We woke up super early at 4:15am, which was really 3:15am due to the onset of Daylight Savings Time. But the excitement of travelling wiped that sleep out of our eyes, as we anxiously awaited arriving in Cabo San Lucas for our vacation. After a quick layover in Phoenix, our plane landed at around 11:00am at the Los Cabos International Airport, where there aren’t any “jet bridges,” leaving us to exit down a staircase (old-school style) with a backdrop of ruggedly beautiful mountain landscape. Getting through customs was a bit chaotic, as we took a wrong turn and ended up in the departure area, a little frantic. But Shannon found an airport worker, who she asked: “¿Habla Inglés?”, He smirked and sarcastically answered, “Yeah,” as it should have been obvious since we were at an international airport. He quickly led us to the proper area, where we picked up our bags and then set out to find our transport vehicle amidst a sea of signs and vendors. After finally finding the right one, we hopped in the van and were greeted with ice cold Coronas. Having travelled for over eight hours, the feeling of finally arriving in Cabo made these the best beers we’d tasted in recent memory. As we rode over the bumpy roads towards our hotel, we marveled at the eclectic geographical setting, which combines sparkling ocean water in a desert setting with a mountainous backdrop.
The all-inclusive hotel (Riu Palace) featured enchantingly landscaped grounds, with an open-aired lobby where tiny Mexican finches swooped in, chirping a happy, welcoming tune. We enjoyed a buffet lunch, during which Shannon fell in love with the local papaya as we sat at a table overlooking the ocean. The rest of the food wasn’t anything to write home about, but that’s to be expected at an all-inclusive hotel where your only alternative to the free food is paying for it elsewhere. This was the beginning of our lesson in the Mexican vacation attitude: “You’ve just gotta go with it.” Our room was very nice, with tile floors and a balcony overlooking a courtyard of fountains. Although the “king sized bed” was actually two full beds pushed together, we didn’t mind.
We then went back outside to explore the beach, which featured golden, coarse sand and crystal clear ocean water with a sea-green tint. The beach sloped downward where it met the ocean, which led to the waves crashing so near the shore that it was impossible to body surf without being slammed into the sandy bottom. As a result, a strong undertow could be felt very close to the beach, which might be a reason why we’d read that the water is a bit treacherous in Cabo. But once we waded out about twenty feet, the water was calm and enjoyable. We even tried a little exfoliation, where we covered our bodies in sand, lightly scrubbed ourselves, and then let the salt water wash it away, producing very soft skin (Shannon enjoyed this immensely).
The swimming made us a little hungry, so Chris returned to the buffet in order to grab some chips and guacamole. Although we noticed that no one else was eating in the open-aired poolside area, we didn’t think much of it. But we soon realized why most people stayed under the cover of the canopy of the designated eating area. As soon as Chris triumphantly walked towards Shannon with his full plate, a group of large, fierce seagulls swooped down, with one of them striking its wing at Chris’ body, knocking the plate of chips out of his hands and leaving them the feast they fought for. The birds then gorged on their conquest, as Chris returned to Shannon with his figurative tail between his legs. Shannon then struck him with her fist, teaching Chris a lesson about returning empty-handed (just kidding – she was very understanding, and promised not to tell the customs agents in the United States about his contact with wild animals).
