By Lois Ellison
It was October, 1987 and we’d just arrived on our first trip to Puerto Vallarta. Like most first timers, we signed up to take what was then known as “The City and Jungle Tour”. Our driver, Mario, picked us up at our hotel and we joined four other passengers in a VW van. You see, in those days, Puerto Vallarta had barely been discovered and a VW van was as big as the tour buses got. I still remember his name because by the end of the day, we were like a family.
The first part of the tour covered what were then some newer hotels, The Krystal and Fiesta Americana, plus an obligatory stop at a souvenir shop in what was at the time a very small Hotel Zone. After a quick drive through town past the Malecon (yes, there was a street there) and the church, we headed into the vast undeveloped area south of town.
If you think the road is bad now, you should have seen it then. But the view was spectacular with very little in the way of development to obstruct it. On the east side of the road, Ochos Cascadas and a few other projects had been built in what would later become the chic Conchas Chinas and Amapas neighborhoods. On the west side, there was El Set, the Camino Real, Costa Vida, Las Gemelas and perhaps a few other buildings. Mostly it was just wild and pristine.
Arriving at La Jolla de Mismaloya, another recently built place, we looked down upon the unspoiled Mismaloya beach. Not a high rise in sight; just a handful of palapa restaurants. Continuing further south past Boca de Tomatlan, we got out for some education on the local flora and fauna. Heading back we turned inland at Mismaloya to have lunch at a small restaurant with a pool and one of the world’s best mariachi bands. Or so it seemed at the time. The only sounds were crowing of the roosters, the mournful wail of the trumpet and the strumming of the guitars – all reverberating against the mountains.
Our interest piqued, we returned to Mismaloya by taxi a few days later to walk the beach, sample the food, and explore the set from Night of the Iguana. It hadn’t yet been fenced in or commercialized. You could walk freely among the ruins and if you were lucky, like we were, you might find a group of wild pigs digging for food. Later, we walked inland about half a mile but other than some women washing their hair and clothes in the river, there was nothing to be seen unless, of course, you count the chickens, pigs, horses and endless jungle. Not a single car passed by.
When it was time to return to our hotel, we waited patiently by the side of the road for the “bus”. It turned out to be a VW van with a bench seat down the center of the back. We entered through the side door and joined a few locals. Everyone sat on the bench, backs pressed together, and passed some pesos up front to the driver. He in turn, passed the change back. It was definitely an honor system. Since the side door didn’t close, the ride to town was pretty harrowing but we made it, proud of ourselves for having braved the journey and eager for more adventures.
Over the years, we made many more trips to Mismaloya. As construction along the south shore began to mushroom, we marveled at the houses and condos appearing in places that had seemed virtually impossible to accommodate buildings. Progress drove the cows off the road. The VW vans became mini-vans, then small buses and finally the fleet of large buses you see today.
Nowadays too many visitors limit themselves to their resorts, overlooking the many wonderful areas in and around Puerto Vallarta. Don’t be one of them. Why not take the bus to Mismaloya or beyond. While it may no longer be unspoiled, the road south is still breathtaking and the beach restaurants are ready to serve up some tasty food and beverages. Look carefully and you just might see some vestiges of life in a simpler time.