Where Desert Meets SeaOne&Only Palmilla
"I open a window. A breeze sends a chill down my chest ... The air smells of rain and salt. The barren and lifeless desert is gone; in its place, dense tropical gardens percolate with activity."
Memory is a tricky beast — fickle and fleeting, like spun candy on the tongue. Often, it isn’t the ‘who’ or ‘what’ or even the ‘when’ that we remember, but the ‘how’. How we felt, how we were made to feel; the emotions tied to a particular moment in time: these we carry with us.
It is the feelings that bring me back to Palmilla.
Autumn is exteriorising in my hometown of Los Angeles, but stepping onto the tarmac in San José del Cabo, I find that summer has not yet ended in the Baja peninsula – and probably never does. I take off every layer of clothing I can without exposing myself, but it’s too late: my shirt is drenched. It isn’t humidity that bathes me, however; it is a desert heat — dry, oppressive, and strangely familiar, recalling those weekend trips to Vegas I used to take in the summer.
Fortunately, I’m found by my One&Only driver, who welcomes me into an air-conditioned SUV. “It’s only 20 minutes to Palmilla from here,” he says, shifting the car into gear. Looking out the window, though, I realise I’ve come to Cabo with a suitcase full of false assumptions. Having travelled to a number of coastal cities before, I expected to see similar terrain — lush, green, palm-laden. Instead, my eyes squint to locate something — anything — amidst the blur of translucent, incalescent waves before me. Nothingness surrounds us: all I glimpse is a cactus and a few shrubs in the distance.
“Palmilla is where the desert meets the sea,” says the driver with a smile.
I don’t believe him. I cannot fathom a body of water existing anywhere nearby. But as we pull up to the gates of One&Only Palmilla, I realise my senses have betrayed me. I open a window. A breeze sends a chill down my chest – a reminder of my still-dampened shirt. The air smells of rain and salt. The barren and lifeless desert is gone; in its place, dense tropical gardens percolate with activity. The car stops, and I see it: vast, infinite, and sparkling – the Pacific Ocean.
I’m led out and greeted by my Palmilla hosts, who welcome me with homemade guava and mango bars. They’re tart, refreshing, and perfect. As we begin our tour of the 250-acre property, I notice towering archways, the patter of an ornate fountain, palm shadows on whitewashed walls, saltillo terracotta tiles. History is inscribed on the walls: the resort was built in 1956 as a 15-room retreat for Don Abelardo Rodriguez, son of General Abelardo Rodriguez, the former president of Mexico.
Walking ahead, with the Sea of Cortez stretching before me, I finally get my bearings. This isn’t a lone island; this is Baja California Sur; this is Mexico.
I’m led to my casa, where Raul, my personal butler, acquaints me with my suite’s amenities and a minibar filled with local treats. I feel as though I’ve stepped into a Mexican hacienda: muted colours are enlivened with splashes of Talavera blues and oranges, while hefty wooden doors are embellished with hand-forged clavos – furnishings reminiscent of an older Mexico. I’m offered a shot of Tequila, and I hesitate. I’ve never been fond of the distilled liquor, it conjures only memories of hazy nights and pitiable hangovers. But I trust Raul when he tells me, “You’ve never had Tequila like this before, it’s been aged for 12 months.” I take a sip; and another; and another. I brace myself for the burn, but it never comes. Instead, the spirit trickles down like spiced cider, and I’m wrapped in a blanket of smoky vanilla and caramel, rich and smooth and soft all at once.
“Good?” Raul asks.
“Muy bueno,” I say.
He laughs. Maybe it’s the Tequila, but I feel like we’ve become friends. It’s what I love most about Mexico — its ease, warmth, and hospitality. And I’m relieved to find that that Mexican charm hasn’t been lost within the walls of One&Only Palmilla. Like many, I relish beachfront views, impeccable resort facilities, and palm trees as far as the eye can see, but they aren’t the things I carry back home. I bring back conversations, relationships, feelings. It’s the feelings that bring me back to Palmilla; it’s the feelings that I remember.