Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Mexico, with a splash of California (the back-up Honeymoon)

Our honeymoon for October 2001 had been planned for months.  We were to fly to Papeete, with a layover in Hawaii, and take a week-long cruise around the Tahitian islands before spending another week in an over-water bungalow.

Then September 11 happened.  (No discussion of those horrid details within, obv the impact on our plans was insignificant in comparison.)

Through a series of subsequent events we were unable to go to Tahiti and were left with very few options if we did indeed still intend to take a honeymoon.  Still in shock and mourning, it was difficult to separate our wedding from what was happening in the world around us.  We werent even sure we wanted to take a honeymoon at that point-both from a personal and a safety perspective.  Our travel agency (American Express) worked with us to provide alternatives for us to consider.  At the time, the government said the only "safe places" to travel were Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and, ironically, the US.  Based on that information and the options available to use we chose a 10-night cruise with Holland America down the western coast of Mexico, shouldered by several days in California.

Our flight to Los Angeles left early the morning after our wedding.  The plane was nearly empty and I slept the entire time.

Upon arrival we rented our convertible (because if not on a honeymoon, when!?) and headed to the first stop in our itinerary: Santa Monica!  We stayed in a corner-room suite at the Santa Monica Loews which had magnificent views of the ocean and the famous (to us!) Santa Monica Pier!  We were barely in our 20s and hadnt done a lot of traveling together plus just being married-sooo many things were new and exciting for us and thinking back now to write this narrative is pure nostalgia!  Like, I remember seeing someone doing tai chi one morning near the beach and that seemed so "California" to us!  I remember how we laughed when we saw how the Calvin Klein bedding in the room was exactly the same as we had on our registry-and somehow we felt we were meant to be there!

That afternoon we drove with aimless wonder around and oohed and ahhed at all the landmarks wed only ever heard about or seen in movies!  Rodeo Drive!  The Chinese Theater! The Walk of Fame! Then, as the sun began to set, we started our obligatory search for the Hollywood sign!  After puttering around the beautifully steep and winding residential neighborhoods we finally stopped and asked a jogger if she could point us in the direction of the sign and we learned something completely unexpected: the sign isnt lit!  Again, so cute to think back how naive we were and on how little we had planned or researched!  We took an impromptu late-night drive out to/back from Palm Desert because Chris had been there many times to visit family as a child and thought it was such a neat area!  The drive out to the desert in the dark, giant windmills looming, was magically haunting. I remember it felt so other-worldly.  We didnt reach Palm Desert until after 10pm and I remember it was still so alive!  It seemed every street was lined with outdoor seating and beautiful people dining under a starry expansive sky!

We have  returned to Palm Desert since our honeymoon and while my recent memories do not match my honeymoon memories, the latter are still so clear in my minds' eye I am able to keep them separated from subsequent experiences.  I havent been able to reconcile why my two experiences were so varied and while I prefer my initial I am thankful for both.

We woke the next morning and drove north along PCH (famous drive with amazing views).  Often we were the only ones on the road-again, other-worldly!  Along the way, we think in Santa Barbara, I said lets open her up a bit!  Chris points to a sign "Speed enforced by aircraft," and I say, "Do you see any aircraft around here?" He smiles and pushes the gas!  We are wild and free on the road!  Well, for about a minute.  Almost instantly: wee-uuu, wee-uuu, wee-uuu; we are being pulled over by a policeman.  Luggage overflowing in the backseats, empty glove compartment save for rental agreement, and us saying we were on our honeymoon probably had something to do with the officer letting us off so easily.  He was very nice and let us go with a warning to "slow down."

Our destination was a night in Monterrey at a hotel on Cannery Row that Chris had picked out on his own.  I was skeptical...and checking in didnt make me feel any better as the "lobby" was the size of a closet.  Some of my biggest travel lessons were learned on this trip, one of them being dont judge a hotel by the size of its lobby and another being Chris sure can pick a decent nights' stay!  The Spindrift Inn is, to this day, my favorite hotel in the entire world-so so so so romantic.  We had an amazing corner room with window seatings that literally hung above the ocean crashing below us.  Upon arrival the wood-burning fireplace was already roaring and strawberries and champagne were prepared for us!  The bed was something my young mind had only ever before imagined-a four corner poster with down pillows and an irresistibly full and fluffy white duvet!  I dont think I will ever return to this hotel, to this room, because I want it to remain just like this forever.

We woke the next morning and drove (way) south to San Diego (with an impromptu sidetrip for 17 mile drive-we'd been stuck in traffic, saw a sign, and thought "why not!?" I def recommend) to stay the night at the Hotel Del Coronado.  I had read about this hotel in a magazine long ago and often thought it would be neat to be part of our honeymoon.

