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Sunday, 12 January 2014

Club Med

My Club Med card.

In the 1990s I spent 4 different winter vacations at Club Meds in Mexico. I was at Playa Blanca twice and Cancun and Ixtapa once each. I was about 46 years old and married when we visited Ixtapa and in my early 50s and single when I went to the other Club Med resorts.
Club Meds first came into being in Europe in the early 1950s. Some French guy came up with the idea. The resorts kind of morphed over the years and expanded to the Western Hemisphere. Those French guys really found the most glorious spots in Mexico to build their clubs. 9/11 kind of killed off a lot of their business and a number of Club Meds closed their doors for good over the past decade including the one in Playa Blanca.
I look back now at the times I spent at Club Meds as a single “older guy” in a bit of a haze. Everything seemed to have happened so fast, lots of vivid colours, lots of noise. A week in the sun with strangers then back to the Vancouver rainy winter.
I don’t have any photos of those trips as I was using a video camera to capture the moments. Maybe it is just as well. You don’t need to really see a drunk guy in a polka dot ball cap.
So here’s a toast to all those guys I stood at the bar with years ago pretending we were interested in each other’s stories when we really were using one another so that we didn’t appear to be alone and desperate. We might as well of been bookies in the way we figured out our odds of getting lucky.
My first wife came up with the idea of going to Club Med, Ixtapa. It was one of those kind of “save the marriage” type of things. We were leading a fairly fast paced life. I was running a relatively new business I had started and my ex was working in outside sales for a tile company. We had 4 year old twins at home, a boy and a girl, who were taken care of by a nanny during the daytime. There was also pre-school and our kids were starting to get involved in activities. Our daughter had just started ballet classes. We were primed for a vacation in the tropics.
At the time I had only been to Mexico once before, about 12 years earlier. We went over the brochures about the club on the flight down to Mexico from Vancouver, BC. It was suggested that we pick one special activity to concentrate on for our week long holiday. My ex chose the trapeze for some reason. She looked at bit frightened at times way up at the top of a pole. I can’t remember exactly what she accomplished high over the net. I don’t think it was a triple summersault.
I chose tennis to concentrate on. I had played tennis off and on over the previous years and would later join a tennis club in Richmond, BC. Tennis, to me at least, isn’t like riding a bike. It takes a while to get the feeling for the game back if you have been away from it for a while.
The tennis pro at the club was from all places, Alaska. He was in his thirties and had done hitches at other clubs. There was a rumour at the time that he had an alcohol problem. He would also have a smoke when he thought nobody was looking.
Tennis lessons started at about 9:00 a.m. By 10:00 a.m. it was blistering hot. The class was made up of mixture of ages from teenagers to middle agers who were mostly women. Towards the end of the week there was a tournament and I was matched up with a 14 year old boy. The score was pretty close and I was leading the first set. The heat was becoming unbearable for me. The court had no protection from the sun at all. In between volleys I tried to hide in the meager shadows of some overhead leaves of a tree. Finally I walked across the court and shook hands with the 14 year old lad and quit. Spending time in a Mexican hospital with heat stroke just didn’t seem very appealing.
Anyone who has ever been to a Club Med or has seen the old TV advertisements is familiar with the “Hands Up” song. It is kind of addictive. Every night the club staff would put on an outdoor show and the finale was always almost every guest dancing to fast moving songs including the “Hands Up” one. The more experienced would clasp their hands together and pump those hands over their hearts like it was beating wildly.
The Chef de Club at Club Meds seemed to usually be some guy in his 30s who might look a bit like Jean Paul Belmondo, perhaps a little on the swarthy side with some mid- eastern background (Algeria?) They were always from France. The Chef de Club always had some underlings who kind of promoted the idea that he was the king and deserved respect. You might have thought he built the resort by himself with his bare hands? His main job seems to have been greeting guests at dinner.
The staff at Club Meds (GOs) came from all over the world including Canada. The pay for a 6 day work week was something like 600 bucks a month. Not a lot of money but the memories later in life would be priceless. Unlike other resorts the staff could mingle with the guests.
Club Med Ixtapa also had a Mini Club where you could dump your young kids for the day if you had brought them with you. My ex and I thought it would be a great idea to bring our kids to the club when they got older but that never happened.
