Sabra and I have been to the resort area of Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, several times. We get there by flying from the Cedar Rapids airport, about a dozen miles from our house. I say we’re going to the land of the endless buffet because not only can you eat nearly around the clock under the all-inclusive package, but also the variety of food seems to go on into infinity as the workers switch out one sumptuous dish for another.
On these trips, as I am everywhere, I’m in the habit of striking up a conversation with whomever is next to me, like the lady who pulled up a chair in the shade of a palm. The sun was hot, the shade cool, the ice in my drink tinkling, water sparkling, surf lapping and Cozumel shimmering in the distance. “Is this paradise, or what?” I asked her.
“I don’t like it here,” she grouched back, emphasizing the “I.”
“What on earth is wrong?” I followed up.
“The food for one thing,” she replied and then proceeded to tell that she had her Minnesota heart set on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner (in February?) and she couldn’t find any cranberries much less turkey on the buffet. During the next couple of minutes I also learned she didn’t like the sun, too hot, the water, too cold, the drinks, too watered, and the nightly entertainment, too late.
I did manage to find one thing to enjoy about the woman, however; her husband, who I met at the swim-up bar sitting in the sun with a boiled lobster burn knocking back doubles two at a time.
Under the same palm, this time at night on another visit, a 30-something man ambled over and asked if I’d been here for a while. When I allowed that this was my sixth day, he politely asked if I could answer a few questions for him as this was his first visit and he had just arrived. “Pull up some sand,” I said, and we spent the next hour chatting.
Without much prompting, I soon learned he was a bricklayer from Wisconsin here with his ex-wife. Their 10-year marriage had been rocky, but ever since they’d been divorced they found out they liked each other’s company so they decided to share costs (but not a bed) on a trip to Mexico. He couldn’t wait to get to the buffet (he heard it had great shrimp) sit in the sun, drink margaritas and swim in the ocean.
I’d noted the presence of the third person I talked to, this time on the beach on yet another visit, for several days. She was hard not to notice because she was perhaps the second most beautiful woman in the world, my wife being the first. Her hair was long and black, skin tan and flawless, body slim and athletic, swimsuit white and topless.
I pointed her out to Sabra several times, and began playing a private little game I call guess the stranger. It works like this: using visual clues I try to guess where a stranger comes from. I might guess someone’s from Germany by the way they hold a cigarette or from St. Louis by the way they spit on the ground and scratch their butt while wearing a Cardinal’s hat.
I speculated to Sabra that this particular young woman must be from some exotic Spanish, no make that Portuguese, origin. Perhaps she was from Lisbon or better yet, Ipanema. “Yes, that’s it she’s the girl from Ipanema,” I told Sabra.
Our trip was nearly over and I feared we’d never find out as I’m far too polite of a man and too smart of a husband to go out of my way to strike up a conversation with a beautiful, near-naked women. Besides, I don’t speak Portuguese. But on the very last visit to the beach on our last day, the young woman strolled down, surveyed perhaps a dozen empty chairs and chose the one next to me.
Women just can’t resist the orange hat.
“Is this paradise or what?” I used my standard opening line, doing my best to make eye contact with body parts above her shoulders.
“Yes, it’s lovely,” she replied, surprising me that she spoke English.
“So where are you from?” I continued.
“Cedar Rapids, Iowa,” she replied.