By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken
We have been sheltering in place since March 15, 2020. Just the two of us. Fortunately, fifty-seven years of marriage have allowed us to stockpile decades of memories of times when we sought opportunities to flee our busy lives in the U.S. and find solitary romance – often in Mexico.
Our earliest romantic moments in Mexico took place in the 1970s in archeological sites in eastern Mexico. Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Palenque were relatively inaccessible at that time and were visited by very few tourists traveling independently. There were only one or two places to stay in each area, and we tried to choose one adjacent to the ruins, a new or newly renovated hotel that was large, luxurious and, for the most part, empty. We usually breakfasted by ourselves at dining room tables covered with pristine white tablecloths.
We spent the early, coolest part of the day wandering over the ruins of temples, climbing reconstructed pyramids, and reading to each other from papers published by archeologists with detailed descriptions of the digs. We filled in the gaps in knowledge by amusing each other with made-up stories of our interpretations of the glyphs – the ancient Mayan pictographs adorning the buildings and stelae, which at that time were still undeciphered.
When the sun became piercing and the busloads of tourists arrived, we cooled off in the hotel swimming pool or, at Palenque, in a memorable artificial stream that fed the pool. Then we ate lunch and retired to our freshly cleaned room. In the cool of the evening, when the grounds were nearly deserted and moonlit, we wandered hand in hand listening to the unidentifiable sounds in the surrounding jungle and watching the shadows play over the remains of the Mayan civilization, while imagining other couples from that civilization also strolling in the moonlight.
A decade later, in the 1980s, after having exhausted exploring many of the Mayan architectural sites, we romanced in Mexico in mainly uninhabited areas with fish-filled lagoons prime for snorkeling. Isla Mujeres was a memorable boat trip from Cancun; our hotel was noteworthy for a spectacular view, lack of hot water, and proximity to a good place to snorkel, but not much else.
Akumal became our favorite place to stay; all we really needed was a studio apartment with a kitchenette, a view of the water, and the sound of the waves pounding on the beach. After packing a lunch, we spent the days swimming side-by-side in waters that were natural aquariums, pointing out spectacular specimens of fish and other forms of marine life. The Xel Ha lagoon, not yet developed for tourists and accessible only by a narrow path through the jungle, became our private pool.
Xcaret was a bit more luxurious, having a changing room, a bathroom facility and chairs for lounging – but at that time not much more. The area was generally less private, but we could always find a place away from other people where we could commune with the fish, large iguanas, and each other. And the ocean in front of our Akumal digs abounded with interesting aquatic phenomena – sponges building their habitat, octopi lurking under rocks and snatching unsuspecting passing fish, and schools of fish, forming and reforming. Deserted cenotes around the area provided a place where we would float on our backs side-by-side and watch the birds and clouds overhead.
The following decade for the most part had rare times for romance. We were both working over 70 hours a week, flying all over the U.S. and almost never to the same destination. We became notorious for planning our flights so we could spend an hour or two together in an airline club in Chicago or elsewhere. We were fortunate enough to have a month’s vacation every year. Then we travelled as far from the U.S. as possible and chose places where it was really difficult for our employers and employees to reach us – mountains in New Zealand; islands on the Great Barrier Reef; rural villages in Italy, Spain and France; rivers in China; archeological sites in Malaysia. Mexico was too close and too accessible to prevent someone from contacting us about a statistical error or an ungrammatical sentence in a report to be published. So, although our stockpile of romantic times continued to grow, Mexico was not part of the pile.
That changed on Inauguration Day in 2001. Jan, who held a presidential appointment in the Clinton administration, was suddenly freed from his pager, cell phone, and government responsibilities. Marcia had developed internet communication between members of her research teams and could work from anywhere as long as she had her computer.
We immediately packed the computer, clothes and other essential items in our car and headed south and into Mexico. We spent the better part of that year driving around the country, staying in memorably romantic beach casitas or apartments with incredible city vistas. We wandered together through art museums discovering new artists. We enjoyed wonderful concerts. And we had numerous adventures, sometimes totally lost, sometimes totally terrified, but always together. And then we discovered Huatulco!
Although we settled down at the end of 2001 in Ashland, Oregon, one of the best tourist destinations in the U.S., we returned again and again to Huatulco, finally buying a condo and spending about six months a year here. For many years we drove our car, loaded with books and supplies, from Oregon to our condo, over varying routes and stopping to see friends or interesting locations on the way. Romantic times abounded – many over meals in fabulous restaurants in Oaxaca, San Cristóbal, Mexico City, and of course Huatulco. When Cafe Juanita was located in Santa Cruz, we had a standing reservation for New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day at our “own” table overlooking the plaza. After the move to the Chahue Marina, Juanita’s continued to be our place for romantic dinners – even planning our 50th wedding celebration there while having a Valentine’s dinner. We also have had a very favorite place in Huatulco for romantic breakfasts – but since we enjoy frequently being the only people there, you’re not going to find out where it is.
Finally, for the past 10 years, we’ve found many romantic moments, exploring together and writing articles for The Eye about our adventures. You can read about many of these in the Eye archives. So, thanks to you, readers, to our fellow Eye writers, and most of all to our Eye editor Jane for the many opportunities you have provided for building memories of romance in times past and hopes for more romance in Mexico, post-pandemic.