31 May 2010

No Free Lunch

Since arriving, I have been constantly bombarded by men who want me to buy a timeshare in Puerto Vallarta. They sit in little kiosks on the main drag and yell out things like Are you a tourist? Where are you from? I like your earrings. Lady come and talk to me. I smile, ignore them and keep walking. That’s when they get rude. What’s the matter, you can’t even say hello? Do you have something against Mexicans? And the latest; You must be from Arizona.

It seems to be much worse than when I was here in November. Maybe it is just that there are less tourists so I am more available to holler at. It does get on my nerves but, as I said, I just keep on walking. Unfortunately, they are now in the shops.
In several of the big stores I’ve gone into on the Malecón, I’ve been offered free merchandise in exchange for going to a sales pitch breakfast. The first place I encountered this was in one of the big Huichol art stores. I was totally hounded by the sales gal who kept upping the amount of free gifts I would get, which included close to $100 worth of merchandise. All I had to do was go to a free breakfast at a resort and then listen to a 60 minute presentation. I kept telling her I wasn’t interested so she took me over to the manager who explained that the sales lady wouldn’t get any “points” if I didn’t agree. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I know darn well you don’t get something for nothing, so was not even interested in pursuing the possibility of this seemingly great offer.
Last week I was in a store where I’ve bought things in the past. After I’d finished talking to the manager and discussing what I would buy, another of the smarmy timeshare guys approached me. I came to find out that the shops are working with these guys and that there is commission for all involved. This obnoxious punk, (who happened to be American), would not shut up going on and on about the dinner he would take me to, the $150 dollars of free merchandise, that he would even throw in a free massage; like I’d ever even want to eat a meal with this freak. I had to get out of the store. I could see that my manager buddy was clearly uncomfortable with the young kid’s sales tactics. I took him aside and said I would be back when said jerk was not there.

Yesterday I went back to make my purchases. I was having a nice chat with my friend and asked how could it be possible to get all this stuff for free. Apparently it was possible and he would even get a higher commission on his sales. I thought about it; an hour or two of horrible marketing crap for free goods. Maybe it was worth it. But I also knew that they would want personal details from me and I was not going to do that. My buddy told me that I did not have to give out any info. I only needed to show that I had a credit card, but to cover the name and number when showing it. I asked if they would require an address or email and he said no. What the hell, I signed up for the breakfast/presentation this morning.
At 8:30 I was at the shop. Two young guys from the presentation company soon appeared and I was whisked away in a taxi. They were neat and clean but had a real air of used-car-salesman about them. All the while on the ride to the hotel where the presentation was to be, one guy could not stop talking about all the deals he could get me and all the tours he could arrange and probably some other “deals” but by then I’d shut out his banter. I knew at this point I’d made a mistake and I probably should have taken some valium before going off to the event.
Before we got out of the cab, the guy grabbed a card from the driver and wrote down his phone number so that I could call him tomorrow for another free breakfast, free presentation, and more free money. I looked down at the business card onto which he had written his name. It was for some nightclub whose slogan was “Wanna come?” under which was “visit us and receive a free lap dance”. I glared at him and said, “Free lap dance?” He laughed nervously and said it wasn’t his card.

We got out and were approached by two more sleazy guys. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what made my skin crawl. Maybe it was the salon styled hair with too much product, or more likely it was their bad auras. I was trying not to hyperventilate and cringe as I was forced to shake hands with another slimy salesman and the marketing manager. Since all of them spoke English quite well, and since they reverted to English every time I said something in Spanish, we spoke in English. But then they’d turn to each other and rattle off in Spanish about where they were taking me and other stuff. I spoke up in Spanish just to keep them on their toes in case they tried to pull a fast one and thought I wouldn’t understand.
I was escorted up to a rented conference area and this is when I really wanted to cut and run. Everything abut it was geared towards intimidation and discomfort. Before we went into the outer office to talk to the receptionist, the marketing manager asked me the same questions that everyone else had asked me; was I over 30, was I single, was I American, did I have a credit card.
Walking into the office I felt like a trapped rat. The first thing out of the young woman’s mouth was a request for ID with a printed address. I said no; they were not even getting my last name, let alone my address. For five minutes various people walked in and out and spoke on phones and tried to explain that it wasn’t anything other than to enter the info in their computer and my details would never again be used. Right. Finally the big boss, a snooty 30-something Brit walked in, looked down his nose at me and said that giving my address was a Mexican government regulation since, after all, they were “responsible” for me. Right.

