Damn but it took a long, long time to get from here to there. The flight was four hours, but didn't seem unduly long - I had a Perry Mason and a nap. We arrived at the appointed time, thinking: get the bags, find the shuttle, the usual bumpy ride into the jungle, and it all begins!

But, Mexico.

Because I am devoted this time to granular documentary to give you the full experience, here's a sped-up version of arrival.

Passport control was easy enough - a long line that moved at a good clip, a bored officer stamping our documents, then off to the baggage area. It took a long time to get the bags. A very long time. Several flights were using this carousel, so you had an absolute mass of refugees thronging the belt in increasing stages of irritation. This not being my first time at the rodeo, knowing there is naught you can do but recalibrate your expectations downward, I just waited with patience like a good seasoned traveller, until I snapped. Well, I made inquiries. Five minutes, coming next. It was 15 minutes.

Outside into the throng: all the guys with cards and signs trying to hoover up some taxi business, the various transportation companies looking for their customers, the absolute chaos of it all. Found our company, produced the documents, and was told to wait: the van was on the way. Traffic around the airport is a mess, due to an ongoing road construction project, a reminder of what you face on the other end - but who thinks of that now? I waited with patience, until I had to ask: so . . . it’s coming, no?

“Five minutes.”

Ten minutes later - an hour and twenty minutes since we landed - we were inside the van and heading into the city at a creeping pace. The view was familiar and it wasn’t.

Or, to be more specific, this. (Up for two days, after which I'm taking it down lest someone complain about the music, which is taken from a game soundtrack.) NOTE: Full Screen, if you want it.

And then . . . ahhh.

Wintry Minnesota is already a wispy memory, dissolving in the warm evening breeze.

Different building, this time - we’re at the absolute end of the property it seems. Into the Village for dinner at the Indian restaurant, which was fantastic. Our experience with food has gone from risible to hit-and-miss to excellent; hope that holds.

Then to Aqua, the bar on the canal. When the cabaret was over lots of people showed up and there was a silent rave. Headphones, three color-coded channels. No one was dancing, so we went out and jump-started the party with some steps, and then it seemed to catch fire. Interesting to see all the people in the Aqua bar with headphones, having conversations; don’t know how that was possible.

An interesting form of contagion: everyone would be mostly green, but then some would change channels to red, and everyone else would shift to red to see what was on that channel. The entire party was held in silence.

Then to bed, with the rigors of the next day awaiting.

By "rigors" I mean the hangry wait in the omelette line.







Arrive at night, and the morning view is a happy revelation.

Some context for this tale:

X marks our spot. The other notable places are labeled. The orange portion on the upper left is the Village, where the restaurants and bars are located. The beach is upper right, next to Lunch. Although of course that's not what the signs say.

I awoke in the middle of the night to use the loo, and was aware of where I was. That’s a good start. This room is a double-mirror-flip of the last one we occupied, so it’s a good thing I didn’t head for the balcony. Alas, I had forgotten how to open the door to the loo. There had to be a way. Perhaps if I push against the glass here along the wall, it will swing open . . . no. Perhaps if I feel along the seam, I will find a handle . . . no. Well, perhaps if I turn on a light -

But that might turn on all the lights. The controls in this place are absolutely inscrutable. You touch one switch and everything comes on; you press it again and everything but one goes out; you press the one next to it and the balcony goes on, and so forth. I had one shot to avoid waking my wife, and I decided to take it.


ALL the lights went on. NO no no. Next one, fast on-off - Ah. I was able to see where the door handle was, and that would guide me through the rest of this adventure. I should note that the bathroom seats here are oddly square, as if SpongeBob designed them.

In the morning it was Isla Blanca, for the big breakfast. This is about 1/10th of the restaurant.

From this angle it appears as if some alien construct is forcing its way into the dining room. If so, I hope they brought fresh bread.

Various stations where the fresh items are prepared to order. Designed for high traffic and vast capacity.

Below, on the right, the Omelette Station. The main point of waking is to find yourself here, and if all goes well there will be no more than three people in front of you.

Everything is generally awful except the freshly-made items. Same man at the omelette station as last time. This is his life. A big beefy guy, perpetually bent, looking up with big dark eyes as he asks the important question: queso? Short line, although of course everyone in front is irritating me by their existence. The croissant gave evidence that it had been baked within the last year, and there’s now a self-service fancy-pants coffee machine with 12 options. Espresso, americano, etc. The addition of instantly-available coffee - and from the flavor of it, it truly puts the "instant" in instantly-available - is quite welcome. Now I truly want for nothing.

