It is December in the Yucatan and the roads are lined with energetic young Mexicans riding brightly decorated bicycles as part of the annual procesón in honour of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Meanwhile, at a safe distance from such admirable yet exhausting exertions, I’m lying prostrate under an orange tree enjoying a traditional Mayan massage.
We’ve been at the Hacienda Santa Rosa for less than half an hour, but already the staff have had their wicked way with me and I’m feeling incredibly relaxed. Our car keys having been confiscated on arrival and the vehicle whisked away to some secret parking spot, we were then treated to cooling fresh lemonade and ice-cold hand towels.
Once inside our suite, I try and work out whether I have shrunk in size or if giants once occupied the hacienda. The ceilings seem to be above cloud level while the wooden windows and doors are at least 10-feet high. Sinking into the middle of the king-size iron bed, I stretch each arm out but my hands aren’t even close to the edge of the mattress. Looking around I see a fuchsia frenzy of bougainvillea petals adorning every surface, and the whiter-than-white linen and super fluffy towels are emanating a floral scent that I can’t identify but am instantly and wildly addicted to.
After a breakfast of poached eggs and chia (Mexican spinach boasting six times more iron than its feeble European cousin) it is time to investigate the Hacienda’s grounds. Much to Mr Smith’s consternation, I instigate an expedition into the botanical gardens, a wonderland of tropical plants irrigated using an ancient watering system introduced by the Spanish. My appetite for flora and fauna is not disappointed when we find passion fruit growing alongside papaya, aloe vera, tamarind, lemons and coriander. Unfortunately Mr Smith doesn’t share my green-fingered pretensions, so once he starts dragging his feet we move on to the local women’s workshops.
Minutes later, I am laden with silver jewellery, hammocks and various kitchen receptacles woven from sisal. Even in a remote Yucatan village my talent for shopping is not wasted. These women keeping traditional Mexican handicrafts alive and expressing their creativity is wonderfully inspiring to my jaded consumer-driven soul.
Navigating our way back to the hacienda, Mr Smith is momentarily traumatised as we walk past a gaggle of turkeys, terrifyingly ugly with blue heads and scarlet snoods (yes, that is the name of the red thing under a turkey’s chin, not just that 80s' scarf-type accessory). Mr Smith blames an unfortunate childhood incident when he was chased by one of these beasts. I placate him by agreeing to a road trip in the afternoon to find out what the surrounding area has to offer.
Exacting revenge on a morning filled with flowers and feminine handicrafts, Mr Smith takes me to the altogether more testosterone-fuelled Oxkintok Mayan ruins (where he admires the devil’s temple) and the Calcehtok caves (which I insist we experience from the entrance due to my inappropriate cave-exploring attire of skirt and flip-flops). As darkness falls I am more than glad to return to the hacienda, which I had secretly never wanted to leave in the first place.
We scrub up for dinner, choose a table on the hacienda terrace and tuck into the best the kitchen has to offer. For me, this is prawns wrapped in bacon with mango sauce and couscous, Mr Smith, meanwhile, tackles the grouper fish with fresh local pumpkin. We sample the delicious fresh ingredients grown in the hacienda’s gardens, served with warm home-baked rolls and red wine butter. Once we’ve had our fill we go for a walk around the terrace, where bats are feasting on the fruit trees surrounding the pool and crickets compete to create a deafening crescendo.
I pop my head around the kitchen door on our way back to the suite and ask for an ice bucket. We have a bottle of bubbly chilling in the fridge and there’s the small matter of the plunge pool in the suite’s private garden to be addressed. Mr Smith dons one of the hacienda’s oversized white robes and matching slippers to pad around the pool and turn on the hot water. I stifle a giggle as he looks like a rap video contender, minus the gold chains and cigar. As we sip our drinks, steam rising from the pool towards the full moon glimpsed through giant banana plants, we take in the moment, candles flickering around the rim of the pool, casting long shadows into the night.
A minor disaster is averted at breakfast before we leave. Reaching greedily for the pots of homemade mango, papaya and strawberry marmalade (which I'd have smuggled home if Mr Smith hadn’t stopped me), I manage to knock over the sugar bowl. Covering my misdemeanour with a napkin, but it’s too late, the waiter has seen and rushes over to clear up. 'You are lucky,' he tells me, 'If that was salt it would have meant you were destined for a disastrous day.' I’m thinking, 'Damn, I wish it had been salt – then I’d have had a legitimate reason for refusing to get in the car to leave.'
For days after returning home from Santa Rosa, I am still repeatedly informing Mr Smith that I miss the hacienda. I long for those magical, invisible hands lighting candles, sprinkling flower petals, placing slippers by the bed and readying my favourite table for dinner. Mr Smith, a man of few words, concedes that it was good to get away. He even has a misty look in his eyes.
Anonymously reviewed by Catherine Gordon (Scuba-diving scribe)
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