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Saturday February 24 2018
Puerto Vallarta, Retains Its Authentic Charm

Jane Ammeson

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Puerto Vallarta became famous when Liz Taylor and Richard Burton filmed “Night of the Iguana” here in 1963. There are still signs pointing to where the couple stayed during the filming and both the house where they lived and a swaying, wooden bridge they used to cross the Ameca River can be found on tourist maps. One of the sets for the film, on Mismaloya Beach, is now a restaurant, which advertises its connection to the movie almost 50 years later.

Charmed by its beauty, Taylor and Burton bought a home here and even now, as my friends drive up the winding road that curves northeast from Banderas Bay (or Bahia de Banderas) towards a hillside studded with beautiful homes, someone points out the house where the couple lived. It is, we presume, where Taylor enjoyed Carne Tachonada De Puerto, one of her favorite local dishes.

Half a century later, Puerto Vallarta, despite being a major tourist destination, retains its authentic charm. Dolphins and humpback whales swim in the bay, considered one of the 25 most beautiful in the world. A broad esplanade called the Malecón, and lined with food vendors and fancy restaurants, public art and shops, follows the edges of the bay. Here, at night with the soft breeze blowing off the water, people crowd the outdoor cafes showcasing an enduring tradition of Mexican life – the coming together to enjoy the outdoors and community life.

This heritage continues along the twisted cobbled streets, past shops filled with items ranging from upscale furniture to souvenir trinkets and open air restaurants where cooks stir large pots filled with savory stews and tortillas are fried on griddles, a feast of sights and smells. Women sit in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe with its tall bell tower, selling statues of saints and sweet candies.

At the vast and rambling Mercado Municipal (city market) little girls display lovely hand embroidered purses in a variety of jewel tones and jewelry which sparkles even in the waning daylight. Abundant blooms fill the flower stalls and artists whittle, draw and paint. The narrow Rio Cuale courses along the edges of the market, a swaying rope bridge connecting the sloping banks. It’s harder than it looks to cross and for a second, with the bridge swaying rapidly beneath me, I feel as if I am going to fall.

But quickly, a young boy grabs me. Coming from a big American city and always on guard, I wonder if he is going to steal my camera. But no, he just helps me across the bridge and then, once I am on steady ground and he smiles and disappears into the crowds.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Carne Tachonada De Puerto

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 bell pepper, minced
1 medium sized onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste
3/4 pound smoked raw ham, cut into small pieces
5 pound pot roast
Salt and pepper
2 cups tomato puree

Heat oil in a large, heavy pan. Add pepper and onion and sauté until onion is translucent. Remove. While vegetables are browning, rub ham strips with garlic and insert into indentations which have been made with a sharp knife in the pot roast. Rub roast well with salt and pepper. Brown on all sides in hot oil. Combine onion, pepper and tomato puree. Pour oven roast, cover and cook for about two hours or until meat is tender. Serve with fresh tortillas, salsa, slices of fresh avocado and pickled onions.

Jane Ammeson is a freelance writer who specializes in travel, food and personalities. She writes frequently for Northwest Indiana Times, Chicago Life Magazine, AAA Home & Away, among others. She also writes a weekly food column and has authored six books. Jane’s base camp is Benton Harbor, Michigan near the shores of Lake Michigan. Professional profile on LinkedIn and Facebook. Follow Jane@janeammeson.


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