Monday, March 9, 2015


February 24, 2015

Interior, Our Lady of the Refuge
With our time in Mexico growing short, Pat and I decided to spend the day visiting Puerto Vallarta.  We ate a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs at home and then hopped a bus to take us into Puerto Vallarta.  I had a bottle of teak cleaner that I had bought back in November and been unable to take to Chiapas on the plane.  We stopped at Zaragoza Marine where I managed to exchange it for some easier to carry home fiberglass filler, despite being about three months outside their return policy.  I was very appreciative of their bending the rules for me.

Sand Sculpture Along the Malecon
Pat Enjoying the Sculpture
Prehispanic Dancers "Flying"
We needed to change buses, anyway, to get to Puerto Vallarta’s downtown area.  From Zaragoza Marine, we were able to cross the highway and catch a bus that took us to the center of town where we stepped off at the pretty, small Our Lady of the Refuge church.  We stuck our noses in there and then walked down the malecon, enjoying the sculptures and the sunshine on the beach.  We paused to watch pre-hispanic dancers perform the “flying” ritual, suspended from a tall poll, which Pat had never seen before.  We followed the malecon until we spotted the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, then turned inland to visit.  Puerto Vallarta was not a colonial city and did not really experience a growth spurt until tourism took off in the 1970s in the wake of the movie, Night of the Iguana.  As a small town, it did not boast a cathedral.  The parroquia (parish church) of Our Lady of Guadalupe was not finished until 1966.  It isn’t large or spectacular, but the architecture was interesting and it boasted a lacy crown that fell during an earthquake in 1995 and was replaced with a fiberglass replica.
Our Lady of Guadalupe

Lunch at the Omelet House
Enjoying the Malecon
Pat had visited the church several years before and eaten lunch in a nearby restau-rant called the Omelet House with her daughter.  We stopped in the same place to enjoy the two-for-one-margaritas and share some delicious quesadillas, guacamole and chips.  After lunch, we had just enough gumption left to finish our walk along the malecon to the Los Muertos Pier, where we stopped to chat with some French Canadians, one of whom needed sunscreen applied to his back and someone with whom to talk.  After we disentangled ourselves from the friendly Canadian, we worked our way back to the Rio Cuale and climbed down the steps from the bridge to the island in the middle of the stream where we found vendors lining the walkway from the bridge to the cultural center on the eastern end of the island.  We bought a few trinkets from the vendors and walked the length of the island and back before returning to the malecon to sample some ice cream.  Satiated, we made our way back to the city bus which we rode past the confusing transport hub at the Walmart to the airport where we were easily able to transfer to a La Cruz bound bus after a short wait.
The Beach at Los Muertos

February 25, 2015

Ramona Lounging on the Chica Locca
Wednesday, we met up with Jan and Ramona and we all went out for a whale watching/snorkeling cruise on the Chica Locca.  It was a windy day and the water was much rougher than the day I had gone out with them during my cousin Tiffany’s visit.  The rougher water made it difficult to spot the whales.  We saw some blowing in the distance, but never managed to get close enough to get a good look at them, which was disappointing. 
Pat Kayaking

We anchored in the lee of the Marietas Islands and played in the water while we waited for the passengers of the other tour boats to vacate the secret beach in the center of the island, accessed only by a swim through a sea cave.  I was eager to try stand up paddle boarding again, since I had been seriously out of shape the last time I tried it.  I managed to stand up and not fall, but the water was so rough that it was difficult to balance and the wind so strong that I kept getting blown away from the boat.  In order to battle the wind, I had to kneel.  I quickly decided to follow the example of my friends and return to the boat.

