It is just past sunset in San Pancho, and a beautiful sunset it was, too. Craig is at one end of the giant table on our outside terrace working happily on a commissioned painting which will become an album cover. We have gathered lamps from the house to illuminate his work, as it gets dark here immediately after sunset.
I'm at the other end, writing to you.
From the campo de futbol, the soccer field below the house, we hear excited voices rise. A women's match is underway and it sounds like the two uniformed teams have plenty of sideline supporters and an enthusiastic coach.
We returned earlier today from a thirty-two hour jaunt into the city of Puerto Vallarta, our hearts set on viewing their Day of the Dead celebrations. Día de los Muertos was yesterday. We stayed in one of our favorite cheap hotels in Old Town and wandered up and down side streets and the Malecón on our quest to see as many of the traditional altars as possible.
Puerto Vallarta's old sections make for some great wandering.
We crossed two swinging bridges near the Municipal Market, and believe me, they swing. We could barely stay on our feet, staggering from side to side and laughing a little nervously, I think, as the Rio Cuale below us was full and fast and deep.
I had to back off the bridge to take this next shot, as it was way too wobbly to hold the camera close to steady.
The remainder of our walk was on comparatively dry land. We visited the Hotel Catedral, a few blocks from the Cathedral, to see their altar honoring Frida Kahlo.
Día de los Muertos altars are created to honor and attract the souls of the dead. This ancient tradition holds no morbid undertones. It is a matter-of-fact recognition that the departed are still a part of our lives and deserve visits and attention. Always, a photo or image of the person is on the top step. Below that is usually an array of the things the person loved or enjoyed in their life on earth. At the foot of this altar are three crosses: one of ash to free the soul of guilt and wrong-doing, one of candles to light the soul's way to the altar, and one of salt to purify the soul and the altar.
This tradition is not normally a public display. Most altars will be in the homes of the departed, meant for intimate visits by the people who love them. But in Puerto Vallarta, in the spirit of Día de los Muertos and for the benefit of tourists and students of the art, the majority of the altars we saw honored people who had been important in some way to Vallarta or to greater Mexico.
One such altar is this one for Gabriel García Márquez, the remarkable novelist, poet and journalist, who, although born in Colombia, lived for over thirty years in Mexico City and died there last year.
Another was set to honor a man born in the United States and a woman and a man both born in the UK.
John Huston, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton all left their mark on Vallarta. All three owned homes there and the movie Night of the Iguana (during which, with Huston's apparent collaboration, Liz visited Richard to carry on their torrid international love affair) brought both attention and fame to the village that became a city.
But I digress.
We were talking about altars.
And Día de los Muertos.
One of the best known images around Día de los Muertos is the Catrina, whose story I have told you and will likely one day tell again. We had read about an exhibit called Las Catrinas de Lupe in the Plaza de Armas, below the Cathedral, and searched it out, being avid fans of Catrinas. We had the great pleasure of meeting Lupe, whose whole name is Guadalupe Briones, and her gorgeous Catrinas.
We're hoping that Lupe and her fancy gurls will come for a visit to La Casita Mágica in a few months.
We had also heard there was to be a parade. We love parades, so we headed back across Rio Cuale after siestas.
By pure serendipity (and because we wanted a couple of beers, a snack, and a smoking area) we ended up on the third floor of the Cheeky Monkey, a perfect perch for Malecón-viewing.
We thought the parade was about to start when we spotted these guys, but it turned out they were just independent walkers.
We didn't mind waiting for the parade, though, as our lookout also offered fairly decent sunset-watching.
Our terrace table overlooked one of our favorite sculptures, which I'd not had the opportunity to photograph in the golden light of sunset.
But sunset wasn't over just yet.
By and by the parade started and ended. Truth is, it was much smaller than the typical San Pancho parade which goes on for blocks and blocks and has music and pick-up truck floats and little kids all dressed up in something-or-other and parents running alongside taking pictures and wiping noses and teenagers twirling and strutting and horses pooping in the street.
So perhaps we're spoiled.
And that, pretty much, is what happened in Vallarta.