Mystic and Old Lyme, CT

Scarborough c. 1825 Watercolor and graphite on paper
A few months ago, we became aware of a special exhibit being
offered at the Mystic Seaport Museum.  The museum was hosting an exhibition devoted to the watercolors of J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851).  The event was organized in conjunction with Tate Britain.  The Mystic show would be the only North American venue.  With the show ending on February 23, we didn't want to miss out on the opportunity to see the 97 works presented in this collection.  Once again using points, we were able to book flights with JetBlue and we were off to Connecticut. 

Whalers Entangled in Flaw Ice- c. 1846 Oil paint on canvas
The "Turner Bequest" was donated to Great Britain following his death in 1851.  Of the 30,000 works on paper, 300 oil paintings and 280 sketchbooks most of the works are conserved at the Tate Britain.  Though he is primarily known for his oil paintings, he was a lifelong watercolorist.  He also traveled widely and it is said that he rarely left home without his sketchbook and a traveling case of watercolors, evidenced by the vast body of work left behind.  The exhibit in Mystic spanned Turner's entire career, so it provided a view of the changes in his creative process, and how he experimented with light and color.  We visited the show twice during our stay in town, in order to reassess our impressions of the different works. 

The Mystic Seaport Museum covers 19 acres along the Mystic River.  Though it also includes a recreated New England coastal village, that portion of the grounds was closed during our winter visit.  We were able to visit the whaleship, Charles W. Morgan, the oldest commercial ship still in existence and the Museum's Collection Research Center which offers marine paintings, scrimshaw, models, tools and extensive historical archives.

Artist's rendering of the boardinghouse
Our next destination was to visit a friend in Rhinebeck, NY, but we had heard about the art colony established in 1899 in nearby Old Lyme so a trip there was incorporated into our travels.  The epicenter of the Lyme Art Colony was Miss Florence Griswold's boardinghouse where painters took up residence.  This was the beginning of one of the largest Impressionistic art colonies in America.  While the extensive gardens and riverfront areas that provided inspiration for the artists looked rather bleak during our February visit, the Krieble Gallery
offered an extensive photography exhibit.  But the highlight of the stop was Miss Griswold's house.  She had inherited the Late Georgian architecture home along with its debts and had begun renting rooms for $7 a week to help cover her expenses.  A stay by artist Henry Ward Ranger in 1899 was the springboard for the colony.  Ranger wanted to create an art colony in New England and in the following years, he returned with a group of artists including Childe Hassam and Willard Metcalf who were at the leading edge of the Tonalist and Impressionist movements.  From 1900 to the 1930s, over 135 artists boarded in the house.  Over 43 wall and door panels completed by the summer residents decorate the interior.

On our approach to Rhinebeck, we experienced a few snow flurries, but despite the overnight temperatures dipping briefly into the teens, the weather was relatively mild for this time of year.  Visiting with our friend, Dennis, was the reason for this leg of the trip, and we were very low key during our stay.  We did have a chance to visit
Higgins's Studio twice.  This is where he designs and creates his jewelry collection, and I ordered a new pair of earrings.  Before our departure, we had an overnight snowfall of 3 inches, but luckily, the daytime temperatures warmed on the day of our drive to Albany for our flight home so we had no ice or snow concerns.  It was a perfect mini-getaway. 
Dennis at work.

St. Lucia in 8 hours

Once our cruise ship was docked in Castries, we secured a rental car and then went in search of a snorkeling site.  But, we were also headed to the iconic, Anse des Pitons, twin volcanic peaks at the water's edge, south of Soufriere.  Miles of banana and plantains grow on the flatlands near the capital, and cattle also grazed on the nearby lush fields.  Terraced gardens were spotted growing multiple crops as we drove into the mountainous region. 

This 40 km drive took 2 hours, including a couple of brief stops, as we searched for snorkel sites.  Almost constant hairpin curves, with steep climbs and descents, made for stressful driving, compounded by driving on the left side of the narrow roads, with a 2-3 foot concrete gully running along most of the highway.  Dense jungle growth, mahogany trees with ferns, palms trees and vines covered the mountainsides. 