I should have just walked out the minute they asked for an address, or at least told them what I thought of their hard-core tactics, but for some reason I am just too polite. They finally realized that no one was going to make a commission off of me today and someone had lost the taxi fare that had brought me there. I was escorted out by two pouty-faced, pissed off sales men, acting like two year olds who’d had a toy taken away. They left me at the front of the hotel, pointed out the bus stop across the street, and huffed off.
All I wanted to do was get back to the hotel and take a shower. Nothing was really lost on this adventure except that they now know which hotel I am in, but they can’t really do anything with that.
How in the world can a group off people be so offensive, loathsome, and rude, yet get people to but their product? How can they possibly have any friends? What do they do at night; devil worship?
Oh well, another day, another experience and in three days I will be out of Vallarta so they can’t possibly hunt me down to hassle me.

29 May 2010


I’ve never cared much for bread. Tortillas, however, (and make that corn tortillas), are a different story. Apparently, Mexicans agree with me as there is a tortillería, (tortilla bakery), on every other block throughout the city. Most I have passed are tiny, one room affairs. Others are fairly large factory things. Even the large supermarkets have a tortilla machine just like their American counterparts with an in-house bakery.

Tortillería La Gloria is the largest one I’ve seen in my wanderings around town. I went by at about 7:30 in the morning to get an idea of what the early shift was like and to take some pictures. The gentleman behind the counter told me that they start working at 4am, that they have been in business for 40 years, and that they either use 3000Kg of dough a day or make 3000Kg of tortillas a day. (I wasn’t quite clear on that bit). Wait a minute; that just doesn’t sound possible. I’m not going back to get clarification but all that matters is that they are open from the crack of dawn until the afternoon, cranking out the most wonderful tortillas.

From early in the morning people are lined up buying tortillas for the day, either for the home or for their restaurant/taco stand. Some people come with an ice chest to load up their supplies. I have also seen delivery pick-up trucks dropping off the day’s allotment.

And then there are the Tortillería La Gloria tortilla chips. They are the only deep-fried food product I have ever truly salivated over. Reason number one: made with fresh tortillas. Number two: no salt. I allow myself one bag, (it’s rather large), per trip. Just writing about it I may have to break that rule and get another; I still have about 5 days left in Vallarta.

I’ve tried to find comparable tortillas outside of Mexico but have never been successful. There simply is no comparison to the lightness and flavor of a tortilla fresh of the rack. There is none of that grittiness and chewy consistency that you’ll find in the brands at the local Safeway. Anything American is mass produced and packaged and no matter how Spanish–sounding the name of the manufacturer, it’s a poor imitation. US produced tortillas can sit for a few weeks in the icebox and still perform when needed. Mexican ones are pretty much compost material after a day, maybe two. Something about preservatives, I’d assume.

It would be so easy and cheap to buy a kilo of fresh tortillas to take back with me to California, but what’s the point? They’d be past their shelf date by the time I got home and unpacked.
Guess I'll just have to wait for another trip.

Fruit Markets

Every time I think I know this neighborhood, I am proven wrong. I was here for a month at the end of last year and had done the majority of my food shopping at the local, smallish supermarket. There are some huge places not too far away, but that would entail taking buses which is way more labor-intensive them I am ever willing to do for food. And if you really want to stock up, there is a Costco and Wal-Mart; again, too far away.

The produce at said supermarket was rather sad and I had asked the gals at the hotel reception if they knew of a fruit stand. They’d directed me to a few within a block or two from the hotel, but their stuff was also not quite up to what I thought I would find here.

The second week I was here I took a walk up a street I was sure I had walked up last time. Apparently not, as I ran into a real-life market. Granted, it was small, but it was a real Mexican Mercado.

