By Shauna Leff February 18, 2009 - 15:40
Image: Mara Alper
“As I came down into the village, it started feeling more and more like home. It had this familiar feeling to it. I suddenly looked around and everything started glowing, little rainbows started forming around everything … So I thought, wow, this is really special. Something is happening.”
That’s how Isabel Jordan recalled her visit to Yelapa, located a boat ride away from Puerto Vallarta, in 1971. A few months later, on her second visit, she unexpectedly met Pepe Díaz, the grandson of former Mexican president Porfirio Díaz, who showed her a rundown palapa in the jungle. Isabel rented it on the spot – for only $250 USD a year. Eventually she turned the property into what is now known as Casa Isabel, a series of palapa- like guest houses built into the hillside.
Isabel gave up her wonderful job as the Assistant to the Provost, the first woman ever to be appointed to this position, at one of the colleges at UC Santa Cruz in California and moved to Yelapa full-time in March 1972. Everything came together for her after that. As Casa Isabel’s renown grew, Isabel also started to buy and sell art from the nearby Huichol Indian tribes. She established a gallery of Huichol works in Yelapa and traveled the world putting on exhibitions in places such as Amsterdam, London, Vancouver, and parts of the United States.
Isabel was truly a larger-than-life expat, loved by all. Her friends say they felt blessed to have known her. As one of Isabel's closest friend’s put it, “She loved everyone so much, we all felt that we were her favorite!”