Sunday, November 20, 2011

Memories and Photos

I still remember when we were circling Cancun Airport because it was raining so hard the pilot didn't want to land. He finally gave in and landed. When we left Cancun two weeks later, the pilot couldn't take off because the airplane toilets weren't working properly. After an hour of sitting on the plane the maintenance guy told him the toilets would probably work at about 16,000 ft , so we'd take off anyway and see if they worked! Thank goodness they did work.

I wanted to go to this restaurant I'd heard about on YouTube called La Cueva de Chonga. It took us two weeks, but we finally found it. The food was great and it had the most amazing kitchen. A pond ran through the center of the dining area with about ten turtles and fish cruising around. I'm so glad we found it.

I bought four of these amazing Mayan gourd lights. Each one has a special meaning . . . courage, wisdom, love, friendship, etc..  They came with a little light fixture wadded up inside the gourd. When we got home we realized the "light fixture" was an electric cord, a socket, and a plug. Joe had to wire them himself. So far they haven't caught fire!

I can still almost feel my two massages. They had a deal '2 massages for 50 bucks'. I asked if I could have 2 massages on different days because Joe didn't want one, and they agreed. Man that was great! Just laying on that table on the beach . . . the ocean breeze fluttering the white curtains and tickling my skin. Heavenly. Each massage was an hour of bliss. When I waddled back over to our beach chairs Joe laughed at me. I should have done it immediately after arriving.

A couple of nights before we left we went out to dinner with our Friend Janine, whom we'd met at Starbucks. After dinner we went to her really cool apartment on 5th Ave. It was right next to a bar that had a band every night. That night we sat up on her balcony overlooking the street and the band, and drank a bottle of Jayson Zinfandel. It was magical. She even had dark chocolate . . . yum. It got a little scary when I shut the sliding glass door to the balcony and locked us out. After several panic stricken moments she found a window that wasn't closed all the way and climbed through. Eso es Mexico!

I uploaded photos for this trip's blogs, so please take a moment to check them out. Until next vacation, Adios and Via con Dios.

Heidi and Joe

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Edgy Side of Playa Del Carmen

After having been here for two weeks you are beginning to see a layer not so obvious at first glance.

We wandered into the less touristy area at night trying to find a chicken BBQ restaurant. It was a little scary on the darker streets. We decided to come back the next day in broad daylight and have lunch instead. By-the-way, it was delicious. Whole chickens BBQ'd to perfection, and served with bowls of spicy stuff and fresh tortillas. Bottles of coke with straws was a novelty to me, but everyone did it. Maybe the bottle rims are dirty?

The storms come in so fast I can barely get my camera in time to catch the sun still shining as the black clouds stampede in.

We were at this fabulous fish taco stand the other day. It's on the beach access road. We laughed as six teenage boys ran off the beach, stuffing necklaces and bracelets in their pants, and dove behind the cars in front of us. The beach police cruised by slowly on their quad-runners. After they went by the boys popped out of hiding, dusted themselves off, and went back to work with no one the wiser as to where the jewelry had been stuffed. Note to self!

A popular tank top here is one that says "I love (heart) shoes, bags, and boys". This shirt is in practically every shirt store window. The other night an overweight, hairy man was squeezed into this tank top and had cut out big circles around his chest. Talk about low class! He was with a large loud group of men who mocked and made fun of everyone.

Captain Jack Sparrow came by my porch yesterday! I swear it was him . . . or maybe his look-a-like :)  He was amazingly good. He had the whole swaying movements and everything, you know the way Johnny Depp would lean back and raise his eyebrows when he talked. Very cool costume and everything. Joe thinks it was Johnny Depp incognito as himself..

This one made us both laugh for some reason . . . the other night we saw a giant cockroach trying to cross fifth avenue without getting stepped on. The funny part was he had a cigarette in his mouth. Those who noticed stepped around it to let it cross. It would have been a great Marlboro commercial.

A favorite beach bar is this funky bar at the north end of the beach called Cannibal Royal. It's three stories tall and has the design of a ship. Interesting people watching there. Absolutely beautiful view!

Everywhere we go people say "Hey Cowboy" or "Mister Texas" because Joe wears a cowboy hat all the time. It can really get annoying after awhile, as they try to use this one liner over and over again. The other night he left the hat behind and it was miraculous. No one bothered him or yelled out "Cowboy". It was great.