Shops selling kitchenware, trinkets, and beauty supplies line the outer edges. Inside is a central open area around which are butcher shops. There are also some fruit stalls, but most are directly across the street.

The first time I was there I went into the largest one simply because it was easier to negotiate. I was told later that the prices next door in the tiny shop were considerably cheaper, so that’s where I have been going.

I am in heaven being able to buy a fresh papaya everyday. It is one of my favorite fruits. You can sometimes get them in California, but the price is high and they either taste nasty or are mashed. Papayas do not export very well.

And the bananas; what can I say? Unless you have eaten bananas in the country where they are grown, you just have no idea how they should really taste. Bananas for export are picked green and they don’t really ripen, just turn yellow, and most of the flavor is lost. I can buy all sorts of different types of nanners here, my favorite being the tiny, tangy ones. Take my word for it and don’t waste your money if you see these guys in the US; they simply do not travel at all and you’ll pay a fortune for fruit you will need to toss.

Cantaloupes have been my favorite melon since I was a wee child. Over the past several years, probably more like ten or more years, I just haven’t been able to get a tasty cantaloupe. Even when I ask the produce people to pick out a good one, they always suck. I’d actually forgotten why I loved them so much and how delicious they were until I chomped into a Mexican cantaloupe last week. Oh my gosh! Unbelievable! Again, everything is picked green in the US and that just screws with the flavor. Possibly I should be concerned about the water supply used on the farms here, but I am not even letting thoughts of contaminated irrigation systems enter my thoughts. I plan to enjoy the fruits of the earth.


28 May 2010

Casa Kimberly Update

I need to set the record straight; Elizabeth Taylor’s house in Puerto Vallarta is no longer available for viewing. In fact it is no longer really there. Casa Kimberly, as her house is/was called, is in the midst of being turned into three condominiums.
I did the treacherous, 100-step walk up the side of the hill to get a peek of her house last November. People had told me it was now a bed and breakfast and that you could have a cup of coffee in the restaurant. What I found was a gutted out building.

I thought it might be done by now and maybe was a new B&B. No and no. It appears that all that will be left of Liz and Dick’s home will be the stories that surround the neighborhood, told by the decreasing number of locals who remember them. And even though her memory is fading as the years go by, I seem to constantly run into little reminders of the impact she had on the city.

There is the plaster statue of Elizabeth and Richard and an iguana at the entrance to a restaurant that sits just down the hill from their house, and right on the Rio Cuale.

And then there is the mystery that surrounds a place I found the other day.

It was in the late afternoon, while walking down a small side street that I noticed an entryway with a worn, tattered mat on which was written Sala Elizabeth Taylor. I stopped, looked up at the building and tried to figure out what it was. A tea house? A theater? I looked to the left and saw an ancient looking ticket window that was open. Inside sat a tired looking woman.

I asked here what exactly Sala Elizabeth Taylor was. “Cine”, she answered. I stepped back and looked for whatever it was that I had missed indicating that this was a movie theater. I glanced up at the signboard next to the ticket window, still confused. “Cine”? I asked her. She then said something about adult films and I looked more closely at the showings for today. I got it. Whatever Sala Elizabeth Taylor was in a past life I’ll never know. Circa 2010, it is a porn movie house.


27 May 2010

Huichol Art

From what I gather, Puerto Vallarta doesn’t have its own special art form such as the ceramics of Tonalá, the carved wooden creatures of Oaxaca, or the silverwork of Taxco. What they do have here, and what I don’t ever remember seeing, is artwork from the Huichol indigenous people.
The Huichol are from the Sierra Madre Mountains in the states of Nayarit and Jalisco. (Puerto Vallarta is located in Jalisco.) I know almost nothing about them so will not try to write anything anthropological or historical.
Most of their artwork in the stores is either colorful embroidery or beaded animal sculptures. The designs are symbolic of various animals and plants, each having a specific connection to their beliefs and culture.
I’ve seen their work in just about every tourist shop in town. There are also several high-end, fancy stores that have beautiful examples, set out in lovely displays. They are the places that have Huichol men set up at a little “display” table at the front of the store doing their artwork. I find it disturbing. The prices are not cheap, which I wouldn’t mind if it were going to the people who created these exquisite objects; but you know it isn’t.