The Cave Entrance to the Secret Beach
Kimi Did His Best to Get Us Dancing
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          When the passengers from the other tour boats emerged from the cave, we donned our life vests and the boat dropped us near to the entrance where we could paddle through the cave and onto the beach in the eye of the island.  From there, we explored the side caves, although the big surf from the strong wind made the process more exciting than on my previous visit.  Although I saw more exotic fish than my first trip to the island, we did not stop to snorkel, but quickly returned to the boat.  Once aboard, we ate lunch and began to avail ourselves of the open bar.  Normally, the Chica Locca heads for a rocky spot off the coast of La Cruz and hangs out there, but the sea state did not allow us to travel comfortably in that direction.  The skipper did an admirable job of keeping the boat level, but he had to go almost all the way to Nuevo Vallarta and tack back to La Cruz to do so.  Large waves repeatedly surged onto the foredeck, chasing us from our comfy spot on the bow.  It was even too rough to dance, although Kimi, our cruise director, tried his best to get us going.  I danced on the bow with him, but it wasn't a sport for folks not at home on rocking boats.  Unfortunately, we did not see any whales, although we spent the entire afternoon on the water and did not return until about 18:00.

After a short break to clean up and drop off our gear, we met up with Jan and Ramona for tacos at the taco cart near the Glorieta.  We ate a leisurely dinner and enjoyed the great company.  It had been a long day and we were ready to relax in the warm evening air after a somewhat wetter and more exciting ride than we had been expecting.

February 26, 2015

Saying Goodbye to the La Cruz Marina
Eva Mandarina Beach Club
Sheep Grazing By the Beach
As Thursday was my last full day in La Cruz, I spent it saying goodbye and disposing of items I couldn’t bring home with me.  We spent the morning packing.  I sold my blender to Benito, the handyman at the condos where I was living and gave some of my liquor to the neighbors.  In the afternoon, we went down to the marina where Pat got lunch at the Poolside Deli while I made the rounds of the docks, saying goodbye to my friends.  The majority of my leftover booze, I took with me to give to Betty when we met her at the beach club for a drink in the afternoon.  We hung out on the chaises in the shade of the palapas, sipping cool drinks, until it was time for Betty to go teach English.                                                                                                                                                           Then Pat and I took a walk along the beach before eating a final dinner at the new restaurant, Peska, above the marina office in the space that was, until being recently enclosed, just a roof deck.  

Last Sunset in La Cruz
Movie Night at the Marina
We shared an order of calamari and then tried the fish tacos.  While rather expensive as tacos go, they were also much larger than usual.  The fish was finely chopped and tasty, although Pat sent hers back because she was expecting the usual fried, breaded kind.  I enjoyed mine.  It was a nice change from the usual fare.  We sat at a table next to Mike and Katrina (from PV Sailing and the office) and later Blanca, from the marina office, arrived to join them.  We chatted with Blanca when Mike and Katrina scampered off to go set up the movie equipment, before finally paying our check a leaving to go enjoy the movie ourselves.  The movie was The Judge with Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. and we both enjoyed it.  Pat got a kick out of watching a movie outdoors on a breakwater and I enjoyed one last opportunity to spend time with my friends at the marina.

February 27, 2015

We were mostly packed, so it wasn’t difficult to get everything ready to go before noon.  Pat wanted one last opportunity to eat street tacos, so we left our packed bags by the door and trooped down the hill one last time to eat lunch at a taco stand on Langosta.  The little restaurant was run by a charming young couple who took advantage of my ability to speak Spanish to ask me how to say all kinds of things in English, such as, “mild salsa.”  The food was excellent, very reasonable, and the whole experience was delightful.  Katrina had told me it was a good place and I was rather sorry I had left it to the last moment to try eating there.

