The Rise of Cuixmala
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The Rise of Cuixmala

Max Kim-Bee Caleta Blanca, one of three Beaches at Cuixmala. Max Kim-Bee
Once a private tropical hideaway for Franco-British tycoon Sir James Goldsmith, Cuixmala is set to become the next hot resort on Mexico's Virgin Coast. Tom Austin steps inside the fantasy.

"Daddy would not have wanted Cuixmala to become one of those
dead places, where rich people go only to drink cocktails."
As the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean on Mexico's
Costalegre, also known as the Virgin Coast, Alix Goldsmith
Marcaccini is talking about the future of the mad castle in
the jungle built by her late father, Sir James Goldsmith,
the corporate raider, organic farmer, right-wing agitator,
and iconic pirate of high-eighties flash. The dull roar of
the swells pounding the beachfront ricochets around Sir
Jimmy's former lair, the clifftop La Loma, which lords it
over the 2,000-acre estate hidden within the 32,473-acre
Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve. "Cuixmala means 'the
soul's resting place,' and Daddy loved the idea of having
his family around him in the jungle, where we could be
surrounded by beauty," Marcaccini says. "My brother Manes
first brought us to this part of Mexico in 1983, and it
took forever to buy the land from different
owners—and then two years and two thousand workers to
build all the houses."

In the heady days of the late 1980's and early 90's,
Goldsmith would fly into Puerto Vallarta on his silk-lined,
India-themed 757, accompanied by friends on the order of
Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger, and Richard
Nixon—along with a revolving cast of secretaries,
mistresses, wives, girlfriends, and kids. For the 99-mile
jaunt south to Cuixmala, they would all transfer to a prop
plane, touching down on a grass landing strip as zebras,
elands, and crocodiles scattered in the wake of the
incoming glamour. No wonder some guests compared the
experience to weekending with Dr. No.

Now, Marcaccini has turned her father's grand folly into a
combination working farm, relentlessly hip eco-resort,
colossal bed-and-breakfast, and politically correct
watering hole for the neo-glitterati. One of her first
guests was—who else?—Madonna, followed soon
thereafter by Mick Jagger. Marcaccini's own lists, for her
New Year's parties at Cuixmala (Simon Le Bon, Quentin
Tarantino, Johnny Knoxville, Seal, Heidi Klum, and that
crowd), also have a way of making the press. A devout
environmentalist who loves Mexico, Marcaccini is also an
international social figure, and there are people who would
rent La Loma just to be in the Goldsmith family's orbit.
Even after her father's death in 1997, Marcaccini was never
tempted to move into the oceanfront splendor of the big
house: "La Loma is the place everyone wants to rent." In
the vicarious age of reality TV, it's perfectly acceptable
even for the wealthy to inhabit a life that seems more
interesting than their own. And the hype is still around
Goldsmith, who would find the whole situation vastly
amusing.

In many ways, Sir Jimmy continues to run the show: it's as
if his ghost has just stepped out for a cigar. As it
happens, this big, brash tycoon, who once observed,
"vulgarity is to some degree a sign of vigor," grew up in
the hospitality game. His father, Frank Goldsmith, a
Rothschild relation and an English MP, was a manager of
Hôtels Réunis—a European chain with
classic spots like Monaco's Hôtel de Paris and the
Carlton in Cannes—and the family lived like sultans
in hotels. Some of his family's freewheeling style is
evident at Cuixmala: two absurd life-sized bronze statues,
a gorilla and a rhino, still guard the entrance of La Loma,
and the two-tiered seating in the screening room has Indian
pillow–topped settees the size of double beds. It's
impossible to imagine Nancy Reagan perched like a couture
canary in a room that brings to mind a determinedly groovy
Peter Sellers farce, and yet the adjacent office boasts a
commemorative White House bowl that she brought as a
bread-and-butter house gift.

For a billionaire eco-warrior, Sir Jimmy had a remarkable
flair for whimsy, and Cuixmala is fantastic theater. At the
front gate, guards in shiny SUV's take visitors down a
five-mile-long driveway that meanders to the top of a bluff
overlooking grasslands, coconut plantations, mangrove
swamps, and a river, then heads down past a bridge adorned
with a pink crocodile sculpture. La Loma, a
37,342-square-foot affair that goes for $9,000 to $15,000 a
night, is capped by an illuminated blue-and-yellow Moorish
dome, which glows at night like a cheery, radioactive
beacon. Included in La Loma's fee are seven guest cottages
tucked into an overgrown knoll with views of the ocean and
a dormant volcano. Each little villa is an exercise in pure
charm, with more modest variations on the decorative theme
—luminous walls, concrete built-in furniture, and
white enamel floors, designed to make spotting scorpions
easier.

