January 19, 2008

Hola from Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Shop in Isla Mujures

Good Food

Chrome Wheel

Around the corner from our Apt.

Our flight to Cancun went smoothly, arriving on time and to POURING rain by the time we made it to the ferry dock. The rain let up as the ferry arrived on the island. We found our cute, little second story apartment a short walk from the dock. Our apartment is above a small coffee shop that opens early and closes by 2 p.m. We were thinking this might be a quiet place to stay even though we are in the heart of this small town. Little did we know, until the music started blaring about the time we headed to bed, that we are across the street from a two story bohemian-urban-esque bar (as described in the travel guide) that rocks until 2:30 a.m. nightly! After our first night of not much sleep, we figured instead of opening our place up, trying to get acclimated to the heat and conserving energy, it would be best to close up and run the air conditioner! (That worked..the second night we actually enjoyed a full night of sleep.) After sleeping in until 10 a.m. we spent the day getting oriented, locating the necessities ,,,,,,,,bottled water, good coffee, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, bunches of those tiny tasty bananas, fresh fruit smoothies, a grocery store that carries nonfat yogurt, waterproof sunscreen and wine by the bottle verses the glass. Although I have to admit we haven't purchased wine yet or even a beer. It's been hot enough that water, cold juice, fruit smoothies and Coca Light have hit the spot. The weather is gorgeous, sunny and hot. We walked miles, checked out the beaches and ate simple, delicious Mexican food.

The past two nights it has DUMPED rain most of the night, but turned into wonderful weather by morning. Our second morning we were up earlier and shared a delicious Mediterranean breakfast and cappuccino, followed by a mango smoothie. This cafe close to our apartment has free wireless so we'll be able to keep in touch. After this leisurely breakfast we gathered our snorkel gear and headed for the kiddy beach so I could start at the shallow end of the Caribbean! I SURVIVED . almost 45 minutes of pure fun, after just slight apprehension. There was, after all, some small waves on the water. Dan is a good coach and is helping me get over my fear, in great anticipation of actually snorkeling off a boat out at the reef (DEEP water) where you really can see fish. Today the water was not over head high and we still saw some fish. Next we will advance to Playa Norte where there is still shallow water but more wave action. Then, hopefully, on to the adventure out at the reef. The rest of our day was spent walking, reading, people watching, eating, and drinking everything COLD.

The town is about six blocks long and four blocks wide with homes, restaurants, small hotels, weekly apartment rentals and hole in the wall businesses along side each other. Unlike Cancun the town still has the traditional flavor we were hoping for even though it is a tourist area just a 15 minute ferry ride from Cancun. What we saw of Cancun on the hour shuttle ride to the ferry dock could have been mistaken for the strip in Las Vegas; ugly traffic, huge mega resorts and malls. On our walk today we checked out the only all inclusive mega resort on the island. Boring, even the travel guide rates it over priced and unexciting, but more are surely on the way. We observed a few guests taking photos of themselves and thought it would be perfect for an episode of South Park. Is that something like enjoying the smell of your own farts? Dan gave it a try.the photo thing. We are glad to be out here on this laid back little island doing just about nothing while it still feels like Mexico! We love the easy going atmosphere in Mexico. We're already on Mexican time and no matter the age, nationality, body type or shape, everyone on the Mexican beaches wears almost nothing, to the point of some women sunbathing topless. We'll leave you for now with that image.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Off the ferry boat

Museum display

Sea Turtle Reserve

Nature is awesome
From our Veranda
Our Place
Early in the morning.

Saturday morning at breakfast we decided to take the ferry over to Cancun to see two of the travel guide’s “Must-Sees”, La Casa de Arte Popular Mexicano and Parque Las Palapas.  In a hurry to get our trip started we jumped on the tourist ferry, paying too much and ending up in the hotel zone of Cancun,  causing us to walk 8 miles in the heat to the folk art museum then on to old downtown of Cancun.  Of course we could have caught a taxi or taken a bus, which would have been Dan’s choice, but we needed the exercise and the walk felt great.  The guide book says this is one of the best folk-art museums in the country, with a spectacular and varied collection of traditional handmade Mexican masks, pottery, figures, toys and more.  Score one for the guide book…….it was fabulous.  The $5 cost of admission included an audio tour in English explaining all we were seeing.  The colors were spectacular. I picked up ideas and Dan took lots of photos during the couple of hours we spent there.  Next we headed to what the guide book calls the “real “ Mexico that naysayers claim Cancun lacks,  a great family friendly park in the heart of downtown Cancun that has art exhibits, afternoon music performances and tasty street food.  We expected to find a beautiful square full of grass, trees, flowers, people, music, art and food.  What we actually did find was a cement park area with a few people around and some very good street food sold in the cement vender stalls.  We were two of  only three Caucasians in the park.  Few people spoke English, but a couple of gentlemen helped us order a late lunch from one of the venders.  We took a city bus back to the tourist zone to catch a frap at Starbucks before heading to the non-tourist ferry for the ride back to the island.  The visit to the folk-art museum and the street food was well worth the trip over.  On our way back to the island the water was very rough and choppy, an indication of a storm blowing in.

