The Gang's All Here

When good friends enjoy each other's company on a memorable vacation, it's a trend called 'togethering.'

December 12, 2004|By Marion Winik | Marion Winik,Special to the Sun

One night this past August, I found myself skinny-dipping after midnight in an exquisitely landscaped pool on a Mexican estate with a bunch of girlfriends, drinking wine out of the bottle and singing "Kumbaya."

Though three of us had already celebrated our 50th birthdays, though one is a respected professor of marketing, another a mother of five, somehow this didn't stop us from giggling, splashing, swigging, sharing confessions and making professions of undying friendship -- until thoughts of early flights home the next day finally sent us, dripping, to bed.

Reunions with friends from the past seem to bring some of the carefree energy of those times with them, as our group found out during a rejuvenating long weekend at Hacienda Petac in Yucatan, Mexico.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if such gatherings have quite a bit more carefree energy than those involving extended family, which tend to combine your heart- warming joy with your eye-rolling aggravation.

Travel with your friends and you travel with people with whom you are highly compatible and who treat you with respect and civility. Travel with your family and -- well, it's your family -- you tell me.

Reunion travel -- dubbed "togethering" by travel trend watchers Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell -- is hot. Almost eight out of 10 active leisure travelers took a trip with extended family or friends in the past five years, says Dennis Marzella, YPB&R vice president, and "spending time with friends" is now rated as one of the top factors in making vacation plans.

My own informal Internet survey quickly turned up scads of old-friend travel groups with stories to tell (four are profiled in the boxes at right and on Page 5R). Typically, these pals grew up in the same town, went to the same summer camp, roomed together in college or met at work. In our case, the gang formed in the mid-'80s in the hallways of a start-up software company in Austin, Texas, called Tymlabs.

The Tymgirls, as the nucleus of women who worked there became known, trace their origins to an afternoon in 1985 when our boss good-humoredly scolded a bunch of us who were chatting outside his office. "Hold the hen party after work," he said. Shortly thereafter, I issued invitations to the first official Tymgirls Hen Party.

The Tymgirls turned out to be an institution with legs, outliving the company that spawned us by more than a decade so far. Tymlabs was swallowed up by bigger fish in the high-tech food chain in the early '90s, but the Tymgirls stayed friends. Some continued to work together at various spin-off companies, some formed an investment club, others deepened their friendships by helping one another through divorces, deaths, births, illnesses and other life changes.

I became particularly close to Judy Frels, who ended up moving to Washington around the same time I moved to Pennsylvania in 1999.

By the time I left Austin, I had ceased attending Tymgirls' occasional functions, but Judy was still in touch with our old friends. How's Denise? I would ask her. How's Nancy? How's Cathy Jean?

One couple I was especially sad to have lost track of was Chuck and Dev Stern. Chuck got me my job at Tymlabs in 1984, and though his chromosomes precluded him from membership in the Tymgirls, his hilarious, razor-sharp and whip-thin wife, Dev, had been his proxy, an honorary member of the group though she never worked with us.

This past spring, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from Dev, inviting me and Judy and Cathy Jean and Denise and Nancy to visit her and Chuck's new hangout / business venture, Hacienda Petac. Having finally finished the renovation of the estate, Dev was about to open it for weekly rental to groups of up to 10, and she thought we could help give it a test drive.

I asked if I could bring Jane, my 4-year-old, and Dev said it was fine -- even though her son is grown, everyone else in the group is childless and, according to the Web site (www.haciendapetac. com), the hacienda does not allow children.

But making exceptions is what old friends are for, right? So Judy and Jane and I flew from Baltimore-Washington International Airport; Denise, Nancy and Cathy Jean boarded a flight from Austin; and, unbeknownst to us, Chuck's friend from the erstwhile U.K. office of Tymlabs, Dave Draycott, got on a trans-Atlantic jet. (Chuck had apparently decided he might need some Y-chromosome support.)

And one sultry, flower-scented night in August, we all converged beneath the Moorish arches of the hacienda's patio, where we were welcomed by Chuck and Dev and their platoon of Mayan maidens in embroidered white dresses, carrying trays of pale-green margaritas and rose hibiscus tea.

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