From high in the Sierra Madre flows the Cuale River, as it makes its life-giving journey through the mountains on its way to the Bay of Banderas. A truly integral part of Puerto Vallarta and its history, the river winds through El Caloso and Old Town. It is here that Rivera Cuale is located, on the river’s very banks. To the north, east and south are spectacular mountains, and to the west lie the town and the Bay of Banderas. The combination of mountains and fresh river water bring cooling breezes to the area.
Being situated on the banks of the Cuale River offers the unique opportunity and privilege of giving back to that which has given so much to the community. Caring for this most precious of resources is a responsibility that Rivera Cuale has embraced and incorporated into its philosophy of sustainable development. Integrating nature with its design, Rivera Cuale is a tropical oasis in the city, surrounded by the unaffected beauty of the river and mountains, flora and fauna.
You may be surprised to learn that there are a couple species of squirrels native to the mid west coast where Puerto Vallarta is located. One is the Colima tree squirrel, and the other is the ring-tailed ground squirrel. At Rivera Cuale you will likely see the tree squirrels, moving so adeptly through the trees they appear to be flying. These cute little critters are ever-industrious, looking for and hiding away food and foraging for materials to build their nests. They are especially active in the mornings and around sunset. They have tails that are longer than the combined length of their head and body, which they use to maintain their balance and not fall to the ground when running about in the treetops. They typically eat fruit and seeds, and some observers have said they eat plums, wild mushrooms and coconuts.
Another genus of lizard, the gecko, is native to the area. Referred to as "cuizas" in Vallarta, these tiny lizards are everywhere and like to visit your home, which is a blessing because they eat insects. They are harmless and really unique looking, with no eyelids and skin so translucent you can almost see right through them; they sometimes look like they are made of rubber and could be mistaken for a toy if not for the chirping noise they make when socially interacting with other geckos. You can observe them from a fairly close distance, but as you get within arm’s length, they come alive and scurry and wiggle their way to safety. Some geckos will even drop their tail in defence, or if caught by the tail so they can get away, but they have the ability to regenerate them. Many gecko species are well known for their specialized toe pads that enable them to climb smooth and vertical surfaces, and even cross indoor ceilings with ease. They like to hide behind paintings, in nooks and crannies, and in window frames even, so take care when closing your windows.
Another tree common to the area is the coconut palm. The coconut is not really a nut but is a type of fruit called a drupe. The coconut palm has many uses from culinary to cosmetic to construction, depending on the part of the tree or fruit being used. The fibrous outer husk of the fruit can be used to make a fiber which is known as coir. Coir is used in making rope, construction, and the assembly of rugs and sacks. The wood of the coconut palm tree is also useful in construction and crafts, as are the leaves. In some regions, charcoal is produced from coconut shells, and coconut palm trees can also be used to make dye, buttons, and jewelry. The flesh of the coconut can be eaten or processed to make coconut milk, and the fruits also produce a liquid known as coconut water which is edible. A delicacy known as hearts of palm is made with the inner shoots of a coconut palm tree, unfortunately killing the tree in the process. The coconut palm tree can also be used as a source of coconut oil (one of Mexico’s exports), which can be used in cooking, skin care, hair care, and cosmetics.
One of the area’s most interesting trees is the strangler fig (ficus cotinifolia), which grows in forested areas. It begins as a seed left behind by an animal on the tree’s surface. As the seed develops, it grows roots that descend down along the trunk of the host tree to reach the ground and enter the soil. Multiple roots do this until they basically engulf the host’s trunk and constrict and "strangle" it. Also, the thick fig foliage overshadows the host’s own canopy, denying it the sunlight it needs. Very often, eventually the host tree dies, but as it rots, the hollow center becomes a shelter and breeding sites for bats, birds and other animals. Moreover, stranglers provide food to a wide variety of animals during times of scarcity. For these reasons, strangler figs are ecologically important in our tropical forests. You may even see some of these trees in homes and restaurants as architectural features – the irregular wrapping of the roots around the host column create a strange sort of sculptural aesthetic.
Rubber fig (ficus elastica) is an ornamental tree that grows in the area, and like the strangler fig, its seeds germinate in cracks and crevices on a host tree (or on structures like buildings and bridges). The trunk develops aerial and buttressing roots to anchor it in the soil and help support heavy branches. The tree produces a white, latex-like sap when tapped. Its large leaves and thick canopy provide a lot of shade as the tree gets large, and they often grow to about 50 feet tall.
The papelillo tree is a member of the Torchwood or Burseraceae family – the frankincense and myrrh family – or simply the incense tree family. The lineage of this family of trees goes back millions upon millions of years in this region. The papelillo tree is instantly recognizable; with its coppery-colored, peeling bark appearing red in the sunlight, it is sometimes called the "gringo tree" or "tourist tree" in reference to visitors who spend too much time on the beach here. The tree has tender trunks and gnarly twisting branches, and can grow to be 100 feet tall. It continually exfoliates its bark in sheets or flakes to dislodge unwanted guests because its wood is soft and brittle and unable to support a lot of weight. The Aztecs called these trees Cuajiote trees, which in their language meant "leprous trees". The tree has also been called the "naked Indian". Today it is most commonly called the Papelillo or "paper tree".
Man has been using this tree for many years. The Mayan first used the bark and resins to produce incense. Later, the American Indians concocted tannin rich potions by boiling Papelillo bark with leaves, making a tea to treat gastritis, colitis, and ulcers. They also produced balms and salves to relieve inflammation from sprains, muscle aches, gout, and various skin irritations. It is still used topically as a contraceptive by women in certain remote areas of Central America! Papelillo trees are important in this region because their berries provide critical nourishment for migratory birds coming from the U.S. and Canada. Also, the resin from the trees is used for making varnish and turpentine, and has also been used as cement for ivory, glass, and porcelain. The high treetop of the tree also provides a haven for parrots and other colorful tropical birds of Puerto Vallarta.
The Parota tree is a large, beautiful canopy tree native to the area. It grows from central Mexico down to Brazil, and can reach heights of 100 feet. It is widely grown as a shade tree to shelter coffee plantations and for shade and fodder for cattle; it also improves soil fertility by nitrogen fixation. The wood is reddish-brown, lightweight, and termite and water-resistant, so it is used to make premium-quality furniture and doors, and for shipbuilding as well. Its roots are strong and those of large trees may damage nearby structures. Tolerant of a wide range of rainfall levels, temperatures and soil conditions, they can thrive in most low-elevation, tropical habitats. The seed, which is not eaten by any animals currently native where the tree occurs, is harvested and eaten boiled by Mexicans while the seed pods are still green. Of note is that indigenous people call the Parota tree "huanacaxtle".
The Tabachin tree is eye-catching for its frothy bright blooms, fringed leaves and seedpods of up to two feet long, which start off green and turn black before falling off. It is commonly planted as an ornamental shrub in domestic and public gardens and has a beautiful inflorescence in yellow, red and orange. Its small size and the fact that it tolerates pruning well allow it to be planted in groups to form a hedge; it can be also used to attract hummingbirds. This species goes by many names, and one of them is "Mexican Bird of Paradise".
Another commonly seen tree in the area is the Primavera. What’s special about this tree is that it blooms over a two month period in the spring, so just when Vallarta’s lush hillsides have lost their emerald vibrancy over the dry season, bursts of bright yellow start to appear all around, beautifying the area in anticipation of the rains to begin in the next couple of months. The Primavera tree grows up to 100 feet tall and provides shade and beauty to its environment. It can have a three-foot-wide circumference, and its wood makes good quality furniture.