Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by Melanie

Thanks to all!
I can’t believe this has actually happened. It is still just sinking in. I was so pleased to hear from [former Diva’s Dreams contest winner] Melissa. Her encouragement and enthusiasm was inspiring. I want to tell all the other bright and beautiful women who
wrote contest entries that I read every one of them and thought they were great! I feel so fortunate to belong to a circle of interesting people who juggle families, careers, social lives, and catastrophes, but still have the energy to try to inspire others with their creative thoughts. I will try my very best to live up to this special position I find myself in right now.

Planning My Trip: Getting in Shape

So I am so ready for a trip to Cancun! I’ve taken a lot of short trips in the last few weeks (Chicago, Ohio, Indiana…) and I’ll be visiting Orange County in two weeks, but I am constantly anticipating the fabulous time I am going to have at Club Med. I’m getting in shape by working out a bit more with my classes (remember I teach P.E.). I recently bought a Dance Dance Revolution® set-up with grant money—and we are having a blast while we burn the calories and tone the body. I’m also getting ready for any dancing that I might do in sunny Mexico! Hope all the rest of the Tango Divas are doing whatever they can to take care of themselves: as I tell my students, “You only get one body and it has to last a lifetime.”

Planning My Trip: Losing My Mind for All the Right Reasons

Lately I’ve been extremely scattered. The only things I can attribute this to are menopause and the fact that I have once again put too many irons on the fire. I just returned from a fantastic national convention at McCormack Place in Chicago, Illinois. Six thousand physical educators in one place is crazy! Good people, good food, good fun. But I’ve got a laundry list of things I have to get done for my Cancun trip.

Long story short: I make my lists and then lose them (Too many good things, too little time!). My trip is beginning to look a lot like Trains, Planes, and Automobiles: I’ll be taking a train to Chicago, spend the evening with a longtime friend, and she’ll drive me to the airport in the morning for my flight to exciting Mexico! Then I’ll get picked up and shuttled to the Club Med Village where I plan to pack thirty-six hours into every day. After Cancun, another friend friend from Chicago will pick me up at the airport and we’ll enjoy the four-hour drive back to Chatham. I am smiling inside just thinking of what a great time this will all be. I hope all the Divas out there can get away from the day-to-day and experience the excitement of new places this year. I avoided the ride in Disneyland, but the sentiment is true: It’s a small world after all. So go for it!

Off to Club Med

I´m waiting to board the big bird that´s going to fly me into a new adventure. I´ve eaten my yogurt and toast, taken my synthroid and multivitamin and a single Dramamine® (the dosage is two for adults, but I want to be comfortable, not unconscious—and besides that, I really don’t want to be too adult right now.) Three weeks ago everything started to fall in place; yet there were so many loose ends I thought I’d never get everything crossed off on my neat little list of tasks. (I have to admit I had a few sub-lists bouncing off the main list like sprigs off my spider plant hanging on the deck.) But at least I was checking things off— even as I was adding new chores to the bottom.

Last Wednesday, while making my bi-weekly stop at T.J. Maxx, I found myself in a definite lime green mood. First I bought a darling tank top in lime green with lime green lace edging—very sexy ($12.95!). I also found incredibly comfortable—yet cute—lime-green, air-cushioned Keds® ($14.95). I even bought a set of sheets in a softer shade of lime green, which were a bargain at $37.50 for a king set, 350 thread count. I then I bought the lime green luggage: Nine West®, very cool, three pieces, interlocking, great pockets, suede trim (the price of this purchase will remain unpublished). I felt small guilt pangs because we have a perfectly good boring set of luggage that isn’t even ratty at the zippers—but that one cost me $49.95 and we’ve had it for three years—and this new set was lime green and a good brand.

Fast forward to Friday, 9:30 a.m. School’s out! YEAH! All the teachers give out a rock concert cheer as the yellow buses pull away. (We’re wishing they’d peel out.) As I tell my students, “How can I miss you if you never leave?” Later that same day: 10:30 teeth cleaning, 12:00 haircut and color, and, at 5:07 p.m., I am sitting in the business section (so worth it for fourteen extra bucks) on an Amtrak Train headed for Chicago. So begins the first leg of my travel party.

