Into port again before the place was awake. The loud squawking sounds of caged macaws reminded us we were in again in a Mexican port.
Caught the blue local bus to downtown. Paid a dollar and headed off.
The 6 lane highway soon narrowed to two lanes of cobblestones. The bus, of a vintage I dare not think about, made its way through the narrow, winding path to ”downtown“. Past the white washed buildings with red tiled roofs and fancy wrought iron decoration, past the grotty, run down ex-business houses, past the orange, pink and blue and green painted restaurant. Typical traditional Mexican architecture.
The bus filled with seated locals, all with freshly washed but not dried hair, was quiet. No-one spoke: no mobile phones: no music.
Arrived at the plaza and alighted to bright sunshine and Americans of all shape and size in all styles of gym gear jogging or walking their coiffered pooches along the Malecon,the well maintained timber boardwalk.
The town stretches along the beautiful Banderas Bay,amongst the world’s deepest gulf, where the dolphins were cavorting in the waters. Paya Los Muertos probably the best beach in town has a very nasty undertow: plenty of sand in the bathers. While the waves crashed on the smooth water washed rocks, the pelicans were skilfully gliding along only inches from the top of the following wave, diving to catch a fish caught in the rip. Para-sailing was doing a thriving business with the hotel tourists. Further along on a small sandy beach a sand-castle artist was busy at work on his intricate designs. Many bronze sculptures of marine and mythical characters dotted the shoreside of the malecon. On Independencia near the plaza in the centre of the downtown sits the picturesque Parish of Nustra Senora de Guadalupe church.Topped with a curious crown held in place by angels; a replica of the one worn by Empress Carlotta during her brief time in Mexico as Emperor Maximilian’s wife. On it’s steps, women were selling religious mementos: next door a large group of men, of all ages, were reciting their prayers before receiving their hand-out of food from the soup kitchen, across the narrow street, stalls selling native herbs for curing common ailments, another selling freshly made bread. The town has an attractive old core with steep cobbled lanes that rise above the city and offers fabulous views of the bay and the bell tower and crown of the cathedral. It’s cobblestone streets were a pleasure to explore; full of tiny shops, rows of windows edged with curling wrought iron and vistas of red-tile roofs.
Shopping is concentrated in small eclectic independent shops rather than impersonal malls.
Excellent folk art, original clothing designs, fine jewellery and creative home accessories at great prices. Vallarta is known for having the most diverse and impressive selection of contemporary Mexican fine art outside of Mexico City. It also has an abundance of tacky T-shirts and the ubiquitous silver jewellery. We purchased some native Huichol Art from some locals who had just delivered their collection to the gallery.
The Huichol, descendants of the Aztec, are one of the world’s last remaining indigenous cultures to remain true to ancient traditions, customs, language and habitat. They live in adobe structures in the high Sierras north and east of Puerto Vallarta. Their art falls into two main categories: yarn paintings and beaded pieces.
Beaded pieces are made on carved wooden shapes depicting different animals, wooden eggs or small bowls made from gourds. The pieces are covered with wax, and tiny chaquira beads are applied one by one to form designs. Usually the beaded designs represent animals:plants: elements of fire, water, or air; and certain symbols that give a special meaning to the whole. deer, snakes, wolves and scorpions are traditional elements.
Yarn paintings are made on a wood base covered with wax and meticulously overlaid with coloured yarn. Designs represent the magical vision of the underworld and each symbol gives meaning to the piece.
Headed further along the Malecon to Lovers Beach in front of the swanky hotels. Sun-seeking tourists lay on towels or day beds under grass umbrellas. Alcoholic drinks quenching their thirst while trading with the locals. The shopping comes to you on the beach.
Along any public beach, walking vendors will probably approach you. Their merchandise ranges from silver jewellery to rugs and T-shirts to masks. ‘Almost free“ they call out.
Signori draped in stripped blankets, Panama hats reaching for the sky above their heads, leather belts over one arm the other carrying a case of suspicious silver jewellery. They continually trade up and down the beach and streets.
Lining the beach road were food carts and bars under grass umbrellas. Shrimps skewered and grilled before your eyes; margaritas and Pina coladas decorated with bright yellow pineapple and cherries. After-all this is Mexico.
Walked our feet off, photographed everything that stood still then headed for another blue bus. Waited with the locals. A blue bus snaked its way towards us; Walmart on its windscreen. Hopped on, paid 50 cents (in their money) and joined the hoards of locals. We were the only gringos. Again no smells, no noise, no music; just bodies rocking and rolling, hanging on to the strap for your life as the bus careered down the narrow cobblestone street at a speed much faster than the limit.
The gaudy blue bus. Across the windscreen,reportedly to shield the driver from the sun, was a hand crocheted sunscreen, complete with tassels, beads and other dangling objects-de-arte. The rear mirror was adorned with not one, but five versions of rosary beads; glass-like crystal,coconut shell,bamboo,stone and what looked like coffee beans. All swaying to the drum of the engine, the beat of uneven road. A christian country that openly displays their faith.
All too soon Puerto Vallarta bid us farewell with a calypso band as we sailed away.