Since our hunger hadn’t been staved, we decided to go into town to find a meal (as a sidenote, we could not get reservations at the free hotel restaurants for the first two nights because they were all booked, and despite the fact that the buffet was still an option, we needed something a little more special for our first night on vacation). After a safe and quick $10 taxi ride (which we later learned to negotiate down to 100 pesos, which is closer to $8), we found a charmingly festive local Mexican spot called Miguelocos. The waiter was very happy to see us, and typical of the Mexican way, he convinced us to up our margarita order to “doubles.” Everything here tasted extremely fresh. We began the meal with a refreshingly delicious shrimp ceviche, which featured a red sauce that was tangy with a hint of sweetness. This was one of our favorite dishes of the vacation. They also served a spicy hot sauce with tortilla chips. For our entrees, Shannon ordered sea bass tacos; the fish was grilled very simply, allowing the fresh taste of the sea bass to form the dish’s dominant flavor. Shannon slightly doctored the tacos with pico de gallo and the spicy hot sauce, producing some of the best fish tacos we’ve tasted. Meanwhile, Chris enjoyed a large chile relleno, which was lightly battered and stuffed with shrimp and cheese. Once again, this was exceptional. After another round of margaritas, we were ready to go, leaving with smiles on our faces and happiness in our bellies. The waiter added to the lightness of the mood by playing a little joke: he handed Shannon the check and then burst out laughing as he took it back and gave it to Chris. To think that a woman would ever pay for a meal – que hysteria!
After returning to our palace in another safe taxi ride, we enjoyed one of the many crazy shows that the hotel entertainment crew provided every night. At this one, they made newlyweds perform various tasks (most of which were sexually suggestive). Again, this is no masterpiece theater, but if you have the “Go with it” attitude, you’ll find yourself laughing at the revelry. At 11:00pm, it was time to try the hotel’s discoteca, La Pacha, which happened to be right underneath our room (so, even if we’d wanted to go to sleep, we would’ve been inundated with the loud bass beats). With the aid of a few tequila shots, we danced the night away; our uninhibited style seemed to encourage other couples to join in the fun. Needless to say, we had no trouble sleeping that night.
After a quick continental breakfast (room service is free at the all-inclusive!), we decided to walk along the beach towards the famous Cabo Arch (El Arco), which appeared to be a couple of miles away. We passed many hotels and vendors during our breathtakingly beautiful stroll, eventually arriving at a sea wall composed of large rocks piled about 15 feet high. We realized that this sea wall marked the end of the beach and the beginning of a bay, preventing us from continuing towards the arch (we later discovered that you have to take a water taxi, which we’ll explain later on). A few pelicans sat perched on the edge of the rocks, so we decided to climb towards them for a closer look. As Chris bent down to help Shannon up, he told her to pass the digital camera to him so that she’d get a better grip. During the exchange, the camera dropped, slipping under a crevice, and then crashing downwards, with a final “splash!” marking the end of a day’s worth of photography. After a few moments to lament the loss, we returned to our “Just go with it” mentality and promised each other to not let that unfortunate incident ruin the vacation. Feeling that we may have been a little bit sad, crabs began peeping out of the rocks and dancing in front of us to bring our spirits back to their excited level.
Have no fear – Chris (such a sweet guy!) purchased a waterproof disposable camera at the hotel shop, for a new source of fun, as people chuckled at the use of such a retro device. Yes, that’s right – all the pictures you’re seeing are from our disposable cameras — who needs digital? To explain one more detail about the pictures, Chris lost a contact in the ocean that day, and he’d forgotten to bring a spare pair, so that’s why he’s sporting his glasses in the pictures. Again, despite a bit of disappointment at first, Chris couldn’t stay down long, as the “go with it” attitude infused his vacation spirit.
With our bodies slightly sun-kissed from a day outside (yes, Mommy Perri, we wore sunscreen, 50 SPF, after the initial hour-long attempt at the oxymoronic “healthy tan”), we got ready for another night in town (remember, no reservations at the hotel for the first two nights). We made an initial stop at the Cabo “shopping district,” which was actually just an outlet mall of American stores. We wanted something a bit more authentic, so we walked the streets, eventually finding a flea market where we engaged in some bartering over a pair of native-stone earrings (the vendor said $12, we countered at $6, eventually settling on $9). We then ran into a Mexican family walking their dogs, which turned out to be cocker spaniels, much to Shannon’s delight! Of course, they were no Lady Schaefer, but Shannon enjoyed petting the dogs and having a brief dog-related conversation (en español) with the family. Our next stop was a hole-in-the-wall dive bar, where a couple of Wisconsin tourists were drunkenly advertising the “Spring Break Deal” – Coronas for $1! We couldn’t pass that up, so we decided on a brief happy hour prior to dinner, during which time we talked to the young bartender, Javy, about hot spots in Cabo. Hearing of our plans to later try the touristy dance club Squid Roe, he advised us to come back to his bar after dinner for drinks in order to avoid paying the exorbitant prices at the club. He was right, as Squid Roe charged $5 per beer, which is ridiculous in Mexico. Little did Javy (or we) know, but we wouldn’t need any more alcohol after dinner.