Oh, there’s coffee in the room, but you have to ask for extra supplies, and the fulfillment of such requests is performed at a pace one associates with one-hour baggage carousel waits.








After the breakfast, the pool.

I had the same chair I had last time, and thought: well, that was yesterday, wasn’t it?

No. There was three and a half months of cold, and here we are on the other end of that. I read an entire book today. It was not a long book. Obviously. It was a mystery set in ancient Rome, first in a series. There are about 528 such series these days, Rome being a subject of keen interest; distant mirror, and all that. The mystery was solved with more alacrity than you would suspect possible, as people responded promptly to official summons, records were easily located, and so on. It’s possible that civil society was much more efficient than we might think in the reign of Antonious Pius.

Who? The guy before Marcus Aurelius. Fourth of the Five Good Guys. It was not a time of great war or political upheaval, so perhaps everyone had the space to improve preexisting things. As usual, though, the hero’s wife is smart and sarcastic and insightful and independent-minded, which seems to be a prerequisite for the Roman Wives of these novels. It’s preferable to them being in the shadows, of course, but it seems as if every Wife in these books will start talking about the necessity of admitting women to the Senate. For that matter, one should be consul. Don't give me that look, you know Claudia Mertullus tells her husband what to do about everything, the man couldn't find his own nose with his hand if she didn't guide him.

What to do now that the book's done? Begin another? No. just meditate on the shapes and meanings of the clouds. The day had been quite windy - strange pterodactyl-like birds with long beaks hung high in the breeze, motionless. Gauzy white moved across the big blue sky, and I listened to the music I discovered a few months ago and had swore to be the soundtrack for this trip. A group called Kinobe, which does throwback "easy listening" that never gets around to changing keys.

So here you are.

At the moment I'm at the bar in the lobby bar - see the big banner picture above. A guy banging out show tunes on a grand piano. People are taking a painting class.

I’m down here for an Americano while Sara naps. There is a nice plate of lurid sausage and pliable cheese laid out to forestall hunger. We ate at noon at Poseidon, as is the custom. There was a pan of hamburgers, which made me wish for a real hamburger, not these fossilized divots. I’ve never had a good hamburger outside of the
United States. Has anyone?

It’s odd: I never think about food as much as when I’m on vacation. Then it is central organizing idea.

Anyway. The main problem of the meal was helping Sara send a text to an English number of a tennis player who wanted to set up a match the next day. The number made no sense, as transcribed, and we had to figure out how to use the country code, or NOT (it’s complicated), and how many numbers there were in English phones, and so on. Nothing worked. So while she was at the pool doing water aerobics I went back to the room, and discovered what I will now call the Northwest Passage.

The clerk who checked us assured us there was a way to get from our Edificio to the Village, but we saw no such way over the canal through the jungle. In daylight it was plain, and I explored.

It takes you to the back of the church, where some saturnine lizards sunned themselves. The massive stones gave the view an ancient look, and it wasn’t Rome.

LATER: Every time we’re here, there’s an Indian wedding. Really. They last for days. Huge parties that last all night. There was also a conference for a company that does metallurgy of some sort, with corporate banners flying and everyone in identical grey shirts. All men, all about the same height and hair color, cloned over and over again.

Drink at the Aqua bar, but no one we knew was here - the couple we met last time was supposed to be here this week, but alas - and so no long conversation into the night. No one seemed up for a conversational sally from strangers. Early night, and that was fine.







As much as I love the beach, it can be difficult to walk from here to there, particularly if your water shoes are wet and filled with sand. It’s like wearing cement overshoes. Took me five minutes to rinse everything out before heading in, and I was observed the entire time by a lizard of generous proportions.

It’s those interactions I appreciate about being here. The sense that you’re just one or two steps away from being someone else completely different in a completely different time, looking at an iguana with mutual incomprehension. Our inability to understand each other is a constant, but I suppose so is our ability to coexist.

Lunch at the Poseidon:

They have music now. They do not need music. This means no one can talk. It’s a decision I do not understand. Is this a nightclub? This is not a nightclub. Yesterday there was a fellow strumming on an electric guitar, and while it was a bit loud, it wasn’t distracting. Today they had a guy crooning to backup tracks, and it obliterated any chance of conversation you could want to have. We were reduced to getting in quick snatches of chat between songs.




The first pass through the line accumulated some gustatory mistakes, so I went back to a big enormous bowl filled with various meats. The Trough of Mexican Meat. That was good.

Let's get some coffee and dessert! Or rather, let's try to get some dessert, a decision complicated by lack of motor skills.

Then we decided to look at the spa. It’s in the building where the gym’s located, and since the gym isn’t that big, we wondered what occupied the rest of the complex.


