Zihuatanejo & the Club Med Redemption

4 min read

You ever almost get into a fight? I mean a physical fight? As an adult? Even the idea of it is so stupid, so… embarrassing, you can’t believe you could easily slip into a state of early adolescence. But suddenly there you are – adrenaline pumping, fists curling, breath quickening and bowels… a little tentative. Amazingly, this happened to me at one of the happiest places on earth – not Disneyland. No, it was at a Club Med. In Mexico. And I just want to say it wasn’t my fault. He started it.

In twin cities, people and cultures are so mixed even their city names are blended – Minneapolis/Saint Paul; Raleigh/Durham; Dallas/Ft. Worth. Buda and Pest. Really. It’s actually two cities on either side of the Danube. Then there’s Sidelfingen/Boblingen in Germany. Just sort of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

And who can forget the Polish twin cities of Slupsk and Ustka –

“Where do you want to go tonight, Slupsk or Ustka?” 

“Does it even matter – they’re both sooo fine…” 

So it was with the famous Mexican twin cities of Xtapa and Zihuatanejo. Not only are they charming coastal towns with beautiful Pacific beaches, but their names are so much fun to say. Especially Zihuatanejo (si-wha-ta-nae-ho)

Say it: Zihuatanejo

I first heard Zihuatanejo’s musical cadence uttered by convict Andy Dufresne, in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption”. For Andy, Zihuatanejo was probably synonymous with heaven – a warm, Mexican beach town, an impossible world away from his cold, stone hell of Shawshank prison.

And yet, against all odds, there he lands, the freest of free men. We finally catch up to Andy restoring his boat on a pristine beach. His reward for decades of suffering.

For most people Xtapa/Zihuatanejo is their reward for serving six months to a year in a minimum-security office. I suppose we were the luckiest ones - me and my crew flew there on assignment. These twin cities hosted their own Club Med.


That’s its original name – Club Mediterranee. Obviously French in origin, this first ever all-inclusive resort started out in 1950 as a bunch of tents on a beach. Guests played and ate out in the open, celebrating the peace and abundance of the new post-war era.

Club Med reflected the temperature of a thriving new world with their motto, “The aim in life is to be happy. The place to be happy is here. And the time to be happy is now.”

And they’ve come to expand on all manner of happy through the years. Club Meds are a full channel lineup of sports, water activities, music, clubbing, and even a trapeze on which you can swing… if you sign up. The cuisine is world-class and like the booze, stretches out to the horizon.

As my mother would say, “What’s not to like?” 

Indeed, and even though we were there to work – video record others having fun -  it was impossible not to have fun ourselves. The club was a sunny sea of smiles – dawn to dusk.

That’s why my little altercation there was so out of character, so out of place. It was like I accidently fell into Bad Club Med. A place where the trapeze collapsed, the lobster was rotting, and the children cried when they arrived.

3 PM Aerobics Class

We had been shooting some of the more exotic activities like kite sailing and the aforementioned trapeze (which was in fine shape, turning tourists into Flying Wallendas), when I checked my schedule and hustled over to the stage where an aerobics class was about to begin.

For a place like Club Med an aerobics class wasn’t a special event – not in a resort that offered sailing, scuba and wakeboarding. It was more like the meat and potatoes in a place where ginger seared scallops were expected. Or maybe it was just a warmup before the evening’s cocktails got underway. Anyway, my client wanted a little footage of aerobics and we wanted to oblige.

As the guys set up, I explained to the instructor who we were and could she or I make an announcement that we would be filming. These people were here to enjoy themselves, not have a film crew in their face, especially when they were in compromising poses.  That’s only fair, right? 

She happily obliged in the happy manner of the Club Med Staff GO’s or Gentils Organisateurs. And, I promised the group, no close-ups. They appreciated this, and everything was cool.

So things got started… music played, the GO called out, “Reach high!” … “Knees up!” … “Side to side!”.

We shot. We circled around. The group pretty much ignored us which was great as they made with the happy. A few late stragglers joined in – some ladies and a couple.

We continued circling around the large group coming back again to the front. I figured a few more minutes of this and we would have enough material. That’s when I heard the guy yelling at me….

“Hey! You were filming my wife!”

I looked up to see a very unhappy aerobics participant moving out of the pack and advancing towards me. This was the guy who was late to the class and must have missed our announcement.

He was big, fit and pissed. And he directed his ire straight at me. In an instant the fun physicality of an aerobics class threatened to collapse into a combat zone. There was no time for much of an explanation which probably couldn’t be deciphered over the music anyway.

Members of the class looked at the guy like he was crazy. I just braced myself for…. what? Probably something sweaty. One of my crew joined me in show of force. This had the effect of slowing the guy down. 

He looked around, back at his wife. She was also pissed. At him. Uh-oh – their day was ruined.

The GO hurried over to explain - he must have missed our introduction… being late and all. But now that all eyes were on him I suppose he felt he couldn’t back down. He had very publicly staked his position: We (I) had filmed his wife exercising, stretching… going side to side, whatever… This was their vacation and we (I) had violated her!

I apologized and told him we were only filming big, wide shots, nothing close. But he needed something to hang on to, so he countered, “No. I saw you filming close-ups of her!” 

See? In a pinch, everyone’s a director. 

From behind, his wife called out to him to rejoin the group, “Rick, just come back and let’s do the aerobics!” This had the effect of somewhat deflating him. No one had his back.

But he wasn’t done. He advanced toward me again, pointing his finger in my face:

“I’m gonna file a complaint with the Village Chief!”.

In addition to the GO’s all Club Meds have a Village Chief or Chef de Village. In other words, the resort manager. This guest was fuming, and I would soon be on the shit list of the Chef de Village.

“And the marketing people too. I know the VP of marketing!” 

Oh no!  Not the VP of marketing! But I wasn’t smug with him – the marketing people were my clients. They had hired me, and I liked working these Club Meds. What’s not to like, remember? Except this guy.

The Club Med Redemption

Nevertheless, I stepped back to defuse the situation. He was my client’s client. And though he was in the wrong, there was nothing to be gained at this point by continuing an argument.

Plus, there was something else.

Maybe it was the sea breeze, the nearby sounds of children at play, or the general crushing vibe of happiness all about… I don’t know what it was, but a certain feeling overwhelmed me.

I just couldn’t be mad at the guy or for that matter even worry if he reported me to Larry in marketing. It made no difference. This was a day to be enjoyed.

Like Andy Dufresne, I was happy just to be free and move on… with this class, this day, this life. Though Andy may not have made it over to Club Med, I’m sure from his spot of paradise in the nearby twin cities, he shared their ethos:

“The aim in life is to be happy. The place to be happy is here. And the time to be happy is now.”


If you enjoyed this post please 'like' or leave a comment below, and share with friends.