Saying Goodbye to My Lovely Apartment in the Sky
Once we finished lunch, we took a last walk around the town and then picked up a taxi from the stand at the head of Langosta to take us up the hill, collect our luggage, and drive us to the airport.  The fare was the standard 300 pesos.  The airport was very busy, but they whisked both of us through the check-in procedure.  Pat and I were leaving from the same gate, although my flight was two hours later.  I saw her off and then relaxed until my flight was called.  By leaving one day earlier, I had managed to secure a first class seat for fewer miles than it would have taken to procure a coach seat the following day.  This turned out to be a real advantage, as I was able to check both of my duffle bags without having to pay a cent and no one questioned my carrying a guitar on board with me.  I had no trouble whatsoever with luggage until I arrived in San Francisco and had to rent a cart to carry my mountain of belongings to the curb where Scott came to collect me.  I was home.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


February 20, 2015

Agave Fields Near Tequila
After a quick walk up the highway to the closest Oxxo for coffee, we packed ourselves into April’s van and headed off for Tequila.  The landscape of agave fields against a volcano backdrop was striking and we just had to stop alongside the road to take pictures.  It must have been THE spot to photograph agave fields because we later saw the same view in a video at the Jose Cuervo tequila factory.

The town of Tequila was very picaresque.  It was a small town, but all the major tequila brands had factories there.  In order to be called “tequila,” the liquor must be shipped from Jalisco. Even if it is actually made
Volcano in the Distance

elsewhere in Mexico, it must pass through Jalisco before being sent to its ultimate destination.  In the center of town there was a pretty church on a small plaza.  We ate breakfast in a small café overlooking the square that somehow managed to make standard breakfast fare absolutely delicious.  The chilaquiles were amazing and the coffee and licuados (a drink made from fruit, ice, and milk or water) were excellent.  Patricia and I sat on a balcony overlooking the square and I was practically chanting a mantra of, “I love Mexico.  I love Mexico.”  It was a perfect morning shared with great company.

Breakfast on the Balcony

Church Square in Tequila
Agave "Pineapples"
After breakfast, we walked a few blocks past tequila factories and outlets and through vendors hawking handicrafts to the Jose Cuervo tequila factory.  The Cuervo family had been making tequila in that location since 1758 and they are the only major tequila brand that has not been purchased by a multinational liquor company.  While the majority of their tequila is now produced in other, more modern factories throughout the region, they do still produce some tequila at “La Rojena,” the original hacienda.  Today, most of the original hacienda buildings are devoted to gift shops, a bar, and tour facilities.  It was, however, a lovely example of hacienda architecture and was very clean and well maintained.

Horneros Unloading Agave From the Oven
The tour showed us how the raw “pineapples” (an agave plant with the leaves hacked off) are stacked in brick ovens and roasted for 38 hours.  When they had cooled enough to touch, horneros (men who work in the ovens) tossed them onto conveyor belts that took them to the crusher where the juice was separated from the fiber.  While, in the past, the fiber was used to make products like rope and baskets, today it is composted and returned to the fields as fertilizer.  We got a chance to taste pieces of roasted agave, which had a light, sweet flavor and were a bit like eating an artichoke leaf.

The juice was fermented to make what they called agave “wine” and then the wine was distilled twice to produce silver tequila.  Tequila that is not destined to be sold as silver tequila was then poured into barrels and aged.  The barrels used are the exact same kind that are used to age wine and, as in winemaking, are used to impart flavor to the liquor.  We got a chance to taste the tequila in its silver form and also after it had been aged six, twelve and eighteen months. 

Tequila Aging in Barrels
 Cuervo has two lines of tequila.  The better line is made with 100% blue agave.  The line that you usually see in stores and bars is only 51% blue agave, the balance being distilled from other sugars.  Each line is then divided into silver (not aged), reposado (aged less than a year), and anejo (aged more than a year.)  Darker tequilas are aged in barrels with more char on the inside.  I had always wondered exactly what those distinctions meant, so was glad to hear them explained.  I liked the aged tequila better than the younger versions, but would never be a drinker of straight shots.
Our Guide Explaining the Different Classes of Tequila

