Glorious Behemoths

15 Oct

Whale watching is glorious right now. The bay is filled with mostly humpback whales that visit us from December through March every year. Tours to see the whales are varied, including pongas (small outboards) that leave from Punta Mita, beautiful wooden sailing vessels that leave from the marina and then the large tour boats that do their regular run. The difference between the whale watch and the regular boats is that the captain on the whale watch boat will actively seek the whales and knows where they are most likely to be. The regular tour boats cruise their normal route and if they see whales you are in luck, but if there are no whales in your path you will miss the experience.

 When I first came here, no one even paid any attention to the whales. I would hear that someone saw them, but that was about the extent of it. I had never had the opportunity to see whales. Then in winter of 1991, when I was manager of the tour company, a friend came to my office and said he had a friend with a Zodiac inflatable boat who wanted to do a whale watch. So on Super Bowl Sunday in 1992,   I boarded the Zodiac for one of the most awesome experiences of my life. Whales were everywhere. We were in the center of the bay and the sun was glistening on the water like diamonds. Those incredible creatures were 40 feet from the boat and I could hear their breathing. A mother with her baby kept her watchful eye trained on us the whole time.  It was the first of many trips and I am proud to say we were the first company to offer whale watching and for the first two years we were the only ones offering the trip at all. When we went out on the bay, we were the only ones out there. I feel so privileged to have had that experience. Now the whale watching is a mini-industry and usually there are several boats in the vicinity of the whales.

 It is important to ask if your tour boat is licensed to whale watch as Semarnat, the government body that protects the environment, wants to make sure that the whales are neither bothered nor endangered. Pegaso Chartering is one of the oldest and most reputable companies on the bay, using wooden sailing boats for their tours. They are respectful of the whales, offer outstanding hospitality and service and have fewer passengers so the experience is more personalized. Call them at 290-0705 and Lily will take your reservation. After whale watch season, they continue throughout the year with sailing trips and day trips to thevillage ofYelapa.

For the last two weeks Vallarta hosted the first International Gathering on Alternative Medicine, held at the park at Olas Altas and Lazaro Cardenas. Indigenous healers from around the country, including Huicholes, Mayas and Tarahumaras participated. Every day at sunrise and sunset there was drumming and dancing to honor Father Sun. A traditional temazcal experience was available daily at the school across from the park. The temezcal is a purification ceremony where water is thrown on hot rocks in a closed space – usually a mud hut, but in this case a small tent – and the steam and heat cleanse the body and spirit.

 We saw – or I should say listened to – a demonstration of an instrument similar to a digeridoo which appears in a mural in the Mayan ruins ofPalenque. The evening we were there, participant Raul Arias gathered people into a circle in the park gazebo. Then he played the digeridoo instrument and at the same time alternately played seven quartz crystal bowls while another man played a synthesizer with harmonious chords. The sound was very moving as mirrored in the circle of faces in the gazebo, including Indian shamans in their native dress. 

 Booths were set up where the healers offered adjustments similar to chiropractic adjustments and indigenous massages. Herbal remedies, honey and incense were on sale as well as beautiful handmade clothes, bags and jewelry from the different indigenous communities. I bought an incredible pink and silver beaded Huichol necklace for 100 pesos, less than $10US. The necklace was beaded into a tube with the pattern resembling the DNA helix – quite remarkable and I am sure it took days to make. 

Just today outside of WalMart there is a tianguis – market – set up with booths offering high quality crafts, including jewelry, embroidered blouses and dresses fromOaxaca, pottery, shawls, copper and enamel ware. One of the loveliest things I saw was a floral tablecloth from Michoacan that is both embroidered and cut out. I have never seen anything like it. My favorite items are the wall hangings made from handmade paper and tree bark, some woven, some cut out and some are a combination of the two techniques. They range in tones of dark brown to light cream. I have a very strong hunch that one of them will end up on my living room wall.

Vallarta is sunny days, cool nights and a kaleidoscope of things to do.

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