I’m sitting on a Mexican beach. The sun has only recently made its way over the Sierra mountains to warm the sands of Puerto Vallarta. Vallarta Heat — a women’s week created, organized and hosted by Torontonians — ends today. For the past seven days queer women from Kelowna, Seattle, Toronto, Hamilton, Boston, Calgary, New Mexico, Chile, Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara (as well as a couple of Canadians who have made Puerto Vallarta their home) have danced, drank, sang, snorkeled, chatted and flirted in the Mexican heat.
Vallarta Heat, which ran from Feb 23 to Mar 2, is the brainchild of Shannon McDonough, cohost of the queer travel show Bump (coproduced by Xtra’s publisher Pink Triangle Press). She and partner Emily Sanford noticed other lesbian couples on previous vacations in Puerto Vallarta, a destination better known for its well-established men’s scene. Nudges and over-the-shoulder glances resulted in the idea of a women’s week in this southern destination.
“Lesbians come to Vallarta,” says Sanford. “We wanted to get them all here at the same time, doing the same things.”
Steve Buczek — promoter and creator of Beef Dip, the annual bear and leather week in PV — organized events and locations for the women’s week, Toronto-based queer travel company Conxity.com became a sponsor and handled travel arrangements, and voila! Buczek, along with event hosts Sanford and Michelle Smith, greeted sun-starved sisters at the inaugural Vallarta Heat welcome party on Feb 23 at the well-known Blue Chairs resort. In all 56 women enjoyed the week’s events.
True to the intent, each day featured an event to bring queer women together. You can walk everywhere in Old Vallarta, so no matter the choice of accommodation (locally owned inns from $25 per night, condos from about $700 per week or all-inclusive beachside hotels starting from $840, flight included) we were close to the beach and the festivities. Some of us purchased Vallarta Heat dog tags ($130) that allowed entry into all of the events, others joined in occasionally. Some women only arrived in PV part-way through the week.
The women I spoke to, partnered and single, were all excited to be participating in the inaugural women’s week. “Definitely worth coming back for,” said Terry from Kelowna, while another woman pointed that it was ironic to be meeting people that you see at home but have never spoken to.
Tuesday afternoon the Abbey Hotel hosted a private pool party. Beach balls flew and the hot tub bubbled to the beat of Toronto DJ TK’s and local DJ Gaico’s mixes. Thursday night an exception was made to the 11pm beach curfew and we spent a few hours under the stars at the Blue Chairs. As waves crashed onto the shore a few metres away we talked, laughed, danced and made out amid comfy bed-like benches and Tikki torches.
In the absence of a women’s scene here in Puerto Vallarta we created one wherever we went — as do the local queer women. Vicky, a law student, tells me lesbians go to whatever gay club they like and have a good time, but there is no place just for them.
Room Service (Juarez 182 Altos, Zona Centro) is trying to change that. The new lesbian-owned club, which is trying to carve out a space for local queer women, provided an intimate atmosphere and an amazing go-go dancer for our Friday night foray. Being able to walk back to our accommodations without fear and stopping for a delicious street-taco for 10 pesos (about $1) were the icing on the cake.
Thursday’s jungle adventure tour by ATV included a stop at a tequila factory (complete with samples). Some of us opted instead for a zip-line tour. Los Veranos Canopy Tours — run by Sylvie Scopasso, a BC lesbian now living in PV — zipped us through the tropical forest, 500 metres over a river in the Sierra Madre mountains. Friday we spent aboard a Diana Tour’s boat. Diana DeCoste, (another Canadian lesbian, from Montreal) is Puerto Vallarta’s “gay mayor.” She runs a now-infamous gay cruise twice a week. We spent the day snorkeling, swimming at a secluded beach, eating a delicious lunch of fish, chicken or quesadillas at Los Animas Beach and of course drinking while soaking up the sun, the atmosphere and the music on the boat.
Most of Diana’s clients are men. “The original idea was for women, but it didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t the product,” says DeCoste. Monica Albarran Medina and Giana Zimmerman, owners of Room Service, are experiencing the same reality; women can’t be their only market if they want the business to survive.
Club Mañana (290 Venustiano Carranza) with its open-air courtyard, swimming pool and water-fall was our beginning, middle and end club. The final event of the week was Moist, a dance on Saturday night with DJ TK spinning house music and keeping the mixed crowd dancing into the wee hours of the morning. Organizers’ flyering efforts on the beach throughout the week paid off — we had a larger group of local women join us to dance to TK’s high-energy set.
And now the week is drawing to a close. The tunes are already playing in the bars and restaurants on Los Muertos beach even though it’s not yet lunchtime. I’ve met some new friends, experienced a foreign city where it feels safe to be gay and enjoyed some spectacular sunsets. I hope the enthusiasm of those of us who experienced the week will mean that Vallarta Heat will see many more women next year.