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Puerto Vallarta: where the art of life thrives!

Rick Millikan

Yearning for a sunny, relaxing Mexican holiday? Tourists often choose to go to Puerto Vallarta, which offers luxurious inclusive hotels and comfortable time-share condos. Yet many travelers also select Puerto Vallarta, as a magical destination.

Here, colorful butterflies flit through lush tropical flora. Pelicans, egrets, and scissor tails soar above. Geckos scamper about while you dine! Evenings blaze with glorious sunsets; explode with summer lightning shows. Banderas Bay embraces beaches for sunbathing, northern stretches for surfing and southern white patches for snorkeling. And, golf courses boast the greenest greens, sandiest traps, chirpiest exotic birds, and live water hazards, crocodiles!

This veritable paradise has long inspired artists. In 1963 Hollywood discovered a nearby fishing village for a new movie setting. As John Huston began filming "Night of the Iguana" its stars Deborah Kerr, Ava Gardner and Richard Burton attracted tremendous media attention. Puerto Vallarta was soon center stage in real life drama. Coverage increased as Elizabeth Taylor joined Richard to fend off those attractive co-stars as well as to manage Burton's alcohol problems. There was so much to report! Liz purchased a hillside love nest, Casa Kimberly for Richard! Richard gave Liz the $350,000 Krupp Diamond Ring! This extramarital affair created an international scandal. Burton, a Catholic, was threatened with excommunication. Taylor's U.S. citizenship was jeopardized. Reporters swarmed over their x-rated romance! They had waved a media wand that changed laid back Puerto Vallarta into a major tourist destination.

Puerto Vallarta has never lost its magic. To find the heart and soul of Puerto Vallarta, avoid car rental's expense, traffic snarls, and parking hassles! Go native! Take a cheap, convenient bus aimed downtown. Hospitable Vallartans help you use their bus system. "Bus-kers" tooting flutes, drumming, strumming, and singing, often board to entertain their "amigo" passengers.

These rattling buses rush over cobblestone streets between red tiled, whitewashed adobes to the Malecon. Sighting Old Vallarta's famous seaside walkway signaled the time to begin our stroll. While the Malecon's musicians entertain nightly, its fascinating sculptures provide non- stop enjoyment. Columba's and Bustamente's monumental surreal bronzes titillated our interest. We just had to visit their nearby galleries. Bustamente's galleries exhibit his colorful moony humans, whimsical hippopotami people and robed aliens seeking enlightenment. Uno, Vallarta's original art gallery opened in the '70s. Columba and other Vallartans display their fascinating, lively art there. It is no surprise that John Huston and fellow director, David Lynch were among Uno's early clientele.

Buyers like Huston and Lynch first discovered Vallartan art just up the hill at Casa Kimberly. There a guide highlighted the lives of these renowned art benefactors': "...Casa Kimberly was actually two villas linked together by a pink bridge. The lower villa provided seclusion from the press and for Burton to recover from bouts of drinking.... Plate and glassware sets appear incomplete for entertaining, as Taylor, at 5 foot 1 inch often lost her temper and threw crockery! Friends understood that Taylor and Burton were passionate in both love and anger.... These famed lovers, noted for public generosity, donated the neighborhood children's park and theatre." Local art covered the walls of their home. Hollywood's rich and famous came, saw, and bought from Puerto Vallarta's aspiring painters and sculptors.

Local Manuel Lepe showcased 20 colorful primitive styled paintings at Casa Kimberley. John Huston continually promoted his work: "Manuel paints to bring joy to the hearts of children in all of us!" Lepe's international fame and fortune soon soared. Lepe produced Puerto Vallarta's first travel poster in 1970, characteristically depicting children playing at this charming city's beaches, parks and streets. "Our Lady of Guadalupe" Cathedral, recurrently appearing in Lepe's art, dominates this poster as well as Old Vallarta's skyline. Fanciful sweet cherubins hold hands around its steeple base, while Mistress (or Mad) Carlotta's crown provides the spire. Lepe's Museum Gallery is just below this glorious cathedral.

Two blocks south of Lepe's Museum, Galeria Indigenas exhibits traditional Mexican art. Visitors are welcome to appreciate its large collections of Pre-Columbian art, Huichol sculptures and prints, Day of the Dead genres and Ceremonial masks.

Walking further south, Flea Market and Mercado Municipal handicraft hustlers readily bargain and barter. Over a red brick bridge lies Rio Cuale Island. After Liz's "Gringo Gulch" neighbors and proud amigos cleaned it up, Cuale Island developed into an Eden of cool river breezes, relaxed boutiques and shady parks. There, a contented Huston statue sits reading a newspaper.

Crossing a white stuccoed brick bridge south, the road narrows to enter the original fishing village of Old Vallarta. There restaurants offer traditional menus, an old Mexico ambience and mariachis! Ole! The beach, always popular, was once where movie crews' planes landed. From the still active fishing pier, these crews took a boat trip to Mismaloya. Then, they hiked up into the jungle to produce the legendary "Night of the Iguana".

A bus now travels south to Mismaloya. After passing many inviting beaches, we arrived there to stroll along the shore and up onto the "Set of Night of the Iguana". Revamped as an attractive garden restaurant, its glorious past endures in haunting memorabilia, lush vegetation, and Mismaloya's sapphire bay below.

Travelers, who anticipate old Mexican charm and sunny, beautiful beaches, soon discover much more. Fascinating Puerto Vallarta exudes a warm hospitality, colorful art and joyful music. Visitors fill their lives with Puerto Vallartan magic.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2003 by Rick Millikan © 2003
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