Jose greets us with a smile after we’ve gone through the Immigration and Customs routine in the airport. We’re headed for a taxi to our hotel when he says, “Hola, amigos!” and offers to reimburse the cab cost and give us a free brunch if we’ll visit his resort. Jose has that friendly Mexican charm, the authentic kind, and we say sure, why not. Then he tells us he needs $10 to reserve our table.
In times past, we’d have said no thanks and shrugged it off as another scam, an easy way to lose ten dollars. But now, after a great many travels, we’ve grown more trusting. You might think it would be the opposite because there are lots of scammers in the world, but we have learned that most people aren’t out to cheat us. And experience has taught us to trust our instincts. So John gives Jose a ten-dollar bill and he hands us a piece of paper and says he’ll pick us up on Tuesday morning. Adios, Jose. We’ll see what Tuesday brings.
Zihuatanejo, on Mexico’s west coast, was once a sleepy fishing village and now is a sizable town that caters to tourists but retains its own character and busy life. Fishermen still bring the catch of the day to the beach for their customers to inspect. We’re staying above a beach south of town, Playa la Madera, in a pleasant room with a kitchen on the terrace and a partial view of Zihuatanejo Bay. We’ve left the cold gray drizzle for a sunny beach and fresh papayas every morning. Perfection.
It’s Tuesday. John and I go down to the road and see no sign of Jose. But I know he’ll be there, and sure enough, a few minutes later he rolls up in a white van and drives us to the far arm of the bay, where a new resort sits against a high hill. Jose’s English is better than many Americans’–he lived in the U.S. for awhile, he says. In the resort’s restaurant we’re seated with another affable guy who tells us of the wonders of the place and then says, “Let’s go for the important stuff. The buffet.” So we eat an excellent breakfast as we gaze over the lovely bay, sparkling in the sun, dotted with sailboats.
We knew this jaunt would come with a tour and a sales pitch; that’s always part of a time-share promo. No problemo. I’m a travel writer and always interested in seeing what’s new. The rooms are well-designed, the architecture striking, the views outstanding. The place is only partially finished, but it’s beautiful. They’ll make us a great deal if we buy a week a year for 30 years (not that I’ll be around in 30 years, but they’ll negotiate). No? How about an even better deal, one we couldn’t possibly pass up?
The one thing the genuinely nice salesman can’t understand is that it’s not about the money. Sorry, it’s just not our style, we say, thinking of our little place where laundry hangs on the roof across the street and the Virgin of Guadalupe stands in a niche surrounded by Christmas lights. Beer bottles and plastic flowers are close by a riot of red and white bougainvillea cascading over a wall, and the dusty shop on the corner sells neatly wrapped garlic heads for 80 cents apiece. And we’re a 3-minute walk from the beach. No contest.
Unfailingly polite, they give us back our $10, plus the $36 we paid for the taxi from the airport, thank us for coming and wish us well. They are puzzled though: why don’t these crazy Americans want luxury like this at a good price? Isn’t it always about money? We don’t see Jose again. Maybe we’ll pass him in the airport and say “hola.”