Hidden magic of Puerto Vallarta
Calgarian living like a local during six-month hiatus in Mexico
WANDA ST. HILAIRE
FOR THE CALGARY HERALD
When you think of Puerto Vallarta, an image of all-inclusive resorts and typical tourist attractions may spring to mind. Because of time constraints, many vacationers to Vallarta unfortunately miss the rich food, art and culture scene that bubbles beneath the facade. 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 homey holiday, cooking here is a pleasure with the neighbourhood 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 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 are reason enough to go.
The Emiliano Zapata Mercado is a 10-minute walk from Old Town and thrills me each time I visit. The stalls burst with the colour 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 enamoured 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 Cafe 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 p.m. My first lesson was Azteca tortilla soup — deliciosa! For those who prefer to have someone brilliant cook for them, the city has attracted an array of world-class 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 on Thursday evenings. Start with sunset cocktails at Karen’s (a friendly Brit) on the beach, and end with reservations at Sandrina’s. This CanadianGreek 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 watercolour 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 at the Friendship Center. The group hosts writing conferences at accessible rates.