Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bumming Around Update and Opening Elements of Collection of Stories about the Vietnam War

Note:  Recently I have fallen behind in my blogging.  My last entry was in September.  I got so busy doing many other things related to my adventures in photography.  Indeed, in the coming weeks, there will be an article about my recent photographic trip to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon in southern Utah. 

I also, have begun work on several travel pieces most notably, a trip to Rome a few years ago.  In this blog, to date, there has been a couple of travel pieces, three articles about my retirement, and the first of many short stories.  Many more will follow. 

Today, I am posting Mekong Delta a snap shot of a story providing some background information (more exposition then story) related to a series of Navy stories centered on my tours of duty in Vietnam and the South China Sea back in the late Sixties and early Seventies.  I am still attempting to figure out where I want to go with these stories but, I know that it will eventually include Faulty Relay which many of you have already seen in this blog, along with several glimpse into the that period of time and my youth.

Mekong Delta

Changing Mission

The blue foaming water rolled over us and the bow sank deep into the trough left by the rising and surging water.  Every thing stopped moving for a moment, and then the bow rose high up with the stern down as the water rushed back into the void and the wind slammed the ship sideways.  The ship shuddered and rocked back and forth.  Then it rolled over on its side so far that we could almost walk on the bulkheads.  Immediately after that, it rolled the other way.  As the storm raged, the ship continued to roll back and forth and pitch up and down.

       Those of us on the bridge were hanging on for dear life at our watch stations.  We called it the “white knuckles watch.”  Only the shear force of our will to keep standing tempered our fear of capsizing.  We had to hang on tenaciously if we were not strapped down.  The officer who had the Conn sat strapped into his chair, as was the Captain.  The helmsman held taut the wheel as he received direction from the Conn.  He shifted the wheel and the engine order telegraph repeatedly as he struggled to stay standing.  Every move he made was to keep his balance, and ensure that the ship stayed on course through the wide, sweeping peaks, and valleys of the surging waves as the ship pitched and rolled.

          The wind came out of the North and pressed down on us savagely.  It bucked the USS Defiance, a 17,000-ton Amphibious Transport about like a rowboat.  The wild winds of this tropical storm off the coast of China showed no mercy.  It was a good thing we didn’t have any troops on board because there would have been many sick guys.
We had steamed off the Vietnam coast for about forty days.  One day we heard we would depart for a port call in Hong Kong for R&R.  This would also be an opportunity for the ship to pick up some dwindling supplies.  In spite of the storm, we were excited about getting some shore leave. 

We started steaming toward Hong Kong and about day out of port, we received orders to change course for Subic Bay, PhilippinesSubic, as all of us called it, was a large base that supported the Vietnam War effort with a huge Navy Yard as well as a major supply depot.  We were told that we were to get the ship re-fitted and get major repairs before going back to steaming off the coast of Vietnam near the de-militarized zone for another patrol. 

Obviously, we were not going back to the States yet.  We had hoped that we could end our tour of WEST-PAC service at six months as originally defined and steam for home after visiting Hong Kong.  However, this news, even though it meant some liberty, which we all were going to enjoy meant we would not go back to the States for another 3 or even six months.  That was disappointing.  However, spending time in Subic Bay had its rewards.  It meant we could take some shore leave on solid ground with time to see the country, the bars, and the girls.

          On this trip, I was going to take a few days off, since I had accumulated a lot leave.  I decided that I would go up into the mountains of Luzon, Philippines to take photographs and to see the countryside.  I planned to rent a car and a driver for this trip.  I even thought about going south to Manila and into the Bataan area.  If I had enough days off I figured I could also take the ferry to Samar, which was an island southeast of Luzon across the San Bernardino Strait.

            I spent some time laying out my plan while we started toward Subic.  However, suddenly one morning, the Captain addressed the crew over the ships intercom to tell us that again, the ship’s deployment plans were changed.  Incredible as it might be, with equipment needing repair and the ship’s need for supplies; we were going back on patrol up near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  I was bummed the plans were changed and concerned we needed to get some pump and turbine parts for the engine room equipment before spending time along the coast where naval supply ships were infrequent.  In fact, when the storm hit us before our trip to Hong Kong, I was on the bridge talking to the captain about our supply needs.

