Mexico’s New Face of Spring Breakers: Retirees

By Carol L. Bowman


spring-breakersAs we climbed the stairs to Squid Roe Restaurant, the crazy, off-spring of Mexico’s Carlos and Charlie’s fame, we wondered what chaos we would find. After all, this was Acapulco, Mexico and the signs “Welcome Spring Breakers” lined the main drag through this Pacific Coast party town. The four of us “60 somethings” remembered back when we just flirted with the craze of raising hell during Spring Break. Now, here we were, forty years late, but determined to tackle this sport.

We needed a diversion from the hard life of playing golf, teaching ESL and volunteering for one good Mexican cause or another in our adopted retiree haven, Chapala, Mexico. After touring Mexico City and Taxco, we ended up in Acapulco in early March 2009. Besieged with graphic headlines about the dangers of traveling in Mexico due to the drug cartel violence, Mexico is reeling from the US State Department Advisory against travel to certain unsecured areas. Along our route, we hadn’t encountered one US tourist, so either the US shambled economy or the news media scare tactics had worn a negative path. Had the annual, college-student Spring stampede also dwindled?

As we entered the restaurant, the expectation of raucous partygoers and tequila shots sliding down throats vanished. Except for two other tables, the place echoed with emptiness. The parents of students, begging for a break from collegiate studies, seemed to have won. This year, at least, few mothers or fathers would pay to willingly put their darlings in harm’s way.

We were on a mission, though. Spring Break forty-five years ago, meant working odd jobs to financially make it to the end of the semester-not flying off to some Mexican resort. We remembered the fun three decades before, when we took our nine year old son and ten year old daughter to one of the first Carlos and Charlie’s restaurants in Cancun. Determined not to let this opportunity pass us by, we took a seat and prepared to party. The new faces of Spring breakers looked mighty wrinkled, but our wallets, brimming with more pesos than the college crowd, kicked up our approval rating.

Our waiters-all four of them- with shiny, young faces and broad smiles, joked with the old folks in Spanish, served excellent food with style and made us feel at home. The unexpected treat waited until we returned there for dinner the next evening. As I walked in, our waiter from the previous night scooped me up, swung me around with the warmest of hugs imaginable and welcomed us back. It felt far more genuine than “money talks”. This is the Mexico everyone is missing. This is the Mexico the news media should be talking about.

Over the past days, we marveled at the Teotihuacan pyramids and the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe; we tiptoed through the treasures at Mexico City’s Museum of Anthropology; we were captivated by Taxco’s magnificent, Santa Prisca Church. Yet I felt more moved by this young Mexican waiter, whose hug equaled one reserved to greet a family member.

These kids could be very bitter. As US citizens, we represented one big reason Mexico’s tourism economy has declined. If our country didn’t have a voracious appetite for illegal drugs, the Mexican cartels and devastating violence consistent with this trade, wouldn’t exist. We symbolized responsibility for their empty wallets and the deserted tables beneath the banners welcoming students. But these positive, energized, young Mexicans showed no disdain. They had a new goal-turn four retirees into Spring breakers.

The two for one drinks started coming and shots of tequila mixed with vodka and orange juice arrived courtesy of the manager. This rowdy bunch of US retirees living the good life in Mexico made every effort to mimic the missing, young party animals. I think we did a pretty good impersonation.

We returned one last time before leaving Acapulco, drawn by the family-like bond that had formed. The manager pondered- “Hmm—You guys had fun and money! Retirees may be our new target customer.”

Does Mexico have personal safety issues? Of course, what country or state doesn’t? Unless you are using or dealing drugs, taking extreme security risks or forgetting common sense rules, traveling in Mexico is relatively safe and affordable. I felt at ease from Mexico City to Acapulco, both which have been labeled downright dangerous. I sensed none of that.

The people of Mexico, like these waiters and cashiers who represent the future face of Mexico, make the risks worthwhile. Meanwhile, we changed the face of spring breakers.

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