Friday, October 11, 2013

Someone Put a Cabo in My Caboodle

Several years ago I coined the phrase, "When the going gets tough, the tough go to Cabo."

OK, somebody somewhere else probably said that before I did, I'm always late to the party.  Maybe I'm the first person to put it in print.  OK, at least I know I'm the first person to put it in print in my own blog.  I think.

I coined that phrase because my lovely wife and I, in the fair to middlin beginin of our not too long ago four year walkabout, were having a heck of a time finding a rental house in Santa Cruz that would be to our liking.  Let me retreat for a moment.

We were living in Monterey, CA at the time, where she took over a branch office for a local title company.  My lovely wife, BTW, was the top notch escrow maven in the this county before she was spirited away by oodles of money and an opportunity to relocate to a most lovely part of the state, even the country for that matter.  The position only lasted a year though because the overall area manager was a nit wit.  Several top notch escrow personnel jumped ship to another title company and my lovely wife was again recruited to open up a branch in downtown Santa Cruz.  Due to the nature of timing, we only had about six weeks to find a house rental in a college town.

We're old people, we've got a lot of crap.  A 3/1 under a thousand square feet wasn't gonna cut.  And that seemed to be what most of the available places were.  We had driven up to Santa Cruz three weekends in a row to find a place, no joy.  The days ambled on by, we were running out of time and my lovely wife was getting stressed to the max.  Besides the stress of her current position, not having a future nest in place was also a source of concern.  When stress gets up to a point of maximum concern and confusion and one box of wine don't cut it anymore, there's only one thing I know that's sure to alleviate the pain.


At one time it might have been a Toga Party with copious amounts of ingested alcohol, but now we seem to have a need to get out of Dodge, get away to a tropical place and let our cares drift away in a soft ocean breeze.   Maybe with a little Harry Belafonte in the background.  A little calypso, and for my lovely wife, maybe a tropical rum drink or two with them pretty little umbrellas.

Well, I did what any normal spouse would do, I got online and found us a heck of a deal down south.  It really was a great last minute price, booking the trip about 48 hours before we embarked.  If you can deal with a host of unknowns, that's a great way to pick up a last minute travel deal.  We actually ended up at San Jose del Cabo, which is a lovely, sleepy little town about twenty miles up the Sea of Cortez side of things from Cabo.

Unbeknownst to me when I booked the joint it was an all-inclusive resort.  I just wanted a room with a view and a swimming pool.  Upon check-in we got a plastic wrist band, the proverbial key to the highway.  We still really had no idea now it worked until we tried to pay for drinks, which we didn't.  And then we went to dinner.  No bill.  What a concept. We got used to it all real quick.

We rented a car one day that trip and headed in to Cabo, which had surely changed a bit in the 25 years since we'd been there last.  They had dredged out the harbor and now it is a cruise ship destination.  It has also become what I would call the Las Vegas of the Baja Peninsula. 

We had been to Cabo before, back in the early 1980's.  The town was entirely way different.  Back then it was a sleepy little fishing village with dirt streets.  A few shops, a few restaurants and a couple cantinas.  Now that a cruise ship lands every other day and Sammy has a night club there it's a rollicking little town. 

We also headed out to Todos Santos, to the original Hotel California, or so they say.  It certainly would have been out on a dark desert highway, especially back in the 1970's.  It was a nice desert drive for us and a quaint little town.  We had some lunch at a cantina a US ex-pat owned, and found out the place was a haven for displaced Americans.  At least four of 'em.  And maybe there were a few lost souls in a perpetual Eagles flashback that were living the dream.  Somewhere out there.

We learned a new phrase at Cabo this year which I'll get to later.  It was coined by one of our tour guides and companions, Carlito, who we have been friends with for over 30 years.  He has been after us for many years to join he and his lovely spouse on one of their many tropical vacations.  They've been retired now for a few, and they go on these all-inclusive tropical vacations several times a year.  Carlito finally put me in a head lock, scrunched my ear until I cried  "Johnnie Walker" and off we went.

Actually, it was a five pack of intrepid wayfaring wanderers that flew down to the Riu.  It was going to be a 6-pack, but there was a very unfortunate relationship situation that developed between two folks which occurred between booking and travel.  We talked our female friend of the relationship into continuing with the vacation.  She needed to get away probably more than anybody.

"It's all happenin at the "Riu".  No need to believe it, I know it's true.   "Riu" is a resort chain with over one hundred hotels in some of the best destinations in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Yowzah.  With that plug maybe they'll give me a free dinner next time I'm there.

Wait a minute.  Most of them are all-inclusive, and if you like to eat and drink this is the place for you.  Unbelievable food and drink at unbelievable prices.  We just skated into the "off " season by about a week, and could not believe what we were gastronomically experiencing at such ridiculous prices.

If you are a foodie you will feel as if you have wandered into a land of heavenly, sheer gastronomical bliss.  The buffet was unbelievable.  Splendidly sordid.  Wickedly wild.  Stand back.  It was, without equivocation, much better than any Hometown Buffet I've ever seen.

