The Hidden Magic of Puerto Vallarta
as written by the author for
the Calgary Herald
March 2, 2011
When you think of Puerto Vallarta, an image of all-inclusive resorts and typical tourist attractions may spring to mind. Due to time constraints, many vacation visitors to Vallarta unfortunately miss the rich international scene of food, art, and culture that bubbles beneath the façade. The city is a magnet for talented artists, chefs, writers, musicians, and instructors. I am in PV for a six-month solo writing sojourn and love the blend of metropolitan life with small town heart.
For those who prefer a homier holiday, cooking here is a pleasure with the neighborhood markets’ availability of freshly picked produce, herbs, cheese, fish, seafood, and meat. On Saturdays, the Old Town Farmer’s Market is filled with gourmet goodies made by vendors hailing from around the globe. On Sundays, a similar market is held in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, a beautiful town an hour north of Vallarta. The friendly ambience and live music is reason enough to go.
The Emiliano Zapata Mercado is a ten-minute walk from Old Town and thrills me each time I visit. The stalls burst with
the color of exotic fruits and vegetables and you’ll find farm fresh eggs, free-range chicken, and meat from local butchers. The 5 de Diciembre Mercado
specializes in fish with several good produce stands. There are a few small loncherias inside, including Chicama, with tasty Peruvian-Chinese cuisine served to order by world-class chef Fernando Tomasini.
To enrich your mercado experience, you may want to learn a little Spanish. I’m enamored with the beauty of the language and, on each visit, try to improve my skills poco a poco (bit by bit). Private classes with Cecilia Paredes are a weekly pleasure. Over cappuccinos at Roberto’s Café overlooking the ocean, we translate Mexican songs, read fables, conjugate verbs, and decipher my list of questions.
Mexican and Italian cooking classes are offered. A gratifying afternoon class is held at the Spanish Experience Center each Thursday at 2:10 pm. My first lesson was Azteca tortilla soup–deliciosa!
For those who prefer to have someone brilliant cook for them, the city has attracted a dizzying array of world-class international chefs. Innovative gastronomy is the signature of Vallarta’s talent and makes this a destination for foodies. For a list of haute cuisine, pick up a
copy of Vallarta Lifestyles.
To burn off all of the good fare, Vallarta offers every type of exercise and dance class your heart may desire. Numerous yoga classes and workshops are available, as are pilates and meditation classes. You’ll also find a diversity of martial art schools. Take a vigorous capoeira class (Brazilian martial arts) with ever-smiling personal trainer, Andre, at Grupo Axe Capoeira. If you want to shake your booty, try zumba, salsa, hip-hop, belly dancing, tango, or even pole dancing. Zumba classes at Shanti Studio by owner Israel are superb. You can dance the night away to live Cuban music at La Bodeguita del Medio or head to Jota Be for salsa—just be prepared for the late start going until the wee hours.
Vallarta incites creativity and is home to artists from around the world. Check out the local art scene at the Old Town Art Walk every other Wednesday and watch for festive art openings and exhibits. Gallery Uno was the first art gallery established in 1971 and is still owned by Janice Lavender.
Brian and Bridged Lott of Galeria Internacional live between Vancouver and Vallarta. Both from South Africa, Brian was
once caterer to Nelson Mandela. They have a worldly collection with a focus on original works from South Africa. Bridged is a jewelry designer with Mexican and African influences.
For a pleasurable art excursion just north of the city, visit the Bucerias Artwalk held Thursday evenings. Start with sunset cocktails at Karen’s (a friendly Brit) on the beach, and end with reservations at Sandrina’s. This Canadian-Greek couple serves up excellent Mediterranean cuisine in their twinkling garden courtyard.
You can get your own creative juices flowing with an art or ceramic class taught by one of the many talented instructors around town. Take home a watercolor memory after a class with Marisa on the tranquil Rio Cuale or spend a day with Adrian at La Cuiza.
Professional or fledgling writers can attend informative Saturday meetings of the Puerto Vallarta Writer’s Group held at the Friendship Center. The group host writing conferences at very accessible rates.
For an evening of culture, Teatro Vallarta features Fandango, an exotic display of contemporary and traditional Mexican dance performances, and the new Live Boutique Theatre (amateur) is a cozy 50-seat venue presenting comedies, musicals, and dramas.
Nature lovers will enjoy the
Botanical Gardens, an educational research center with verdant gardens high in the Sierra Madre Mountains situated in an old growth forest. They are host to many art-related workshops.
The ultimate nature experience here is in the Bay of Banderas. I had an unprecedented whale watching experience this week with Carlos at Eco Explorer. On an intimate excursion (12 people), we saw 14 whales at play and at battle, but the magic of Mexico was captured in the moment we heard the haunting songs of whales echoed through the hull of the boat, an awe-inspiring first for each of us, including our guide.
A sampling of easy-on-the-pocket eateries …
Lunch at Mariscos El Coleguita will send any seafood lover into orbit. For $10 you’ll be served a mountain of mouthwatering coconut fish and shrimps, plus side treats.
Casa de Tandoor in Olas Altas dishes up light and savory Indian cuisine.
Archie of Archie’s Wok was movie director John Huston’s chef for many years. His family still serves up his fabulous Asian recipes with a prominent Thai twist.
Stop in at Pinocchio’s for authentic Italian pizza. The
Guisto family has recently immigrated to Mexico from Venice and are fourth generation pizza makers.
The Red Cabbage is an ambient, out-of-the-way place established in 1995. An iconic Mexican restaurant with awesome Oaxacan black mole.
Hacienda Alemana’s German restaurant is besieged by Europeans seeking the familiar. The food is excellent and you won’t leave hungry.
Funiculi Trattoria owned by Roman Antonio Barbato and his Mexican wife Hortencia serves a tasty salad/pasta combo for under $10.
If you go …
• Read the Banderas News online for the most comprehensive guide to what’s going on www.banderasnews.com
• For a complete listing of classes, courses, and workshops, pick up a copy of Bay Vallarta or go to www.bayvallarta.com
• To sneak a peek inside ex-pat living, take a guided tour with proceeds going to PEACE http://www.banderasnews.com/1009/re-peace30.htm
• Private Spanish classes firstname.lastname@example.org
• Intensive Spanish classes are available at the tranquil Spanish Experience Centre (Spanish for kids too). www.spanishexperiencecenter.com
• Conversational groups are held by the University of Guadalajara and at the Genius of Paco Studio (see Bay Vallarta magazine).
• Capoeira and personal training with Andre www.axecapoeira.com
• Ultimate whale watching with Eco Explorers www.ecoexplorer.com.mx
• Watercolor classes with Marisa email@example.com
• Acrylic and oil classes with Adrian firstname.lastname@example.org
• International Gallery www.bridgedlott.com
• Fandango www.teatrovallarta.com
• Boutique Theatre www.penandinc.ca
• Puerto Vallarta’s Writer’s Group www.puerto-vallarta-writers-group.com
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