Our destination was a romantic hideaway called Misiones de Kino, which we had read favorable reviews about online. We began the meal with complimentary margaritas, which we noticed were quite strong. The menu was divided between Mexican and Italian fare, so we decided to mix it up a bit, ordering the mussels casino as an appetizer. The dish proved to be quite tasty, as the mussels were covered in mozzarella and tomatoes and accompanied with fresh-baked rolls. We then ordered another round of margaritas, which came out in glasses that were twice as large as before (since these weren’t complimentary), and they were just as strong. Needless to say, we were on our way towards “one of those nights.” For our entrees, Shannon ordered the jumbo shrimp with the house’s special garlic sauce, while Chris tried the sea bass topped with a fresh mango sauce that resembled pico de gallo. Both dishes were tasty, although neither one was extraordinary, especially compared to the prior evening’s meal at Miguelocos. We finished with a Café Kino, which was a coffee spiked with brandy and kahlua. This proved to be an important decision, as we probably needed the caffeine in order to have the dancing energy for Squid Roe. At this point, the tequila was in full effect and we were ready to get our dance on!
Squid Roe turned out to be an American tourist spot that’s probably very similar to what people experience as a large Cancun bar, such as Carlos ‘n’ Charlies, during spring break. There were four levels, each featuring female dancers in cages (but we’re not sure if these were tourists or people being paid by the club – again, we were drunk from the margaritas, so the details are a little fuzzy here). We definitely were having fun in our own little dance world, although the waiters probably hated us since we didn’t order a single beverage (and there was no cover charge, so we didn’t pay a cent at this high-dollar tourist spot – Javy would be proud).
We found another safe cab ride home, but we knew we couldn’t stop yet, so we made a long visit to La Pacha to round out our big night out. We threw down some “innovative” moves, including some recently-learned swing moves, such as the “Figure Eight” and the “Around the World.” We’re pretty sure that even people who didn’t want to dance still had a great time just watching us. Highly impressive stuff.
As you might’ve guessed, we slept in late this morning, even taking a brief nap after a buffet breakfast downstairs. To our delight, the buffet featured fresh juices, which our bodies especially appreciated on this day. Our favorites were the papaya-orange (Shannon’s) and the pineapple-orange (Chris’).
Our big event of the day was taking a water taxi to see the Arch and check out Lover’s Beach, which had been graciously suggested by Shannon’s aunt, Amie (a party animal in her own right). As we arrived at the rock formations, our “creative” captain began telling us what each formation resembled. For example, he proudly pointed out that one of the rocks looked like Scooby Doo. He then said to Chris in a loud whisper: “And that one, look, it’s like a woman bending over. And you see that ‘eye’ in the middle…” Well, you get the picture. This captain wasn’t very discreet, either, as he asked Chris two or three times whether he could see what he was imagining, and he couldn’t keep himself from giggling each time. Of course, Shannon could hear every word, so we weren’t sure why he needed to feign a whisper to tell us his dirty little joke. Next, the taxi came upon a large group of sea lions lounging on a rock in the sun. They were very cute, as they snuggled together, but these creatures have some of the worst body odor we’ve ever smelled, so we were happy to continue on our way after a few minutes. Soon enough, we came across the famous Cabo Arch, which was a spectacular sight.
