Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Hedonism II "trip report" from 1989

Here's a reporters account from a trip to Hedonism II back in 1989 that was featured in The New York Times.  It written by reporter Maureen Dowd who reported for The Times.  

WINTER IN THE SUN; Sun, Surf and Singles

By MAUREEN DOWD; MAUREEN DOWD is a correspondent in the Washington bureau of The Times Published: December 10, 1989

The streetcar named Desire may be retired, but there is still a bus called Hedonism. I found myself heading for this bus one recent afternoon at the Montego Bay Airport.  

Until landing in Jamaica, I hadn't really focused on the name of my holiday destination, Hedonism II, the all-inclusive resort I was visiting on assignment. It suddenly hit me that I had signed on for the sort of vacation I had long scorned: a singles bar by the sea. I had always turned up my nose at Club Med, disdaining the idea of organized fun in groups with flirtatious strangers. Now I was going somewhere that bragged about being ''more free'' than Club Med.

Total freedom, promised the brochures featuring people in slinky, clingy bathing suits, drinking and nuzzling and splashing about in snorkeling gear. ''And if you like the freedom of wearing nothing, there's even a private part of the beach for doing just that,'' the brochure said, adding ominously that ''the mood is always in fine fettle because seeking pleasure is a way of life.''

''Where are you staying?'' the Jamaican customs agent asked shortly after my arrival in Montego Bay, interrupting my dark Calvinist reverie. ''Hedonism,'' I whispered, mortified. He looked me up and down with a knowing smile as he stamped my passport.

''No problem,'' he grinned, offering the nonchalant Jamaican answer for everything.
Later, I would learn that the local folk refer to Hedonism as the Den of Decadence. Even without this bit of lore, however, I was beginning to get the drift.

An airport official checked my luggage. ''Where are you going?'' she asked.

''Hedonism,'' I mumbled, hoping the people behind me in line could not hear. A porter loading the luggage asked, ''Where are you staying?'' I couldn't take it any more. ''Rita,'' I innocently called out to the girl friend traveling with me. ''What's the name of that place we're booked into?''

''It's Hedonism, O.K.?'' she screeched at the startled porter, as she turned pink with embarrassment and everyone in the airport turned to look at us in a Felliniesque moment of amused leers.

Outside the airport, we waited for the bus under a white sign with large black letters reading Hedonism. That was bad, but it could have been worse. The guests at Couples, another SuperClubs resort near ours in the Negril section of Jamaica, had to stand under a logo of lions copulating.

The Hedonism logo is a bare-breasted Mona Lisa with the legend, ''The pleasure comes in many forms.'' But the resort had the unexpected good taste not to put up this poster at the airport.

On the hour-and-a-half ride to Negril Beach, the bus lived up to its name. All the passengers except Rita and me swigged the local Red Stripe beer and smoked the ubiquitous Jamaican reefer called Ganja as reggae music blared on a cassette player.

My bad mood got worse when we checked in and examined our room, a small, cheesy stucco affair with twin beds, a mirrored ceiling, threadbare towels and a forlorn white candle for atmosphere. I glumly realized that for five days I would have to give up everything that had made life worth living in my previous travels: televisions, telephones, newspapers, room service, wake-up calls, valet, minibar and worldly, sophisticated men.

The point, of course, is to discourage guests from staying in their rooms. If you are in your room, you cannot have the Total Experience. The all-inclusive price - more than $400 a night - includes unlimited food and drink and excellent facilities for tennis, volleyball, squash, horseback riding, badminton, basketball, scuba diving, water-skiing, windsurfing, sunfish sailing, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking and table tennis. There are also aerobics classes and a Nautilus gym. (It was the activities, along with the easygoing Jamaican atmosphere and perfect weather, that ultimately brightened our stay.) Charming Jamaican pros are on hand to give tennis, squash and windsurfing lessons and to flirt relentlessly with female guests, always pressing about the possibility of a walk on the beach or an evening in town.

The concept behind the resort became abundantly clear when we attended an orientation session on our first night with a Hedonism social director named Larry, a thin Jamaican with a bored attitude and a Mick Jagger accent.

Larry went over the upcoming activities. The Hedonism camp counselors were planning a boating expedition over to a nearby island, where ''we feed you a lot of rum and play lots of drinking games and then we bring you home whether you're standing or on your back.''

There were five bars, four on the prude side of the beach and one on the nude side called the Bum Bar - get it? - where you had to shed all your clothes to merit a vodka slush. That meant, Larry explained, a total of 19 hours a day drinking time, since the disco stays open until 5 A.M. or until the last customer leaves. ''Then you go up to the nurses' station, they feed you some Alka-Selzer tablets and some water, and you're O.K. again,'' he said.

There is a toga party once a week at dinner. ''No sheet, no eat,'' he warned. There is a pajama party with a disk jockey spinning platters at midnight on Tuesdays. ''No P.J., no D.J.,'' Larry said.

