This is what I love about Club Med: Last week, on a trip to Brazil, I struck up a conversation with a Brazilian guy at the bar of the Club Med Rio das Pedras, a two-hour drive south of Rio de Janeiro. I spoke English and Spanish, neither of which he understood a word of, and he spoke Portuguese, which I don't speak a word of. And we understood each other perfectly, because after all, we were talking about ping-pong.
If you gave up on Club Med about thirty years ago when you decided to stop being a swinging single, you should really give it another try. They have long since moved away from massive singles parties and are now all about families, sports and relaxing good times with the most international clienteles and staffs that I've ever seen. At a place like Rio das Pedras, where South Americans bring their kids to play and eat, it becomes a brilliant way to interact with Brazilians, Argentines and Chileans in ways that I don't think you could find at most resorts. Add French tourists, Canadians and only a few Americans, and it becomes an international carnival, all eating, dancing and doing sports together.
The Club Med village atmosphere, with music playing non-stop around the pool and friendly "G.O." counselors engaging everyone in conversation and activities, seems to play especially well in Brazil. Last Monday I stood in awe in the corner of the pool and watched people move easily from a samba dance class to a water aerobics class to the daily dance to the sun around the pool that they do at every Club Med, moving and dancing and laughing for nearly two straight hours.
You can see where the organization spends its money. The rooms are spare and simple, with tile floors and stone walls washed in turquoise and yellow, in buildings with no elevators. The entertainment is mostly performed gamely, if not particularly artistically, by the G.O.s But the sports facilities are first-rate, with nine tennis courts, three of which are covered, a full-sized covered basketball gym with a wood floor, a full soccer field, and kayaks and sailboats that are staffed all day long for easy use. And the food is sensational, served up in lavish buffets with dozens of stations, where I tried Brazilian staples like "farofa," a manioc flour and bacon dish, which, according to a Brazilian G.O. named Nilton, is standard fare on every Brazilian table when served with black beans and white rice. Brazilian barbeque was always available, as were a full range of French pastries and a half-dozen different breads, salads and, for the kids, pizza, French fries and hamburgers. The bars poured Argentine wines and cocktails like caipirinhas (the Brazilian mojito), all part of the all-inclusive price tag.
So what did I do when I wasn't watching people dance around the pool? I won the ping-pong championship in a thrilling final against a Chilean named Jose who became my instant buddy. I spoke French to a couple from Dijon and Spanish to an Argentine named Alejandro. I went on an excursion to the islands of Brazil's Green Coast for snorkeling and sunbathing. And at night, I danced to disco and samba music. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.