We have discovered this awesome side street that is an artisan market on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. They sell all kinds of funky stuff you can't find elsewhere. Joe bought me a gorgeous pair of conch shell earrings, and I got him an arrowhead necklace. Well, we're off to finish our time here with style . . . fish tacos, beer, and another massage on the beach. Thanks for traveling with me again!

Wine opened: Perry Creek Altitude 2401, '05' Zin . . . very, very nice. Strong heavy plum with a subtle smokiness. A special purchase from the winery owner's private stock. The last bottle is Modus Operandi, '08' Cab . . . still a little tight with a hint of citrus at first but settles down to a softer oak/cassis finish. And YES I do bring my own wine from home! Bikinis + sundresses + flipflops + mask/fins/snorkle + wine = less than 50 lbs.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Things That Make You Say "What The Heck!"

To this Californian, there are some things that just strike me as odd, out of place, or just surprise me.

For example in CA Tang is almost nonexistent . . . at least among adults. Here the grocery store has 5 feet of shelf space, top to bottom, dedicated to all of the various Tang flavors. I didn't even know it came in any other flavor than orange!  And then there is the popcorn. ACT II microwave popcorn comes in about 10 flavors (chipolte, lime, cheese, caramel, etc).

Sitting on swings at the bars is really a novelty. Not so sure how that works if you get drunk, but it's fun sober . . . especially at Senor Frogs. That place is a riot! It's expensive, but worth it for entertainment's sake.

We hear 'Hotel California' at least once a day, but the one that made us laugh and say "what the heck!" was when the Peruvian band was playing it with their native instruments. It was actually very pretty as an instrumental.

A huge apartment/condo complex, off 5th ave, has balconies like cages. The whole building is lit up with red lights . . . everywhere. Joe calls it the Devil Hotel. But that's not the weird part! Each balcony has it's own full size silver mannequin. The residents have free rein to dress up their own mannequin any way they want. It really almost defies description. The garb ranges from scuba suits to burlesque. Really weird in creepy way.

The other night we were at the Dirty Martini, with the gang from our hotel, when a big pick-up truck pulled up. It had an enormous tree root in the back that had to have had a crane to put it there. It was bigger than the truck! Roots stuck out at odd angles.
As soon as we realized it was a carving everyone spilled out of the bar onto the street to get a better look. It was absolutely phenomenal. Leopards, alligators, Mayan warriors, skulls, and Mayan symbols made a story. The artist explained it is for sale for 30,000.00. It took him 2 years to carve. (If you want to buy it, just comment below and I'll hook you up). It's purpose is to be in a large room with a huge piece of glass on it and "Viola!" it's a table.

I like friendship bracelets. My young friend, Isabelle, makes them for me all the time. When I saw the intricate friendship anklets/bracelets here I couldn't resist, so I bought one for a dollar. When the same girl came down the beach the other day I decided to buy more, so she stopped and gave me two big bundles to choose from. All of a sudden she grabs the bundles and dives halfway under my lounge chair. I turned to look at her curled up in the sand next to me, and she shakes her head and puts her finger to her lips, "Shhh". So I swivel around and see the beach police cruising down the beach looking for street vendors who had snuck onto the beach. Her two friends were laying flat behind a stack of cushions. After the police went by she popped back up and we finished our, what I now realize is an illegal, transaction. She smiled her thanks and sauntered off down the beach with her buddies.

Wine opened: Jayson Zinfandel . . . fabulous! Very rich and creamy with hints of chocolate and heavy berry. This was a gift from Telan, my PT intern and greatly enjoyed on the balcony of Hotel Freud with our new friend Janine. (For other wine notes backtrack to my blogs from this trip as I just added them this morning).


Monday, November 7, 2011

My Favorite Things!

Que Padre! (How cool!) This is a favorite saying of mine. Another good one is "Eso es Mexico!" meaning "That's Mexico". This is used whenever something breaks or does not go as planned. An example is I can't use my spellcheck here because my blog spellcheck is in Spanish while I'm here.

Oscar is still our favorite bartender in Playa Del Carmen. We call his bar 'Oscar's bar', but it's really called Las Deliciosas and is located on 5th past Constituyentes. The other favorite bartender was on Cozumel, at a little whole-in-the-wall fish-n-chips cafe. His name is Freddie. It is in the central park of San Miguel. Great fried red snapper and crunchy fries . . . the diet is out the window.

Favorite dinner place is La Parrilla. We like the food, the service, and the view of 5th Ave. The best part is the almost continuous Mariachi band standing on the street facing the restaurant. We love the chicken tacos.

