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Cabo Ramble


Yes.  This is a long post.  Probably my longest ever, except for an occasional long piece of fiction.  So, bear with me.  Maybe it’ll be worth it.

But, first, a full moon over Cabo…

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Day One

Here’s why I don’t want to be a world traveler. I think it’s offensive to travel to another country and not speak the language. To assume the locals will speak mine. Yes, I’m fortunate to be an English speaker – the de facto international language. But it smacks of arrogance to go abroad without a rudimentary understanding of the local tongue. I spend my time here feeling like an ass. An obnoxious American.

But maybe they don’t care. They want our American dollars. Our tourist money. Smile and serve and we pay. Only problem is I don’t believe a word they say.

The day started out relatively smooth. The kid who can’t wake up to save his own life got up with minimal effort to drive us to the airport. The flight was on time. No delays. No racing to catch the connecting flight in Phoenix. On the first leg, we sat next to a young man who was off to Omaha for training for his new job. He served in Iraq, came home, got his degree, and was embarking on the next stage of this life.

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Our conversation helped the flight go quicker. Phoenix here we are. We hung out for a couple of hours, had lunch, watched a young family with kids who were having fun while they waited for the flight to Cabo. At one point, a young couple sat down near all of us. The woman got on her cell phone and started ranting about how they had missed their flight – she used a few “bad words.” The kids in the nearby family put their hands over their ears. The parents and kids referred to them as “ear muffs.” They apparently do this whenever they hear “bad language” coming from adults. I thought it was pretty impressive.

An uneventful flight to Cabo followed. I read. I napped. We arrived. We went through the cattle call of immigration – a first for me. Nothing more than a line and paperwork. We went to baggage claim.

No bags!!!!!!

Another first for me. I’ve never had to deal with lost luggage before. I’m pretty certain our bags ended up in Omaha because that’s where our Sacramento to Phoenix plane was headed next.

But here’s where I began to wonder. About a dozen people on the flight didn’t get their luggage. All of us were on different connecting flights. Some from Spokane. Some from San Diego. And us, from Sacramento. It’s one thing if we were all on the same connecting flight, but at least three different ones???

Without our luggage, we get the shuttle from the airport to Cabo – 30 miles. We check in. We don’t have the all-inclusive option. There’s a guy at the counter complaining about the lack of promised room service. He’s ranting and raving. We check in. All I care about is getting to our room and then shopping for the few things we’ll need until our bags show up the next day. Hopefully.

It is the slowest check in ever. By the time we’re finally done, it’s after 6:00 and we still need to get stuff. We don’t have a car. We need a taxi. $9 they say. For a one mile trip to Walmart. I know we’re supposed to haggle, but it’s not in my blood. And besides, who am I to haggle. I came here and don’t even speak their language. I’m willing to pay for my arrogance.

The taxi driver on the way back says it’s $8. Both drivers got the same — $10.

When we were checking in, the desk clerk offered us three day sof food with a fourth day free. Everything included – meals, snacks, drinks. Everything.

On the ride back, we decided to go with the offer. I mean, we didn’t have our luggage. It’s not like we’re doing much until it arrives. And there’s a beach right there. And a pool. And food. And drink. What the hell. When the four days are up, we’ll still have three days to do other things.

So, it’s Sunday. Taco night. But reservations are necessary. But we just checked in. And besides the dining area is not even 1/3 full. We get there. It’s almost 7:30.

“Do you have reservations?”

“No. We just checked in.”

“You need reservations. We have room at 8:00.”

I want to scream. “Your restaurant is almost empty. You’ve got to be kidding me!”

But I don’t. “Fine. We’ll be back at 8:00.”

We go to the bar. The wife gets a margarita – it’s not very good.

And here’s where I fail. Actually, I failed two nights before. On the 4th of July. I was annoyed. I was waiting to make dinner and what annoyed me the most was that I couldn’t have one frickin’ beer. I didn’t care at that moment. I had one and nothing more.

