Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (October 30, 2021)

We woke to another perfect day. Mid to high 80s with a chance of rain. Puerta Vallarta is new to all of us, so we chose the Highlights of the City tour to get acclimated. It was an afternoon tour, so we all scattered to the winds in the morning. Dan and I slept in, relaxed, and grabbed an early lunch; Hettie and Ronnie were a little more energetic; and the smarty pants in the group, Cyd and Rick, attended a string ray presentation that they said was FanFrickenTastic making us all regret we had been such slugs.

The ship was able to dock at the pier, so we avoided the hassle of tenders. The port in this city of 400,000 is clean, sophisticated, welcoming, and very organized. The buildings are a tidy combination of mustard, coral, cream, tan, and grey with red tile roofs. Unlike the desert city of Cabo, Puerto Vallarta gets 40-60 inches of rain, so it is green and lush by comparison.

Our guide, Victor, explained that the sleepy village of yore that depended on fishing, farming, and salt mining did not have electricity or an airport until 1970! The city got both rather suddenly because President Nixon was scheduled to meet with the Mexican president in this exact location and it was decided that it would make an unfavorable impression if Mexico welcomed the presidents in a location without either. Between the Hollywood press (see For what it’s worth….. below) and the meeting of these two presidents the area has morphed relatively quickly into the sophisticated beach resort it is today.

Fun fact: If you are born and raised in Puerto Vallarta you are referred to as a salty foot. Victor is proud to be a salty foot.

Fun Victor story: When he was six years old his grandpa gave him a pet iguana. One day he was walking it around town with a little iguana-sized leash and a woman asked if she could take her picture with it. He agreed willingly and much to his surprise, when she was done taking the picture she gave him $1.00. He said it didn’t take him long to figure out he and his pet could go into business. On a good day he earned $7.00, a tidy sum for a little guy.

A hurricane that had recently hit the area wiped out the bridge we were going to use to bypass downtown in order to get to the old part of town, so our bus driver had to navigate the colorful, narrow streets in the newer part of town. Victor said his dad refers to that as seeing Mexico without makeup. Once in the old part of town we visited The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, dedicated to the patron saint of Mexico. It was built in what was then the center of town between 1930 and 1940 on the site of a smaller church dating back to 1901. It is well maintained and beautiful inside and out. An impressive crown sits at the top of the church. Dan and I lit a candle for Josie’s Aunt Jerry.

Mexico has been the world’s primary source of fire opal for nearly 100 years. That being the case, Victor decided it was fitting to take us to a jewelry store that specializes in these stones as well as beautiful silver, another staple of Mexico. Cyd and I succumbed to the allure of high pressure and impulse buying and did the group (and Cleone) proud with the purchase of a small fire opal hippo (Cyd) and a fire opal ring (Schele).

Dia de los Muertos (may I suggest Pixar’s Coco) is November 1 which is wonderful luck for us because vibrantly colored displays were along the beach walk, outside the church, and on the walkway near the city center. All honored the dead. There were statues of skeletons 20 or more feet tall dressed in traditional clothing, colorful hats, and interesting accessories with skulls for heads and bamboo segments creating boney hands. A bit spooky by our standard, but intended in no way to disrespect the dead.

We stopped to watch a group of six, all dressed in traditional white, play (a harp and three guitars), sing, and dance (a woman and girl). They were wonderful and drew quite a crowd.

Our last stop of the day was to see a small park near Deadman’s Beach, the most popular beach in the city. An expat from Oregon is leading a beautification project which, when completed, will have all the surfaces, mostly benches and columns, covered in mosaic tiles. It’s easy to imagine how beautiful as well as colorful this attraction will be one day soon. A charming statue in this small park is made up of two small boys and a dog struggling to coax an uncooperative mule. It pays homage to the contribution of children and mules in the salt mines of the past.

We all enjoyed our day and agreed that Victor did a great job.

Our four-course dinner was delicious. I had already enjoyed chicken, beef, and veal, so I decided on shredded lamb shank rolled in phyllo. It did not disappoint. Dan had fish for the fourth day in a row.

Dan came up with another clever seating plan and hosted day three of his contest with questions about tennis balls, plastic in landfills, and a probability formula to estimate the number of planets that might sustain intelligent life.

Tonight’s entertainment: We thoroughly enjoyed Claire Gobin, a classically trained violinist who played show tunes, the Beatles, and classical pieces.

By the way: Just like in Cabo and Todos Santos, there was a very high rate of compliance with the mask mandate (regardless of vaccination status) in effect.

For what it’s worth…..

Puerto Vallarta is the final port of call in the TV show The Love Boat (1977-1986).

The state of Jalisco, where Puerto Vallarta is located, is the capital of mariachi music in Mexico.

Banderas Bay is one of the 10 largest bays in the world and easily the largest bay in Mexico. 

Gringo Gulch began to develop as an expat neighborhood on the hill above the old town
by the 1950s after American writers and artists were drawn to the area.

Puerto Vallarta has featured as the backdrop to a number of movies, including The Night of the Iguana which made the area famous in the 1960s. During filming, a married Richard Burton bought an also married Elizabeth Taylor (not in the film, BTW) a house, Casa Kimberly, for her 32nd birthday. For good measure, or more space maybe, he also bought the house across the street. They built a bridge between the two, presumably to escape prying eyes. Extensive US media coverage of the affair as well as the frequent fighting between the movie’s director, John Houston, and the film’s four stars put Puerto Vallarta on the map for US tourists. Fun fact: Casa Kimberly is now a boutique hotel.


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