Arriving in Tulum

February 21, 2017
There is only one acceptable reason to wake hours before the sun rises, and that is to travel. Otherwise, let me sleep as long as the sun. Our scheduled Uber arrived timely at 4 AM. We flew Southwest to Los Angeles. It was a full, but fast flight. A little bumpy too, so no drinks or snacks. We grabbed breakfast at Rock & Brews inside LAX. $45 later, we filled the hole with microwaved eggs. Yep, that's right. Served right in the microwavable dishes. No glassware or silverware either, all plastic.

Southwest's route to Cancun is pretty new, not only did we secure a great fare; only 53 were booked on our flight. We were able to stretch out, the extra room was much appreciated. LA was drenched and the rain didn't let up for our departure so we were stuck on the runway about an hour waiting in the longest queue I've ever seen. The flight improved once we were airborn.

Construction seems to be complete in Cancun. The airport is quite modern now. We were among the first off the plane, and our bags were already on the carousel when we made it to baggage claim so it was very quick to pass through customs. There was only one couple ahead of us and they got the red light, I was pretty confident ours would be green - and it was.

Past trips we've rented from Thrifty. I had difficulty making a reservation twice, so I gave up and opted for an automatic compact thru Alamo. We've always gotten manual so I thought I'd splurge since it was only $6 per day (+$18 for TPL). The shuttle took us right over, it didn't seem too busy so I figured we'd be on our way in no time. Boy, was I wrong. They prepped a vehicle, but at the last minute they changed it out for another that was "grande" and had a full tank. An hour later, we were greeted with our ride. It was not at all large. It was an automatic and it had power windows - so it was the most luxurious rental we've had to date, but the doors still did not lock.










My original plan was to stop in Playa del Carmen for a bite and groceries, but we lost so much time with the delays and to worsen matters I had completely forgotten that Quinta Roo no longer observes daylight savings and switched to EST two years ago. Our Airbnb's location was just north of the Tulum Ruins near the Tankah Beach Resort. We thought it was best to drive straight thru and not waste anymore time. Road conditions improve with every visit - now, there are far less topes, but an extra traffic light or two. We made good time and checked in about 8 o'clock. I picked up the key at the beach club, but it was up to Frank and I to locate the building & our unit. It was pretty dark so it was a relief that it was well marked. We were pleased with the accommodations and we were stoked for morning to see the beach and the glorious Caribbean sea. We were starved and we worried that restaurants would be closing soon so we headed out straight away. We had no destination in mind, we parked on Av. Coba and walked until we found a place that grabbed us.

Malevo lured us in, the scent from the grill was intoxicating. But first, we were in need of a cerveza stat. Two Montejo's were downed in record time. They were cold and we were THIRSTY. Their housemade bread was yummy and the appetizer sampler followed. Which had three selections, the empanadas were our favorite. We shared the entree, which was pork shoulder, yucca fries and onion jam. It was fantastic! We were pleased to stumble on such a wonderful spot.



After dinner, we stopped at the market (Super San Francisco de Asis), but we were chased out because it closed at 10 PM. The third convenience store we tried, finally, allowed us to buy beer. We enjoyed Barrilitos under the stars while we waited for morning. Then, slept wonderfully, the king bed was cozy and the A/C kept the room perfectly chilled.









Morning came, the view was indeed beautiful, but the beach was a bit rough with rocks, shells and debris. Not ideal for bare feet. It was windy and the waves were unrelenting so we knew we wouldn't be logging much time in the water. So we didn't mind that a trip back to the grocery store would occur sooner than we intended because we quickly realized I failed to pack toothpaste. It's always something, isn't it? This time we went to the Chedraui. We were able to get all we needed, including a sharp chef's knife and omelet pan. We went a bit overboard spending almost $90 US. Cheese and meat to throw together a charcuterie platter was far pricier than we anticipated. All was well, we had quite the haul.