The next day we had Chinese food. Instead of calling it in from home and picking it up, I went to the restaurant and placed our order – just so I could have a Tsingtao while I waited. But I stopped there.

That first night in Cabo though – it was a combination of everything.

  • Vacation
  • Feeling like crap because I’m in a foreign land and don’t speak the language
  • Feeling like crap because every local is trying to screw me – I don’t feel like I can trust anybody here. I didn’t mention the time share gauntlet we had to get through at the airport.
  • No luggage!!!
  • And we committed to the meal deal and everything’s covered, I’m going to get my money’s worth.

So, I drank.

Even though the beer selection was crap – Corona or Pacifico. That was it. We’re in Mexico and all they have to offer are the two worst Mexican beers. In cans. No Carta Blanca. No Modelo. Not even Tecate.

We eventually sat down to dinner. Taco night began to salvage things a bit. The tacos were most excellent. I had charro beans with them.

Here was to hoping we’d get our bags soon. Right?

The day ended with us getting a text warning that we were at 50% of data for the month on our cell phone plan.

 

Day Two

The day started with a text message that we had hit 100% on data. How can that be?

I tried to call Verizon. My phone wasn’t working. I contacted my son to have him call them. That didn’t work, but he got me the international # for Verizon technical service.

Let me back up.

Several weeks ago we learned from a friend that we could add the “Mexico Plan” to our phones. I called Verizon and got the plan added for the week we’d be in Cabo. I was told that the plan got us 1,000 minutes of calls, but data and texting would be extra. Significantly extra.

About a week before we left, I called Verizon to confirm the plan was in place. It was. I asked to confirm the details. The Verizon rep told me the first rep was wrong – we would have texting and data while in Mexico. OK – phones just like at home. All good.

I started to wonder though. So, a few days later, I called again. Third Verizon rep told me the second rep was wrong. All we get is 1,000 minutes, no text, no data.

I called again the day before we left. 4th Verizon rep tells me the 1st and 3rd reps were wrong – he belittled them as being new and not understanding the plan. He said it was unlimited talk and text. He offered to email me the details. I’m still waiting for that email. I suggested to him that the other reps need training.

So, now it’s Monday, we’re in Cabo, and it’s all blown up.

I start talking to Laura in Albuquerque. She tells me that reps #2 and #4 were wrong. All the Mexico plan gets us is 1,000 minutes for calls. Texts and data are charged at the rates the Mexican provider charges – 50 cents for outgoing texts and 5 cents for incoming and ridiculous amounts for data.

I tell her that, based on the incompetence of the reps, I shouldn’t have to pay a thing.

Oh, and there’s this – the reason we exceeded data was because the 4th rep put all of our phones on the Mexico plan even though the boys were staying home and he knew that. So, they’re back at home doing what kids do with their phones – texting, downloading things, sucking up data.

Oh, and a couple of the reps told me the Mexico plan is pro rated. If we only sign up for eight days, we only get eight days of the 1,000 minutes. Laura says, “no. It can’t be pro rated.”

I tell her I don’t believe her. She offers to make changes – get my kids phones back on the domestic plan, waive some of the charges that have been incurred so far, and call me when the bill is available to go over all the charges and see what else she can do.

I’m not holding my breath. First full day into my vacation and I’m not believing ANYBODY!

Breakfast, however, was a saving grace. A buffet with the usual suspects – pancakes, French toast, omelet bar, etc. – and some incredible Mexican dishes – pork in green chile sauce, chilaquiles, chicken in red sauce. The food is helping. I could have ate that breakfast all day long.

Then we went for a walk on the beach. Spur of the moment, we took a glass-bottom boat tour. It’s about a 30-minute trip out to “the arch,” Lover’s Beach, Divorce Beach, around Land’s End and into the Pacific – with huge waves tossing our little boat around. I’m a landlubber for a reason. The glass bottom boat wasn’t much of a glass bottom boat. In the middle of the boat there’s a section that’s about one foot wide by about four or five feet long. That’s the glass part and you can’t really see anything there.

