Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Third Time Still Charms (2017)

Don't let the publishing date fool you! The following 19 posts are from our  Jan.- Feb. 2017 trip to the Yucatan. It has taken me 10 months to get them in order (for the most part) and posted. I finished just in time for a return trip which is planned for late Jan.-March of 2018! 
So this is year three in the Yucatan for us. Last year two months was too long for this gardening gal. Last year we stayed a full month in Merida which was lovely in many ways. We made friends with expats and with the family that we rented from in Merida. I also had time to take weekly Spanish classes but I was recovering from back problems and eating way too much Mexican food. I gained 10 pounds or more. And this time I am less worried about my aging parents. They seem to be enjoying the best health they've had in two years. So the keyword this trip is enjoy. No letting worries creep in around the edges. We took an overnight trip this time and that worked great aside from being surprised by the fact that ADO buses didn't run till 9:00 and our hotel check in time was 3:00. So we took a shuttle from the Cancun airport and stored our luggage at El Cielo hotel and then saw a gorgeous Carribean sunrise ate a large breakfast at Vagabunda, walked the touristy Calle Cinco and read and snoozed on the roof top deck of our hotel where there is a cooling breeze.  I slept so sound that night. Today is day 3 of our vacation and I just might be making a beach bum out of Chris. We have rented lounge chairs and eaten cerviche and nachos on the beach for two days running. We've eaten dinners at our two favorite restaurants, Romeos (great pasta) and Casa Toucan. No, the pounds won't return, I am running every morning!

Beaches are for Books (2017)

Today I finished reading A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman. Don't ask me how a book about a grumpy old man can make me both laugh and cry but this one did! I was glad I had my sunglasses on when I read the ending. Today was another day of renting lounge chairs, eating shrimp nachos and guacamole on the beach, and bobbing up and down in warm tropical water. It's a noisy beach with lots people trying to sell you a necklace, a bracelet, or an hour massage.
Tomorrow we leave for Tulum and other beach experiences.

Tulum Tonight (2017)

(After a much needed yoga class at The Yoga Company in Playa del Carmen, followed by a red berry fruit bowl at BioOrganics we packed up, hopped on an ADO bus and here we are in Tulum. We are staying at Posada 06, a clean and tranquil B and B. It's undulating cement architecture brings to mind Santa Fe or the Flinstones' house in Bedrock. "Yaba daba doo!"  It's nice to have an in room refrigerator and our own little deck overlooking the pool. I had a delicious bowl of sopa de limon and Chris had a cochinita pibil torta for a late lunch. Tonight we found this wonderful mojito bar called Bateys. The sugar cane juice was ground by this guy on a bicycle contraption. I had a ginger mojito and Chris had the classico. We met this Mexican guy who is an engineering consultant all over the world. His name was Enrique. It was really startling to hear him speak English using a British accent. He could do that because he had lived in London 7 months. Now we are back in the hotel room and Chris is asleep  but but I have more reading to do on my Kindle. As the lights are out now, I see another thing I like about Posada 06; lights are out and it is dark, really dark, perfect  for sleeping.

Collectivo a Coba (2017)

Today we caught a colectivo along with  4 Germans, to the ruins at Coba. This is a 45 minute ride from Tulum.  We agreed to 90 pesos per person instead of the usual 70. The driver wanted a full van of people. We agreed to 90 but since he picked up passengers along the road we got the 70 peso deal. Once in Coba, the town, it is a short walk to the Archeological Zone.  For 150 pesos which is we hired a tricycle for the one hour, twenty minute tour to the pyramid/king's tomb.  Also stopped at two ball courts and a lookout tower. The 300 plus steps up the pyramid was the highlight of  this adventure. What a view from the top! We were grateful for the rope guidance on the way down. The tricycle driver was a great guide, pointing out nature tidbits like native bee hives as well as explaining the ruins. We were extremely lucky to hook up with the same Collectivo driver on the return trip. He had a meeting in Tulum and was he ever in a hurry. We zipped! In the afternoon I rented a bike and rode  to a restaurant/cabana on the beach called La Luna. Public beaches are practically non existent. You need to go into a resort or beach club and order food or drink to use the beach lounge chairs and to go swimming. It's a challenge and an expense,  but worth it. The beach is much less commercial and is quieter than Playa Del Carmen. I actually fell asleep on my lounge chair. After returning to town, showering and visiting with Chris, I headed out for dinner at yet another Italian restaurant. I had a shrimp and pesto risotto and tiramisu for dessert. Here we are, reading our 'devices' while others, mostly younger people staying in Tulum are going to a rave to celebrate the full moon.