Desperate poverty appears in contrast to high-end developments catering to well-heeled foreign visitors.  This is the only island on the trip, where we experienced persistent beggars and vendors.

A local guide informed us about a private resort beach access at the base of the Pitons, which also included a marine reserve with quality snorkeling.  For a tip, we followed his car to the entrance of Sugar Beach Resort.  Laying in the shadow of the twin peaks, it is certainly the most beautiful beach on the island.  Pitons Marine Park provided a few types of coral and a nice variety of fish.  The snorkel area is relatively small because the bay is also shared with boat traffic delivering cruise passengers to the area.  In exchange for the price of lunch, we were able to use their parking, restroom, beach and snorkel area.  Even a "cheap" lunch at the resort ran us $65., but it is the primo spot on the island.  

Gorgeous scenery, good snorkeling, great food, and fabulous weather, we couldn't have asked for a better day!

Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico

Early morning view from our balcony
It seemed as though we had barely unpacked from our last trip when we received an offer from our Vidanta Mexican timeshare that was too good to ignore.  Since we would be able to stay for free and fly using our air miles, making the decision to go back to Mexico was a no-brainer.  We had last visited this part of the country back in 2005 when we made a trip to the nearby Puerto Vallarta.

Located within the Riviera Nayarit, which consists of some historical areas and fishing villages, the extensive development of high-end resorts near Nuevo Vallarta is changing the face of this region.  Not checking the weather forecast for the month of October prior to making our reservations, it turned out we were arriving at the tail-end of their rainy season---and rain it did---a lot.  We did catch plenty of sunshine as well though and didn't let the rains slow us down too much.

The oceanfront Grand Mayan Resort offers gorgeous pools along with the beach access, so we took advantage of both.  But in spite of the lovely accommodations, we didn't go to Mexico solely to hang out in the resort so we rented a vehicle for the week.  First on the agenda was a drive to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, this fishing village has the largest and most modern marina in the area, but the reason for our visit was the fish market.  With numerous vendors displaying their daily catch, we opted for grouper and shrimp.  Our total $15USD purchase provided 3 dinners, so quite a bargain.  Followed by a stop at the extensive La Comer grocery, we were set for the week.
Along the lazy river

Waking the next morning to sun, we decided to hang out at the resort and utilize some of their offerings.  Playing a beach version of pickleball, floating in tubes down the Lazy River, oceanfront tacos and beer, and just relaxing poolside was a pleasant way to spend the day.  But it had been a long time since our visit to Puerto Vallarta, so that was next on our agenda.

Driving through the large city, we headed to the Malecón.  This mile-long promenade is flanked on
one side by the ocean and on the other side by shops, galleries, and restaurants.  Numerous quality sculptures created by local and international artists decorate the walkway.  Our timing was perfect to catch the "Dance of the Flyers" ceremony.  Created hundreds of years ago in central Mexico, 4 men climb to the top of a 30-meter pole and then, attached to ropes, spiral their way to the ground.  Sometimes a 5th member stands at the top of the pole playing a drum and flute.  In the rendition we saw, two of the "flyers" were playing the instruments as they descended.  We first had an opportunity to see this ritual about 40 years ago in Tulum (before the city became a massive tourist site).

Left on his own, Alan probably would have spent hours combing the beach for the perfect rock for his collection, there were certainly countless choices.  Dozens of rock balancing sculptures grace the beach at one spot where a local creates the works for tips.  The rocks stay in place by design, with each one placed carefully according to its size and shape.

The following day we headed north to Sayulita.  Driving along the twisty narrow road north of Bucerías, it almost felt as though we were hacking our way through the jungle.  Though obviously not the same at all, it was a truly beautiful drive with huge ancient trees draping over the roadway.  Roadside vendors were selling chilled coconut water, locally harvested sea salt, and durian, the stinking but tasty fruit we first discovered on our travels in SE Asia.  Sadly, construction has started on new roads, so I'm afraid in the not too distant future that the special drive up Hwy 200 will disappear.

