in the future. Other than that, my travelling sense and total love of a new place are intact.

17 November 2009


I’m in the airport at the boarding lounge, trying to write my first blog on this way-too-tiny mini netbook. At least I can pump up the font to a legible size.

It was more than the usual pre-flight anxiety as I sat in my driveway from 5:45 am until almost 6:30 waiting for the airport shuttle.

At first I was enjoying the cool, but not miserable cold, morning air and watching the stars above. I saw about 4 shooting stars which I assumed was an omen of good luck. But as the minutes ticked by, I began to panic. Never before had the shuttle been late and usually were 10 to 15 minutes early. I started to mentally devise ways to get to the airport by 6am. No one at home would have had the time to get me down to the BART (subway) station. I started to figure out if I could catch the bus then grab BART and still make it to the airport on time. The thought of dragging my bags on and off public transport, and the worse thought of possibly missing my flight, had me close to tears.
However, I had spent a fair amount of time getting that expensive make-up on and needed to look sharp at the gate so managed to halt the tears.

Reason I had to look nice? – aside from the fact that I will never travel in jammies and thermal underwear shirts, I was flying free courtesy of a friend who works for the airlines and had hooked me up with a free ticket. To not damage his reputation, and possibly get a first class seat, I needed to look smart.

Needless to say, the shuttle did arrive. The guy parked in the middle of the street; not a good idea when you live where I do. I told him to pull over which he sort of did.

He had gotten lost; something that used to be the norm but now with GPS, it shouldn’t happen.
As we headed down the hill I soon realized that his English was limited and he was driving like the madmen in Vietnam. I kept wanting to ask him to slow down, something I did with regularity in VN. It wasn’t until he was speeding and tailgating on the Bay Bridge that I spoke up.

I did get to the airport at 6:02, so hadn’t needed to worry so. And yes, I got there an hour before the check-in counter opened, so walked around looking at the fantastic museum section. The latest exhibit was of Mediterranean Pottery from the 4th, 5th, & 6th Century BCE. Beautiful stuff.
I got in line for the counter about 10 minutes before it opened. I was the first in line. That is until some middle-aged broad and her elderly father decided they were first in line. She was berating her dad to do this and that so I just ignored that she had cut in front of me.

I felt sorry for her dad when it was time to check in. They have these new, check-yourself-in kiosks and the agent kept telling him to “just follow the instructions”. To which the nasty daughter, instead of helping, said, “he doesn’t know how to do that”. Even if I had been first, I would have had difficulty.

When it was my turn I eventually got the agent understand that I had a standby ticket and all was sorted. As she was entering stuff into the computer I heard the guy next to me tell the agent that he had to check one of his bags because of the tattoo equipment. My ears perked up. He was a tattoo artist, going with equipment to PV, maybe this was my chance to finally get that tat that I have been planning for the past 6 years.

I ended up chatting with him in the boarding lounge. He’s going to be living down there doing all sorts of artist fun-sounding stuff. And now I am sitting on the plane mind-designing that tattoo. That, and getting very adept at this micro-keyboard.
It’s now night time in PV. I am still amazed at how a short, 3 hour flight can land me in another foreign, exotic place. My last trips have been so long and god-awful, that one is not surprised that life is so vastly different. But this just feels odd, though lovely.

I’ve been speaking Spanish since I got off the plane and am pretty much holding my own. No one seems to mind, or even give me a strange look when half a sentence comes out in Portuguese.
And my little abode: Oh my god! It is beyond my wildest imagination of what I was in for. I have a studio apartment that is larger and nicer than many places I have lived. It’s big and airy with a small balcony and roomy kitchen, a sofa, table, and lots of drawers and large closet.

Wanting to avoid my usual routine of arriving at the hotel then immediately setting off in search of a desk lamp so that I can avoid fluorescent lighting, I brought one with me. (for once the electrical current is the same as in the US). And what do you know, but my little home does not have one florescent light!

The only possible, minor drawback is that the WIFI doesn’t reach up here to the 4th floor, so I have to go down to the lobby to get online. I hadn’t even been sure that they had internet at all so, as I said, it is a minor inconvenience.

Did I mention the heat? I got off the plane and inhaled as deeply as humanly possible, having forgotten the intense pleasure I derive from heat and humidity. It actually is getting a bit cooler outside right now, but oooohhhh, to sit in my house in the bare minimum of clothing, with all the windows open and the fan going. Yes, I am deliriously happy.

Tomorrow I will start the exploratios.
(pic is SFO at 6am)

10 November 2009

Heading South of the Boarder

Finally, after way too long being stuck in CA, I am off to Puerto Vallarta for a month.
The plan is to soak up the sun, get back to the blog, finish some other writing projects that have fallen by the wayside.

I might check out the work possibilities, the ideal being to spend a few months there and a few months in the US and repeat the cycle as necessary to maintain a happy lifestyle.

The next post will be from my tropical retreat.