My wonderful friend, Lori, picked me up outside Union Station on Canal Street. Even as the announcement cautioned departing passengers not to talk to strangers (“If a stranger approaches you, go inside the station immediately and find an Amtrak employee!”) a seedy-looking stranger approached me offering me a ride to God-knows-where. I decided to ride with Lori instead. We spent the evening catching up and eating a great salad with a generous slice of bakery pizza. That’s how I would describe Lori too: generous—with her time, her energy, and with her friendship. Generous enough to wake up at five a.m. to take me to the Chicago O’Hare Airport for my 8:00 a.m. flight. The flight was fine, but I have to digress here and state publicly that just once before I check out of this life, I want to fly first class. (I feel better now…as though putting it in writing will make my wish come true.) The movie was fun, my seating partners were pleasant, and the flight was calm. After landing we were herded through the Cancun International Airport like the bewildered tourists we were. I was amazed that repeat visitors were puzzled by the labyrinth of lines, checkpoints, and lack of directional signs at the airport. (It did make for conversation, though: maybe that was the plan of the Cancun tourist bureau.) The last customs line ended with the task of pushing “the button”. Of course when I hit the button, it lit up STOP and set off an irritating buzz. Now the attendant carefully went through all three pieces of my beautiful lime-green luggage. Suddenly she called over another examiner, a man with more pins on his shirt than she had on hers. They exchanged a few words and then held up my two Fuji apples for all the world to see. I felt like I was caught smuggling cocaine. I was told in a very official way that they would be taking the apples from me: I would never see those sweet round babies again. I was grateful to be allowed to go on to fend off the well-dressed men at the airport offering me rides to (once again) God-knows-where. I found Juan from Club Med, and he directed me to Fernando (married these thirty-seven years with three sons and five grandchildren), who drove me to the village and the next leg of my adventure.

“I Can Do This!”

I was welcomed to Club Med with a wonderful, fruity juice (mango, peach, lime…melonade?) and a tour of the premises. Club Med is called a village because it is a village. Acres and acres covered with beautiful flora and fauna. The fauna mainly consists of iguanas, affectionately referred to as “squirrels.” (I was also told that there was a crocodile that lived in the lagoon—no way!) My room was very Mediterranean, clean, and, for the first time in my life, I had my own safe! Call me simple, but I loved that. I was not patient enough to wait for my luggage to be delivered, so I dragged all three pieces to my room and began to nest. Nesting is in my blood—especially when I travel. I cannot live out of a suitcase: it unnerves me. I also like the idea that I can keep a small space clean and ordered, as God knows I can’t do that at home very well. It’s a small victory to be able to walk into my hotel room and feel competent as a housekeeper.

I explored the grounds and went back to my room with the feeling that I had to accomplish something to prove that traveling at daybreak was a good idea. I decided to go to the pool and begin working on the fabulous tan that I promised everyone I would have upon my return. Using liberal amounts of 60 on my face and 30 on the rest of my bod, I packed my lime green travelini bag with my towel, more sunblock, a good book and my leopard-design reading glasses. This was going to be awesome. I had no trouble finding a great sunning spot and a chase lounge. I no sooner got settled when the first raindrop hit my forehead. Several random raindrops followed right up until the deluge. I got up to leave and heard the water volleyball players yelling, “Why leave now? You’re already wet!”

Back in my room I got dry and comfy and took a sweet little nap. This is the stuff of good vacations. I went to the orientation meeting at 6:00, ate dinner at 7:00 with some wonderful people from many countries, and then I went to the bar for an after-dinner drink. Suddenly I was lonely. It hit quick and hard. Being alone is all well and good for, say, 24 hours, but I just didn’t know if I could do this for six more days. I moped back to my room with a Black Russian (the drink, not a person). After giving myself twenty minutes of pity time, I decided I had to snap out of it and take advantage of this incredible opportunity. I made a vow to keep busy. Activity would get me moving and help me to meet people. I went to the excursion office and promptly signed up for two trips. Then I made a schedule of activities to fill up the next day from dawn ’till way past dusk. The first thing on my list after breakfast was a power walk at 9:30 a.m. I felt much better and I looked forward to the fun that would come to me on my second day in Cancun.

Discovery

I wake up, treat myself to a tasty breakfast of oatmeal and caramelized bananas (I promise myself I have to learn how to caramelize bananas). Then I head toward the lobby to begin my day with a power walk. This is part of my plan to stay busy. On the way I meet a fellow walker (the water bottle, sports bra, and gym shoes gave her away) and we begin to chat. Our walk leader is a G.O. with an exotic name (how unusual). Almost every G.O. has an exotic name, but some are AKA’s. My walking buddy’s name is Pam and we spend the next sixty minutes moving our feet and our mouths. Pam is at Club Med to get away from a difficult personal situation—she needs a break. I’m at Club Med because I happen to have won a trip. The beauty is that woman can do this. We have this great ability to enjoy and appreciate each other no matter how different our age, background, circumstances. Pam is younger than I (by a decade and a half), she is dealing with issues that I have never had to face, she lives thousands of miles from me and definitely not on a farm—but we connect. We both found a home base and for the rest of our stay we separate and gravitate and share our experience.