Eventually we discovered a rooftop pool we hadn't noticed before.

Far above the teeming hoi polloi, of course.







I do wonder about the economics of this place. You think, well, labor isn’t a high cost. Maybe someone got a deal with the concrete monopoly. They knew a guy with a line in marble. I’d expect to pay twice what we are paying, and it includes daily lessons and sessions at a large, modern tennis facility. As it turns out, our niece is staying at a property in the hotel zone, something we learned about when her mom sent us a text saying we should see if we could get together!

Uh, no, because a) we’re a long ways away, and really no because b) any 20-year-old here with friends does not want aunt and uncle to show up.

I looked up the place, and the reviews are not kind. The main attribute that comes up in the guest feedback is “guests said the rooms / bathrooms were dirty,” and you got treated like mud if you didn’t sit through the timeshare pitch. Jacuzzis belched out yellow water with brown particles. And so on. Possibly it’s a dump. But there’s a certain type of well-I-never person who expects to be treated like a queen and gets sniffy at the first thing that’s just off or wrong, and enters a state of accumulating grievances.

Took at nap at 5, and was convinced that a mob was down below, led by a raving madman. The thump of the music, the exhortations, the chants - I’ve no idea what I was hearing. Possibly pool music. 1 star! Wish I could give zero! I dreamed my wife had a fresh scratch on her cheek, and when I woke realized that was proof of REM. All I need is a quick dip in the REM pool and I’m good, ready to tackle the steak of the evening.

What I really, really want is a hamburger. My craving for one has started to become an obsession.

Dinner at the Mexican restaurant. Of course this is not a review; who cares? It's a study of the decor. The marketing. The presentation.

Charming waiter. He understood exactly what I meant when I said I wanted the Bucket of Mexican Meat. But first, the small things:

Ole, I guess: who doesn't want to dine under the gaze of four busts of a petulant teen Beethoven?

At the end of the night, the usual place - with shadows cast by the lights of the dance floor.

Life as an Apple iPod ad.

And that was the day, more or less. Tomorrow: RAWK OUT, GRINGOS







Okay, it's just two seconds, but it brings it all to life! No? The Skybar, where we saw the sunset every night, looking down on the Village.

We went to the steakhouse, where last time there was the strange crazy man in the corner with his private bluetooth boombox playing his own soundtrack, and everyone seemed deferential. All manners of theories abounded. Cartel muscle who could do what he wished! And so on. There were no such incidents, just a very good filet mignon. The nicest part is just getting up and leaving at the end, as though you haven’t had to pay at all.

We took coffee and pastries at Piacere, where the menu does not vary from year to year, as far as I can tell. If you wish to cap your evening with a wedge of dry cake and a good espresso, this is your place. When I went to use the loo I discovered something else: a club for teens, although I’m sure a certain set of teens would not be caught dead in such a space so plainly made for them, according to what adults thought they wanted.

Across the hall, another bathroom. I am fascinated by the number of bathrooms, and their diversity.

Next, the evening's entertainment. There's a show most nights, and also late-night dance / karaoke, all outside.

First up: Grease! A strange simulation of a culture that existed 64 years ago! Okay. Then the grown-up show, meaning lots of energetic dancing by people who looked very serious, I mean ROCK SERIOUS. Heavy hits from guitar-based groups from the various eras. Live band, and lots of dancers pretending they were playing guitars.

Boomer stuff, with some "recent" music. All these gray dudes nodding along and RAWKIN OUT. Yes, my friend, it has been a long time since you rock-and-rolled. And no, my friend, this does not qualify.

After five songs or so we gave up and retired to the peace of the canal Aqua Bar, where a large group was making merry. As we entered one of the lasses noted that my glasses were cool, and I went into some routine about how I’d worn them in the 80s, decided to try them again, going for that whole video-killed-the-radio-star thing. (I always do go on too long.) This led to conversation, since they were a bit lit and friendly, and three hours later I’m at the Sports Bar with three of the guys eating fried spam cubes and watching a UFC fight.

A great group. All here for a wedding. All Canadian, in various money businesses - mortgage, wealth management, commercial leasing. All of which SUCKED. One of them had a father who’d been an engineer and property developer, so cue the chat about architects and the death of downtown and Frank Gehry’s twin-tower plan for 94 story structures, and also his grandfather was a beloved broadcaster on a venerable talk station for a long time.