Frank was going to whip up one of his amazing breakfasts, but the hot plate didn't seem to work. No matter what we tried, it wouldn't warm. We opted for yogurt, with granola and honey instead. It was mighty tasty. With full bellies, we situated ourselves outside to do absolutely nothing - it was wonderful. I decided to shoot the airbnb host a message about the hot plate and he quickly responded that the pan we were using might have been too small to trigger the heating element. Later, for lunch, we gave it another go. Sure enough, the omelet pan was too small. We improvised a bit to make it work, but eventually gouda and ham omelets with a side of bacon were had.

We noticed there was a pool so Frank took a dip, it was clean and refreshing. You could still hear the waves crash poolside too. Then, not far off the pool was a cenote. Most of it was exposed to the sunlight so algae was rampant, not good for snorkeling. We lounged under the palapa enjoying the sea breeze until the sunset.





We showered and dressed for dinner. We planned to drive to Playa del Carmen for Chicago style pizza at Don Chendo. There is a long dirt road from the sea to the highway, about midway, Frank slammed on the brakes. I didn't see what stopped him in his tracks, he reversed the car hopeful that he did no harm. An iguana?, I questioned... No, it's a coconut! I screeched, answering my own question. Before Frank could speak, I'd eat my words as it shimmied ever so slowly. I leaped out of the car for a closer look - a hermit crab! Who would've guessed?! Good thing, Frank's eyesight is better than mine.



They were fully booked when we arrived, so we decided to walk over to El Fogon for a taco appetizer while we waited. The tacos al pastor were amazing as was the margaritas. By the time we returned to Don Chendo there was plenty of seating. The pizza was just as delicious as we remembered it. It's the real deal.



That night, Frank suggested we spend the next day in Xpu-ha or head south for an adventure. We were intrigued by what what lies south of Tulum. We've only gone as far as Kanlum Lagoon right outside there. Mahahual had piqued our interest which is 2.5 hours beyond Tulum. I opted for adventure. It was time to find a new beach!

Seventh Heaven

February 16, 2017
A year after we wed, we honeymooned in Playa del Carmen, MX. Many newlyweds chose all inclusive resorts, but I knew that wasn't our style. Instead, I booked our stay at Playa Maya, a small hotel, directly on the beach. "Beach access! How quaint?," I cheered. The first couple nights I booked a jacuzzi suite, then the rest of the trip was a room on the top floor so we could be perched above it all. It seemed so perfect.


Twelve years ago, Cancun airport was pretty basic. Highway 307 was paved but otherwise fairly primitive and loaded with topes. We suffered a bit of culture shock when we first arrived. Driving... the whole deal was a bit overwhelming. It was our first time out of the US. Well, that's not true, we had been to Windsor, Canada. But this was a totally different experience. Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas any more. I remember Frank being pretty miserable and I had my doubts.

The first morning we were eager to see the beach, we walked the shore. We didn't find the tranquil waters we imagined. It was littered with people, fishing boats and not at all relaxing. To make matters worse, I was naive, and did not apply sunblock. Big mistake. Huge. I was toast on the first day. Blisters and all. I couldn't move without wanting to cry. A complete waste of that jacuzzi suite.

The following morning, I booked us an ATV/Snorkeling excursion. I was in so much pain, I wanted to cancel. But I overcame it, we went and had a blast on the ATVs. Hot & sweaty, we walked down to the cenote as a group. I stepped on a rock that gave way; I twisted my ankle and earned myself a pretty large gash while doing so. I bled steadily. A kind amigo, cleaned me up, gave me a bandage and teased me about watching out for sharks in the sea.


It was our second full day and I was a complete mess. I was red as lobster, blistered like bubble wrap, bandaged like a mummy; All the while, my ankle doubled, and later tripled in size. I should have taken it easy. Especially, in hindsight, but no, we pressed on and did everything on our checklist. We wandered all over the Tulum ruins, explored cenotes and splashed in the sea. I was convinced we'd never return. I had to see it all.

We did catch a break when we abandoned Playa del Carmen and headed south to find somewhere peaceful. We stumbled on Xpu-ha, the powdery white sandy beach and aquamarine waters were irresistible. It was heaven on earth. Most days, it was only Frank and I on the beach and it was there we discovered, Al Cielo. It began as only a restaurant, but had recently started renting out its four rooms to lucky travelers.