            Nobody was certain what we were to do for several days.  Then we got word that we would pick up elements of the 101st Airborne Cavalry of the US Army just south of the DMZ.  We were to enter the Mekong River Delta and then to take them up the Saigon River to a place north of Saigon.  We had heard that the allies were considering an offensive into Cambodia to cut off the North Vietnamese Regulars who were using Cambodia to attack South Vietnam south of the DMZ.  We were sure the 101st was going to be part of that effort.

We realized this would be our first real exposure to the river war.  A friend of mine, stationed on a Swift Boat Unit as part of the Mobile Riverine Force, wrote me occasionally.  He told me his group patrolled the Mekong Delta from the mouth of the river all the way all the way up to Saigon.  He wrote that the North Vietnamese forces controlled the river by night and the allies controlled it by day.  He said the worst firefights were at night. 

We quickly learned that we would be steaming up through the Delta starting at night so we could arrive near Saigon during the day.  Then we would be berthing there to disembark the Calvary and their equipment.  We would stay overnight before we made our return trip to the South China Sea so we could transit there during the day as much as possible.

For me this trip meant long hours for my department in the engine room.  The Defiance was a deep draft ship.  That meant the fully loaded ship extended 23 feet below the water line.  The Mekong River was very wide and deep.  In fact, even further north into Cambodia the Mekong is as deep as 72 ft in most places.  However, the Saigon also feeds into the Mekong Delta.  Its depth is about 25-30 feet deep during most the run up to Saigon.  Beyond Saigon, it gets shallower.  This would challenge my engine room crew.

Of course, with a couple feet to spare, there was little chance the ship would run a ground, however there were other serious issues, which could disable the ship quickly if not handled effectively.  The ship’s engine room used cooling water to run through heat exchangers.  Each of the heat exchangers that serve the steam boilers, evaporators, pumps, and turbines had clean out strainers that trapped any foreign material passing through the pipes to avoid fouling the equipment.  If the strainers were clogged, water would not flow.  Usually when the ship was at sea, we had a regular maintenance procedure, based on weekly and monthly schedules to open up the strainers and clean them out.
During this trip, we alternated major equipment so we could clean the strainers every hour or sooner, if we saw strainer differential water pressure start to rise.  This meant that we had to shift the electrical load to another unit by shutting down one steam driven electric generator, and starting up another generator.  We had to do the same sort of continuous work for various other pieces of equipment that used seawater.

Author is 22 in this photo 

One of the most important machines located in the engine room was the fresh water evaporator.  This machine was a large heat exchanger designed to turn seawater into fresh water for the engine room boilers and the crews drinking usage.  This unit had multiple strainers.  The sailors who watched over this equipment had even a harder time, since they had to clean strainers on the fly.  We only had one evaporator that had to run continuously.  This meant they had to very rapidly isolate the strainer, pull it, and clean it without shutting of the evaporator.  There was always the chance of the water flow vapor lock if air got into the system during this process, and stopped water flow.  The locations of the large water intakes for the evaporator were highly vulnerable to picking up sediment.  Therefore, during the trip up the river, no sooner then the last strainer was cleaned; the process of cleaning the four strainers had to start all over again.  When we arrived in Saigon, we got some respite from the strainer cleaning as we sat at the pier.  The bottom of the berthing area was dredged very deep so we had little problem. 

The 24-hour trip back down the River became one of the longest trips we were to take.  After our visit to Saigon, the Viet Cong increased there assault at a number of river force boat bases in the Delta area.  There were Swift Boats to escort us down the river.  However, we still needed to make sure that we didn’t loose power, water, or engine cooling or we would be sitting ducks for the Viet Cong.  Already other ships had discovered the peril of war on this river.  As we would soon learn, our plight was even worse as we moved into the Delta.