After our power walk we plan our day: the pool, a Bosu® exercise class, lunch, and sailing. Life is very, very good. We meet great people all day long, and in the evening after dinner we meet more interesting characters at the bar.

At the end of the evening when I head for my room, Pam heads for the next party. I have no desire to keep up with her—but you can bet I want to hear details the next day.

Sailing

Sailing on the ocean was incredible. Never been there, never done that. Pam and I approached this new sport with enthusiasm and a cute instructor named Zulu. This was not the name his mother had chosen for him—I asked! (I think about these things: parents spend weeks, sometimes months scouring baby name books, researching family trees, canvassing friends’ opinions to choose the perfect name for their new offspring. I even read the Bible cover-to-cover just to see if any characters in that book would be worthy as our third child’s namesake. Then after having picked the one name that you believe will describe your child’s being, they become adults, get a job at an upscale resort, and choose to name themselves Zulu. Other exotic G.O. names included: Sardine, Isabel, Mondrian, Maya, and Bill.)

So sailing on the ocean was incredible; sailing through dinner and party life at the bar was so much fun. Then I sailed to my room for my nightly beauty ritual (wash face, rub in wrinkle-kill cream, apply whitening strips, read for thirty minutes, remove whitening strips) and a good night’s tossing and turning every two hours. I blame the air-conditioning cycle for this. Hot, cold, hot, cold—or am I still menopausal?

Meanwhile, Pam was sailing in a completely different direction. She was out dancing at the late-night party disco. I learned the next day that she spent the evening with the “hockey brothers.” Earlier in the evening we met these characters at the bar. They buzzed up and began alternately conversing and stretching and yawning—their hint that they had been traveling and just got in to the village. All the usual info was exchanged. It’s pretty well scripted. “When did you get in?” “Have you ever been here before?” “Where are you from?” Then came a little surprise: bro #1 tells us (on the sly) that he and his brother play pro hockey and they were in Cancun to get away from the stress. Hockey bro #2 isn’t talking. Hockey bro #1 tells us they don’t want anyone to know that they are pro-hockey players. They want to be incognito. Hockey bro #2 says he wants every woman in the resort to know he is available. Okay, so if they want to keep their career choice under raps, why did they tell us their dirty little secret in less than 0.8 seconds? I can tell you this: these boys were definitely players, and they both played with Pam! That was her sailing experience while I was tossing and turning and waking up every two hours. Club Med Cancun has as many stories as there are guests. It’s Naked City all over again (unless you are at least forty you probably won’t get that reference!)

So Pam and I spend another day in paradise sunning, dancing the Sun Dance, getting in our daily water aerobics, and then, after pre-dinner drinks we go to our rooms to rest, refresh, and continue our evening. We made plans to meet in the main dining room, and then attend a lecture on Mayan culture. But as we should realize by now, even the best-laid plans are sidetracked by quirky Club Med experiences.

Dining and Dodging

Dining

Anyone who has ever been on a cruise or stayed at an all-inclusive resort should have experienced the thrill of eating or drinking anything you want, at any time—day or night. I’m just going to list some highlights of my dining experience.

1. Three-hundred-and-sixty degrees of deliciousness arranged by course: appetizers, fresh fruit, cheese assortment, seafood entrees, pasta entrees, bread (oh my God the breads!), meat and vegetarian entrees, special spices and flavorings, gourmet vegetable dishes, and, of course, the desserts! There was one night when I just skipped right to the desserts with wild abandon—and never looked back.

2. Returning from an all-day excursion and stopping at the snack bar for an order of nachos with extra cheese, black olives, and a touch of jalapeño.

3. Your choice of wine served in never-empty carafes.

4. Breakfast and lunch choices as varied and wonderful as the dinner choices.

5. Dining with people from all over the world and discovering wonderful commonalities and differences.

6. Deciding to dine quietly with one or two friends at La Palapa, located right on the ocean with windows open wide to the sounds, sights, and ocean breeze.

7. Quenching my thirst with a Bloody Mary, Piña Colada, Cosmopolitan, or any other delightful drink while relaxing at the pool or playing at the bar.

