Money Changes Everything

Looking high and low for the heart of travel

Nov 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

ABOVE LOS CABOS, at the tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula, looms a steep escarpment, invisible unless you know it's there. The thing is made of money, with its summit at a nonpareil 61-room beach resort called Las Ventanas al Paraíso ("Windows to Paradise"), between the towns of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo. Were the dollars spent every day at Las Ventanas piled up and burned, the brightness would be visible from space.

I have come to Los Cabos to make a touristic first descent: Following two nights at a low-season rate of $2,032 per in a Las Ventanas deluxe oceanfront suite, I will relocate some five miles eastward for two nights at Señor Mañana ("Mr. Tomorrow"), a micro-lodge in downtown San José del Cabo, where a low-season single goes for $30. Pricewise, Mr. Tomorrow isn't the bottom, but in Mexico the wise don't try to hit bottom. I will make a 98.52 percent room-rate drop in the same bold spirit of those who have skied off Mount Everest. As in all adventure that deserves the name, this is a quest for greater knowledge of reality and self. I want to meet the Cosmic Vacation Dollar and pose the big question: Does more money really buy a better time? FIRST, THE ASCENT: At the Los Cabos airport, I am greeted by the driver of a silver Las Ventanas Mercedes who hands me an icy Evian and a chilled wet towel. Las Ventanas itself, with its open-air lobby overlooking a complex of modest-scale buildings done in a tastefully stark Pueblo-Mediterranean-Aztec fusion, fails at first to overwhelm. But then I notice lavish details—the floor's amazing "rock carpet" inlays, original art, the serpentine horizonless pool doing a design dance with the searing-bright beach. The savage perfection extends to staffers, who outnumber guests five to one. In the lobby, people in earth-tone Armani-oid tropicals start assuring me what a pleasure it will be to make my stay more perfect. I swear they mean it.

Convention obliges the writer to jeer and throw dung, but Las Ventanas wins me over in the first hour, to the point that it seems right and proper to occupy a 1,600-square-foot suite with its own pool and whirlpools. There's tennis on the property and golf at the best local courses, and the concierge has a fat book of off-property outings—marlin fishing, shopping, kayaking, snorkeling—but there's no urge to get out and about. Even the beach is deserted, in spite of the fact that the place is 92 percent full. (I learned on check-in that it's mostly a show beach anyway, too steep at the surf line and racked by treacherous currents.)

What people seem to do at Las Ventanas is quietly loll and swim in the pools and glide around the grounds, mostly two by two. The vibe discourages approach. One of four fellow guests I meet, a honeymooner from Alabama, seems unhinged by the implosive hush. "I'm high gregarious!" he yells at me. Spa director Carole Sullivan cracks the code: This is a healing place, not Club Med.

So leave me alone, I'm healing. I run on the beach, work out in the gym, and learn the hard way how wrong it is to leave the property for a three-hour surfing lesson that's great, except I ache for the Shrine of the Pampered Me. Back at Las Ventanas I get lost in a ceviche of parrot fish and pear chunks in coconut milk and am gently buzzed because somebody saw Jennifer Aniston. Then the spa's 80-minute Seventh Heaven aromatherapy massage nukes all other delights. During this lifetime-best muscle manipulation, it comes to me in a flash how narrow and wrong it is to write off a place like this as ridiculously expensive—because it isn't that way for the ridiculously wealthy. Judge not what you do not have. Were I one of the financially blessed, feeling the need for the ultimate in grande luxe quiet and stroking, I'd be booking the next long weekend right now.

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