Our Peril

At first, the trip was uneventful.  Then one of our major riverboat bases called Windy Port came under strong attack.  Several Zippo boats, PBRs, and Swift boats were destroyed.  At once, the riverboat assault groups attempted to go on the offensive.  Thus, our patrol boat escort services were eliminated.  They were needed to defend some key canals around the Delta as well as support the counterattack.  This meant there was an all out offensive by the River Assault Groups to chase the Viet Cong out of the delta area.

Now we were even more vulnerable to enemy swimmers intent on placing mines on the ship as it lumbered through the Delta at a slow speed to avoid shifting sand bars as spotted by the river pilot.  We knew there were anxious hours ahead of us until we reached the mouth of the river.
The ship went to general quarters.  Then, each division officer selected some number of men, that they felt were not needed unless, the ship came under direct attack.  Those men reported to the Gunnery Division to receive weapons.  Once each man received a weapon, he went to the main deck to man-the-rails with either side arms or rifles at intervals of ten feet apart around the entire deck.  For the next 10 hours as the Defiance steamed down the Mekong, these men kept watch on the river in the moon light to make sure that no swimmers approached the ship.

Finally, the ship got to the mouth of the river.  A boat approached and hailed the Defiance to pick up the river pilot.  Then, shortly, we were back out to sea in safe waters to continue our designated patrol.  While we had managed that peril, we soon would learn far more about what was in store for us.

To be continued!

Author's note:  The images attached to this piece for scenery and historical perspective and are readily available stock photographs from the Internet.  None can be attributed to the author.

October 20, 2011 by John D. Roach

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

So I am retiring: now what? Part III

Author's Note:  As mentioned in the pasts, my blog is about what I am doing in retirement.  It tells the story of planning for retirement, implement it, and reviewing current activities.  It includes the on going series about retirement, short stories, travel, photography articles.  This is the third in the series of retirement articles.  This article is the "pat on the back."  It is about my accomplishments this past year with one minor exception.  I hope you enjoy.

So I am retiring: now what?  Part III

It’s been just a little over one year since I retired.  Wow, I have done a lot!  All that planning for retirement paid off.  I traveled a lot and learned more about photography and writing.  I even launched my photography website and a blog just about one year from my retirement date.

Some things didn’t evolve the way I thought they would.  Yet, I marvel at the amount of fun I have had.  My “to do” list was and continues to be lengthy.  At times, I have more on the list then I have time to do.  Indeed, I have had a difficult time finding the right balance.  The photography has overtaken almost everything else.  Although, I have done a fair share of writing, it nonetheless lags behind my photography. 

Exercise and trips to the gym fell behind, too.  On a recent visit to my doctor, he chided me for not getting enough exercise.  He said my blood test numbers, while within normal range, were not where he wanted to see them for cholesterol, glucose, and triglycerides since the numbers had regressed in the past year.  I was eating some of the wrong stuff and not getting enough exercise. 

I knew I was spending too much time at the computer learning and doing digital darkroom work.  I was enjoying the good life of retirement, photography, writing, and travel but not with enough exercise!  I knew this but wasn’t doing enough about it.  It was so easy to blow off going to the gym or getting on the treadmill when I was in the middle of my photography work.  Therefore, the doctor decided he would attempt to force me to pay more attention to the exercise and diet by having me get another blood test and come back to see him in three months (November to be exact).  Frankly, I have no excuse and agree with him.  The problem is getting out of the chair and going to exercise.  I get engrossed in all things photography.  When I do get out of the chair, I am off taking pictures.  One positive note about that is that I get some exercise hiking around forest preserves or the streets of Chicago taking pictures.  However, for the most part that exercise is not causing me to “break much of a sweat.”


In spite of the lack of exercise, I am proud of most of what I accomplished during the first year.  Let me summarize by listing the key successes during the past year:

1.      In June of last year, I spent ten days at one of the finest resorts (Le Blanc Spa Resort) in the world, located in Cancun, Mexico with my wife.

2.      In July, we stayed with a host family in Cuernavaca, Mexico and studied Spanish and Mexican culture for week at Universidad International.  We also went on great excursions to Mexico City, Tepotzlan, Taxco, and Teotihuacan.

