Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 12, 2017
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Seduction in the Sun

A roving travel writer falls for a Puerto Vallarta timeshare -- and doesn't regret it in the morning

I must confess that I would be deliriously happy if I never saw another snowflake or shovelled another driveway or navigated another slush puddle. My husband, Bill, shares my sentiments about Old Man Winter. I fell in love with all things Mexican on my first trip and, ever since, I have dreamed about spending winters there.

You might think Bill and I sound like the kind of vulnerable suckers that timeshare salespeople are waiting for. You might be right. But we'd been approached by persistent timeshare salespeople many times -- usually young enthusiastic types carrying clipboards, often wearing golf shirts bearing the logo of the resort they represent -- and we'd always declined their enticements for free luaus and cruises to Maui and other exotic locales.

But last year, after we retrieved our bags and went through customs in Puerto Vallarta, a well-groomed, fluently English-speaking Emilio introduced himself as someone representing Puerto Vallarta hotels and tourism. If we would just follow him to a sitting area at the end of the airport, he would give us some maps and brochures and arrange for a free taxi to our hotel. Emilio sported a golf shirt with a Buganvilias Resort logo. As we sat down, he pulled a map and all sorts of tourist information from his briefcase and spread them out on the table, showing us where the golf courses were located, pointing out his favourite restaurants and beaches.

Then came the pitch. If we'd spend only 90 minutes having a fabulous buffet brunch and a sales presentation at the newly renovated Sheraton Buganvilias Resort, we could have our choice of a free cruise or a Mexican Fiesta show, plus the taxi ride to our hotel. Emilio was a charmer so we agreed. We had absolutely no intention of buying anything, but we'd managed to negotiate for a rental car for two days and two rounds of golf instead of the cruise or fiesta. By my calculations these were worth more than $500. For that, I could tolerate 90 minutes of high-pressure sales.

Next Emilio got down to business, ascertaining whether we qualified as potential buyers. We did. Our incomes exceeded $50,000, we had a credit card and we both agreed to attend the sales presentation. (If you're married, both partners must attend.) Emilio asked for a deposit of about $40 that he assured us would be returned after the presentation. (No doubt this ensures against no-shows.) We agreed that he could pick us up on Sunday at 9am and take us to the Sheraton. Off we went in our free taxi to enjoy our vacation without so much as a thought about our upcoming rendezvous.

Liz and Lizards
Before John Huston's 1964 film, Night of the Iguana, Puerto Vallarta was a small port, processing silver from the mines of the Sierra Madre. Not quite the sleepy fishing village of legend, but certainly no tourist destination either. Then, Liz Taylor came to keep an eye on lover Richard Burton while he was filming with the sensuous Ava Gardner. The publicity buzz about the movie, along with Burton and Liz's torrid affair, put Vallarta on the tourist map. Now it's one of Mexico's most popular sun destinations.

Even though airports, hotels and golf courses have supplanted palm groves and jungle, the city still retains its colonial charms. In March 2003, Condé Nast Traveler magazine ranked it among its "10 best and most secure foreign destinations;" a year earlier it named Puerto Vallarta the "world's friendliest city."

From our hotel we took the convenient local bus ($0.40) along the cobblestone streets to the heart of the Old Town, also known as the Romantic Zone. We strolled along the malecón, Puerto Vallarta's lovely seaside promenade, passing several sculptures including a bronze seahorse that has become the town's trademark. We stopped to rest on one of the welcoming wrought-iron benches and watched kids building sand castles on the beach.

Crossing the bridge over the Rio Cuale we discovered the old part of town, filled with outdoor cafés, bars, taco joints, boutiques and galleries where they don't charge gringo prices and where you can mingle with Mexicans. Yet more persistent timeshare salespeople tried to entice us into freebies and 90-minute presentations. We resisted and headed to the endless stretch of beach that lines the Bay of Banderas.

Serendipitously, we hit happy hour at the Oasis on Playa del Sol. We were set up in beach chairs with a bucket of Coronas, some lime wedges, hot-off-the grill tortillas and salsa and guacamole. We dug our toes into the warm sand and enjoyed the first of many Technicolor sunsets while being serenaded by a mariachi band.

Mellow and hungry, we headed along the beach to Daiquiri Dick's (tel: 011-522-322-20566; www.ddpv.com) a local institution for more than 20 years. Rhythmic waves, a balmy breeze, a sky studded with stars, luscious lobster tacos and tangy key lime pie -- Puerto Vallarta's seduction began to work its charms. Winter was miles away and the only thing frozen were the strawberry-banana daiquiris.

Sand Traps and Beach Towns
The promised car rental and golf came through without a hitch. In the last few years Puerto Vallarta has become a stellar golf destination. About the same time Bill and I gave up skiing and started to hate snow, we became golf fanatics. Here we found that we were spoiled for choice.

At Vista Vallarta (reservations: ana.rios@ourclub.com; www.vistavallartagolf.com) just outside of town, we played both the Tom Weiskopf and Jack Nicklaus courses. Further north in Nuevo Vallarta we tried unsuccessfully to tame El Tigre (tel: 800-214-7758; www.eltigregolf.com). No, it's not named after Tiger Woods, but for the larger-than-life rescued Bengal tiger that lives on the 17th hole. Fear not, his cage is not a hazard. Near the driving range, another adolescent cat, named Nala, was tethered to a bougainvillea bush. Between Robert von Hagge's brutal bunkering, gorgeous sculpted fairways, water hazards and wild cats, El Tigre is the kind of course you'd want to play again and again.