There in Xpu-ha, I felt no pain. I was mesmerized by the beauty. We bounced in the sea like kids on summer break. We squealed and bolted when a sea turtle came riding in on a wave. It was simply the best.

We finished out our stay at Playa Maya, it was a nice enough place. It just wasn't well suited to us. Trudging through the sand with my busted ankle was torture. I cursed, "Beach access!" The third floor walk up was a really bad idea. It just was not meant to be.

Two years passed, I swear it nearly took that long for my ankle to heal - I had really done a number on it. We returned to Xpu-ha, we stayed at Al Cielo. It was wonderful. It was everything I hoped it could be. That is, until, Montezuma's revenge had a stranglehold on me. I was so sick. I had taken a beating in Mexico, but we continued to return. Al Cielo was too special not to. We watched it grow over the years, sadly, it was ultimately sold to Escencia, the luxury resort next door. They painted it, made a few changes and started charging double.

We thought we'd sworn it off, but Xpu-ha's siren song would lure us back. Our initial plan was to visit Thailand this month, but a poker event changed locations and Frank could no longer take the time off. It left us with only a week to take vacation if we squeezed it in immediately after Superbowl. This has been an ideal time for travel in the Riveria Maya - Plenty of sun, warm temps, cool sea breezes. Southwest Airlines offered a good fare to sweeten the deal. We still couldn't pull the trigger on Al Cielo, but I found an Airbnb on the same beach, and another in Tulum. We thought we'd shake it up and try something new. And just like that, we booked our seventh trip to the Yucatan.

Believe

February 8, 2017
Everyone should believe in something. I believe I should be on the beach sipping on a margarita. That's where you'll find me as you're reading this. That's right, we left the states for fun in the sun in Mexico. Specifically, the Riviera Maya. So... in the meantime, I'll share about our visit to San Diego. We've made countless trips by car, but the drive takes longer and longer each time. When Spirit ran $70 RT fares it was a good excuse to try flying. Frank flies each year for his annual trip to Del Mar. It's always worked well for him. It seemed promising. As an added bonus, Spirit joined TSA PreCheck just in time for our trip. Their enrollment was flawless, which was appreciated since we had such a problem using our KTN on Frontier.

We flew out on the first morning flight and touched down in San Diego by 9:30 AM. It was the shortest flight I've ever been on, 44 minutes. The San Diego airport was smaller than I expected and very easy to navigate, I believe it was the fastest I've ever made it from gate to exit as well. It was only 30 degrees & dreary when we left home; we were at the tail end of a week long cold spell, the wintry weather had taken its toll so it felt like sweet relief to feel the warm sun once we stepped outside. It was tempting to sit and soak up the sun right there at the airport, but we had other plans. Important plans! Breakfast at Con Pane Bakery. We hailed a Lyft over to Liberty Station. We were noshing on sandwiches and a cinnamon roll in no time. The Italian on rosemary olive oil remains my favorite sandwich in all the land. The cinnamon roll was mighty delicious too, per usual. However, Frank also had them toss in a Gouda and Herb Scone. Good lord, it was the perfect savory treat. So moist, flaky and cheesy... just wonderful.



We walked over to Von's for odds and ends, and Starbucks. We sat in the courtyard because it was too lovely not to. Yes, there is a courtyard in the middle of Von's. I don't think I'd mind grocery shopping quite as much if ours were like this. Anyhow, with our errand out of the way, we Ubered to our hotel in hopes of checking in. I snagged a great deal at the Omni on Hotwire. The deal was made even sweeter when our request to check in early was granted, and they even upgraded us to premier view on the 17th floor overlooking the bay. Stunning, truly.





As tempting as it was to climb in bed and never leave, we couldn't resist the sunshine. We wandered the waterfront from the Convention Center to Seaport Village.





We grew thirsty so we stopped for cocktails. A margarita on the rocks for me, and a beer for him. Neither were particularly good, but the view was lovely. All the walking must have worked up a hunger, because we found ourselves in an Uber headed to El Indio. A fish taco and taquitos were the perfect snack. We strolled the neighborhood a bit before taking the trolley back to the hotel. Before heading up to the room we stopped at a nearby liquor store so we could have cocktails in our room while viewing the sunset. It did not disappoint.



