Thursday, March 27, 2008

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is my preferred stop on this cruise and in fact I quite liked it when we stayed here for a week twenty years ago. Certainly there have been quite a few changes in those years, although then, as we did at Mazatlán, we stayed at a resort way out of the main area, with its own private beach.

The ship docked at a brand new cruise ship terminal and nearby there was a constant stream of traffic to and from the airport. Opposite, on the portside, was a Walmart's store, of all things and adjacent a very large modern air- conditioned mall, but from our deck we could see a very large marina and close by were moored two very large private motor boats, each with its own helicopter on board. How the other half live! Being a fair way out of town we caught a cab into the downtown area.

Puerto Vallarta is a city of 350,000, halfway down the Pacific coast of Mexico and well below the Tropic of Cancer. The town sits on Banderas Bay, at 25 miles wide one of the largest and deepest bays in the world. With its average temperature of 80 degrees year round and 345 days of sunshine the city attracts more than 3 million visitors annually.

The first Europeans, the Spanish, came to the bay in the 16th Century where they were met by 20,000 native people who had ceremonial weapons decorated with brightly coloured flags and thus the bay was named Bahia de Banderas. In the mid 1850s families came to settle on the Rio Cuale, especially after gold and silver were found in the hills surrounding the area and while the town grew slowly it was the choice of a property in Puerto Vallarta in 1962 by director John Huston as the setting for his film version of Tennessee Williams' Night of the Iguana that brought the sleepy town to the forefront of the news. The stars of the film were Richard Burton and Ava Gardner but accompanying Burton was his lover Elizabeth Taylor and with this affair being the gossip sensation of the time the spotlight fell on the town, as news media gathered here to cover the romance.

Elizabeth bought a 9-bedroom, 11-bathroom home, Casa Kimberley, high above the town, as well as the house across the lane and a bridge was constructed joining the two. Yes, I climbed the equivalent of three blocks of stairs to find the house which is now run as a bed and breakfast. I can't believe I did that but we did see a few other tourist huffing and puffing up the steps.

Other Hollywood stars followed Burton and Taylor to the town which was discovered to be a perfect tropical paradise and from there it grew into the popular tourist destination it is today, with development still galloping along as there is new construction underway everywhere.

The Rio Cuale divides the town into two sections, the southern side being purely Mexican while the northern side has the more tourist areas and upscale stores. The Malecon, an 11-block seaside promenade gives a wonderful view of the bay and the waves crashing onto the beach which was sandy in parts and very rocky in others. As in San Diego, the city has placed many modern bronze statues along the promenade which adds to the ambiance. Several of them incorporate interactive computers which will give you information about restaurants, hotels and things to do. Unfortunately it was almost impossible to read the screens because of the bright light.

Several locals had built huge sand sculptures above the tideline by the promenade and they were busy spraying them with water to keep their shapes. I don't know how long they had been there but one was a remarkable larger than life size representation of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. The detail was very good and it obviously required an enormous amount of effort. The ubiquitous donation boxes were nearby so we donated to each to reward their initiative. Perhaps the sculptures were made cooperatively and several take turns preserving them.

What I found quite pleasing was the vast number of Mexican families who were enjoying themselves on the bay front, wandering along eating ice cream and taking photos of their young children who enjoyed scrambling on the statues. A lovely cool breeze came in from the bay, making the heat quite tolerable and along the Malecon were erected several tent like covers with seats underneath, where strollers could sit in the shade and enjoy the view of the bay. We walked along until we came to the Rio which at that point has an island in its centre, Isla Rio Cuale, which divides the river into two arms which are virtually small creeks. The island has a small museum and restaurants situated in the shade of trees and many craft shops are located there too. We spent some time wandering the island before we returned to the city streets to visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was rather small but attractive, especially the exterior.

