The Palapa in Yelapa, where there has never been such a night
The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams takes place in a rundown hotel just outside of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. In the trailer for the 1964 film adaptation, the narrator says, “Since man has known woman, there has never been such a night.”
More than 30 years later, my wife and I stayed at a hotel in Yelapa, a small town just South of Puerto Vallarta. As long as I’ve known my wife, there has never been such a night!
My wife and I had just barely survived a harrowing trek up (and down) the Volcano of Fire in Colima. Our wits and marriage had been shoved to the edge. We were in dire need of a sun drenched beach and an IV dripping with tequila. Fortunately for us, Puerto Vallarta had both.
In the beautiful seaside city, we swam in a tranquil turquoise bay, walked a long crescent beach, ate fresh ceviche on the docks and drank frozen margaritas beneath swaying palms.
We also took a number of short excursions up and down the coast with expats from cold climates. On one, we visited The Night of the Iguana hotel where, supposedly, there has “never been such a night.”
Exploring the city, we noticed flyers and posters promoting a “romantic” hotel in the nearby village of Yelapa. Like AOL in the 80’s (or Rosetta Stone today), the ads were everywhere. A somewhat seasoned traveler, I was leery. So, I asked locals about Yelapa. They all said the same thing: “Vale la pena por el dia no mas. It’s a worthwhile day trip.”
Then, like an irrational character from a Tennessee Williams play (Is there any other kind?), I ignored their advice and my own apprehension. I asked my wife, “Why don’t we go and stay the night? It’ll be romantic.”
“Absolutely not,” she thundered! “It’s romantic here. And, our hotel has AC!”
“But it’ll be an adventure,” I insisted.
“We already HAD an adventure in Colima,” she said. “We almost died, remember?!”
“But this would be like a second honeymoon,” I continued - and continued and continued until I finally wore down her far better judgment.
The next day, we jumped on a boat with a gaggle of day-trippers and headed for Yelapa.
Located on a picturesque bay only accessible by water, Yelapa is like a Latin American version of a town on the Cinque Terre in Italy. Perched on the rocks above the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by dense jungle, it was practically designed for a postcard. THIS would be my vindication for Colima, I thought.
In Yelapa, my wife and I rode horses into the surrounding hills, snorkeled along a nearby reef and ate barbequed shrimp on the beach. It was a perfect day.
In the afternoon, all of the tourists (and most of the locals) packed up, jumped in boats and headed back to Puerto Vallarta. Within minutes, Yelapa was a ghost town.
This time my wife was leery. Sensing her concern and always the optimist, I said, “Looks like we’ll have paradise all to ourselves!”
After a beautiful sunset, the town’s sole generator fired up. It coughed violently as the lights flickered. Then, after about an hour, the machine suddenly expired. The little town of Yelapa was shrouded in darkness. It was only eight o’clock.
My wife and I sat at a table on the beach. I lit a candle and opened a bottle of wine. “Now THIS is romantic,” I said.
“We’ll see,” my wife replied as she swatted a mosquito.
Then, like Braddock’s expedition in the French and Indian War, we were ambushed. Swarms of flying insects with evil intentions attacked from all sides. Like Jessica Tandy in The Birds, we fled in horror to the shelter of our palapa, a small primitive bungalow made of bamboo and thatch.
There, my wife and I huddled beneath a thin shield of mosquito netting hanging over the bed. The netting, like a used coffee filter, was soon clogged with determined insects.
Inside the greenhouse of netting and thatch, the palapa was a veritable oven. There was no “cool ocean breeze” as advertised in the flyers. Within minutes, we were swimming in our own sweat.
Trying to bring a little levity to the situation, my wife jokingly referenced a popular ad at the time, saying, “You know, we could have stayed at a Motel 6. They actually have a light, and they leave it on for you!”
I invoked Shakespeare exclaiming, “AC, AC, my kingdom for AC!” Then I pointed out that the incessant buzz created by the mosquitos was like white noise.
“Perhaps it will help us sleep?” I said.
“I doubt it,” my wife replied. “It sounds like we have OTHER roommates!”
Like Carl Sagan staring into the cosmos, we looked up and saw billions and billions of glowing eyes looking back at us. The owners of those eyes squeaked, chirped, hissed, howled, shrieked, whaled and croaked. It was a veritable cacophony.
Some of our guests were probably in love. The Casanovas were simply calling out to potential mates. Others, obviously vegetarians, were devouring the thatch. We heard scratching and crunching, as shards of palmetto fronds fell from the ceiling like confetti. The rest though were definitely carnivores, and they saw us as a cheap and convenient Fogo de Chão.
During the middle of the siege, my wife made a break for the bathroom. Halfway there, she stepped in a huge pile of warm poo that had obviously been deposited by one of our nocturnal visitors. She screamed so loud, the police in Puerto Vallarta were put on edge. Then, she stepped on the visitor, a massive, fat and not so happy marine toad. My wife screamed again as the toad lunged for the toilet.
Back beneath the netting, my wife finally began to melt down. She had had enough! She scolded me, Yelapa, Mexico and NAFTA. She even cursed James Taylor for singing, “It sounds so simple, I just have to go.”
As the expletives flew, a bug bit me on the butt. Then others stung me on the neck, arm and foot. Like the Turks at the gates of Constantinople in 1453, the mosquitos had finally forced their way in! It was a bloodbath.
As my wife and I flailed beneath the breached netting, not in passion but in pain, we heard a loud thunderclap. “Perhaps rain would drive away the bugs and cool down the palapa,” we thought.
It was wishful thinking.
The vegetarians that were eating the thatch had successfully bored holes in the roof. Our ceiling was a sieve. Inside the palapa, rain came down like, well, rain. The insects, now angered by the deluge, bit us out of spite.
At about four in the morning, my wife and I finally abandoned our embattled palapa. For the next three hours, we sat on the beach waiting for the first boat out, swatting sandflies and, desperate for sleep, counting waves like sheep.
As the sun slowly climbed over the critter-infested jungle, a small boat filled with eager and excited tourists appeared on the horizon. Covered in sweat and welts, and looking more forlorn than Tom Hanks in Cast Away, WE were their welcoming committee. Seeing us, they pulled out their flyers and reviewed them with trepidation. We waded into the surf and climbed aboard before the boat had even landed.
Like Texans after the Alamo, we would always remember the Palapa in Yelapa. “There has never been such a night!”
Folwell Dunbar is an educator, artist and Yelapa survivor. He and his wife live in a New Orleans shotgun, basically a palapa made of cypress. He can be reached at [email protected].
Folwell Dunbar is a New Orleans educator, artist and survivor of many things, from roaches to German U-boats and heartbreak. He is putting together a collection of these short stories and survival tales called He Falls Well (his name is pronounced “fall well”). NolaVie is honored to preview some of those stories here. Email him [email protected].