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Baja Steps Up

In other ways, this room was akin to my first-- tall, broad, and handsome, and an impressive sampler of Mexican craft. Smooth pebbles formed an arabesque motif on the headboard, and suggested carpet borders in the floor of conchuela (a limestone formed from compressed shells). Cedar doors carved in a basket-weave pattern hid the mini-bar, television, and VCR opposite the bed. Behind a set of oak doors were waffle-weave robes, a safe, beach towels, and muslin laundry bags. I played with the lights-- all, thoughtfully, on dimmers or three-way switches-- then took the telescope and the "welcome amenity," a very smooth bottle of tequila accompanied by a few small limes, up the stairs to my private roof terrace.

From what I could see, Las Ventanas was one big tree full of love nests. Rooftop latillas branched out over mattresses elevated on platforms and covered in canvas the shade of the sea. Barring the bugs, you could comfortably sleep under the stars. Every surface was touched by hands, making the architecture softer, more sensuous, human. It obviously inspired the couple across the way. Behind cushions they had piled up on the end of their mattress, I caught a glimpse of frolicking tan lines. Suites on either end may be more spacious, but they aren't quite as private as those in between. A big canvas curtain would romantically fill the bill.

Below, by the pool, a pair of sun and body worshipers adjusted their teeny bikinis to ensure no tan lines at all. Pelicans were shopping for dinner in the Sea of Cortés, rich with 800 species of fish. A man emerged from his room, binoculars in hand. Was he perhaps tracing the birds maintaining an impossibly straight line just above the water? No, his attention was focused on a closer target-- a topless bather halfway down the beach.

OFFICIALLY, SPORTS AT LAS VENTANAS are golf on the 18-hole Robert Trent Jones II course, cruises on its two motor yachts, and workouts (redundant, given the number of stairs) in its gym. Unofficially, guests seemed to be majoring in lolling, with a minor in trolling. At least in the light of day.

As in most tropical places, energy picked up after sundown. In spite of an overcast sky, the atmosphere was festive. It looked as if the stars had tumbled from above and scattered into a million sparks, gathered in pierced-tin lanterns, sconces, and a dramatic wrought-iron chandelier suspended over the lounge. Couples warmed up to an accomplished pianist-flutist duo leaving their hearts in San Francisco. I might have preferred a guitarist strumming Mexican tunes, but happily substituted a perfect margarita for a taste of the traditional.

The menu was anything but. At the top it announced, "The cuisine style reflects a contemporary Mexican-Mediterranean Concept." Hmm. Well, the decorating style was a meeting of two kinds: cloths, hand-embroidered in Guadalajara with fanciful flora and fauna, dressed tables set before a wall mural that was a sunny-day version of van Gogh's Starry Night. And guests were cross-cultural. Southerners (Houston?Atlanta?) refuted the humidity of their origins in pressed linen and perfect coifs; a table of French people argued about what to drink with dinner, then, that decided, argued about Mitterand.

So why not a bridge concept for the food?Randall Warder, fresh from Dallas's Mansion on Turtle Creek and Washington's Red Sage restaurant before that, was the man at the flame. I plunged in with a grilled tamale of cabrito (kid) with chayote salad and a plum balsamic sauce-- a starter masquerading as an entrée-- and carried on with tuna mignon in a habanero-Merlot glaze accompanied by pinto beans. The clutter of words was a harmony of flavors. Portion (too big), not taste (just right), eventually forced my fork to rest. So often disappointed by the food at tropical resorts, I was satisfied and amazed.

That night I went to bed with only the sheer curtains pulled, the doors open wide to savor the rhythm of surf through the night, and at dawn, an impossibly pink light. Out on the beach, the only footprints joining mine were those of gulls and pelicans poking their beaks into porcupine-fish carcasses and evanescent holes in the sand. The waves had quieted to a rare, mercury finish. All was calm but not so bright once I crossed the invisible property line of Las Ventanas. Its architects had been more clever than I realized, training views on the sea rather than on the neighboring resorts-- one a tall condominium, the other a broad hotel fronted by a colossal retaining wall. In awkward massing and inappropriate colors, they seemed typical of recent and explosive development (from 22 hotels in 1990 to 37 in 1997) along the Los Cabos corridor. They made me grateful to be staying at an exception.

I circled back, swinging by the restaurant to see who was up for huevos rancheros or griddled shrimp hash. Not a soul. Beaded necklaces, the Las Ventanas version of Do Not Disturb, had yet to be reeled in by somnolent guests. Who could blame them?They were caught in the grip of pillow paralysis, budging from king-size beds only to sink back down onto the terraces' ample banquettes. Even the tequila was reposado, sentenced to an enviable term of 60 days' rest.

I went with the slo-mo flow, falling into a pattern of grazing horizontally on a room-service breakfast and adjusting my cushions to keep the sun off my face and on my book. Never a napper, I discovered the deliciousness of intermittent dozing, even early in the day. From the Jacuzzi on my terrace, which provided a gentler, bubblier ride than the surf 30 yards distant, I watched parasailers drifting down to the water, almost touching before being pulled up short by a lead speedboat.

Lunch at the informal Sea Grill-- cabrilla (sea bass) seviche and orange chayote salad one day, dorado (dolphin) with mango and basil the next-- drew me from my room, as did the spa, run by Angel Stewart, formerly of the Golden Door. Whether or not the rejuvenating facial neutralized free radicals as promised, it tempered tiny muscle tension instantly with warm rosemary- and eucalyptus-infused towels. Javier, my masseur, applied a different technique, attacking the knots in my shoulders with a drill-like knuckle while inquiring ever so sweetly, "It is okay for you, miss?"

Nothing managed to lure me from the property itself. San José, with its small church and placita, sounded appealing; Cabo San Lucas, a.k.a. Cabo San Loco, with its Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Café, did not. I slipped into the rimless pool below my room and cruised like a crocodile, eyes at water level. Pool dissolved into sea fading into sky. A sprinkle of rain flecked the surface with ringlets. What, me worry?Cabo has 350 days of sunshine a year.

LAS VENTANAS AL PARAÍSO, Carretera Transpeninsular, km 19.5, Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur; 888/525-0483 or 52-114/40300; suites from $475, not including spa services.


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