300+ steps to the top!

Ball Court

Fruit of the Ceiba (known as Kapok in English) tree, non edible but considered to be the tree of life in the Maya religion. 

Stingless Bees of the Yucatan
La Luna resort beach in Tulum

Swimming with Turtles in Akumal Bay (2017)

So today, after a decent, but not spectacular, breakfast here at the hotel we headed out to the highway, flagged a Collectivo and went to Akumal Bay. The public beach is pretty narrow and only the hotels have lounge chairs. There are none to rent.  We scoped out a palm tree, spread out our $8.00 towels from Chadraui and then I went on reconnaissance walk to determine the best deal for renting snorkeling equipment. We knew we did not want to join a group tour. For 250. Pesos we rented a life preserver, mask and snorkel for the day. That's a few cents more than $12.00. At 10:00 there were already about one hundred bobbing orange vests in the water. I joined them. As soon as I relaxed and realized I didn't have to clench my teeth to keep the snorkel in place, I was in a state of bliss, head down, looking at sea grass, emerging coral beds, colorful fish and two BIG sting rays 3-4 feet across, some humongous fish that might've been a tuna, and 8 or more giant turtles grazing through the sea grass. They reminded me of cows grazing. I kept my distance whenever they swam to the surface. Chris pretended to read as he watched girls on the beach posing for pictures. I think he enjoyed that more than snorkeling. Once back in Tulum we walked to Chadraui and Chris bought a spare pair of shorts and we got cash to pay the hotel bill. Something good to know is most small hotels give a 10 percent discount for paying cash. Then we ate a great mid -afternoon  meal of shared lasagne and a salad and 'happy hour' gin and tonics. Honestly, you can eat the BEST Italian food in Mexico! Now after pool time and reading time we're going out on the town, possibly to the Bateys Mojito Bar to listen to music.

Too Much Saltwater and Sun (2017)

Today Chris rented a bike too and we rode to the beach by the Diamonte K bungalows and guest houses. This was at the recommendation of Andrew and Ellie, a young couple from Queens. They were effusive and glowing in their description; and justifiably so.  It truly is a gorgeous beach. The only wrinkle in this lovely day was that mysteriously, the lock to my bike vanished. Fortunately we could use Chris' lock. It was maddening to be unable to find it. I hunted through every pocket in my purse and raked the sand around my bike tires with my fingers. No luck. A replacement lock cost me about $6. which is cheaper than a stolen bike but still, I'm puzzled as to how I could lose it. Oh, and today I didn't escape getting a sunburn. My forehead is tomato red. I usually think my bangs are protection enough but I should think otherwise and remember sunscreen! Tonight I wanted grilled fish for dinner. The hotel desk clerk suggested Barracuda which was another perfect recommendation. I ordered the grilled Pescado con Ajo and it was delicious. We met another couple our age from the Madison, WI area and we had a great time talking about our travels, teaching (she was a retired PE teacher) and state politics. The tropical evening breeze felt soft and cooling as we biked our way back to Hotel Posada 06.

