Updated: Dec 13, 2021
“Your mom’s a wall!!!”
The outburst came from a sunburnt man with dirty blonde hair and an “I Love Cabo” t-shirt who sat directly in front of the stage. He leapt from his chair, swaying slightly with tequila-induced vertigo, his pink face consumed with a look of utter contempt.
The object of his hatred stood on the stage behind a microphone, laughing mildly. A calm adjustment of his collar. Another joke. Hoping for the storm to pass. The sunburnt man continued to sway for a moment, then grabbed his beer with dramatic flair and stalked off into the night.
It was a joke about President Trump’s Wall, told at a resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to a crowd of American guests, that prompted such an explosive reaction. The joke seemed benign enough. A gentle clearing of the air, an acknowledgement of the elephant standing in the middle of the room, the one we all knew was there but pretended not to see.
Only it didn’t go as planned. Americans can be sensitive creatures when it comes to issues of national pride.
As the man with the clever mom jokes stormed off, I looked around at the rest of the guests. Many seated around me were shaking their heads, staring at the entertainer on the stage with obvious disapproval. Someone behind me shouted for the man to get off the stage, and this was met with scattered applause throughout the crowd. The entertainer made another attempt to appease his audience, but he was running out of steam. One last joke, falling on deaf ears. He forfeited the stage to a well-endowed woman with bright red lips who began to sing an old traditional folk song while a mariachi band played in the background. She swayed to the rhythm and crooned through a pleasant smile. A few guests began waving down their waitresses for another margarita. Laughter and small talk soon commenced. The spectacular sun made its lingering descent over the horizon while waves crashed rhythmically on the shore just beyond our reach.
The Americans sat back and enjoyed their paradise once more.
I was in Cabo for a friend’s wedding, and I used the trip as an excuse to finally let myself relax a bit. Other than the wedding, I had absolutely no obligations.
I booked 5 nights at an all-inclusive resort and envisioned a week of sun-tanning, sleeping in, watching sunsets, and reading by the ocean.
I arrived in Cabo on a Tuesday, and the airport was bustling with American tourists. I stepped off the plane and joined a crowd of gringos being shuffled through customs like a giant herd of confused cattle. We were deposited outside where a row of bars offered watered down margaritas and $9 Coronas.
Cabo in October is hot. Scorching hot.
The tourists eagerly lined up for their beverages.
I boarded my shuttle and we made our way through the Mexican desert. We passed cacti that stood over 6 feet tall and startlingly beautiful desert roses. The land was void of humanity save for a scattering of weather beaten shacks where sun-stained clothing hung from lines and dusty chickens scratched through the dirt.
Twenty minutes later, we entered city limits, and to the left I caught a glimpse of the ocean-a shimmering turquoise that contrasted nicely with the crystal blue sky. The view was quickly devoured by endless rows of buildings reaching self-assuredly into the sky. Beach front resorts, all offering to give you that lovely ocean view back if you paid the right price.
At the entrance to my resort, a tiny old man was stooped over a rose bush, pruning away while sweat trickled down his face and left a dark patch on the back of his tan worker’s shirt. His face was full of lines that spoke of years under the sun, and I wondered how many rose bushes he had pruned in his lifetime. The shuttle door opened, interrupting my reverie, and I was greeted instantly by a slender man with an eager smile and slicked back, jet black hair.
He reached for my hand and insisted on helping me down the one step. Another man, equally polished and eager, grabbed my bags before I had a change to object and I was quickly ushered into the biggest, most gaudy lobby I have ever seen. A giant statue with multiple waterfalls streaming down the sides stood in the center of the room. The floor was composed of intricately designed marble, and the ceiling reached for the heavens. I wondered how much air conditioning must be required to keep such a room cool in this brutal heat.
I was kindly reminded to step up to the front desk to check in and learn about some incredible timeshare offers (would you be interested??)-oh and please, kind Señorita, any tip is greatly appreciated, thank you so much. Yet another eager gentlemen manifested just in time to grab my bags at the front desk and escort me to my room. He asked me in English where I was from and if I’d ever been here before. He waited patiently at the door while I dug through my purse for the last of my cash.
I thanked him in Spanish and he said “You’re very welcome, Miss!”
Once alone in my room, I took a deep breath and gathered my thoughts. I walked to my deck and looked out, surveying my surroundings. I saw five swimming pools, one streaming seamlessly into another down the line until the resort met the ocean front. Waves crashed aggressively against a beach where no swimming was allowed. Palm trees swayed in a gentle breeze. Tourists gathered at various poolside bars and lounging areas throughout the complex. The Champs “Tequila” blasted from a poolside DJ booth.
I heard voices drifting up from below and looked down to see a stout, balding man reclined in a lounge chair sipping Budlight from the bottle. A young, pretty waitress had just walked up to take his order. The man was unabashedly eyeing the woman’s assets while speaking to her through a wide grin. “C’mon, don’t you wanna be my Señorita for the night? I’ll tell that wife of mine that she can buy her own damn room, I’m spending the night with you.” He tilted his head back and let out a raucous laugh, then reached out for those assets he’d been eyeing. The waitress’s smile did not reach her eyes as she dodged the hands and calmly repeated her request for his drink order.
I cringed and smothered an urge to throw my suitcase on the man’s pink, naked scalp. Instead I closed the sliding door and wandered over to the bed, where I collapsed face first into the softness of the pillows. I lay like this for a moment, contemplating my current situation with a mild but growing sense of foreboding, before descending into a deep and dreamless sleep.
