At Your Service, 3

It’s hard to imagine going away to a resort to relax, and then being sidelined because of a cold. But after a day of Ubers, planes, and transport vans, we finally arrived at Hacienda Tres Rios–north of Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya–for a week of fun,

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and all I could muster was a trip to the hotel convenience store for antihistamine pills before I was ready to collapse. It seems that running around the continent for nearly ten months had compromised my resistance, and was now threatening to compromise my vacation.

Saturdays at the resort have always been a busy day of transitioning, as the staff warmly welcomes new arrivals with chocolate-covered strawberries and mimosas, while firmly ushering last week’s guests through the check-out process and out the door.

After checking in, we killed time at the buffet, waiting for our room to be ready. It was an excellent opportunity to people-watch and predict who among us would be the chosen people we see again and again throughout the week. Of course, it’s always the loudest guests who make a lasting impression, and this week would be no exception. Sitting at the farthest end of the room, three overweight, middle-aged woman were easily heard above the dining room din, kibitzing with the waiter, and on their way to getting shit-faced with yet another round of drinks.

Eventually, a bellman escorted us to our accomodations–a top floor room with an ocean view, or so we were told.

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Standing on the balcony, I strained my eyes past the clearing where the last building stood, and that’s when I discovered the deception; the hotel had determined that the miniscule ribbon of gray beyond the mangrove canopy qualified as a view of the ocean.

But I was in no shape to argue. All I could think about was getting into bed with a small hope of shaking this nasty hand that was reaching past my scratchy throat and squeezing my sinuses. That’s when our next-door neighbors arrived, and headed straight for the balcony. I immediately recognized the drunken cackling and the pitchy singing. Standing on my side of the dividing wall, I peered around the other side unnoticed to have a peek, and sure enough, each one held a drink in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other, confirming my worst nightmare.

“This can’t be happening!” I quickly re-entered the room, and shut the terrace door to keep the cigarette smoke from seeping through the opening. “With 272 other rooms spread out through the resort, this is where they’re staying?” I moaned in resignation.

“Well, not if I have something to say about it,” declared Leah.

She grabbed the phone, and dialed the front desk downstairs.

“Tell them about the smoking,” I coached, “because obnoxious is too subjective.”

Leah asserted, “I’m calling from 1307. We just arrived, and already the cigarette smoke from the people next door is drifting into our room from the balcony, and it’s intolerable. So you need to find us another room.”

“I’m very sorry that you are being inconvenienced, ma’am” the desk clerk regretted, “but we are unable to accomodate you because of the volume of registrations at the moment. However, if you could be patient with us, we should be able to make other arrangements tomorrow after check-out time, when we’ve had a chance to review our room inventory,” the advised.

“What time, tomorrow?” Leah zeroed in.

“If you come to the desk at 9:00 am, we will be happy to help you,” she elaborated.

Meanwhile, a slurred rendition of Shape of You vibrated through the shared door between the rooms.

“Damn! I used to like that song,” I aired, “and now it’s ruined forever.”

The clatter of their high heels on marble floors resonated throughout the night, and imprinted on my sinus headache. As I lay awake in bed with a box of tissues by my side, I wondered how many costume changes they could go through in one evening, and cursed the day Ed Sheeran had become popular.

A new day for a fresh start, Leah and I packed the last of our belongings and shlepped our bags to the front desk. We previewed a room on the top floor of another building and unconditionally accepted the exchange.

Not too shabby–an ocean view with a whirlpool tub on our new balcony, and a chance to reboot our vacation. Ahhhh…

…choo!

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Feeling sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, Leah and I consulted the concierge to schedule enough activities through the week to balance my boredom with my recovery.

After settling into room 4302, we met up with Salvador, our trail guide who escorted us through the Nature Park on mountain bikes.

bicycles and nursery

We wove our way around the mangrove forest through a labyrinth of sandy trails recognizing white, red, black, and buttonwood mangroves–the four distinctive varieties that flourish in this tropical environment. On the way to the many cenotes,

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we identified a plethora of termite burls, several songbirds, a vulture and an iguana.

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Of the ten cenotes on the property, we visited Cenote Tortuga;

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Cenote Hondo;

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cenote Hondo.jpg

Cenote Viejo;

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and Cenote Orchideo…

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where we were greeted by a small school of Garra Rufa,

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eager to perform ichthyotherapy for free.

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On Monday, we spent our morning with sales agent, Ricardo (At Your Service, Too), and our afternoon with Manuel, who guided us from Cenote Aguila,

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down the Rio Selva…

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to the ocean.

