Down to Barcelo Huatulco for that grand old Canadian tradition – “The Gluttonous 1-Week Winter All-Inclusive”. A solid week of fun in the sun, guaranteed to feature too much food, too much booze, too much sun and too much the absolutely perfect amount of time with the kids. Mom’s treat, and an amazing week had by all. Except possibly our internal organs.
Disclaimer: Mom, I’m about to make a bunch of jokes at the expense of our family vacation. Don’t take it personally, it’s just that self-deprecation and making fun of people are the only ways I feel comfortable expressing myself. It’s no big deal, it’s probably just because of the way I was raised.
Since we were already in Mexico we arrived in Huatulco the night before the rest of the crew and spent a nice night at a pretty sweet little hotel on a hill just outside La Crucecita overlooking the bay. In a heretofore unprecedented move, we received a complimentary upgrade to a poolside room (the main advantage, seemingly, being that people in the pool could now watch us change). We also took a short visit to the plaza in El Centro and had dinner in the hotel we have booked for a couple nights at the start of February leading up to our long overland journey down to Lago de Atitlán, and stopped off at the Chedraui department store to stock up on some groceries and odds and ends for Andie’s kids (baby food, Lysol wipes, a Troll ball, the usual) and a couple things for us (plastic cereal bowl, his and hers spoons). The next day, after a morning spent splashing around in the pool like the uncoordinated adolescents we so often resemble, then running out of steam quickly and laying down like the tired old middle-aged couple we really are, we waited for the crack of noon and took a short taxi ride over to the Barceló Huatulco to excitedly strap on our all-inclusive wristbands and get down to the serious business of eating far more than is either necessary or healthy, and drinking to even less necessary and certainly less healthy extremes. Point is, we had a nice friendly glow on by the time the family piled out of the airport transport around 4 pm.
The resort is located smack-dab in the middle of beautiful little Tangolunda Bay, with great views out to sea and the rocky little islet directly across. The beach was a bit steep and the water got deep in a surprising hurry, perfect for clumsy somersault attempts, but a bit on the rough side for kids or ill-fated attempts to boogie board on waves that crest about 3 metres out from shore and crash 1 metre farther on. And even though the sand isn’t that soft powdery stuff that feels like walking on dunes of cocaine it was still soft enough that it took nothing less than a pressure washer or potato peeler to remove once it dried on your feet.
Since the shade around the pools was haphazard at best (interlocking bits of fabric that always protect some part of you even while coyly exposing another), which was considered a huge positive among some members of our crew (i.e. Jaime the Pink and Chief Cliff No-Sunscreen), Laynni and I spent much of our time down on the beach hiding under the much more comprehensive coverage of the palapas. Other benefits of the beach being a view of the ocean, drink service from waiters displaying an impressive ability to both carry and balance a dozen tall glasses on a tray while walking in deep sand and dodging scantily-clad drunks on haphazardly-placed loungers, and watching suave jewelry touts flirt shamelessly and, in some cases embarrassingly effectively, with delighted old ladies. Put it this way, there were some pretty long hugs considering it was 34C in the shade (“Feels like 41”).
One thing we were not short on were kids, with Andie’s two (“Feels like 6”) and Cliff’s four understandably the focus of our days. Luckily, Brayden is old enough that he doesn’t need much attention and was even generous enough to pretend he wasn’t constantly horrified to be seen with us. And Kasey was not only no trouble at all but actually the most effective and tireless babysitter/companion to little Gibson (who we’ll get to later in the section titled “Babies on Vacation: Cute Little Bastards, But Still…”). Grandpa’s spectacular ability to push a stroller aimlessly for hours at a time also came in handy. And Laynni was always first to raise her hand to supervise a child’s nap from the comfort of a terrace hammock. Then Deaken, Olivia and Beckett thankfully confirmed the elusively hopeful multiplication theory of children – throw enough of them together and eventually they entertain themselves. Of course the other, less ideal, aspect to that strategy is the “sulking will take place at least once every half an hour, and tears will be shed hourly”. However, as merely an uncle, I find that the best method of dealing with such issues is by simply not caring very much, and being careful to only ever play when they are in a good mood (generally following meals, naps and excessive sugar intake). And don’t be ashamed to ditch them back on their parents the moment things get a little dicey because, hey, the whole point is and I think we all agree, I’m terrible at this. The ever-popular “I’d do it, but I’d probably only make it worse” strategy of child-rearing. This also applies to the cleaning of lunch room microwaves (see Ryan Howard, “The Office”, for helpful examples).
Among the highlights for the kids, which I’m basing mainly on slightly greater levels of squealing, were the waterslides in the kiddie pool, pool baseball and water fights with Carlos the Insanely Patient Lifeguard, iguana chasing, mini-sticks hockey and feeding the fishes at the end of the beach. Actually feeding the fishes, not, you know, “Tony, ah, he’s feeding the fishes. Fuggedaboudit.” There is a big school that congregates down near the rocks on the east end of the beach and if you take down some bread or a banana you can entice them into an excited frenzy where they swarm around your legs and are even buffeted against them by the waves causing the kids (and adults) to scream and skip around in a weird combination of glee and the burning desire to pee their pants, a feeling which everyone seems to love for some reason. Shockingly, despite the best efforts of several of us who should probably be smarter than to think this might work, nobody managed to catch any fish with their bare hands.