The taxi then dropped us off at the “Lover’s Beach,” which is a small beach nestled between two mountainous rocks. Vendors sold beers, and we purchased two for $6. This gave us an idea about how to make money in Cabo: if you’re staying in an all-inclusive, you can grab all of the beers from your fridge for free, take them to Lover’s Beach, and sell them to tourists. Although tempting, we were too classy to implement this business plan.
The back side of Lover’s Beach opens up to the rougher Pacific Ocean, where we were warned against swimming due to the strong current. Needless to say, that didn’t dissuade Chris, who marveled at the huge waves crashing onto shore. Surfers were using skim boards to ride the waves, and Chris tried a little body surfing of his own. He was promptly nailed into the ground. Still, he convinced Shannon to join him, and as another huge wave crashed against them, she lost her brand-new Ray Ban sunglasses. She was a bit bummed out at first, but as we scanned the ocean, we noticed a black object lying at the bottom. Chris, the heroic boyfriend, promptly waded out and rescued the sunglasses, much to the amazement of onlookers.
For dinner that night, we had a reservation at the hotel’s Japanese restaurant, Misaki. Despite the fact that there were menus, there weren’t many options. The meal began with a small plate of assorted sushi, which was decent, but paled in comparison to the sushi we eat in Austin. The restaurant also served a Chilean sauvignon blanc called Diavolo, which was pretty painfully terrible – it tasted no better than a bad box wine, and it had a strange, yellowy hue. Luckily, they also offered sake, which proved to be a better alternative. For our appetizers, Chris had the vegetable and shrimp tempura, while Shannon ordered the miso soup. The tempura wasn’t bad, but Shannon’s miso soup tasted more like beef broth, as it lacked any flavor of salty miso. For our main dishes, Shannon ordered the salmon, which turned out to be a little dry, while Chris had shrimp in a teriyaki sauce. The overall mediocrity of the meal shouldn’t have been a surprise given that the hotel has no incentive to deliver top-quality food, as everyone’s food is already included in the price of the hotel room, and the restaurants don’t serve any paying customers from outside the hotel. Chris felt that the food quality represented a good case study in economic incentives. Needless to say, we still enjoyed ourselves. The alcohol always flowed freely, which probably led to most patrons overlooking the fact that the food was below-average compared to what you’d eat at a nice restaurant elsewhere.
After dinner, we made a short stop at the entertainment theater, where a troupe was performing a lip-synched version of Mamma Mia. The eclectic dance crew hailed from various countries (mostly South American, but there was one Latvian, as well as one performer from Wisconsin!), and their enthusiasm was contagious. Afterwards, a group of hotel workers began dancing to a Spanish version of Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart,” and, although this was amusing in its own weird way, we decided that this was our signal to return to La Pacha for another big night on the dance floor. This time, one of the song selections gave us the opportunity to demonstrate our Texas Two Step, and we entertained some patrons with our mix of two-stepping and swing moves. We looked like such serious dancers (or maybe just drunk?) that the occasional tourist apologized when s/he accidentally bumped into us. Unfortunately for Chris, the dance floor was relatively small and dark, so a table occasionally got in the way of his Figure Eights, which caused him to awake the next morning to discover some back bruises… intense!
When we returned to our room, we saw that the maids had turned up our bed, leaving a “suggestive swan” in the middle. The “suggestive swan” needs a little explaining: It was a towel sculpture with the bottom part resembling a pond, and two swan-like necks protruding from this “pond.” The swans had little black stickers representing their eyes, and they were facing each other, as if about to kiss, and creating the shape of a heart. Perhaps, the hotel maids felt that we needed a little coaxing…
After being somewhat disappointed with the food quality, we decided that we couldn’t make definite conclusions about the hotel unless we dined at the Riu Palace’s top-rated establishment, a “fusion” restaurant called “The Krystal.” The hotel didn’t take reservations for this spot in advance, and the concierge said the only way to get them was to line up at 7am. After being unable to figure out how to set the room’s alarm clock, Chris set his bio clock to get up, motivated by the hope of good food, and he miraculously made it out of the room at 6:45 am as Shannon continued sleeping undisturbed. Sure enough, there was already a line of twenty people waiting to make reservations, and Chris had to wait for thirty minutes. But he was able to reserve a table for the 9:15 pm seating, and he victoriously returned to the room, with Shannon marveling at how he’d gotten up so early.
