Up to this point I haven’t written much of anything about the hotel where we were staying. Punta Mita sits at the tip of a peninsula north of Puerto Vallarta in Nayarit. This stretch of land is pretty isolated. The advantages are that the guests can avoid the tequila-addled tourists found in the larger cities and enjoy some peace and quiet. The disadvantage is that they are virtually trapped in resort-land, a fairy tale place where they’re surrounded by servants who secretly charge them up the wazoo for everything. There really isn’t much more to say about the Four Seasons. They all have the same layout: marble floors, spacious lobbies, grand vistas, granite countertops, and elegant bars. They also offer a lot of useless services: Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, yachts, tennis courts, fitness center and boutiques. The prices of shampoo, razor blades and candy bars are so high that you’d assume they were joking. They’re not: a Diet Coke in the lobby will run you about eight bucks. My only revenge was grazing viciously on the free hor d’oeuvres in the lobby from 3:00 to 9:00 pm.
So, despite the enticement to frolic in a life of luxury, I always obsess about price. I am not talking about what we are charged, but rather what we should be paying. At breakfast, I started running the numbers. The buffet ran $45 dollars. My wife could see that I was about to ruin her morning by telling her what the mark up was. “A dozen of eggs sets you back $2.50, a loaf of bread comes in around $4.00, and butter and jelly are minor costs. So, for a breakfast that should cost around $5.00, they walk off with 40 bucks. Then, they nail you for tax and tip.”
There was a time when my wife and I were so poor that we were happy with cereal and coffee. We used to save the chicken bones to make soup. When we first got married, I was earning about $700 a month, which had to cover rent, food, and utilities. Despite all that, I always managed to travel: a few days at one friend’s place, a bus trip and another few days at another’s, then, to top it off, a week on the beach at a cut-rate joint. To me, all hotel rooms look the same when you’re asleep in a dark room. All of this changed, once we had kids. Suddenly, we had to plan and organize. We could no longer start our vacations by searching for a hotel. We had to pack a car seat, diapers, baby food, baby bottles and extra nipples, plastic inserts for the bottles, a play pen, and a stroller. Instead of carrying a knapsack, our luggage alone made us look like British explorers on expedition on the Dark Continent. The only problem was that I had to carry all the stuff.
At first, it drove me bonkers. “Why do I have to pay the porter, the bell man, asshole at the door, and the valet? Each one of these sons of bitches has his hand out!” I tried to beat the system by carrying all the bags to save us time and money. “Why wait for the porter with the cart? It only takes longer?” For me, getting into and out of hotels was like hunting for food on the savannah or building a fire up in the cave. This is what men did: they provided and protected, and I wanted to keep the bastards out of my wallet. After the trip to Italy, when my wife and daughters left me with four over-packed suitcases on the train to Rome, my back went out. So, now I let the younger guys carry the bags. It is that or spend the same amount on a chiropractor.
I still can’t get over the cost of the Four Seasons, though. When we first got married, we stayed in Zijuatanejo, on the Pacific coast for about $65 a night. We had an awesome beach, a great view, and every night when we went to sleep we could hear the waves crashing on the beach. Okay, so what if there wasn’t any air conditioning, cable television, telephone or room service? We didn’t need them. The really important amenities were the ceiling fan, a clean room, a private bath and a free breakfast. The hotel served a buffet of fresh tropical fruits, juice, yogurt, cereal and coffee in an open-air dining room from which we could see the entire bay. It never occurred to me to run the numbers on how much my eggs cost.
The hotel was the Catalina-Sotavento and it still overlooks the beach named the La Ropa. Legend has it that Chinese sailors on route to California ran aground off the coast and laid anchor in the bay for repairs. Their cargo of silk tapestries had been soaked by incoming seawater, and to preserve his load, the captain ordered his men to unfurl the silk on the beach and allow it to dry. From then on, the beach was known as La Ropa. Unlike Ixtapa, its sister-city just to the north, Zihuatanejo sits in a small cove and is sheltered from the waves that crash onto the coast. Nonetheless, Ixtapa has always taken the lion’s share of the tourist business. The hordes prefer the prefab stucco constructions, bright-flashing lights, disco/glitter fab, and Americanized nacho and burrito joints. I don’t get it. Ixtapa caters to the tourists that spurge on cheap t-shirts, tequila, and the promise of a room with air conditioning. When they aren’t guzzling down bucket-sized margaritas in the hotel bar and praying that they don’t get the napalm shits, they hit the sands and face the harsh force of the Pacific where the riptides have been known to drag people out to sea.
The atmosphere in nearby Zihuatanejo was tranquil. One of the hotels we stayed at, Las Urracas, sits in the middle of a palm grove, rife with large orange ground crabs, bull frogs, hummingbirds and iguanas. It was a no frills joint: the bed mattress and sofa cushions sit on concrete slabs and the kitchenette is from the 1970s. Each room has a balcony that overlooks the beach. The open-air atmosphere works out much better than the climate-controlled atmosphere of the upscale hotels in Acapulco. The humidity turns the rooms into giant Petri dishes. In a tropical climate, the open-air balconies, fans, and tiled floors are what works best.
