I like huts and I like vans. I don’t exactly like tents, but I feel at home in the bastards. When I go on a trip to Mexico, I expect to spend the majority of my time camping in the dirt or sand, with rudimentary bathroom facilities and numerous coolers. I do not expect to spend my time in a pseudo-Moorish palace, replete with minarets and sculptures of Nubian slaves.
A reunion of the family of friends that centered around Eve and John Muir, the founders of JMP publishing (the original publishers of The People’s Guide to Mexico, along with several other hippie cult classics such as How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive), Beach Party 2014 took a lot of planning. Forty-five people, three generations, two weeks, flights, accommodations, dinner plans…*It sounded like a logistical nightmare. After I agreed to attend, I tried to stay out of the planning process, to the point that I didn’t actually bother to look at the links to the places where we’d be staying. So the Taj Miguel came as a surprise.
Piled on a jungled hillside like a cascading sculpture of marshmallow cream, the Taj Miguel is pure spectacle. Officially called “Villas Paradise” but known to the locals as the Taj Miguel (evidently, the guy who conceived of it was named Miguel), the villas look like they sprang directly from the rural Mexican imagination. The Villas Paradise are a palace as imagined by a ranchero who made the big time.
The Taj Miguel is classy with a “k,” lavish to the point of ludicrous, but not quite luxurious. By that I mean, the villas are chock full of elephant sculptures and low on amenities. For example, the penthouse suite featured a huge kitchen stocked with one pan, a smattering of silverware, and maybe three plastic mugs. Actually, I liked the weird tropical funkiness of the place: the cracked plaster, the questionable artwork, the sloping tiled piazza. All these bizarre, quintessentially Mexican details made me feel better about forsaking my usual ethos of avoiding anything that might even marginally resemble a resort.
Of course, it’s easy for me to sing the praises of dysfunction because Lorena and I were actually staying at the nearby Casa Romero, a comfortable beach house with a well-appointed kitchen. Thus, we had the best of both worlds. We spent our days on the beach or in a spacious house, and then in the evening we wandered up to the penthouse suite of the Taj Miguel to enjoy the moonlit expanse of the terrace, which was about the size of a football field. Here beach party denizens would gather to listen to the musical stylings of the reunited “Banda Supermercado.” At night, the garish decor couldn’t diminish the actual beauty of the place: minarets ghostly in the moonlight, the panoramic view of San Pancho’s gorgeous beach, the echo of laughter in Moorish domes.
Although the actual residents of Villas Paradise did complain about the hotel’s creative re-invisioning of luxury, I think we all agreed that the place was a good fit for us. After all, this family of friends is distinctly outlandish, funky, and prone to hedonism, so where better to reunite than at a Mexican party palace inspired by the Taj Mahal? Lurid paintings of Siberian tigers and forty-foot columns painted to look like elephant legs only stoked the fire. The location was as over-the-top as its temporary inhabitants; like the beach party family, the Taj Miguel has a magnificence born of equal parts true beauty and epic absurdity.
*Thanks to Cree and Fred for doing the footwork.