For this last full day of Cabo fun, we had reserved a spot on a zipline outdoor adventure at a UNESCO-protected park. We had several options, and this one was supposed to be less extreme and contain more wildlife than the alternatives, a perfect balance. Our bus picked us up at around 11:45 am for the 75 minute trip to the mountainous valley where we’d be zipping around. Along for the ride was a group of guys who had watched too much “Family Guy” recently, as they couldn’t stop singing The Bird song: “The bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word…” It got pretty annoying after a while. Upon arriving, our friendly mountain tour guides (about five or six of them) fit us with harnesses and mountain climbing equipment. They advised us not to worry, as they would be attaching all of the equipment for us. They also explained the proper zipping technique so that we wouldn’t spin out of control (left hand on the safety harness, and right hand above your head so that you can push down to brake at the end of the line).
The adventure tour soon began, with Chris enjoying his time zipping across canyons. Shannon needed a little encouragement from the guides, as the fifty-foot drops created some apprehension for her. After finishing her first zip line, Shannon had a little trouble following instructions regarding the dismount (pull down with both hands on the top rope, and then hold the bottom rope while lightly jumping). This prompted one of the young guides to scold her: “You need to work on paying attention!” This remark only served to make Shannon even more nervous. After a second zip across a small canyon, the following station required us to walk across a tight rope, and although we were secure in our safety harnesses, this was an off-balance, harrowing experience that sent Shannon’s anxiety level soaring. “No more,” she was thinking. After a rock climb, we arrived at the next zip line station, and despite Chris’ suggestion that Shannon go ahead of him on the next zip line so that he could coach her into relaxing, she insisted that he go first. After Chris made it across the canyon, Shannon was next up, and she couldn’t get herself to jump off. Eventually, Shannon, la pollo, tearfully begged the tour guides to take her back to the base camp, and so we were separated for the rest of the “adventure.”
Chris’ experience: I was a bit concerned about Shannon’s mental state, but the guides assured me that she was okay, and, being separated from mi amor by a chasm spanning at least 100 meters, I had no choice but to finish the “adventure.” The next station consisted of rappelling down a cliff. Basically, my back was parallel to the ground, and I walked backwards down the rock face. This turned out to be pretty exciting, as I had more control over my movements than on the typical zip line. After that, I climbed up a relatively steep rock formation and hiked towards the final zip line station, which was made out of cables instead of rope in order to deliver the highest possible speed (60 km/hr). Afterwards, I was reunited with Shannon, who had actually just arrived at the base camp herself, as she had her own little adventure while I was gone. Much to my surprise, I later discovered that I was quite close to never returning to America.
Shannon’s experience: I felt bad for being such a baby, but I also was incredibly relieved to not have to finish. I will say, in my defense, there were mattresses padded against the canyon as a “hope” to bring safe landings. Not my idea of secure. AND it was a group of all guys (except one other bad ass pregnant lady), who kept telling me about different times people had died on this thing. Although joking, this was not cool! My own personal Mexican guide named Jonathon repeatedly told me not to feel bad as we made our way down the mountain. This was probably way more dangerous, considering rattle snakes supposedly lurk at every corner in this area. (Having the country background that I do, snakes are not as scary as zip lines to me, I now have realized.) There was no trail, so we made our boldly rugged trek down the side of the steep slope, crossing barbed wire fences and sliding down water pipes. I kept apologizing and thanking my guide, which led to some interesting conversation. He continuously told me that he would beat Chris up if he got mad at me for quitting, even though I constantly told him this would not be necessary. At one point, he invited me to a concert featuring Pit Bull (?), while also seemingly seriously telling me that he could “take care” of Chris if I wanted him to. I just had to say the word, and I wouldn’t have to know any of the details. He’d be gone like that. Although he assured me he was kidding after this rather awkward invitation, I made it absolutely clear that the world would not be the same without my Chris, who was as sweet as could be upon our reunion.