8. Never having to carry money to cover the cost of any of these blessings.

The Art of Dodging

It’s not that I felt trapped, but there were times when it took some keen planning to avoid certain people who decided to attach at the hip. Pam had several “fans” and I had my one. Pam’s most dedicated fan came with a very nice couple. The three of them vacationed at Club Med Cancun every year. Two were together, but “Sticky” was available and had targeted Pam as his challenge. When Sticky wasn’t pickled, he could be a nice guy. But like so many people the drink turned his charm into pesky, obnoxious, and overtly annoying acts. At least he made his intentions and fondness for Pam obvious. In contrast, my pest, “Icky,” caught us off-guard. Randomly seated with us at dinner, Icky appeared to be a normal kind of guy. Then, in spite of the fact that there are dozens of activities going on at every moment of the day, he began showing up at every activity we chose. It dawned on us that he would listen to Pam and I chitchat, and then plan his day accordingly. Complicating our efforts to avoid these characters was the fact that Pam is a man magnet, and we both enjoy the experience of meeting new people. It took some effort, but we soon became artful dodgers, and successfully distanced ourselves from Sticky and Icky, our wannabe-stalkers, and most of Pam’s posse. The good news is that the village was filled with normal people who were fun, interesting, and ready to have a great time.

Iguana Be My Baby?

The village is huge. It’s great for people like me who like to walk—especially when the path takes you past beautiful landscaping, fragrant flowers and the ocean. That’s a tough path to beat. Several times a day I would travel between the main activity area of the village and my little home away from home, my room. At the end of this trek was a raised cement walkway along the ocean. The walkway was about fifty yards long, and I looked forward to this walkway because day or night, shower or shine, there would always be several iguanas ready to greet me with attitude. Iguanas of all sizes and I assume all ages sunning on the surface of the cement or hiding under the surrounding foliage. They wanted me to know that this was their turf. I was welcome, but only temporarily. The iguana populace did not want me to get too comfortable with my lodgings. I know this because they refused to look me directly in the eyes. They all gave me a sideways glance with just a touch of a sneer. And they would stay immobile until I approached within five feet, then they would scurry as if I were a serial killer with a lizard fetish. Except for the big guy whom I named him “Frank.” Frank was past all these immature behaviors. He didn’t need to fabricate intimidation. He was confident and even cocky. I think Frank was kind of sweet on me because he would look me right in the eye (looking me in both eyes would be difficult because his eyes shoot out on both sides) and stay fixed until I was practically on top of him. Frank didn’t sneer like the other guys. His expression was more of a flirty half-smile. I actually saw him raise his crusty little eyebrow. I have to say if I was to choose one of these creatures to walk me home it would have to be Frank. I like a man with experience and confidence—Frank had it all. I would be putty in the palm of his clawed paw. There was one morning when I hand-fed a hibiscus flower to a fat-headed iguana who roamed the bar area. It was an impulsive singular experience in a weak moment and it didn’t mean anything to me. I hope Frank never finds out.

Mayans, Maya, and Other Excursions

I participated in two excursions while in Cancun. To prepare myself for the first excursion, a daytrip to two Mayan ruin sites, I decided to attend the lecture on Mayan history and civilization that was held in the snack shack the evening before the trip. Pam went along with me. I’m not sure if she was that interested, but I did appreciate her company, especially since Icky showed up as well. The lecture was given by a very pregnant (and yes, you can be very pregnant), beautiful woman who I suspect was actually of Mayan descent. She was animated and interesting and definitely knew her stuff. Her beautiful English and charming accent added to the magic of the presentation.

The next day I visited Cobá and Tulúm. Cobá, in the jungle, is indescribable. We traveled on bicycles from one ruin site to the next on bumpy paths filled with flocks of butterflies. At one point we were faced with climbing a Mayan temple that I believe reached into the clouds. Since I am not comfortable with heights (they scare me) I decided I had to do this. It’s the same sad story. Going up was okay. Standing on the top was daunting but exhilarating. Coming down—straight down— was terrifying. I made it by sliding down one skinny step at a time on my bum. (I think I ruined those capris.) No one commented on my descent that day, but over drinks and snacks the next evening several people mentioned that they remembered seeing me doing that. After lunch at a very sophisticated and secluded Club Med in Cobá, we spent the afternoon in Tulúm, which was breathtaking. Tulúm is a Mayan city built on the coast. A stone lighthouse was constructed hundreds of years ago to guide the friendly sailors through the narrow opening in the surrounding reef that kept the enemies literally at bay. I listened intently to our tour guide, crashed a couple of tours that I was not supposed to enjoy, explored the ruins on my own, and then plunged into the invigorating coolness of the ice blue water. If I were Mayan, I would definitely have chosen Tulúm over Cobá. Cobá was a fun place to visit, but I would not want to live with the people-eating bugs (which we were lucky enough to avoid) or the suffocating temperature of the jungle. (I think the Tulúm Mayans must have been party people. No one could possibly live in that setting without wanting to dance and drink and celebrate all year long.) I also met an amazing Frenchman on this excursion. (I’ll write about him in another thread. He deserves his own page.)