A middle aged single woman who worked as a sales clerk at Woodward’s Department Store in Vancouver somehow latched onto my ex and we had a hard time avoiding her. She was kind of relentless and I recall her finding us at a secluded area under some palm trees. We hung out a bit with a French Canadian couple who both worked for one of the airlines. My ex had been a stewardess at one time for Ward Air so they had things in common. We split a taxi into town one day.
The food was great and the beach had nice white sand. I hadn’t sailed in about 30 years and I took my ex out on a laser.  I was kind of proud of myself that I landed the boat on the beach with the rudder up.
As the week wore on I became less and less enthusiastic about watching the nightly amateur entertainment put on by the staff. My ex, on the other hand, was really into it. I found that most of my interest was in those young gal’s bums up on the stage packed into their leotards.
We flew back to Vancouver and felt we had really enjoyed the break. I didn’t know it at the time but within 2 years our marriage would be over. On the upside I had a renewed interest in sailing and a few years later joined the Locarno Sailing Club in Vancouver.
Playa Blanca First Trip
Playa Blanca
I had been separated from my wife for about 2 years when I decided to visit another Club Med. I don’t know what I expected at the time. I was now 50 years old and single. I did know I wouldn’t be chasing any 20 or 30 year old women. Back then Club Med had something called “The Wild Card”. For a few hundred dollars less you could take your chances on which club you ended up at. I think this deal was rigged because I ended up at Playa Blanca not once but twice.
Playa Blanca is out in the middle of nowhere. I believe it is about 1-1/2 hours south of Puerto Vallarta by bus. There are no cute little touristy towns around. The bus trip was sometimes referred to as “the bus ride from hell.” The bus driver would careen around blind corners of rough road that clung to the sides of the hills at high speed. You would often see the huge drop off from the road to the ocean below. The religious ornaments that hung next to the bus driver didn’t instill any confidence in his driving capabilities. It was always a relief to arrive in one piece.
Playa Blanca is a singles club. Supposedly this club could accommodate 600 guests, whatever the number, that’s a lot of people.
Like most other guys who are single and in their fifties I wondered what my chances were of getting laid in the tropics. Not that great,I would find out, unless I was willing to totally have no standards at all. Club Meds are not always what they seem, particularly if you are getting up there in age.
First of all about half the guests or more are men. There are quite a few married people and a lot unmarried couples. There are a number of people over 60 years of age too. The younger gals from 20-35 years of age are out of bounds unless you are a complete letch. And then there are the bow-wows and very overweight gals. I couldn’t get drunk enough to go down that path. You might run into a couple of gals more age appropriate who were travelling together but separating them isn’t an easy task. When all was said and done there would just be a few possibilities and those gals would get to choose the pick of the litter, usually a tall good looking guy with lots of cash in his jeans.
Somehow I found myself spending most of the week hanging out with a group that was from Toronto. I met them when I shared a table with them at dinner the second night. There were four of them, two twin guys in their early 20s who had received the trip as a Christmas present from their family to see if the brothers could bond again, a kind of sloppy guy who told some funny jokes and liked to be close to drunk most of the time, and a corporate head hunter gal who was about my age and quite pretty.
At dinner that night the sloppy drunk guy was coming onto the head hunter gal and she was clearly uncomfortable. The next day I got into a conversation with her by the pool where we were both reading books. My bait that I was using was leaving another book beside my lounge chair on the ground so that anyone who was curious could see the title and maybe think I wasn’t a complete moron. Unlike the sloppy drunk guy I had been working out in the gym back home in Vancouver and was in decent shape. The head hunter and I kind of hit it off and spent a fair amount of time together the rest of the vacation.
Here is the one joke I can still remember that the sloppy drunk guy told….”What is the difference between dog shit and an older woman?....The older they are, the easier they are to pick up.” Rim shot!  Not a joke a lot of woman would find funny but I did. Sue me!
I remember sitting around the pool one day and overhearing three gals from Buffalo, New York talking. Apparently they had been at a party hosted by some rich guy who lived off of the property the night before. At some point during the evening he pulled out his wiener and they described it as a 12” skinny noodle. Ah the lives of the rich and famous!
One afternoon I was asked if I would like to join something called “The Tequila Walk.” Tequila? I had sworn the nasty stuff off years before. The deal was we had had to hike up the side of a mountain to a bar/lounge that overlooked the ocean. Once we arrived we were allowed to drink as much free tequila as we wanted to for 2 hours.
