I was hot, sweaty, sore, and my foot had swollen twice its usual size after stepping on a bee.
My dad handed me his cup. “Here,” he offered, “have some water.”
I chugged it, only realizing it was vodka after three shots-worth. He snickered at his prank and waited for me to pass out from exhaustion.
Evidently, our quiet family vacation to Cabo San Lucas was simply never meant to be.
What we did experience was far more memorable and wonderful than I could have possibly predicted.
It began with a wedding invitation. My cousin announced her plans for a destination wedding and shortly thereafter, an unprecedented 100+ eager wedding guests sent in their RSVPS. Yes, of course we wanted to be there for the happy couple’s day. And yes, of course we wanted to lounge by the ocean in a slightly tipsy haze for a weekend.
I prepared myself for a relaxing holiday without any clue as to what actually awaited us.
I imagined floating in the water, cooling myself in deference to the Mexican summer heat. Or maybe overindulging in guacamole – certainly indulging in rum drinks. Cabo and its complex culture would serve as the backdrop for our quiet family wedding – or so I thought.
Cabo San Lucas has been built upon a lucrative tourism industry, flashing people with cheap nick-knacks and a unquenchable thirst for booze. The city, unfortunately, has become a sort of legend, famed for the drunken escapades that fill the night air with music and laughter.
While I aim to never accept stereotypes at face value, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Based on what I had heard, I didn’t believe Cabo and I would click, and yet thousands of tourists view Cabo as Paradise, my cousin included. Knowing full well that the beautiful wedding, and not the Mexican city, was the destination, I kept an open mind as we boarded our plane in the wee hours of the morning (after nearly getting a speeding ticket, of course).
Paradise, though? That seemed like a lofty achievement.
I become quite attached to different places. Similar to people, places exist in my heart for years and years once I love them. When I fall in love with a place, it becomes a Paradise of sorts, and I return to that place in my mind for serenity, or sometimes as a reminder of who I am and what I value.
The face of my Paradise shifts from year to year, season to season, though it usually resembles Scotland, and men are usually wearing kilts. Sometimes it’s France, wandering along the serpentine streets of Paris, or the narrow rows of Southern vineyards, nibbling on a pain aux amandes. Or a baguette. Either way, food is nearly always involved.
With everyone around me apparently smitten with Cabo, I almost felt guilty for not falling immediately in love. But Paradise is a special place in my mind and I can’t just grant to every pretty place I see.
We arrived in Cabo on the eve of a full moon, dry air sunning our skin, the desert and bare mountains a reminder that we were, in fact, not in Milwaukee anymore. I could feel the Mexican heat in the back of my throat. Sweat and sunscreen dripped off my body as I shielded my eyes against the sun.
And as much as I wanted to fall in love with Cabo, I couldn’t force the affection – at first, that is. I itched to find the culture beyond the city’s touristy gloss, and to float in in the sea, quiet and serene. Instead, the beat of the blasting music felt as constant as the sun, and although exciting, the endless socializing exhausted me.
However, it didn’t take long to realize that Cabo’s reputation of artifice is entirely false. For a place with such a complex history, Cabo has been done a great disservice by being relegated to a drunk tourist hotspot for Americans.
Amidst all the noise and the parties, the bars and bottles of tequila, the city felt alive all by itself, in an almost exclusive manner. I wish I could have explored the city in more depth, but even with my limited time, I found Cabo a divided place, with life behind the touristy veneer. There were stories and traditions and a breadth of culture I hadn’t yet earned the right to know.
One day, my family and I stumbled across a quiet alcove frequented by locals. All of us gathered together on this narrow strip of sand, escaping the searing heat.
We only discovered the beach because the waters at our hotel were considered too rough for swimming. (Travel Tip) In fact, I would advise future travelers to scope out the beaches ahead of time. Many of the hotels are situated near the water, and though the coastline of colors and frothy waves will make you stop in wonder, the tides are too rough to actually swim.
But our local strip, where I could swim to my heart’s content, was perfect.
And perhaps that’s the real attraction – not the glitzy tourist facade people have unfairly used to describe Cabo, but the undercurrent of the city. The humor of its people, the ever-present scent of sea salt and oregano and chilli powder, the local children creating sandcastles with seashells – all these snippets of local life are as much a part of Cabo as the pale rocks and feathery palm trees.
Again though, we were here for a family wedding. I spent time in the spa with my aunt, bonded over the bizarre antics of the day with my brother, suntanned with my mom, and shared rum drinks with my dad. My cousin’s kids played in the water with relentless energy. A mixture of family members and fellow, unknown wedding guests mingled by the pool, sipping their happy hour drinks in the swim-up bar. It was overwhelming and exhilarating, and I’m incredibly grateful to my family for the experience.
But most importantly, we celebrated a wedding – the tangible love between my cousin and her fiance.
I seemed to have forgotten how lovely weddings can be. My Facebook feed is constantly cluttered with pictures of fluttering white dresses and perfectly arranged rows of men in tuxes; it all begins to blend into one abstract concept after a while. But actually watching my cousin get married, particularly in such a stunning location, lifted what had become a rather jaded perception of weddings.
As they spoke their vows, and the moon rose in a violet sky, and every single wedding guest smiled, it didn’t matter if any of us believed Cabo was Paradise. It became a sort of Paradise, if only for the night.
The trip has blurred into one long memory of dancing, laughing, drinking, hugging relatives, hugging them again, devouring guacamole and fajitas, drinking some more, feeling the sun on my pale Wisconsin skin for the first time in a year, and watching two people in love cry, dance, laugh, and – quite simply – just be with their friends and family for one unforgettable weekend.
Finally, on our last night, I was high above it all, wrapped in traditional Mexican blankets, enjoying a fantastic meal with my family,
The wind was heavy with salt, and it didn’t matter whether or not Cabo had become my Paradise. Because the moment was perfect. Moments throughout the vacation were perfect. Because sometimes, it doesn’t matter where you are.
We were there for a wedding.
And Cabo was the perfect Paradise.
Visiting Cabo? Here are some travel tips!
Where we stayed: Playa Grande Resort and Spa
Where we ate: El Farallon (one of the best meals of my life)
Where to go for drinks: Cabo Wabo (I didn’t go but other people apparently had fun!)