For mere mortals, a reasonably priced, nature-driven
vacation can be had in one of the cute-as-a-button rental
casitas, originally built for Goldsmith's pilots, doctOrs,
and support personnel; thesE coSt $350 a night and up.
Three separate rental villas with vaulted brick ceilings
are close by. Just below the bluff is a tiny restaurant
open only to guests, and a boutique that stocks
trustafarian hippie garb . Up above is Marcaccini's private
house, where she lives with her husband, Goffredo, another
devoted environmentalist, and their three daughters.

Cuixmala was a singular vision, accomplished by Robert
Couturier, the brilliant architect of Goldsmith's
dreamscape. Only 25 at the time he began it, Couturier
would spend years working on Sir Jimmy's properties: El
Jabalí, a Spanish colonial hacienda in the nearby
mountains of Colima; the New York town house; the 1640
château in Burgundy; even his private 757. From the
start, La Loma was meant to be a universe unto itself,
obeying its own dizzying logic. With so much white paint,
and the octagonal floor plan revolving around an open
courtyard, it's easy to become disoriented there and spin
about in a peculiar, self-immolating orbit, like the
astronauts in 2001: A Space Odyssey. To Couturier,
the house is "a completely artificial creation, but not
pretentious: Jimmy was not a hypocrite or a liar. He
envisioned a formidable palace that would make the estate
subservient to his house. The circular form abstracts the
sense of time and space, and the central courtyard and the
white inspire spirituality."

By the time Cuixmala was finally finished, in 1989,
Goldsmith had become obsessed by apocalyptic worries
(globalization, nuclear energy, pesticides, genetic
engineering, and so forth), and his estate doubled as the
world's most profoundly opulent survivalist camp. La Loma,
all steel and poured concrete, could weather
Armageddon—it has already been through an earthquake
or two. Goldsmith also maintained his own private army of
security officers, who still patrol the grounds, mostly on
the lookout for poachers (they prey on sea turtle eggs,
pumas, and wild boars). On paper, Cuixmala has remained
pretty much the same since Goldsmith died.


Mexico's Costalegre was a remote and perverse landscape for
a palace in the sun, and Goldsmith—no doubt spurred
by the usual impulses of conviction, self-interest, and
posterity—did his best to maintain the natural beauty
of the coast. He donated much of the land for the
Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve, a foundation formed in
cooperation with the National University of Mexico: after a
life of being immersed in the rough-and-tumble of commerce,
including selling wilderness holdings in New York's
Adirondack Park to developers, he performed a lasting good
deed . The protected area features 1,200 resident species
of plants and trees; zebras, elands, and endangered
jaguars; and the rare and venomous Mexican bearded lizard .
Two uninhabited Galápagos-like islands are full of
frigate birds, snowy egrets, great blue herons, and
yellow-footed boobies, which perch on top of enormous cacti
like eerie sentinels.

On the grounds of Cuixmala , biologists monitor sea turtle
eggs and lead electric-boat tours through a wildlife riot
of pink flamingos, parrots, black ospreys, chachalacas
(wild fowl named for their endless squawking), mosquitoes,
and 400 or so migratory river crocodiles, which, while
perfectly capable of swimming out to the ocean and moving
on to fresh territory, generally prefer to stay in
Cuixmala. Marcaccini has lost a couple of dogs to the
crocs, but she is devoted to her father's work: "In a few
years, this may be the only dry rain forest left on this
coast," she says. "The poor farmers burn the vegetation on
their property to raise cows, and the rich are worse, with
their big hotel developments—only seeing the green of
the dollar."

Long before it became fashionable, Cuixmala was an estate
devoted to green culture, and it still operates according
to ecologically sound dictates. Palm fronds, for instance,
are ground up for horse-stall liner and then used as
fertilizer. La Loma itself has no air-conditioning, though
the thick walls and high ceilings keep the house cool. None
of the four bedrooms has a television, and at night, the
sound of the ocean and the jungle becomes a kind of lulling
sound track. The well-stocked library contains two of
Goldsmith's self-published tomes, The Trap (1995)
and Counter-Culture,  Volume Five (1993),
which detail some of his social notions . "The belief that
all economic activity is productive is at the heart of the
problems that society faces," he wrote . "Our foundation
has helped peasants move from pesticides to organic
farming." Inevitably , every tycoon fancies himself a
statesman, and Cuixmala vaguely smacks of  Thomas
Jefferson's Monticello, retooled for the granola age and
the frank pleasures of laissez-faire capitalism.

