In a desperate attempt to clear my head from the toxic accumulation of several month’s worth of high stress and general bad luck last year, I did something I’d never done before – I went out of town by myself on a complete last-minute whim, planning my entire solo trip less than a week in advance.
At first I didn’t even know where to go – my only criteria was the location had to be warm and far, far away from Colorado.
I chose my destination based primarily on flight cost, and at five days prior to departure, I only had three reasonably priced options: Cabo, Phoenix, and El Paso, Texas.
The winner was pretty obvious.
Using the Hotel Tonight app, I booked three nights at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos, the cheapest beachfront accommodations available somewhere in the stodgy outskirts of San José del Cabo. I suppose I should have expected something dreadful simply because of the meager price, but that’s just all part of the learning experience…
I immediately knew something had to be off the moment my airport shuttle rounded the driveway of what at first appeared to be a live construction site, tucked behind a mountainous heap of dirt, overgrown brush and rusting debris. I couldn’t find the name of the resort anywhere.
“Are you sure this is it?” I asked the shuttle driver, hesitant to unload at whatever this strange, disheveled place was that looked nothing like the resort website.
“Ah sí, sí,” he responded hurriedly, clearly anxious to move on with his route. There were still several other passengers in the van waiting to get dropped off, already blitzed from too many tequila sunrises at the overpriced outdoor airport bar, which of course was conveniently placed right by the arrivals pick-up curb.
“Just get on with it, will yeh!” a particularly belligerent male could be heard shouting from the back.
I took a deep breath, gathered my things, and hoped for the best.
Entering the main hotel lobby of the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos was like stepping into a blazing hot inferno, which seemed odd considering the exterior’s breezy, thatched hut-like appearance. The heat was absolutely stifling, so I certainly didn’t complain when the host at the front desk handed me a nice chilled face cloth, along with my greatly anticipated complimentary check-in glass of champagne.
However, just as I was finally starting to feel at ease, the series of unexpected daunting questions arose.
“So, señora, when does your husband plan to arrive?”
“What?” This was extremely confusing, since I knew I’d made my online reservation specifically for one person. I explained all this to the stocky male receptionist, that I was by myself and had reserved just a basic room for one with one king-sized. He eyed me skeptically, one of his bristly dark brows raised.
“Ah… So your husband arrives tomorrow then?”
“No… No! No. No tengo un esposo. Estoy solo.” What was so difficult to understand? Then it occurred to me, maybe the resort didn’t see solo female travelers often. Or ever.
“Ok then,” the receptionist muttered, clearly displeased. “So, would you prefer a room with an ocean view, or a room with air conditioning?”
Not wanting to suffer through the projected 90-degree heat without it, I chose a room with air conditioning, hopeful whatever view I had would be pleasant enough. Before long, a bellboy who appeared no older than sixteen years old led me to my assigned accommodations – a ramshackle room in a dilapidated building I’m pretty sure was not fit to have anyone staying in it.
I actually did end up having a nice partial glimpse of the ocean out the side of my balcony, which was only partly blocked by a massive mound of dirt and decomposing rubble, but otherwise got a terrific uninterrupted view of what appeared to be the resort’s unsightly construction parking and leisure area.
Everything about the room was just plain seedy, offering a dismal atmosphere similar to what one might expect from the local prison. Tiles were missing from the floor. The ceiling fans did not work. All lamps and lighting fixtures were missing light bulbs, except for one poor, dim fluorescent light flickering relentlessly overhead.
The cold tap in the bathroom sink didn’t work so the water only came out scalding, which made washing hands and brushing teeth a painful challenge. Fortunately, while it was possible to control the water temperature in the shower, something was very wrong with the shower head or water pressure as it seemed to spray uncontrollably in every direction, causing a small flood throughout the bathroom with each rinse.
For some reason the glass on my balcony door sported the name of a different resort, ‘La Jolla,’ further adding to the confusion.
Apparently to the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos, the concept ‘air conditioning’ means a very outdated, dubious-looking box contraption barely hanging by a few wires above the balcony door, occasionally spitting out mouse farts of air slightly cooler than the overall temperature.
I know I totally could have asked to change rooms, considering there was nothing even remotely satisfactory about mine. But, because I was only there for three days for the sole purpose of enjoying the beach alone, I did my absolute best to not mind the copious issues.