There are piggyback and tug-of-war contests, beer-chugging contests, tanning con-tests, 50's dance contests, limbo contests, Who Can Be the First to Show Up With a Piece of Male or Female Underwear or a Condom contests, Putting a Finger in Your Ear and a Basketball Between Your Legs and Spinning Around Eight Times Until You're Dizzy contests, Best Male Asset contests and Best Ladies' Chest contests. (You guessed it: ''No skin, no win.'') The hard truth had now sunk in: This was the reggae version of Animal House, complete with toga, limbo and rum road trips. In health-conscious 1989, the ethics of party-till-you-drop and easy sexual encounters are passe most everywhere. But they live on at Hedonism.

''This place is called the Zoo and we are known as Zoo People,'' explained one stocky, 40-ish developer from Florida who comes to Hedonism twice a year and enjoys nude volleyball and the nude Jacuzzi.

Perhaps the perfect Hedonism guest was a slight, blond man who was celebrating his 27th birthday by drinking 27 bottles of champagne in five days. Day or night, he could always be found carrying a cigar and two bottles of champagne.

The center of the action is the dining room, where the swinging singles of all ages come to hang at the bar, chow down and exchange meaningful eye contact.

The food, dished up cafeteria style, is mediocre American fare, although between Tex-Mex night and Cajun night there is a weekly bow to the local cuisine on Jamaican night. Gut-wrenching wine is available from kegs. Attire is informal: For the women, leopard skin bikinis, fishnet tops and fringed Me Jane, You Tarzan outfits. (In a sight that dismayed almost everybody trying to eat dinner, one older, heavyset woman came to dinner one night wearing only hot pink pasties and Capri pants.) For the men, attire consists of shorts and T-shirts with legends such as Wrecked by a Bermuda Swizzle, Beach Potato and, with black wings, Fatman.

''I don't think we're going to meet the man of our dreams here,'' Rita joked with a mock glum expression, looking around the dining room. ''I don't see any C.E.O.'s. I don't see any power brokers.'' I was inclined to agree.

Not having the nerve myself, I persuaded Rita to check out the nude beach. Maybe we'll discover some important Washington official there, I told her. She strolled the beach feeling conspicuous in her swimsuit but came back disappointed. She had only discovered a middle-aged man who pointed out the Hedonism catamaran of nude partygoers and urged her to try ''the life style.'' ''What life style?'' she asked. ''The life style of total freedom,'' he replied, as it dawned on Rita that this was code for undressing in front of people you don't know.

 The men and women who enjoyed Hedonism said they liked the array of sports and the way you could have your run of the place without paying separately for each drink or meal or tennis lesson or diving expedition. There's no tipping allowed, so you don't ever need to carry money with you, unless you want to buy some postcards or sunscreen.

The guests who were not so enamored said that they did not like the emphasis on sex and drinking. ''I've been to Club Med and it's more wholesome there, not so risque,'' said one young woman from Boston, while she was waiting for her turn during a tennis clinic. ''A smaller percentage of guests get smashed and take off their shirts.''

Gary, a sweet, 35-year-old New York lawyer, came by himself and described it as his ''last fling.'' At first he told women he met that he owned a bagel store because he thought it sounded more interesting, but stopped when they kept asking him if he knew Cher. He spent most of his time taking tennis lessons and snorkeling.
His roommate, Cary - if you come by yourself, they assign you a roommate - spent his days diving. A handsome plumbing fixtures buyer from Minnesota who owns two bait and tackle shops on the side, Cary was too shy to talk to any women for his first five days. Instead, he spent his evenings chatting up the security guards on the beach, fetching them drinks and hot dogs and quizzing them about the local culture. Although he said he loved to dance, he refused to approach any women at the disco because ''I won't compete for women.''

The best thing Hedonism has going for it is its location. Jamaica is a sensual lullaby, with people who sing and dance and relax with an infectious style. Women traveling alone are easy marks for the persistent and uninhibited Jamaican men, and it can get annoying at times, but never overwhelming.

Lulled by the balmy winds and the lyrical Jamaican tempo, we adapted to survive and ended up having a pleasant enough time. We circumvented the beer chugging contests and the chest contests - ''C'mon ladies, shake it, bob it up and down, parade it, show it!'' - and we did what we felt like doing.

Rita jogged and went to the beach and mastered wind-surfing. I took squash lessons and got Swedish massages. (Since squash and tennis require some degree of sobriety, the courts were often pleasantly empty.) We went horseback riding at dawn and played tennis in the afternoons and went bicycle riding through Negril at sunset. At night, we sang old Bob Dylan songs in the piano bar and drank banana daiquiris in hammocks on the beach.

Toward the end of our stay, as we were biking along the lush coast, some Jamaican peddlers selling black coral jewelry recognized the distinctive red-ribboned keys tied on our arms and sang out, ''There go the girls of Hedonism.''

It didn't sound so awful anymore. As the Jamaicans like to say, no problem, man.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...