A Mexican Getaway (Puerto Vallarta, Part 2)

 
 

“El Diablo,” the Puerto Vallarta dog

Let’s go back in time, to the early 1960s, when Puerto Vallarta was still a sleepy fishing village on the Mexican coast. Everything changed after acclaimed and prolific film director John Huston came to town to shoot The Night of the Iguana in September 1962. Huston immediately fell in love with Puerto Vallarta and purchased a house there. He spent a lot of time in Mexico over the years, and owned several properties(*), in Puerto Vallarta and other locations.

Night of the Iguana was based on a Tennessee Williams play,
and it shows…
A prestigious cast:
Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, and Sue Lyon

(photographer unknown)

The Night of the Iguana, released in 1964, became an award-winning movie, but it is best remembered for the off-screen antics of its lead actor, Richard Burton, and his paramour, Elizabeth Taylor. The two had recently met on the set of Cleopatra and had fallen madly in love. Taylor arrived in Puerto Vallarta with her entourage in 1963 and – the legend says – started complaining about the rustic accommodations. Burton reported to John Huston who promptly found a rental home for the couple. What Elizabeth wanted, Elizabeth got. The neighborhood was known as the “Gringo Gulch,” as a handful of American expatriates, including the film director, already called it home. It still sits on a hill today, streets lined with white stucco houses, bougainvillea spilling over red tile roofs, balconies and windows. 


Burton and Taylor settled right in. Burton would eventually purchase the house, named “Casa Kimberley,” as a birthday gift for Elizabeth before their 1964 wedding. A few years later, he acquired the property across the street, razed it down, and turned it into a pool house. The pool house became the “dog house” where he would hide and play cards with his friends when Elizabeth kicked him out of Casa Kimberley during their infamous fights. In the 1970s, a romantic Burton built a pink bridge, modelled after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice and connected both houses. Locals nicknamed it “the Lovers’ Arch,” or “El Puente de Reconciliacíon” (no translation needed!) Over the years, the Burtons found a real home in Puerto Vallarta; visiting often with their family; generously donating to local charities; and making a profound impact on the once unknown town when reporters (the early paparazzi) would follow the world-famous couple around. 

Enjoying the good life in Puerto Vallarta
(photographer unknown)

 

… and making a home there…
(dailymail.co.uk)
Gone but not forgotten: The Burtons,
remembered at La Fuente del Puente restaurant, Puerto Vallarta

 

Gone but not forgotten: John Huston Plaza, Puerto Vallarta

After two weddings and two divorces, Liz and Richard, “les enfants terribles,” finally called it quits in the late 1970s. He died in 1984, and Liz refused to go back to Casa Kimberley because the memories made her too sad. She sold the house, leaving all their belongings behind, in 1990. It changed owners a few times, at one point a bed and breakfast and a museum. I was determined to see it, and took Les Boys with me, up steep Calle Zaragoza, behind the Church. El Gringo Gulch has not changed much, but the house that once sheltered the happy early days of the Burton/Taylor marriage, was closed and in a bad state of disrepair. The pink bridge was still there. 

Liz and Dick… in the old days…
(photographer unknown)

The Burtons successfully settled in Puerto Vallarta. Why did they like it so much? Was it the weather? The beautiful scenery and beaches? The relative anonymity? Maybe they kept coming back for the laid-back lifestyle they could share with their many friends. Overtime, they became locals, not just tourists, and they started blending in (as much as the world’s most famous and most romantic couple could blend in, that is.) 

I understand how wonderful that feeling must have been, the transition from being a tourist, a gringo; staying in a place for a limited amount of time, often with one’s own countrymen; taking it all in, hopefully with curiosity and open-mindedness, but ultimately staying on the outside, looking in. On to a different status, a different state; becoming more than a transient visitor; traveling deeper; understanding better.

Ten days ago, when we flew back from Puerto Vallarta, I felt good about our traveling experience. The happy memories I shared with you in the last post explain why, at least in part. There was more. You may remember we caught up with Seattle friends in Mexico. This is a family we met at Junior’s school at home. They happen to have Mexican relatives, and as soon as we arrived, we were generously welcomed within the group. So not only did we explore the fantastic area around Puerto Vallarta, we also benefited from the experience and knowledge of our friends. There are restaurants we may not have discovered right away; local stories we may not have heard; there was an international dinner party, with Americans, Frenchies, Mexicans, and even fun-loving Argentinians laughing and communicating, come what may, around the same table. There was also a special trip we took to a local elementary school, in a poor part of town.

It took 30 minutes, and a bumpy taxi ride,
to reach San Ancho, South of PV
The local grocery store… no Whole Foods here!