A French Canadian guy with a mullet was leading the pack as we hiked up the hill. I got out in front of him by a fare way just to piss him off. Once we reached our destination we were kind of blown away. The bar had a balcony that looked over the ocean. The sun was just starting to set and the view was spectacular.
The music started and it was mostly Reggae and Latin stuff. Everyone was ready for a party and tequila kicks in pretty fast. It wasn’t long before most everyone was wasted. A limbo pole appeared and some fell flat on their backs trying to get under it. Next up was a conga line. 2 of the 3 gals from Buffalo started dry humping the wooden posts that held up the ceiling. I guess that was their “noodle” of choice.
I had something like a dozen tequila shooters in those 2 hours. I can’t recall ever being that drunk. How I ever made it back to Club Med is beyond me. It was now dinner time. Somehow I had lost my video camera, my passport, and my wallet. Fortunately I got them all back. I propositioned the head hunter from Toronto to no avail. I spent most of the next day in bed, alone.
The only booze Club Med provided back then for free was beer or wine with meals. If you wanted to hang around the bar you needed to buy beads to pay for your drinks. Beads had different colours that indicated their value. For easy access they were worn as a necklace. I went through a lot of beads that week.
Cocktail hour was just before dinner and it often looked like a stag line of mostly men. The bartenders were Mexican locals and not the biggest conversationalists. They sure put up with a lot in their jobs. Being called Pedro when their name wasn’t Pedro just might piss them off a bit.
I remember the last day at the club before the Toronto group went home. I left the next day. Earlier in my life I had spent time working in the resort town of Banff, Alberta. I was familiar with the idea that some women like to have a fling on their last night. No having to face the other party involved the next day and a punctuation point on the vacation. After dinner on the last night, the head hunter told me she had some booze in her room. I knew what she meant but let it pass. I was still hung over from all of the boozing. We settled for jumping into the pool with all our clothes on. Now I was cold and shivering…. and hung over. In the whole scheme of things I probably could have played my cards better and taken a pass on the tequila deal but what the hell.
The flight down to Mexico was delayed and I didn’t make it to the Club Med resort until about 2:00 a.m. There was hardly any of the staff around and I had to carry my luggage to the room. Then I had to wait for one of the staff to turn up with the key. It turned out that I would be sharing the room with a guy who was a member of the R.C.M.P. We did the “where are you from” stuff and I asked him if he was for legalized pot. He also found out that I smoked. He moved out the following morning. Being a smoker guaranteed me a room to myself on the 3 visits I made to Club Meds as a single guy.
On my second night at the club I met a pretty gal at dinner. She wanted to go dancing after dinner so we went to the disco. Later on she suggested we go back to my room. I was kind of bagged from the sun and suggested we get together the next day. This was probably a good decision because I never saw her again at the club. My guess is that she probably walked into the club off the beach to get a free dinner and was going to see how far she could stretch things. She might have stolen my cash or wallet in the room but then again they were in a safe. The clubs have coloured wrist bands to identify guests but long sleeves could hide not having a band.
Club Med had the best location in the Cancun area. I snorkeled a few times and saw some amazing colours on the fish. I also discovered that you can look very dopey trying to walk around on land with long flippers.
I found out that there was a separate dining room for smokers. Everyone in there spoke French so I wasn’t involved in any of the conversations. I made a few attempts to speak French but didn’t get any encouragement. I ended up going back to the regular dining room. I could wait to after dinner to have a smoke.
At the end of the property there was a wharf and the sailing area. I took a laser out about 5 times while I was at the club and went for a ride on a catamaran once. A few hundred yards off shore there was a floating bar that was owned by a private club on the next property which I believe catered to wealthy Mexicans. These folks would go back and forth in groups on jet skis for hours on end. The sound of the jet skis could drive you nuts if you let it.
I took a day trip to the ruins of Tulum. On the way we went to restaurant out in the jungle for lunch. The restaurant had a pool and we went for a swim before eating. I remember our tour guide asking me how old I was. I was about 53. He told me he would like to look as good as I did when he reached my age. I was flattered but he was the wrong sex.