After an early evening siesta, we sought out dinner options. We knew we wanted to try something new. We decided on Phil's BBQ because I've had it bookmarked on Yelp for years, it has 4.5 stars and over 10,000 reviews. Our Uber driving confirmed it was tasty, but admitted he preferred a place called Grand Ole BBQ Y Asado. We bookmarked it for a future visit. Walking into Phil's I was a little underwhelmed because there was no scent of smoked meat in the air. It's just one of those things I've come to expect. I reserved my judgement and was excited to try the ribs, link and onion rings folks have raved about for ages. We were given a buzzer and we anxiously awaited our order.







The ribs were very tender, grilled with a dry rub and sauce was served on the side per our request. Which was wise, it was a bit too tangy and tomato-based for my liking. They were good, but definitely not Texas good. Where's the smoke ring? I've come to realize I'm officially a barbecue snob. After dinner, we walked over to Target in hopes of finding Chargers gear on clearance, but no such luck. We caught a ride back to the Gaslamp and the nightlife was in full swing. We weren't feeling it. Instead, we opted for the best bar in the city. Which just so happened to be right in our room. Seating for two, amazing view, we choose the music and no wait for the restroom. We did not regret our decision.

We slept wonderfully with the window open. Don't ever underestimate the power of fresh air! I can't be the only one that hates being cooped up with recycled air in the winter and summer months, can I? Frank was up before me, he went to the gym to get a work out in. I showered, and managed to flood the bathroom floor while doing so. The only flaw with the room was the shower curtain was too small for the curved shower rod. Thankfully, they had us well stocked with absorbent towels.

On the way out for breakfast we stopped to see if late check out was possible. The hotel was fully booked due to the convention, but they did extend check out to 2pm. We were grateful. We grabbed a bite at Werewolf. Frank had to try the Pork Belly Benedict. They also had Chilaquiles on the menu so I was easily sold. Curiosity got the better of us and we added on an order of breakfast balls. We started with the balls which were mashed potatoes and bacon fried balls drizzled with gravy. They were pretty darn tasty. Our entrees were too. The pork belly was perfectly rendered and quite possible the most beautiful poached eggs were nestled on top. At bottom of each stack was a potato pancake to sop up the rich & silky goodness. The chilaquiles roja's flavors were well balanced, not too acidic or spicy. I only wished there was more tortillas to soak up the sauce. Overall, we were quite pleased, it was a nice find.







Next, we caught a Uber over to Coronado Island. It seemed like an ideal place to enjoy the perfect weather, sunny skies and 75 degrees! We wandered around the island and Frank introduced me to the Bloody Mary served at Hotel Coronado. Surprisingly, I've never tried one before. I honestly didn't think I'd like it, but I did. He asked for it extra spicy. It's funny, though, it reminded me more of soup than a cocktail. A gazpacho, if you will. I now understand why many are served with antipasto, sliders or a meatnormous amount of bacon. People watching was superb from the patio. People came from everywhere and anywhere.





Back at the hotel, we rested a bit and then, packed up our belongings and left our bags at the bell desk. We caught a ride to Liberty Station. We had a late lunch at Con Pane Bakery. Unfortunately, they were out of the rosemary olive oil bread. It's still better than most on sourdough, but it just wasn't the same. Luckily, we did snag a cinnamon roll, because someone failed to show for a pick up order. You win some, you lose some. We walked around the park and along the water until the sun began to set. Our last stop was the Cuban Cigar Factory. We often visit when in town, Frank enjoyed a stick (or two) and much to my delight they had Pliny the Elder in the cooler. Which we typically only find in San Francisco. It's a good way to pass the time!

The time had come to gather our bags and return to the airport. We were met with a large group of protesters, but it didn't slow us down. Security was quick and easy, and we arrived at our gate with ease. The flight home was timely. I must say flying is pretty darn convenient. It's not a fit for every trip, but we'll definitely take advantage of cheap fares in the future.

