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No Hablo Español

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

I do not speak Spanish. Let me explain. My move to the jungle of Quintana Roo ,Mexico in 1998 came as a complete surprise. My friend Molly called and asked me to come work for her and her husband at El Torbellino, the world class exotic hotel on their property, 600 acres fronted by a mile and a half stretch of deserted beach. I had stayed with Molly at their home many times over the years and had witnessed the construction of the hotel and Molly’s enviable life. Conde Naste had named El Torbellino the #1 beach hotel in all of Mexico. I imagined such a life for myself, living down a dirt path from my friend Molly in my own white stucco home with an orange tile roof and a bougainvillea blooming in my yard, serving Mexican dishes to dinner party guests, working with international guests and staff at the hotel. When Molly called, I leaped at the chance to reinvent my life.

Molly didn’t speak Spanish either when she moved to Mexico in 1985 to be with Luis Felipe. She said I’d learn just as she did. The first three years she lived in the remote location, with no other English-speaking people around her, she wouldn’t utter a single word. Finally. three years later, she opened her mouth and such perfect Spanish flowed from her that she might have been mistaken for a native.

When I arrived at my new home I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. But the euphoria only lasted a day. Luis Felipe had a heart attack and they helicoptered off to a hospital in Miami, leaving me alone to manage the hotel for the next ten months with no knowledge of hotel management and no one to guide me. Why did they stay away so long leaving the hotel in my hands? And why did I stay? The entire adventure is detailed in my up-coming book, As Far As the I Can See.

I learned little Spanish that year, managing the staff and interacting with the guests in English. But I am determined that this experience in San Miguel de Allende will be different. Praised be Duolingo, and my friend Bonnie with whom I practice in imperfect coversations for 45 minutes every week. I know more grammar and vocabulary now than I did seven months ago, and no matter how embarassed I get by my constant mistakes, I will keep studying until we get to San Miguel where I intend to speak, listen, flounder in inadequate Spanish over the next year.

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