04 December 2009

The Night of the Iguana

Mismaloya is a little beach cove just south of Puerto Vallarta, in the Bahia de Banderas. In 1964, it was the setting for the film The Night of the Iguana, directed by John Huston and starring Richard Burton and Ava Gardener.

Due in no small part to the presence of cast member Richard Burton and actress Elizabeth Taylor, who were carrying on a very public affair at the time (1963), the filming attracted large numbers of paparazzi made international headlines, and in turn made Puerto Vallarta world-famous. (Wikipedia, 2009)

Although I have heard of the film, I have never seen it. Prior to arriving here I may have known something about the whole Hollywood connection, but certainly no details. I keep picking up bits and pieces one of which is that Dick and Ava might have been an item even thought he was there with Liz.

How John Huston found this little spot and then convinced people to build a set there is rather impressive. At the time, the only access was by boat from PV. Luckily for me, it was a short, 20 minute bus ride up and over the hill.

It is a very narrow, winding road, with the requisite sheer-cliff drops to the bay below. All along the route are high-rise condos, apartments and resorts. Some of the condos can be seen from the beach that I walk along in the morning; they are the massive structures that cover the hillside and block the sun from the beach below. (I posted a picture of it last week). Further along the road are 5 star hotels and more gated communities. And where there isn’t yet a building or construction site, there is often a for sale sign.

As the bus made its way down the hill I asked the lady across from me where to get off. She also disembarked at Mislamoya, headed to work at one of the beach front resorts. She pointed me down the road to the beach and off I went. A man had also had gotten off with us and walked next to me. He asked if it was my first time in Mismaloya, and we started to talk as we headed down.

We carried on down the car path; a huge resort to the right, vendors selling tourist stuff to our left. In a few minutes we’d reached the beach and it was glorious. Very tiny, but it seemed that 10am was too early for the beachgoers so I pretty much had it to myself.

Beach restaurants lined the left side of the cove. The guys were putting the finishing touches on chairs, tables, and umbrellas. There were about five different establishments and you could only tell their boundaries by the different colored tablecloths they used. My new friend worked at the third one in, and I told him I’d sit and have a coffee before exploring.

I could see that there was not too much to explore. At the end of the beach were the remains of the movie set; it would take no more than three minutes to walk there. I wanted to savor that for a little later, so a short rest after the short bus trip seemed in order.

It surprised me that there were only a few tourists on the beach. There were several small boats loaded with groups of about six people on their way to either fish or snorkel. Those boats looked none to sturdy and I was happy to see that the one small child had a life vest on.

I asked why no one was there and found out that it fills up later in the day and is packed in the afternoon. Many people from the cruise ships come to spend the day there. From where the ships dock to Mislamoya is about 45 minutes in a taxi, much longer by bus. Considering they get off the ship around 9:00 or 10:00am, and must be back by 5pm, these must be dedicated movie buffs.
At the end of the beach is a path that hugs the mountainside and wends around to the set area. I passed a massage studio, beds set up so that you would be caressed by the sea air. Two women were seated waiting for customers and I said hello. I pointed to the remains of an arch that rose over the path and asked if it was part of the original set. They assured me that it was. You could just make out the faded lettering on the arch proclaiming “The set of The Night of the Iguana”.

Above the path and on the hill I saw about three different remains of buildings. I imagine that they must have built real houses and not just temporary things if, after all these years, there still a fair amount left. Fences and posted signs meant one couldn’t get in to rummage through the remains. I had fleeting thoughts of hopping a fence, but I’d probably just end up falling through a rotted out floor so kept to the designated areas.

What really was most spectacular was the vista out onto the bay and the huge rocks that jut up in the distance, and the sea as it gently crashed onto the rocks. I was disappointed that I couldn’t continue walking but the trail ends and you have to go back.

By the time I got back to the restaurant, a few more people had arrived. I took a seat and tried to figure out a plan. The first was to finally get those grilled-on-a-stick shrimp, drenched in garlic and butter. They were amazing and I finally had my first fantastic meal in Mexico.

I was sitting at a table and getting too much shade. I realized it wasn’t overly hot and would prefer the sun, so moved down to a beach chair. As I sat there I think I really did become mesmerized by the sea, otherwise there is no way I could have sat there so long after a morning of sitting. It wasn’t too hot, it wasn’t too crowded, and I was in heaven.

Eventually, the noise and the crowds increased and I did reach my sitting still limit. But I thought how easy it would be to come here for morning coffee rather than walk on the beach 5 blocks from the hotel. I like the walk I take there, but I never feel like I did at Mislamoya.

Tomorrow I will go to the next beach down the road which I hear is similar. I might even wear my bikini instead of wearing a skirt and hiking it up to get some sun on my legs.