Pizza . . . Bar Dello Sport located on 5th and 32nd. Thin crust pizza prepared by Chef Simone, an Italian. As we sat and ate pizza, and drank beer and wine we listened to two tables of Italians waving their arms and talking.

Best live music is a tough one because we couldn't possibly hear 1/3 of the bands here. That being said, for our tastes, we love FAH Restaurante Bar. On 5th, between 8 and 10th. It is completely open air. They pull canvas across the patio when it rains (which is frequently) . . . though that can turn into a circus show in-and-of-itself, especially when the canvas collects the rain and it sags heavy over the guest's heads. A waiter takes a folded up chair and pushes up on the canvas to get the water to pour off in massive waterfalls. The whole time this is going on the band continues to play under their meager shelter. Early in the evening they have a one man show with guitar. Later they bring in the full band with a 5-10 minute break. The cervesas are extremely cold. Speaking of cold, the other night I was so visibly cold the owner gave me her satin jacket to ward off the chill in the air. That night we were trapped there for awhile because the downpour wouldn't let up. We would have been soaked, and we had umbrellas. The food's okay, but their menu is hilarious . . . I took a photo. It means "Being fat isn't a sin".

Joe and I love to check out the hotels wherever we go. The choices of where to stay here is only exceeded by the number of places to eat! Unbelievable variety. If you like massive decadent hotels you will find lots to choose from. If you like it so cheap you have creepy crawly visitors, you'll find it here. For us we still like Playa Palms, our little condo complex the most. The rooms are spacious and have kitchenettes, and balconies or porches. The staff is so friendly and helpful. We have this amazing lady cleaning our room who makes a different design with our towels every day. I have taken photos of them all.
When I wake up the staff is cleaning around the pool and when I go to bed they are still cleaning. The narrow space where the 39 rooms face each other has a winding little swimming pool going right up to the edge of the sand. The beach in front of Playa Palms has so many palm trees and umbrellas it's hard to find a sunny spot. Hammocks are everywhere. If you like camping this is your place because it has the sounds of camping. For example my neighbor just now came out and asked me if he could hook his e-book reader to my computer to charge it. I loaned him my Nook charger. Two couples from the neighboring porch are smoking cigars, playing Rolling Stones, and laughing in that goofy way people do when they are just starting to unwind. They got here this afternoon.

The owners have all been here this week for their annual gathering. We weaseled our way into their party . . . it's an art. One owner showed me his room on the top floor at the very front of the hotel. It is gorgeous, partly because they have such a nice balcony. One by one they are changing all of the windows with triple pane glass to block out the noise.

Wine opened: Twisted Oak Petite Syrah . . . Smooth with heavy plum/berry notes

Well, I'll write later, Heidi

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Vamos a La Playa!

The sun is out, the sea is calm and clear, the beach is gorgeous, and we are happy :)

We've never been to a place quite like this. It is an extremely touristy town, but not just Americans. This is a hot spot for Europeans, Asians, and Mexicans. A couple we befriended were Ecuadorians living in Chicago (computer industry) here on vacation! Apparently the aggressive salesmen are not locals either . . . meaning they are not Mayan. The majority are from central or southwest Mexico, especially Mexico City. A Mayan-run store confided that these newcomers have ruined the tranquility of Playa Del Carmen, Riviera Maya, and Isla de Cozumel.

Private residence

Another less expensive private residence

It reminds me of Hawaii. The property is so expensive that the locals (or me) can't afford to live here. They all works 2 or 3 jobs and charge a fortune for everything. Let me give you some examples in US dollars so you don't think I'm exaggerating;

Starbucks coffee mug = 16.00
Negra Modelo = 4.00-6.00
One scoop of Ben and Jerry's ice cream = 8.00
Jet Ferry one way to Cozumel = 12.00 p/p
Cover charge for disco next door = 12.00 (45.00 all night w/drinks included)
T-Shirt 15.00
Fillet Mignon = 28.00
2 tank dive = 80.00
2 bedroom/2 bath condo next door to our little hotel = 800,000.00
Top floor/same floor plan = 1 million

Fortunately Joe and are used to living on the cheap and we share our meals. So those are the 2 negatives . . . moving on!

