Tarot south of the border

On my trips to Puerto Vallarta, I had noticed a tarot reader across the street from the condos, and had figured that someday, when my Spanish is better, I will have to go in for a reading. I am very curious about how different it may be in Mexico from the kind of reading I am used to giving and receiving. I have heard from some folks in the South that clients, at least, often request prayers, spells, blessings, and other rituals that they are not used to from their other clients.

On this visit, we happened to notice a shop selling tarot cards, incense, books, and other ritual items, so we decided to stop in. At first, it was hard to find the tarot cards. One thing that was prominently displayed were these:

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We wracked our brains for a while to remember what “Jabon” is – soap! In a way, these are like the candles that you burn to attract various things, but instead it is soap that you use to attract what you want. I could probably use the one second from left – to bring you clients. We couldn’t help giggling over the one on the right – Macho Garlic Soap.

Here’s a deck that I probably should have bought for the novelty value:

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“The Tarot of Death” (not to be confused with Tarot of the Dead). I probably would have, except that there were only the 22 major arcana, and each had an identical figure of Death, colored differently and with a different background. I couldn’t quite see how this focus on Death would help you learn about Health, Money, and Love, as the cover promises. This seemed to be a general theme, in keeping with the more light-hearted attitude toward death in Mexico:

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There were also many ingredients for making infusions and using in rituals in jars around the room, as well as stones and other ritual items. The woman sitting behind a desk looked like she might be a tarot reader, so at least we asked her where the tarot decks were. She pointed out a few on a shelf. It was not the most interesting assortment ever, though I did pick up a recolored version of the Marseilles that I liked, and to support the shop and to practice my Spanish on a fun, familiar topic! We got into quite an extensive discussion with her about her own practice, and it turned she had a much more intriguing assortment of decks:

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Those above are her personal collection, used with more private clients (not in the shop). She had set of well-worn decks that she used for the public, including a Gypsy deck with 48 cards. She says these are used by the Gypsies in Mexico – I found myself wondering about the origin of the deck, as well as the origins of these Gypsies that apparently travel from place to place. I had thought that most European Gypsies read with regular playing cards. In spite of having 48 cards (closer to 52, at least) these were not a regular playing deck. They had some attributes like a tarocchi deck in the illustrations, almost – except for the lack of a trump suit. I’ll have to get ahold of one of these on one of my next trips and look at it more carefully.

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Thunderstorms and cilantro margaritas

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Well, you might think that Puerto Vallarta always looks like this, and in fact this is the view from my balcony. However, travelling there in summer isn’t quite as idyllic as this – it can be a bit more tumultuous. Sure, you’ll see the sun, but also lots of rain, thunder, and lightning, as well as grey mornings – something that makes me feel right at home.

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The first night we arrived we decided to brave a torrential downpour and go out to dinner. We soon found out that many restaurants, galleries, etc. are closed in summer too, since it’s not really tourist season. So as we were driving around, I spied a restaurant I remembered as having a fine culinary reputation, and it appeared to be open. Sure enough, as the taxi pulled up, a waiter leaped out into the street with a very large umbrella – we took that as a good sign and went inside.

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It turned out to be an inspired choice, entirely by chance (the way the best things always are). The restaurant was Cilantro’s, and the walls were covered with art. Since most of the galleries were closed, this was a definite plus. There was indeed a lot of cilantro in the dishes on the menu, which was part of what attracted me to the restaurant. And since it was our first night in Puerto Vallarta, a margarita was called for – a cilantro margarita, no less. It was excellent. Just a hint of sugar in the salt to set off the minty flecks of cilantro infused throughout the drink. Possibly one of the best margaritas I’ve ever had. And the food was likewise delicious and artistically presented. When my companion’s normal margarita turned out to be less than inspired, the waiter noticed he wasn’t drinking it, inquired as to the cause, and quickly returned with a much better one. Now that’s service!

Now I know why the cobblestoned streets here are as rocky as they are – the literal rivers of water that run down the hills every evening in summer. Next time I’ll bring my Tivas – they’d be better suited to being immersed in six inches of water. We searched for some days to find an umbrella, only to have it confiscated at the airport on the way home ;D

Toward the end of our stay, the thunderstorms at night began being more intense. At first they spent most of their time above the mountains ringing the bay to the south, providing spectacular light shows during dinner, easily putting to shame the firework displays provided every night for the tourists. Lightning flashed every few seconds in the sky, at first mostly sheet lightning, followed eventually by frequent strikes.