A Winter ONEderland Party

February 3, 2017
To celebrate my youngest niece's first birthday we invited friends and family to join us in Alexis' Winter ONEderland. As luck would have it, it was a very chilly & rainy day. Everyone was eager to warm up with hot chocolate. We set up a bar with all the fixings. The party was held in the evening to accommodate work schedules. So, we also had a chili bar to satisfy the hungriest appetites. My sister and I found all sorts of decor on clearance after Christmas that fit our theme. Amy made the banner we draped over the window and snowflakes tied everything together.

The kids kept busy with snowball fights (multiple sizes of styrofoam balls from Hobby Lobby) and build your own snowman using marshmallows, Oreo thins, Reese's miniature peanut butter cups, string licorice, orange tic tacs and edible markers. Gift bags were filled with treats such as hot chocolate packets, marshmallows and sixlets, or squeeze applesauce for the little ones. Lex seemed to love it, she was a cuddle bug throughout her party. It was just the sweetest. Happy 1st birthday, Lexi girl!



















¡Hasta Luego!

February 1, 2017
We stocked up on Topo Chico mineral water, topped of the gas tank and said so long to family before hitting the road. Our time in San Felipe had come to an end. We came across little traffic on Wednesday morning. It was smooth sailing after the military check point. We skipped breakfast, so we snacked on enchilada peanuts that we had picked up at the market earlier. Frank went to open a bottle of Topo Chico we had left in his uncle's fridge (which kept such a low temp that items were freezing). The water is under pressure as is, and combined with the frigid temp to which it was chilled it completely erupted as he nudged the cap. I died laughing. I could hardly catch my breath. I'm not sure what part was more priceless - the fact that Frank has been getting me with water and ice for nearly 20 years and karma finally struck or the look of utter shock on his face with water dripping, from, well, everywhere. I hand him a tissue, like it was going to help. Hilarious. I did eventually grab the beach towel so Frank could dry the thousands of beads of water. His lap, however, would take a while to dry...



The highway is in great shape and there are long straight-a-ways, Frank was cruising along, the needle was buried easily. The gauges in his truck covert to metric so mph are not shown. Once the needle hit 140 KM we really didn't know how fast we were going, but we'd soon learn. Further up the road, federal police was monitoring the speed of oncoming traffic. He flipped his lights on and busted a U turn as soon as we neared the squad car. We were clocked at 155 KM when 80 KM was posted. After Frank showed his license and vehicle registration; the officer asked him to step out of the vehicle and walk down to his car. We speak little Spanish and he spoke little English, but we understood. Frank waited while he hand wrote the ticket, he was given instruction to pay the fine online, and then, we were free to go.



When we arrived in Mexicali, we completely missed the sign suggesting to turn for the border crossing. We had to go around twice before we spotted it. I expected large overhead signs, not some wee little sign that was barely a two feet wide.



We navigated our way to the proper lanes, we have Global Entry, but not SENTRI so no expedited wait for us. Still, it only took about 20 minutes to cross the border at Calexico. The border crossing agent asked, "both American?" Yes, Frank replied, as handed over our passports. He added we had nothing to declare. After a quick glance the were returned and we were on our way. It could not have been simpler.





After returning home, Frank learned from our dry cleaner that a new larger border crossing has opened that is even quicker to pass through. We'll have to locate that crossing next time.

We will be back.


Valle de los Gigantes

January 30, 2017
A short drive from the coastal town of San Felipe lies the Valley of the Giants. Which is home to the cardón cacti, the tallest growing cactus in the world. Often mistaken as saguaros, these cacti have a life span of up to 300 years and can grown as tall as 70 feet.

From San Felipe, you head south on highway 5 until you reach Punta Estrella near KM 14 you'll spot the turnoff for the Valle de los Gigantes on the right. The cost is $10 US per car to enter the park.

If visiting without a 4x4 vehicle much of the forest will be inaccessible. Though, it's still well worth the trip to see these giants. Fortunately, we were equipped with 4WD and we had full access. The cacti are mighty impressive and the ocotillo are also the largest I've seen. Palo verde also dot the beautiful desert landscape.























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