I had tried to find some stalls in the market where there might be artisans to whom the proceeds of the sales would go, but I hadn’t been successful. But then last week, on my way to the supermarket, I noticed a little corner shop of Huichol art and in I went.
Galeria de Arte Huichol is owned and operated by a man named Tzikiri. All the artwork is done by either himself or other people from his village. He told me how he used to work at the big stores demonstrating for the tourists. The store would also buy his work, for which he was paid very little. He opened his tiny corner shop a few months ago.
In the past week I have been in several times and have bought a couple of beautiful iguanas. Tzikiri patiently explained the meanings of the designs and how he made them. He starts with either a ceramic or wood base, onto which a thick, sticky wax is applied. Then he carefully pushes each bead onto the wax creating the most amazing pieces.

I would have liked to have taken a picture of him at work but guessed that graven images probably were not acceptable in his culture. I asked him anyway. His hesitancy told me that I was correct in my assumption even though he told me it would be all right. What he minded, he said, were the tourists in the big stores who came in to take his picture while he worked and never bought anything and never left a tip.
I am really hoping his shop makes it. I’m sure it would if only people knew about it. So here are the details for all of you who might be in Puerto Vallarta:
Galeria de Arte Huichol - proprietor: Tzikiri
Constitución #116 (on the corner of 5 de Febrero) Col. Emilian Zapato, Puerto Vallarta
Tel: 322-222-5488 cell: 322-149-2005

It’s just past the Gutierrez Rizo supermarket on Constitición


26 May 2010

Coffee & Restaurants

Restaurants aren’t really my thing. They are costly and often don’t thrill the taste buds so why bother? But I do like to sit at an outdoor café with a coffee and observe the world as it goes by. In Puerto Vallarta I’ve been rather at a loss to find a place where I can spend a bit of time and do just that.
The only place I had found was, (shockingly to me), Starbucks. It’s in a great location at the corner of the main plaza and has comfy outside seating from where you can watch the people, the cars, and even a little bit of the bay. The regular coffee is a decent price and actually tastes better than any other coffee I’d had in town. And this brings up the question of what the heck happened to Mexican coffee? I know they had great coffee 20 years ago but I can’t seem to find it now.
A week or so ago I was exploring another part of town when I came across the local witchcraft shop and went in for a look. Not in need of any spells cast or bad juju removed, I nevertheless had a nice chat with the owner. Somehow we got on to the subject of coffee and he told me about a new place just three doors down that made primo coffee. I finally got there yesterday.

Café D’Flores is a lovely small coffee shop that you might find anywhere in California, but would never to expect to find it here. Garlands of hand-painted flowers adorn the walls; the clouds and sun decorate the ceiling. With all the lovely wooden chairs and tables, a sofa and cozy chairs, I wasn’t sure where to sit and actually moved places twice. I was the only one in that morning, but I could see that it would be a welcoming place for people with books to read or with laptop work to do. And the coffee was superb. It’s only been open a few months, and is off the beaten track, so I do hope that the word gets out.
I spent a lot of time talking to the owner who, not surprisingly, had spent many years in California. He told me who when he’d landed in PV a few years ago he had stayed at the Rosita Hotel and how much he had liked it. So after I left the café I headed down to the Rosita.