The purpose of the trip was to accompany a member of the group who represented the local branch of the Rotary Club. I have had a special connection to the Rotary Club ever since they sponsored part of my college studies in Atlanta, GA back in the 1980s. As a former Rotary scholar, I can appreciate the help these good people provide to Mexican children, in particular through the Becas [Scholarship] Program (**). We learned that school is only mandatory until 6th grade in Mexico, and that a lot of children, when they turn 13, are expected to earn their keep and start working for the family. A lot of parents can’t afford the $250-300 needed to finance a junior high or high school year. Enter the Rotary Club who finds sponsors for the most motivated and deserving children, providing an opportunity for these kids to continue their education. Junior’s friend, John, is sponsoring a Puerto Vallarta student and met him for the first time a couple of weeks ago. The purpose of our visit to the small, humble elementary school that day, was to witness the installation of a new computer system, operated with Microsoft software (Microsoft Mouse Mischief,) and donated by the Rotary Club and other sponsors. What a unique opportunity for our 6th graders to meet children who live in such different circumstances! They both did very well, and I am betting they will remember that day for years to come.

A small school, surrounded by the jungle…

Our group is greeted by the school children while
a proud Rotarian (and grandfather) looks on…
We interrupt a science class when we arrive… The kids do not seem to mind

 

A rather spartan computer room, but learning is happening here…
The Seattle boys visit the school’s library
Appreciating cultural diversity…
Civics and ethical education is part of the curriculum

 

One laptop, connected to the students’ mice, a projector:
The new equipment is finally working!
Learning to use a mouse…

 

Students, Rotary Club, and guests
I will remember these friendly faces…

 

Adios, Amigos!

It would have felt strange to go back to the luxurious world of Nuevo Vallarta’s resorts after visiting the school that morning. I asked our driver to drop me off in the old town, while the rest of the group headed back. I walked around Puerto Vallarta for a couple of hours, letting it all sink in. This was indeed a special day, during a special vacation in a special place. 

Until we return – and I hope we do – I will remember Mexico, its people, and its dogs, fondly.

“Bugs” and dogs traveling together…

 

“Scarface,” the pitt-bull rescued from the dog fighting ring…
Enjoy retirement, buddy!


 

A bientôt.

 

Do not reproduce without permission, please. 

(**) The Rotary Club Becas [Scholarship] program in Puerto Vallarta. Learn more here

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What did you think about this article? Let me know in the comment section below, (I love reading your messages and reply to most.) Don’t be selfish and share with a friend! Merci. Véronique (French Girl in Seattle)

48 Comments

  • Tu avais largement de quoi faire trois posts, un sur les Burton, un sur l’ecole, et le dernier sur les chiens.Les trois parties sont riches, interessantes, dures à commenter en quelques lignes . Ah ,pouvoir discuter avec toi de vive voix, te poser toutes les questions sur tes rencontres, les lieux visités,, parler cinema..En résumé, tu as passé des vacances belles,et enrichissantes humainement et emotionellement, et qui donnent envie.ET en plus, j’adore ton chihuahua!:o)

    • Tu as raison Malyss. J’aurais pu faire durer un peu ma serie sur Puerto Vallarta, et puisque tu parles d’echanger de vive voix, il est question que je passe par Nice fin juin. Je te ferai signe, bien entendu!

  • What a great post! As I shared before, we have been to Puerto Vallarta but had no idea about the connection the town has to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I enjoyed the pictures of the school and children too. Have a great week.

  • This was transfixing, Veronique. A very heartfelt, generous, enchanting POV from many angles–from International celebs to fleabag pooches. What a marvelous journey to a fabulous place! Thanks for taking us along!

  • Hola Veronique! Thanks for taking me back to PV – we actually stayed at the Hacienda San Angel last year — our friends got married there, it was absolutley a dream, and I’ll have to pop over to read Suzanne’s story.

    Being there for a wedding celebration was a lot different than your experience, and I appreciate seeing the other side of life there. Thanks for telling us about your scholarship experience. And the dogs, they melted my heart, as well. XO

    • You lucky dog! I would love to stay at the Hacienda San Angel one day. Maybe I will have to splurge for one night during our next visit. I can’t wait to see my old friends the Puerto Vallarta pooches again 😉

  • What wonderful experiences you have had! Seeing local life and getting to know the locals always leads to a richer experience, I think. I too am a big dog lover…love your photos (and the one you brought home!) 🙂

  • What a cool souvenir(ceramic chihuahua) from this epic trip. Wonderful post. =) I didn’t know the story about Taylor and Burton…neat shot of you near the same bridge! What an experience it must have been to have visited this school. I know, I would have had a hard time going back to the resort too. Have a great week Veronique. =)

