WEDNESDAY, JUNE 30, 2010

Jacaranda Passage Note #40: Three Months in Puerto Vallarta

We recently left Puerto Vallarta after a wonderful three month-long sojourn--- the longest we have stayed put anywhere on the boat (not counting the two summers we were in Boston with son Joe while Jacaranda remained in Mexican marinas). It was all my (Linda's) idea - in the name of balance.  We have been nomadic, moving around from place to place for almost five years now ever since we started cruising...and I wanted to stay put for a little while so I could work on my spanish, get involved with a community activity, and most importantly, do some artwork (new directions - in collage and mapping personal geographies) that I have been unable to do on the boat because of space limitations.

Puerto Vallarta or La Paz (Baja) were the two candidates for this stopover but PV won out when our friend Sam, owner of the BandB Hacienda Mosaico said she was going on vacation for 3 1/2 weeks and needed a hacienda -sitter. I volunteered immediately, convinced Chuck, and the next thing we knew we had ourselves a job!! Hacienda Mosaico is my dream place - check it out at http://www.haciendamosaico.com/.  Speaking of jobs, Chuck decided that as long as we were shore bound with good internet, he might as well work remotely for his old IT company, CSC, and fatten up the cruising kitty. This worked out well!!

Here's a synopsis of our stay in Puerto Vallarta:

1. My birthday celebration: Cuddling tigers, zipping in trees

After anchoring in La Cruz for a few days (where we left off in our last Passage Note), we moved the boat into Paradise Village Marina. I had rented a nearby condo for two weeks: March 1- 14. Friends Elise and Jerry Lazar from Salt Lake City joined us and son Joe came down from San Diego for a week. Where can you hold a baby jaguar and cuddle with baby tigers? The Vallarta Zoo lets you hold the cats born in their breeding program and also feed the animals. See the photo of Joe with the 3 month old tiger who was a little feisty by then.

Old town Puerto Vallarta is activity packed and we enjoyed strolling along the sculpture filled malecon (seaside walk) , seeing the intricate sand sculptures and rock balancing artists, viewing sidewalk art and the tourist flea market, and having mexican food atop a restaurant with a view - in one direction the sun setting on Banderas Bay, in another, the voladores from Papantla (4 traditionally dressed men twirling upside down from the top of a high May pole to the sound of indigenous flutes), and then live Norteño music and dancing taking place below us in the zocalos public bandstand. In early March we had a birthday party at the condo and got to see lots of our friends! We had scrumptious birthday cake for me and Joe (whose birthday is at the end of March), delicious potluck food, and Joe joined Burke from Isis (mandolin) and Dave from Dolce Vita (guitar) in some music-making and singing. Three evenings we walked a block down the beach from our condo to the Oliver Ridley Turtle Sanctuary and got to do a turtle release - holding these small hatchlings at the edge of the sand at sunset and letting them go so they could make their way across the sand to the water under cover of dark, hoping to avoid avian predators.

But perhaps the highlight of the two weeks was when Joe, Chuck and I went on a half-day Zipline Adventure with a well-known outfit called Vallarta Adventures. A half-hour early morning inflatable boat ride took us and about 20 others across the bay where we took a safari-truck into the mountains followed by a half-hour mule ride high up in the forest above the treeline to the first of our zipline platforms. Harnessed into the line above us, ziplining was like flying with the birds, soaring from platform to platform, at one point rappelling down a waterfall, and then speeding down and dunking into a cold pool of crystal mountain water. Great fun - and each of us would love to do it again!!! The next day Joe swam with the dolphins at the Vallarta Adventures facility, most of which were born in captivity there. No lack of adventure here!!!