Diamonte K  

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24 hours in Vallodalid (2017)

We left Tulum and it's white sand beaches, trustafarian youngsters and roaming dogs. A two hour bus
ride brought us to Vallodalid which is a small town with colonial charm. It feels so comfortable to return to Hotel Maria de la Luz. It's shabby around the edges but clean and comfortable and I love the pool with the big banana trees and palms all around. If you treasure a quiet night's sleep, ask for a room away from the square. The internet is weak in the room but the mosquitoes haven't found me yet, sitting on the second floor patio, with a little chatter and clatter in the dining room below. I think I may have convinced Chris to go to the Casa de los Venados to see the astounding private collection of folk art tomorrow. I saw it last year and know he will enjoy it too. Then at 1:10 we catch another bus to Merida. Vallodalid is a quiet town but it is the perfect jumping off place to many ruins. The church bells are ringing now, I think I will investigate the square.

Catedral de San Servacio o Gervasio

Valentine's Day in Merida (2017)

Today we took it leisurely, enjoying the colonial charm of Valladolid. We had the breakfast buffet at Maria de la Luz for about $5./person. What an incredible deal! An omlette, fruit, pancakes, and much more if I had wanted. Chris saw the collection of folk art at Casa de los Venados and I browsed around town looking for other small hotels that we might stay at upon our return. I needed to put in plenty of walking to prepare myself for the two hour bus ride to Merida. We ate a delicious lunch at Squimz, a restaurant conveniently located next to the bus station in Vallodalid. Chris had the Cuban sandwich and I had grilled fish with garlic. The bus  is an air conditioned ride but the movies and tv shows in Spanish I could have done without. They were WAY too loud! Once off the bus we did our best to walk to Hotel Las Cascadas in the Santiago neighborhood. We were completely turned around and finally took a taxi. It is a lovely bed and breakfast with a pool deep enough for swimming but my gosh, the woman who owns the place took 45 minutes telling us all the rules and ins and outs of the neighborhood and she did so at a revved up speed when really all I wanted to do was shower. But, the liquidity with tequila she gave us certainly hit the spot. I do believe we will love it here, we just need a day to settle in and maybe we will feel less like 10 year olds under the eagle eye of the camp director in the morning.

Breakfast was always an event at "Las Cascadas"

Poolside orchid

Enjoying an afternoon liquado while swinging in a hammock

Water circulates up and around one side of  Las Cascadas , one area is a n aquarium that can be seen through a hallway window.

"To Make a Long Story Short" (2017)

The proprietor of our B+B uses the phrase "to make a long story short" liberally. Honestly, I don't think she knows the meaning of the phrase. But she is an interesting American woman married to a Mexican man and she has a wealth of information about Merida and Mexican culture. She and her husband moved here after 911 to get out of New York and to help his aging mother and grandmother. The B+B is a complete rebuild on the property that was his ancestral home. What a lovely place it is! The breakfasts are BIG and so tasty too. In the morning we took a long walk to the center of town to get reacquainted with the Merida. In the afternoon we lounged poolside and read, dipping into it's cool  water every now and then. This evening dinner was Italian once again. This time at La Dadalaumpa. Dessert tonight was a gelato at Polas. Since we shared our dinner entre we felt we deserved dessert!

 Our room and the refreshing and deep pool at Las Cascadas.

Church in the square in the Santiago neighborhood. Santiago is the oldest neighborhood in Merida and the streets are incredibly narrow.

Throw the house out the window. (2017)

Yesterday I didn't write. I just needed to unwind after a late night dinner with our friends Katia, Raquel, and Patricia. This is the family we rented from last year. We ate at Amaro which although it was their choice, it was a restaurant we had intended on revisiting. It is a lovely place that originally was the home of the first governor Quintana Roo. We talked ourselves nearly hoarse covering family events and travels we had in the past year. By the end of three hours we had pretty well exhausted our respective bilingual limits, with them being much better equipped to speak English than I can speak Spanish. During our conversation, we got onto the topic of big parties (a conversation that began by discussing dentists; it would take too long to explain), anyway, they said in Mexico the phrase "Throw the house out the window." expresses throwing a big party. Travel brings us all so much closer to appreciating other cultures. While I might not remember the phrase in Spanish, the English translation will come to me the next time we go to a big bash and I will remember our friends in Merida.