My biggest regret of the vacation was that I do not have a big appetite.  I typically do not eat three meals a day, I eat when I am hungry.  And I rarely over eat.  Damn.  This would have been the time to be a hawg!

It all started with a twenty foot salad bar, smoked salmon, smoked marlin, shrimp, vegetables, salads, and 85 salad dressings.  Ok, at least 12.  Splendid garnishments were everywhere on the bar, a wide assortment of vegetables carved into all sorts of flowers with intricate petals.

Oh, and on one night, they had a Caesar Salad bar along with the regular salad bar.  How many options can actually be used in a Caesar Salad?  About a hundred.  Apparently.  You could have done an entire 3 course meal at the Caesar Salad bar, then gone on to peruse the other available hundred entrees. 

There was a little bakery area, which always had an assortment of 8-10 different kinds of breads and rolls.  Probably more like 20.

Along the entire back wall was the hot food section, which went on for days.  Besides hot dogs, pizza and hamburgers for the stalwart eaters from Wisconsin, the rest of the selection was extreme gourmet.  And I'm talking about another 25-30 freaking options.  10 hot vegetables and 20 main courses.  At least.  Hell, the burgers and dogs could have been gourmet too, but I certainly wasn't going to waste my waist on them things.

I had a little bit of many things at every dinner, the most memorable being a beef enchilada with the most incredible mole sauce I have ever tasted.  That's pronounced mole-a, and probably tastes much different than a sauce made from a rodent.  I had two of those, the only time I doubled up on anything.  Unless you call eating about four hundred shrimp dialed in a half dozen different ways doubling up.  What?

I pretty much stayed with a few papaya and assorted melon slices every morning.  I usually only have a couple cups of coffee, so I was pushing it.  If I wanted to push it, besides the fruit bar, I could have had an assortment of hot or cold cereal, the bakery was always stocked with a half doz different kinds muffins, plus another assortment of 15 or so bread products.  Bacon, ham, eggs any way you like, cheese.  Chorizo, a half dozen different flavors. An omelet bar with about 20 options.  The salad bar it's regular self but with an additional 16 different types of cold cut meats.  To go with your endless champagne.

The 20 foot dessert bar at dinner was glorious.  There were at least 6-8 different assorted petit fours type things every night, little 3 and 4 layer frosted cakes that were sumptuous.  Little cuplets of flan and custard, cookies, chocolates, and garnishments of chocolate iguanas that were a foot in length.  Many of them were missing their tails.  There were at least a couple hundred of these lovelies available in the fairy tale sugar land at any given time.  Then there were the white and dark chocolate fountains.  Buckets of berries of your choice.  Another section where something deliciously traditional was being cooked up every night.  It was a dessert junkies paradise.  People were actually taking pictures of the wondrous display of sugar magic, it was that extreme.

The selection changed every night.  One night was sushi night.  Another Italian.  Another um, Mexican.  All you can eat.  Every night it changed.  It was food delirium.

And then there was the booze.  I personally don't drink alcohol anymore, I stopped a couple decades ago.  That's a whole nother story, one which will actually be available sometime early next year.  But my good buddy Carlito likes to drink alcohol like I used to like to drink alcohol, and our other traveling companions have been known to toss back a cocktail or two now and then.

There's a couple pool bars, a couple theater bars, an upper level terrace bar, a disco bar and cocktails available at all the 5 restaurants.  And then there's about 800 pool boys and girls and waiters and staff that will fetch you a cocktail at a  moments notice.  It was not difficult to find a drink.

I brought my own brand of madness, baked into chocolate wholesome goodness.  Besides water and soda, I also had several fruity non-alcoholic options available.  Even with an umbrella if I wanted.  And my lovely wife almost made it all the way through the Riu's colorful tropical cocktail menu that had about 20 options.

You could do some serious drinking there if you wanted to.  One of the first days I likened serious "day" drinking to surfing.  From what  I recall it takes a couple pops to get on the board and then another one or two to get up and catch the wave.  That's in the first half hour or so.  After that it's mindless and cautious maintenance, which can be difficult I would think when you're surfing at an all inclusive resort.  Too much and you fall off the board.  Too little and you become bored.  Aren't homonyms fun?

When my lovely wife and I were married the first time back in the mid-1970's, we honeymooned in Puerto Vallarta.  On that vacation we both went parasailing, which is essentially taking a parachute ride behind a speed boat over water.  The first day at Cabo we noticed a number of parasails out in the bay, and we decided to give it another go.  It looked like there was a double ride, where we could ride together.  It was all or nothing, an adventure for the ages!  Or ageless.  Whatever.

We made arrangements through one of the recreation beach boys at the resort, and even though we communicated well enough he kind of neglected to tell us how far down the beach we had to walk to pick up the boat.

