Tuesday, October 28, 2014

¡Hola Paraiso! - Living the Cabana Life

"Pour me something tall an' strong - Make it a "Hurricane" before I go insane. It's only half past twelve, but I don't care. It's five o'clock somewhere." (Alan Jackson & Jimmy Buffett)

Even in Paradise, you have to wake up sometime.

Deborah and I had come to the Sunset Plaza resort in Puerto Vallarta to get away and to relax.

And not just to "relax". But to REALLY RELAX. To relax like we had never done before. To relax like it was an Olympic sport, and we were the Michael Phelps', the Nadia Comanecis, the Usain Bolts, the Jenny Thompsons of relaxing!

Sounds easy, right? Boy, would you be wrong! It was hard work relaxing, 24-7, living the "cabana life"!

When we woke on our first morning at the Sunset Plaza, we knew there was nothing we wanted to do more (after eating our free breakfast!) than to put on our swimming suits, slather on some sunscreen, gather up our Kindles, and head down to the "adults-only" pool area and enjoy some major league "lounging". What could be better! By 11 am, the morning clouds had cleared - the sun was out - it was 90 degrees - the absolute opposite of what we had left behind in drizzly, gray Grants Pass, Oregon. We just wanted to soak it all in!

So we'd set up camp in our little cabana. We learned which one had the best view...which one had the most shade at certain times of the day...we learned how to deftly hang our towels around the cabana to make it even shadier... and how to stay, just out of eyesight of the ever present beach vendors, hawking their wares like friendly buzzards. We became true "Cabana Commandos".

And what made "Cabana Life" even better was that anything we wanted - food, drink, free massages, etc. - was brought to us by smiling, sharply dressed, always dependably there when you wanted them, servers.  "Would you like a margarita? Or a "Miami Vice"?", they'd ask. Deborah and I would look at each other and say "Bring both, please". "Would you like something to eat?", they'd inquire. And we would order the fish tacos, the chicken taquitos, and the fresh guacamole....yum!

And when we got hot, we'd slide into the pool and cool off, and think "This is the life!."... Ahhhh....

But as idyllic as this all sounds, we both began to feel a little unrest, a little stirring, almost immediately as we slid into this pampered life.

"Breath in. Breath out. Move on." (Jimmy Buffett)

We both were surprised at how it took a full day and a half of doing this before our minds would actually begin to slow down - to accept that "It was Ok" to just hang out. Our minds were so used to living life at a faster speed - our days measured by "what we were supposed to be doing", "where we were supposed to be going", and that somehow we were "missing something", if we weren't running around, taking pictures somewhere. Thankfully, we got over that compulsion! We began to enjoy the rare pleasure of reading quietly together, people-watching, taking cat naps, and free massages every day. It was heavenly - especially if we pale-skinned Oregonians could manage to also not get too sun-burned while doing so!

But as days passed, the "Cabana Life" began to lose its charm.

  • You can only eat so much guacamole, and drink so many margaritas.
  • The "Adults Only" pool began to attract families with kids, and it was tiring "chasing them away, por favor".
  • The "fun" of laying around in wet swim suits all day began to fade. I just wanted to be dry and cool.
  • The people we sat by the pool with may have changed, but the scenery was becoming stale and the cabanas confining.
Deborah and I began to realize that "Paradise" was feeling a little empty - we were feeling empty. We had always been active when on our vacations - exploring, walking, learning and seeing something new. We realized we missed doing that. And we also were reminded of an important life lesson.

A life without disturbance may sound ideal, but it isn't life at all. No disturbance - no challenge - no motivation to do anything but sleep - no change; this is a life for the "dying". And a part of us knew that, and that's the part that stirred us. The part that whispered, "Let's go do something a little uncomfortable - a little daring - something new. Something we can talk and laugh about when we remember this trip".

"I just want to live happily ever after, every now and then." (Jimmy Buffett)

So, we looked for some opportunities to do just that: explore Puerto Vallarta and experience life in a foreign country, on our own - and to leave the cabanas behind for a little while.

I'm sure they didn't stay empty long. They whisper a "siren song". But we were tired of being "Mexican mushrooms". It was time for an adventure or two.

"At a moment like this, I can't help but wonder. What would Jimmy Buffett do?" (Alan Jackson)

I think he'd move the party elsewhere... which is what we did!

"¡Salud, pesetas y amor y tiempo para gozarlos!" ("Cheers to money and love, and time to enjoy them!")

Friday, October 17, 2014

¡Hola Paraiso! - Our Anniversary in Puerto Vallarta

"A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it." (Robert Orben)

So what would your "dream vacation" be? Would it include sun, sandy beaches, and blue skies?

Would it be a place where you could have every wish granted - every need met?  A place where you were pampered as if you were royalty (or even better, A Kardashian!)? A faraway, exotic place that you could go to and leave all your cares behind?

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it. Well, that's what Deborah and I decided to do for our 8th anniversary a couple of weeks ago. Since we got married in September, we never got to go on a real honeymoon. The school year had just started - I was working - so our "grand celebration" was to spend a day and a night in lovely little Ashland, 40 miles from home. So now that I'm retired, we decided to do something "big".