Sunday we woke up to a cloudy sky, gusty winds and choppy water so we decided to take the bus to the sea turtle farm mid island. This gave us a chance to see what the less inhabited part of the island is like.  We enjoyed the bus ride, the turtle sanctuary and walking a few miles before catching the bus back just before the rain hit late afternoon. We hunkered down in our apartment for the rest of the day as it poured rain, venturing out once for a cappuccino just down the street.  Dan worked on his China photos on the computer and I read for hours.  It’s been a long time since we’ve done so much of nothing!

Today the weather was about the same except not so windy.   It was threatening rain so we skipped snorkeling.  After breakfast we spent the rest of the morning picking up necessities around town and  researching and making plans for a  trip to Chiche’n Its’a, one of the most well-known and most heavily visited ancient Mayan ruins, and Ek’ Balam Ruins, a lesser visited ancient Mayan site. They are located a couple hours bus ride from Cancun and will be an adventure of sorts to get there and back by ferry, bus, taxi and walking.  We will head out early Wednesday morning and return late Thursday night.  We’re excited about seeing the ruins and learning more about the Mayan culture.  We can see the very Mayan features in many of the locals.    

By the time we returned to our apartment after a late lunch, it was pouring rain again.  The street in front of our apartment is flooded.  We waded through  it for afternoon coffee when the rain let up some.  Again, another evening of Dan working on his photos and me reading.  Paradise!  We are feeling soooooo lazy!  About the pouring rain……..it’s a little inconvenient, but isn’t bad.  The air temperature remains warm so getting wet is not all that uncomfortable.    If it’s a downpour it’s nicer to be inside with all the doors and windows open.  This afternoon it rained so hard water was creeping into our room from our open balcony door.

Everything is perfect about our apartment except that  night club across the street.  Closing our windows has helped but as the night goes on the music get louder and louder.  We were so delighted the night club was closed on Sunday night!  Yahoo, a good night of sleep.  Then the lousy band started rehearsing…….BUMMER!  At least that didn’t go on so late and was not nearly as loud.  Maybe we should just give up and join the party.  Customers request the type of beer they want to be hooked up to and the bar measures the keg for consumption at the end of the night.  Drunk AND deaf without even a cover charge!

Tomorrow Dan swears he is going to get out of bed early and go take photographs.  We’ll see.  We hope to get some snorkeling in tomorrow if the weather cooperates.

January 30, 2008

Valladoid, colonial town

Chiche'n Itz'a temple

Chiche'n Itz'a ball court

Chiche'n Itz'a, ball court
Ek' Balam ruins

Isla Mujures Carniaval

We can't believe it is almost time to head home to the COLD! These two weeks have gone by way too fast.

Last Wednesday we took off to see the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. We took the ferry back to Cancun. From there a two hour, first class bus ride took us to the small colonial town of Valladolid where we spent a few hours browsing town before taking the second class bus 45 minutes to our hotel for the night. Our few hours in Valladolid convinced us we should stay another night and spend it there after seeing Chiche'n Itz'a. The 45 minute second class bus ride convinced us we had made the correct choice taking the first class bus from Cancun! Little did we know that the hotel near the ruins would be so isolated. We had planned on walking to the ruins that evening for the light show. After just a few steps along the road, we knew that would be taking our life into our own hands. No shoulder, with traffic racing by. We thought better of it, deciding to stay at the hotel for dinner then take their shuttle van to the light show. Dinner was a prime example of being a captive audience, the only truly marginal meal we've had on this trip. The light show at the ruins was billed as something spectacular. It was more like a couple of colored lights shown on the old temples with the dialogue totally in Spanish. It began to dump rain during the show so that was the end of that tune.

The next morning we were up early to arrive at the ruins before the MANY tour buses and the HOT sun showed up. Much hotter on the mainland than on the island. We spent most of the day exploring the ruins along with several hundred other tourists. Unfortunately, last year twenty visitors died at the ruins, so they have restricted access to the steps. You can no longer walk up the ruins. Bummer, we really wanted to climb all those steps to the top of the temples to see the great expanse of the ruins. After a long, hot, but interesting day we boarded the second class bus for the ride back to Valladoid. That evening we stayed at a very nice hotel where we enjoyed a lovely dinner then walked around town. After a good night's sleep we took a taxi to Ek' Balam ruins, a relatively small and compact site with far more access than the heavily visited Chiche'n Itz'a. There we were able to climb lots of steps to the top of several buildings. Both of the sites we visited are only about 20 % excavated to this point. After another two hour bus ride and the short a ferry ride, we were having dinner on Isla Mujeres, glad to be back in the laid back island scene. We'd had enough of the fast lane.

