Hola! We are indeed coming to you from a Spanish-speaking country. First, though, I want to tell you why I almost didn't come down here.
I got invited to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to check out the brand new Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Holistic Retreat & Spa (from now on I'll just call it Pacifica) for a few days. I was excited to go until the day before - right after a horrible softball game. I hadn't played softball (one of my favorite games) in a long time, so when I was asked to join a team a month ago I jumped at the chance. The first two games I played really well (7 for 7 with 4 home runs). Unfortunately that streak came to a screeching halt. Not only could I not hit, but I got really banged up. First, while playing 3rd base a monster dude hit a screaming grounder that took a bad hop over my glove and smacked me on my bare thumb. Ouch! It went numb instantly, and bled all around my nail. I came out of the game, sat on the bench and watched it turned black and blue.
Despite the pain, stupid me still wanted to play. When I was asked a couple of innings later to sub for the left fielder, I said sure. The very first batter hit a shallow popup that cried out for a perfect dive to make an amazing catch. I tried -- but not only did I not come up with the ball, but when I landed I thought for sure I had broken my wrist, pinky and a couple of ribs. Luckily they were just sprained, but I did pull my groin. I had never done that before, and it hurt more than my throbbing thumb (which I didn't think was possible). Driving home I just hoped I didn't get pulled over. I had ice everywhere -- including a bag of the cold stuff right between my legs.
The next morning I was even in more pain. I thought seriously about canceling my trip, because I didn't want to walk around Mexico like Igor from Young Frankenstein. But I figured I would suck it up for two reasons: the x-rays were negative, and Cabo is just a 2-hour flight from home. I'm glad I did, because it was a great trip -- and it all started with LAX's international terminal not being chaotic. Check-in was quick, and there was no security line. Flying 913 miles down the coast on Mexicana was very pleasant, and the flight was on time. The plane (a new A320) was half empty so I had a whole coach row to myself. They even served a decent ham and cheese sandwich, along with tasty peanuts. Other flight times to Cabo from the U.S. include: Chicago 4:30, Dallas 3, Denver 3, Phoenix: 2.
AIRPORT TO THE HOTEL
As I walked -- I mean, hobbled -- down the stairs on my way to customs/baggage claim I met one of the other three journalists on the trip. Terena was really nice, as was her mom. (How lucky was she to bring her mother along?) Outside baggage claim we met the hotel van driver, named Ronaldo. When we jumped in the van he handed us cold scented towels and small bottles of Fiji water, which they do for all guests. I knew right then that the hotel would fit my style. The 30-mile drive to the resort took 50 minutes on a single-lane highway. We passed through downtown Cabo, which is 40 minutes from the airport. FYI: If you want the same ground transportation from the airport, Pueblo Bonito Pacifica charges $17 US per person each way. Just click the transportation link on their website.
Before I talk about the resort, let me give you some background on Los Cabos. The name means "the capes," and the area is made up of two towns, Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo. They are located at the bottom of the Baja California Peninsula, where the Pacific Ocean meets the warm waters of the Sea of Cortes. This used to be a rustic and rowdy small town, but in the past several years it has been transformed into Mexico's most elite resort destination. Now people come here to play golf on championship courses, go world-class deep sea fishing, party like a rock star in the nightclubs, or relax and enjoy spa treatments at the plush resorts.
SOME OTHER IMPORTANT INFO ON CABO
Cabo is on Mountain Time, so it's an hour ahead of Los Angeles and two hours behind New York. At most area resorts and upscale restaurants the water is purified, so it's safe to drink. Almost everyone here speaks English, and the U.S. dollar is widely accepted (though some places give change in pesos-- $1 USD = 11 pesos). The temperature this time of year is ideal, but June to October is the hot hurricane season. Cabo is in the desert, nights can get quite chilly. You should bring a sweater in winter. Before leaving for Cabo (or anywhere else, for that matter), it's a good idea to check out the 10-day forecast on weather.com. If you want to avoid crowds, stay away during U.S. holidays and spring break. A bit of caution: Many areas of open water (including in front of Pueblo Bonito Pacifica) are not safe for swimming, due to the strong undertow. Always ask before plunging in.
PUEBLO BONITO PACIFICA HOLISTIC RETREAT & SPA
Pueblo Bonito operates four resorts in Cabo: Los Cabo, Rose, Pacifica and Sunset. Pacifica and Sunset are near each other, and share the same impressive long road: a high coastal drive that is paved and beautifully landscaped. The Pacifica has 154 guest accommodations including 11 suites. It is for adults only (18 and over), so you won't hear any screaming kids.