After our factory tour, we spent a short time strolling around the town of Tequila.  The carload of New Zealanders split off from the group, thinking they might stay a night in Tequila or visit Guadalajara.  The rest of us returned to the van and then April drove Patricia and me to the main bus stop in Tequila where we quickly boarded a bus for Guadalajara.  The ride should have taken us an hour and a half, but ended up taking over three hours because there was a series of accidents blocking the highway.  The bus had been too crowded for us to find seat together when Pat and I boarded, so she ended up sitting next to a Mexican woman named Mary who worked for the Jalisco state police.  She was very friendly and the three of us had a long conversation in a combination of Spanish and English.  She had six children and worked a schedule of fifteen days on and six days off while her mother took care of the children.  She patrolled all over the state of Jalisco.  When we finally got to the bus station in Guadalajara, Mary showed us where to get the cheapest cab and made sure we were on our way before hailing a cab for herself.  It was all I could do to keep her from carry my bag.  She was extremely helpful.
The Group in Front of April's Van

Teatro Degollado
The cab took us to the Hotel de Mendoza, which April had recommended to us.  The hotel was a former convent right off the cathedral square and was very comfortable and elegant for about $70 per night.  Our room even had pillow top mattresses.  I was in heaven.  The historic center of Guadalajara featured a series of plazas in the shape of a cross with the cathedral at the center.  Our hotel was at the bottom of the cross, next to the Teatro Degollado.  We had hoped to be able to attend a performance of the ballet folklorico at the theater, but only the symphony was playing while we were there.  We didn’t attend a concert, but we did hear an orchestra playing in the Plaza de las Armas.  We checked into our hotel, relaxed for a little while and then walked several blocks to a very popular restaurant called La Chata.  There was a line out the door, but it moved quickly.  La Chata was a large restaurant with closely packed tables, but the service was very good and so was the food.  I ordered arrachera and Pat had chicken mole.  We were very pleased with our choice of restaurants.
Guadalajara Cathedral

It was dark by the time we returned and all of the historic buildings were dramatically lit.  The lighting of the cathedral was exceptionally dramatic and the changing colors of the fountain in the Plaza de los Laureles with the backdrop of the cathedral made a memorable scene.  We lingered in the plaza, taking pictures and enjoying the warm evening.  It had been a long day and we finally returned to our hotel to relax and plan the following day’s exploration.

February 21, 2015

Open Confessional
Interior of the Cathedral
We ate breakfast in a café in Plaza de los Laureles with a nice view of the cathedral.  After breakfast, we ducked into the church to see the interior.  The exterior of the cathedral is very attractive and unique with a semicircular pediment topped with stone spikes above the door and two tall, tiled spires.  The interior was pretty, with lots of cream and gold, but not particularly memorable.  While the cathedral was begun in the 16th century, it was not consecrated until 1716.  It lacked the fabulous art and stained glass that marks the cathedrals of Europe and didn’t have the aura of sheer age that make other cathedrals in Mexico impressive.  One thing that we found unusual was that the confessionals were open and offered no privacy.
Hospicio de las Cabanas

Our next mission of the day was to find the tourist office and get a good map of Guadalajara.  We had been told it was behind the cathedral, but we couldn’t find it.  Someone else told us it was next to the Sanborn’s store on the other side of the cathedral.  We walked up there and cast about before we found the store, but never did locate the tourist office.  I stopped at an Oxxo and bought a street map.  The doorman at Sanborn’s told us there was a tourist kiosk in Plaza de los Laureles and we did eventually find it, but they were out of maps.  They sent us back to the kiosk on the other side of the cathedral and this time we managed to locate it, right across from our hotel, but lost amidst a clutter of tents associated with the Guadalajara Half Marathon.  They provided us with a lot of good information, but it had taken us until 12:30 to locate them.

Orozco Mural at Hospicio de las Cabanas
After a quick stop in the hotel, we headed off in the opposite direction to see the Orozco murals at the former Hospicio de las Cabanas (an orphanage) that had been converted into a cultural center.  The murals were reputed to be the number one attraction in Guadalajara, but we were unimpressed.  Pat much preferred the work of Diego Rivera.  While I appreciated that Orozco was working in fresco and had a different style, I preferred other works of his that I had seen.  I found the murals at Las Cabanas very dark and somewhat confusing in their symbolism.  We walked around the galleries in the cultural center where there was an exhibition of modern paintings and another installation of photographs of the artists with their works which we enjoyed.  It was interesting to see the faces of the people associated with the often puzzling contemporary art. 

