Stories from Casa Isabel


I first met Isabel in 1977. That was when she found out that I would be leading a garden tour – down from Santa Rosa California to Puerto Vallarta – in November. The tour was to conclude with a day trip to Yelapa, so she wrote to invite me to stay on at her place, after. To see her gardens, you see and to perhaps encourage there tourists to come and visit.

I had been to Yelp once before, but I had never met – or heard of – Isabel Jordan. Still, I was plenty game for the adventure, and happily accepted her invitation. This, I found out later, was not an unusual thing for her to do: she was quite accustomed to inviting young men into her life; it kept things lively. Of course, it helped a lot if they were out-going, or enterprising, or just good looking. Isabel didn´t know me from Adam, so I figured that this was probably just destiny unfolding. That, and the simple fact that Isabel was so darn charismatic.

So, late that first afternoon, her neighbour, David, was piloting us alongside that rocky spit down there by the beach. And, standing above, there was Isabel, offering her hand to help me out of the boat.

No, she wasn´t a siren. She didn´t shimmer or sing or beckon enticingly. She sure had presence though: medium height, good figure, tightly curled brown hair, radiant smile and rich-blue eyes. Barefoot, she wore a simple short-sleeved shift.

She was charm personified. She was Primal without being heavy-handed about it. She made me feel very certain that I had come to just the right place at just the right magical moment.

Leading the way through her gate and up all those steps, she let me to do the talking. Mostly, I just “oohed” and “ahhed” as I envied her garden masterpiece. I could tell she was pleased by my reactions.

We had dinner that evening at a big table, over where the couches are now. We were joined by her old friend, Jaime, and a couple of her helpers. I don´t remember what we ate; I just remember that I really enjoyed it. I should explain that Yelapa was at that time still in the Dark Ages: the village would not be on the Grid (as in: Electrical Grid) for a couple more decades. We made do with candles and kerosene lamps. And lots of rhinoceros beetles. They provided the mealtime entertainment: big, black buzzing things that looked like flying dinner plates as they swooped in over the table. Yes, you ducked, and allowed the stupid things to pass by. Usually, they collided with the nearby wall, landed unharmed on their backs and then laid there, wiggling their legs uselessly.

After dinner, Isabel invited me to to skinny-dipping down at the little beach over there. The water was warm and calm. She taught me to slide my feet along underwater, rather than stepping down directly onto the sandy bottom. If we ran into any little ray-fish down there, our sliding movements would nudge them harmlessly out of the way and we wouldn´t get stung.

For the first time in my life, I saw phosphorescent bacteria sparkling in the water. And fireflies dancing and blinking in the air.

And no: Nothing happened.

Or rather: Everything happened.

In those three days that I first spend hanging out at Casa Isabel, with the woman who created this wonder, I found a whole new life, a whole new way of looking at and doing things. It became a normal compulsion to return here each and every year, to resume an existence that is still constantly reinventing itself.

One year, she would be exhibiting her collection of Huichol artwork down at the hotel. (She was a recognised authority on the Huichol; important enough that she was invited to accompany their tribal representatives to Washington D.C. for the opening of the Museum of the American Indian).

Another year, she would have, as an unexpected guest, Gustavo, who arrived with Sophie, her young friend from California. Sophie met Gustavo in Mexico City, where this handsome, engaging young man made his living as a personal trainer. And a stripper. Isabel persuaded him to perform here on New Year´s Eve for the local ladies, and she was planning to have him do a fundraiser to benefit the local elementary school. Unfortunately, Gustavo had to return to Mexico City before the show could be scheduled.

And so it went, year after year. The new Botanic Garden. The Marine Bird Sanctuary. The creation of the Children´s Art Center. The 800 year old Toltec statuette. The diabolical housecat. The mountain lion. The scorpions and the boa constrictors. Always some new adventure.

And then, when she was an incredibly vigorous 81, Isabel was…gone.

It was a very dark moment, and I´m not going to tell you about it. Because the truth of the matter is that Isabel will never truly be gone. Certainly not from this magical place. And certainly not from our hearts.

Excuse my getting a little mushy here. Iz wouldn’t have put up with that. Not for one minute!

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