January 6, 2019
Samba Vallarta Resort, Nuevo Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico
22 pale Canadians and Cliff descend on the Pacific coast of Mexico to enjoy a week of overindulgence, friend and family fun, and periodic aloe treatments for predictable sunburns. Criteria for a good mid-winter family vacation:
- Warm weather
Well, Puerto Vallarta certainly has that. From January to April you get steady 28/18 splits that are ideal for both beach time and evening wanders. Some happily soaked up every bit they could get (Jaime, Cliff, Bonnie, dad), some scowled, sweated, and wallowed in the shallow end (Mike), and some sort of defeated the purpose by cowering in the shade like rehabbing vampires (Dean, Laynni).
- A good pool
No, we don’t have any kids, but nearly everyone we know does. And nothing keeps kids busy, exhausted and weirdly manic like a good pool. This was probably Samba Vallarta’s most redeeming feature – large but never particularly deep, entirely within view from our “drinking loungers”, and with a couple fun slides for the kids (or 7 fully grown and almost certainly inebriated women).
- A nice beach
Another major check. The beach at Samba extends for miles in each direction, has a beach volleyball court (which would later become the site of a pair of humiliating defeats by team Johnston/Yemen), and sneaky rough waves that turned out to be perfect for both boogie boarding and guffawing at the sight of others getting unceremoniously trashed by unexpected rollers. At one point Laynni lost 80% of her bathing suit (no photo available), while Andie woefully underestimated the power 2 feet of water can wield (photo below).
- All the booze you can drink for all eternity (or one week, whichever comes first)
Yup, had that one covered, too. Of course, that’s what all-inclusives are all about so it would have been rather disappointing if Wednesday rolled around and suddenly some guy in a real professional-looking golf shirt walked up to our messy jumble of lounge chairs, pool paraphernalia and empty glasses, looked at us sternly and said, “Okay, it’s been fun, but I think you folks have had about enough. Why don’t you head out for a walk or something, maybe try a piece of fruit?” (just to be clear, that never happened, and, in fact, they seemed happy to let us keep embarrassing ourselves for every minute of the full 7 days).
Our big troop, apparently known to other guests as “that loud group of 23” (thanks to mom, somehow), consisted of Laynni and I, my parents (Bev and Barry), both my sisters (Andie and Jaime), their significant others (Mark and Cliff), their various kids (Beckett, Gibson, Brayden, Kasey, Deaken, Olivia), two of my aunts (Bonnie and Barb), the Hunter’s (Mike, Julie, Liam, Leah), the Scalercio’s (Sebastian, Heidi, Sloan) and some stranger’s kid that everybody hated yet seemed to be there every time you turned around.
So, the short story:
We spent a lot of time at the pool, drank a tonne, did a lot of boogie boarding, watched the bigger kids watch the smaller kids in the pool, took turns following Gibby around and enduring his constant barrage of very specific orders and directions, ate seemingly all the time (Laynni was a particular fan of both second lunch and first dinner), frolicked in the waves (some more successfully than others), and periodically complaining about “digestive issues” which nobody ever, strangely enough, felt were connected to excessive alcohol intake.
The long story:
Very similar to the short story, but longer.
Night 1 – everybody is excited, giddy, and completely exhausted, a vicious combination that eventually resulted in dad trying to move a 100-pound metal and stone table by himself and somehow breaking it in two. You’ve still got it, Bare. Meanwhile, as dad was reefing away at the table and refusing offers of help and pleas to “quit doing that”, mom was regaling us with, apparently, delightful tales of her youngest daughter’s uncanny ability “to lie straight to your face”. Dad concurred, and both seemed very impressed and inexplicably proud. Mike and Sebass pulled the late shift, Julie locked Mike out of their room then slept like someone who had been at the airport at 4 am and drank all night. Good thing Mike is such a patient man.
One of the best parts about the resort was the wide variety of activities available. Boogie boards, volleyball, ping pong, foosball, soccer, darts, giant shuffleboard, pool (the cue, ball and pockets kind), and a vast array of different balls, so many balls. I got bounced in the semi-finals of a ping pong tourney amid the weird controversy of the game being interrupted while Laynni, Deaken, and Beckett shook the crap out of a nearby tree. Andie, Jaime, Heidi, and I lost out in our first game in the beach volleyball tourney. Then Mark, Andie, and I were recruited back into contention by a BC man (formerly of Aden Bowman, it turns out) who was about 6’2 but not nearly the volleyball ringer one might have expected, where we were promptly eliminated again. Cliff won little bottles of tequila for his expertise at both shuffleboard and darts, although he also lost roughly a dozen pairs of Twisted Tea sunglasses to the waves, so probably came out even in the end. Many people spent time playing water volleyball over the inflatable net that Laynni bought and coerced dad into carrying down (along with inflatable drink holders, inflatable balls, mini-jenga – he is such a chronic over-packer). Bonnie, somewhat unsurprisingly, volunteered to be the subject of a mock strip-tease by three of the young male resort employees. Also unsurprisingly, she seemed unfazed by the attention and happily copped a couple inappropriate feels. Suddenly, the performers become the performed…
Jaime surprised everyone by planning out an intricate set of daily adventures for the kids that became known as “The Amazing Games” and were a huge hit. Scavenger hunts, sand contests, balloon challenges, odd and inappropriate photo shoots, it even had all the emotional highs, lows and bickering of the real Amazing Race. Every day a few adults were compelled to complete one of the challenges and several of the photos. Without exception, the adult photos looked dumber.
