Imagination Plus Peyote… The Huichol of Puerto Vallarta

The shaman is a central figure in the Huichol culture. Capable of traveling between worlds with the aid of peyote, he brings important messages back to the members of his tribe.

Since Peggy and I first came to Puerto Vallarta years ago I have been fascinated with Huichol art and the Huichol people. Living in the Sierra Madre Mountains of the Occidental range, they have been able to combine their belief in numerous gods with art that is highly popular among tourists. For example, it’s unlikely that many Huichol have ever seen a moose, but when Peggy and I were going through shops along the Malecon, we came across this beauty featured below.

The moose is for the tourists, the designs found on the moose’s antlers and body reflect the Huichol gods. (This artwork was crammed in among hundreds of pieces so I used Photoshop to white out everything except the piece.)
A moose that Peggy and I found in Alaska.

The design on the right side of the Huichol antler is peyote, which is central to the Huichol religion. Each year, the members of the tribe undertake a 300 mile journey (usually on foot) to their sacred homeland to gather a year’s supply of the potent drug. The gatherer is expected to take a bite of the first plant he or she encounters. Maybe as a result, one of them saw a moose like the one I featured above. (grin)

Another example of an animal unlikely to be encountered by the Huichol. It looks a lot like the fellow I encountered at Busch Gardens.



The Huichol are quite familiar with the iguana…
One of the iguanas we photographed in Puerto Vallarta..
I am just as glad we didn’t encounter a jaguar. They still roam the mountains surrounding Puerto Vallarta.
The horse continues to be an important form of transportation for the Huichol, but with the coming of roads, trucks are becoming more common.
Cattle are raised by the Huichol. Here they have covered a skull with their beadwork.
Not quite sure what this animal is, I thought it was more dog-like than cat-like.
I am thinking a bit of acid-rock here, although peyote would probably work.
String paintings reflecting the gods are also quite popular among the Huichol.
A brown painting…
And a blue painting to wrap up today’s post.

NEXT POST: I’ll be back to featuring rock sculptures found on the PCT in Mokelumne Wilderness.

Shape Shifting and Art in Puerto Vallarta— or, On Becoming Your Favorite Animal

1. Mystical mural of animals in Puerto Vallarta

Shamans choose their animals to shape shift into based on certain characteristics. The Jaguar is powerful and dangerous, the deer and rabbit fleet of feet, the bird fleet of wing, and the coyote clever.

Shamanistic traditions around the world often involve shape shifting. The shaman enters a trance and adopts the form and/or spirit of an animal, for healing, travel to another world, or more sinister purposes. Often the switch is made with the aid of a hallucinogenic drug, such as peyote. This is the drug of choice among the Huichol Indians of Mexico and is frequently portrayed in their art. In addition to works produced by indigenous people for sale in Puerto Vallarta, I also found a number of murals that illustrated the indigenous tradition of shape shifting.

2. Shape shifting mural mask in Puerto Vallarta

Masks are reflective of shape shifting. Jaguars are a common animal of choice, as in the Puerto Vallarta Mural, and…

This Oaxaca mask.

This Oaxaca mask.

Deer are fast, a good choice if you have to get somewhere in a hurry. This Huichol deer is covered with beads that make up symbols that relate to the Huichol's belief system.

Deer are fast, a good choice if you have to get somewhere in a hurry. This Huichol deer is covered with beads that make up symbols that relate to the Huichol’s belief system. That’s peyote on his forehead.

I haven't heard of iguanas being a choice for shape shifting. Maybe that's why this Huichol piece looks sad.

I haven’t heard of iguanas being a choice for shape shifting. Maybe that’s why this Huichol piece looks glum. Or is that my imagination working overtime?

In this Huichol string painting, I couldn't help but believe that even the baby was shape shifting. A squid, perhaps?

In this Huichol string painting, I couldn’t help but believe that even the baby was shape shifting. A squid, perhaps? The mother-to-be seems to prefer a snake form.