The streets of the old town themselves are cobble stoned and a rough ride for the cars which traverse them. Spanish style whitewashed houses with wrought iron balconies line the streets and bougainvillea vines are everywhere as is usual in this part of the world. I found a lovely frangipani tree in full bloom in a little lane off the beaten track, surviving in a very restricted corner.

The region has many things of interest to see, with a small privately owned zoo and botanical gardens nearby and of course there are the ever present water activities with many tour operators willing to take you out for a pleasant day's touring or cruising. We even saw people going for a sail on the Marigalante Pirate ship which looked like a lot of fun, especially for children.

One interesting thing I read about which takes place here was the Sea Turtle preservation initiative whereby 96 percent of the eggs will hatch with the help of the region's release program. From May to September thousands of sea turtles arrive on the nearby beaches to lay their eggs which are gathered each night by beachfront resort staff and are transported to a safer location. 30 to 70 days later the hatchlings emerge and they are released back onto the beach by resort staff and guests.

Well if you want to go to Mexico my choice from these three destinations would be Puerta Vallarta, even though it is more crowded in the city itself, it seems there are many more things to keep you occupied should you tire of relaxing and doing nothing.

Today we are back at sea, on our way to San Diego where we will fly back to Vancouver on Saturday. I hope you enjoyed travelling along with me and I will post photos later which will add a bit more interest to these bald word posts. This one may or may not be accompanied by an image. Only the gods of the internet know for sure, it is surely a mystery to me. What works one day does not the next, no matter what I do.

I will be posting for Saturday Photo Hunt tomorrow night, early as usual. The post for HIGH was prepared before leaving and should be no problem as all I have to do is hit publish. Am I tempting fate by saying that? I hope to visit everyone on Sunday to find out what has been going on in your lives. See you all soon.

Update: Thanks to Maui girl I have corrected the spelling of Puerto Vallarta not Puerta Vallarta as I had decided to rename it.


Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Wow! That sounds a fascinating place and I didn't know about the Burton/Taylor connection. I think I would have done that climb, too! Thanks for the great history leson as well, jmb.

Janice Thomson said...

What a fantastic sand castle Jmb - that's the best I've seen in a long time. Love the ornate tower of the church - guess everyone there is of a catholic denomination. Wonder touring with you - look forward to more pics when you are back.

rlbates said...

Glad you're having a great time! Thanks for sharing

Carver said...

I have enjoyed traveling with you. Sounds like a great place to visit. Lovely shots for this post and I'll look forward to more from your trip when you return. I hope the flight home is uneventful.

jams o donnell said...

I'm glad you're having a great time jmb! I've enjoyed your posts. Great taken on this weelk's photo hunt theme!

Vic, the Cariboo Ponderer said...

What a lovely trip you are having. I particularly enjoyed this post as that is the area we hope to go next winter.

Mauigirl said...

Great posts about your cruise! Your descriptions are really wonderful and make me feel as if I'm there with you.

We have only been to Mexico once, in 1990 - to Puerto Vallarta. It was a very sleepy little town then and no Wal*Marts! I'm glad it still has its charm, even though it sounds as if it is being built up more than one might like. My parents had gone there and liked it better than the fancy resorts in Cancun, so when we decided to go we went to Puerto Vallarta ourselves.

Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us!

Mauigirl said...

Oops, looks like I misspelled Puerta!

Liz said...

WEll, jmb, I have been absent from visiting anyone much for the last week or so so i hadn't realised that you'd taken a cruise. It sounds marvellous. It is the crowds that put me off but, like you, my uncle said that when he went crusiing for the first time recently, the ship managed to seem spacious and relatively crowd-free.

And you're telling me that the Last Supper is a sand sculpture?!!!! there are some incredibly gifted people around.

Well, I hope the rest of your trip and journey home goes well. I should be back to normal visiting soon so I can catch up with your news.

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

What I found quite pleasing was the vast number of Mexican families who were enjoying themselves on the bay front

It's indeed pleasant when Mexicans enjoy themselves.