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When we got back, I called the airline, which confirmed that are bags had arrived at the local airport on a 12:30 flight. We waited. And made reservations for dinner.

 

Day Three

Let’s go back to Day Two. Our bags finally showed up around 3:00.

And there was much rejoicing!!!!

No, really, there was. I started to feel like we’d been scammed. The U.S. Airways Baggage Irregularity Report we were given at the airport had an 800# that wasn’t for U.S. Airways. It was for a time share company. Combine that with the fact that people on the flight with lost luggage were not all from the same connecting flight and it all starts to seem peculiar.

But, the luggage arrived. We had swimsuits. We sat by the pool. Where the water felt to be an incredibly uncomfortable 93 degrees. Or something close to that.

We also ventured into the marina/restaurant/shopping district of Cabo.

“You want water taxi?”

“Hey, you want activities?”

“Señor, you want fishing boat?”

“Hat. Two dollars.”

“I make these tiles myself.”

I stopped to take a picture of the marina. “Hey, you paparazzi.” OK. I stopped and talked to him but I still didn’t buy. I did ask him how to say “have a nice day” in Spanish. And wished him one when I walked away.

“Tenga un buen dia.”

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It’s the least I can do. Although I’m sure they’d prefer my dollars. The peddling of goods, crafts, and activities is constant. Non-stop. It even happens at our resort where we are pestered every day about attending a time share presentation.

Lunch was at Cabo Wabo – Sammy Hagar’s Cabo hole-in-the-wall. It was OK, but I’ll take the resort food any day.

Here’s the problem. We have four full days left before we leave. I’m not sure what to do with those days. Before we left, people told me the reason you go to Cabo is to sit by the pool and drink. I’m starting to understand why. We could take a tour bus to Todos Santos, a smaller village up the Pacific Coast. I’ve heard good things about the place. But I just don’t want to go – another place where there’s the incessant needling to buy something. And the haggling. And, you know, I’d rather just sit by the pool.

That night the dinner at the resort was a Mexican Fiesta. Besides great food, they had entertainment. Mariachi band. Traditional dancers. I could live on the tacos they serve at the resort. Al pastor, carne, pollo – one of each and I’m happy.

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Day Four

 

After three full days in Cabo San Lucas, I’m officially bored. Part of it is my fault. Back when my kids were young, I did all sorts of things I wouldn’t do otherwise because I wanted them to grow up doing interesting things and not being afraid.

So, we rode ATVs in Oregon – and almost tipped one over at the top of a very big sand dune.

And rode ATVs in Oceano a number of times – even though several people die their every year.

And went snorkeling in Maui.

And ziplining in Maui.

It’s safe to say that every vacation we took as a family involved things that weren’t my speed – to make sure they had experiences they would appreciate and remember.

They aren’t here so I don’t have to do that. No jet skis, no parasailing. None of it.

The problem is that once you take those activities out of the equation, there aint much more to do in Cabo. Here’s the list:

  • Sit by the pool and drink.
  • Sit on the beach and drink and get hectored by the vendors selling henna tattoos, bracelets, jewelry, Cuban cigars, t-shirts, activities, and lord knows what else.
  • Walk through town and get hectored by the vendors selling henna tattoos, bracelets, ceramic pieces, jewelry, Cuban cigars, t-shirts, activities, and lord knows what else … and drink.
  • Sit by the pool and drink.
  • Sit by the beach and drink.

You get the idea. People who have been here told me the only reason to come to Cabo is to drink. Ummm … yeah.

On Day Four, we spent some time on the beach. After a couple of hours, we switched to the pool and tried to order lunch. After an hour of waiting for our food, I went looking. Here was the response, “It is coming. Don’t worry. Be happy.”

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Right. I’m tired, cranky, and developing a headache. If I had known how long it would take, I’d have ordered sooner.

After we ate, the wife asked how much of a tip she should leave. I said, “Nothing and he can ‘not worry and be happy.’”

