If ever I was in need of a “get away from it all” vacation, it would have to be now. It’s been a year for us that can only be described by the cliché “roller coaster.” In the sweet aftermath of our eldest child’s wedding and start of our son’s college days, my mother passed away, literally, a year ago today. But in the midst of all this, and a full-time day job, I was also putting the finishing touches on my first book Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D. And if that wasn’t enough, I became first a TV/Film editor for Blogcritics, and then, in October, Co-Executive Editor. Roller Coaster. ‘Nuff said.
Unquestionably, we (meaning me and my husband Phil) were in desperate need of getting off said roller coaster. A week wasn’t quite going to do it. We would need a couple days simply to decompress—before we started doing “vacation” things like hiking, boating and exploring. So, we decided on 10 days: a full workweek sandwiched between two weekends. Perfect. I wanted Paradise; he wanted time to rest and swim in the ocean. We both wanted to be warm, outdoors, and have opportunities to see wildlife (and maybe a little wild life), and other exotic living beings. But for both of us, the big goal of this vacation was downtime from day jobs and snow. For him, to read, play music and chill out; for me that meant time to sit in the sun, listen to the crash of waves and write. The reading and chilling out, while important, this week was to be for not having to split my time between my writing life and “the day job.”
Bandying about the names of places we’ve not yet sojourned, we decided to try Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Sitting on the horseshoe-shaped Banderas Bay along Mexico’s Pacific Coast, Puerto Vallarta is ringed by the magnificent Sierra Madre Mountains. Among the many resorts along the Bay, we chose The Marival Residences and World Spa in the northern part of Banderas Bay—in Neuvo Vallarta.
We made our plans, paid for our all-inclusive slice of Paradise and awaited February 4, V(acation)-Day.
On Sunday, January 30 I came home from work with chills and fever. Perfect. By Monday it was confirmed strep and I started a course of antibiotics, hoping it would clear by week’s end. Of course the Amoxicillin did nothing for the accompanying viral infection, or my incessant sleepiness. I was pretty sure I’d be healthy for Friday, but what we hadn’t anticipated was the two-foot snowfall that covered Chicago between Tuesday Morning and Wednesday afternoon. So, sick, snowed-in and a million things to do before leaving, I felt about as ready for a vacation as I ever had been. Of course there was also the fear that our flight would be cancelled, since O’Hare Airport wasn’t up to schedule until sometime Thursday night.
I somehow managed to get at least the bare necessities done, like taking the animals to the pet resort and laying in a supply of sunscreen in three different SPFs. And we were off!
The flight to Puerto Vallarta was packed, slightly bumpy at times, but most importantly on-time and with a smooth landing among the palm trees. The clouds cleared and there we were descending through the Sierra Madre Mountains and toward the sea. Palm trees, blue skies, beaches, and Banderas Bay: we are here!
I’ve been through many foreign airports over the years: from Zurich to Tel Aviv; from Nassau to Cancun. There is nothing fun about disembarking from a long flight, only to get in long immigration lines, chaos, crowds—and customs inspections. It’s a fact of international travel, and one of things I dread—especially when I’m already stressed out.
I have to say, however, that the experience at PVR was efficient, quick and pretty painless. All the paperwork had been done on the plane, so there was little to do but get in a very short line (impressive, since our flight was packed) and grab our bags. Customs was equally easy. And then we went through the doorway and into Oz. And by Oz, I mean Tourist Beware City!
The PVR arrival experience lulled us into an almost-serene state: out the door, into our awaiting chariot and off to the beach we go. Or not. Because, to actually get to the chariot we had to wind our way through a teeming throng of tour and time-share operators insisting that they were our new best friend, had something free to offer, and were—indeed—the people sent to greet us by Apple Vacations (the tour company through which we booked our vacation). They were everywhere, dogging everyone. Madness!
We had been duly warned in our travel documents from Apple that we might encounter some fairly aggressive sales folk. “Politely say ‘no’ and move on,” we were told. Nearly through the first wave of brochure-waving sales people, we thought we might be in the clear: no scratches, no bumps, no sales.
“You’re traveling through Apple Vacations?” inquired a gentleman looking at his clip board. How ever did he know? Cool. Was he sent to escort us to the chariot… er…van? I nodded, skeptical. He didn’t actually look like he was from Apple (they wear garish flowered shirts, and this guy was wearing a pressed white dress shirt). He motioned us over to a large counter. “We have to catch our van,” I protested. “That’s alright, we’re sent to greet you…” he began, proceeding to tell us about a lot of great day trips.
He seemed legit, but I was pretty suspicious. The trips looked great, and definitely among the excursions I’d been considering. OK, so maybe he wasn’t from Apple, but he seemed okay anyway. But then came the big “aha” moment.
“Now these are all great trips, but they are quite expensive,” he began again, warming up. “You can have them all for free!” Got it. Time share dude.
“Thanks for the information, sir. We have to catch our van,” I said starting to walk away and towards the guy in the garish shirt I saw way off in the distance. Time Share Dude followed in hot pursuit trying desperately (and futiley) to snag my husband. We moved faster, nearly running over another guy with a clip board. “Excuse me,” he said calmly.
“Look, we have a van to …” Now I was ready. I turned, ready to do battle. But then I noticed the shirt. Garish never looked so good. “Mrs. Barnett?” I nodded.
“Your van awaits. Welcome to Puerto Vallarta.”
The story continues as I invite you to experience our holiday in the sun as it unfolds. Next installment: “Paradise Found” Now if I can only unwind enough to enjoy it!