I knew about the Rosita from when I was researching places to stay in PV. Seeing as it was right at the waters edge, and had been built in 1948, it had originally sounded interesting. But looking at the website pictures and at the prices, I had decided against it. And even now, looking at it from the street it just didn’t seem to draw one to it. But for historical reasons, it was the first big hotel in Vallarta, I had to take a look.
I spoke with the woman at the reception and found out rooms were US$80 a night, even now in
the low season. I then crossed the open courtyard and went into the open-air restaurant. I needed to eat, so asked to look at the menu. I was surprised to find that there were reasonably priced meals. I took a seat and ordered.
The first thing I noticed was that I could not only see that water I could hear it. In every other eating establishment that I have been, the ocean sounds have been obliterated by either traffic noise, blaring music, or a combination of the two. I didn’t have an unobstructed view of the bay, (there is a metal security gate), but it didn’t really matter. It was lovely and the food was darn decent.
When I finished I asked if I could see one of the rooms with an ocean view. I was taken up to the second floor and let in. it was your basic, clean, 1948 room; nothing fancy, nothing really renovated since it opened, no ceiling fan, no A/C. (but there was a standing fan.) It had a little balcony from which you looked right out onto the water. The scent of the ocean, carried on a lovely breeze, streamed up into the room. It’s the type of place I would feel totally comfortable in; it’s much like what I am in now. But not at $80 a night. I don’t quite understand the pricing. I won’t ever stay there, but it is another good place to take a break and have a sip of something.
The street that fronts the Malecón is lined with restaurants, night clubs, and tourist stores. It’s against my moral principles to eat at imported chain restaurants while overseas, so Bubba Gump’s and Hard Rock Café are off the list of choices to stop in for coffee. Last time I was on the strip I had a bad cup of coffee in a place that reeked of bathroom disinfectant, so I wasn’t going back there. A few places looked ok except that they have pushy barkers outside hassling you to come in, and then there’s the blaring rock music. So how could I have missed Las Polomas?
It sits on a corner with giant, open windows allowing you to look out at the bay. As their ad says, it is a “Hacienda” style restaurant, which I guess means that you feel like you are out at the ranch; lots of tile, wood ceiling beams, Mexican furniture and dishes.
I grabbed the corner table on the lower floor, which is still far above street level. My first visitor was a pigeon looking for handouts. He came back several times while I sipped my ice coffee and couldn’t quite figure out why I didn’t have any food to offer. There was some music playing but it was so low, and the cars were so loud, that you didn’t notice it. The large plasma screen TV’s, for some reason, were also not distracting. Looking up at one I realized that this would be a great place to watch the World Cup. Bummer; I’ll be back in California.
I took a look at their menu for future reference and I will not be going there for lunch any time soon. Too costly for me, although they do have a decently priced breakfast.
I am pleased that I have found these new-to-me locations. Otherwise I tend to walk and walk until I’m close to heatstroke. I am also amazed that I have not only eaten in a restaurant, but now am on a mission to find other establishments in which to dine.


24 May 2010

Saturday Night

There is quite the night scene here; or so I’ve heard. I know I should go and see for myself, but just don’t see the point of changing out of my lounge clothes and doing something with my hair at 9:00 pm when I would rather be writing or reading or watching TV. Maybe if I had a friend to check out the action with me it would be different. I don’t need the buddy system during the day, but do at night. Nevertheless last Saturday I promised myself I would do it.

Probably my first error in getting out for the evening was leaving at 6:30 pm; heck, that’s night to me. I walked the few blocks to the beach. It was not a pretty sight. The afternoon stragglers, who looked to have been there for hours, were sitting and standing amongst piles of debris strewn all over the sand. Most seemed to be a bit tipsy and looked a little intimidating; not an area you would want to walk through. I stayed up on the walkway and decided not to stroll down the beach.
I walked a short way in the other direction and saw that it was high tide and that the waves were much more forceful than usual. A line of fishermen were working their rods and reels while the pelicans and other birds were swooping low over the area searching for food. The flying creatures were so low I could see their eyeballs. I sat down in the sand and stared up at the mesmerizing display until I realized I was getting a stiff neck.

Finding a bench to sit on I continued my wildlife viewing, thinking I would sit there until the sun set. To my left, and where the sand meets the promenade, sat the scruffy group of guys who are always there. I think they are beach fishermen of some sort and I think they might even live there. In the morning they seem to be setting up a few logs and rocks, surrounded by worn bags with supplies. In the afternoon, one guy is always shucking oysters and people are eating plates of them. Maybe it’s a fast-food restaurant. At this time of the evening they were drinking beer and still chomping oysters.

Between checking out the dudes, and watching the water, I noticed someone way out who looked to be snorkeling. I was a bit concerned; twilight was on its way, the currents were looking mighty strong, and he was a long ways out. Since no one else seemed to be concerned, I ignored the situation. It was at least thirty minutes after first spotting him that I saw him arriving at the shore. He must have been mid-40’s and wore a knee length wetsuit that had seen better days and smaller bodies. Ragged goggles draped from his neck and a lobster was attached to a home made spear. All his buddies were whooping and congratulating him on his conquest. All I could think about was how incredibly fit he was, even with the gut. He popped open a brew as soon as he was out of his wetsuit.

