Art in vallARTa

Art in vallArta

This trip, I set aside time to really explore Vallarta’s thirty galleries.  The depth and breadth of the art scene in Vallarta should not be underestimated.  The city’s galleries feature local and international artesian/craftsman creating stunning works in many mediums – sculptures, paintings, photography, folk art and pottery.  From galleries scattered throughout the Historic, Old Town, Viejo and along the Malecon, art is literally everywhere. This is what helps to make PV not just another beach town; the cultural events here are thriving and expanding.

While walking about I found most of the galleries, including a few off the main thoroughfares, but there is another option – Art Walk!  This event takes place every Wednesday evening [October-April] in the Historic district and features thirteen galleries and a number of restaurants.  Strolling through the galleries, drinking some wine and having dinner; this was not a bad way to spend an evening out.

On the Walk, I visited Galeria Pacifico, which represents several of the sculptors, whom created the large bronze works on the Malecon, plus a selection of rising talents working a variety of Medias.  Up the street just a few doors is Galeria Caballito de Mar, who specialize in Antique Silver Jewelry and rare Textiles and Ceramics.  Their collection Deco era Silver jewelry was captivating.  I also visited the Galeria Whitlow where Still Life Realism, Realistic and the amazing paintings of a miniaturist are on display. 

After touring the galleries, I set off for dinner, stopping in at Si’ Senor.  I was intriqued by the Tampiquena and it was an excellent choice.  Perfectly seared Steak, sitting atop a grilled Nopale [Prickly Pear Cactus Leaf] accompanied by a pair of tamales, fresh guacamole and a diminutive corn tortilla filled with refried beans.  The slightly acidic quality of nopale worked perfectly with the steak and the grilled whole onions.  Between the meal and the view it was a really great way to finish off an evening.

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The following day, I visited a number of the galleries in the Colonial Emiliano Zapata part of the city.  Galeria Dante is PV’s largest gallery and their space is glorious; indoors there are a number of rooms and an open inner courtyard reveals fountains and sculptures. Creating a marvelous retreat to linger and ponder the works.  Next door is Ambos Galeria, which when I was there, was highlighting Abstract paintings and Photography.  They feature contemporary artists on two floors of wonderfully lit galleries. They also plan on offering workshops, lectures and performance in their space.

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A short walk away, in the Centro district, is Arte Popular Mexicano Galeria.  Estela Camacho features locally produced museum quality pre-Columbian replicas, ceramics and catrinas.  She calls her Galeria a shop for “Only those who know”.  Spend a while with her and your education will be enhanced dramatically; plus gain a much better understanding of the artwork offered and the lovely people of the region.

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Wander up the Isla Cuale walkway and you will find the Cultural Centre where in the morning and evening classes are offered in painting, sculpture, photography and dance.  A lot of tourists do not explore this far up, but it is a great respite from the bustle of the city, with a few small cafes nearby and the relaxation offered by the natural beauty that surrounds you here.

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On the way back, I stopped at Joe Jack’s Fish Shack for late lunch.  This is one those places that no stay to PV would complete without a visit.  It’s always very good, always very busy and always a great crowd. I had a very delicious simply grilled fish sandwich, super fresh and seasoned with a touch of Black Olive Tapenade[I added a bit of coarse mustard].  Served with crispy fires it was a great lunch.  I was tempted by and succumbed to the Chili-Cucumber Margarita that was the featured drink of the day.  The cooling flavor of the Cucumber was highlighted by the Serrano chili.  The frosty glass was rimmed with Tajin,  a seasoning blend consisting mostly of chilies, lime and salt.  My new favourite Margarita!

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On another evening out, the Plaza de Armas was taken over by artisans working with chalk.  Several dozen very talented artists were on the pavement creating vivid designs of folk, religious and environmental and political themes.    For me, the added joy of meeting and talking with these artists was such a plus. Unfortunately a few days later, an odd rainfall washed all the creations away; but while they were here, the walkways of the Plaza were vibrant with colour.

From very modern works, museum quality indigenous pieces, large sculptures, to antique jewelry and outdoor installations, all represent the Mexican heritage and culture.  The vibrancy, the intimacy, the diversity of works continues to impress me.  I find the openness and at times the whimsy in the works equally delightful.  Theses galleries are alive!

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My Saturday Ritual in Vallarta

Squash Flowers

Squash Flowers

Saturdays are very busy in PV.  Local shops are bustling, buses fill quickly with families heading off to the beaches and several city blocks become home to the weekly Farmers Market.  There are actually two separate markets; One is in the Paradise Community Centre in the Zona Romantica and the other market is in the Colonial Emiliano Zapata section of town, (This market is located on Basilio Badillo,  Pino Suarez streets and the neighborhood Kindergarten School) only a few blocks away each other.

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Angela’s – Delicous tacos

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Sandra of Mamma Jamma Preserves

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Cloud Coffee – Local, Organic, micro producer – a few cups a day for me please!

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Lorene, owner and creator of Artisan Bread Co.