Merida Musings (2017)

My good intentions to write daily are slipping so I am going to make a list of phrases that will ignite my memory when I look back.
Going to the symphony, hearing beautiful music in a historic opera house.
Meeting my Merida friend Susanne McCoy at Punto El Cielo for coffee and laughing and smiling for two hours of catching up.

Going to the crazy intense Lucas de Galveston Mercado and buying two table runners and a lovely blouse for $170. U.S. which is a staggering amount of money considering that I bargained down from $250. AND the seller led me through a maze to get to a Bancomer cash machine which had a line of about 25 people. BUT, I waited, she waited, and we both were happy once the exchange was madeAll this in our hottest day here: 94! An afternoon licuado and air conditioning were much appreciated.
The night time swim in the pool was so relaxing and the sky above was heavenly. Today we have tickets in hand and will return to Vallodalid for two nights.

Valladolid and Swimming in Cenotes (2017)

So, El Zaguan Colonial is not an easy walk to the center of town and the electricity is such that lights are out or the AC is barely working but it is clean and the restaurant food is good, especially the guacamole. Best of all is the  staff. No one speaks much English but they are super attentive and try to anticipate your requests. The smiley girl behind the counter this morning pulled out a map and did her best to explain the options for getting to the cenotes X'keken and Samula. They are also called Dzitnup. We ended up taking a cab, first into El centro to buy flip flops and get money and he waited for us and then took us to the cenotes. Once there we realized we had been to the same place last year but had only been to Samula, so this year it was X'Keken. The flip flops really weren't needed. I you walk slowly you won't slip on the wet steps. The water was cool and refreshing and very clean. It was a nice switch from the chlorine of pools and the saltwater of the Caribbean. Lots of black catfish that are 2-8 inches long swim on the edges but they scatter once you start splashing. The day was overcast with a breeze but 94 degrees and humid. A perfect day for swimming in an underground cenote.

Once back at the hotel we had guacamole, sopa de lima and a chicken Caesar salad. Then Chris napped and read but I headed off on a very round about walk to El Centro, buying tickets for tomorrow's bus ride, and then a fruitless long walk to the main produce market which was closing down.

I had hoped to find the correct pepitas used in papadzules but no luck there. I ended up buying them unground at a small shop closer in. I hope I haven't been hoodwinked; they look suspiciously like any other pepitas I buy at home. During this LONG winding afternoon of walking I passed this beautiful restaurant with an AMAZING grotto and fountain with a statue of our Lady of Candlaria. It was done in a mosaic of broken tiles. I took Chris there to see it at night. The restaurant was closed which was ok by me since it is a buffet style which I don't care for.

We found another lovely restaurant with patio dining called Atrio. I see online that it is also a boutique hotel. The chaya empanadas and papadzules were delicious and the beer was very refreshing! Now we are back in our hotel room, driven away from the poolside of El Zaguan by the mosquitoes. Ah well, MOST of the vacation is time in paradise.

Dreams Are Made Here (2017)

After a taxi ride, a bus ride, a taxi ride, a ferry and one last taxi ride here we are on idyllic Isla Mujeres. The island is certainly more populated and has more hotels than the one hostel I slept at in 1974 but it hasn't lost it's charm. I am so happy we chose the south end over the more popular, crowded north end, even if the beach is supposed to be more spectacular. I think we have found a gem of a spot here at Hotel La Joya. We are in Unit 10 and there are lots of steps down to the room but our patio is right on the poolside. Tomorrow will be the day to snorkel and kayak. I won't be staying up too late because I want to see the sunrise from Punta Sur.

Golf Cart a Go Go (2017)

No lolling about in bed today. We were awake at 6:15 and up the hotel steps, of which there are many, in time to see the 7:15 sunrise at Puente Sur. So gorgeous and peace inducing if only the husband and I had been on the same page in communicating. He went ahead and straight ahead. I came after and left without the key (it was in his pocket) and turned right. Different paths, same endpoint. It was a magnificent sunrise.