This was fun while it lasted, although it didn’t last long, probably not long enough to warrant Jaime carting it all the way down to Mexico to be used once (and a half). As you can see from the photos there were moments of dazzling athleticism, superb teamwork and stunning agility (mainly the one time we successfully bounced it three times in a row), unfortunately surrounded by moments of shocking clumsiness, aimless confusion and spastic errors. Which, in fairness, is exactly the way it is described on the box.
Gibson was unquestionably the most adorable of the fourteen of us, some of us by a pretty wide margin, indeed. Eleven months old at the start of the trip and a full year by the time it ended, he was the obvious centre of most attentions throughout the week, and undoubtedly beloved by every single woman on the resort from protective older children to smitten maids to staggering old drunk women. Still, photographic evidence doesn’t lie, showing us that double-fisted daytime drinking will lay low the best of us, even a soon-to-be 1-year old nicknamed Bam Bam who has already mastered the unsteady gait and relentless determination of a belligerent drunk doggedly trying to get their hands on both their car keys and a six-pack for the road. In fairness, his meaty claws already resemble those of a Latvian shot-putter who can also palm a basketball, so the temptation to save time and grab two at a time was understandable.
All told, great trip. Big thanks to mom for treating us to this little slice of paradise, as well as the girls for doing most – ah, let’s face it, all – of the organizing. Family friend Tamara Graae from Ixtapa Travel handled the arrangements with aplomb, and her recommendations came in handy a number of times. In particular, the availability of wifi at the coffee shop across the street (not a coffee drinker, but I’ll gladly pay $3 for a cold version of a hot chocolate and 2 hours of internet), since the absence of wifi at the resort was probably our main complaint. Well, it wasn’t exactly absent per se, they just wanted to charge us about $10 per day per device on top of the many thousands of dollars we’d already paid to be there.
Also, the beer was, allegedly, Modelo Especial draft, although I’m pretty sure I’ve had it other places before where it didn’t taste like it was mixed with tequila and a spoonful of salt. Didn’t stop us, of course, just pushed us to the odd vodka, piña colada or rum punch a little sooner than we normally might have. Make no mistake, it takes careful planning and logistical artistry to keep a steady but not debilitating drunk going for days at a time in 30+ temperatures. Until, of course, you wear out because you’re a pussy who can’t drink like he used to (although there are those who might say this about me in a way that sounds more relieved than disappointed), and eventually just start having your first drink of the day at around 4 pm. Reluctantly. Then you go to bed at 10 pm and, voila, no planning necessary. Dad, of course, had another plan. Start as soon as they’ll let you in the morning, take a short break in the afternoon to let your head loll a few times, maybe use a “resting my eyes” joke, then back at ‘er. Jaime just kept it going, start to finish. Oh, to be the tender age of 35. Cliff picked his spots. Mom drank a lot more steadily than most of us noticed, probably because every time she ordered she seemed on the verge of saying no but then at the last minute changed her mind and decided to get another, like it was this big difficult decision. Mark was going for his one-week chip or something (“parenting”, he called it, like a douche). Andie drank excitedly in small bursts before thinking better of it and backing off. Laynni drank hard for an hour until she got loud enough that even she noticed, then dialed it back, had supper, then immediately shut down like a hibernating grizzly.
The food was really quite good, especially for the kids and adult Johnstons, with an excellent selection of basic staples at every meal (i.e. chicken fingers, burgers, fries, slices of processed cheese). They also offered a very impressive variety of choices. Pork, beef, chicken, seafood, and then about a hundred of those things that people clutter up their plate with beside the meat… veg-e-tab-les, I think they call them. If there was one type of food that seemed maybe a bit shorter in supply than you might expect it would be, strangely, Mexican food. Not to worry, though, with more than 2 weeks alone in Mexico after leaving the resort, there are still plenty of cheap greasy tacos and spicy, surprising salsas in our future.
So, what else? Oh, it was hot, did I mention that? Over 30 every day which, I understand, sounds like a dream when you’re back home suffering through a “cold snap” (our light and mostly inaccurate way of describing a colder, nastier period of time than 99% of the planet has ever experienced), but throw in a bit of humidity and, wow, that kind of heat can be exhausting. Of course, the point is we had nothing but time and nothing to do except lie around, swim, lie around some more, then get drunk. So it wasn’t so bad. Although I suppose if one were to get some crazy ideas in one’s head, like playing tennis in the sun (twice!) or, say, going to the ghostly, echoing gym to run on the treadmill for some reason, perhaps, well, then you might end up pushing the sweat meter a bit higher than was strictly necessary.
Funny. The snack bar was full, there were literally hundreds of people lying inert on comfortable loungers, the swim-up bar was lined up most of the time, even the lobby bar had its fair share of people preferring to get drunk where they could pity those checking out and critically appraise newcomers, yet there was always plenty of room at the gym…
On a related note, with my first soccer match in 5 months looming ever closer (stay tuned the weekend of Feb 4 – the Super Bowl and the opening fixtures of San Juan Clausura Primavera 2017), and at Lago de Atitlán’s 1,500 metres above sea level no less, I talked myself into a couple sessions on the treadmill. I mean, I’m too old to drink before 11 now anyway, so… Went well for the most part, got myself a little head start toward the fitness I’m going to need for chasing 25-year old Guatemalans around for 90 minutes in mid-day heat, then I got cocky and tried riding the belt off the back instead of waiting for it to stop and ended up in a heap on the floor, causing a few moments of genuine alarm for the woman across from me lifting weights and minding her own business…
Then I did this.
Adios! Same time next year…?
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