Finches in the Guadalajara Market
Our next stop was the marketplace, which had three levels and covered an entire city block.  It was very crowded and the vendors were very pushy.  Pat wanted to look at embroidered blouses, but it was impossible to shop with people shoving merchandise under our noses if we so much as paused to look at anything.  The array of fruit on the bottom level was attractive, although the swarms of flies discouraged me from buying anything.  There were also a couple of vendors selling all types of caged birds, some of which looked like very unhappy wild songbirds that must have been trapped.  We wandered around the market for an hour or so, but didn’t buy anything.  The experience was somewhat overwhelming, so we decided to go to the Plaza of the Mariachis to get a margarita and relax a bit.

Fruit in the Guadalajara Market
It was easy to find the Plaza of the Mariachis because you could hear it from two blocks away.  The entire plaza was filled with café tables, but the mariachi music was recorded and much too loud.  The singers were live and very talented, but the overall impression was tacky and disappointing.  We stayed long enough to finish our drinks and share a torta ahogada (a pork sandwich on a crusty roll drowned in tomato sauce), but beat a hasty retreat from the noise as soon as possible. 
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped to visit the jewelry market that my friend, Sonja from La Cruz, had told me was the best place to buy silver.  The market was a modern, air conditioned building with three floors that
Plaza of the Mariachis with Lone Singer

Guadalajara Jewelry Market
resembled a large department store except that every counter sold jewelry or supplies for making jewelry.  It was truly mind boggling.  Pat shopped for a gold bracelet, but didn’t end up buying anything.  I finally managed to buy some simple silver star shaped earrings to replace the silver earrings I had had ever since I pierced my ears in 1992 that had broken in La Cruz.  Finally, we were overwhelmed by the selection and had to leave.  We had been standing and walking all day and were tired by the time we made it back to the hotel, so we rested for an hour or so before heading back out to eat dinner at El Mexicano, a restaurant off the Plaza Tapatia.

It was noisy downstairs at the restaurant with loud music blasting, so we decided to go upstairs.  No sooner had we placed our order than a transsexual comedian/singer arrived and began to perform an extremely loud and very raunchy show.  Even she was a bit appalled when she realized I spoke Spanish.  Shortly thereafter, the manager arrived and asked us if we wanted to move downstairs.  I wasn’t offended, but did appreciate moving to a quieter spot.  The food was actually very good and quite reasonable.  I had a plate of carnitas tacos with beans and guacamole for only 70 pesos.  After dinner, we stopped for ice cream and watched people relaxing in the plazas.  It was a warm evening and everybody was out.  The plazas were crowded and street performers were working the crowd while horse drawn carriages circled the historic district.  It was the perfect picture of happy city life.

February 22, 2015

Tapatio Tour Bus
We decided to forego eating breakfast out, so just had coffee at the hotel before setting out to buy tickets for one of those hop-on, hop-off bus tours of Guadalajara.  It was Sunday, which was market day in the Tonala district, so we headed out there first.  There wasn’t a whole lot to see on the way.  Tonala was originally a separate village, but had been swallowed by Guadalajara.  It was famous for its Thursday and Sunday markets and handicrafts.  The market lined all of the streets of the area of artisans’ shops, making the whole district seem like one big pop-up market.  It was extremely busy and we could barely edge along from vendor to vendor.  There was really nothing we were interested in buying, but some of the art in the permanent shops was attractive.  There was a factory making heavy Mexican glassware and one could watch the glassblowers.  I was especially attracted to a shop offering mosaic lamps, mirrors and fountains.  We shopped for an hour or so and then walked back up the road to catch a bus to Tlaquepaque.
Mosaic Art in Tonala