I tried to live the Cabo way the first three days and realized I can’t do it. I drank a lot between Sunday night and Tuesday night. I stopped on Wednesday. Maybe it was that, maybe it was the heat of sitting on the beach and by the pool for almost four hours. All I knew was that I felt like total crap all day.

So, go back to the list. What’s there to do in Cabo if you’re not going to drink and you have no desire to spent $50 for 30 minutes on a jet ski?

I did get a hot stone massage Wednesday. Best massage ever. EVER. And for Carrie Rubin – best way to deal that whole “do you talk to the masseuse during a massage” issue is to have a language barrier.

Here’s what I want to know, however. If my wife, girlfriend, lover, friend with benefits (never had one of those actually), gives me a massage, Mr. Happy makes his presence known. Every time I have ever had a professional massage, I’ve worried about whether Mr. Happy will spring into action. It has never happened and I want to know why. A massage feels so incredible. All those things the masseuse is doing to my skin and body parts, but the little guy stays quiet. How does that work?

Here’s another thing about massages – I wish I could lose myself during a massage. I think it’s something like yoga or mediation. There’s a way to achieve a different level of awareness if you do it right. But I can’t separate myself from the hands making my muscles relax and everything else going on. I tried at some point during this massage – to leave my body. It kind of worked. Clearly, I need more massages to perfect this.

 

Day Seven

Yeah. I didn’t write the last two days. Just didn’t feel like it. What did we do? Hmmm… Thursday, we spent by the pool. One good thing about this place is how friendly everybody is.

We talked with a family from the UK. They are currently living in Colorado. He works for Halliburton. I held my tongue and did not point out that his employer was one of the causes of all that is evil in the world.

On the other side of us was a family from the San Diego area. No surprise. Almost everybody here is from California. The woman in this family works for a charter school that has received financing through one of the units at my office. And on the other side of them were two African-American gentlemen, one of whom lives in Sacramento. Earlier in the week, I met a young man who attends Chico State (about 90 minutes north of Sacrament). He grew up in the same neighborhood in which we currently live. We all sit around the pool and for a few hours talk about this and about that and then go our separate ways at the end of our stays.

Here’s what I want to know – when did tans become unhealthy looking. I did my time as a youngster worshipping the sun god. Working on my tan, ‘cause brown is better than white. I guess. But, sitting around the pool, I see all these Caucasian people with skin that’s darker than the locals and it just looks so gross. Leathery and wrong.

I’ve completely lost interest in the whole idea of just sitting out in the heat, in the sun, in the humidity. I’ll go for a run in 100 degree heat or for a one or two hour bicycle ride in the late afternoon, when it’s still 90-95 degrees out there, but to just sit there and bake and sweat? Nah. Not so much anymore. Give me a cold weather beach any day.

One of the problems is that the beaches in Cabo aren’t very swimmable. Even on the Sea of Cortez side where we were, the surf is rough and the beach is steep, leaving very little area for wading and calm water. Because of this we spent more time by the pool than at the beach.

Although we were committed to not buying a time share, we went to a presentation for the sake of the $250 resort credit we would receive. The basic offer was $8,300 for a 100-year “ownership” interest that provided us with one week every two years, plus enrollment in a premier program – that gave us two weeks a year at hotels and resorts around the world at dramatically reduced prices — $99 – 399 per week for places that usually charge $200, $300, or more per night. And we would get $1,000 every year towards costs for other travel.

Interestingly, the UK couple we met were started at $33,000 for the same package. You see what I mean about not believing anybody.

Our sales guy – John – was offensive. At least to me. If I believed him – he knows Jim Harbaugh (coach of the 49ers); he had a chance to invest $10,000 in Red Bull at the beginning and thereby be worth millions now, but decided not to; he could have been a top gun pilot, his scores were so good; he claims to be a millionaire on paper because of rental properties that spin off all sorts of revenue that he’s putting away for retirement; and 32 years ago, he invested $4,500 in a time share and since then he’s been to 30 countries.