  • Dearest Véronique,

    What a joy to read all this! I had no idea you came to study in Atlanta through Rotary. We do host each year with our east Georgia district, the GRSP = Georgia Rotary Student Programme where numerous students from around the world study one year at college. All paid for by Rotary and they do stay with a guest family on holidays. During the annual conferences they used to perform during the banquette evening. I remember one girl, no father, from east-east Russia who got in 2 days enough money for completing one more college year and they let her Mama come over for a visit. Brings tears to your eyes! So your trip was very special in that regard!!! Education is for Pieter and myself THE most important thing in life.
    Iguanas, oh we lived with them in Curaçao as well and the palm trees. Did you know that Saint Martin is half French and half Dutch; Sint Maarten? That is another island where we went twice before.
    You know that we only changed this plan last minute? We had tickets for 9 days to go to México, to visit with our boss/Friend Agustin and Carmen their new home in Puerto Escondido, the south west of México. For a penalty of $ 300.00 we flew instead to Curaçao due to the grave condition Agustin’s Father suddenly was in, health-wise…. It turned out to be a lovely vacation anyway and we were grateful that our 70,000 frequent flyer miles still got honored. Only the trip back was long, 15 hours from hotel to our home. That is also due to the fact that it was a frequent flyer mile ticket. But we made it, in bed by 3:00 AM and in a couple of days we will adjust to normal life again.
    Okay, as for the Blogger interface, I use the old one, as a pop-up so not all the photos and gadgets do have to load also. Saves time for those that want to comment.
    Love to you and as for the dogs, cute but during our many travels all through Mexico for work at the different locations, we noticed that there are many stray dogs…

    Mariette

    • Thank you for your visit and for your help with Blogger today. So you and your husband belong to the GRSP, the wonderful group of people who financed my college year abroad so many years ago. MERCI BEAUCOUP! There were only two French students chosen that year, and I was one of them! 😉 On another note, I am dying to see St Martin one day. I have heard a lot about it, and I am very curious to visit an island “with a dual personality!” 😉
      A bientot, Mariette.

  • Chère Veronique,

    What a generous, animal loving, humanitarian you are, but I already knew all of that…

    Your journal of a vacation adventure was stunning and thought-provoking. Thanks for all the stories and insight to the other side of a vacation spot. I will hold these places in my heart.

    Bises,
    Genie

    • Merci beaucoup Genie. I don’t know if I am a humanitarian, but I, and many other children and young people around the world, have already benefited from the generosity of wonderful organizations like the Rotary Club! I am glad I got to say “thank you” through this story. Visiting that small school surrounded by the jungle was one of the highlights of our trip.

    • Merci beaucoup miss b. Funny how the Burtons are long gone, but we all still love hearing or reading about them. They were a true celebrity couple (unlike some of the tramps making the news these days…)

  • Thank you Veronique for taking us along for an unforgettable journey. Les boys won’t forget this visit to local school no doubt.
    And the story Burton/Taylor is full of action. I learned a lot from your post, I didn’t know this chapter of their turbulent life.
    It was a very fulfilling vacation and having seen the sidebar cities you had lived in, you’re a 5 Stars traveler.
    Natalie

    • Merci Natalie. There is so much to write about all the places where the famous Burtons lived their chaotic love stories! I know of at least three more, but I have heard Casa Kimberley was probably their favorite place to be. I certainly understand! 😉

  • Fun post. We’ve never been to Puerto Vallarta, just San Miguel and Oaxaca – both beautiful areas. Thanks for taking us along with all the great photos and detailed dialog. Love my visits here. ~ Sarah

  • How fascinating. A wonderful account of your trip and the history of Puerto Vallarta. I had no idea of the Burton’s and Huston’s involvement in the town’s past!

    Xoxo
    Karena
    Art by Karena

  • Have you read Furious Love?! I think you would love it! It’s about Liz & Dick’s tumultuous romance. Puerto Vallarta is prominantly featured in it and includes the stories you mentioned here. I remember reading locals abhorred the couple, because they would have wild parties and drunken “orgies” that were incredibly loud and disrupt the peaceful village. (During the shooting of that movie, at least).

    I think it’s incredibly cool you got to go see the house and take a photo there. I’m envious! I’m sad that it is in such a state of disrepair! I wish someone would fix it up and perhaps turn it back into a museum…

    • That’s perfect Jenny. Furious Love has been added to my reading list 😉 I am guessing that La Liz and Dick spent a lot of time with other expats in PV and shocked the heck out of locals! I also heard that they had some ties with the community: They gave a lot of money to charities and even “adopted” a local boy who later traveled the world with them. He has become a renowned photographer. If I had the time and the Pesos, I would LOVE to refurbish Casa Kimberley and turn it into a bed and breakfast (next week’s story will explain why… ) Bye, friend.

