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Dad! You bought timeshare?!


My story starts with a sailor landing on a lush Mexican beach.  He comes across a sun-bronzed Canadian cowgirl living in a palapa. The cowgirl joins the lucky sailor’s crew, and in the time it takes to down a bottle of tequila, the pair falls madly in love.   The couple sails away together singing folk songs as the sun sets, as all love stories of the 1970s require.

Danielle’s parents… then

In 1978, Cabo San Lucas was just a little fishing village on the tip of Baja California.  It was here that my parents, the lanky sailor and poised cowgirl, spent months anchored off the coast.  My mom found a white Mexican dress in the back of a shoe shop, and they made their vows to share a life of adventure together.

When my sister and I were born they included us in their travels.  You know how people will tell you not to drink the water in Mexico?  Well my parents are not these types of people.  Eat some dirt, sail in a hurricane, brush your teeth with apples – this sounds more like my parents’ style of travel.  As a family, we rarely stayed in a conventional hotel.  In Hawaii, we almost stayed in a mosquito-infested tree house.  (I say almost because the guide never arrived to pick us up, and we warded off suspicious stares from the local “growers” in the valley all night.)  In the Caribbean, we were taken under the wing of a wacky shell collector who shared with us homemade guava bread, and his home boasting of over one million shells.  In Canada, we hiked 15-miles to a remote mountain retreat while singing, shaking homemade bear-scaring instruments, and attempting to kill bird-sized horseflies.

Thirty-one years after my parents’ auspicious meeting, we are resting on the same beach, at the massive complex that is Playa Grande Resort.  Euro-pop circa 1997 blasts over the central 7-pool area, while a fit Mexican aerobics instructor leads six (pink) women in the pool, chanting “Tequila, Margarita, Tequila, Margarita!”  Enter the “Timeshare Factor.”  In an action that defined the word paradox, and to the scorn of all well-versed travelers out there, my wild-loving, Mexican-water-drinking parents had – yes – purchased a timeshare.

You are asking what went wrong, but have you ever been on a timeshare tour?  I witnessed it.  We were on a family vacation in Cabo to commemorate my parents’ 20th anniversary, staying at a charming boutique hotel called the Bungalows.  Someone at the car rental dealership told us about this great deal – free rental for a week if you sit through a little tour of a new hotel.   Always the budget-minded travelers, we immediately were in!  We get to the hotel the next morning, and a seriously, super-duper nice sales person gave us the tour starting with an absolutely gorgeous lobby.  (This is where your defenses start to go down.)  We are fed, liquored-up, my sister and I start exploring the pools.  And after two or ten extra strong margaritas, my tall and handsome father turns to my mom and – with the romance of the past on his side – says, “Honey, wouldn’t it be nice to come back here every year?”  SOLD.  Our incredibly smart, incredibly manipulative sales person does the impossible.  She gets my parents to throw down money to buy 40 weeks, one week a year, in a hotel that hasn’t even been built yet!  Bells (literally bells) are rung and a bottle of champagne is corked and shared in celebration.  My parents stagger home repeating honey-thank-god-we-wanted-the-free-car-rental-or-else-we’d-never-even-know-about-this-paradise.

Of course, the next morning, the story sounded a little different.  With splitting headaches and a bad case of buyer’s remorse, they turned to my sister and I. “What did we do??!!”

But we were stuck.  Despite what you might think, it hasn’t been all bad.  Aside from some loud and large neighbors over the years, we’ve also gotten to know a side of Cabo that many travelers are not able to see in one trip.  Our first year, we stumbled upon my favorite restaurant, Misiones de Kino.  Take a walk past the old town square, make a right at the street with the open aired laundria, and another right onto 5 de Mayo Pl., and you’ll find it!   This open-air bungalow restaurant was a secret ten years ago with dirt floors and a small menu, but good things are hard to keep undiscovered for long.  On our first visit, we were greeted as family by Chef Israel and invited into the kitchen to watch him make his famous Chilpalla sauce – a rich combo of garlic, cream, spices, and onions.  The dirt floors are now wood, but year after year, we are surprised by the consistently low prices and friendly staff.  Lit with candles and Christmas-lights, at Misiones de Kino, you will find the freshest and most delicious seafood in all of Cabo.  Because of the blue crab appetizer with Israel’s special sauce, we usually go twice each year.  Some other treats on the menu are the Fish of the House  (seabass marinated in chipotle with fresh papaya sauce), the giant coconut shrimp, the Seafood Soup (an explosion of scallops, crabs, fish, and shrimp), and for you meat eaters, Teresita’s Aracherra is a flavorful beef dish cooked over mesquite wood.  This past June, we arrived later than usual, and after the meal as the restaurant started shutting down, a travelling mariachi band got us all up, singing and dancing around the dining room!