In one sense or another, Mexico has been a constant in the
Goldsmith family drama. During the fifties, Sir Jimmy, then
a young and dissolute gambler, eloped (amid a din of
playboy-and–runaway heiress headlines throughout
Europe) with his first wife, Isabel Patiño, daughter
of the Bolivian "Tin King" Don Antenor Patiño, who
also developed Las Hadas (setting for the movie 10),
in nearby Manzanillo. Isabel died giving birth to their
daughter, also named Isabel, and Goldsmith successfully
fought her maternal grandfather for custody. Many years
later, the younger Isabel inherited 1,500 acres of
oceanfront land from Patiño and, in 1990,
transformed the property into the elegant boutique hotel
Las Alamandas, a half-hour drive north of Cuixmala. In the
reception area at Las Alamandas are brochures outlining the
family history, along with a photo gallery of grinning
actors, starring tabloid darlings Brad and Jen in happier
days. Despite having owned a few publications at various
times, Goldsmith—given to criminal-libel lawsuits and
conservative political campaigns that often didn't play
very well in the media—pretty much thought the press
should be regularly horsewhipped or, at the very least,
kept out of the house. The prospect of a journalist like
myself sleeping in his bedroom would have sent him around
the bend. Yet in the new Goldsmith epoch, two of
Goldsmith's daughters are exalted innkeepers in Mexico who
can't stop attracting publicity .

Goldsmith's old grass landing strip at Cuixmala is still
used by the elite; the rest of us book commercial flights
into Puerto Vallarta or Manzanillo and immediately confront
the weird and wonderful road movie that is this part of
Mexico, a country that never stops being real. Bimbo Bread
delivery vans on Highway 200, the thoroughfare that follows
the coast from Manzanillo to Puerto Vallarta, barrel past
donkeys riding in the back of rickety trucks, cattle
feeding on smoldering grass, and scruffy towns dotted with
glitter-and-tinfoil shrines to fallen road warriors. On the
grounds of Cuixmala, within sight of the casitas' swimming
pool, is an almost too real village surrounded by luxury.
An abandoned car engine and collapsed tin-roof shack are
juxtaposed with flowers in plastic buckets, Mickey Mouse
towels, and the inevitable satellite dish. Inside a tiny
convenience store, workers are chomping on Doritos, falling
silent in the presence of a stray gringo. The owner of the
village refused to sell the land to Goldsmith, although the
residents now have free access to Cuixmala-monitored water
and security.

To my taste, the eternal strangeness of Cuixmala, the raw
strength, quiet, and breathing room, is what makes it
interesting and authentic. When viewed from a horse's back,
on a trail ride led by a machete-wielding, gaily singing
caballero, the property has a way of meandering through the
surreal. Just off the graceful expanse of the coconut
plantation, vultures are hovering in the dusty nothingness,
waiting to feed on kitchen scraps too small for the pigs.
Fields of bright sunflowers and marigolds suddenly jump-cut
to dank paths with ominous termite nests in spiky acacia
trees, loitering crocodiles, and scampering tejones —a cross between a ring-tailed cat and a giant
raccoon with the climbing chops of a monkey. On the open
plain are Indian antelopes, forever elusive, jumping
straight up and vaporizing when spooked, but to charge
through a herd of surly zebras at the Cuixmala corral is
pure joy.

El Careyes, a few miles north on Highway 200, is a more
traditional resort that has always functioned as a social
nerve center for the area. It's now a Starwood Luxury
Collection property and encompasses a low-slung assortment
of Mediterranean-style buildings, polo grounds, a
restaurant, a bar, and an expanse of Midwestern flesh
baking in the sun by the pool or bopping along to the pop
refrain of "I Believe in Miracles." In the hills above the
beach is a reservation-only restaurant; a collection of
villas; and a few grand castles featuring three-story
turrets and such. On the opposite side of Cuixmala is
another Starwood property, El Tamarindo. As neighbors, the
three resorts have an uneasy symbiotic connection: some
Cuixmala guests play golf at Tamarindo, and the Goldsmith
brigade stayed at Careyes before Cuixmala was built. One
international sort describes the scene then as "a leftover
sixties set, going from pleasure to pleasure."