Going into this trip, I had secretly hoped it would be something like my amazing Turks and Caicos solo travel experience the year before. A thrilling, life-changing (not to mention wildly relaxing) getaway full of memories I’d cherish for a lifetime. I wanted to meet exciting new people, make new friends, have more fun than ever imaginable and completely forget my life back home.
Clearly this was expecting too much.
For some reason the hotel was eerily empty, with the exception of a few Mexican families, assorted senior citizens and one lone American couple around my age who mistakenly chose the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos as their honeymoon destination.
The social scene was indeed bleak.
On top of that, there was no open bar, but rather a grossly overpriced swim-up pool bar with a barely convincing 2-for-1 happy hour I eventually learned to take smart advantage of (which I’ll admit was a fun novelty, if not the resort’s only fun amenity).
The bartenders at the swim-up pool bar were also the only ones at the hotel who didn’t grimace whenever I asked them to refill my Klean Kanteen water bottle with drinking water, as opposed to buying pricey bottled water from the gift shop per the front desk’s suggestion. This was very much a budget vacation, no way was I paying for bottled drinking water!
My days in Cabo were spent mostly by the pool or at the beach, despite the resort’s warnings not to go anywhere near it. Red flags indicating dangerous currents waved prominently over the beach walkway, so I knew not to swim, but I saw no reason not to use this perfectly golden, entirely empty beach as my own personal sunbathing oasis.
I literally had the entire beach to myself – though the view was hazy, I could see down the coast for miles, giving me plenty of warning should any strangers amble by.
I crashed early the first night, thanks to the sheer exhaustion from my red-eye flight there. The second night however, I wanted to explore – and to my dismay, there was nothing at all worth exploring in the vicinity of the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos. In fact, the only other commercial establishments within walking distance (albeit very treacherous walking distance) were a miniscule cash-only cantina and a small strip mall best described as ‘plain sketch,’ containing a run-down Applebee’s and what apparently was the only available ATM nearby.
After declining the front desk’s recommendation to sign up for some expensive all-night party bus journey that just screamed FOREBODING MESS, I decided I’d venture over to Cabo San Lucas to explore on my own, hoping for the best and seeing where the evening would take me.
Ensuring I had plenty of daylight hours left to look around before dark, I paid for a taxi ride into Cabo San Lucas’ main commercial center, where I initially found myself thinking well, this is where all the tourists are!
The place was BUSTLING. Hoards of overweight middle-aged Americans, overwhelmed younger families struggling to hold onto their small children, and teenagers sporting cut-offs with matching puff-painted tank tops filled the sidewalks and streets, which were lined with an interesting combination of kitschy gift shops, authentic-looking cantinas, taco joints, timeshare offices, over-the-top touristy restaurants and flashy nightclubs.
I think I wandered every inch of downtown Cabo San Lucas possible. After walking up, down and around each street, up and down the marina, through the enormous dreary shopping mall and around the adjacent ‘Luxury Avenue’ area, it was time to stop and find a place to rest up and have dinner.
Refusing to give into the relentless cat-calling and inappropriate comments I knew would inevitably accompany my trek, ‘special offers’ from desperate restaurant-owners hoping to lure poor naïve souls in for who knows what, I eventually decided on Desperado’s Restaurant & Cantina, a grandiose Tex Mex eatery teeming with tourists and advertising a popular late night live music show. No, it was not ‘authentic’ Latin cuisine nor did the establishment seem to represent anything in regards to the local culture – I picked it solely because no one’d harassed me to be a customer, so I figured I’d be safe there.
As the evening progressed, it became increasingly more apparent the judgmental hotel staff at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos weren’t the only ones who thought it incredibly strange I was a single female traveling alone in Los Cabos. The server at Desperado’s found my plight fascinating, while others I encountered throughout the night had no hesitations in expressing their strong disapproval.
All that followed dinner was one uncomfortable incident after another.
First, I decided to grab a drink at the whimsical tiki-themed bar across the street, which looked tame enough. The entire place was empty, and the endearing bartender couldn’t have been more enthusiastic in telling me about their daily drink special: a free shot of tequila paired with the order of a Corona or Modelo. Why not…
Reminding myself I was technically on vacation, I went ahead and ordered the special, figuring a shot of tequila wouldn’t hit too hard so soon after dinner. I enjoyed a few moments of relaxation, sipping my Corona while occasionally glancing up at the large TV screen mounted above the bar, which blared a random medley of Taylor Swift music videos on a loop.
