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The Miracle of Milagros

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Winter Holidays in Vallarta

December is a big month here for religious and spiritual celebrations deeply ingrained in the Mexican culture. A mixture of Old World Mexico and New World Catholicism contributes to a festive and meaningful coming together of all peoples, Mexicanos and expats alike. The first 12 days are dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, symbol of love and devotion as the Mother of Mexico. Before the Conquistadors and the advent of Catholicism, she appeared as an apparition to shepherd Juan Diego in the early 16th Century in the hills of central Mexico. Following her message to Juan, a church was built on the spot where she appeared. As Spanish missionaries arrived and Catholicism descended on the country, the Virgin Mary and Our Lady Guadalupe became joined as the Mother of all Catholics. Even so, Guadalupe is continually honored throughout Mexico during these 12 days in keeping with the original beliefs of the indigenous people.

 

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In Vallarta, there are processions, called peregrinaciones, daily from December 1-12. Thousands of people representing local neighborhoods, businesses, organizations, and groups walk several miles to finally reach Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in the city center. Joined by multiple groups of Aztec dancers dressed in their feathered finery, drum and bugle corps walking in precise formation, Mariachi bands with their colorful costumes and familiar music, and floats carrying children dressed as Juan Diego and Guadalupe, the processions slowly make their way down the main street which is crowded with people on both sides waiting and watching the amazing spectacle before them. Upon reaching the church, each group, baskets of food and flowers in hand as gifts for Our Lady, ascends into the beautifully decorated interior to be blessed by the priest. Bells and fireworks from the bell tower can be heard throughout the town after each blessing.

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In between groups, there is usually a time lapse during which one can wander the plaza and surrounding side streets to partake of the many food vendors offerings of typical fare found during this time of year. Atole, a hot cornmeal drink made with sugar, vanilla and sometimes coconut or chocolate is sold everywhere. Sometimes, Christmas punch is available–a hot drink of stewed fruits, sugar, water and maybe red wine. Then there are tacos, pozole, tamales, roasted corn served with mayonnaise, grated cheese, picante and lime, dozens of desserts with enough frosting and cream to push you towards a heart attack, and huge spits of roasting pork with a pineapple dripping down its surface.

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After all of this is over, the posadas begin. These are neighborhood wanderings representing the journey Mary and Joseph took on their way to Bethlehem when they could not find an inn to spend the night. As neighbors continue along the street, visiting other neighbors, they will finally come to the house designated as “the inn” where food and festivities will begin lasting into the wee hours. Businesses also offer posadas to their employees as a way to thank them for a year of service.

Christmas Eve is usually spent going to mass in the evening after which families gather for a big late night dinner in preparation for a solemn Christmas Day of rest and relaxation. In the past, gifts were only exchanged on Three Kings Day (January 6) duplicating the Three Wise Men’s bringing of gifts to the Christ child. Today, lucky Mexican kids get presents twice…once on Christmas day and again on January 6. This is also when a special orange-flavored sweet bread, called Rosca de Reyes, is shared with family and friends. A little plastic baby Jesus is baked inside so that whoever gets the piece with the baby must then host a tamale feast on Candlemas, February 2.

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Dia de Los Muertos

Unlike the commercialized Halloween holiday in other parts of the world, in Mexico the original meaning comes from the Catholic All Saints’ Day, and represents a mixture of pre-Hispanic customs and beliefs containing both European and indigenous elements. November 1 and 2 mark this annual celebration in remembering deceased family members. November 1 is often referred to as Dia de los Angelitos or Holy Innocents’ Day for children who have died.  November 2 is Dia de los Muertos for adults who have died.

Colorful alter, Dia de Los Muertos, Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours!

This is also an important social as well as religious ritual for Vallarta with a parade and all-night candlelight vigils at the graves of the family members at local cemeteries. The whole occasion is festive, and everyone talks of the dead as if they were still alive. During this time, people remember, re-live, and enjoy rather than fear evil or malevolent spirits.  Some Mexican families spend hours in the cemetery where they clean the grave, plant flowers, have a picnic and hire musicians to sing a favorite song of the deceased.  From the indigenous side comes the use of the “cempasuchil” the large yellow/orange marigold used to adorn Mexican graves.  It is believed that the candle light, as well as the scents of the marigold flowers and the copal incense, help the returning souls find their way back.

Alters dedicated to the memory of a departed loved one are elaborate creations which take hours to construct and contain many favorite food items of the deceased including something from the four elements water, earth, fire and wind; photos, poems, letters, trinkets, and other memorabilia specific to the person to whom the alter is dedicated.  Walk the streets of Vallarta to see many of these beautiful offerings outside homes, government buildings, hotels and stores.

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The traditional food of the day, pan de muerto, a sweet yolk bread sprinkled with sugar, is of European origin.  It is said to be good luck to be the one who bites into the plastic toy skeleton hidden by the baker in each loaf. The “calavera” (skull) is a humorously morbid poem which is addressed to a friend or public figure. This genre of poetry has its origin in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, in early 17th century Spain. Candy in the shape of small sugar skulls are meant to be consumed signifying eating one’s death. Catrina dolls are artistic creations of skeletons dressed in the clothes symbolizing the person who has died.