3.      In August, I began four, six-week courses on Photoshop Elements and basic photography.

4.      In September, I began a series of fourteen, four and eight week online photography courses focused on developing my skills further regarding exposure, composition, shutter, aperture, and various digital post processing software that have lead to a basic certificate in photography.

5.      Concurrently, I have been working on a course that will eventually lead to a professional photography diploma issued by the New York Institute of Photography.

6.      I took six on line writing courses to help improve my grammar, writing style and technique as well as help me determine the type of writing that might interest me.  I have decided to focus on travel writing, my retirement series, and some short stories.

7.      In early December, the president of a local college asked me to photograph for a day a visiting Japanese delegation.  This was quite an experience, since I usually don’t do this type of photography.  It was quite educational.

8.      In April, an art consultant contacted me, who saw my images on one of the websites where I occasionally post my work.  She was interested in buying one of my Chicago Board of Trade photographs for a client who has offices in that building.  We finalized the sale of my image in May.  The joke now is I have lost my amateur status, but I think I have to sell a lot more images for that to happen.

9.      In April, I went to Le Claire, Iowa, on the Mississippi River, to photograph Pelicans.  Using a 70-300mm Nikkor Lens with a 1.4x Teleconverters, I managed to capture some great images of these magnificent birds.

10.  I launched my photography website in May of this year followed in June with my blog.  In one year, I went from working at the hospital to now managing a photography website and blog in order to display and share my photographic and writing work regarding the adventures of the past year and the future.

11.  In June of this year, I traveled with my wife and friends to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and enjoyed the pleasures of the Hard Rock Hotel Casino Spa Resort.

12.  I joined the Photographic Society of America (PSA) and local camera clubs while continuing to be involved with my writer’s group.  I am participating some of PSA’s mentoring and training programs.

13.  I started to learn photographic techniques like HDR, Photoshop CS5, and Lightroom 3 and will soon move on into special techniques like focus stacking and panoramic photography.

14.   I spent more time learning macro photography and started learning how to use flash, studio lights, and portrait techniques.

*    *    *

My plans for my second year of retirement include many adventures in learning and photography as well as continued work on my website and blog.  I plan to upgrade my website to sale my photography online.  I, also, plan to take a few more courses in digital post-processing and some technical elements of photography during the summer and fall, as well as focus on learning portrait photography, macro, close-up, and flash photography. 

In October, I am going on a photographic tour, joining other members of, for their 11th Annual Photographic Adventure Trip to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon.  At the local camera clubs, I will be submitting images in monthly competitions as well as participate in a study group with Photographic Society of America.  These are great ways to get feedback on the quality of my photographic work.  In November, I will be attending a workshop on Photography at Elgin Community College.  I am already making plans for next year to participate in other photography adventures.

In December, Joann and I are going to Mexico to spend Christmas week enjoying a resort south of Cancun along the Riviera Maya.  Friends will be joining us for this trip.  Additionally, we are planning trips for Norway and other areas of Europe as we move into 2012.  As usually, we will probably go somewhere in the Caribbean or back to Mexico again to get away from the cold.

Next calendar year, will offer some interesting developments for us as Joann takes on new responsibilities with General Electric.  This could lead to relocation and many other adventures, yet to be determined.  Joann and I are working toward the day when we can travel even more.  We have even discussed perhaps staying for a few months in various places in the world once she retires.  However, that is still a little ways in the future.

I am proud of Joann.  For the past two years, she has studied through Ashford University distant learning program, twelve courses to earn her Masters in Education degree.  She has a strong desire to learn and succeed.  She is full of keen ideas.  Her goal, once she retires from General Electric is to teach or serve in some educational leadership capacity at the community or four-year college level.

She and I have many interesting discussions about education in America.  As she works on her course questions, assignments, and papers, we have many lively conversations.  Those talks help me stay engaged with what she is doing as well as many of the critical issues in the world of education and business.  Currently, she is working on her final Capstone (Thesis) paper.  I know she will graduate with honors when she walks up to get her diploma in October of this year.