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On our last evening there, the thunderstorm came to us, directly overhead. I’ve never been in anything like it – lightning flashing constantly, and the sky opening up with booming thunder as if reminding us of our insignificance. When I travel, I like to be on the top floor – so there we were, at the highest point, surrounded by the thunder, rain, and lightning. In one memorable moment, the entire beachfront went dark, then powered up again, as lightning struck out to sea.

Thankfully, our flights were all timed to avoid the daily thunderstorms, though the cloud formations coming in in the late afternoon were quite spectacular. Still and all, we enjoyed it. It’s a nice town, even in summer. Only the stickiness of the heat diminished my enjoyment of it, and had I known more what to expect, I might have been better prepared (what passes for light summer clothing here in Seattle just doesn’t cut it in the tropics). The flowers are beautiful this time of year…

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Sun south of the border

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So I may have mentioned that when I was visiting recently in Puerto Vallarta, I was taken enough with the condo we were staying in to actually purchase a timeshare week (!). For those who know me, this is pretty much out of character. I like to be footloose and free to go anywhere on vacation, at least so I’ve loudly professed in the past as my friends and family bought timeshares :D

There are a lot of reasons why this time, it seemed to make sense. Foremost among them was the sense of incredible peace I had there. The temperature was perfect to open the sliding doors at night and let the waves lull me to sleep. It’s a rocky beach below the sand, so they’re actually quite loud. Sitting on the balcony and gazing out over the perfect view of the ocean, I could easily just sit, read a book, or take the time to write one. That was a nice thought – a writer’s retreat. This place has amazing sunsets…

And every winter/early spring I get fed up with the weather here in the Pacific Northwest, beautiful as it is, and wish I were somewhere south. Now, I’ll be able to almost literally just pick up the phone and go. This condo is very liberal in their booking policies – they save 20% of the rooms for last-minute visits by owners, and it was easy for us to get the best room on the 25th floor with less than a month to spare. Not to mention that Alaska Airlines (and a few others) has direct, daytime flights there several times a day for non-exorbitant prices.

I have 30-year contract – but you may have noticed that long before then I intend to be living somewhere south of the border anyway. As it happens, I am allowed not only to bank several years if I can’t use them, but accelerate up to three years worth from the end of my contract in any given year. This means I can spend up to a month there at a time if I want to. Not only that, my one condo is actually two rooms with a connecting door. I can split it and rent the other half – or get twice as many weeks. When it’s just me, or me and a friend, there’s no need for both rooms.

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This is a nice place – tile floors, marble kitchen, large walk-in shower, large ocean-front balcony, amazing pools and jacuzzi area that’s like a little island surrounded by lush plantings. Yet, it’s pretty casual too. Across the street is the local soccer field and flea market, two blocks away is a huge grocery store where I can buy anything I need. It’s not in the upscale tourist enclave, nor the spring break party zone – just in a nice area with lots of services, great restaurants, art galleries, and beach. You can walk to almost anywhere in the city from there, and where you can’t walk, an almost-free bus will take you.

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Puerto Vallarta turns out to be a birder’s paradise – just one more of its many attractions. Sailing by our condo balcony were flotillas of pelicans and frigatebirds, which I could pretty much watch all day. The jungles in the surrounding mountains are home to over 300 bird species, including several endemics. The people there seem very nice and there is not the separation between tourists, ex-pats and locals that you find in so many places – everyone’s hanging out together and there seems to be a relatively high standard of living.

The hotel itself has cleaning service every day (unlike most condos), yoga three times a week, a spa and exercise area, and those amazing pools. You can get a nice massage out on the pier, or go parasailing. Me – I’ll probably stick to the yoga and long walks around the city. It has wireless, though at the moment it’s not cheap (the concierge quietly directed me to the internet cafe across the street, where it is $0.50/2 hours).

I won’t go into the timeshare swaps, extra weeks at other condos around the world, and last-minute travel deals that came with the package (all of which I am likely to use). But to me, one of the big selling points was that this a place I can go and relax, enjoy the sun, and learn what it’s like to live south of the border. I can come alone and work on my Spanish, use the time to learn about real estate and medical care, talk to ex-pats, and just see what it’s like to be there a month at a time. I’ll use my timeshare swaps to check out other Central American countries and see what they’re like.

I hope some of you will join me south of the border!