Then a two mile run, a few yoga poses and coffee and fruit served on our patio. Taxi into town, zip, zip! Rent a golf cart and explore the island's touristy north end. We had pizza and fried calamari for lunch. A stop at Chedraui and a little more exploring then back to Hotel La Joya and a swim in the Carribean, a shower and then return the golf cart via the east side of the island. There are some very posh homes on this little island! The day ended with an invitation from our new friends David and Colleen (from Chicago) to join them at Casa de los Suenos for sunset and dinner. Great conversation, delicious food and a marvelous sunset to equal the sunrise ended our day. We are grateful for all the gifts this day has given us.

The Suburbs of Playa Del Carmen (2017)

We had a lovely sunset dinner on Isla Mujeres with our new friends, David and Colleen. They are from Chicago. Colleen is  the head of an Early Childhood program in a Waldorf school and David does voiceovers for advertising and makes business presentations. The conversation flowed easily. I'm glad we exchanged emails.
It was hard to leave beautiful Isla Mujeres especially with the taxi, ferry, taxi, bus, car travel we had to do. Well, the last trip would have been a taxi but Brenda, the Air BnB contact and her boyfriend Allen picked us up. They showed us the 4th  floor condo which is HUGE; two bedrooms 2.5 baths, a full kitchen and dining room and a deck and roof top garden. The dining/living room is so big and sparsely furnished that our every sound echoes.

Then they drove around the neighborhood a little to give us a little introduction. They took us on a much needed stop to the Lavendaria and then dropped us off at Maya Centro, a big grocery store where we could stock up for the week. All went well until we got back to condo 43 and lo and behold, the electricity was out and there we stood with groceries, a rapidly warming fridge, and no air conditioning. We made a quick call to Brenda and she and Allen turned around, came back and dealt with the condo administrator, the electricity company, much confusion, and after a LONG wait, an electrician. Finally, four hours later, much to our happiness and relief the refrigerator hummed, lights snapped on and the internet was alive.
Today we slept soundly till after seven! It was a lazy day that started with a breakfast of fruit, yogurt, and hard boiled eggs, made by me in the condo kitchen. Then off to the beach to rent  lounge chairs,  look at the waves and passing bellies and bikinis. Followed that with lunch at Casa Toucan, then a walk to Wal-Mart and a taxi home. It is either a 70 peso taxi ride or a twenty five minute walk between our condo and Mamitas beach which is wider since our earlier stay due to winds from the west depositing a healthy strip of sand. Life is still sunny and slow paced but the end of the vacation is beginning to seek into more of my thoughts.

Cloudy and Overcast But No Chance of Snow (2017)

Seattle is having snow for probably the fourth time this winter. Meanwhile, here in Playa del Carmen it was a humid 84 and overcast. This morning I had a great 3 mile run in our south PDC neighborhood followed by a yummy fruit bowl at the condo and then a pastry or two at Clementina Cafe. After that it was our trip to Playa Dental to have Dr. Jorge Armenta clean our teeth. Only $30. a piece and now our teeth are all pearly white. Then a hop skip and a jump to the car rental place and we have a white Gol just like ever other tourist in Playa. At the recommendation of our friend Stephanie we went to Xcacel to swim with the turtles and to go to the cenote Xcacelito which is a pleasant walk on a jungle path and boardwalk on the same grounds as the turtle preserve. Unfortunately, the red flag was flying on the beach which meant it was too dangerous to go in the water. But I would definitely come back to this beach. It is the most remote and undeveloped that we have seen. No restaurants or bars, no vendors or people asking if you want a massage. The cenote is small and above ground and has lots of the little fish that like to nibble the dead skin on your legs and toes. They were certainly feasting on me. The cenote was really crowded, probably because the beach was closed. Still the water was refreshing and the location was Eden-like. Afterwards we drove into Tulum and had mojitos at Bateys and had a small world experience; a couple around our age was sitting next to us and they overheard us telling the waiter we lived in Seattle. They live in the Green Lake  neighborhood! He is Hal and she is Mineara (I think that is it). AND...She is a substitute teacher in Seattle, mostly in Kindergarten. Amazing!