Playa del Carmen

February 27, 2015
We began and ended our trip in Playa del Carmen. We flew non-stop on Volaris Airlines to Cancun. I cannot express how great it was not to have a layover. The downside was their schedules were a bit limited so we arrived late and departed early, it didn't make sense to stay at Al Cielo the entire time. So, I sought out other options. Settling on an apartment rented on AirBnB. There are many great rentals in PDC. This place was outside the tourist zone, but close enough to walk to 5th Street, and it was near El Fogon. Yes, we chose accommodations based on the proximity to our favorite restaurant. I reserved two nights and saved a bunch compared to staying in Xpu-ha.

It worked out for the best, especially because our flight got in even later than anticipated because Quintana Roo observed daylight savings effective Feb 1. They were now on Eastern time. Thankfully, collecting the rental car was smooth. I reserved a manual economy car for $3/day. The cheapest quote, yet. A couple years ago, laws changed and you can no longer waive all insurances (with a credit card that provides coverage) so you are responsible for insurance that covers others in case of an accident. We were charged an additional $20 per day for coverage. We were shocked when we learned our car was a new Chevy Aveo with automatic transmission and only 3000 km. We were riding in style.

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The apartment was easy to find, and we made arrangements for our late arrival so we were settled in no time. Our first stop was Walmart for cash, beer and water. However, liquor sales end early on Sundays and we were denied our cerveza. Thankfully, our host left us Indio to enjoy. We were most grateful. The second stop? El Fogon. Apparently, all it takes to feel like we arrived is a margarita, al pastor tacos... and a few cervezas.

El Fogon - Our Favorite! Tacos al Pastor

The apartment was tidy and comfortable. There is a living room with futon, small kitchen with fridge and hotplates, bedroom and bath. The A/C worked great and there was plenty of hot water. The only thing that would prevent us from a longer stay is the double bed. It was a bit snug for Frank and I. Parking was right out front of the unit. It was about a 10-15 minute walk to the beach. It was just what we needed.



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In the morning, we grabbed breakfast at La Cueva del Chango. The restaurant is just as charming as it was ten years ago. The neighborhood sure has filled in, though! I couldn't resist the chilaquiles and Frank chose molletes, which is wheat toast topped with beans and cheese. They are known for their fresh squeezed juices so we also had papaya and orange juice. It was a great start to the day. They never disappoint.

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After checking out of Al Cielo, we returned to Playa del Carmen we cruised around to see how much the city has grown. Construction is booming! I cannot believe how many new hotels and residences have been built. There is so much more currently under way. Then, we were completely distracted by a giant Chicago Beef sign. We had to try it.

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The menu offered all of Chicago's favorites. We split an order of saganaki and a beef sandwich. Both had the right idea, but they failed to produce an authentic product.

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Nearby was Mr. Pollo Kentucky. We didn't stop, but we probably should have.

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We retired the car and set off for 5th street. Frank wanted to check out the Sportsbook at the Tequila Barrel. The bar was busy as always, but the book was pretty slow. I suspect it fills up when there are more sporting events.

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From there, we wandered to the beach. We first stopped at El Pirata, they seated us promptly, provided menus, but never returned to take our order. We were near Playa Maya and we were curious how it has changed over the years, so we left to check it out. It was where we stayed our first trip in 2005. Back then, it was too crowded for our tastes and today, it is even busier. We sat near the bar, drank Dos Equis and watched people move about like ants. Service is still attentive. It looks like the hotel has expanded a bit and the bar is completely different. I'm glad to see them doing so well. I was surprised to see Alhambra next door completely gutted. I bet it will be a swanky resort next time we visit.

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Afterwards, we relocated to Fusion. Their bar and restaurant is right on the beach. It's has a great vibe and it's well run. We camped out there until the sun began to set. They had a live band and at night I understand they have fire dancers.

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We planned for an early dinner so we could fit in a late night snack at El Fogon. We heard about a place doing authentic Chicago Style deep dish pizza. We had to see for ourselves. When we arrived at Don Chendo, we took the last available table. It's a quaint space, but it turns over tables all night. The owner makes it a point to greet every table, I couldn't help but chat him up. He's originally from New York, but makes deep dish? How can that be? Well, he does a mighty fine job. The pizza was excellent. We had the Chendo: Italian sausage, peppers and onions. It might not look it, but it was better than majority of places in Chicago. No joke. I wish we didn't wait until our final night to try it. We'll definitely seek it out next visit.