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New Malecón Walk for Wheelchair Travelers

Whether you are a roller or stroller, you will enjoy this walk along Puerto Vallarta’s seawall (Malecón). From Indians and Aztecs, pirates and Spanish Conquistadores, farmers and fishermen, stevedores and early settlers to Hollywood actors and famous politicians, today’s Malecón continues to hold a special magic over those who meander its two-mile length from Hotel Rosita past the Los Arcos Amphitheater all the way to Los Muertos Pier. The ocean, the waves, the breeze, and the jungle covered mountains only add to the beauty and enjoyment of this important historical symbol of Vallarta.

Amphitheater area on Malecon, vendors, tourists, Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours!

Join this newest walking tour as we stroll or roll the Malecón while learning about the history and local culture of Vallarta, stories of its people, the origins and inspirations behind the many bronze sculptures, significant historic buildings, outdoor art and Huichol Indian symbology that is embedded in the sidewalk. End at the stunning Los Muertos Pier. A list of beach restaurants we pass is included with the walk.

Wheelchair sunset gazer, woman, Malecon, pirate ship,Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours!

This is a two-hour walk, reservations required 24 hours in advance. Book and pay online on Home page. More photos in the Photo Gallery.

Meet at Hotel Rosita seawall by bronze Millennium sculpture on the north end of the Malecón, 2 pm. M,W,F

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Get an Insider’s View of Puerto Vallarta

Couple enjoying encheladas, Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours!-

This review was posted recently on my Trip Advisor page by one of my clients who took my El Centro Walk. I am so grateful for what she says that I just had to post it!

“My husband and I loved Sandra’s Learn Vallarta Walking Tour. It was a small group which made it feel so personal – we didn’t have to fight to hear what she was saying and we could ask as many questions as we liked. She took us on an easy walk around the city, reviewing the history, the art, and local shop vendors. It was so neat being able to see behind the scenes of local shops and their owners. We visited several very cool spots and it really set the rest of our trip up for success! The best part about the tour (besides the amazing city itself) was Sandra! She was so much fun! She knows the city and the local people so well – you really feel like you are getting an insider’s view of the city! Not only did she show us amazing native art, but she also gave us the insight on the best ceviche and candy to die for! We couldn’t be happier with our tour! Everyone should do this on their trip to PV!”

Robyn M.
Anaheim, CA

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Cobblestone Streets…Charm or Curse?

Cobblestone streets of Puerto Vallarta lend to the charm of the historic city center. Although some would call them dangerous due in part to their uneven surface and ability to form potholes, the original use of cobblestones during the early days was quite practical.

Paving with cobblestones allowed a road to be heavily used all year long. It prevented the build-up of ruts often found in dirt roads. It had the additional advantage of not getting muddy in wet weather or dusty in dry weather. Shod horses or mules were also able to get better traction on stone cobbles. The natural materials or “cobbles,” a geological term, originally referred to any small stone having dimensions between 2.5 and 10 inches (6.4 and 25.4 cm) and rounded by the flow of water; essentially, a large pebble. Although the noise of riding over cobbles may seem annoying, it was actually considered good as it warned pedestrians of oncoming traffic….horse, mule or automobile!

Donkey rider on cobblestones, Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours!

Cobblestones are typically either set in sand or similar material, or are bound together with cement or asphalt. Cobblestones set in sand have the environmental advantage of being permeable paving and of moving rather than cracking with movements in the ground.

In Vallarta, the making or remaking of a cobblestone street begins with the leveling of the underlying dirt. Then comes sand. Next parallel lines of larger stones are laid in rows, sometimes with cement holding them in place. Rows are them filled in with the smaller stones. Finally, sand or cement is packed around all the stones and left to settle with gaps filled in as needed. Repair of potholes tends to be a mixture of stones, sand, cement, pulverized terra cotta, or asphalt. In the historic area, the original streets are required to remain in keeping with the original construction, the stones having come from either the Rio Cuale, beach, or nearby quarries.

Laying a cobblestone street, Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours!

Today, walking on cobblestones has been considered good exercise depending on the distance, frequency, surface and grade. Author Via Anderson in a recent article in the Vallarta Daily News (November 4, 2014) wrote, “Find and walk on the many cobblestone walks here (in Vallarta). Walking on cobblestones a few times daily with bare feet (preferred) or minimal shoes (to protect from debris) provides stimulation to the foot musculature that in turn adapts by becoming stronger and better able to handle these forces for longer periods of time…. and may be significant in reversing aging.”

So keep on walking folks! Join one of my walking tours for even more fun and enjoyment. Maybe one day we can do it in bare feet!