Primarily known for its surfing, the cobblestone streets of Sayulita are lined with restaurants, galleries, and shops.  Impressive handcrafts made by the Huichol Indians who live in the foothills and
highlands of the nearby Sierra Madre Mountains (and are direct descendants of the Aztecs) are sold in a co-op here.  We had considered a trip to the small village where the handicrafts are created but the residents speak the Huichol language, not Spanish, so we decided that communication might be too challenging.  But we purchased a couple of small examples of the tediously created pieces at the co-op in Sayulita.  This art form was first developed about 250 years ago.  It consists of tiny beads being attached with wax to a form (wood, clay, or bone) one at a time.  Traditionally the beads were made from bone, clay, semi-precious stones, and seeds.  Later the beads came from central Europe and they are now sourced from the Czech Republic.  The man we spoke with at the co-op told us that the art form is starting to decline because the villages' young people are not interested in pursuing the craft.

In spite of the almost non-stop drizzles the beach was fairly crowded and surfers were sometimes almost shoulder to shoulder trying to ride the consistent waves.  Even though beach food was offered under umbrellas on the sand, we decided to eat under a roof at the waterfront restaurant, Don Pedro's.  We made the drive to nearby San Francisco, a low key fishing/beach town, but heavier rains and a complete lack of parking persuaded us to head back to Nuevo Vallarta.

Located within the Bahia de Banderas, our next outing departed before sunrise and headed first to Puerto Vallarta to pick up additional tourists and then to our primary destination for the day, the Marietas Islands.  This group of islands had been used by the Mexican military during the first half of the 20th century to test bombs since the area was uninhabited.  Following efforts by renowned scientist and explorer, Jacques Cousteau, the islands
were declared a national park, and human activity was limited.

We had been monitoring the weather for this trip, but unfortunately, we chose a day when the sun failed to appear.  Seas were rough for the 1-hour trip out, and the crew hustled to help the guests victimized by seasickness.  Known for snorkeling, waters surrounding the archipelago were cloudy and visibility poor during our visit.  The Marietas Islands are also the only place in the world, other than the Galapagos Islands, where the blue-footed boobies are found.  After the snorkeling, we took a boat tour around the islands to check out the birds.  Without question, we saw more of the boobies here than in Ecuador.  Hundreds of frigate birds were also clustered around the islands, clinging to the volcanic rock.  Landing on the islands is strictly limited, and National Park Service boats were on hand to make certain that tourists don't violate the restrictions.  Hidden Beach, created by the bombing, is the only portion where land visits are allowed
but access is difficult and restricted.  Only 117 people a day, 5 days a week, under specific guidelines, and with licensed companies, are allowed at this special beach. 

Within the protection of the coves, lunch was served and an open bar was provided.  Moving to Majahuitas Beach, the crew assisted guests with paddleboards, kayaks, a banana boat, and also continued serving drinks.  On the return trip, this same crew provided a "floor show".  Dressed in costumes and wigs, they lip-synched rock tunes from the 1980s.  In spite of the marginal weather and poor snorkeling conditions, it was still a wonderful day.

We concluded our visit with another full day spent hanging out at the resort.  Picture perfect weather was ideal for lounging poolside.  Now time to return home for a while!
Relaxing at Majahuitas Beach

Floor show

Brown Pelican at Marieta Islands

Blue-footed boobies and frigate birds

Frigate birds soaring over the islands

Cloudy waters at the islands

Sunset from our balcony

Mural in Sayulita

Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Puerto Vallarta 
Decorated balcony in Puerto Vallarta

Dancers sculpture on the Malecon

Rock balancing near the Malecon.
Sculptures along the Malecon

Yarn street decorations in Sayulita