I really did want to take pictures and I always want to go over and talk to these guys and get their story, but it seems way too invasive. I’ve been know to talk to fishermen on the beach so it’s not an angler phobia or anything. I think it is more that they are in what appears to be a very exclusive club and I feel as if I would be crossing a line where I wasn’t invited. Maybe one morning I’ll get up the nerve to talk to them.

Having been sitting on a concrete bench for far to long, I got up and continued my walk. It was close to 8pm and no sign of a sun setting anytime soon. Forget walking by the nightclub scene; I was going home.

Maybe I will find the fortitude to once again try to get in on the night action here, but somehow I rather doubt it.

22 May 2010

Nails & Books

Two days before leaving on my trip I got a manicure/pedicure. I had assumed that my fingernails would be chipped and ugly after a week in Puerto Vallarta, but that my toes should last the whole month. I was wrong on both counts. Nothing chipped that badly that a touch-up with some local polish couldn’t fix. The problem was that my nails had grown at such an astonishing rate that in only two weeks I had noticeable, quarter inch, crescent moon, unpolished nail beds; sort of a reverse French Tip. My nails usually do grow rapidly, but this seemed to be way more than normal.

My choice was to go buy nail polish remover and cotton and remove everything myself, (which is something that I loathe), or to find someplace here to do it. Having a well founded phobia of unknown nail salons, I already knew that I wasn’t going to let anyone do anything but take off he old and put on the new.

In my walks around town I’d passed a few places that advertised manicures, but most were in shops with no natural lighting and no air circulation. I imagined that anything at a fancy hotel would be more expensive than in the US. When I passed a place right off the beach, lit by only sunlight and cooled by ocean breezes, I decided to give it a go.

My first clue that I may not have made the best decision was when they told me to sit on a raggedy bench and brought over a dirty TV stand table to work from. My next clue was the basket of cheap, old, nail polish in ugly colors. Let me say here that I am just not good at standing up and walking out of any place even when I know I should. But I also reasoned that since they were not going to use any sharp, probably bacteria-laden implements on my nails, it would be ok.

I think the person doing my nails was actually a masseuse since she really didn’t seem to have a clue about how to even remove nail polish. She tried using some soaked cotton balls but the color remained, although it had now turned to semi-muck. Since I couldn’t smell any acetone, I asked her if she was sure she was using the right stuff. She then had another woman come out to try and help, to no avail. They both kept at it until I picked up the bottle of polish remover and pointed out that it contained lanoline and glycerin, (and I have a good idea that it had been diluted), and that they needed to use straight acetone. At first they weren’t sure if they even had any. It was another opportunity to walk out except that my nails were a sticky mess.

Once they used the proper stuff to clean my nails, I expected them to at least rinse them off; I was wrong. The manicurist picked up the bottle of bright red that I had chosen and started to open it. I asked about a clear base coat but she had no idea what I meant, not that they even had a bottle of clear polish.

Not having my reading glasses on, it looked as if all was going well. I told her only to do one coat; I just wanted to get out and would throw on a clear coat when I got back to the hotel. And then I started paying closer attention. The polish she was using was way past its shelf life; all gooey and thick. I mentioned that it looked a little old and that I was worried it wouldn’t dry. She sprayed some drying stuff on my toes, tested it and pronounced that all was well.

I paid and tipped and it really wasn’t that much less than a full US manicure. But it was done, so I didn’t dwell on it. It wasn’t until I got home, put on those glasses, and looked at my nails that I realized just how horrible a job she had done. It looked as though I had let some seven-year-old play beauty parlor with my nails. There was polish on my fingers and not on all parts of the nails; it was lumpy and bumpy and it would never thoroughly dry. I took a deep breath, an hour break, then headed to Farmácia Guadalajara for acetone and cotton.