I woke bright and early the next morning. The woman at the front desk had convinced me to attend a timeshare meeting. She assured me that it would only take 2 hours and afterward I would be rewarded a $250 food voucher and generous discounts on certain local activities. I’ll admit, I was curious. The night before I had seen a man downtown wearing a t-shirt that said “My mom doesn’t know I sell timeshares. She thinks I work at a whorehouse.”
I was shuttled to a sister resort- a bigger, fancier place where I was introduced to Heather, a spacey blonde Canadian who would be my host for the morning. Despite the heat she wore a thick black, sequined shirt, and her hair looked like the remains of an up-do from last night’s party. She offered me coffee and a buffet breakfast and attempted small talk. She asked me questions about my life and then stared at me with an odd glossy-eyed expression, her smile lingering a bit too long to seem genuine.
After breakfast she gave me a brief tour of the property, rambling on about how nice the weather here is, as she wiped sweat from her brow, and how there are absolutely no bugs here, isn’t that just amazing? I nodded enthusiastically, thinking about the giant cucarachas I had seen scurrying up the wall just moments before. I asked her about the Cartel presence here, and what she thought about the new wave of violence that had infiltrated the area after the arrest of “El Chapo”.
She looked at me in horror and said “Oh honey, there’s no drug cartel here in Cabo!!!”
The tour ended as quickly as it had begun and for the next 4 hours I found myself sitting in a conference room that overlooked that brilliant turquoise ocean. There were 8 tables in the room, each seating a group of Americans and their host for the day. A waitress came to take my order and Heather encouraged me to drink some alcohol. “It’s free!” she insisted.
I got another coffee.
As I sipped my caffeine, Heather began spouting out numbers and data and options, until I was utterly and thoroughly confused. She grew visibly irritated when I declined her offer for $54,000. I wasn’t even sure what she was trying to sell me. When it was clear that she wasn’t getting anywhere, Heather motioned for a gentlemen in the corner to come take her place. His name was Dave and he “wasn’t trying to bullshit me.” He tried a different approach, breaking down the numbers matter of factly and somehow the price of the timeshare suddenly dropped to $28,000. I remained stone-faced, and Dave eventually gave up and handed me over to the Developer’s Assistant, a tall and strapping gentlemen who thanked me for my time. I thought I was heading out the door when suddenly he began tossing even more offers my way-$12,000, last offer! No wait, how about $8,000!! Absolute last offer, $3,500!!
I was seriously beginning to question the value of something that could depreciate so rapidly.
I heard clapping and a bell ringing at a table behind me. A woman from Chillicothe, Ohio had just bought a timeshare and congratulations were in order. Champagne flowed. The hosts at adjacent tables clapped along and glanced at their own Americans with looks that said “See, this could be you!” The lucky woman from Ohio was slurring her words and nearly falling out of her chair, and I noted four empty glasses on the table before her. The Developer’s Assistant turned to me and winked. “She paid full price. She’s not as smart as you, holding out for the bargain.”
This was getting ridiculous.
I thanked him once more for his time and showed myself out. It was 1 o’clock in the afternoon when I finally extricated myself-tired, hungry, and annoyed. Outside I waved a fly out of my face and wondered who The Developer was. Probably an American, since there was no Cartel in Cabo.
I collected my $250 food voucher and received a discount on a snorkeling tour and a swim with dolphins. Back at my resort I spent a third of my food voucher on lunch (tacos and a water), and then headed out for an afternoon of snorkeling.
The boat was packed to the brim with more Americans, many flocking to the open bar as soon as we left the dock.
I sat at the head of the boat and watched sea turtles and pelicans pass by. Behind me, Journey “Don’t Stop Believing” played and the tourists sang along.
An hour later we docked by a crowded beach and were told we had one hour to snorkel. We were advised to stay away from the rocks and wear our life vests at all times. I couldn’t tell if my queasiness was from seasickness or the hour I’d just spent listening to people sing along to Journey, but I was the first one off the boat and the last one back on. I couldn’t find many fish. I didn’t blame them.
If I was a sea creature I would have steered clear, too.
My dream of a quiet, relaxing vacation was quickly evolving into a nightmare. I tried to stay positive and to enjoy the rest of my vacation as best I could. I swam with dolphins. I soaked up the sun. I read books. I attended a beautiful wedding, where I danced barefoot by the sea and met many lovely people.
But despite all this, my growing sense of unease continued to blossom as I witnessed the disparity between the American tourists and the Mexican locals. I wondered where these people lived, what their lives looked like away from the tourist industry, what they really thought of us beneath the veneer of their welcoming smiles.
I understand that American tourism brings money and prosperity to this place-but at what price, and who really benefits?
It was on my last evening in Cabo that I attended the resort’s weekly Fiesta Night. The evening The Wall was mentioned.
It was a beautiful set-up. The employees had spent the entire day cooking, decorating, and preparing for this night. There were rows of tables with every type of Mexican cuisine imaginable-chicken mole, carne asada, corn tamales with tomatillo salsa, tortilla soup, enchiladas, a full taco bar. For dessert we had mango, papaya, fried plantains, tiny cakes and even a churro stand. Local vendors had set up their wares for us to peruse. Overly attentive waitresses, dressed in off-shoulder, ruffled dresses colored with the green, white and red of the Mexican flag, catered to our every need and replenished beverages before empty glasses even hit the table. A group of performers, many that I recognized from earlier as servers at the poolside bars, were decked out in colorful costumes and took turns singing, performing traditional dances, and providing comedic entertainment.
I sat that night among my fellow Americans that evening, sipping my margarita and watching a beautiful dance performance while a brilliant sun set across the ocean beyond.
I marveled at what a very strange world we live in.