Puerto Vallarta Feature


Puerto Vallarta's Malecón

Puerto Vallarta's malecón is its Champs Élysées—only shorter, warmer, and less expensive. On the mile-long cement walkway bordering the sea, small groups of young studs check out their feminine counterparts; cruise-ship passengers stretch their legs; and landlocked visitors stroll before dinner. Even those who have lived here all their lives come out to watch the red sun sink into the gray-blue water beyond the bay.

Every night and weekend is a parade. Vendors sell agua de tuba, a refreshing coconut-palm-heart drink. Empanada, corn-on-the-cob, and fried-banana stands congregate on the boardwalk near the mouth of the Cuale River. Peddlers sell helium balloons and cotton candy. Clowns, magicians, and musicians entertain in the Los Arcos amphitheater.

There are also performances by los voladores de Papantla, the Papantla "flyers," near Los Arcos. Dressed in exquisite costumes of red-velveteen pants decorated with sequins, mirrors, embroidery, and fringe, five men climb a 98-foot pole. Four of them dive from the top of the platform as the leader "speaks" to them while balancing atop the pinnacle and playing a fife and drum. Held by a rope tied to one foot, the men wing around the pole exactly 13 times before landing on the ground. The total number of revolutions adds up to 52, a number of great ritual significance in the cosmology of the pre-Hispanic Mesoamericans. This traditional performance, native to Veracruz State, is held most weekend evenings at 7 pm and 8 pm in low season; in high season (December through April), it's every half hour from 7 pm to 10 pm. The exception is when cruise ships call (Tuesday through Thursday at this writing); performances are on the half hour from 9 am to 1 pm in addition to the evening schedule.

Some of PV's most endearing art is en plein air. Stretching along the sea walk is a series of bronze sculptures that are constantly touched, photographed, and climbed on. These nonstop caresses give a bright bronze luster to strategic body parts of Neptune and the Nereid, a mermaid and her man. Higher up on its pedestal, Puerto Vallarta's well-known sea-horse icon retains a more traditional (and dignified) patina.

Rotunda on the Sea, a wacky grouping of chair-people by Alejandro Colunga, is a good spot to sit and watch the sea, although around sunset, people waiting their turn to be photographed here make it hard to linger.

The three mysterious pillow-headed ladder-climbing figures that compose In Search of Reason, by Sergio Bustamante, are just as otherworldly as the jewelry, painting, and statuettes sold in his Vallarta shops. Ramiz Barquet's Nostalgia is an in-situ ode to the artist's reunion with the love of his life.

Gary Thompson, owner of Galería Pacífico, leads public sculpture walking tours mid-November through mid-April. The fee- and reservation-free two-hour tours leave Tuesday at 9:30 am from the north end of the malecón by the Hotel Rosita. The first stop is Millennium, and its creator, Mathis Lidice, gives a brief talk. Tours end at the gallery, where sculptor Ramiz Barquet answers questions about his three pieces on the tour and briefly presents clay modeling techniques.

Extending south from Calle 31 de Octubre to Los Arcos outdoor amphitheater and the Río Cuale.

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