Zihuatanejo also has an interesting history as well. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert’s held their acid-fueled study-abroad program at one of the hotels back in the 1960s. Students passed their time tripping out on the beach while their earned course credit in consciousness expansion. The only setbacks were the weather and the Mexican authorities. The program coincided with the rainy season and the port town became a sweltering armpit of heat, humidity and perspiration. One tripper later remarked, “after two weeks of constant tripping, everything reeked of ball sweat and crotch rot.” Nonetheless, for me, Zihuantanejo was one of the most peaceful places in the world.
All of this basic simplicity was missing from the Four Seasons in Punta Mita. Although the landscape is a perfect backdrop for wedding pictures, no one can so much as walk on it. Over time, wind and waves have broken down the large slabs of granite and have littered the shore with shards that make a leisurely walk down the beach impossible. The beach also sits at a forty-five degree slant toward the sea, so if you feel as if you were on the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Fortunately, my wife and I found a jogging trail that ran the length of the peninsula. Every day we indulged in a four-mile trek through the brushy ridge that ran up and down the hills surrounding the golf course and soon-to-constructed private homes.
Although I usually am loath to eating at hotels, the restaurants at the Four Seasons were great. Unlike the tourist traps in downtown Puerto Vallarta, the Señor Frog slop-houses specializing in spring-break tequila, burritos, nachos and quesadillas, the restaurants in Punta Mita actually served Mexican cuisine. That is, fine dining, right down from the talavera plates, moles, chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, and the local seafood. For dinner, I had fresh-catch tuna in tamarind sauce, red snapper in mojo de ajo, róbalo in adobo sauce, and jumbo shrimp on a kabob.
During our stay, we just took it easy. My daughters and their best friend had the room next to ours and most of the time, they were busy partying. When they were at the pool, they noticed that they were being noticed by a group of guys about their age. When they got up to leave, my youngest left her sunglasses on the end table to see how interested the guys were. Within minutes, one of them chased her down with the sunglasses in hand. Although I am not clear on the details, a conversation ensued and they all decided to meet that evening in the Jacuzzi. I was not thrilled.
Being the master of subtlety, my reaction was calm. “What? You guys are going to meet those horny bastards tonight?”
My wife was much more nonchalant than I was. “They’re young. They’re just going to talk to these guys. Nothing is going to happen.”
“Do the schmucks know that is the plan?”
“Come on. They’ll be back by midnight. Don’t worry about them so much!”
“If they’re not back in their rooms by midnight, I am marching my ass down to the pool in my freaking pajamas to bring them back.”
As it turns out, they went down to the pool around ten that night. I fell asleep by 10:15. For some reason, however, I woke up from a sound sleep at 11:55. They hadn’t come back, yet. In minutes, I was in my bathrobe and slippers, heading toward the pool. When I arrived at the Jacuzzi, the sharks were starting to circle. The schmucks were putting the lean on the girls, sitting close and leaning in. As soon as my youngest daughter saw me she pointed and said, “My dad’s here. We have to go.”
On the way back, they told me that the whole thing was kind of creepy from the get go. I am still not sure how I managed to keep from responding, “What did you guys expect? They were never going to see you guys again. Did you think they wanted your phone number?” They told me that the guys were from LA and treated them like bumpkins. One of the others “turned on the charm” and asked my youngest outright if she wanted to go down to the beach and “have a moment.” I said to myself, “What an idiot. That’s a good way to get sand in your ass.” Eventually, they thanked me for coming down to get them before it got too weird.
On the walk back, I said, “Look, guys come in all shapes and sizes: tall ones, skinny ones, short ones, fat ones. If they have a pulse and aren’t gay, they will want to sleep with you. It’s plain and simple. The guy who looks decent in daylight can turn into a complete jerk as soon as it gets dark. These guys were no different. However, finding the right guy has a lot more to do with his character than you think. Women are just as visual as men. They like broad shoulders, strong-arms and a narrow waistline. But this doesn’t mean the guy will be the one you want to desire you. Do yourselves a favor: don’t wave it in their faces and take some time to find out if they are decent guys. So, lose the push-up bras, low-cut shirts, short shorts, and slutty shoes. All that crap makes a guy think that you’re a sport fuck. I am not going all ‘mommy lobby’ on you. I am just saying that there is more power in not showing too much, in making the guy wonder what it is like to be intimate with you. Then, if he is a stand-up guy, you might have something. If you flaunt sex in his face, you kill all the imagination, wonder and romance. Guys are like horses: they aren’t worth a shit until they commit, and they don’t do that until they respect you and realize you value yourselves and have high standards. Those bozos at the pool are too young and don’t have a clue about what they are going to do with their lives to even begin to know what love is. If you’re really looking for a lasting relationship, relationships have to be built over time, not at the Jacuzzi. You can never let them think that you’re easy because they don’t value anything they don’t have to work for.”
The next day, we were headed home. The airport is a microcosm of shopping in Mexico. It is full of gift shops for tourists eager to bring home a piece of their vacation. Most of the stuff is pretty tacky. Who wants a silver encrusted, life-size head of an Aztec warrior, or an 18-inch eagle with a wing span of two feet made out of malachite, polished slate and tiger eye? The craftsmanship is spectacular, but the art never ascends to anything above the portraits of busty women on black velvet sold at gas stations. It is all large, over-sized, baroque, gaudy, yet well-made and expensive.
Cross-posted at My Ongoing Struggle with Misanthropy: jimmygabacho.com