2. Banderas Bay Regatta (BBR): A Busy Bay

This major sailing race for cruisers was a bit anemic in the past but this years 17th Regatta was a premier event thanks to theoutstanding organization of our friend Laurie Ailworth, regatta chair for the past two years. Over 40 boats in six classes participated in the three day competition and the top-notch ceremonies, awards, and parties, parties, parties were enjoyed by a large crowd. I got involved with selling tickets and filling in where needed in the volunteer corps but got bitten by the Regatta bug! I found a crew position on a 47 foot catamaran called Moontide - there were 9 of us in addition to owner/skipper Bill. I worked the mainsheet and traveller. Since the major goal of the Regatta was fun, each of the boats put on some antics as they paraded past the public on their way out to the Bay for the start of the race. Friends on Maluhia wore hawaiian garb, inflatable tubes in the shape of fish around their waists, and danced on deck to blaring hawaiian music; skipper Christy of Bright Wing hulahooped her way out of the marina; we had the barbeque on high, trailing a thick cloud of rib-smelling smoke in our wake and toasted our wine glasses high to the crowd......which is what we repeated for the Committee Boat as we passed them at the finish line on the last day of the races - coming in second place in our class all three days. Chuck left his work on Saturday at the computer and joined us for the last day. We met a lot of new friends and loved getting an award at the Closing Ceremonies!! Banderas Bay is a great venue for wind sports - you can pretty much count on good afternoon winds every day - so the youth J-boat races, windsurfing and wind kiting championships were all being held at the same time as the BBR.

3. San Miguel de Allende for Semana Santa: Angels, art, and exploding Judases 

 

There was time in between the BB Regatta and our hacienda-sitting to go on the road for some inland travel and I had been wanting to visit San Miguel de Allende (SMdA), a charming colonial town and artists mecca in the rolling hills of neighboring Guanajuato State. The only trouble was it was Semana Santa, the two weeks surrounding Easter, which is a zoo here in Mexico with crowds of families jamming into the beaches and some inland cities for roisterous vacations. Normally it is best to stay at home and avoid the masses. Puerto Vallarta was one place they swarmed, SMdA was another. So I thought I should avoid it - until I read Charlotte Bells website (http://www.charlottebell.com/tears/). Charlotte is a photographer from Texas living in SMdA who has published a photo book and guide to the Semana Santa processions there - and lo and behold - I felt this epicenter of festivities was THE place to be, indeed not to be missed.



I called Charlotte who convinced me this was the time to go, and booked one of the apartments in her house for a week. Then I went to the bus station and bought a ticket for the 10 hour journey. Chuck had just returned from a quick trip to Long Beach for a business meeting and was bogged down with work (yikes! the W word)! Laurie Ailworth (of BBR fame who was in recovery mode) came with me. I was excited since I hadnt seen much of Laurie and this was our time to catch up - besides Laurie is an experienced traveller in Mexico, having moved to the Puerto Vallarta area five years ago, and speaks spanish well. We left early on the morning of March 3, arriving at Casa Caracol at 10:30 that night...and walked in on a pot luck party Charlotte and husband Wolf were having with their charity group. We were immediately invited to take part. What a welcome!!! After a long bus ride, we had a gourmet dinner and met some interesting local expats.

Our one bedroom apartment was perfect for the two of us - nice kitchen, sitting area with TV and wifi, hot shower, and balcony with a view overlooking the town....for $50/night. It was a fifteen minute walk into the center of town downhill but we ended up taking a taxi back in the evenings. We wasted no time walking and exploring this national monument with its central jardin, fabulous architecture (now festooned with purple and white Easter banners), art galleries galore, and good restaurants.

For the next few days, Laurie and I attended all the high drama of the Easter celebrations in public processions and parades....the reenactment of Pontius Pilate with the condemned Jesus and Roman soldiers standing guard, the amazing statuary of saints (especially the tearjerker when the statue of Jesus lifts his head to look at his mother), little girls dressed as angels in white with wings, little boys in purple burlap and crown of thorns carrying skulls, grieving women with their black dresses and mantillas, biers, reliquaries, flowers, crushed camomile blanketing the cobbled streets, solemn bands, trumpets blaring mournfully, candlelit parade routes, crowds of onlookers, private and public altars decorated with flower petal designs and oranges skewered with gold flags.

On the Saturday night before Easter Sunday we were at the impressive pink gothic parroquia (cathedral) to watch the bonfire burning outside the front door from which the priest lit a monstrous candle, then returned inside where hundreds of parishioners were waiting in the pitch dark; slowly slowly the interior of the cathedral began to glow brighter and brighter as each person lit their own candle as the priest walked by. Add some hymnal voices of the masses and it was very awe-inspiring indeed! By midnight we were back in our little apartment overlooking the countryside - just in time to see bursting fireworks light up the sky accompanied by ringing church bells from all over.

But perhaps our most highly anticipated celebration was Easter Sundays Explosion of the Judases. About twenty life size paper mache effigies, blowing gently in the morning breeze, were strung on lines spanning the street from the municipal building to the jardin. In concept they represented the traitor Judas, but in brightly painted form there were a few familiar faces - political figures from Mexico and the US, two witches, Sponge Bob Square Pants. One by one a fuse leading to gunpowder entrails was lit and the figures burst into pieces with a deafening bang. A child ran out into the middle of the street and collected the prized heads to be sold later.