You had to know sunburns would be the order of the day with so many people stepping directly from Canadian winter into Mexican beach sun. Brayden quickly developed a strategic wifebeater tan that means he can now go shirtless in almost any circumstance, as long as no one gets close enough to see his nipples. Pretty much all the kids burned their faces at one point or another, the inevitable result of overconfidence in the longevity of sunscreen while frolicking in water for 10 concurrent hours. And, of course, as they do, Mike burned all over, Mark in odd little patches.
Kasey, in addition to her day-time duties as Gibson’s go-to responsible bigger person, earned some extra cash by looking after Sloan almost every night (it hardly seemed fair that Julie had to look after Mike for free). It would seem that Sloan isn’t very accomplished at rock/paper/scissors because, somehow, every night she ended up being the one left to look after things back at the room while Sebass and Heidi caroused and celebrated their luck, despite the nasty heel spurs she developed over miles of travel back and forth between lounger and bar.
Liam spent hours and hours on the boogie board, cavorting in the pool, and wolfing down drive-by hot dogs from the beach buffet until suddenly announcing that he was bored and settling in to read for the next two days. His Amazing Game response to “describe the trip in one word” was “forceful parenting” (we made an exception on the word count), which he wrote while staring pointedly at Julie.
Deaken and Beckett never seemed to slow down, ever, just going full speed or completely collapsing, no in between, and always rallying soon after. Leah and Olivia were part of everything without ever seeming to need anything or causing any trouble. I think, anyway, they aren’t my kids, I wasn’t really paying attention. Sloan bounced back and forth seamlessly between the groups (laughing playful girls and rammy little dudes), her parents comfortably “sure that someone is watching her” and saw her swimming abilities improve exponentially over the course of the week, just like most of the kids. Even Mark eventually made it into the deep end. Gibson quickly appointed himself pool foreman (if only someone else had thought to call it first, life would have been so much simpler) and spent the week giving orders, showing us the best (and only) way to do everything there was to do in the shallow area, and performing daily transformations from petulant, ornery, illogical tyrant to adorable, pensive, grinning toddler using only the magical powers of napping. As it turns out, my experience was much the same (leading me to wonder if this could be the solution the American people have been waiting for).
There were far too many hilarious drunken moments to recount, even if I hadn’t forgotten 90% of them within minutes (or one more beer) of them occurring, which I almost surely have. There were a few that stuck, however:
Mom getting “shushed” the first night in the bar and dooming us to a reputation as rowdies who don’t know the difference between inside and outside voices.
Bonnie inviting Bruno the bartender to wipe up the drink I spilled “a bit farther up” her leg, then later kissing Mike to “get a feel for it”.
Barb mounting Sebass’s lap to… I don’t know. Nobody knows. But we assume he was hitting on her again.
Laynni not remembering being in the group “stacking” photo taken of us for the Amazing Games. Probably because she wasn’t in it, a lost detail that provides a good indication of her overall state of inebriation at 4:30 pm on a Wednesday. Or any day, really.
Dad returning from the beach bar at 10:01 every morning struggling with as many beer as he could carry.
Barb’s smoky – and potentially sexy – rendezvous with “that bodybuilder guy that doesn’t even walk normal”.
A group game of Catch-Phrase in the lobby that could be heard in all the deep nether-reaches of the hotel.
Sebass’s awkwardly incorrect use of the Spanish word “negro” every time he ordered dark rum (which he did quite a lot).
Andie somehow finishing three drinks before noon.
I really have just one. Everyone arrived on Sunday after a whole day of flights and lingering in airports. We drank a bunch Sunday night, then put in a fairly epic shift from morning to night on Monday. Tuesday morning, two full days after leaving his house, and feeling strangely under the weather, Mike discovers that he forgot his toothbrush. While he went on to rant at length about how it was all Julie’s fault, this ultimately did nothing to distract anyone from the larger point, which is that he is seriously disgusting.
January 2021, anyone?