The ruins at Tulum are quite spectacular. They are right beside the turquoise ocean and a white sandy beach. Back then you could climb the steep steps up to the top of the pyramid (you can’t now). You could get seriously hurt if you stumbled on the way up or down. When I was at the top of the pyramid my video camera fell out of my backpack and hit the stone surface. That was the end of my camera. When I got home I tried to get it repaired in Vancouver. After a while I phoned the repair place to see what progress had been made. I was told that it was not fixable and they had tossed it in the garbage. I didn’t even get my film back. What jerks!
I hung out with a divorced banker from Kelowna at the bar a number of times. He was a good looking guy in his early thirties. In the week we were at the club he never came close to getting lucky with some young babe. It may sound shallow but I thought if this dude couldn’t get any action I shouldn’t be disappointed in being in the same boat.
On the flight down to Cancun I met 2 guys from Vancouver who were also going to the same Club Med. They were in their early thirties and claimed to be doctors. One of them had a satchel full of prescription drugs. One of these guys was a bit full of himself. One night at the Club Med disco he jumped off a speaker and broke his leg. Bringing that satchel of prescription drugs might have paid off for him.
If you have read this far you may have thought to yourself that I might have been a bit of a drunk back in the day. In the 14 years I was married I was only drunk once. I’m kind of lucky when it comes to alcohol. I can take it or leave it. There was no way I was ever going to lose my driver’s license for drunk driving.
For the first 10 years after I split up with my ex I would get drunk about twice a year, always at some place where I could walk home from. Club Meds account for a number of those times. As it stands I haven’t been drunk in about 15 years now but I still like the occasional cocktail.
Playa Blanca Second Trip
This was to be my 4th and last trip to a Club Med. I took my chances with the “wild card” thing and sure enough ended up back at Playa Blanca. One of the things I found amusing at Club Meds were people who had an attitude and tried very hard to portray themselves as big shots back home. One guy from the Silicon Valley in California once told me I would be out of business within a year if I didn’t have a website. That never happened. I don’t think I ever thanked him for his concern. A 1200 dollar all-inclusive vacation isn’t exactly the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
I struck up a conversation at the airport with a gal in her late forties who was also about to share the long bus ride to Playa Blanca. We both smoked so we had that in common. Throughout the following week we would have little chats now and then. I never made a move on her because I just wasn’t interested. She kind of became the mother hen to 3 younger gals from British Columbia. I found out from her that one of the younger gals had an ambition of hooking up with a blonde beach boy type. I guess she was oblivious to the reality. She was quite overweight and had hair on her arms she could comb. I don’t know if she ever ran into bald, overweight, drunk, and desperate.
Being back at Playa Blanca was one of those déjà vu kind of things. It was very weird. Once again there was very little in the way of decent looking single women in my age range. I hung out a bit at the bar with a real estate agent from Port Moodie, BC. The guy was about 50 and looked like a strapping mercenary, the military type. He did the mating dance with gal in her late 40s. One of his “war stories” was about how he was broke and didn’t have a current driver’s licence because of drunk driving.  A real catch.
Each Club Med had its own disco joint and a DJ. For some strange reason Mexican DJs at all resorts think Gringos just can’t get enough of the trance-like music called “Techno”. "What Is Love" by Haddaway was a favourite. “Baby don’t hurt me?” No! Hurt me so I can be put out of this misery. You would be hard put to find anything more fake and unreal as a Mexican disco.
At all the Club Meds there always seemed to be someone walking around with crutches or with their arm in a sling. Usually these folks were in this state because of accident from being drunk on one of the previous nights. Head bandages were usually the result of trying to negotiate the stairs back to their rooms while being wasted.
I remember one older gal, about 65, who took part in every activity possible. She was maxing on the value at the resort to the extent the bus back to the airport had to wait for her. One day they had a sailing race that I took part in. My laser got tied up in some ropes and it took me some time to get under way. The old broad cleaned everyone’s clocks.
There was no “tequila walk” on my second visit to Playa Blanca. The bar up the hill had closed down a few years before. Just as well for me. Tequila would never be on my radar again in my life.
I had a beer at the airport with the mother hen gal I had chatted with a number of times at the club before we caught our plane. She said something about using birth control for no reason because she never had any action. I thought to myself that I was glad I hadn’t been “the one”.
I don’t miss being single and in my fifties a bit. I do however miss being twenty.
In 2 weeks Linda and I will be heading back to Mexico and one of our favourite spots, Cabo San Jose. We can’t wait!


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