Our souls now filled with spirits (I now had more photos of angels than fish), culture, and art (from special craft fairs, the artisan mercado, Instituo Allende, Belles Artes, galleries, Fabrica Aurora art complex (a converted cotton mill), Casa de la Cuesta private mask museum, and a visit to artist Anado McLaughlins house), we left San Miguel de Allende and took a short bus trip to nearby Guanjuato. We packed it all in a too-brief overnight stay - a tour of the centro with its fabulous architecture and tunnel roads, the sprawling indoor marketplace, dramatic hillside overlook, good food, and habitation in a grand hotel right on the jardin with its chaotic and colorful activity. And of course, an experience of Guanajuato wouldnt be complete without an evening with the callejoneadas - a troupe of traditionally dressed musicians that lead a robust mob through the ancient winding alleyways - singing, drinking, and joking. I returned to Jacaranda full of creative stimulation and artistic inspiration and ready to.........spend a week stripping the cockpit to bare wood and revarnishing.

4. Hacienda Mosaico: hacienda-sitting a little piece of heaven 


We moved into Hacienda Mosaico, an artists BandB, on April 19 when friend/owner Sandra Leonard (aka Sam) left for a three week trip to Guatemala. I was in heaven - a gorgeous walled compound with lush gardens, 7 rooms in the BandB, the main hacienda building with lounge and dining room, a pool, a complete outdoor kitchen, a complete indoor kitchen, a huge outdoor art studio, a fully equipped indoor art studio, an extensive art and fine craft library..... and everywhere you look , art, art, art, and beauty. All we needed to do was be there as a presence, feed and cuddle Stella (Sams little white maltese), oversee the cleaning and gardening done by Cristobal and his wife Alicia (great spanish practice), and pay some bills....oh yes, and I was to mosaic a big cement couch in the yard that was built in an earlier artist workshop. Otherwise we were just to enjoy ourselves!

During the three weeks, a cadre of ex-cruisers, friends and family came down to visit from the states, and a slew of local and cruiser friends joined us for dinners and afternoon swims. Chuck, hard at work at the computer/phone during the day, was comfortably ensconced in our airy room which had a back door that opened on to a private outdoor seating area with red handblown hearts hanging from the palapa roof, surrounded by red lobster-claw heliconia flowers, gingers, and passionflower vines. I was ecstatic to commandeer the indoor studio and spread out my collected collage treasures from the boat and begin to do some new artwork.

The cement couch was a lot of fun (great to be mosaicing again, especially with 25 boxes of mexican tiles Sam had bought and a variety of saws and tools) but proved to be a massive undertaking - taking five of us (including two faithful local friends) working for about a week and a half every day.

In the evenings, everyone gathered at the outdoor dining area by the pool and cooked communal dinners together. Then we sat for hours eating and enjoying each others company as night began to fall, lighting candles and watching the fruit bats wing from mango to lychee to mango tree, scooping a drink from the pool.....until we all toddled off to our respective spaces.

We were all so comfortable here that we hardly left the Hacienda except to venture to centro Puerto Vallarta a few times (you had to experience it!) and to eat dinner out at the best taco stand in all of PV, located on the sidewalk in front of a mexican home three blocks away. Three weeks went fast and before we knew it, everyone had gone, I packed up my sash of artwork, and Sam returned with a box the size of a small refrigerator filled with all her Guatemalan goodies - fabrics, masks, and bowls.

So next year, Do It Again, Sam!

5. Wrap-up: Back to the boat!!
 

Jacaranda had been waiting for us in Nuevo Vallarta Marina and as wonderful as Hacienda Mosaico was, it felt great to be back home living on the water again. We stayed in Puerto Vallarta two more weeks while Chuck finished his work project for CSC. Our friend Naomi Kitamura, who had just left to go cruising with Andrew on s/v Amizade, was kind enough to let me use her now unoccupied condo, a short dinghy ride to Paradise Village Marina, as an art studio to continue some of my collage artwork. After finishing boat projects in the morning, I went over and spent some very creative afternoons there. On June 1, we said goodbye to local friends and headed north to Mazatlan on our way to spending the summer in the Sea of Cortez.

Mosaic couch at Hacienda Mosaico