My last visit to Mexico was Christmas, 2009 when friends invited me to their beach house north of Vera Cruz. It was a great visit. I attended a quinceanara, toured ruins of an ancient city, took two all-night bus rides through areas now beset by drug violence, shared an early morning coffee on New Year's Day with a polite young cab driver, and was the only person crossing the border back into Brownsville, Texas at 6:30 am on New Year's Day, 2010.
Mexico! How could you not love it? Well, there's that part about the drug violence. I, like many other Americans, have let myself get a little freaked out by all the bad news from Mexico. But many places in Mexico are still completely safe to visit. So I nagged my friend K until she agreed to go to Cabo San Lucas for a one-week beach vacation at a big resort. I will refer to her only as "K" because she says her mom (one of the Americans who is freaked out by news reports) is gonna be really mad when she finds out K's going to Mexico. "K" isn't even her real initial, so we're talking deep cover, here.
But now, two weeks after the start of vacation planning, and three weeks before departure, we are asking ourselves, "Is this vacation doomed?" You be the judge....
After we got ourselves all worked up over the idea of a beach vacation, I went to the internet to search for cheap holiday package deals. This isn't even really vacation planning. It's just a week at a hotel and a flight. In one of the busiest tourist places in North America.
I went to a website that offers deals to military families and government employees. I clicked on a link for "5 Days in Cabo for Only $499!!!" The link opened to a page with the name of a very nice resort on Medano Beach. I called the toll-free number to ask about adding extra days. The operator answered the phone with, "Welcome to our One-Day Vacation Sale." Seven days was still cheap.
I hung up and looked at online customer reviews of the resort. It was universally well reviewed, except for annoyance with time share salesmen. But, hey, that's a constant for Mexican beach vacations at nice resorts! We ended up booking a week at the super cheap price.
But the booker asked us a bunch of questions about our age, our income, and our employment and disclosed that the super cheap deal was a special promotion with the goal of selling timeshare weeks. One of us would be required to attend a 90-minute sales pitch our first morning at the resort. Still not all that unusual. I gave him my credit card number. He said I should be waiting for a call in the next 48 hours to confirm our vacation. He emailed me a "terms and conditions" document asking again about our ages and income, and stating that if we did not meet the age and income requirements the resort would add $150 a day to our cheap package deal.
Then he emailed a receipt. It wasn't actually from the well-reviewed resort. It was from one of those bundling companies that sells discount packages to many resorts. Okay. Starting to feel a bit uneasy now. But, hey, I've endured so many time share sales pitches over the years that I still thought things were okay. Maybe the sales pitch would go longer than 90 minutes. We'd probably get a crap room with no view. But it was so cheap!
The next morning K called me from her office. (She still has to work. That's why the vacation can only be one week, exactly.) She was feeling uneasy. It sounded too good to be true. I realized I'd researched reviews for the resort, but not for the company we were actually dealing with. Their reviews were horrible! One told a tale of arriving at a resort with no reservation and not getting a room. A month later they were still hoping for a refund. Two told tales of horrible rooms and resort personnel refusing to move them to better rooms, because they hadn't booked directly with the resort. Three told tales of canceling and still fighting for refunds.
I called the company and cancelled. The operator said he'd send me an email confirming the cancellation. I waited an hour without receiving an email. The "terms and conditions" email had hit my inbox while I was still on the phone with the first operator! I called again and said I wanted to cancel a reservation. My reservation was still in place, just as if I had not already cancelled it. I asked the operator to send me the email while remaining on the phone with me. He had to consult a supervisor, but he did it. I then checked my online credit card statement obsessively every day for a week. But no fraudulent charges, so we dodged that bullet.
So we booked through Expedia, which we're pretty sure we can trust, and still got a pretty good deal at a really nice resort on Medano Beach.
Next! On to the flights. There must be a lot of flights, we told ourselves. It's a major tourist destination. Well, yes, there are a lot of flights--with 26-hour layovers in Los Angeles! By the time we winnowed out all the two-day trips, we were left with American Airlines with layovers of one hour and 20 minutes in Dallas. The layovers sound not quite long enough if we have any problem with late flights, or if there's a long line at immigration or baggage claim or customs when we re-enter the U.S. But it was pretty much the only choice, so we booked it. And it was expensive. And then they charged us $21 to book any seat other than a choice of three middle seats. Maybe they don't charge extra baggage check fees, though, since they already gouged us on seat reservations. Ha! I know--I was just making a sad little joke.
Next morning-- breaking news! American Airlines had two emergency landings because rows of seats broke loose and slid into the laps of passengers in the next row back. Great! Well, I'm sure our extra $21 preferred seating charge means we'll get the good seats that are firmly fastened to the floor. One of these articles mentioned that American has many late flights. So that will be good when we're connecting in Dallas. When I texted K about the seats, she texted back about a pending pilots' strike
I proposed taking my Subaru and driving. It would be the classic Baja road trip! But K has that job that limits her to a one-week vacation. And really, it still should be easier to fly. Maybe.
Next! We moved on to natural disasters and oddities.
K wants to scuba dive while we're in Cabo. She is also phobic about snakes and assorted other creatures, including some sea creatures. So, of course, a "monster from the deep" oarfish washed up on Medano Beach--probably right in front of the resort where we'll be staying (although the article didn't actually say that). I sent a link to K so she could see the picture of this 20-foot long "monster from the deep" taking its dying breaths on our beach. She called me from her office and said we should reconsider this whole Mexico thing and just go to Florida instead. Joke's on her--a mysterious giant sea creature eyeball washed up on the beach in Florida around the same time. So we're still set for Mexico. We'll see what happens with the scuba diving.
And then, a couple of nights ago, I was watching the weather report. What else could happen? Hurricane! I actually did think to check on hurricane season when we started out with this whole ill-fated Cabo vacation idea. Surveys show big storms in October, but no hurricane ever hit Cabo in November. Well, it's still October. And Tropical Storm Paul (soon to be Hurricane Paul) was headed towards Cabo. I texted K yet again. She mentioned Florida again. But Paul had fizzled by morning, without causing lasting damage to tourist facilities on Medano Beach.
When K and I first got the idea of a beach vacation in Cabo, I thought the whole thing would be so easy! It's not like it's a trip to Africa or somewhere far away with few tourist facilities. But we will be spending a week at the beach. In Mexico. Sea monsters? Hurricanes? Falling airplane seats? We laugh in the face of danger and chaos! Because...