Sunday Market in Tonala

Church in Tlaquepaque
                                                                                                                                                      The ride to Tlaquepaque took us along the freeway and was uneventful and not particularly scenic.  Tlaquepaque itself, however, was very charming.  There was a pretty church and main square and lots of colorful restaurants and boutique shops covering several square blocks.  We browsed and visited the Museum of Ceramics, which was more a store than a museum, but did display some lovely pieces.  I was fascinated by the trees painted with colorful designs that grew in the courtyard.  We ate lunch at a taco stand on the second floor of the indoor market that overlooked the street.  We had delicious arrachera and chorizo tacos for eight pesos apiece (about 55 cents.)  We browsed some more after lunch, but didn’t find anything.  We had just stepped into the long line at an extremely popular ice cream store when our bus arrived and we decided to forego the ice cream rather than wait another hour for the next bus.

Pedestrian Street in Tlaquepaque

Ceramics in the Regional Cermaics Museum 

Cafe Degollado
                                                                                                                                                   It was 4:30 by the time the bus dropped us back at the cathedral.  We were hot and tired and ready for a margarita, so decided to take a break before embarking on the third route of our tour.  After asking around for a good place to get margaritas nearby and coming up empty, we finally decided to try the café attached to the Teatro Degollado.  We ordered drinks and then decided just to eat an early dinner and continue our tour in the evening.  We were served by two entertaining young men who took our photographs and made us laugh.  We ordered chicken Caesar salads and enjoyed watching the scene in the plaza while we ate.  When we had finished eating, we returned to the bus stop near the cathedral and hopped on the Central Guadalajara loop of the tour.

Our final loop was much more interesting than the other two and took us through the modern part of Guadalajara. We passed massive modern shopping malls and huge traffic circles centered around monumental sculptures.  
Centro Magno
Plaza Minerva

Intercontinental Hotel
Templo Expiatorio
We visited the Millennium Arches, huge golden arches built in 2000 to commemorate the millennium.  They were impressive, but I couldn’t help being reminded of McDonald’s and expected to see a sign telling me how many billions had been served.  From there, we drove through a shady residential neighborhood of expensive homes, past the American consulate, and finally caught a glimpse of the Templo Expiatorio, a lacy gothic masterpiece, before returning to the Rotunda of Illustrious Jaliscans where the tour began.

We weren’t really ready to go back to the hotel, so walked around the neighborhood, soaking up the scenery one last time, before returning to our hotel to go to bed.

Millenium Arches

February 23, 2015

Guadalajara had at least three main bus terminals (besides the one where we arrived) and it was somewhat confusing determining where we needed to go to get a bus to Puerto Vallarta.  Eventually, we divined that we needed to go to the Zapopan station on the western edge of town.  The hotel called us a cab and for 150 pesos the driver took us twelve miles through traffic to the bus station.  We had no trouble getting seats on the next bus headed for Las Penitas, which would stop in Mezcales (closer to La Cruz than PV.)  Our bus didn’t leave until 9:45 (and, of course, it was late), so we had plenty of time to get coffee and breakfast at the bus station.

Our bus finally left the station about 10:00 and we had a very comfortable ride on the Primera Plus line, watching movies all the way to Mezcales, where we arrived about 14:30.  From Mezcales, we flagged down a collectivo right outside the bus station to take us home to La Cruz.

We dropped off our luggage and rested a bit before heading down the hill to enjoy gargantuan coconut shrimp with mango salsa at the Glorieta de Enrique, which Pat had been craving ever since she arrived and found the restaurant closed the previous Tuesday.  The shrimp there were truly spectacular.  They were large and coated with coconut without being heavily breaded.  The mango salsa was fruity and delicious and the margaritas generous.  It was not a cheap meal, but a good value for the money.  By the time we finished, we were ready to go home and relax.