CANCUN, Mexico -- In the end (and the sad realization always comes in the end), my five-day stay at an all-inclusive resort on the Caribbean was more than mind-clearing serenity; it was a frightening look into the human psyche.
The plentiful sun, warm breezes, azure sea and powder-white beach became incidental. My vacation brought to mind seventh-grade English class, in which I first read Lord of the Flies. The lesson learned then: Without parameters, we devolve into chaos.
I blame everything on the all-you-can-eat policy.
In the glossy brochure, that part was the most alluring amenity. Secrets Maroma (secretsresorts.com), our all-inclusive resort a 45-minute drive south of Cancun, boasted nine themed restaurants, seven bars and 24-hour room service. But, really, gorgeous terrain aside, this could have been anywhere. The idea is you eat any food, drink any beverage, anytime, in any quantity. It’s possible, and within your civic right, to dine at three restaurants in one night and order everything off the menu — after all, the hit to your credit card has cleared. So for the length of your stay, you enter a world where “no” doesn’t exist in the vernacular. This is a dangerous precedent.
Day 1: After the flight, immigration, airport transfer and resort check-in, six hours have passed since we last inserted food in mouth. My wife and I hurtle toward the buffet like it’s a Super Bowl end zone with five seconds left on the clock.
What happens next is too ugly for words. See it from my perspective: You arrive in a warm-weather paradise where it’s all “yes, sir” and “it’s a pleasure, ma’am.” You’re faint from starvation because your dear wife guilted you out of buying the Sausage McMuffin at the airport. And now, laid out before you, are pasta, sushi, pizza, quesadillas, cakes and tropical juices.
It doesn’t matter that everything but the fruit, juices and Mexican hot foods taste just OK. It’s that I can crowd my plate so densely and that, even with the soy sauce from the sushi sloshing over to the pineapples, I can scarf down cold, salty fruit so voraciously. I don’t care. Post-meal doubling-over be damned; dinner is only three hours away.
Day 2: Eighty-five degrees and nary a cloud in the blue sky. We stake out two poolside chairs facing the sea, where parasailors glide through the air in the distance. João Gilberto strums his bossa nova guitar between my headphones.
A friendly staffer in a polo shirt asks if I care for anything. “Mango margarita, chips and guacamole, please.” Thirty minutes later, the margarita glass empty, he asks if I want another. “A mojito this time.” Thus begins a cycle of drinks on the half-hour, not because I crave another drink but because I can. These beverages won’t turn me goofy anyway; even generously, I figure, there’s a shot of alcohol — max — in each glass.
At noon, a gentleman appears poolside, pushing a cart with a round stainless steel pan three feet in diameter. “Would you like paella?”
Somebody pinch me. A poolside paella cart! Memories of the breakfast buffet are three hours fresh, but I’d never forgive myself if I turn this down. The rice is the color of sunflowers, suffused with the aroma of saffron, with chicken chunks, mussels and bell peppers throughout. The portion is enough to feed two.