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Baja Steps Up

LAS VENTANAS AL PARAÍSO, WINDOWS TO PARADISE. Ah, it had sounded so promising. But here I stood, wishing for any view at all. The rain was pelting the patio with such force that the drops were spitting upward. I doubted this fountain was one of the water effects planned by the architects and landscape designers of this luxurious new resort at the tip of Baja California.

The trio of hotel representatives who met me and a couple from L.A. at the airport last fall had, in an effort to save us from the maelstrom, nearly backed the hotel van into the arrivals hall. From there the Chevy Suburban surfed through the streets and scaled medians to skirt landslides and VW Beetles turned to water bugs. What should have been a 20-minute trip turned into an hour-long adventure. Somewhere out there was a desert.

The naughty little one, El Niño, was kicking up trouble again, inciting tantrums on the part of sea and sky. From my room (one of 61 suites), I couldn't so much see the waves as hear them, gnashing away at the seawall after they devoured the beach. At regular intervals,

porters showed up at my door, drenched but sunny in their yellow slickers. Even when I stepped back and waved them in, they politely inquired, "May I enter?" Then, as each revealed the gift he bore-- rubrum lilies, a note from the general manager, champagne "for the newlyweds" (well, I had barely emerged from my room since check-in)-- each consoled me with, "You know, Cabo has three hundred and fifty days of sunshine a year." Their condolences were painfully sincere, but it was no use. My bathing suit was the only dry thing in the room. I bailed, bringing the guest tally down to five. No wonder the gifts had been as steady as the rain.

Yet I remained hopeful. My stay had been akin to sealing the deal on a house in the dead of winter, then feeling vindicated come spring. Even under the worst conditions, Las Ventanas was a find. Back at home I willed the latest hurricane to make a U-turn. The resort's stuccoed buildings surely could take the pressure but the thatched palapas on the beach and the cedar latillas were too vulnerable. Desperate as I was for sunshine my next trip, I couldn't do without shade either.

One month later my plane was descending, smoothly now, over gradations of blue edged in froth. The Sea of Cortés had calmed to its usual rumble. At arrival my khaki-clad driver, practically a pal from our shared weathering of the storm, greeted me even more warmly than before. Out we headed to the Suburban, left unattended in the parking lot but with the engine running and the air-conditioning on because, oh glory, the sun was beaming.This time, at least, I knew how to book my flight. Los Cabos encompasses the towns of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo and the 20-mile stretch of increasingly less-than-lonely landscape between them. San José is where the planes touch down. Your luggage will, too, so long as you remember to specify San José, Mexico. (Otherwise, it may ride out your vacation on a Bay Area carousel.)

In minutes we were passing through an opening in the broad wall that marks the entrance to Las Ventanas. Though the desert was unusually green from all the rain, the landscape at the resort was still bare. A variety of desert plants formed a sparse ground cover. Lining the drive were palm trees that had not yet relaxed their fronds, resembling nothing so much as a parade of dried-out watercolor brushes. Up we pulled to the open-air, thatched-roof lobby and the anticipated welcoming committee. (Even with my scant Spanish, I had been able to eavesdrop on Robert as he called in our ETA to the manager over a mobile phone-- "ten minutes," "three minutes," "one"-- a routine repeated for every guest picked up at the airport.)

So this was Las Ventanas. Finally, I could take in the sweep of the resort, a village of stacked, flat-roofed boxes linked by stairways, bridges, and curving paths. The off-white stucco of the clusters (four suites up, four suites down) intensified the effects of the sun, not that I minded. Between the buildings I spied a pool-- one of three-- and the sea. To the left was a juice bar shaded by a palapa; an even larger cone of thatch, similar to the one crowning the lobby, sheltered a lounge next to the restaurant. In the month I'd been gone, the resort had slipped into something comfortable-- gentle breezes, bright rays, and cool shadows. Now it was my turn.

In my room, I pushed the tall glass doors all the way back and invited the air in to stay. My suite this time was even more spacious than the last (averaging 960 square feet, Las Ventanas' guest rooms are the largest of any resort in Mexico) and, being on one end of the two-story structure, sunnier. Narrow windows of opalescent square panes flanked a stone vanity and a colorful lithograph hanging over the tub. Another small window in the shower promised a rare amenity: shampooing with a view.


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