Artisans and craftsmen offer up selections from glass work, intricate embroidery, jewelry, soaps and clothing accessories.  Everything here is locally made or grown – with 50 km of Vallarta and you are meeting the producers directly – it does not get any better.  And then there is the FOOD!!  Breads, pies, quiches, tacos, pastries, jams, fruits, meats, fresh cheeses and coffee lure you.  Bring a big bag and savour them all.  I personally grab a couple of loaves of bread, a few pieces of Queso Fresco every week along with my weekly supply of locally produced rich coffee, some fresh produce and few cigars.  [I am still using my jar of Papaya Jam I picked up a couple of weeks ago – but I don’t think I’ll be able to bring it back through customs]  The Kindergarten school has a number of eateries in the courtyard – excellent food and great prices.  In the Paradise center there are also eateries and many, many baked goods!Saturday-Famers-Market (1 of 36) Saturday-Famers-Market (22 of 36) Saturday-Famers-Market (26 of 36) Saturday-Famers-Market (29 of 36) Saturday-Famers-Market (38 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (40 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (39 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (42 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (50 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (52 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (56 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (57 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (59 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (55 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (49 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (47 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (6 of 36)

It is best to arrive early, as the season progresses the crowds are getting much larger.  By early afternoon many of the vendors are getting low on supplies.  But they will be back next week, just like me.

Walking and Eating on the Street in Vallarta

Once you settle in to your villa and go out to eat in one of the many great restaurants in town, it is now time to go try the other culinary treasures that abound in Vallarta. The Taquerias. They are the little food carts that are on every street, almost everywhere! So, make this your day three agenda in Vallarta. But which ones do you choose from? There are a couple of tour guides that offer a service, but I chose Vallarta Eats to come to the rescue. [Based on Trip Advisor and Eric is a fellow Philadelphian]
We met up and set off to eat! [Do not have breakfast on the day you go –you really eat on this tour!] I believe a good food tour is not only about sampling really good food, it should also be about the culture you are experiencing. [Full disclosure here – I was a professional Chef for over 20 years] Within the time it took us to get tour first destination – I learned that the State of Jalisco is the number two producer of Tequila, Vallarta is the second most important gourmet destination in Mexico and the unofficial name for the Isle de Cuale is Isle de Gatos!
On our first stop we sampled Birra – a stew from either Beef or Pork, cooked in a large clay pot. Besides the taco made from the meat, the broth is an essential element to easing the remnants of the night before. Even without the hangover – get a cup of the broth.Vallarta-Eats (2 of 29)


A bit later on we stopped at shop that only makes carnitas – by the whole hog. We sampled a bit of the carnitas – specifically the cheek. If you are offered this – sample it; so moist, crispy and tender. Delicious! And so we continued, visiting fabulous small eateries – stops at a local market, [the one I shop at], a bakery, a couple of great little restaurants and a tortilla factory. [Once you sample a hot fresh white corn tortilla – there is nothing quite like it] Tastings include shrimp, fish, pork, octopus and a variety of salsas and guacamoles – each were slightly different at each venue. In addition to all the food samples, we tasted a number of Auga Frescas. Memo – our guide did a marvelous job of both entertaining and informing us of local eating customs.

The kettles for the carnitas

The kettles for the carnitas

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Handmade tortilla!

Handmade tortilla!

Fried jalepeno filled with seafood

Fried jalepeno filled with seafood


Several hours later and with bellies and spirits full we set off to our final destination; a traditional Mexican dulceria. But first we had to navigate the small suspension bridges that cross the Cuale River; these can be most entertaining! But as we round the corner, the smell of the dulceria hits you – sugar, caramel and toasting pecans! And what better way to finish an eating expedition than with chocolate –dark, spicy with a hint of almond.

Memo our Guide!

Memo our Guide!

That is correct - a kilo [2.2 lbs] for $.69!

That is correct – a kilo [2.2 lbs] for $.69!

A Trip to Coffee Country

The “highway” to La Estancia climbs over 4000 feet up the mountains. Winding and very narrow at times, I am glad I am not driving. The bus makes various stops along the way, not only to pick-up and discharge passengers, but also to act as rural package delivery transport and school bus. When I do get off, La Estancia is a very small town on the highway to Mascota and Talpa.

The view from town Square in La Estancia

The view from town Square in La Estancia

Joe Thompson [Manager of the hacienda] picked me up and off to San Sebastian we went. We climbed a bit more and finally arrived at Hacienda Jalisco, San Sebastian del Oeste. The house sits in a valley surrounded high peaks with remains of its history everywhere. La-Hacienda-San-Sebastian (36 of 36)La-Hacienda-San-Sebastian (12 of 36)La-Hacienda-San-Sebastian (27 of 36)The hacienda was built in the 1700’s by the Spanish to be the headquarters for its mining operations [in this region]; specifically Lead, Pyrite, Gold and Silver.
In the mine’s heyday, over 180 people lived and worked here along with many others who were responsible for the transportation and operation of the estate. At the height of the mines operation, over ten tons of silver a day were produced. Today, Maguey Cactus and Coffee are the crops of choice.
Stepping into the house, the sense of its history is palpable. The original art de’ toile is still on the walls along with much of the original flooring and beams. Additionally you notice the three foot thick walls, the large table piled with impressive ledgers and several rooms containing a variety of artifacts from the Hacienda’s almost 300 year history. Joe led me through the house, pointing out both its long past and more recent Hollywood connection. [John Houston spent quite a bit of time here] The quietness of the surroundings allows you to sit undisturbed on the chairs of the house’s wrap around veranda. The house does not have electricity, but relies on oil lamps for evening light, along with fireplaces to take the high altitude chill off.