The station was CFRB, named for Canada’s First Rogers Batteryless. Well of course, you say. Rogers invented a radio that didn’t need batteries, which were annoying and drained a lot, and he used the radio station to promote his wares. Or wires, I suppose. The station was the 50,000 watt flamethrower everyone listened to, the type of station that was always on the radio in the kitchen keeping Mom company, telling the news, the weather, happy chat, sports, and so on. Every city had one.

I talked to the father of the groom, who was retired. I asked what he used to do, and he said “Potatoes.” He may have taken my momentary silence for dismay or lack of interesting, when I was just trying to sort all the possible inquiries. So many! He was in a company that grew them, moved them, sold them. Of course you want to know what’s involved in this, what advances have been made, what genetic experiments have been performed to make the Potato of Today better than the Potato of Yore, and that’s when it hit me: here was the man to answer the question that had struck me in the airport. Krinkle-cuts. I’m not wrong, am I? They’re not as good as the fries of today?

And no, they were not. They looked good, they fried up good, but the fries of today come from a better spud with a thicker jacket, the Russett Burbank, whereas the old krinklecuts used a yellow potato (or white, we were on our third drink) that had a much higher starch content.) I said to my wife: was I not just talking about krinkle-cuts at the airport? She backed me up.

It takes a while to convince someone you’re really interested in their potato lore, but once you get people talking on what they do, or did, and they know you’re not just making idle chat, well, you learn things.

All in all, perfect, just like the old shipboard conversations. When it broke up at 1 AM they guys were going to see a UFC fight. I don’t like that sport, but of course I was going to go. We got seated just as it started, and it was over in 30 seconds, so there was naught to do but talk with some of the Indian women who were there for another wedding, and this turned to the Christianization of Indian names and the variety of pop that was played during one of the parties. Again, you learn things. I made it home across the Northwest Passage at a quarter after one, didn’t fall into the canal, and read a bit before calling it a night.








"Do you have any women made out of balsa wood that can be picked up without any effort whatsoever?"

"Ask at the front desk, sir."

Sunday night: the place has emptied out. I think the big Indian Wedding had decamped. Folks headed home to start the work week, even thought it’s more expensive to leave on the weekend. We were still here, of course, and so we had to decide what diversion would end the night. The app said there was a comedy and music show at the Lobby bar, and while that sounded fun! it could also mean you were the only people with a frozen smile, fixed in place by some strange obligation. You’re here, you wanted to see a show, and you can’t leave because it would be mean.

As it turned out, there was no such show. But it was casino night! You get three hundred dollars in this convincing currency:

It's one of those things that tells you what the world looks like to illiterates.

Zakroma of Rodina? As in, Motherland?

Blackjack was the game. We were down $200 when the emcee abruptly ended it all and said it would soon be time for the exciting something-or-other. The dealer took our chips and gave us a check for $17,000. Uh - okay? Didn’t win that much, I understand there’s an auction. What do I do with this?

"Take it over there," she said, "and exchange for a bottle of tequila."

Really! Well, okay then. We walked towards the stage. Another young fellow involved in this event - another POP!, you know, the People of Palladium - ran up to us, asked to look at the check, said the cashier had made a mistake, and he would be right back. He returned with a check in the amount of $14,000.

“We can’t have two checks for $17,” I think he said. Well, this is all very much above-board, isn’t it? Try this in an American casino, brother, and you’ll be in a hole in the desert.

I asked what I was to do with this check. He did not seem to understand the question, whereupon I said I was told to exchange it for a bottle of tequila. He bade us to sit and muttered something I didn’t get. The show begins. Energetic MC who was also the beach yoga coach runs through his opening patter, attempting to figure out where everyone is from. Ergo, Brazil is in the house. Argentina is in the house. I feared he would exhaust all possible countries, and was about to suggest that he begin by asking if people were members of particular continents, and then proceed through regions or perhaps climate to narrow it down.

Then he asked what we were here for, and half the crowd said “Tequila.” We were offered the chance to bid on ugly T-shirt, and were also advised that no change would be provided. If you had a check for $5000, and your winning bid was $1000, you would not get $4000. Consequently no one but a few children bid on anything, expecting that the items would get better or more valuable. They did not. All T-shirts, no tequila. It was all a lie!

Or, a miscommunication. Language barrier and all that.

Or, a lie. The next day the host said hello to my Wife, whom he'd met while leading Beach Yoga, and she asked about the tequila. He said usually there's a bottle to auction, but no one had brought it this time.

Probably the truth. I mean, where are they going to find a bottle of tequila at 9:45 PM.







The transit companies pick you up four hours before your flight so you can’t blame them at all if you don’t make it. I am fine with this. There’s construction around the airport and the traffic can get thick, so sure. Even better, the driver arrived a half an hour early! Wife finished tennis, packed, made it to the front, and we pulled out ten minutes before scheduled departure. O joy! Relaxation and confidence.