Saturday was a gorgeous day so we gathered our snorkel gear and headed out in a boat for the deep end. Actually, it was not even all that deep out at the reef and after a quick feeling of panic I was fine out there. I was glad we had taken a snorkeling class and spent some time at the pool before doing this for real. The guy driving the boat could barely speak English and gave few instructions regarding the snorkeling. We just hoped he would still be there when we came up for air! I stuck with Dan and we had a blast, seeing many incredible fish close up. The sales pitch had assured us we would spend a total of three hours snorkeling in three areas. Yah right! We snorkeled in two areas for a total of about an hour and a half. Then he took us to a cantina (his friend's, I'm sure) where we could purchase something to eat and drink plus swim and have our photo taken with this sick looking nurse shark for only a few pesos more! We felt sorry for the poor penned up nurse shark so we skipped the works. Today we chose yet another GORGEOUS day to go snorkeling at the reef again. This time we used a different boat operator, the spiel pretty much the same, and the trip pretty close to the same also. Although at first it seemed we might be having a bit more adventure this trip when the captain pulled out from shore sucking down a beer at just after 10 a.m. No matter who you go out with, you only get about an hour and a half of snorkeling in for your money. Today we went to the same two reef areas, paid less, but saw many more fish including big barracudas. The fish were incredible. I was even more relaxed knowing what to expect.

Sunday we rented bicycles and rode the length of the island and back. Discovered a wonderful little French bakery on the way down the island where we purchased scrumptious fresh rolls that kept us going until lunch. On the way home we stopped by the bakery again. The owner warmed a small loaf of bread with all sorts of different grains and seeds in it. It was so good we sat on the curb and ate the entire loaf before continuing on. We probably rode about 14 miles that day on bikes that had only 1 gear. Luckily, there aren't many hills on the island. The next day we walked to the same bakery and spent the afternoon having another loaf of warm bread along with coffee and an interesting 2 hour conversation with the owner, Lorena. She is French, grew up in Belgium, was a model and traveled the world. After a couple of visits to Isla Mujeres she kept being drawn back to the island. She's lived here for 16 years. She was the chef/owner of her own restaurant in town for 12 years when she decided it was getting too touristy in town. She moved down the island, out of town and opened the bakery. She has one seating at dinner for 12 to 16 people a few nights a week, does catering and has the bakery. It's all very casual. Each time we walked into the bakery we had to yell Hola, Hola until she came out of the back. Outstanding bread! It's probably a good thing we did not discover the bakery until this late in our visit!!

All the food we've eaten on the island has been great, from the small booths to the nicer restaurants. The traditional Mexican food can't be beaten. We've also frequented a couple of restaurants that serve Mediterranean food, one for breakfast and the other for dinner. Fruit at home is no comparison to that we've eaten here. Almost every morning we've shared a mango smoothie and almost every afternoon we purchase a large bottle of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice at the Mercado. And those little bitty sweet bananas ..... ..YUM! Amazingly enough we can still fit into our shorts. Guess we have stayed active enough to burn what we've been eating even though we feel like we have been ever sooooooo LAZY! It's a good thing we are headed back to reality tomorrow. This could become a habit.

Somehow we've lucked out again by being in Mexico a second time during Carnival. Since Friday evening, festivities have been going on all over the island. People, young and old, dressed in bright colored costumes are dancing, singing and buzzing around on golf carts, scooters and floats (old trucks decorated with streamers, paper flowers, etc.). In the square each night the dancing starts an hour or two after it is scheduled to begin, as we have learned is fairly standard procedure for events in Mexico. All the families are out eating, visiting and celebrating. It has made for great people watching and photographs.

The people here LOVE music. It's loud and fills the streets, restaurants and shops all over the island. We've even adjusted to the blaring late night music coming from the night club across the street from out apartment. It's been interesting to hear Caribe Mexicano music on the island verses the traditional Mexican music we experienced on our trip down the mainland a few years ago.

With only two days of rain the first weekend we were here, the weather has been as close to perfect as we could have asked for. It's been sunny and hot, breezy some days. We have received several e-mails letting us know what the weather is like back home. BHURRRRRRRRRRR!!!! We're ready to be home, but can't say we're ready to get back to the cold weather.