This is the life everybody should be living, he suggests. It’s all about … ALL ABOUT … the vacations. He was critical of other people’s vacation habits, spending habits. Anybody who hasn’t done what he’s done just isn’t realizing how great life can be.

Here’s my question though – if everything he told me was true, why is he still working? In a crappy sales job where he only makes, according to him, $328 if we agree to the $8,300 deal?

I said no. He was an ass.

They sent us to the corporate office to get our resort credits and fill out a questionnaire. Virginia asked how things went. I told her that John was offensive. She tsk-tsked appropriately and brought her boss over. Sergio. Wow. Turns out they have all sorts of other options. You don’t have to buy 100 year ownershiop. You can go to 30 years, 20 years, 15 years, and it’s not really an “ownership,” it’s just a membership. So, 15 years — $3,000. Think about it. Sergio left. Came back after a few minutes. “You work for the government. I can knock off $600. Plus, we’ll deposit $1,000 in your travel account right now and give you a 4-day cruise.

I gave him my credit card. Here’s what we got.

  • No obligation to do anything or pay anything more for the next 15 years.
  • The opportunity to book up to four weeks of vacation per year at resorts and hotels all over the world at rates from $99 – 399 per week. Per week, not per night. Not at Best Westerns and Days Inn, but at resorts and higher class hotels. The weeks can be accumulated.
  • $1,000 per year to be used towards hotel and resort costs.

In other words, for a little more than $150 per year for the next 15 years, we have the opportunity to spend $1,000 of somebody else’s money for our travel each year for those 15 years. It sounds too good to be true, so I’ll see if it actually turns out. What everybody says is that a hotel is a lot like a piece of electronics these days. The room itself isn’t worth much, it’s what you do while you’re there – going to the restaurants, using the site amenities, spending money that way. Just like a phone isn’t about the phone – it’s about the content.

We shall see.

Without our meal deal we ventured out a little more the last few days. Thursday, we ate dinner at The Office – a beach-front restaurant with a party vibe. Friday, we ate at Pepe’s – an authentic restaurant on the fringes of the center of Cabo. Centrally featured on the menu is that they wash all of their vegetables with purified water. I liked reading that. Only hope it’s true. Their tacos were excellent. The smorgasbord of salsas and avocado sauce they provide – just as good.

Saturday, we ate at the Mango Deck – another beach-front restaurant with a party vibe – kicked up a notch or two from The Office.  As the wife said while we sat at our tables, drinking margaritas, and watching the games drunk people play, the Mango Deck was what people think of when they think Cabo.

So, what’s the point of all this? It’s about marking down some memories and observations. It’s about where I was this week and what I saw and who I met.

Who knows – maybe there’s a story in something I saw or a character to fill in a gap in an existing story.

When we went back East a few years ago, I kept notes of things I saw. The day we drove from New York City to Gettysburg my younger son looked out the window and saw cloud. He said it looked like a rubber duck wearing a sailor hat. That went into my notes and several years later became a small piece of Northville Five and Dime.

That’s what we do. We steal people, we steal images, we steal these things that become part of the backbone of the stories we write. Like Felix, the taco maestro at the resort – made the best tacos ever; Fernando, the bartender at the resort who told me it didn’t matter if I didn’t speak Spanish as long as I said “por favor” to be polite; the two little girls trying to sell us wind-up toys for $2 – we bought one from one of the girls and the other kept saying “oh, come on” to get us to buy from her. The old mestizo ladies, with their sun-blackened skin, covered in billowy blouses and skirts, cups held out, asking for money; or … maybe it’s this.

Every time we went into town, we walked by what looked to be a large vacant lot covered with crushed gravel. Next to the lot was what looked to be a vacant building – about 30-40 yards wide, about 100 yards long. Maybe two or three stories tall. No windows. Some graffiti. From the outside, the building looked to be a solid block of concrete plopped down next to the vacant lot.

And in that vacant lot there were always two men. One probably was in his 40’s, with a little bit of a gut and a cowboy hat. He always had a white shirt, long sleeves, and jeans. His companion was older – maybe in his 60’s or 70’s. Skinny and stooped.

