Report: Mexican Riviera Cruise
Friday, December 1, not yet 7:15 in the morning, and while
most North Americans are shivering somewhere in the early
winter chill, about to step gingerly out of bed in hopes that
the a day brings a hint of sunshine and warmth, I've got a
dive bag full of snorkeling gear and a bathing suit on. My
hand trails along in the Sea of Cortez, creating the smallest
of wakes, as the water-taxi "Zigi" beats a path
from the dock in Cabo San Lucas to a remote spot called Lover's
sun's already come over the horizon, but hasn't yet climbed
up over the mountains that rim Cabo, so the dawn is cast in
the muted colors or indirect light. Later on, when the sun
breaks over the top of the bare, rocky hills, the sky will
turn deep blue, the day will grow much warmer, and the sea
will become almost transparent when the sun shines down on
are three of us, plus the driver, in this water taxi. My companions
are two dealers from the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn, Washington:
Janie, who is dealing on this cruise, and David, who won the
cruise at a cardroom and who is known to one and all as "David,
the Fun Guy." We were not only fun, we were fast. And
ready. When the Carnival cruise ship, the Elation, anchored
at Cabo, we boarded the day's first tender, which ferried
us from the ships anchorage to the pier at Cabo. From there
we quickly negotiated a deal with Zigi, and were now on our
way -- snorkel gear at the ready -- to Lover's Beach.
guys at the ship's snorkel desk touted Lover's Beach as the
best snorkeling spot of the week, and it's a wondrous place
even without the snorkeling. No roads lead there. It is reachable
only by water taxi, and is one of the few spots in the world
with two beachfronts. On one side faces the Pacific Ocean,
where the tides are high and the current strong, and it's
far too turbulent for good snorkeling. But a walk of less
than one fourth of a mile across the sands brings the visitor
to the other side of the beach, which faces the placid Sea
outcroppings stand like pillars anchoring each side of the
Sea of Cortez beachfront. The rock formations serve as roosts
for the pelicans that live there. Pelicans are not dummies.
They know where the food is, and the sight of pelicans is
an assurance that there are plenty of small fish nearby.
no dock at Lover's Beach. You hop out of the boat and into
the surf at calf-depth, after first heaving your gear onto
the shore. We were the only folks on the beach, except, of
course, for a few T-Shirt and silver jewelry vendors who must
have arrived before sunrise to set out their wares for the
tourists that would soon be arriving.
and a half hours in the water, looking at schools of fish
-- bright, vertically striped black and yellow Sergeant Majors,
small, narrow, translucent purple fish, big fish, mid-sized
fish I didn't recognize, and watching the well-nourished pelicans
dive and grab a beak full of breakfast -- went by all too
fast, and finally the three of us, thoroughly waterlogged,
climbed back on the beach to buy the obligatory T-shirts and
await the arrival of Zigi, who had promised to return for
us at 10:30 a.m.
the time we finally hauled ourselves out of the water and
dried off, we were amazed to look at our surroundings. Far
from having the beach all to ourselves as we did when we arrived,
Lover's Beach was packed. The three of us were certainly not
the only ones who took water taxis out to the best snorkeling
of the week, only the earliest.
two hours in the water, the sun felt good. It had long since
crested the hills, and I could feel it warm my skin as I stretched
out on a beach towel and basked in the thought that right
then, right at that moment, I was where most of North America
would prefer to be -- if they even knew this place existed
and could miraculously transport themselves here. I may be
a Southern Californian of long standing, but I'll always be
enough of an easterner at heart to count my blessings anytime
I can go snorkeling in December.
did I do this? How did I come by this wonderful opportunity?
I took a cruise; that's what I did. And not just any cruise,
either: it was a Card Player Cruises vacation on the Elation.
A 70,000-ton behemoth with a dozen decks, shops, discos, a
trio that played Mozart and Vivaldi each evening in the central
atrium, a free sushi bar, and all the other amenities that
are standard fare on modern cruise ships, the Elation is one
of Carnival's newer ships -- and one of the largest too. Card
Player Cruises has made this trip before; it's their almost-annual
Mexican Riviera cruise, which leaves from San Pedro and sails
to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas.
was a weeklong jaunt, which began with two days at sea. The
ship steamed around the tip of Baja California to its furthest
destination, Puerto Vallarta, a spot made famous by Richard
Burton and Liz Taylor -- who partied and fought so hard and
long during the time they filmed Night of the Iguana there
-- that the town itself experienced a boom of unabated proportions
that continue on to this day.
we docked at Puerto Vallarta, a group of poker cruisers headed
for a chartered catamaran, for a trip to Los Arcos, a bunch
of rocky arches that rise up out of the water a few miles
from town. It was supposed to be a snorkeling trip. But snorkeling
was only an incidental. The main attraction was salsa dancing,
beer drinking, fun, frivolity, sun, and water, that began
the minute the boat left the dock and didn't end until the
last of us staggered off -- tired, salt-encrusted, and
of the catamaraners scampered down a two-lane highway on a
chartered bus to Chico's Paradise, a local restaurant of some
renown. It's perched on rocks, open to the air and elements,
with a Palapa roof, a bunch of parrots that have run of the
place, and a fine view of the river -- complete with
waterfall -- that runs right alongside the restaurant.
can, in fact, venture down to the rocks and dip into the water
while waiting for the main course to arrive. But I wouldn't
tarry too long if I were you; you might miss the main course.