But moving along, on a day of unstable weather, Pam and I, Sticky and his couple friends, and no less than forty other people sailed on an awesome brand-spanking-new giant catamaran to Isla Mujeres. This was my second excursion. The vessel was equipped with a dance floor, bathrooms, a fully loaded bar, and several young men and women to sail the rig and keep the party going. One of the best looking young men I have seen in a long time was working this excursion. His name was Maya…maybe. Long story short, by the time we had snorkeled (to the tune of hundreds of fabulous salt water creatures), ate (at a quaint little resort on the island edged by a white sand beach with the most comfortable lounge chairs I have ever set my butt on), and shopped the shops (in the typical “I got good price for you” Mexican island village), Maya had invited Pam to meet up with him in the evening on the mainland to celebrate his birthday. (Let me reiterate: Pam is a man magnet.) I’m happy to say Pam declined. In light of the awful Aruba tragedy, we must remember when we travel to stay in the safety of people and places that are secure and protected. Chances are that nothing bad would have happened to Pam—but by choosing Plan B (staying with the group), we know that she’d have a great time and return to her family safe and sound. Maya did show up at the Club Med village a few nights later, and he and Pam enjoyed each one another’s company…but I won’t give you any details. I also want to report that while touring the island village some members of the group rented bicycles and scooters. One young man hit a parked motorcycle, which toppled taking several others parked in a string down in succession like dominoes. Another young miss hit a chunk in the road and went flying over the handlebars, finally landed sprawled out over the uneven ground. Still another crazy character had a fender bender with a taxi and was required to come up with $150—or the police would have been called. Lesson to be learned: be a smart adventurer.

French Twist

As mentioned in a previous entry, when I traveled to Cobá and Tulúm on a bus, I was seated next to a gentleman from France. He was friendly and we immediately engaged in conversation. While exchanging basic info, he shared that he had a brother living in New York City. I asked him if he had visited his brother since 9-11. He became silent. He stared straight ahead and tears began to form in the corner of his eye. Oh, my God. I cannot believe that in the course of three minutes I managed to offend a total stranger from a foreign country to the point of tears. I felt terrible. I should learn to keep my inquiring-minds-want-to-know questions to myself. Then he turned toward me and told me that his brother moved back to France for the year following the New York terrorist attack. He said he would now have two reasons for visiting the U.S.: to see his brother who had moved back to New York and to see a new friend in California. He paused and added, “You’ll have to forgive me. I am a little emotional today because my American girl left for home.” American girl…how sweet is that?! I was so relieved that his tears were about a sad goodbye to a new lover—and not what I had imagined. Later in the week, when I had the chance to introduce this Frenchman to the Tango Diva girls, Sandrine and Patti, he told Sandrine (in French) that I was terrific. I’ll live on that for a long time.

Loose Endings

This will be my final journal entry. I want to share a few random thoughts, observations, and a foam-party survey.

I’ll begin with the foam-party survey. From the first day of my arrival the G.O.s really talked up the foam party. It was promoted as one of the must-do’s in the village experience. In the end, I didn’t go. But I questioned attendees because I’m just that nosey and I thought my readers might want to be informed. One friend went and said she had such a good time her ribs still hurt her the next day from laughing so hard. Pam went. She said she was having fun until she went near the foam machine. Then she said the foam was so high she got claustrophobic and began to inhale it. She got out, went to the pool, and plunged in just to get the stuff off of her. I told my twenty-seven-year-old daughter about the foam party, and she started to laugh. She said they did that when she went to college spring break. She lost two good rings and a bracelet and pretty much ruined an outfit in the stuff. It amused her to picture mature adults in the same situation. So there’s some info to consider when you have to make that decision.

I feel I must also report that there is in fact an alligator (two, actually) in the village. They frequent the area under the cement that overhangs the water in the lagoon. I actually saw them or I would never have believed it. Of course by the time I returned from my room with my camera, they were gone. Just like UFOs.

I also want to mention that I really enjoyed meeting Patti and Sandrine from Tango Diva. They came on Friday, my last day. We had such a great time in the very short time we were together that one of the G.O.s thought we had known each other forever. If I could change one thing about the entire trip it would be that these two fun women would have come a few days sooner so we could play and laugh longer and harder.

Finally, as I told my special group of new friends on our last evening together, “I’ll say goodnight but not goodbye because we just may see each other again sometime.” I’m a sentimental person. I can get teary reading Hallmark cards. Sometimes goodbye is just too hard. So to everyone who has been reading these scribbles, I’ll just say “Good Night.”

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