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Popular Hand-drawn Vallarta Maps

PV Map

Well-known cartographer Jeffrey Obser, or Mapa Jeff as he is known in Vallarta, continues to produce exceptional hand-drawn and enhanced maps of many of the Banderas Bay areas. These maps are so detailed, indicating every street name, stairs, trails, pathways, and points of interest, that they are THE maps to have for anyone who enjoys walking. Jeff does much of his research by physically walking every inch of the area he is working on and taking detailed notes so when he gets back to his studio in California, he can produce these wonderful maps as accurately as possible. He updates the more popular Vallarta maps annually, reflecting the changes that have occurred during the year.

Maps are coated to protect them from moisture, can be rolled for purse or pack, and can even be used as placemats or framed souvenirs from your travels around Banderas Bay. Couple these maps with my Walking Guidebooks, and you have all you need to strike out on your own and never get lost!

Now also available, many of Mapa Jeff’s maps in foldable format for pocket, purse, or glove compartment.

If you are in Puerto Vallarta and not familiar with these great maps, you can find the most popular (Vallarta, Yelapa, Conchas Chinas, Cabo Corrientes) at my Walk Vallarta! Learn Vallarta! booth in the Hotel Marsol Artisans Market near the Los Muertos Pier. Fridays, 9:00-1:30

If you live outside of Mexico, you can order Jeff’s maps online at: http://www.mapajeff.com

 

 

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Puerto Vallarta Artisan Markets

During high season, there are artisan markets every day of the week where local merchants gather to sell their wares in the old open market style of years ago. Typically there are from 40 to over 100 vendors in each market. Strolling among the tables one can find arts, crafts, farm fresh produce, flowers, homemade desserts and culinary delights, specialty breads, organic coffees, clothes, woven scarves and embroidered purses, handmade sandals and leather shoes, jewelry of all types, fresh juices, and on it goes. But what really makes this experience special is the people, both vendors and buyers.

Three Hens Saturday Market, local artisans, vendors, Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours!

I have a table the Hotel Marsol Artisans Market near Los Muertos Pier Friday mornings selling my educational walking tours, guidebooks, hand-drawn maps, and photographs. Come enjoy the friendly atmosphere, relaxed conversation, have a cup of coffee and a scone, taste samples that vendors are passing around, listen to live music, read the local Mirror or Tribune and feel the warmth and laughter shared amongst friends.

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Conchas Chinas Beach Walk

I just recently did this lovely walk along the Conchas Chinas beaches. It is an easy walk with lots of places to stop in the shade or jump in the water to refresh yourself! I prefer to take any south-going bus and get off at the second double arch entrance to the Conchas Chinas neighborhood. From there, walk a bit back towards town to Easy Street on the ocean side. Take Easy Street down to the stairs leading to the beach. (Yes this is all easy!) From there it is an easy walk, about one hour unless you stop, until you reach Los Muertos Beach. I like to go this way rather than beginning at Los Muertos because when you reach the end, ready for a beer or some lunch, there you are with several choices to relax and congratulate yourself on another great Vallarta adventure.

Pathway along Conchas Chinas beach, Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours!

Take your camera and plenty of water as there are no amenities before Los Muertos Beach. And wear sturdy shoes as you will be walking/climbing over some rocks. If you want me to join you as your guide, Contact me.

Go to my Photo Gallery to see this walk in pictures! I also sell a large hand-drawn walking map of this area which shows this walk very clearly. Pick up a copy at my Friday morning Hotel Marsol Artisans Market booth.

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Oysters!! And Tehuamixtle, Mexico

If you love oysters like I do then you must visit Tehua as the locals call it. Two hours south of Puerto Vallarta by car, this very small beach community, population less than 100, raises and serves up the largest and most delicious oysters I have ever eaten…and I have eaten many on my worldly travels. These are as large as your fist, juicy and succulent.  I ate 6 raw “en sus conchas” or translated “on their shells” or what we northerners call “on the half shell.”  That and a salad was all I needed…heaven. My local friend Rafa had the freshly-made seafood soup which included a half a lobster just freshly caught.

Tehuamixtle oyster lunch, huge, tasty, raw, on the half shell, Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours!

As we awaited our lunch, fishing boats began to arrive with sacks of 50 kilo freshly-harvested oysters.  Carried ashore to scales for weighing and then delivery to the beach restaurants or, in some cases, to Puerto Vallarta to the north, these were the freshest ever served to me…and well worth the wait!

Tehua also boasts other fresh fish, lobsters, and mussels in addition to the oysters.  Being a hot September day, there weren’t many in town…we were the only ones at the beachfront restaurant, tables with checkered cloths in the sand barely 20 feet from the water.  Come winter and the high season tourists, the town swells with many looking for tranquility, fresh seafood, and a few days from the city.  Next to Mayto, another beach community, Tehua access has improved as much of the old dirt road from El Tuito to the ocean has been paved…all except the bone-jarring middle 30 kilometers which have yet to be finished.

Seafood stew, fresh, lobster, local eating, man, Mexican, Tehuamixtle, Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours!

I drove from Vallarta to El Tuito to Tehuamixtle in a little more than 2 hours.  It’s an all day venture, especially if you stop in El Tuito for breakfast or dinner.  Next time I will try one of the small hotels for a more relaxing over-night stay.

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