Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Puerto Vallarta's pleasures: sprinkled with sand, laced with movie lore

A once sleepy fishing village is home to world class hotels and restaurants, water sports and appealing beach front.

LIZ TAYLOR, RICHARD BURTON AND THEIR STORMY AFFAIR TURNED THE TIDE FOR SMALL FISHING TOWN

Puerto Vallarta attracts an international tourist clientele.
STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER




The boy and seahorse are P.V.'s symbol.











FIFTY YEARS AFTER Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton put Puerto Vallarta on the map with their torrid romance, this once-placid little seaside village on Mexico's west coast has become a major resort.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral is a popular wedding site.
In what used to be a fishing hole, a dozen top-name hotels stand, with pools and handsomely groomed gardens, private cabanas for romancing lovers relaxing beneath forests of coconut palms.
FANCY YACHTS sway at anchor in the marina, and vacationers stroll the harbor's boardwalk, pausing to browse in boutiques, photograph the port's famous boy-sea horse sculpture, or sip a cool drink.
Imagine the beaches of Puerto Vallarta a half century ago when famed director John Huston came to town.  A few sailboats, a yacht or two. Local cafes, small stores, nondescript hotels. But the director scouted the location for “The Night of the Iguana,” and brought Burton and Taylor down. The rest, as they say, is history.
AN ENTICING sculpture greets visitors. Inaugurated in 1976, the Caballito de Mar bronze is three meters tall, created by artist Rafael Zamarripa. This boy riding a sea horse has become Puerto Vallarta's symbol.
Long before the movie industry recognized its charms, Puerto Vallarta was known by a rougher crowd.
THE HOLLYWOOD  retinue followed pirates from Spanish galleons and pearl-diving locals, rough and tumble miners from California and the Baja, adventurers seeking beauty and peace in the Bay of Banderas.  The lures were gushing bougainvillea and red-tiled roofs, natural river pools and jungles.
Accustomed to luxury, Taylor ensconced herself in an imposing house she helped renovate and design, atop a hilltop with a lovely view of the Pacific ocean and the river.   
Elizabeth Taylor helped design her hilltop perch which continues to be privately owned and enjoyed.
Burton began to frequent a cliff top restaurant with a stunning view. His carousing and taste for a fine meal made El Set world famous.  It is still “the place” to go, with food and drink and a view that doesn't stop. 
An array of crafts and some typical tourist shopping items in the park.
PUERTO VALLARTA'S history dates back to its 1851 founding.  The port was used for trading salt and minerals for the mines in San Sebastian and Cuale. It was founded by Don Guadalupe Sanchez, who
named it Las Peñas de Santa Maria de Guadalupe. The name was eventually modified to Puerto de Las Peñas, or Port of the Rocks. The handle was again changed in 1918, when the town was declared the municipality of Puerto Vallarta, after governor Ignacio Luis Vallarta.
Director and writer
John Huston's bronze.
WE TOASTED Mr. Vallarta at El Set, sampling the best margarita we’ve tasted south of the border, listening to live music and the splash of the waves hundreds of feet below.
Burton made Puerto Vallarta famous -- and brought a following to El Set.

Back in the '60s, much was written
about Burton and Taylor and their tempestuous romancing and quarreling.  But their presence and the money and attention the film brought to the previously sleepy town put Puerto Vallarta on the map.  And Taylor’s notorious philanthropy and generosity improved the town’s economics, too.  So much did she do for the schools and hospitals, that the locals let her build a bridge over the river and up towards her home.
Sand and rock art interests tourists and provides a living for locals.
HUSTON, TOO, was beloved by the townspeople, and a striking bronze of him is mounted in the central part of the lovely Isla Rio Cuale, where tourists and locals mingle to shop, stroll and enjoy the river’s cooling breezes. The Huston bronze, reminiscent of Rodin's "The Thinker," was made in 1988 by Carlos Ramirez in tribute to the famous American film director.
Burton on the
"Iguana" set.
TODAY'S PUERTO Vallarta might not be recognized by the stars who made it famous 50 years ago. Many ex-patriots from Europe and the U.S.
invested in the good life here, with unparalleled white sand beaches, world famous fishing and golf, and award-winning design. Condos start at $395k and go into the millions.
Huston loved the landscape here – both at his beach hideaway, Las Caletas,  where he lived many years, and the nearby Sierra Madre region with Jalisco state’s oldest communities. That's where he filmed the famous Humphrey Bogart movie, “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”  

Cookie takes time to smell the flowers in Costa Rica.

COMING SOON:  Costa Rica is a haven for bird lovers and sky walkers looking for monkeys, sloths and other exotic flora and fauna. Come explore the wonders of this beautiful Central American country which has little unemployment and no army! Enjoy a bird’s eye view from a sky bridge high above the rain forest. Remember to explore, learn and live and please share our website: www.whereiscookie.com
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