When we weren't swinging clubs, we explored the rugged Pacific coast. From Los Muertos Pier in Puerto Vallarta we took a ponga (small boat) to Yelapa, an off-the-beaten-path hamlet full of aging hippies, artists and laid-back locals. After a hike to a waterfall, we bought slices of coconut cream pie from one of the women who ply the beach balancing plastic containers of their home baking on their heads.

 

We hopped a local bus to the town of Bucerias, about half-an-hour north of Vallarta, and bargained for handicrafts at the bustling weekend market. Further north, we tried boogie boarding in the surfer town of Sayulita and devoured what just might be the best fish tacos in the world for about $2 each at Sayulita Fish Taco (tel: 011-52-329-291-3271).

How time flies. Suddenly it was Sunday morning and time for our tour. Emilio delivered us to the Sheraton Buganvilias Resort (tel: 800-433-5451; www.sheratonvallarta.com). About 25 other prospective timesharers were waiting in the lobby. Soon a jovial ex-Vancouverite named Roy took us to a large indoor/outdoor dining room where a lavish brunch was set out. We helped ourselves to some freshly squeezed fruit juice and huevos rancheros. Roy started asking about our vacation habits. How often did we travel? How much would we spend on an average trip?

I cut him off. "I'm a travel writer. I'm away almost half the year. People pay me to travel -- I don't take normal vacations." Roy shrugged.

"Well, you've agreed to be here for 90 minutes so let me show you the Presidential Suite," he smiled. This wasn't exactly the hard sell I had expected. In fact, Roy had trouble finding which floor the model suite was on. In any case, I didn't pay a lot of attention; as far as I was concerned I was merely here as payback for the complimentary golf and car rental.

Too Good to Refuse?
The Presidential Suite, known as a one-bedroom lock-off, is actually two units divided by a centre wall. The hotel half features a large bathroom, a king-size bed, a sitting area and huge balcony overlooking the Bay of Banderas. The studio half has a full kitchen with eating area and a Murphy queen bed that pulls down from the wall, a seating area and another large balcony. Altogether, the unit sleeps four. Roy explained that for the cost of a week, plus maintenance fees, we'd have the option of using the entire unit for one week, or we could occupy only half and stay for two weeks -- all for the same price.

Back down to our table in the restaurant we imbibed more food and coffee. I perked up when Roy pointed out that buying a timeshare doesn't mean that you have to come to the same place at the same time every year. You buy a certain week but you can trade it. Roy also explained that certain purchases come with more bargaining power than others. He was offering us prime time: Christmas week.

By buying we would become members of Resort Condominiums International (RCI) (www.rci.com), a collection of almost 4000 resorts in 100 different countries. Also on the ratings scale, the Sheraton Buganvilias was the top, an RCI Gold Crown Resort. Roy then produced the RCI Community Guide. Indeed, the choice of properties was impressive. How about Christmas in Provence? A safari in South Africa? Golf in Scotland? I was starting to salivate about the possibilities. Bill finally said, "Roy, let's just cut to the chase. How much?"

Just over $30,000 (Canadian), plus yearly maintenance fees of about $450 would buy us one week (or two if we lived in half the unit) for the next 30 years. Plus we could "borrow" from the future years. Plus he was offering 10 bonus weeks. Plus he'd take off about $4,000 to reimburse us for travel costs this first year. Plus we'd get three free nights at the adjoining Sheraton hotel. Plus we'd receive a 20-percent discount on food and drinks at the resort's dining establishments and at the spa.

Bill and I took a walk along the beach. Roy didn't really have to sell this place: it sold itself. In fact, I later found out from the sales manager, Martin Petersen, that of the 30 to 40 people they pitch to every day, about one third of those qualified sign up.

"I see you've made up our minds," Bill remarked as we finished the paperwork, though it hadn't been quite that easy for Roy. We asked so many questions that by the time we signed the contract the room had emptied and the mariachi band had long since packed up. I think old Roy was exhausted.

Back at our resort, Bill sank into a depressed funk. Buyer's remorse had set in. "What were we thinking?" he lamented, "Signing a contract on a Sunday afternoon. In Mexico. Without a lawyer?"

"We love Puerto Vallarta," I replied. "And Sheraton is a totally respectable worldwide hotel chain." Then I left him alone for a few hours.

I'd heard that Sunday night was fiesta night in the Old Town so later on we strolled along the malecón and discovered a lively band playing in the Plaza de Armas, Puerto Vallarta's main square. Seniors dressed in their finest were dancing, teens were flirting, parents were buying balloons and ice cream for their kids. From one of the many street vendors we bought barbequed corn on the cob slathered with chili-lime butter and enjoyed being part of the pulse of the celebration. Later, we watched a folkloric dance in the open-air amphitheatre with the waves as background music.

The fun and festivities restored Bill's spirits. We agreed that of all the places we'd visited in Mexico and the Caribbean, Puerto Vallarta was the one where we could live, or at least return to again and again. Now we owned a piece of it, albeit a small one.

Back in Toronto, the paperwork came through with no glitches. I charged both the deposit and balance to my credit card, thus racking up considerable air miles for the flight next winter. Due to family obligations we were unable to go for Christmas but I had no problem trading for two weeks in February. All of my dealings with the English-speaking reservations people have been polite, friendly and professional.

Back home, the trees are now bare. The furnace has been cleaned. The dreaded snow is forecast. We've rented Night of the Iguana and Spanish-language tapes. Knowing we have a place in the sun makes this winter more tolerable. Buying a timeshare in Mexico may not be everyone's cup of tequila, but we're counting the days.

For more information on travel to Mexico, contact the Mexico Tourism Board (800-44-MEXICO; www.visitmexico.com).

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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