Photo: Jose Manuel Rios Valiente
I WILL BE THE FIRST TO ADMIT that, when it comes to travel, I am an irritating hipster. I only like to go to “under-the-radar” places: places where tourists aren’t particularly welcome, where local hostility is a probability, and where intestinal distress is an inevitability. Among my ilk (“indie travelers” as we’re sometimes called, or “nomads” and “wanderers” as the most smug of us call ourselves), there’s a certain genre of tourism that is straight-up forbidden: the corporate getaway. The cruise ship. The all-inclusive.
These places are not acceptable to “legitimate” travelers, in part because they are blindingly fake — as David Foster Wallace describes in his classic cruise essay, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” all employees on these types of trips have a kind of terrified mandatory smile, and fun is something that is almost violently forced upon the guest — and in part because they are horrible for the local environment, and are frequently exploitative of local workers.
So when Steph and I were planning our honeymoon, we went to my dad, who has worked in the travel industry for decades, for advice. We said, “We think we want to do Europe. We’re going to go to the Alps in Germany and maybe go skiing, and then we’re going to jump over to Scotland to have some Scotch.”
“You don’t want to do any of that,” my dad said. “Trust me. You’re getting married the day before you leave. You’re going to be exhausted. You don’t want to travel around Europe. You want to sit on a beach and get drunk all week.”
He was right. We scheduled a honeymoon at Secrets Capri in Cancun.
Destroying my reputation.
I tried to hide this decision from my traveler friends. When they asked where I was going, I’d say, “Mexico.”
“Oh yeah? I love Mexico! Where in Mexico?”
I could see their excitement and respect for me drain out of their bodies. Some tried to throw me a lifeline. “Oh! Man! Cancun! Okay, so I know what you need to do there. There’s this tiny fishing town, right on the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. No one knows about it, and you can only get there by ATV. What you want to do is go to the end of the road — you’ll know which road, trust me — and ask for Pablo. He’ll take you to the best seafood shack of your life, and then he’ll take you free-diving in the forbidden shark reef.”
“Yeah,” I said, “Thanks, I think I’m just gonna chill at the swim-up bar and drink, though.”
Guilt and luxury
When you arrive at the resort, they hand you a refrigerated wet towel, which you are supposed to know what to do with. I wiped my arms with it and then put it in my jacket pocket. Then we sat down for check-in, and they handed us each a glass of champagne. From that point on, we were never without some sort of booze in our system. The sheer amount of booze was absolutely staggering.
“How are they making money off of this?” Steph asks a 32-year-old man sipping a “Mexican Iceberg” in the pool. “Do they just assume that most people won’t drink and eat as much as we will?”
This is almost certainly not the case — we rarely see anyone in the resort who doesn’t have a drink in their hand, and while drinks are watered down on the resort premises, they’re not watered down to the point where you can’t get pleasantly anesthetized. And at the restaurants, we constantly see people order towering piles of high-quality food.
The man with the Iceberg shrugs. “I think it’s just because they pay these guys next to nothing.”
“Oh,” Steph says, “I really hope that’s not true.”
It is. She asks a waiter later. They get paid shit.
How the 1% lives
Guilt can ruin a trip, but if there’s one vacation that you’re allowed to be indulgent on, to put yourself above others on, it’s your honeymoon. So we tried to assuage our guilt by being really, really grateful. But the employees at the resort had clearly been instructed to respond to any “thank you,” with, “my pleasure.”
“Hey, thanks for bringing us glasses of gin at two in the morning.”
“Hey, I really appreciated the couples massage. I’m sure touching me is a deeply unpleasant experience, so, you know, thank you.”
I’m not sure which thought is more depressing: that she’s forced to lie to me about it being a pleasure to touch my weird, doughy body for a half-an-hour, or that she might actually be telling the truth, and that her life is so devoid of pleasure that awkwardly rubbing me down ranks among the highlights of her day.
But by the end of the week I started to enjoy the pampering. If this is how the 1% lives, then I guess I understand why rich people hoard money and surround themselves with yes-men and servants. It does wonders for your ego to be treated with constant deference for days on end, even if that deference is an obvious charade that would immediately crumble if you weren’t paying good money for it. It was no longer a mystery how Donald Trump could live with himself. You can live with anything you’ve said or done if everyone around you is required to treat you nicely.
Was it fake? Sure. Had I betrayed all of my values in the name of swim-up bars and endless Singapore Slings? Absolutely. But selling your soul doesn’t suck that much, as long as the price is right.