My father’s work took him to every major city in Mexico as well as to many small towns and villages. One day in 1961 he received a phone call from his sister who lived in San Diego, California, asking him to help her collect some money from a man she had helped to buy a fishing boat. She and her husband had given the man a loan to help him buy the boat but after a few months he had stopped making payments.
I was out of school at the time so I accompanied my Dad on a business trip to Guadalajara. From there we took a little DC-3 plane on a hop over the mountain to the sleepy little coastal village of Puerto Vallarta. There were two ways to get to the village then. You could fly into the primitive airport or you could take a wild ride in an open-sided bus over a winding mountain dirt road along with pigs and chickens.
In 1961 it was a colorful little town that hugged the shoreline wrapped in beautiful verdant foliage that spilled down the mountain to the pristine white sand beaches. We found a little hotel on the main road that skirted the beach. It was pretty basic lodging that lacked many of the amenities usually found in Mexican hostelries of that era, but it was the best there was.
The food in the little café was O.K.; nothing to write home about. We found the Puerto Vallartans to be very sociable and we made friends easily. We recognized the boat we sought by the name on its bow and soon located its proprietor. He greeted us warmly and promptly handed over cash in the exact amount owed to my aunt. He then offered to take us on a little deep-sea fishing trip in the boat—a first for me. I remember catching a three foot fish of some kind that has gotten bigger as I have told the tale over the years.
We rested up at Yelapa Beach, a beautiful little cove that consisted of clear turquoise water, fine white sand and a quaint thatch roofed “hotel” made of sticks. It sported brand new Simmons box springs and mattresses—I was impressed and wished that we could have stayed there. They would cook up for dinner whatever fish you happened to catch that day. Some men emerged from the jungle and showed us the artifacts they had collected there, found in the ruins of some ancient civilization whose story has been lost to us except for these and other fascinating remnants.
Let’s fast forward three years to 1964. Movie director Jon Huston films a movie on location in Puerto Vallarta entitled “Night of the Iguana.” It stars, among other notables, Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. The story is based on a 1961 play by Tennessee Williams and wins an Academy Award for costume design and is nominated for three others.
The film brought considerable attention for stories around its production, since Richard Burton brought his soon-to-be-wife Elizabeth Taylor to the location site. At an award dinner for “advancing the literature of the motion picture through the years,” Allen Shuman performed a song, to the tune of “Streets of Laredo”, with lyrics that included, “They went down there to film ‘Night of the Iguana’ with a star-studded cast and a technical crew. They did things at night midst the flora and fauna that no self-respecting iguana would do.”
The movie made Puerto Vallarta a destination for tourists from around the world and today it has been transformed into something very foreign to that which I experienced in 1961. In place of a picturesque, laid back fishing village, there are high rise luxury hotels, condominiums and timeshares, gourmet food, swimming pools, night clubs, bright lights, floor shows, big name entertainers—and lots of traffic. It has become a playground and a second home for many of the rich and famous.
And the moral of the story is? I’m not sure there is a moral to the story. Things like this are happening all over our world today. We constantly see quaint quiet little places turn into cities and towns dominated by the Wal-Marts and McDonalds of the world. Here in the Texas hill country we see once peaceful ranches sold to developers to be sub-divided into five and ten-acre “ranchettes” and before we know it our town councils are passing big-city type ordinances to regulate the shape and size of signs and make us get permission before we can put one up on our own property. They establish fines for when a cow gets loose and pipe in expensive water so we can irrigate the golf courses.
The one place that seems to stay the same, in spite of the country-western song that brought it notoriety, is good ole Luchenbach, Texas, “where there ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain…” In spite of the bikers and beer drinkers that flock there every weekend, I have yet to see a condominium go up there. Long live little Luchenbach!