I'm in Disneyland/Las Vegas Mexican style. We don't go to cruise stop destinations, so this is probably normal. The streets are immaculate, the service is outstanding and shops are glittering. The restaurants are done in a combination of Italian and Carib. All are open air (except one English tavern on a back street). The seating sprawls out onto the sidewalk. Mariachi bands and an eclectic mix of solo artists roam the streets continuously.
Music is constant and everywhere. The other night we were sitting at a table people watching when an ancient, probably over 90 years old, man came by with an old wooden cart with wooden wheels. On top and on the sides were wooden slates of various sizes. He stopped in front of us and pulled out his drum sticks and began to bang out a tune and sing his heart out . . . I think. Not absolutely sure because the music from our cafe drowned him out, but he was adorable. Everyone tipped him generously and he creeped onto the next cafe.

Our favorite restaurant has a low balcony overlooking 5th avenue (as the local T-shirt says "there is more than one 5th ave!"). The best Mariachi band plays there almost all night. Que Romantica! Right now I am sitting in front of Starbucks sipping a mocha and watching two German girls with their babies taking a break on a park bench. A stunningly beautiful lady in a casual floor length gown is sitting next to me with her laptop on her lap. Her long black hair is coiled up on top of her head. Joe and I like to guess where people are from. The shoes are usually a dead give away. The Europeans wear really odd shoes. And they smoke . . . a lot.

The police presence is very good. It can get crowded and has the potential to get rowdy. Drinking alcohol in public is illegal here, and the police enforce it. With machine guns. I only saw one couple with alcohol and the police asked them to throw it in the garbage. The man hesitated, but the wife dragged him over to the can and made him do it.

Wine opened: Michael David's Sloth (Zinfandel). . . Rich robust jams, shared with the Ecuadorians and Grace fell in love with it (made her husband take a picture of the label so she could buy it).  Also opened Renquist Zinfandel . . . started off very good, but lost its gusto overnight even though I kept it refrigerated. Next time I'll be sure to enjoy it the same day and not pour large glasses.
Well the beach beckons . . . Hasta luego, Heidi

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We're Here

Hola Mis Amigos!

Guess what . . . I finally feel like I speak Spanish. I'm not fluent by any stretch of the imagination, but I can converse. I'm especially good at protecting Joe from the predators (aka~street vendors). They see him coming a mile away, and he's so sweet. He can't untangle himself! I start with "No thanks" and proceed until I get to "Absolutely not, ever".  That usually does the trick.

We've been having a great time in spite of the weather. It's been raining off and on since our arrival, but it's still warm. We both have umbrellas, ponchos, and waterproof pouches for the camera and the laptop. The standard gear for tropical adventures.

On our first night here we went to eat at a "typico" restaurant on 5th ave. That began a series of shocks to our senses. Playa Del Carmen is NOT the sleepy little beach town it used to be. The streets are pedestrian only on 5th Ave. The shops are elite and very expensive . . . higher than California prices!

In our past experiences, Halloween here has been a somber experience. It is a couple of nights before a very important Mexican holiday "The Day of the Dead". Normally the 31st is the evening for preparing the shrines of dead relatives.

Although this happened in almost all the stores and restaurants, we were surprised at the massive number of children dressed up in really detailed costumes. I took several photos. I would hold up my camera and ask permission and the parents would hurriedly pose their children for the photo shoot. Sometimes the whole family would be decked out.

Our hotel is adorable and immaculate. It literally is on the beach. The way it is designed on a narrow lot creates a bounce for noise, so earplugs have been a must. At 1:40 am, I was startled awake by extremely loud mariachi music. My first thought was "I thought I turned off the alarm clock" located next to my ear. It wasn't my radio. It sounded like a full mariachi band was on our patio. I peeked out our sliding glass door and you guessed it! . . . a real mariachi band was on my porch! I absolutely couldn't believe it. The next day I mentioned it at the front desk, but they were just as surprised as us.

Tuesday was spent slogging in water and shopping at Walmart. We stocked up on Negra Modelo, tortillas and peanut butter. We have made our first friend, Oscar. He's a 20 year old bartender at this cute little street bar. He doesn't speak a word of English, so we love him :)

We had planned to go to Cozumel on the jet ferry today, but the weather is still blustery, so we'll go tomorrow. The most stunning news of all is that we haven't been in the ocean yet! That's unheard of for us. We usually swim regardless of the weather (just ask Mom and Jeanette).

Wine opened so far: Modus Operandi '07' Cabernet Sauvignon . . . fabulous! Smooth, yet rich.  Renquist Petite Syrah . . . nice caramely, jammy, hint of tannins.
Well we are off for a walk so I close for now, Heidi