“Sir! Welcome to Mexico! Come, may I ask you something? Do you like tequila? We are serving free tequila! Look, let me give you this. Try this one. This one is called reposado. Good? Do you like it? Some for you Madam? Or perhaps a margarita? Yes? Wonderful, can I get a margarita for the lady? Here, please. Here you go. This one is for you. Real Mexican tequila, the best. Pretty good, eh? Now look at this one. You like mango? This bottle over here is different. This one is mango tequila. Here you go. Taste this. What do you think? No? You do not like the flavored ones. Just the straight tequila. I understand. A man of taste. Let me get you another.”

We stood there bleary-eyed at a portable counter with our suitcases and shoulder bags, yet to set foot on Mexican soil. Across from us was a short man of about thirty and his female assistant who passed out tequila in small plastic cups with joy. Around us, other travelers were being compelled to stop off at counters and receive tequila shots.

We were frazzled and ready to get to our hotel room.

“Sir, before you go! you may have noticed coming down the corridor, the signs. There are many signs. Did you see the signs for Vidanta? Yes? Do you know about Vidanta?”

“We already have a hotel.”

“Excellent! May I ask where are you staying?”

“The Hilton.”

“An excellent choice, sir. How long are you in Puerto Vallarta?”

“Only today. Tomorrow we go to Sayulita for the week.”

“Ahh! Sayulita is wonderful! If you give me just a minute of your time I will get you free transportation to the Hilton.”

To cut to the chase, Vidanta is a not-yet-finished resort. The whole presentation was about getting us to come to a one-hour tour of the Vidanta campus the following morning. The man promised to pick us up himself and take us to enjoy a free breakfast.

(We later learned that “one hour” is actually literally the whole day. Trina and I fell for this once when we were newlyweds around 1992. They promised us a voucher for a luxury hotel if we come listen to a 45-minute presentation. We were dirt poor and naïve, and a free vacation was enticing. But you know how it goes: they trap you in a room for hours and pressure you to buy a vacation time-share package or something. It was horrible. We never fell for that again. I assumed that only American businesses could be so scammy. I wasn’t expecting it in Mexico.)

To get us to sign up for a tour, the freebies started adding up. By the end, he had offered us:

  • A free taxi to the Hilton
  • Personal escort to Vidanta the following morning
  • Free breakfast before the tour
  • Personal escort to Sayulita after the tour was over (approximately a one-hour drive)
  • 1000 pesos CASH! (approximately $50 US)

He asked my name and wrote it on a registration form, thanking me on behalf of his poor children because he worked on commission.

“Sir, we only want you to see Vidanta so you can tell your friends who may come to Mexico. To help get the word out with advertising, because Vidanta is new and not well known. Nothing else.”

“But they want us to buy a vacation, right?”

“There is no obligation to purchase.”

“Yeah, but will we be pressured to buy a vacation, right?”

He pointed to the registration form that said, “NO OBLIGATION”

“I get it. We’ve done this before. They’re gonna twist our arms to sign up.”

“Sir there is no obligation.”

That’s when Trina said, “Nope. We’re gonna pass.” And I said “You heard the lady! We’re gonna pass.”

“But sir! Wait, think about my children! What if I will give you ONE-THOUSAND PESOS!” And that is when we walked away.

Suddenly the gauntlet of thirty other salesmen lining the corridor erupted into shouts— “SIR! PLEASE, ONE MOMENT! SIR! SIR! SIR!” They stepped toward us urgently, as you would for someone whose clothes were on fire, their faces shocked as if we had just personally insulted the whole nation of Mexico.

For a moment, we sensed we could be in serious physical danger from the brigade of salesmen charging at us and pleading with us. Trundling our luggage behind, Trina and I huddled together and pressed into the fray like sailors into a hurricane. Adrenaline surged. We avoided eye contact. Perhaps the tequila steeled our nerves. But they didn’t follow us down the corridor. Thank God, we were safe.

Physically trembling, hearts racing, and looking at each other in sheer astonishment, we approached the airport exit.

But we were blocked by a line of people, like a game of Red Rover, urgently asking if they could hail us a taxi.

[More to come]