“I was excited about the experience even though I knew that somewhere, a disappointed Bernie Sanders was probably frowning at me.”
By Nada Alic
Here’s what you need to know before you scroll through the following 35mm photos like you and I just rolled out of a suburban nineties-era Walgreens photo center together: I am not rich. In fact, until just a couple weeks ago, I was driving around Los Angeles in a 2005 Ford Focus wrapped in duct tape with my hazards perpetually on. But for reasons I still do not fully understand, I was invited to spend a week at a billionaire’s private compound in Mexico with my friends. This sometimes happens when you live in LA; someone knows someone who knows someone who is very rich or famous or both and you end up in their pool in Malibu trying to look totally unfazed by it. Bored, even. And you will try your very best to take a low key photo of the back of what could be a Hemsworth’s head. Spoiler: it is almost never a Hemsworth. At best it is an Instagram model, at worst, a DJ. All the while, you just pray that no one notices you were totally unprepared for this.
So, yada yada yada, I flew into the Manzanillo airport where a driver named Jesus greeted me with a cooler of beers and drove me for two hours through the jungle to get to the compound in Careyes. At the time, all I knew was that a successful exercise entrepreneur was letting my friends bask in elusive one percent-ness for perhaps the only time in our lives and he didn’t even want a lock of hair or a vial of blood or an Instagram mention in exchange. I was excited about the experience even though I knew that somewhere, a disappointed Bernie Sanders was probably frowning at me. Leave me alone, Bernie! Stop judging me!
When I arrived, a kindly staff member asked what I would like to drink, which was always followed by the phrase por qué no or which means why not? Basically Spanish for YOLO. More guacamole? Por qué no! Sudden pangs of Catholic guilt? Por qué no!
The compound itself had five buildings ranging from a yoga studio, a tree house, a few hotel-like buildings and a structure called The Dome that is a circular room furnished with a comically giant couch bed that comfortably fits twenty people lying down. This is where I assume the Eyes Wide Shut live action role play happens. My friends and I primarily used it for a Stranger Things marathon, so, same diff.
Time moved slowly on the compound, and was centrally dictated by a pool/eating schedule that we all religiously adhered to. Every morning, we would gather under a large gazebo where a full spread of pastries, coffee, juices, fruit, yogurt and eggs were waiting for us. This was followed by a dip in the infinity pool because por qué no, then exhaustive re-application of sunscreen and repeat. We never left the compound because there was nowhere else to go; the beach was dotted with sprawling Spanish-style mansions but otherwise surrounded by jungle where I assumed the demogorgons lived. When we got bored of the pool, we would take the golf cart down to the beach to watch real-life rich people in their natural habitat: gliding gracefully over the water on paddle boards.
“This is where I assume the Eyes Wide Shut live action role play happens.”
The highlight of the week was when we were invited to participate in a shamanic mud bath ceremony where a shaman woman cleansed our auras before inviting us to apply mud all over our bodies like a Refinery29 article gone too far. After we sat in a circle affirming one another, we laid ourselves out along the beach and waited for the mud to dry while the shaman woman chanted over us until she instructed us to wash ourselves in the ocean. I’m not sure if my spirit was cleansed but my skin felt like a baby’s cheek so I think that makes me a Scientologist now.
The entire week felt like a microcosm of what a rich life would really be like, which was what everything is like: amazing at first, then, kind of boring. I missed eating meals freely (and by that I mean in bed with my laptop), without the omniscient gaze of the wait staff. I missed washing my own underwear. I missed the Trader Joe’s parking lot battle of Every-Sunday-of-My-Life. But mostly, I missed my Ford Focus, which I abandoned in an underground parking lot days before I left. On our last day, I stood in my double vanity bathroom and used up all the expensive creams, then I went downstairs and ate my final croissant, then wrapped another in paper towel for the journey back, then I stood and stared at a 6 ft portrait of Jack Nicholson wondering if he had stayed here too or if the owner was just a fan and what version that led to the creation of such an image was stranger. As I looked into Jack’s squinting eyes it was like a near-death experience, I didn’t belong here, at least not yet, or maybe never. But I am a believer now.
“I’m not sure if my spirit was cleansed but my skin felt like a baby’s cheek so I think that makes me a Scientologist now.”
In closing, if you want to stay at the compound, I can’t help you. I don’t even know if there’s a website for it or if Jesus has a cell phone number. Your best bet would just be to wander around Beverly Hills whispering the words por qué no under your breath until someone notices you.