“Got your passport?” I joked.

“You have it,” she said.

“I don’t have it,” I said. “I’ve never had it.”

Driver, turn around. Back to the hotel entrance. She looked in her luggage, and there it was. Phew. But. I haven’t been the Keeper of the Documents since we went abroad with Natalie, and I had all the passports in a plastic sleeve with little Post-It notes bearing our initials, different colors, on the passports, staggered so I could see them at a glance.

The Drive took an hour, as it usually does. We checked in - fast - and got through security in a trice, which left us two hours to kill in the Terminal 3. It’s okay. It has all the basics. Why, there’s Cinco Soles, where I buy my Mexican hot sauce. Every trip, a new flavor. Something to spark up the morning eggs. Where to lunch?

I still had the Hamburger Jones, but Sara wanted to sit down in a restaurant instead of fight for a table in the bustling food court, and when she said “that place?” I said sure because I am a good husband and that’s what she wants and that’s that. Just thought it was an odd choice, because we’d passed Wolfgang Puck, and she had chosen . ..



She’s more of a Puck gal, you know? But as she explained - later - she’d seen a movie with her Mom a few months ago and this Fieri guy had been in it and he was interesting and colorful, or something. At the time I said that this was the sort of restaurant where the food is characterized more by adjectives and attitude than anything else, but hey! No doubt I can get a good burger here, too.

The menu was disgusting. I just wanted a fargin’ hamburger, but everything was EXTREME and had DONKEY SAUCE. I do not want mule juice. I do not want two tablespoons of Mac & Cheese ladled on my burger, or an onion ring placed atop it. She ordered the burger; I went with a caesar salad, the complete inversion of the male-female paradigm. The drinks were listed under the heading of SKULL CRUSHERS or something.

When her burger arrived it was nine inches tall. Butter-soaked brioche buns, a mound of lettuce, a bone-cold onion ring, and of course DONKEY SLATHER. The tone of the place was second-tier high-concept franchise, with a Guy-Centric decoration that showed his grinning mug hither and yon in various culinary situations. I should note that I approve of the whole diner / drive-in / dive idea, and I love shiny classic cars with fins and have no truck with those who do not like trucks, and so on. American basics: hoo rah. But this theatical, rococo nonsense is far removed from the source material. While we attempted to eat the ludicrous dishes the screens played excerpts of a TV show where Guy presides over a challenge: the contestants have to make a great sandwich, but are confined by a key limitation: they can only use ingredients found at a grocery store.

When the check arrived the cost was ridiculous, as I knew it would be. Sit-down adds ten dollars to everything. I’d waved off the offer of water because the waitress said it was five dollars. No thanks, I’ll dry swallow. There was a table of four young folk next to us, all of whom had water, drinks, appetizers (VIOLENT WINGS WITH MULE EXCRETION SAUCE) and entrees, and they looked youngish; Sara wondered how they’d react to the bill, which would surely top two-fifty. When it came they seemed a bit confused but not alarmed. Maybe they never cooked and were accustomed to this. It just went on the card.
At the gate, a small dispute. The flight was full - imagine that! - and they were calling for people to check their carry-on. I did not step up and volunteer. Why not? Sara asked. Because I planned ahead and was here well advance of everyone else, so I could be assured of a bin, and so I could control my luggage and not have it dinged and scratched by the Moorlocks heaving things about in the depths, that’s why. That’s why I’m standing off to the side where Main 1 will be called 15 minutes in advance. I have nothing but time, and as such will engage in strategic pre-positioning.

I’d already got the Cinco Soles hot sauce. I’d already made a trip to Starbucks for an Americano, which was a tale in itself. The line was long, and the woman behind me was complaining that there was absolutely no guarantee they’d have what she wanted, a thing she could get in the States, which was: a Chocolate Croissant. Then a Starbucka came out and started pointing where people should go; she made pointed gestures and said “line” over and over, until we realized that we were supposed to follow a series of duct-tape arrows pasted to the floor. It was terribly important that the line should reorient, immediately. It was unclear why.

I got my Americano and went back to the gate and contemplated the Bubba Gump logo for a while.

Then we boarded. Then, the miracle: flight! Then, the long parade of diversions. Then it was over and it was cold.

But for a while it was hot, and I was in another country, minimally attired, standing in the ocean, with the birds and the sun above, and that was absolutely all I wanted, and I had it.

Thanks for enduring the travelogue, and I hope it was slightly interesting. See you Monday for the usual stuff in all-new shapes and sizes.