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By Margaret Deefholts
For Travel Writers' Tales

I make my way gingerly down a steep cobbled street in Puerto Vallarta's Gringo Gulch, past white-stucco red-tile roofed villas, with crimson or purple bougainvillea spilling across their walls and doorways. The shadows are short, and the sun is fierce. Perspiration trickles down my back, and my hair is plastered to my forehead. But that's fine…I am a child of the tropics, and this is my kind of weather!

The old town lies at the foot of the hill, and although blatantly touristy, its meandering streets still have the power to charm. I head into the covered market (known locally as the "flea market") with its cornucopia of knick-knacks. They are cheap, often tawdry. But the place bustles with activity and colour. I buy an embroidered blouse, and although I know I'm supposed to bargain the price is so reasonable that I don't have the heart to do so. The vendors look crestfallen; I've done them out of the fun of haggling. So without my suggesting it, they take off 20% of the price.

Out in the hard sunlight again, I follow the lane, heavy with traffic, trying to find my way to the Malecon waterfront. Flanking the road, buildings with walls of parrot green, strawberry pink, flaming orange and canary yellow, all stand side by side under an overarching indigo sky - a painting in primary block colours. Clashing hues in the normal course, but here in Mexico pleasing to the eye. Eventually I come out on the street fronting the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The church is a Puerto Vallarta landmark, and its massive surmounting crown glitters in the sun. A late morning mass is in progress, and the church is almost full. I sidle into one of the pews closest to the door, where a Mexican family smile, nod, and make room for me. When the organ bursts into sound, they stand up and sing lustily.

Afterwards, little girls like miniature brides in full-skirted ankle-length white dresses with flowers in their hair, line up alongside small boys in waistcoats and trousers.

Cameras flash, and a kid in front flashes me a gap-tooth grin. His grandmamma, a stout woman with eyes like shiny black currents says proudly, "Confirmacion."

In the square in front of the church, I listen to a group of musicians performing in the covered bandstand. They aren't traditional mariachi musicians, but they're good. The Latin rhythms are tight and infectious and the singer has a husky torch-like timbre to her voice. I buy a CD, but when I get home later and play it, the reproduction is poor. Am I a typical tourist sucker? Perhaps, but that's okay…it's the memory that counts, and encouragement for an ensemble trying to make a living off their musical talents.

Strolling along the Malecon, the waterfront promenade that stretches for miles, I am intrigued by the metal sculptures that soar against the sky. Each of them is a story, and a metaphor: some an ironic commentary on society, others playful and witty. Oftentimes, though, one senses an underlying disillusionment which manifests as a cynical wink in three-dimensional form.

Later that day, my Mexican guide, Luiz (a man in his mid to late thirties, with thick hair that is swept straight back from his forehead like a shiny black helmet.) catches up with me. He says he has a treat in store, but looks mysterious when I ask him for details. We head to the Sierra Madre foothills bordering Puerto Vallarta and drive up a steep winding road lined with fronded laburnum trees, strongly scented frangipani blossoms, and flame of the forest trees shouting against the sky, eventually coming to a halt in a little gravel courtyard. "Welcome to Terra Noble", says Luiz with a broad smile.

Beyond the stone-flagged entrance shaded by tall banana plants, architect Jorge Rubio's Villa Kenya's thatched adobe building is all soft curves, and moulded clay. Blending into the décor are flowering bushes, tree trunks and palms. The living room is open sided, light and airy with plants hanging from wicker baskets, and rattan furniture with inviting striped cotton cushions.

A bowl of mangoes add a splash of colour to a white stone counter. There are no sounds other than the splash of water from a nearby pool, the twitter of birds, and the whisper of palm fronds in the light afternoon breeze. All is green, cool and tranquil.

Across the lawns the view overlooks part of the town of Puerto Vallarta - the buildings stacked along a crescent shaped beach. The sea is a vivid blue and the high-rise buildings look like Lego blocks silhouetted against the sky.

At the end of a pathway lined by flowering shrubs, are aromatherapy rooms where archways frame a panorama of sea and sky, and skilled masseurs rejuvenate mind and body .

Piped-in music lies softly on the air, but even without the audio enhancement this retreat is, of itself, a sonata of earth and sky, trees, flowers and water.

As I sip a Margarita with my travel companions in an open air restaurant on the Malecon, the night sea breeze is balmy and the sky above us is thick with stars. It's been a day of strong contrasts, vivid impressions and indelible memories. Viva Puerto Villarta!



Information on Terra Noble:
Mexico Tourism and
See also:

Where to Stay: NH Kristal Hotel - well appointed comfortable rooms and amenities. See

PHOTOS: By Margaret Deefholts

1. Flower bedecked apartments in Puerto Vallarta
2. Wearing her Confirmation and First Holy Communion gown
3. Open-air living room area in Terra Noble
4. View of Puerto Vallarta from Terra Noble
5. Tranquil nook in Terra Noble's living room area
6. Square fronting the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe

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