Having crossed the rugged
Sierra Madres, our pilot arcs gently over the shimmering Pacific. From my portside window, I see Huatulco's stunning nine bays and beaches and my destination, Bahía Conejos (Bay of Rabbits) in
Oaxaca, one of Mexico's southerly states, adjacent to
Upon arrival, Bahías de Huatulco International Airport's number of planes instantly doubles to two. Passengers file across the hot tarmac and breeze through customs at 32.8C (91F). I left Toronto's Pearson at -12C (10F), accompanied by Guinness-like record snowfalls. Alberto España Chavez, my driver, greets me with a cooler full of agua and cerveza on ice. I opt for a Corona. When in Rome...
Secrets Huatulco Resort & Spa, 30 minutes away, I'm greeted with a cool hand towel, champagne and a popsicle. Not a bad start. The hotel's architecture is impressive - long, sleek lines with stunning views of the private, crescent-shaped beach and a multitude of turquoise pools with Matisse-like dark blue parabolic swirls etched on the bottom. The pools stretch across the entire property. Mexico City architect Javier Serrano melded natural beauty with exceptional man-made form. All 399 rooms with balconies in six buildings face the ocean. One may tweet or email frozen friends with exotic pictures à la Paul Gauguin enjoying his Tahitian paradise.
My first supper is at the Bordeaux Restaurant, sipping Sauvignon blanc and munching escargots, chateaubriand and crème brûlée dessert. Sadly, I have only four days to sample the eight remaining
Next morning I employ 24-hour room service for an American breakfast. Later at the spa, dramatically elevated upon a hill, I conclude that the CIA has the water-boarding business all wrong. After my hydrotherapy session and a Swedish massage, I am so mellow that I would willingly disclose any secret, give up my best friend, renounce my country, maybe even both children! Appropriate then that this place is named "Secrets."
A quick dry sauna is followed by a steam bath. Next, to loosen up even more, I walk upon smooth, bubbling rocks much like in a river and proceed to an infinity pool with jets at various levels. Once the attendant presses a button, each part of the anatomy, all the way up to the shoulders is exposed to soothing Jacuzzi-like pulses of water. My favourite station is a slightly submerged bed, a cool compress over the eyes as water percolates from underneath.
I rest on a wicker chaise lounge, all thoughts of snow shovelling dispelled. Emilia, my masseuse, leads me up a winding staircase into a private room with a glass wall that showcases the entire property and ocean. I once studied the origin and insertion of each muscle at McMaster. Emilia exhibits a Ph. D in anatomy. Her expert hands squeeze every worry away. Go ahead, send me to Guantanamo prison. I no longer care.
Mastering Spanish 101, each hola, gracias and de nada spills out effortlessly, aided by liquid from the seven bars that range from swim-up to a music lounge. It's an all-inclusive, adult-only enterprise with margaritas, mojitos and mud slides consumed in great quantities, but seemingly not to individual excess.
Ubiquitous Canadian symbols - caps, a flag, t-shirts and even tattoos demonstrate that we make up 85%of the clientele as I talk to friendly types from Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal.
Daily activities include aqua fitness, yoga, archery, chess, tennis, kayaking, sailing on catamarans and more. There's evening entertainment including a Cuban-choreographed stage show featuring Mexican dancers and one Canadian who receives a standing-o from the partisan crowd.
Spiked green palm branches wave in the breeze as I walk daily on the 142 m beach, tough sledding for the sand is soft. Tall, thin cacti reach into the azure sky where frigate birds and turkey vultures float gracefully on thermals. There's a roped-off section for ocean swimming, but I try a calmer area at the eastern tip where I uncover another secret. A short path through sparse bush leads me to an adjacent deserted beach with waves pounding away at large rocky outposts in the ocean. I'm Robinson Caruso searching for footprints. Nada. No people, no sound except the frothy water that carries sand, breaking on the beach. I soak in blissful solitude for 30 minutes.
The giant white and black plastic chess pieces remain idle by the pool. No need to tax the brain here. Ponce de Leon thought the fountain of youth resided in St. Augustine. Wrong. It's in Huatulco, Mexico, and when you leave Secrets, they should give you a crying towel to complete the ritual.
Soon, I discover yet another secret. In my room behind a locked door is a chute, much like old-fashioned milk chutes, and when left open, room service places your food inside. There is also a red light on the outside wall to signal for privacy. Thus, one can shower in the morning and not worry about being disrupted. I notice neighbouring doors adorned with "Happy Anniversary" or "Happy Birthday" banners. They cater to 100 weddings a year here, guaranteed of good weather.
I manage to dine at Castaways, Oceana, (outside with a spectacular panoramic views), Cin Cin with Italian delights and Tamarindo featuring Mexican classics, including caterpillar (crunchy and salty) and a tequila and mescal tasting with sommelier, Jorge, free of charge.
Alberto ferries me to nearby Santa Cruz harbour with a huge Norwegian cruise ship anchored beside two Canadian Coast Guard vessels (obviously lost). We take a boat ride with captain Efrain Lavariega into the bays that stretch 31 km along the coast, snorkel over a coral reef in one and swim ashore to a pristine beach in
Huatulco's National Park at another. At Maguey Bay, we lunch on delicious shrimp cooked inside a pineapple in a wood-burning fireplace where I also befriend a parakeet who rides my arm.
At nearby sleepy
La Crucecita, we visit a church with the largest painting of Mexico's patron saint,
Our Lady of Guadalupe - on its ceiling. I purchase mescal, visit a weaver's shop and befriend children playing soccer in the square. Back on the coast, we visit Dreams, a sister hotel to Secrets that caters to families with children. Busier, its beach is shared with other properties. At $220 per day all-inclusive, it's half the price of Secrets; nonetheless, Secrets is where I would like to stay for the entire winter!
Photos By Mike Keenan
Secrets Huatulco Resort and Spa
Secrets Huatulco Resort and Spa
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune, Niagara Falls Review and Seniors Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.