Recently I traveled to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and had the opportunity to question my sanity. It certainly wasn’t insane to go on a trip with five girlfriends, having been invited so graciously by our friend Ellen to stay at her family’s timeshare. It was my willing participation in the Cabo timeshare caper.
Forget restaurants, shops of artisanry, massage and spa businesses. Selling timeshares to tourists is the commercial lifeblood of this town and it is war! The call to arms begins at the airport. As visitors depart the baggage area, swarms of young men with clipboards clamor to greet tourists, luring them with offers of great deals in exchange for visiting a timeshare property and enduring a sales presentation. Normally, I’d much rather not.
But these were not normal times. Ellen had convinced us in advance that for a 2 or 3 hour chunk of a morning, we would get vouchers for activities such as a sunset cruise, a parasailing outing, and jet-ski rentals. In other words, we would be bribed. How good the bribe depended on her negotiating skills.
Miguel became our contact and as Ellen rattled off what she expected in exchange, e.g., activities and free airport transport both ways for six, it became clear to him that she knew the timeshare landscape, so he could do little but acquiesce after a minimal amount of negotiation. He demanded, however, a show of our good faith, which equated to us showing him some money. It was remarkable how easily we parted with forty or fifty dollars each on his promise that it would be returned to us after the next day’s presentation.
He also required that we bring IDs and credit cards and that four of us should be unmarried. We looked at each other. The IDs. and credit cards were no problem. But, only one of the six was actually untethered by legal bonds. To my legal mind, however, he seemed to have meant that we should just purport to be single, whether we were or not was irrelevant. We could play this game!
Loaded up in the van that would transport us to Ellen’s timeshare at Playa Grande (“PG”), we exchanged mutual promises to appear the next morning at the bottom of the hill of PG since he was not allowed on the property. This was sounding more nefarious by the minute. I imagined my mother turning over in her grave, knowing that I was ignoring her lifelong advice of steering clear of shady characters and situations. Had we actually turned into the “Cabo Girls Gone Wild” after less than an hour on its soil?
Our acting careers were, in fact, just beginning. En route to PG, Ellen briefed us about check-in. After signing in, we would have to sit down with a “hostess” whose main job it was to book us for a timeshare presentation at PG. “When she asks whether we signed up with a guy at the airport, just say no.” This, apparently, would make life easier for us. Sure enough, Chelli’s first question was whether we had signed up for a presentation. Ellen said no, as a chorus of five heads shook gravely. Chelli expressed her concern about the guys at the airport because many guests had had baaaddd experiences with these unscrupulous individuals and she was soooo glad we had not fallen into that trap. She then tried to sign us up for a presentation at PG, alternately wheedling and cooing, but we eventually managed to extricate ourselves explaining that we just wanted to veg-out.
That night we plotted about who the four “singles” would be, reconfiguring the foursome when one gal couldn’t remove her wedding ring without the finger. We hoped the ring indentations on the others of us would subside overnight.
There was only one exit from PG, that being through the lobby and in front of a watchful Chelli. She would be suspicious that we were off to another timeshare, Ellen had told us. And again she was right. As we left the next morning, our hostess followed us down the steps of the portico questioning us about our destination. Ellen waved her off with a nonchalant “off-to-town.”
Even while I trusted Ellen implicitly, I wasn’t totally sure about our new friend, Miguel. As we traipsed down the hill, I wondered whether the deal would go down as planned or would he flee with our money? But as we reached the bottom, we saw him waiting, like the loyal family watchdog.
One of the hallmarks of the timeshare caper is flexibility, we learned. Miguel informed us that we would be going to a different timeshare where only two of us needed to be single. That was a relief, because by this point we had trouble remembering who was and who wasn’t “single” between us; two was no problem. But, he would need to hand us off to another guy, Enrique, and we would have to tell the folks at that timeshare that Enrique met us at the airport the day before. The intrigue was getting ever more tangled, but we were beginning to expect that.
So we piled into the van summoned by Miguel, merrily on our way to meet our new “handler.” Every once in a while, I considered how bizarre it is to have paid to be possibly kidnapped and held for ransom, after they stripped of us of our IDs and credit cards. Or would we be sold into the white slave traffic? And all for some water resort activities. But, one the other hand, it was a beautiful day in tropical paradise….
We met Enrique at the rendezvous point with Enrique down the road leading to the timeshare we would visit. Miguel introduced us with a sweep of his hand and he and Ellen did some more negotiating . . . I assumed she was seeking some reassurances about the deal. So, we said adios to our old friend Miguel (after taking pictures in his cute car), and professed loyalty to our new best friend, Enrique, who reminded us conspiratorially that he had met us at the airport the day before.
He directed the van to take us to the property where he handed us over (as we yelled out “Bye, Enrique” like the old friends we weren’t) to the paperwork gals. We filled out their paperwork, although I won’t vouch for the honesty of our answers….we were becoming professionals by this time, and besides, truth is such a relative word in the timeshare world. We went on our tour of this breathtakingly beautiful place and were served a delicious buffet breakfast before being taken in for the kill. The executioner was a young good-looking guy named Dallas, and the death chamber was their five-star open air restaurant. To lower our resistance to our fate, they served us mimosas, heavy on the champagne. And when the sells talk began, we hardly felt it at first. Eventually, the pressure intensified but it was hard to take Dallas seriously when all you could focus on was this piece of pepper caught between his teeth. We finally convinced him that, all appearances to the contrary, we were not easy marks and were not going to purchase a timeshare. A sulky Dallas watched us leave to collect our booty.
Would it be as promised? We held our collective breaths as Ellen went to the “office” to meet with the folks who would pay us off. We were all a bit surprised when she returned with six vouchers for parasailing, sunset cruising, jet skis, and a wad of cash to return to us our proportionate “stakes” in the deal. Right as we were loading up in the van, a gal comes rushing out of the office. And what could she want? Talking in hushed tones, she told us her current employers didn’t know she had other “relationships” on the side, but she could sign us up for another timeshare presentation the next day at another property. When we told her we would think about it, she said she would call us, which she did every morning!
Later in the day, as we lounged around, drinks in hand, we determined that a drug deal would not have involved as much subterfuge as this timeshare caper. Did we have a future in crime or undercover work? Probably not, we decided; it required too much thinking. Normality resumed as we rambled off to our massage appointments.