While almost all Huichol creations reflect the tribe’s belief system, much of the art created in Oaxaca is created solely for the beauty and pleasure it brings, often with a sense of humor attached. The same can be said for Puerto Vallarta’s murals.

There is no apparent shape shifting in the Oaxaca saber toothed tiger. Or in the peacock behind it.

There is no apparent shape shifting in the Oaxaca saber toothed tiger. Or in the peacock behind it.

Another Oaxaca cat with big teeth.

Another Oaxaca cat with big teeth.

And here we have Felix Domesticatus.

And here we have the domestic version is his “feed me now” pose.

Cool cats, perhaps— as jazz musicians were once referred to as, and a musical iguana were the subject of this mural we found on the Rio Cuale.

Cool cats, perhaps— as jazz musicians were once called, and a multi-talented iguana, were the subject of this mural we found on the Rio Cuale.

An iguana of a different stripe? This is one pointing to one of life's great pleasures: hot peppers.

An iguana of a different stripe? This is one pointing to one of life’s great pleasures: hot peppers. Apparently they are hot enough to shake Puerto Vallarta’s Cathedral.

Shape shifting is a thing of dreams in our minds as well. We imagine what it might be like to be a hawk soaring across the sky, or a cheetah running with the wind. I’ve been reading a book on lucid dreaming, just for fun. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, it has to do with consciously being aware that you are dreaming and doing things you can’t normally do in life, like walk through walls, or take off flying whenever you wish. Basically, you control what happens in the dream.

The book, A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming, even has a section on shape shifting. “Before you go to sleep,” the book directs, “decide what person, beast, or object you want to transfer into.” Say you want to try being a tiger. Imagine it before you go to sleep. When you awake in your dream, “feel the sensations a tiger would feel. Stand on all fours and feel your teeth getting sharp.” Good advice (grin). Once you become a skilled Oneironautic, you might actually make it happen according to the book.

Feel your teeth growing and becoming sharper!

Feel your teeth growing and becoming sharp!

Now, I confess I am a little skeptical. At least I haven’t suddenly become awake in my dreams and decided to become a yappy Chihuahua. That’s not saying it isn’t worth a try. I do on occasion change the course of a dream from a bad ending to a good ending. I actually get up and run away from the monster instead of lying there in a semi-paralyzed stupor as he starts to devour me from the toes up. It’s a start, but not enough. I dearly want to be that hawk winging across the sky or the Cheetah charging along at 35 miles per hour. How about you?

Is there a Chihuahua in your future. Even though Senior Pooch pretended to be deaf, he couldn't avoid having his numerous faults listed, again and again.

Is there a Chihuahua in your future. I found these guys playing along the Rio Cuale. My thought:  Even though Senior Perro pretended to be deaf, he couldn’t avoid having his numerous faults reiterated— again. Don’t you just love the look on his face?

Or possibly you have something more elegant in mind, as reflected in this Puerto Vallarta Mural.

Or possibly you have something more elegant in mind with a ring in your nose, as reflected in this Puerto Vallarta Mural.

NEXT BLOG: Peggy and I say goodbye to Puerto Vallarta

Strange Art, Wild Nature, and Bounteous Beauty… Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon

Unique, often humorous art, along Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon is one of several attractions that make the walkway appealing.

Unique, often humorous art, is one of several attractions that make a stroll along Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon a must-do activity each time I am in the city. How could anybody resist this flying/swimming whatever?

Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon, or walkway, along Banderas Bay is special. Most cities would offer up their top five attractions— or their Chamber of Commerce president, to have it. Beautiful sunsets, cascading pelicans, and waves rolling in from the Pacific are only part of the appeal. Interesting/fun art, views of the town, and the charm of the Malecon itself capture locals and visitors alike.

Looking south from the northern section of the Malecon as the sun sets over Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay.

Looking south from the northern section of the Malecon as the sun sets over Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay.

Pelicans join a feeding frenzy as they dive into Banderas Bay after a school of fish. The upside down guy made me laugh.