Knowing that one needs books for the beach, I’d brought down a bunch of paperbacks that I’d gotten from the library sale shelf. I also knew that there was a bookshelf in the lobby of the hotel filled with dusty, musty books, in which I’d found enough to interest me on my last stay. I figured there must be a whole new batch after the high season folks had left. After all, I had left my book, (as in the one I wrote), innocently amongst the others.

I was pleased to find that someone had liked my book so much that they had taken it home. I was not pleased to see that what was left on the hotel bookshelf were only the books that were so covered in mold and dust that you’d risk serious contamination if you were to pick one up. I was further bummed to discover that a good number of those books I’d brought sucked. So a few days ago I gathered al the books I had read, all the ones I couldn’t handle, plus another copy of mine, and headed for the nearby coffee shop/book exchange store.

I got enough in credit to pick up several books and started perusing the shelves. A lot of NY Times bestsellers and a lot of stuff I would never read. I am not at all a “literature” snob; just read my book if you need proof. It’s just that nine times out of ten, I do not care for anything on the NY Times list. And then there was the problem of the lighting inside the shop that made it necessary to move at maximum speed and get out.
Out of the corner of my eye I spotted my book on a shelf. Wow, the counter lady was fast to already get it out and slip it in while my back was turned. I reached down to pick it up and then realized it was the one I had left at the hotel five months ago. What that means is that someone cleaned out the good books from the hotel, walked over four blocks and sold them. Rather tacky. I peeked inside to see what they were charging for my book and it was way higher than the average paperback. Guess the pristine condition and awesome cover was the reason. However, it also means that it has less of a chance of being bought and read, which was the whole idea of leaving a copy. I did notice that my book was not shelved with mysteries but on a floor shelf with trade paperbacks, or something like that. I quietly shelved it where it belonged.

I didn’t have a lot of patience that afternoon, so only picked up one book, which turned out to be awful. I returned today to stock up and noticed that they had moved my book back to the location on the floor where it is not easily found. And now there are two copies, side by side. But at least I had the energy to find some authors I did know and like.

20 May 2010

The Navy

I do believe that on the first day I was here I wrote something about needing a long-sleeved shirt at night for the chill I was experiencing. That is no longer true. Right now it is 9:30 pm and I am sweating like a piggy. I just opened the door to get some circulation. It’s not really bad now, but I certainly felt the body-sapping weather today when I was out both in the morning and in early evening.
I wake up early here; like at 5am or 6, mostly because that is my norm but also because I think that maybe if I keep it up with it the sun will follow my example. And even though I am up well before the crack of dawn, I can’t seem to get out until I’ve already missed the sunrise.

A few days ago I did manage to leave the hotel and head for the shore at 7:30 am. The beachfront restaurants were busy setting up for breakfast both at the open-air, semi-indoor seating, as well as down on the beach. We’re talking white table cloths, cups and saucers, more flatware than one would need for a five course meal, and a whole lot of other stuff. While this was going on, other folks were wetting down the sand, putting out lounge chairs, putting up umbrellas. I wondered about all the effort for so many, many tables, when this is the low season.

It was pretty quiet as I walked along the shore; a few joggers and dog-walkers, and of course the pelicans cruising low over the water. I passed fisherman on the pier and some at the waters edge with nets or diving gear. It’s lovely at this time of day. (I happened to go by in the early afternoon and it was a nightmare of bodies crammed together in the sweltering heat).

Leaving the sand for the paved walkway of the Malecón, I decided it was a good day to finally visit the Naval Historical Museum, which I have passed countless times on this very same walk but have never gone in. When I got there I found out that they wouldn’t be open for another hour so stepped across to relax in the main plaza.

It was then that I noticed a flat-bed military truck loaded with guys in full combat gear. The men standing right behind the cab had big, possibly automatic, rifles at the ready and pointed out at the street. (No pictures as I knew better than to even ask if I could take photos). On closer inspection, I saw that they were from the Navy. Then I saw that a display of large posters had been assembled around the government building that fronts one side of the plaza.

The exhibition was in honor of the Bicentennial of National Independence, and the Centennial of the Mexican Revolution. It was put on by the Secretary of the Navy’s History and Culture sector, highlighting the role they have played in defending Mexico.

