Saturday, January 24, 2009

The spa that wasn't there: Part 1

A few years ago my dearest friend's husband (Jack) wanted to do something nice for his wife for her birthday in May. My dear friend (let's call her Juanita) asked if he would splurge for us to go to a spa retreat for a long weekend. I am thinking of that time because I am currently house/dog sitting for her. There's a picture of us from that trip on the computer desk that I keep looking at and smiling.

Her generous husband obliged and soon Juanita and I were off to Guadalajara, Mexico for three days of massages, good food, and margaritas by the pool. The spa boasted about the "natural spring waters" and healing energy that dwelled there.

Or so we were led to believe by the brochure.

After we landed in Mexico and cleared customs, we got on a tour-style bus (very nice) with a group of 38 other women. The pavement disappeared and the bus started climbing higher and higher on a steep dirt road-- very slowly and bumpily.

Juanita and I kept our humor and joked about how much we would laugh looking back on this part of the trek with yummy cocktails while getting our feet done.

After seeing no signs of civilization for almost two hours, the bus pulled into a modest looking area with several low roofed buildings. We checked in at a place called the "Main Office," and got keys for our room. We also noticed a sign that said, in English, "This is a woman's only retreat." We shrugged. We weren't looking for guys. We wanted to drink tequila, eat authentic Mexican food, and get dressed up to go out dancing.

It turned out our room was the very last in a very long row in the brush at the back of the retreat (the location is important for later). It was spartan and clean with an old tile floor, twin beds and a wood burning fireplace.

I wanted a quick shower, but was quickly faced by a scorpion in the drain.

In my nekkidness, I screamed bloody murder (as I have a mortal fear of arachnids in general). Juanita rushed into the bathroom to find me standing on our toilet seat (no lid) with nothing on but a tiny wash cloth to cover me. (If you knew what I looked like this would be funnier. I'm just shy of 5'7" and the washcloth was all of 2" x 2".) Juanita bravely turned the shower on and luckily, the thing rinsed down the drain.

I didn't complain, tho'. Jack was very thoughtful for getting us there.

We decided to go check out the mess hall as it was time for lunch. The fact that they called it a mess hall should have been a red flag. The food was vegan, and I'm not talking gourmet vegan, either. I've had gourmet vegan.

This was paste with fresh parsley on top.

No alcohol. Not even ice.

Lime-aid to drink and peanuts in the shell for dessert.

Again, neither one of us said anything.

Keeping our chins up and quietly determined to have fun, we decided to go for a swim. We headed down what we came to affectionately call "The Goat Path" a dirt and mostly rock trail that snaked down the side of a steep cliff. As we got to the pool a water aerobics class was being conducted. We decided to check out the other "splash" pools. Mistake. Big Mistake.

They turned out the be cement walled cess pools, with rusty pipes and awful painted art deco fish and mermaids mocking us from every imaginable place.

"Let's go back to the pool" Juanita said cheerfully. I smiled back and did an Oscar worthy performance of enthusiasm.

We both got into the water, as far away from the class as possible.

The water was as warm as a bath, you know, one you would normally expect to have bubbles in it? It was the middle of May. In Mexico. In the middle of the desert.

And the pool was crawling with Sea Monkeys. I. am. not. kidding.

The spa didn't use chlorine because they wanted to "maintain the natural healing properties of the water". Therefore, we were swimming in a mosquito breeding pool.

We got out quickly and returned to our room. Juanita said, "Jess, I am so sorry this sucks so bad."

What could I say? "No, it doesn't Juanita. Dinner will be better, we'll go book some spa services and that will make you feel better."

After we were both showered (my third of the day) and dressed we went to the main office (no phones in the rooms) and booked massages and mud baths and facials and manicures and pedicures. It was going to be a delightful trip. Despite no liquor, no chlorine in the pool, and the scorpion in our bathroom, we were going to have fun, dammit!

Sadly, dinner was much worse than lunch. There were some games we could check out. We took Scrabble and headed back to our room. We played in silence. A few tiles were missing. Some replacements had been fashioned out of toilet paper with the letter scrawled in ink on it. I noticed a couple of long bugs skittering across the floor (they looked like earwigs).

I slept little that night.

As we awoke Juanita said, "I'm sorry, Jess." She burst into tears.

"Juanita, it's great. I'm having a good time. Aren't you having a good time?"

Juanita looked at me and stopped crying. "Jess, what's that on your face?"

My hand instinctively went to an itch on my right check. It felt like a bite. I went to the bathroom, and indeed there was a welt.


She paused.

"Jess, these three days cost him TWO THOUSAND dollars!"

I was stunned. I didn't know what to say. After all, Jack had paid for both of us. "It's not that baaaad," I said half-heartedly.

"Jess, come on!" Juanita began. "The food is disgusting, our room is a insect breeding ground, there's larva in the pool, AND THERE'S NO LIQUOR!"

"Okay," I said, "you're right." I hesitated before I said the next sentence. "I've been thinking the plane crashed and we are in Hell."

We both laughed so hard we cried.

We chatted a bit before going to breakfast (we were both ravenous) and were commenting on how many other women we kept overhearing that were saying "I LOVE this place," or "This is my tenth year coming here. I lose ten pounds every time," or "I love how simple everything is."

Huh? Juanita and I stared in disbelief as we sat down to eat beans, undercooked rice and bananas for breakfast.

Two women I recognized from the bus came over.

"May we sit here?" one asked.

"Sure" we said.

They introduced themselves as Mary and Sarah from a little town in Indiana.

It was silent as we all looked to our plates.

Mary was the first to say, "This is disgusting," pushing her plate away. "I'm not going to eat it."

"Me either," Sarah said. "I came here because I'm vegan and I wouldn't give this food to my dog."

Juanita and I gave each other a look.

She said "Should we tell them our theory?"

I nodded.

"We think the plane crashed and this is Hell."

They both burst out laughing.

"What is up with all of these women talking about how great this place is?" Mary said.

"No alcohol" Juanita offered.

"Bugs" I said simply, pointing to the growing welt on my cheek.

"That's it," Sarah said. "They offer a shopping trip to Tlaquepaque (pronounced: til-ak-i-pak-i) and we're going to buy some booze."

After "breakfast" Juanita and I fairly sprinted to get to the main office. The trip to Tlaquepaque was booked for that day, but we got on the list for the next day. The bus left at 8 AM.

The first place we went was to a bar (at 9 AM). We ordered two Coronas and a bottle of wine.

To be continued...

Tomorrow I will post more of this story, if you ever return to my blog after reading this.


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