Whether we went by at 10:00 in the morning; 3:00 in the afternoon, or 9:00 in the evening, they were there. A folding table, two chairs – eating a meal, or playing cards – in an empty lot with no apparent reason to be there.

 

 

 

 

 

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5 responses to “Cabo Ramble

  1. sknicholls July 14, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Long post yes, but very interesting. I like how you process your observations. There may always be some greater meaning than what we actually see. We got suckered into a travel club once. Supposed to be the best there is. Paid $4500. Every time we have tried to book, there has been an issue, or the reviews for what’s available are terrible. Nothing we really want is ever available. It’s been paid for for five years and we have yet to use it. About the beer. I get it. My husband is in AA. I am not. I have never had issues. I drink on rare occasions when we go out to dinner, or to a resort, on a cruise. It’s never been something I do every day. But I couldn’t imagine some of those things we do to entertain ourselves without alcohol being part of the equation for me.

    • kingmidget July 14, 2014 at 5:40 pm

      I’m continuing to hold my breath to see if the travel thing is as good as it sounds.

      About drinking … it has become relatively easy for me to stop at home, except for the slip up on the 4th and 5th. It is the social occasions where it is most difficult — when we go out to eat, get together with friends, that type of thing. But, here’s what I want — I want people around me drinking so that I have to make the decision as often as possible. The more frequently I have to make that decision, the stronger I will become. And, you know, if every once in awhile, I have a couple of beers here and there, or a margarita or two, that’s OK. Although my goal every day is that I don’t have any that day. We’ll see.

  2. Anonymous July 16, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    I enjoyed your post Sparky. The times I went to Mexico over holiday breaks we went to a small, not too many gringos town and I read constantly. I walked to the local tortilla stand each morning and that was about it but regardless of a resort or not (we stayed in a private home) all the non-locals drank…a lot.

    As for the language issue I mostly agree. When I traveled w/ students outside the country I insisted they learn basic greetings (hello, please and thank you) and I am practicing the same for Italy. However, if we only visit countries where are have even the most basic proficiency in the language even fewer Americans would leave the country then the paltry international travelers we currently have in the US. In my experience I have seen the “ugly American “while traveling and even apologized to Brits over horrid actions I witnessed, by Americans. to let them know not all Americans are like that so my goal can be to travel more and work to alter the stereotype!

    And as a traveler you have to expect some harassment (Mexico, Jamaica and Peru were especially challenging for this…. in Peru the “junk peddlers” are little children…..out selling trinkets and not in school). I expect it in Italy as well (pickpockets are a bigger issue) so I am learning a simple Italian phrase of “no thank you” to help with this. If that doesn’t work I add a death stare and firm voice (which I have had to do when traveling alone).

    As for the time share. I have a few friends who know how to work the programs and have taken a trip every year (Usually Hawaii or different parts of Mexico). Personally, it sounds like too much work to negotiate. You need to see a film called the Queen of Versaille about the husband and wife of a time share company…..the sales are just as you described.

    You never mentioned what you read while working on your tan by the pool?

  3. lula avila July 17, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    Unfortunately yes,you went to one of the most turistic beaches in Mexico. Cabo is a party place, most of the tourists are young people or spring breakers. And they take HORRIBLE advantage of tourists, especially Americans, sometimes, even in the same menu, they put different prices on the exact same dish, something like:
    orange juice $5 dollars
    jugo de naranja: $2 dollars.

    At least you have some nice images of the trip, and had good tacos, no tacos would have been a tragedy!

    • kingmidget July 18, 2014 at 7:14 am

      Yeah, I keep making this mistake … when we went to Hawaii, we stayed in Kaanapali on Maui — tourist/resort heaven. If I ever go back to Hawaii, I’m going to Kauai instead. And Cabo is much the same — resorts and tourists and not very “real.” As for the prices — all of the restaurants we went to charged regular “American” prices for food. Except one — where we had dinner for less than $20. But, yes, the tacos!!!

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