In 1999, Carol and I asked our travel agent to send us to someplace cheap and warm during a bad winter cold spell. She sent us to Puerto Vallarta, on the Pacific side of Mexico. We stayed at a resort called El Camino Real for that year and met up with some Texas folks who asked us to go see a time share presentation.
If you have never gone to one of those, don’t in the future. They say that they take 90 minutes and you get a free breakfast and all kind of other goodies. Nay Nay, I say. You do get the breakfast and nothing else but high pressure and a feeling that if you don’t buy the time share, god will punish you forever.
The presentation at Costa Vida, one of the oldest time shares in Puerto Vallarta was not at all this way. Hugo D’Alba, a slim man with both Spanish, Mexican and Russian heritage was calm and almost perfunctory in his way of telling us about the place. He showed us around, gave us no victuals and actually sold us on the place by not selling it.
We eventually bought three weeks at a pretty low price and have been going down there since 2000. We have befriended Hugo and his family, son Alexei and daughter Irina in all of that time. We even had Alexei come and stay with us last winter and toured him around with one of our McKelvey Scholars and a young man from Australia. We had a ball in Washington and New York.
Hugo has become a good friend of ours. When we get down to Puerto Vallarta, he is always one of our stops and dinners. He has since moved on from Costa Vida, now called Costa Sur and Playa Del Sol and more recently Howard Johnson. He works for friends of his, Gil and Lucy who have kind of a curio shop in town. They take care of Hugo’s health insurance and pay him a decent wage for that area. Hugo loves the sales aspect and the people who come in.
A few years ago, Hugo’s wife left him. She was finishing her studies at law school in Guadalahara and became involved with one of the professors. They have since divorced. Irina lives with her mother while she goes to school there. Alexei goes to technical college in Puerto Vallarta. He is a bright, nice looking, well spoken young man of twenty one. You can’t help but like him.
At the end of September, we got an email from Alexei telling us that Hugo has been diagnosed with lung cancer and had only months to live. Hugo had been a smoker for many years, but had quit fourteen years ago. The health care system in Mexico is not to be believed. Upon his first coughing fits in June, he was transported to Guadalahara Hospital in a 1953 Chevy station wagon on a plank. He had a biopsy with no sedative and waited 30 days to get the results of the biopsy.
Hugo is presently taking chemotherapy and some drugs ( HGH, I think) not available in the U.S. Carol and I went down to see Hugo last week. He is gaunt and colorless. He still stands upright and is his marvelous self. He still refers to himself as a heretic (religiously) and has his great sense of humor. We took him to dinner, to Costco to buy him some stuff and make sure that he has enough money for his immediate needs. He does not whimper nor complain about his condition. He believes that he is showing his children how to die with dignity. We admire you Hugo and are saddened by the eventuality of your condition, but we know that you really are achieving your aim- dying with dignity.