The lobby sets the mood. It's very open, bright and clean. There is water everywhere the eye can see, from indoor fountains and flowing streams to the sparkling sea that is very visible through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Soft soothing music plays, candles burn, incense drifts, and you gaze at four mosaic artwork insets on each wall that represent the four seasons. It makes guests want to stop, relax, and take a long deep breath. On top of that the staff are very friendly and accommodating.
I was fortunate to score one of the 11 suites. The only negative thing about them is that they are a long walk from the lobby. Most people won't care, because they don't go back and forth to the lobby to use the internet, nor will most guests have pulled groins. (The resort plans to offer free internet in rooms, but it had not yet been hooked up.)
LOBBY TO ROOM
The view on the walk to my room - as well as to the pool and ocean -- was incredible. The natural landscaping was gorgeous to begin with, but the hotel's architecture, design, soft colors and pristine grounds (including a cactus garden) made it extra special. Everything just seemed to flow, including the transparent wall protecting the property from the sometimes-strong winds. All five feng shui elements were represented: wood, earth, metal, fire and a Koi pond (for good luck). The deserted private sandy beach that went on for miles looked like a post card. I am sure that to anyone looking from the other side toward the resort, we looked like an oasis in the desert. That pretty much describes this place.
My suite was squeaky clean, modern and quite large. Each of my two rooms came with a desk and on-demand TV. The bedroom featured a comfortable king-size feather-top bed - with my name written out in seashells as a special welcome. The wooden headboard's soft built-in onyx lights set a calm mood. My bed was decked with an assortment of pillows. Both rooms had plenty of closet space, and the marble and tile floors featured amazing art made out of soft round stones. Both rooms were connected to one large, stylish bathroom. Inside was a private toilet (I love that!), and a separate tub and shower with plenty of Bulgari Bath & Body products that the maid always made sure to restock. The first day I was there hot water was a problem, but they quickly fixed it. The best part of the room were the two balconies with sturdy native wood furniture, overlooking the infinity pool and the Pacific.
After I unpacked I met our host, Season Skuro from (Novom Marketing), in the lobby. We moseyed down to the wine bar to meet the others for drinks and sushi (sushi in Mexico: That's something you don't see every day -- or want to, but it was supposedly really good). The other two cool journalists were Justine Amodeo from Coast Magazine, and Mark Hiss from Where Magazine. We also met the hotel's general manager, Dr. Alejandro Santander (yes, he was once a practicing physician). He was very nice and fit (he made me feel out of shape). He told us the hotel had opened just five days earlier, so a lot of work remained to be done. He asked us to please excuse the construction (more on that in a moment).
We went to the resort's main restaurant, Siempre, for dinner. That was our first of two meals at Siempre. All the food at the hotel is organic, and really good. I loved the fresh watermelon juice for breakfast (they will make any kind of fresh fruit drink you want). The chef came out to tell us (through an interpreter) that they offer a wellness-oriented spa menu, as well as a "splurge" menu to satisfy guests like me who crave sweets. His best line was: "The main ingredient we use is love." The hotel also offers 24-hour room service.
The construction really didn't bother me. For one thing, with my patio doors closed I couldn't hear a thing. Also, I thought it was pretty cool to be the first guests at a property. Something about being the first to sleep in a bed or sit on a toilet made me feel privileged. There were not many guests: 17 or so rooms were occupied the first week. I spoke to most of them, and they had mixed feelings. All agreed the place will be amazing when it's completely done (probably 1-2 months). But they were not happy they had to hear the banging and smell paint. I can't blame them. The good news is that the hotel is offering a special introductory rate of $195 through October. In addition, guests can use the facilities at the sister property (Sunset Beach) next door via a free half-mile, 7- minute shuttle ride. Next week, I'll tell you about Sunset.
Pacifica's spa, Armonia, is just being completed. It will include an exercise studio with state-of-the-art equipment, plus luxurious men's (with black tiles and accents) and women's (pristine in soft whites) spa facilities, six treatment rooms, a VIP couples' treatment chamber, indoor Jacuzzi, steam, sauna, cold plunge, and on-site certified therapists. On arrival, guests will meet with a wellness specialist who will plan their treatment path (relaxation, wellness or fitness). Wet and fitness area access costs Pueblo Bonito guests $15 per day; guest at other hotels pay $30.
Armonia offers practically every massage possible: desert stone (90 minutes, $170), Swedish (50 minutes, $100), sports (80 minutes, $140), shiatsu (50 minutes, $100), four hand (50 minutes $170), couples (80 minutes $280.00), pregnancy (50 minutes $100.00), reiki (50 minutes $100.00), abhyanga (50 minutes $100.00), shirodhara (50 minutes $100.00), Thai (80 minutes $140.00), reflexology (30 minutes $70.00) and Watsu (60 minutes $130.00). They also offer many kinds of body wraps, scrubs and facials. However, the spa was not open yet, so I went next door for a hot desert stone.