We’ve learned over the years that a week of eating out for three meals a day is not only horribly expensive, but when your week consists of lounging around by the beach, extremely unpleasant.  Our timeshare units have pretty swank kitchens, so the day we arrive, we hit up the local grocery store to stock up on bread, eggs, cheese, cereal, beer, and juice for the week.  Breakfast and lunch are pretty much “every man for himself.”  Dinner, however, is a different story.  While we’re not deep sea-fishing for every meal, a lot of energy and friendly banter goes into deciding which delicious restaurant to visit each night. Pancho’s Restaurant and Tequila Bar is a family favorite, in part because of the unsurpassed menu of tequilas, but also because of the colorful décor and divinely simple Mexican combo plates. Mi Casa gets my vote yearly, as much for the spectacular gift shop as the homemade warm tortillas and bougainvillea-decorated ambiance.  An evening or afternoon in the smaller San Jose del Cabo requires a stop at Damiana with it’s striking outdoor garden.  And this year, we discovered the authentic Las Marias Restaurant at the still unfinished Hacienda Encantada Resort and Spa.  (At a tip from the waiter, we requested the lantern lit VIP table, and found ourselves perched over the churning ocean under a sky strewn with stars.)  And if you are in the mood for tortilla soup, my father, an expert, claims that the Shrimp House right off Cabo’s main strip has the worlds best.

About timeshare year number two or three, I went through my rebellious, teenage angst stage.  Mooning over Indie rockers while pretending to be Kate Winslet from Hideous Kinky, I envisioned a trip to Mexico, not surrounded by beer-guzzling, shot-downing, boom-box toting fellow timesharers, but one where I could learn about the local culture, sift through markets of art, and explore the romance of Mexico’s revolutionary history.

Luckily, my mother was a step ahead of me.  With our rented van, we drove through the stark and beautiful desert, past colorful roadside graves and granddaddy-sized cactus, to a little town called Todos Santos.  Moderately famous as the home of “the Hotel California,” Todos Santos to the untrained eye was just a few dusty streets and uneven sidewalks.  To me, it was an escape to heaven.  With my imagination soaring, we explored local artisan shops, conversed with ex-pats, drank hot chocolate in the mid-day heat, and discussed the possibilities of me someday spending my honeymoon at the Todos Santos Inn, a magical hidden world of lush green leaves, old brick, and traditional Hacienda style décor in the heart of the town.  We still take the drive out to Todos Santos some years, and I plan in the future to spend a week learning how to surf at the Pescadero Surf Camp where there is private palapa camping.

When we first started going to Cabo, it was just my little sister, mom, dad, and me.  However, this past year, my sister and I each brought our boyfriends.  At the begging requests of my sister and I, my goofy dad managed to get through the week without having a frightening heart-to-heart with either of them.  The influence of sun, beer, and sleep allowed the guys to chill out as well.  We read and swam at Chileno public beach (Santa Maria is also a lovely choice), took a sunset sail on the catamaran La Princessa (where the open bar and stunning sunset view of the Cabo Arch made up for the horribly blaring music – why is the music always so bad?), and discussed renting surf boards for $20 a day at Costa Azul surf shop (lessons start at $85), but didn’t manage to fit it in.  Every dinner, the way only family can do, we’d all tell the new fellows hilarious and embarrassing stories of Cabo in years past!  Laughing, eating, glowing with health from the sun and rest, it was a common occurrence for us to shut down the restaurants with the chuckling wait staff.

When they met, I doubt my parents envisioned Cabo San Lucas turning into the massive beast that it now is, but ultimately the Cabo of the 1970s is still to be found – you just have to be willing to get a little lost in the back streets.  Interestingly enough, taking a yearly dip into the timeshare “dark side” has not dulled my family’s zest for adventure.  It actually has taught us how to chill out and just enjoy spending time together. 

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