For me, retirement is a joy.  It is full of challenges and many exciting accomplishments.  I frequently look back and think about being so glad that I had that conversation in the sauna a few years ago.  If that hadn’t occurred, I might still be trying to figure out what I want to do during retirement.

By John D. Roach, September 7, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

Faulty Relay: A Short Story about Navy Life

Author's Note:  My blog post this week is a story that I first wrote many years.  During the past few months I have edited this naval story signficantly and run it by my writers group and a couple of writing instructors for ideas for improvement.  I thought it would be fun to post while we await the next installment of my retirement and/or travel articles.  I hope you enjoy.

Fleet Underway


            We were steaming south of Samatra after concluding a port call in Singapore.  Most of us were glad to be back at sea so we could start the northeastward trek for our homeport in Yokosuka, Japan after nearly 4 months in Southeast Asian waters.  Our job was the usual monitoring of the oceans and skies around Indonesia by ships of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet. 
The hourly reports were in and I recorded them in the Engineering Log Book.  Everything for 0300 hours was accounted for.  Now I was ready to settle back and spend another uneventful hour of listening to the hum of the engines before turning the watch over to Brenner.  I knew he would come down the hatch in a half hour or so groping along, as he always did with blurred, sleepy eyes and hollering for his coffee. 
I almost felt guilty allowing him to relieve me, since upon signing the Log Book and climbing the ladder out to the main deck I would go back to my berthing compartment and snuggle into my bunk for a few hours of sleep.  The engine room would not be my concern for a while.  Instead, it would be Brenner’s job to keep the engine, pumps and generators running smoothly.

Missile Away!

            I listened to the steady twelve-knot whine of the turbines and felt the gentle vibration of the deck plates in the control booth.  Almost everything was as it should be.  Each piece of machinery played in perfect harmony.  The only annoyance was the rhythmic chatter of an intermittently faulty control relay in the main electrical switchboard which couldn’t be fixed until we could shut the switchboard down.  It wasn’t a big concern to us so we learned to live with its occasional staccato clicking.  Yet after a time, it too seemed to be part of the perfect lullaby.

Amphibious Transport

            When the phone rang, I answered it with efficient ease, thinking it was only a trivial report of some kind.
            “Engineering Officer of the Watch,” I said.
            “Eric?  How fast can you bring us to twenty-eight knots with only two boilers on the line,” said Captain Dave Edwin.  There was urgency in his voice.
            “I can do it in ten minutes for normal acceleration, Sir,” I replied.  “I can do it faster if the engine temperature steady out quickly.”
            “Ok, Eric, here is the low down.  Give me whatever speed you can.  We’ve picked up distress signals fifteen miles of port (side).  It is a small burning freighter.  There has been a lot of strange activity going on tonight on the signal channels.  I’ll be in touch.”  The captain clicked his handset off.
            “Aye, aye, Sir,” I hung up the receiver knowing that he did not hear my response.

Author at the Engineroom Throttleboard.

            Immediately I ordered Doug, the throttle man, to commence increasing speed and ensure to maintain proper steam pressure at the main engine turbine.  I directed him to ring the bridge at each speed change through the engine order telegraph.  I reached for the engine room intercom and ordered all my watch standers to be extra attentive to their duties.  There was Louis down on the lower level looking after the feed water and condensate pumps as well as the oil purifier.  Chester was near the boiler controls and Larry was on the upper level keeping an eye on the electrical generators and main turbine.  Phil was back aft.  By now, he was making rounds through the two shaft tunnels to ensure the shaft bearings were cool.  He was responsible for taking readings and putting them in the engine-room equipment log sheet. 
Each man was making sure all their equipment was operating properly and I was sure they would do their job well.  Meanwhile I monitored the steam pressure and advised Chester of our steam demand.  I knew we needed the 1200-psi boilers he watched over to provide our steam generators and main turbine an increased steam supply for increasing the guided missal destroyer’s speed.
            We increased speed gradually and the ship shuddered as if some great beast aroused from its sleep.  The engine whine increased.  When the engine temperatures leveled off for twenty-eight knot operation, I immediately called the bridge.