SUNSET BEACH MASSAGE
When I walked into the Sunset Beach Spa for my massage, the staff asked me to make check marks on a body diagram, designating places where I was hurting. I didn't want it to look like someone who had been shot by a machine gun, so I marked only my four sorest spots. Of course I included my groin, because that hurt the worst. What a mistake! You should have seen the masseuse's face when she looked at the chart. She turned bright red, and as soon as I realized what she was thinking, I did too. With a smile she shook her finger "no" at me, and I did the same back to her. It's sometimes difficult communicating in a foreign country, and it only got worse when I pointed between my legs and said I pulled my groin. She didn't understand the word. Luckily, just before she called security and I was going to run for the border (naked), I explained I didn't want her to rub you know who -- just my back.
DESERT STONE MASSAGE
All of that pre-massage tension was rubbed away during my 90-minute session. It began with a choice of four types of tranquilizing music. When it was over I was so relaxed I had not only drooled everywhere, but I didn't even realize she had put so many hot stones on my naked body (I had her take a picture). She missed only one place, but I'm not going to get into that again. Afterwards, I used the plush yet empty spa facilities (sauna, steam, Jacuzzi ...) and walked around in my robe, kicking back and drinking all the refreshing cold drinks they offered. My favorite was the ice water with lemon and cucumber. Spa at Sunset Beach, therapeutic desert stone massage, 90 minutes, $170 USD; tel.: 52-624-142-9999.
Another rare and unusual treatment that Pacifica offers is temascal. The word is Aztec, and comes from teme (to bathe) and calli (house). It originated over 1,200 years ago, by the Mayans. Temascal is also known as a sweat house, because that's what people do in there. It's a healing and spiritual ritual in which a shaman uses high heat and various medicinal plants to obtain a state of meditation and chemical decontamination of the body. We were the first guests to try the temascal at Pacifica. We were all pretty excited, yet at the same time reluctant. Being in a small, dark, hot place not knowing what to expect is a bit uncomfortable. But our shaman -- an ex-business tycoon who realized he no longer found happiness acquiring great wealth, and decided to practice natural medicine after seeing the results after his wife had fallen from a 6-story building --was amazing.
He began by praying over bodies, using incense called copal. Then we crouched into the earth oven. It is heated first with hot rocks from a fire outside; then they are brought in. At the top of the roof is a little crack, through which smoke escapes. The temperature is supposed to reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. However, ours did not get that hot because the hotel uses a natural gas fireplace to heat the rocks, not the mesquite wood that the shaman said makes it hotter. (He was a little upset about that, and plans to fix it). The hour-and-a-half temascal treatment is supposed to draw all of the negative energy of a person's body, and cure many ailments. Once they're inside people usually get naked (it's dark, so no one can see). However, we kept our bathing suits on (probably because no one wanted to see me nude).
The acoustics were amazing. When a colleague across the fire from me whispered to the shaman, it seemed he was an inch from my ear. The shaman spoke quietly, and all I remember him saying is that women are more superior (and emotional) to men because males are stuck in a sexual rational state of mind. He went into great detail, but I don't recall details (and it was too dark and wet to take notes). The key to escaping the high heat is lying close to the floor. Every now and then the shaman would give us different plants, like aloe, rosemary and basil, to rub all over our bodies. He also flogged us with branches of Yerba Buena (a kind of mint), either to release all our negative energy or to release his own (just kidding on the latter).
As soon as we walked out of the oven we took a quick outdoor shower. Then we were wrapped up in sheets and covered with blankets. As we lay on the ground to relax, we felt the cool ocean breeze. The Shaman tucked us up, and encouraged us to drink ice tea or water and eat fresh fruit when we got up a few minutes later. Believe it or not, my aching parts -- including my groin -- felt so much better! The ceremony costs $130 per person, and is usually performed in the morning or evening. It is not recommended for people with cardiac, hypertension, claustrophobia or diabetic conditions.
To see a quick video I made of the temascal click here for the larger, clearer and slow-to-download version), or here for the quick download, fuzzy one.
VIDEO OF PUEBLO BONITO PACIFICA HOLISTIC RESORT & SPA
To give you a better feel for the Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Holistic Retreat & Spa I made a quick video. You have another choice: the larger and clearer version or the smaller and faster to download version.
Next week we have more videos, and finish our trip to the Baja Peninsula. Adios amigos!