The large hall.

The large hall.

The original wall painting detail

The original wall painting detail

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John Huston's bedroom

John Huston’s bedroom

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We continued outside to look over the remains of the foundries, stables and workers quarters. Then it was on to the reason for the trip – Coffee! There in the shade of oak and pine trees are the coffee plants. When I went almost all the berries were green; we did find a few turning red and I sampled them. The pods popped open under pressure and yielded a couple of beans each; I chewed on the pods and found them sweet and slightly flowery. The coffee from this region is mostly all organically produced and when roasted becomes richly flavoured, but with a low acidity. Roasting was to occur later in the day [approximately 15 kilos for the farmers market the next day], but I had to leave and catch the bus back to Vallarta. La-Hacienda-San-Sebastian (29 of 36)

the dried green coffee beans, ready for roasting.

the dried green coffee beans, ready for roasting.

A couple of ripe berries

A couple of ripe berries

The trip up to Hacienda Jalisco, San Sebastian del Oeste illuminated an almost forgotten Mexico, which influenced my photography choices. I felt I just had to capture much of the house in Monochrome; from the chairs that came centuries ago from Spain, and the containers that held the mercury [brought from Europe] for the refining of silver, to the death mask of a forgotten worker. It was a side excursion I will not soon forget.

The Spanish chairs

The Spanish chairs

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Mercury containers

Mercury containers

Piloncillo moulds -the traditional hard brown sugar of Mexico

Piloncillo moulds -the traditional hard brown sugar of Mexico

Unknown workers death mask

Unknown workers death mask

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Child's toy and mule pelvic bone

Child’s toy and mule pelvic bone

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Handmade copper bed detail.

Handmade copper bed detail.

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Rare Aztec Lily

Rare Aztec Lily

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Sunday Morning, Puerto Vallarta!

Gallery

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A very relaxing morning, a lovely café [Café Cafesto]; with excellent Chai, very good Cappuccino and one of my favourites – Chilaquiles; Eggs atop tortillas stewed in green sauce with a bit of onions and cheese. Those, along with yoghurt … Continue reading

Yelapa Water Taxi Ride!

We set out to Yelapa as a last minute trip; you can only reach Yelapa and several other communities by water – so the taxi is a small boat.  They have boats for touristas and boats for more local use; everything has to be brought to these communities by boat, so you may get building supplies, foodstuffs and whatever else.  We chose to go on the local boat.  By planning on going last minute, we didn’t check the weather – maybe not the best choice.  We encountered 2.5-3 meter. swells! This made for an interesting ride, seeing as the boats were only about 6 meters in length.

dark   Our Tax ride; you know it’s rough when the operator yells: Everyone – please hang on!

We stopped along the way to a couple other small outposts [Caletas, Majahuita and Punta La Boca] before arriving at our destination.  As has been happening to us all along the trip we discovered a side story to our intended adventure.  We met Marie, who is setting up another organic farm in the region.  She is working for Organic-Select in helping to train farmers to adapt to the organic style of farming.  With all the restaurants and the wonderful farmer markets in the area [Puerto Vallarta, Punta de Mita, Sayulita, and surrounding areas of the Coast of Jalisco and Rivera Nayarit Mexico] the demand is growing. So, we decided to eat at Fanny’s Place, whose family is converting their entire property to organic farming.

We ordered a grilled Red Snapper – presented right out of the net, simply grilled with butter, garlic and finished with lime.  It does not get any better than this!  Fresh tortillas, rice and beans accompany it.

We also got their guacamole – made to order, it took a few minutes, but was well worth it.  Dessert was piece of coconut pie from the vendor that strolled around selling them.

Then it was time for a tour of the garden. It was not hard to believe everything will grow very well out here; the lushness of the jungle is amazing.  Back home in our little garden we battle deer and rabbits – here it is iguanas and crabs!  They are starting with greens, tomatoes and will be adding on as the season progresses.

While in Yelapa, you can horseback ride to the waterfalls, soak-up the sun and parasail.  We simply relaxed and enjoyed the sound of the surf.  The taxi back to Boca de Tomatlan was not as adventurous, but the stop at the whiskey distillery – Los Compadres – was a great finish to the day.  There will be more on Los Compadres; just as soon as I get back from helping to harvesting the corn for the mash up in the hills.