A photo of pelicans in a feeding frenzy from two years ago as they dive into Banderas Bay after a school of fish. The upside down guy made me laugh. Now that is dedication!

A number of sculptures adorn the walk including the Eggplant man…

A number of sculptures adorn the walk including the Eggplant Man, who just happens to be eating an eggplant. His substantial girth captured a bit of the Puerto Vallarta in reflection.

…Long Nose,

I wasn’t sure whether this was an octopus with one tentacle or a creature with a long nose that featured suction cups. “The better to smell you with, my dear.”

…this sea monster with a large mouth. (Check out his tongue and the hand pointing where food is supposed to go.)

This smiling sea monster with a large mouth featured a tongue with directions as to where it hoped tasty tourists might go.

…these graceful dancers,

A taste of the beauty and grace of Mexico…

and this beautiful sculpture that suggests that two heads are better than one.

…and a suggestion that two heads are better than one.

Even without the art and the bay, the Malecon is a very attractive walkway.

Even without the art and the bay, the Malecon is  very attractive. Note the designs built into the walkway.

Puerto Vallarta’s iconic cathedral is one of many sights looking inland from the Malecon.

Puerto Vallarta’s iconic cathedral is one of many views looking inland from the Malecon.

For those more into partying or shopping, a walk on the non-ocean side of the Malecon provides countless opportunities for mischief. Senior Frogs and many other bars line the non-ocean side of the walkway. Shops selling everything from tourist trinkets to humorous folk art compete for your attention. Or, you can get serious and spend the kid’s inheritance on something large and silver.

Peggy has her photo taken with Senorita Frog on the landside of the walkway.

Peggy holds hands with Senorita Frog on the landside of the walkway.

A flying cow serves as an enticement to one of the many bars.

A flying cow serves as an enticement to one of the many bars. From the expression on her face, I doubt that she is drinking milk.

Anybody want to buy a great ape? This big fellow is decorated with thousands of beads, Huichol Indian style. The shop was packed full of Huichol art. Peggy bought a small turtle. Apparently the ape was a little large to carry home on the plane.

Anybody want to buy a great ape? This big fellow is decorated with thousands of beads, Huichol Indian style— and a Corona hat. The shop was packed full of Huichol art. Peggy bought a small turtle. Apparently the ape was a little large to carry home on the plane.

I found this three foot alligator in Old Town Puerto Vallarta, but similar silver gifts are available along the Malecon. Armed guards were outside and inside the store.

I found this three foot alligator in Old Town Puerto Vallarta, but similar silver gifts are available along the Malecon. Armed guards were outside and inside the store. And no, we didn’t spend the kid’s inheritance on it. That money goes to our travels. (grin)

Peggy and I usually choose to walk on the ocean side. The ubiquitous vendors found along the bay front of Puerto Vallarta apparently aren’t allowed to push their wares on the Malecon north of the town center. Normally the sales pitches don’t bother us. It comes with the territory, and the people are only trying to make a living. Still, an occasional break is appreciated. Our tolerance for hassling doesn’t extend to timeshare sales people, however. Their approach bares a striking resemblance to that of used-car salesmen.

South of town center as you approach the Rio Cuale and Old Town on the Malecon, your opportunity to obtain ‘bargains’ increases exponentially. Our friend Lesley Lake made the mistake of allowing a bracelet vendor put a bracelet on her wrist. She ended up buying four. These guys are good. When they get you, you’re got.

Our friend Leslie made the mistake of showing interest in a hawker’s bracelets on the lower Malecon and ended up buying four. He was one happy salesman.

The vendor has Leslie. She won’t get away.

It is appropriate to end this blog on Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon with the statue of a boy on a seahorse, the symbol of Puerto Vallarta.

It is appropriate to end this blog on Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon with the adopted symbol of Puerto Vallarta, a statue of a boy wearing naught but a sombrero while riding a seahorse. Seems it might get a little rough, to me.

NEXT BLOG: Folks in Mexico take dead people seriously— sort of.