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On Tuesday, we took a behind-the scenes-tour of the kitchen with Celia, the kitchen supervisor. She invited us into her casa to showcase the operation and preparation of all food within the hotel:

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by the numbers…
walk-in
Walk-in
cleaning shrimp
Fish Prep
butchering
Butchering
carving garnishes
Deli and garnish
bakery
Bakery
soup prep
Soups
pasta station
Pasta
grilling veggies
Grilling and frying
bartending
Bartending
china and crystal
China and crystal

Celia’s staff works hard–six ten-hour days every week–and is committed to ensuring a healthy and tasty experience with fresh ingredients and a variety of international cuisines. She acknowledges us by placing her hand on her heart–a sanitary salute of sorts to thank us for the opportunity to serve.

On Wednesday, we travelled by hotel shuttle to Playa del Carmen,

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for a stroll up and down 5th Avenue–a pedestrian marketplace stretching 20 blocks, and lined with fashionable shops,

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Where’s Leah?

eateries, tequilarias, t-shirt mills, modern malls, massage stations, tchotchke kiosks, tourist stands, Mom-and-Pop Mexicana, and pharmacias, etc.

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I’ll have a week’s worth of Cialis, and a half-pound of hard salami, por favor.

By Thursday I was dying. After five days of dosing Sensibit D (an antihistamine decongestant), my body had betrayed me, turning my free-flow nose into a gripping sinus headache.

But that didn’t stop me from touring the Cancun Brewery with Leah and The Ed Sheeran Trio. Hiding behind the green wall of an unassuming building,

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a shiny brewery has taken shape in the middle of Tres Rios jungle. According to Brandon, brewmaster from Michigan,

Brandon

a Sunset Group partner bartered a warehouse, utilities and unlimited clean water in exchange for craft beer supplied to all Sunset Group hotels.

diesel

Additionally, production runs of Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, and Pilsner are crafted in short batches of kegs and cans to satisfy Riviera Maya’s thirst from Cancun to Tulum.

brewery

To some extent, I felt sorry for Brandon, as he was peppered with ridiculous comments, questions, and suggestions from my ex-neighbors, yet good-naturedly responded to everything that came his way. Then I stopped myself when I realized that here is a guy who otherwise, would still be living in Michigan, but instead comes to work in shorts and flip flops, and gets to drink cerveza for a living.

Adios, Cancun Beer.

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Friday was a good day to lay low and do nothing in preparation of an early departure on Saturday.

Lounging by the pool, I reflected on the past week, thinking about the activities I’d missed out on: snorkeling at Yal-ku in Akumal; diving Santa Rosa reef at Cozumel; and exploring the ruins of Coba or Tulum. While all of that would have made for an exciting itinerary, it wouldn’t have made for a relaxing vacation, and maybe that’s what my body was really craving.

Every day discovering something brand new

The sun felt good on my face, as I moved in and out of consciousness–half awake, half-asleep–my body floating through a cenote abloom with fragrant orchids,

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In the distance, a hypnotic song was playing–a lilting melody of love that grew louder and louder with every new verse–until I snapped awake. The Three Little Mermaids were at it again, wading in the pool with a drink, and killing me softly with an execution of Shape of You.

No matter. It was time to rise, and the perfect segue to a late-afternoon hot-stone massage we had scheduled as our reward for enduring Ricardo’s two-hour spiel (At Your Service, Too).

By evening, we were totally relaxed and ready to celebrate our mock 13th anniversary over a langoustine dinner and a special treat from the pastry chef.

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It was everything I needed to forget about the miserable cold that plagued me through this vacation.

Many have asked, “Why on earth do you call it a vacation, when you’ve been on a vacation for the past ten months?”

To which I answer, “Who cares what it’s called!”

Come on now, follow my lead
I may be crazy, don’t mind me…

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Cheers, from Mexico!

At Your Service, Too

Leah and I sat in beautifully hand-carved, yet wildly uncomfortable rattan chairs over a Mexican buffet breakfast that could best be described as Meh-ican. Sitting across the table from us was Ricardo, a familiar host and representative of the developer, who was writing upside down with his Mont Blanc pen, while presenting all kinds of facts and figures about the local hospitality game.

“40,000 hotel rooms in Cancun and 40,000 hotel rooms in all of Riviera Maya stretching from Puerto Morales to Tulum,” he regaled, “and here we are, at Tres Rios, right in the middle of this amazing paradise.”

Ricardo was finding his groove. He was flashing pages of a promotional real estate magazine and rattling off stat after stat as he actively drew a map of the Quintana Roo coastline on the backside of a resort brochure. For every detail added, Ricardo would reinforce his point by circling the Riviera Maya caption at the top of his masterpiece, until it resembled a paddleboard floating on a cartoon sea. With bold retraces and multiple underscores from his pen, he emphasized the unprecedented low, low prices that wouldn’t last unless we acted today!