And believe me, you don't want to miss this one. Everyone
who had been there on previous cruises touted one particular
dish: an enormous portion of jumbo prawns, shrimp, fish, lobster
tail, crab, and other seafood delights, plus rice and tortillas.
It was served on something that dwarfed most serving platters,
and one dish was enough for two people, or perhaps three or
four, depending on whether they had normal appetites or were
next day found us slightly south of Puerto Vallarta, in Mazatlan,
a rapidly growing city that's fast becoming a popular resort
destination in its own right. It is also the home of a place
called Señor Frog's. More about that later.
had never been to Mazatlan, so I opted for a tour of the city
to orient myself to its charms. The tour began in the old
part of the city, which has what the guidebooks refer to as
"colonial architecture." But if that phrase has
no meaning for you, tell yourself this: It looks a lot like
the French Quarter in New Orleans. Houses and shops are protected
from the sun by overhanging balconies, the streets are narrow,
and the houses are built to the lot line in the Creole fashion
and open to the elements.
no air conditioning; instead the natives keep cool by the
extensive use of clay or adobe as building materials, and
the walls are very thick. We toured a number of places in
the old part of the city, including an artist's home that
also serves as his studio. The tour continued northward, toward
the newer sections of Mazatlan, including the Golden Zone,
an area along the beach with modern hotels and beach facilities.
Like Acapulco, Mazatlan also has cliff divers, which is not
a way I'd want to make a living. The youngest diver is 16;
the oldest is 60, and if these guys have beat stories, they're
probably not around to tell them.
has a Señor Frog's gift shop downtown, and another
at Señor Frog's itself. To call it a party bar is an
understatement. And although I bought a Señor Frog's
T-shirt, I did not go inside Señor Frog's; I swear
it to you. I had a seminar to give that evening, and did not
relish the thought of having to be dragged up from under some
table, carried back to the cruise ship, and thrust on stage,
microphone in hand, with part of me trying to remember what
to say while the other part was wondering how to tell that
guy inside my head to stop his hammering for a few minutes
so I could get my bearings. I was responsible and sober, and
although I lost one of my favorite ball caps that blew off
in the open-air pulmonaria that took me back to the cruise
ship, I was ready for the seminar. Maybe next time I'll get
to while away an afternoon at the good señor's, but
I rationalized my sobriety by telling myself that even if
I had gone, I probably wouldn't have remembered any more about
it than some of the cruisers who did visit Señor Frog's
but were, to say the least, rather hazy about the details
of their day.
poker seminar was similar to the one I'd given on the
Caribbean cruise a month and a half earlier, but I tweaked
it somewhat. I had to strike a fine line in preparing my material,
since some of those in attendance were beginners, while others
were experienced, sophisticated players. A question and answer
session -- a time for the cruisers to ask questions of Linda
Johnson, Jan Fisher, and me -- was held the following day,
and that that lasted another hour.
next day we arrived in Cabo, which is where you, dear reader,
came in. But there was more to the cruise than ports of call.
There was poker every minute the ship was at sea. There were
$1-$2 games for beginners, and games as high as $20-$40. Linda
Johnson taught a beginner's class, and there were tournaments
too, though I did not play in any of them. I'm in the midst
of writing another book, Gambling For Dummies, which
deals with all casino games -- not just poker -- and I promised
myself that I would write each morning in order to keep up
with the tight editorial deadlines that publishers are fond
of inflicting on writers. And I did, too.
made for a nice routine at sea. Get up, go to breakfast, come
back to a clean cabin where I could sit in solitude and write
to my heart's content. I'd have lunch at about 1:00; play
poker until dinnertime, whereupon I'd commence my nightly
ritual of overeating. And I'd wash that sin away with more
poker, or a show. The next day was either more of the same,
or a port of call. Cruises are supposed to be relaxing; at
least that's what they say in the brochures. But I always
find more to do than time to do it in, and it's hard to pass
on all the fun just waiting to be had, simply because your
body is crying for sleep.
now I'm home, where it's cold -- at least by Southern
California standards-- and my feet are tucked beneath
me as I type this. I can hear them talking too. My feet are
telling me they wish they were back in some clear, turquoise
and azure-hued warm water where the reefs, sea birds, and
tropical fish reside. "And isn't that the best way,"
they're saying, "to while away the winter."
more information on cruising with Card Player Cruises, please
see their website at http://www.cardplayercruises.com/
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