This was our fourth trip in three years. Our last trip was also in August, back in 2002, and I urge anybody who hasn't already done so to go read my report from that trip as a prelude to this year's report. We visit this particular week because it is the first week of low season. Low season means less crowds, which is a good thing. For the record, we're dad S, mom M, and six year old son J.
As in the past, we booked our trip through Alaska Airlines Vacations. The final price wasn't much different than last year, however timing the booking turned out to be important as the vacation price reflects current air costs. In April, the vacation package was quoted almost $500 higher then what we ultimately paid. What was different than last year was the flight schedule. This year we had an earlier departure time out of San Diego and a later arrival time as well.
Checking in at the American Eagle counter in San Diego at 5:15 am, we find the biggest difference to be the new CTX 9000 bomb scanner sitting in the front lobby. You know the CTX 9000; it's the multi million dollar machine that confuses peanut butter or cheese for plastic explosives. Anyway, the check-in process is different now in that once you're finished and have your tickets, you carry your checked-in luggage to the machine, where you leave it for scanning. We do that and then proceed to security where we are quickly cleared. No bag searches, no shoe removal, no questions asked. Our commuter flight to LAX leaves on time and is uneventful. As we fly up the coast we can see the peaks of San Gorgonio and San Jacinto rising well above the cloud cover obscuring most of Southern California. Another change from our trip last year is that they no longer have drink service on the short flight. I never did understand why they felt the need to serve drinks to less than 30 people on a flight that lasts less than 30 minutes. Common sense must have prevailed. Anyway, it's always fun to fly into the most congested airspace in the world essentially blind thanks to the clouds.
Leaving San Diego so early means that we have several hours to wait until our flight to Zih but it's no biggie. We settle down into a mostly empty terminal, have a bite to eat from the nearby Burger King, and play, read books, and chat with others waiting for the same flight. J takes no time in finding a pretty little girl to play with while I officially start my vacation read-a-thon with The Cabinet of Curiosities by Preston and Childs.
As we board the plane it becomes obvious that it is only half full. As expected, once everybody is on, people begin changing seats. A minor problem occurs directly in front of me as some guy dressed in a white undershirt and reeking of booze starts arguing with a gentleman seated in that row. T-shirt guy, or as M would refer to him, The Con Man, insists on sitting at the window. But the gentleman already seated in the row wants to use all three seats to lie down and ease the pain of his back. Having a bad back, I can relate. When the Con Man starts to raise his voice to the point of being obnoxious, I quickly point out that the window seat in my row is empty and he is welcome to have it. The crisis is averted although I have to spend much of the trip listening to this guy brag about flying down every two months (doubtful), owning a house in Troncones (maybe) and having a girlfriend in Zih who is buying property above Las Gatas worth a quarter of a million dollars (whatever). Luckily he has yet another drink with lunch and falls asleep. Lunch, by the way, is the same chicken and roasted red pepper pasta salad as all previous trips.
We arrive in Zih on time and walk down the steps to the tarmac soaking in the heat and humidity with smiles on our faces. It is hot, but not oppressively so, and a smattering of clouds helps shield us from direct sunlight. For me, it could be 120 degrees and 90 percent humidity and I'd still be happy. Even though Customs is quick and efficient, we are able to chat with the gentleman with the bad back and his wife about places to eat and things to do as we wait in line. They thank us for saving them from the Con Man. No problemas. We retrieve our luggage, pass immigration with a green light, and grab a taxi to the hotel. The local vegetation is green and lush. Our driver is the slowest we've ever had which gives us plenty of opportunity to enjoy the scenery.
Felipe the bellman greets us at the steps of the Dorado Pacifico Hotel. Recognizing us from our previous visits, he extends his hand and simply says, “Welcome home.” It is a perfect hello for us because it does feel like we're returning to our second home as we enter the lobby and walk towards the front desk. Edgar has already left for the day but we'll see him later. I ask for and am given a suite on the “15” side and we are riding the elevator up to floor 11 within minutes, with Ruben the bellman not far behind. Upon entering the room, M remarks how nice it was that they had left a wooden boat full of fruit on the table for us. Well, not exactly. The note on the fruit congratulates us for our “Wetting Anniversary” and has our name as “Smith”. Hmmm, looks like this room is already spoken for. Ruben gets on the phone, is told to take the fruit to another room, and that is that. A half hour later and we are at the pool. But not before we place a quick call on the cel phone to my parents back home to let them know we had arrived safely.
Readers of my report from last year may remember that the last couple of days of that trip were spent watching the pool being renovated. This year, the pool is in fine shape with new tile work and paint evident. The sky is clear, the pool is uncrowded, and all is good. Of course, while J and M head straight for the water slides, I go for the bar, where I say hello to Jorge, Jorge Luis, and all of the rest of the wonderful staff. I'm greeted warmly and served a well-poured Cuba Libre that goes down in one long wonderful drink. Otro mas por favor y uno para mi esposa. It's 7 pm before we leave the pool to go to dinner. Walking back to the room I notice my pace has already slackened and the tension in my shoulders is gone.
Before we eat, however, we first go see Juany at the lounge. Hugs and smiles get traded around as we catch up on the year's absence. As pretty as ever, and still questioning why we only have one child, Juany has captured our hearts. As usual, she brings a glass full of cherries for J along with our drinks and hovers over him like a doting mother. Happy hour has taken on an entirely new meaning in the lobby bar of the Dorado Pacifico.
Staying with tradition, we start off the week's dining at Lobster House, where the pescado al mojo de ajo is fresh and tasty. A couple of cold beers go down nicely as we relax at the table on the second floor and look out towards the hotel and the deepening blue sky of evening. Before we return to the room we cross through the pool area and walk north along the beach, finding what have to be the largest Sand Dabs I've ever seen digging their way into the sand. We're used to finding ones less than an inch in length, but these are three and four inches each. One covers my entire palm, and when placed back in the surf, it frantically scurries about trying to escape the sea birds running up and down the shore. Here and there are a few people walking like us or just sitting above the tide enjoying the booming surf. It's nearly midnight before we settle in for a night's sleep. With the air conditioning off and the patio doors open to the warm salt air, sleep comes fast our first night.
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