“So what are you up to tonight, señorita?” The bartender’s voice broke my trance, serving as a quick reminder to keep my guard up. He spoke with a thick accent in friendly, broken English.
The bartender carried on with collecting my empty shot glass and beer bottle, smiling at me warmly. I told him I just planned to see where the night would take me.
“Well,” he replied slowly, “I get off work soon, and I live only a block away, over there.” He gestured across the street. “If you meet me back here in an hour, I can show you the whole city.”
Flattered as I was, in absolutely no way did I intend to take this guy up on his offer.
“Meet me on this corner, this one here, in about an hour!” he called after me as I walked away.
“Yeah! Yeah, I mean I… I’ll have to see… I don’t really know… Yeah… Sure,” I stammered back, smiling, nodding and waving for what seemed an appropriate amount until I’d finally traveled out of reasonable conversation range.
Finding the social atmosphere I craved so badly was proving to be much more difficult than expected.
Nightfall was rapidly approaching, so I took a long walk along the marina to watch the dazzling sunset glisten over the water. Dazzling shades of orange and violet filled the sky and the mirror-like reflection in the water below, accompanied by a striking backdrop of stark red peaks jutting out from the horizon. It was truly mesmerizing.
Keenly aware of Cabo San Lucas’ reputation as a wild party town, it dawned on me by this point in the evening that staying out much later would not be a smart or safe decision, especially alone. I would have one more drink, I decided, and then return back to the resort. What could go wrong?
I stopped by a busy restaurant in the bottom of a nice-looking hotel, where I went ahead and sat myself up at the bar near a group of middle-aged American ladies and quickly opened my book, just so to avoid appearing quite so alone. Moments later, an older Hispanic man claiming to be the restaurant owner greeted me with a zealous welcome, followed by a strangely familiar interrogation with the same list of uncomfortable questions I’d sadly grown to expect in Los Cabos.
“Where is your husband?” Not here…
“He must be getting into Los Cabos late then. When does your husband arrive?” There is no husband…
In hindsight, I should have absolutely lied to everyone about being single and alone on this trip.
As soon as the restaurant manager learned I was alone, he exchanged an ominous glance with the bartender, who immediately presented me with a tequila shot. I explained that I had not ordered a shot, nor did I particularly desire one.
“Oh no that shot is free for you,” the manager exclaimed, laughing. “It’s specially to you from that bartender over there, he’s shy.” He pointed at the bartender who smiled back coyly. Not typically one to pass up a free drink, I took my shot reluctantly, praying it hadn’t been laced.
I returned my focus to my book, hoping the obsequious serving staff would leave me in peace so I could finish my last few sips of beer. Next thing I knew, two more tequila shots slid down the bar towards me.
“Those are for you,” the bartender said, winking. The restaurant manager had stopped by again too, clearly thrilled I’d been given two more shots.
“I really don’t need these…” I responded. It was not my goal to get wasted that night, much less drugged and assaulted. I managed to force half of one more shot down before tossing the remaining tequila over my shoulder (a favorite party trick from college).
To my dismay, the manager seemed enthralled by my apparent shot-taking abilities. “So señorita, what are you up to tonight after this? You know, I live real close to here… You should come over, if you want…”
Why do all these Mexican men think I want to go out with them, just because I’m traveling solo?!
“Here, try this shot next…” As if the situation hadn’t become alarming enough, the bartender presented me with one last complimentary shot – not tequila, but rather a creepy, grotesque substance in shot form.
“What is this?” I asked, wincing.
“That’s called a brain tumor,” he replied with a grin.
My stomach dropped.
I have a very sensitive family history involving brain cancer, and that was exactly the sign I needed to get myself out of there. I left cash on the bar for my beer and proceeded to gather my belongings.
“Now wait, where do you think you’re going?” Like flipping a switch, the restaurant manager’s temperament had gone from friendly and welcoming to almost menacing in an instant. I sensed he had nothing but sinister motives in mind.
“Sorry, but I just got my cue to leave. Time to go.” I grabbed my bag, waved one final adieu, and promptly left without looking back.
My heart palpitated heavily as I power-walked away. It was barely 9:30 pm, but I wanted nothing more than to just get back to the resort. After battling a group of wasted teenage boys for a cab and haggling with the inexplicably crabby driver for a somewhat reasonably fair rate, I was on my way “home” – finally, I could breathe.
Little did I know, the worst was just beginning.
…to be continued.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2, COMING SOON!!