Full Steam Ahead

            “Captain, I said over the phone, we are at top speed for two boiler operation and we are commencing to light off the other two boilers so that they can be up to full steam capacity within the hour.  I’ve set the ‘maneuvering combination’ and we’re ready for all orders, Sir.” 
            “Fine, Eric!”  Captain Edwin said.  “Be advised, we’ll be going to General Quarters in three minutes.  We are ready to engage enemy aircraft.  That is all.  Good luck!” he said matter-of-factly and hung up.
            I was shocked.  Only three days ago, we had left Singapore.  The news had been still of d├ętente.  Three weeks ago, the Russians in Java had been friendly.  My mind began to race.  Aircraft?  Enemy?  I thought we were going to the aid of a stricken ship.  What happened?
            The sudden flash was so luminous and the searing heat so intense, I did not notice the force that catapulted me through the sheared upper deck plates.  Suspended in air for a moment, I realized a force that had just ejected me out of the engine room now held me.  Then it was letting me drop ever so rapidly.  Every limb ached and I could hear nothing.  I descended so swiftly, the water under the burning oil slick that I plunged through quickly enveloped me.  After what seemed like an eternity underwater, I surfaced and gulped for air.  I was swimming, using frantic splashing motions to keep the flames away while continuing to gasp for air.  When I finally broke clear of the flaming oil slick, I looked around.  I was amazed I was still intact, even though I still could not hear anything.  There were no broken bones, and I was not flayed alive.  Around me, there was nothing except patches of burning oil and bits of debris.  There was no ship.  What had hit us?  Moreover, although it was difficult to see without full daylight, there appeared to be no survivors except me.
            As thoughts of sharks and drowning whirled through my mind, I wondered if anyone would find me as I continued to swim clear of the flames and oil.  This was all so bewildering.  There seemed to be little hope.  My predicament was appalling and now I was so tired.  I was sure the water was going to suck me into its eternal grasp….

Author in front of some engineroom equipment.

            “Eric, wake up!  What’s wrong with you?  You aren’t suppose to be sleeping.  But, since you were, did you dream about a blonde or a brunette?  Who cares?  Let me take over?  You are looking pretty washed out!  This exciting life must be getting to you.”
            “Brenner!  You made it!  You are safe, too!”  I said.
            “What the hell are you mumbling about?  You better go to your bunk and finish the dream,” Brenner said.
            “Ah, no thanks!”  I said defiantly.
            When I had signed the Engineering Log and turned over the watch, I sheepishly left the engine room and climbed the ladder to the main deck.  The fresh sea breezes slowly refreshed me.  It was then I realized I had forgotten to tell Brenner about that annoying and hypnotic relay.  What the heck, he would probably only dream about blonds or brunettes anyway, if he even dared fall asleep.

Final Note:  Pictures of ships are open source available on the Internet.  The two of the author where taken in the Sixties!

Copywrite by John D. Roach, August, 2011.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

This week's article is about one of my wife's and I favorite places in Mexico to spend some leisure time.  We stayed one of the best resorts int the world back in 2009 and 2010.  I hope you enjoy our thoughts about this fine place.

Le Blanc Spa Resort

If Le Blanc is good enough for GW, it is good enough for me.  Ok!  What does George Bush have to due with this article?  Well let me give you some background. 
When we became a member of Palace Resorts, we knew we bought a vacation experience among the best in the world and we knew we could stay at Le Blanc.  However, we didn’t know much about this Cancun resort.  Besides, it was always just off the radar screen when we considered vacationing in Mexico, since it was more expensive then the other resorts included in our membership, and especially because we always vacationed, further south of Cancun, along the Riviera Maya.
Then we heard that former President George W. Bush stayed at this resort when meeting with Vicente Fox, the former Mexican President a few years ago.  That piqued our interest.  Le Blanc is so upscale that it advertises only in the most exclusive travel magazines.  To learn more, I had Palace Resort send me a brochure, since their website didn’t provide much information.  There was this mysterious exclusivity about Le Blanc. 
That mystery spurred us to investigate further.  We found that this all-inclusive spa and resort experience was one of the premier resorts in the world.  We re-looked at our contract and found that it was just a click away on the Internet for us if we entered a specific code.  Therefore, we made that click, learned more, and made a reservation. 