Ricardo’s presentation was polished and professional, needing only one new breath of air every five minutes or so to sing the virtues of founding membership privileges, and the accorded rights and benefits granted to ground-floor go-getters who were willing to take advantage of a great deal when they saw one.

Ricardo has been honing his razor-sharp delivery skills for the past 25 years, having moved from Jalisco in search of an opportunity, and finding sponsorship with the Sunset Group, a controversial band of land speculators and developers from Mexico, who have since built four resorts from Cancun to Playa by selling timeshares to curious vacationers who couldn’t resist the notion that a Mexican vacation would fulfill their sun-starved lives.

Hacienda Tres Rios has become their biggest venture to date. Once an active Nature Park, the preserve fell on hard times after the devastation of Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and ultimately closed. In exchange for the right to convert the dormant property into a resort, the Secretariat of the Interior secured a commitment from Sunset Group to  restore the mangrove habitat and preserve the original eco-park concept.

Ten cenotes (some fresh water, and some brackish) are scattered throughout the property, with miles of bicycle paths carved into the jungle, providing access to swimming and snorkeling, while a short hike to Cenote Aguila offers a chance to kayak or snorkel down Rio Selva to the sea.

Eagle Cenote

Subsequently, steps have been taken towards self-sufficiency: with completion of a mangrove and orchid nursery, a water desalination plant and inverse osmosis system, solar panel installations for sustainable energy production, and a local farm-to-table concept that cultivates flowers, fruits and vegetables for all resort restaurants. Sunset World has transformed Tres Rios into Mexico’s first green resort years later, and is now the standard-bearer of all future hotel development in the vicinity.

Green Globe certified

As members of a sister resort in Playa del Carmen, Leah and I were invited ten years ago to inspect the property at Tres Rios and sample the spa hospitality. We returned the same evening to enjoy a Mexican fiesta on the beach, but not before we were spritzed with organic mosquito repellant, which really seemed to keep the bloodsuckers away. It was great fun at the time, and seemed like an experience worthy of repeating.

Subsequently, Ricardo and I negotiated on a one-bedroom suite for a one-week share that for many different reasons has been visited only four times in the past ten years.

Today, the Sunset organization prepares to finance Phase Two at Tres Rios, promoting luxury interval ownership, and beyond (future development of single unit residencies, and a marina with ocean access), so Ricardo sits across from us, giving his all–dazzling us with his artful cartography and adroit calligraphy–with every intention of leveraging our single week of ownership into a one-month obligation, which will help to defray the cost of the elaborate June Quinceañera his daughter has been planning for nearly a year.

But Leah and I never had any intentions of upgrading. Never. We were there for the sole purpose of exchanging our two hours of attendance for an hour of spa treatments. While our massages are presented as a gift for our precious time, realistically, it’s little more than a simple lure that’s part of a much larger marketing strategy.  

It was a monumental match of wills: Ricardo’s relentlessness versus our resilience. After an obligatory walk-thru of the newly appointed model apartment (which was roomy, luxurious, and fashionable) we moved through a display and awards room to reach an open conference room populated with small tables surrounded by high-back leather chairs. This was to be the setting for Round 3. While the chairs were more comfortable, the air temperature inside was rather chilly, prompting a request from Leah for a blanket before she bolted.

When Ricardo sensed that things weren’t going his way, he called for an assist from Patrick, his manager, who from gracious introductions revealed himself to be a 40-year old Irishman with a Mexican accent. The sales pitch devolved even farther after he further explained his unusual heritage: his Irish father met his Mexican mother while vacationing. They subsequently married; lived in Dublin until Patrick turned four; and under duress from his mother, his father returned to Mexico, where Patrick was schooled and his parents eventually divorced, although on good terms.

His father currently lives in Ireland, where he crafts granite fountains with Mexican stylings, and has sold one of his designs to Bono for his home on Killiney Hill. The conversation turned to our love of U2’s music, our mutual excitement of seeing them entertain live on stage, and Patrick’s fascination with my look-alike appearance to Bono.

Out of the corner of my eye, I knew that Ricardo was defeated. Unable to participate in our repartee, he sat silently and sulked, perhaps wondering if he could ever recover. I signaled to Patrick that we were passing on the offer, and just like that, the transaction was finished and so was Ricardo’s energy.

In a last ditch attempt to win the sale, he severely undercut his original bid. And like a Hail, Mary pass floating into the endzone, he threw in all kinds of extras with no charge to us, but we stood strong; we would not be swayed.

In the end, we shook hands as friends–Ricardo, the fallen gladiator, vanquished in the sales arena, and me, the victor with my wallet still intact.