So we started our unexpected trek, which seemed like fourteen miles, but was probably only one.  That took about a half hour.  It didn't help that just a scant fifty yards into the trek we got blasted by a wave because we were too close to the water and not paying attention.  Wet, taking stock and a little bit aghast, we got blasted again within about 45 seconds.

We were now decently sopping wet, and sand was everywhere about our persons.  My lovely wife's hair was in quite disarray, and she was not happy.  Nevertheless, she was a trooper and carried on.  We had to walk in the softer sand now, so as not to get blasted again, and the going was much tougher.  It was getting hot, and she was getting tired.  And she was not happy.  This was not starting out as the grand fun adventure I had hoped for.

We finally got to the tent, and since our beach boy had contacted them via walkie-talkie they were ready for us.  They smiled and ushered over a water taxi straight away.  There was no wait, we were the first customers of the day. 

We had wanted to go out as early as we could to avoid high seas. You see, my lovely wife is very susceptible to motion sickness.  That's why we don't cruise, or take boat trips.  And only fly on big planes.  She's OK on commercial airliners, it's the smaller commuters and Cessnas she can do without.  Hell, she can't even kayak on calm lake water without usually puking.

As we had been walking, we had discussed the fact we hadn't thought we'd be going out on the water.  In a boat.  How stupid were we?  She was getting concerned.  I was getting concerned.  Holy shit.  Our great adventure was turning into a potential catastrophe. 

The water taxi is kind of like a row boat sized skiff with a motor.  They delicately maneuver over and around the incoming surf to get their patrons on board.  Their patrons usually get wet.  Oh well, we were already wet.  And sandy.  We got on board and churned out about fifty yards to the real boat, a heavy duty cruiser.  Then it was another ten minutes over somewhat choppy water to the point of flight.

So far my girl was doing OK.  She was still trooping it.

During ten minute ride out in the bay they gave us both a life vest and a harness to put on.  Finally they stopped, unfurled the chute, got out a doubles bar, clipped us on and had us sit down on the 6x6 foot platform that was the back of the boat.  Then they rolled the rope right on out at a fairly steady pace.  The chute just lifted us off the platform and into the sky.

Their web site says they let out six hundred feet of line.  For the first few minutes, as we unfurled, we lazed along in the warm ocean breeze.  A few larger fish were visible from the 50 to 100 foot elevation.

As we continued to drift behind the boat, I soon understood why they like to get further out in the bay.  Once we got out beyond the large rocks that provide the shelter for Cabo's bay, the ocean wind lifted us like a hawk on a hot air rise.  Within a minute we were almost directly above the boat, going from 50 to 500 feet in 60 seconds.  It was a blast, and almost felt like we would lift the boat right out of the water.  No wonder they needed a big boat.

After a good twenty minute ride, they slowly reeled us back in, and we landed softly on the back of the boat where we initially took off.  No fuss, no muss, no wet.  The water taxi met us, and then we rode back in.  Fortunately he dropped us off at about the halfway point between their tent and our resort.  Unfortunately there was a resort rule banning him from dropping us off at our back door.

Once we got back to our room, my lovely wife laid down for a little while.  It was touch and go a couple times for her, even when we were up in the air she had to keep a constant eye on the horizon.  It was at least a thirty minute motion filled adventure, wracked by waves and minor discontent, but my lovely wife endured and we really had a wonderful ride.  Because of that motion thing, we don't do stuff like this very often.  Or ever.

I am currently writing a ballad about the whole adventure, entitled, "My Girl Didn't Hurl".

There were also very good live, themed song and dance shows put on by the entertainment staff at the resort every night.  "Las Vegas", "Broadway" and a "Michael Jackson" tribute to name just a few.  All the entertainment staff were youngsters and in great shape, otherwise we might have seen a good Joe Cocker show.  What am I saying?  Joe's still in great shape.  Crank it up.

There was also a disco on site that opened at eleven PM.  We only made it in there once for about 15 minutes.  We're old folks.  Eleven PM?  Who were we kidding?

We had an ample mini suite with a delightful ocean view.  All the rooms are stocked with 4 quarts of booze, rum, vodka, tequila and scotch.  I think.  Just in case you weren't sufficiently sauced from drinking all day, or just in case you needed a drink to walk the fifty yards or so to the nearest open bar.  The mini fridge was also stocked with beer, sodas, juice and bottled water.  It was replenished every morning.  No charge.

We all brought about $50 in one dollar bills and tipped regularly.  Every third or fourth delivery of drinks warranted a buck, dinner usually warranted 2 or 3.  And we tipped the maid a buck every day.

The Riu Palace is a five star resort.  I believe it.  The grounds are impeccable, the cuisine incredible, the staff top notch.  The resort personnel and staff worked hard but always had a smile on their face. We will definitely visit a Riu again, but probably at a different location.  Maybe Costa Rica, or maybe Jamaica.  Mon.

And always remember, as my good buddy Carlito would say, "What happens in Cabo, never happened."