Cancun, Mexico has many resorts that range from fun filled family getaways to wild and crazy spring break madness.  Some cater to honeymooners and others focus on keeping guests at play.  Le Blanc, however, pampers guests in line with Robin Leach’s “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”  Nestled between the stunningly white beaches of the Caribbean and a peaceful portion of the Nichupte Lagoon in Cancun, this is a luxurious resort unlike all others. 
            Le Blanc as an adult-only all-inclusive resort offering sophisticated style and luxury gives.  The environmental decor is both contemporary and minimalist.  Its ambiance is exquisitely elegant.  Its Spa is one of the best in the world designed to rejuvenate and wash away the stress of the world.  Its restaurants provide haute cuisine that can compete with the best in the world.  It is a resort meant to revitalize relationships between spouses, provide peace and relaxation, or be the perfect place for a wedding and honeymoon.  Indeed, young or old, working or retired, world traveler, corporate executive, or a world leader all will find Le Blanc Spa Resort the best kept secret in Cancun.
  This breath taking resort with its fine dining, restful pools and lounge, and wonderful spa are located in the heart of the Hotel Zone in Cancun.  Additionally, guests are just steps from some of the finest shopping and aquatic adventures in Cancun.  One might say, “There are many resort hotels that offer these things in Cancun.”  However, it is better to say, “There is an intangible wonder about Le Blanc.”  
            A crisply uniformed attendant greats guests and extends to them a cool and refreshing towel.  Then they climb the steps and enter through the sliding doors.  There they come upon a simple and expansive lobby with several desks on one side while comfortable chairs and sofas are on the other side.  Looking straight ahead, at the far end of the lobby, the blue waters of the infinity pool beckons all to the Caribbean.  Checking in at the front desk, the vacationer receives a refreshing drink to sip as the enthusiastic and smiling concierge describes the coming days.  This is the beginning of total immersion into luxury.
            When we first visited Le Blanc, we took a brief tour of the resort to absorb both its gentle intimacy and friendly social charm.  Once we got to our room, we found our luggage, and a friendly Butler contacted us.  We discovered that he is always available and made a point of greeting us daily since his desk is by the elevator on our guest floor.      He called on us now because he wanted to make sure that we knew each other so he could determine how best to serve us.  We soon realized he would ensure that we had everything we needed--even anticipating our needs.  This included scents and herbs to enhance the aroma of our room.  He offered us each evening an assortment of specialty pillows that included aromatic enhancements with just the right comfort.  He would even run our Jacuzzi tub water and provide invigorating bath salts of your choice.  Plus, he is full of information about Cancun, the resort and the things that might interest you.

All the guest rooms at Le Blanc look out to the beach and Caribbean Sea.  Several types of Liquor and a bottle of wine or champagne are always available in the room.  Each room receives a tropical floral piece daily.  The view of the ocean is magnificent through large picture windows, sliding doors, and a small balcony.  While, you probably do not want to stay indoors much when in paradise, you can be quite content lounging in your room, if you choose, and enjoy its comfort as a guest at Le Blanc.
            When we travel, we usually arrive early in the afternoon.  After the long trip, we often are eager to get to our room, quickly unpack, and change into our bathing suit so we can get our first taste of the sun and pool.  Le Blanc offers you choices.  There is the infinity pool with a swim up bar.  Indeed, this is the opportunity for another drink at the busier and perhaps more socially oriented pool.  Alternatively, we can saunter over to the Lagoon side and get a drink at its smaller swim up bar and lounge quietly in the late afternoon sun until sundown and the time to get ready for dinner.