We were very certain that what we wanted to do was something we had never done before, and to go somewhere we had never been.

We wanted something "tropical", "exotic". We said we wanted to do nothing but "relax at a beautiful resort...for at least a week". We considered Hawaii (too expensive); the Bahamas (too far away); Costa Rica (too unknown), until finally settling on Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

It seemed perfect: Pretty inexpensive; only a 4 1/2 hour flight; and the resort we were going to stay at, The Sunset Plaza, advertised that it was "small and quiet" and even promised us our own "personal butler". Paradise seemed to await us. But surprisingly, when we told friends and coworkers about our plans, we heard a far different story from them.

"Oh no. You're going to Mexico? Haven't you heard? It's very dangerous there - drugs, tourists kidnapped!"... "Mexico? Didn't you hear about the hurricanes there? Good luck!"... "I would never go to Mexico - you get sick just from the water!"... "Mexico is the last place I'd go - there's just too many Mexicans there!"

We had never heard so much pessimism, and grumpiness, and distrust, and negativity...mostly from people who when you asked them if they'd ever been to Mexico ironically said "No"! So we stopped telling people about our plans, and quietly looked forward to our getaway.  We were ready for a week in Paradise.

I feel about airplanes the way I feel about diets. It seems to me that they are wonderful things for other people to go on. (Jean Kerr)
We flew out of Medford on September 24th, the morning of our anniversary. We knew better than to expect "comfort and bliss" on our flights to Los Angeles, and then on to Puerto Vallarta. Both, though relatively short, had their own special "challenges": wailing 2 year olds seated two rows behind us; obnoxious passengers loudly telling no one in particular "How fun they were!", and scruffy single guys off on a fishing trip wondering when the drink cart was coming around...at 9:30 am... and offering all single women within eyeshot a free drink! Sigh.... We patiently endured it all because we knew Paradise awaited us.
We finally landed in Puerto Vallarta at 3:15 pm. After schlepping our bags through customs, we headed to find our shuttle. But to get to it we had to go through "Time Share Alley"

Our instructions from the travel agency had warned us to not be enticed to stop and chat with these salesmen, lined up like eager sharks along this "gauntlet" before the exit. But we were groggy, and when one handsome young agent called us over to "help us", we wandered over. Surprisingly, he was polite; he gave us a map of the city, and then even poured both of us a shot of tequila (which we much enjoyed after our testy flight!). And then even more amazingly, he let us wander away without making any kind of sales pitch! Deborah was amazed! (Especially since she didn't know he was a sales agent - until I told her in the cab ride away). Our luck seemed good!

I'll never forget how it felt when we stepped out of the airport doors. Though the skies were gray, the heat and humidity slammed me like I had just opened the oven door. As I stood there waiting for our cabbie to load our bags into the trunk, I began sweating as if I had just ran from the plane to the car. Welcome to the tropics, Senor Schnorenberg! 

Twenty minutes later we arrived at the Sunset Plaza. The resort's manager, Javier Vergara, personally checked us in, offering us glasses of champagne and cool towels. After patiently sitting through a "welcome/sales pitch" from the resort's "concierge", the 1st of our personal butlers, Ruben, escorted us upstairs to our room, promising our bags would be brought up shortly.

When we walked into the room, a surprise awaited us (actually, awaited Deborah!)

I had called Javier the day before and asked him if he could arrange for some roses to be in our room when we arrived, since it was our anniversary. And boy did he! This beautiful bouquet and a luscious piece of chocolate cake greeted us. Mucho gracias!

We looked out of our 14th floor balcony and were amazed at the view.

Looking south from our balcony. Old Puerto Vallarta in the distance.
Pools and hot tubs below

Though the skies were grayer than we expected, and both of us were sweaty, we quickly unpacked and then decided to go for a short walk to stretch our legs before dinner.  Puerto Vallarta's main thoroughfare ran just a block away from the hotel. Buses and cars rattled and buzzed by as our heads swiveled taking it all in. We walked alternately on concrete sidewalks and then genuine cobblestone streets. I'd never seen real cobblestones before!

But as we stepped off a curb, Deborah's hand slipped out of my sweaty grasp, and the next thing I knew she was on all fours scrambling to get up! How did that happen? We didn't know. But her fall cut short our little trek, and we retreated back to our room to take a much needed shower and then go to dinner.

The resort boasted of its Italian restaurant, "Luciano's", so we went there. But it was empty, except for us - and we soon discovered why. Let's just say that the chef should've left "Italian cuisine for the Italians" and stuck with what (I assume) he knew best. Though disappointed, we enjoyed margaritas and nachos at the outside bar, and went to bed looking forward to the next day. Thunder rumbled outside of our window as night fell.

So despite the testy flight...and the steamy weather...and some unexpected scraped knees...and the lukewarm ravioli...and the gray skies...we were still in paradise. We were here to enjoy ourselves.

Our adventures would continue the next day.

Buenas noches mis amigos!