There were about fifty, 7 foot tall exhibition posters with pictures and text chronicling the struggle to reach Independence. It was beautifully done; each poster depicting an important person and/or significant event. I didn’t read every last word on each poster, but did skim through most of it and learned a lot. Now I feel I really need to go to Hidalgo and to Vera Cruz. (I also need a serious refresher course on what the US was doing in Vera Cruz in 1914.)
This very impressive display will be up for another week or so, then move on to other cities, eventually ending in Mexico City in November.

The Naval Museum was now opened so I popped back across the street and went in. Seeing as I was in a bit of history overloaded at that point, I did a quick run through and will return later to read things in more detail.

While walking around I saw that people were going upstairs and not returning. I followed them up to discover a restaurant, run by the Navy. It is a small affair, but its prime location on the Malecón means that one has an excellent view of the water. I checked out the prices and they were more than reasonable. And you get the bonus of young men and women in uniform serving you. Definitely a place on my list of things to experience.


19 May 2010

Botanical Gardens pt 2

The first thing I did upon my return to the Jardínes Botínicos de Vallarta was to ask at the entrance if Domino the Dog was still there. She had been my hiking partner on my last visit and I was looking forward to getting reacquainted. Hearing that she most certainly was, I took off down the road that lead into the gardens.

Along the way I stopped to talk to the gardener tending the thriving rose bed. When I had last spoken to him in November, he had just started planting them and here they were, bushy and blooming.

Walking towards the main building, (restaurant, gift shop, lounge area), I kept a sharp eye out for Domino. Before I knew it, she was at my side wagging her tail and leaning into me. I know she greets all dog-friendly visitors in the same manner, but I was sure she had remembered me. We were just set to take off together when a car pulled into a parking space and Domino went over to say hello. I thought she would probably come back over to me, but when another dog jumped out of the car I knew I had lost out for the day.

The first trail I took drops at a fairly steep incline through lush vegetation, crosses a little stream, then winds its way back up the mountain. It’s not what you call major jungle trekking but it could be dangerous for people like me were it not for the handrails along the entire route. All I needed was for my knee to go wonky on me and end up at the bottom of a gorge. And since I seemed to be the only one in this part of the Gardens, it seemed prudent to be cautious.

I was immediately struck by the number of birds talking as I headed into the thick vegetation. I swear they weren’t this many and at this volume the last time I was here. I would certainly have remembered the feeling of being in a jungle movie. I didn’t spot any of the birds but was content to just let their voices carry me along.
Near the top of the trail I came upon a gardener watering the plants. We talked about the names of the trees and other flora in the area. I knew coffee, orchids, bromeliads, (basically the same names as in English), but was clueless about some other tree with a name that didn’t sound like anything I knew and a shape which I can only describe as “tree like”.
A little further up, the narrow trail began its descent back to the bottom. I continued on down, (with a two-handed death-grip on that rail), until I reached the bottom and found myself surrounded by beautiful flowering bananas and tropical plants.

It was then that I noticed that my knee was no longer cooperating. Damn! Stuck at the bottom of the jungle never to be seen again. At least the bananas would soon be ripe. Eventually the knee decided to work and I climbed a short path which took me back to where I had started.
The path leading to the River Walk has no railing. However, there are proper, wide stairs so if one goes down one step at a time, there is no fear of careening head over heels to the bottom. (I was pleased on the return to be able to stride uphill, normally and at a regular pace).
Down at the river’s edge I thought how I’d like to camp there for a good long while. As it was, I just sat down on sand or rocks and let the positive ions flush through my body, mesmerized by the water lilies and the reflections on the clear water.

Back up at the orchid conservatory, I paid special attention to soil and planting, trying to pick up some pointers on cultivation. In this climate, there probably isn’t much you need to do to get them to bloom, but I did notice that the soil mixture had several ingredients more than I have in mine at home.
The upstairs restaurant was totally deserted. I sat on the veranda, looking out over the valley and river below, slowly sipping a cold drink.
When I walked downstairs, Domino was taking a nap on the cool tile floor. I bent down to say good bye and told her I would be back again for a walk with her.