The grounds are gorgeous and the lobby was just absolutely amazing.  I remember the biggest floral display I had ever seen greeting us as we entered! We excitedly checked in and were quickly on our way to our room via the old-time elevator!  I dont know that I thought this then, I may have, but now I liken the hallway decor to the Overlook in The Shining.  Which maybe was foreshadowing because the room was indeed a horror.  The carpet was stained, the tv cabinet was broken, and the loveseat was facing a wall that was blank save for the outline of a square where a picture evidently once hung.  It was the worst.  Theeeee worrrrrrst.  We went down to the front desk to express our displeasure and even then we felt we werent taken seriously because we were so young.  Be it solely because of our age or because we didnt express ourselves in the manner necessary, due to our age/inexperience.  I will never know for sure why but we were greeted with ridicule.  The man said "people these days expect a big bathroom" which puzzled us because the size of anything was never part of our concerns?  He had someone show us rooms in "the newer wing" which offered about 1,000 square feet we didnt need and, we agreed, were straight out of the Golden Girls-wicker furniture with giant floral patterned cushions.  Plus a ridiculous upcharge to move us to one of these.

We chose to stay in our dilapidated room and try to enjoy the night by ordering a pizza.  So we pull out the phone book (ha yes I said phone book, this was a long time ago!) and turn to "pizza" and all the pages are ripped out.  We are forced to order overpriced undersized pizza from room service and, on par with the rest of our experience, it was awful.

The next morning we (happily) departed the Hotel Del Coronado and prepared to leave California for the start of our "official" honeymoon!
Mexican Riviera, MS Statendam
Holland America, we knew from our travel agent, would be an older group.  Given it was our first cruise we didnt at the time appreciate what else that meant.  In comparison with subsequent cruises we have since taken, this meant no "girls getaways," no "spring breakers," no "drunkards on the lido."  It was a sophisticated ship, with sophisticated guests, and excellent service.
Relevant points about the cruise itself
  • Requested and was given our own table for two each night for dinner (though they had said they couldnt promise it-perhaps b/c it was our honeymoon they obliged)
  • Host at restaurant exit offering mints after dinner greeted us by name every. single. time.
  • One of the nicest compliments I to this day have ever received: attending a show after formal night dinner wearing what had been my senior high prom dress (a simple sleeveless long, fitted black dress with a side slit and a deep v neckline with horizontal rhinestone clusters holding the neckline closed. As we take our seats, distinguished gentleman next to me says how I look so pretty and was able to do so with such class, that the dress was perfect.  Might not seem like a big deal but I can still remember how special it made me feel.  Of course maybe he was just a dirty old man but that didnt even enter my mind at the time.
  • We had a balcony suite (we def spend more time in the room when we have a balcony and more time exploring the ship when we dont)
  • We spent a LOT of time in the casino.  We arent big gamblers and frankly wouldnt have even known how to play most of the games so we spent our time (and money) at the quarter pusher and actually had a nice crowd gathered round us at one point which cracked us up
  • Room service breakfast each morning was perfect! To this day we remember fondly how the friendly server would name and point to everything on the tray before leaving us: two toast, two meelk (his accent-milk)
  • The whole cruise EVERYone kept asking us if we were Mr. and Mrs. Statendam.  We had *no idea* what this was about.  We were they know we just got married?  Should we say yes and see what happens?  Later we learned it was a bit of a game, perfectly explained here by a cruisecritic poster:
"The first person to ask the said people if they were Mr. or Mrs./Ms. won a prize of some sort that I don't remember exactly what but was along the lines of a bottle of champagne or picture frame or something. They were introduced, both the secret persons and the ones who discovered them at the debarkation talk, IIRC. The idea wasn't so much the prize, but to encourage people to talk to the strangers around them and them to become no longer strangers."
Our ports inluded Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, and Acapulco.
Though most of the details of each port have sadly faded a few things still stand out
  • It was really really really really really hot at each and every port
  • It was soooo hot that on day two I stopped wearing clothes into the ports and wore my bikini with a cruiseship-purchased pareo around me.  I remember all the ladies in line as we exited the ship telling me that was such a good idea (as they fanned themselves in misery)!
  • We bought a flat wicker fan that I have and use to this day
  • We were there over Halloween which Chris and I had learned from years of grade school Spanish was part of dia de muertos or day of the dead-which is celebrated in a completely dif manner than here in the US.  I remember one restaurant we went to had such beautiful decorations in their display windows, including elaborately designed cakes.
  • We had travelled far from the port area hoping to experience "the real Mexico" and stopped in a craft shop.  Everything was so lovely and I decided to put my years of Spanish to use and said "Very pretty, is everything handmade?"  Except I must have said something way different because she frowned and we were promptly escorted out of the store.
Two excursions I still recall, a good and a bad.
The good: Mazatlan.  We signed up for a trek through the Sierra Madre mountains.  I remember the guide the cows.  The guide was a little older than us-he was an American that fell in love with a woman in Mexico.  She got pregnant, he moved there to be with her, they (hopefully) lived happily ever after!  What stuck out besides his interesting background was that it was the first time Id ever seen anyone eat a bug.  I was fascinated!  The cows were roaming freely over the foothills (which was cool) and at one point we literally had to run out of the way to avoid an oncoming stampede.  We can laugh about it now-I think we might even have some shaky footage of the incident.
The bad: Acapulco.  Cliff divers and silver jewelry factory.  The latter in which I bought a pair of earrings that was touted as being "made right here! by the people you see working in the factory on the tour!" and discovered upon return to the coach were stamped "made in Italy."  These experiences in Acapulco laid the foundation for our disdain for these sorts of things and our "package coach tour" in London and Paris solidified it.

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