The downside of luxury resorts is a kind of psychic sink, a
reluctance to engage with ordinary life and go from, well,
pleasure to pleasure. At every hour of the day—from
the minute the sun rises over the lush mountains to the
moment it slips into the yawning maw of the
Pacific—Cuixmala is an endless delight: the food is
almost entirely organic, there's a cheeky "margarita maker"
button on the room phone, and the resolutely helpful maids
are given to spreading flowers and good cheer throughout
every room. In fact, the deepest and most complicated
relationship I've had in years was with Goldsmith's
bedroom, a 1,700-square-foot creation with 18-foot
ceilings, suspended in the ether of money. On that first
moonlit evening, it was all about willful delusion, lolling
around the terrace Jacuzzi with a cigar and pretending to
be a player. By the second night, the battle to rise up to
the spectacular level of the room had been lost amid the
cold, hard rebuke of being a hopelessly middle-class
upstart tormented by a big-league poltergeist . But with
the first light of dawn, every dark thought would be washed
away amid the ocean's thunder and the convent-white walls,
and I half-expected castrati to herald my awakening. When
Goldsmith retired from business and devoted himself to
environmental causes, he found a "new virginity," and
Cuixmala was his final testament to that transformation.
Just like Goldsmith, I woke up each morning feeling clean,
reborn in the embrace of his jungle paradise.


The Facts

The Costalegre, the area that stretches along the Mexican
Pacific coast from Manzanillo to Puerto Vallarta, has two
seasons: dry (November to June, when the foliage turns
desert brown) and wet (during the summer and fall months,
when it's green and even hotter). Cuixmala is between the
two cities, off the Carretera Barra de Navidad–Puerto
Vallarta (Highway 200). There is an international airport
in Puerto Vallarta (99 miles from Cuixmala), as well as a
smaller one in Manzanillo, 43 miles away. Since Cuixmala is
so large, guests might want a car to travel around the
grounds. The resort can arrangetransportation; it's
cheaper, however, to rent a car at the airport.

WHERE TO STAY

Cuixmala CASITAS FROM $350; VILLAS FROM $1,500; LA
LOMA FROM $9,000

KM 45 CARRETERA BARRA DE NAVIDAD–PUERTO VALLARTA,
JALISCO

52-315/351-0044; "_blank">www.cuixmala.com

El Careyes Beach Resort DOUBLES FROM $305

KM 53.5 CARRETERA BARRA DE NAVIDAD–PUERTO VALLARTA,
COSTA CAREYES, JALISCO

800/325-3535 OR 52-315/351-0000; "http://www.elcareyesresort.com" target=
"_blank">www.elcareyesresort.com

El Tamarindo Golf Resort DOUBLES FROM $375

KM 7.5 CARRETERA BARRA DE NAVIDAD–PUERTO VALLARTA,
CIHUATLAN, JALISCO

52-315/351-5032; target="_blank">www.eltamarindresort.com

Las Alamandas DOUBLES FROM $320

KM 83.5 CARRETERA BARRA DE NAVIDAD–PUERTO
VALLARTA,QUÉMARO, JALISCO

52-322/285-5500; "_blank">www.alamandas.com

WHERE TO EAT

La Palapa at Las Alamandas

All bright colors and charm to burn, this chic little
restaurant overlooks an epic stretch of pristine beach.

DINNER FOR TWO $120

KM 83.5 CARRETERA BARRA DE NAVIDAD–PUERTO
VALLARTA,QUÉMARO, JALISCO

52-322/285-5500

Playa Rosa

A tastefully decorated Italian restaurant on a secluded
bay, close TO El Careyes Beach Resort.

DINNER FOR TWO $175

KM 53.5 CARRETERA BARRA DE NAVIDAD–PUERTO
VALLARTA,COSTA CAREYES, JALISCO

52-315/351-0462

Restaurante Caleta Careyes

On a harborlined with battered fishing boats and
dryingnets,& three generations of Mexican women serve up
cold beer and fresh fish in a tin-roof shack.

LUNCH FOR TWO $38

KM 51 CARRETERA BARRA DE NAVIDAD–PUERTO VALLARTA,
COSTA CAREYES, JALISCO

52-315/100-2635

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