After a relaxing final experience swimming at the beach during sunset with espresso milkshakes Chris made using the ice cream and coffee machines, we got ready for dinner. But since the reservations were so late, we killed a little time playing pool, which remarkably cost $3 per game. Chris taught Shannon some basic billiards skills, so she’ll be showing those off in Austin in the near future.
Dinner at Krystal began with a decent champagne cocktail (the maraschino cherry in the bottom converts it from mere champagne to a “cocktail”). The server then asked whether we wanted some white wine, and after seeing that it was the same awful Diavolo from the night before, we inquired about other options, eventually settling on Diavolo’s red wine, which the waiter described as a “cabernet sauvignon.” Despite his description, we couldn’t find any evidence of this being a cabernet when we examined the label; the sickeningly sweet, fruity taste and syrupy consistency suggested that we were drinking a really bad wine that didn’t deserve an actual name (Chris thought it tasted more like a cheap merlot). Eventually, we were able to order some more champagne, which was preferable because the bubbles helped disguise the impurities.
The meal began with a “tapas plate”: a tiny bite of smoked salmon topped with avocado mousse, a watermelon-tomato puree, and a parmesan “brick.” The smoked salmon was the best of the three, as watermelon and tomato are both watery fruits that don’t complement each other, and the parmesan “brick” resembled the shape of a soft-shell crab or octopus while merely tasting like browned parmesan.
For appetizers, we each ordered the pumpkin-cream soup with scallop. Shannon’s scallop was less than half the size of Chris’, which was noticeable because the dishes were served without any soup in them. The waiter then told us to “watch out” because the scallop had the soup inside of it, and it might “explode” when we cut into it. This made us relatively nervous because of the waiter’s insistence that an explosion was imminent – neither of us wanted to drown in exploding pumpkin soup. But the waiter soon revealed, in between his cracking-up-style laughter, that he was just joking, as another server returned to our table with the soup, which he poured over the scallop. Humor seems to be quite popular in Mexico. The soup was decent, although it’s got nothing on Chris’ mom’s pumpkin soup, which she makes at Thanksgiving and Christmas (using renowned chef Andre Soltner’s recipe). We also ordered the same entrée, which was a Chilean sea bass served with a basil foam and chopped tomatoes. This proved to be the best part of the meal, as the sea bass was perfectly tender, with moist chunks flaking off the small filet with the slightest pressure from our forks. The basil foam and tomatoes were an excellent complement. Finally, for dessert we ordered chocolate lava cakes accompanied with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. It’s hard to go wrong with this combination of sweetness, so we left satisfied. As we exited the restaurant, one of the waiters shook Chris’ hand and asked with a huge grin and a wink, “So, are you drunk enough?” Chris wasn’t really sure how to respond, especially since he’d consumed the least amount of alcohol on this night of the trip, but the comment did provide a comical parting to the evening.
After the long day, we weren’t in a Pacha state of mind, so we turned in early. However, we soon were greeted by the disco beats from below, as La Pacha evidently comes alive even without us. To drown out the sounds, we had to play a Norah Jones album on Shannon’s computer, and we soon fell into a restful, happy sleep.
After one last breakfast buffet and long gaze at the gleamingly blue ocean, we said adios to Cabo and departed back to our beloved Austin. We’d had a wonderful vacation together, and although sad to leave Cabo, we were ready to return to our pets in Austin, which still remains our favorite city of all.