            Dining at Le Blanc is something to look forward to each day.  The Breakfast Buffet is a daily feast.  Guest can enjoy an assortment of fruits, breads, yogurt, cereals, eggs, and meats in traditional Mexican and American style.  This includes eggs made to order in whatever form desired.  Lunch offers a wide variety of cheeses, beef, poultry, pork, and fish is prepared to order along with a variety of international buffet offerings supplemented with fruits, vegetables, and deserts.  Wine by the bottle or glass, as well as other beverages are available.  Around the two pools, burgers and hot dogs, along with various Mexican foods like guacamole and chips are prepared for snacking while still in the sun relaxing or playing.  By the way, all day long, at the pools, a friendly and very attentive pool butler continuously circulates around the pool deck to bring water, snacks, and drinks.
            Before dinner in the lobby every evening, there is a musician playing a violin, or piano, or harp in the lobby bar.  That music sweetly resonates through the lobby and lounge and sets the tone for the evening.  It is just right for romance or quiet socializing as you recap the adventures and joys of the day before going to dinner.
Dinner is more formal.  The shorts and the bathing suits stay in the room.  Slacks or dresses for women and long pants for men are required.  The menu offers a choice of Asian, Italian, French, Mexican, or Steak House fare or pizza and wine at an outdoor cafe.  All the food is excellent.  With the meals, wine if offered.  Indeed, a knowledgeable sommelier is available to make suggestions and offer from a well-stocked wine cellar some of the finest wines in the world.
            At virtually anytime during the day, guests can visit the Spa and receive the magical touch of well-trained masseuses ready to help remove your stress.  There are nineteen spa suites to help suspend time while enjoying one of the many assorted massages.  In the Spa, steam or dry saunas with chromotheraphy, hydro-reflexology, Jacuzzi, and lagoon pools of varying temperature are available.  All this is provided under the caring watch of the Spa Butlers who are ready to assists at any moment.

One of the most wonderful joys of Le Blanc is the little thatched roof cabana that sits at the end of a pier jutting into the tree-lined lagoon.  Each morning, at 9:00 am, Petra (with fitness center staff) leads guests who desire to learn about Yoga or continue their practice while on vacation.  For an hour, she guides her students through Hatha, Pranayama, or Vinyasa Yoga depending on the day of the week.  Her style, even when the yoga is intense, is gentle and caring to ensure that maximum pleasure and spiritual renewal is experienced.  There are few other peaceful pleasures like a Yoga session outdoors while hearing the rippling water of the lagoon and the birds chattering.
While staying at Le Blanc, as a member of Palace Resorts, guests can visit of their resorts in Cancun or south along the Riviera Maya.  They also have a resort on the nearby island -- Isla Mujeres.  During those visits, all can dine, play golf, and enjoy the variety of entertainment of those resorts.  In addition, the concierge at Le Blanc can arrange day trips to snorkel, scuba dive, or visit Mayan Ruins.
All that I have described only touches on some key facts about the Le Blanc experience.  We have not touched on the intangible.  I dare to say that I can never describe that intangible character of Le Blanc.  In reality, it is impossible to explain.  It can only be experienced!  It is about people, sight, sound, and scent.  It is the ambiance.  It is about the way a guest is treated.  It is the blend of all these and more because when the right mix of all these elements come together a remarkable thing occurs.  It is Le Blanc.

I opened this article with a reference to former President Bush.  We had a chance to see the rooms he stayed in while at Le Blanc.  In spite of their expansive size, for he had a Governor’s suite, as well as the wonderful view, I wonder if he was able to enjoy Le Blanc the way we experienced it.  I somehow doubt it.  I can only imagine that he was so involved with preparation for discussions and responding to his large entourage about domestic and world affairs that it would be extremely hard to experience the true essence of Le Blanc. 
Nonetheless, he must have gotten a slight sense of what Le Blanc is like.  For besides the ambiance, much of what I touched upon in this article relates to people.  It is people, who make a place special.  I truly believe that Le Blanc has some of the friendliest and best-trained staff.  They are focused on making their guest’s stay at Le Blanc memorable and pleasant.  I am sure that Mr. Bush must have experienced that.  
We all can say is, “Thank you GW for putting Le Blanc on our radar screen!”  We know that we will return often to experience the luxury and pleasure of this magnificent resort.

Written By John D. Roach, Spring 2011