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Another El Fogon location is around the block, it was hard to resist, but we had full bellies and intended to get one last fix a bit later at the location near the apartment.

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But we never did. We walked over, but the line was down the street. It was near midnight. We had to be up before the sun so we grabbed snacks at the neighborhood OXXO and called it a night. We'd have to wait until next trip for another dose of El Fogon goodness.

Just like that, our week in paradise was over. The weather was perfection. Humidity was so low, I never thought it was possible. It made it extremely hard to leave. All it did was encourage my desire to one day make it a permanent vacation.

Puerto Aventuras

February 26, 2015
Puerto Aventuras is a residential resort community with a large marina, dolphin habitat and a collection of shops and restaurants. We discovered Ristorante Massimo last time and we couldn't wait to return to enjoy more pizza. It's like being in Italy, only we're in Mexico. We had three dinners here. Yes, three. They have great pasta too. Much of it is made in house, the strozzapretti is our favorite by far. Combined with the caprese to start, and Italian sausage & spinach pizza. It's the perfect meal.

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Just outside the gates, along the highway is the Super Chedraui. It is where we like to shop. It's always fun to stop for a selection of pastries from the bakery. In the same shopping center there is a popular deli, Salciccium. We grabbed a sandwich to share. It was my choice, I perused the menu and quite a bit sounded tasty, but when I saw they had Banh Mi, I had to get it.

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It was no Saigon Sandwich, but it was damn tasty. I never expected to enjoy Banh Mi in Mexico. Next time, we'll have to try more of the menu. It is a great choice for something fresh, quick and cheap.

Tulum: Cenotes Cristal & Escondido and Kanlum Lagoon

February 25, 2015
We haven't been to Tulum since our first trip in April 2005. We saw the ruins back then (I limped my way all over the park) and haven't felt the need to return. This trip, though, we felt adventurous. We were after new snorkeling locations. We first stopped at Aktun Chen, we were swayed by their "Uncrowded Park" advertisement. However, when we got there we were dismayed by the prices. You pay per activity, it was going to cost $30 US each just to snorkel. It was the same price with or without equipment. That's more than double the cost at Yal-ku. No gracias.

It wasn't a total loss, we saw this pretty guy sunbathing in the middle of the road. We called him, Raul.

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We decided to continue down Hwy 307 to see what else we might find. We stopped at Cenote Cristal, admission ($50 pesos) includes access to Cenote Escondido across the street. Cristal is easily accessible; it's a short path to the cenote. There are several picnic areas and a couple hammocks. Much of the cenote is exposed to the sun, this means that algae is inevitable. There was plenty. I find the fresh water to be too chilly; so I don't swim in the cenotes. Frank enjoys them. Cristal has a ledge to jump off of, a group from NY joined us shortly after we arrived; he took the plunge. Frank swam all around, but there wasn't an abundance of fish so we didn't stay too long.

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Escondido is deep in the jungle. I would not want to walk on foot. From the parking lot, it's short trek to cenote. It's dense with vegetation, so the water is a bit cooler and more clear. There were more fish and Frank was very impressed with the caves. He tried to convince me to come in to see for myself, but I'm too much of a cold water wuss.

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We ventured further to Kanlum Lagoon. We had no clue what was there, besides a lake so we decided to check it out. We paid $40 pesos and drove to the parking area. Odd thing was there wasn't another person in sight. We wandered down the path and found a rickety pier that stretched into the most calm lake I've ever laid eyes on. Part of the lake is sectioned off, I assume it's due to the depth, 85 meters. Sinkhole, perhaps? The lake was in full sun (burn alert!) and it had a very eerie feel. We decided to go, after, having a look around.

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Driving back, I reminisced how hwy 307 used to be like this as soon as you left Cancun. Now, through Playa del Carmen and Puerto Aventuras it has freeway with exit ramps. I kinda miss pulling to the right to make left hand turns.

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My memory is fuzzy, but Tulum seemed to have grown; it was really bustling. When we got to the Sea, it stunk terribly. I'm not sure why that was, but it awful. We thought we'd stop for lunch, but it was just too crowded.

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On to Puerto Aventuras!

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