  • MA CHÈRE AMIE!!!

    Bonjour! Quel joli billet et souvenir de tes vacances! Tu sais, mon père est né au Mexique dans un petit village, fondé par ces ancêtres de l’Espagne…et lui, mon père n’a pas fini l’école. Il était très intelligent et doué de talents, mais notre culture ne permet pas à tous les enfants de finir leurs études.

    AHHHH! Nous avons beaucoup en commun!!! SUPER! Merci pour tes commentaires si enthusiastes et gentils Véronique! Et je te souhaite une année scolaire formidable. La mienne et fatiguante!!!!

    GROSSES BISES! Anita

    • Bonjour Anita. Quelle coïncidence. Je ne savais pas que ton papa était mexicain! Je compte retourner au Mexique très bientôt. C’est vraiment un beau pays! En attendant, bon courage à l’école. Mes élèves sont un peu plus calmes que les tiens: ce sont des adultes! 😉

  • I enjoyed your post about Puerto Vallarta. We had a lovely visit to nearby Punta Mita last year for a friend’s wedding.

    I also have a Rotary connection – many years ago, I was one of their summer exchange students. I requested France, but was given Finland instead. Although I was initially disappointed, I made lifelong friends in Finland and even hosted my friend’s daughter as an exchange student last year. And I eventually made it to Rouen, France as a college exchange student. Some things take time!

    Loved the dog pictures – they are everywhere in Mexico!

    • Bonjour Erika. It is a small world, isn’t it? I had no idea you were a former Rotary scholar as well. Glad you made it to France, eventually 😉 The life-long friendships that come out of international exchanges enrich our lives and make the world a better place. Don’t you think living in a foreign country (preferably with locals) should be a requirement for all college students?

  • What a brilliant holiday, what wonderful story about the very glamorous Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, what passion they had! I remember seeing John Houston when we took David and Aimee on a trip to Dunk Island which is just off the NE coast on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef (http://www.dunk-island.com/)it was such a fabulous place back then, a very non commercialized tropical island. J’adored your pictures of the local dog population, how anyone cannot love dogs (and animals in general) I don’t know. I think this was a very rewarding trip for your whole family Veronique, always a good thing.

    • Welcome back Grace. I read your message too fast and thought you had seen John Huston on “DRUNK Island” 😉 It did not even surprise me at first, and that says a lot about his reputation. No wonder he was good friends with the Burtons! As for the Puerto Vallarta dogs, I wish I could have brought them home with me. It would have been impossible to choose, even though I must confess the sight of the beat-up rescue pit-bull (the mellowest of them all) brought tears to my eyes. May he enjoy a long, peaceful life (and I will keep to myself what I wish for the jerks who put him in the fighting ring in the first place.)
      Bon weekend!

  • Hello Veronique

    I enjoyed this post very much and will be reading your previous post shortly. Travel is not wasted on you!!! You travel with eyes wide open. You observe and refrain from judging. Wonderful and how beautiful that you left Puerta Vallarta better than when you found it.

    You are a wonderful ambassador for America and France. Bravo!!!

    Helen xx

    • Well… I do not know what to say (an unusual occurrence for me, as my friends could attest 😉 Merci beaucoup Helen. I do enjoy traveling and learning new things along the way. I am grateful that this visit to Mexico offered so many opportunities to do so! Bon weekend (and good luck with the painting “stealth operation”!)

  • Chere Veronique,
    I’ve finally had the chance to sit quietly and catch up on my favorite thing, blog reading. And I’m so happy to have read this post without distractions. I love the story of the pink bridge. It sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? I’ll tell P-Daddy.
    But my favorite part was your visit to the Mexican school. I would love to start an international pen pal group so that children can learn and see the differences around the world and feel appreciative and grateful for the resources and opportunities that not every one is given. Is there danger in PV like in other places in Mexico at this time? As a Texan who doesn’t like walls and fences I feel for my neighboring country and its people. It makes me want to cry to think of the lost chances and opportunities in all those lives. Beautiful post. What a perfect lesson for Junior and his friend. And for the rest of us too.
    Bisous,
    Aidan

  • Visiting a Mexical school is the part of your post that absorbed me the most. I don’t know very much about life in that country, but learning about different lifestyles is one of the most important aspects of my life. I’m very proud that you made an international pen-pal group part of your family activities.

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