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Who would have guessed? We like sailing.

It took more than ten years to make this trip happen, but finally Mark and I are here in the British Virgin Islands sailing around for a week, along with three of our New Zealand friends. Today is the last day on the catamaran and it’s time to sum up a few life lessons.

The crew: Matt, Mark, Erica, me, and Rob

The crew: Matt, Mark, Erica, me, and Rob

 

First of all, grabbing the mooring ball is not the easy task it appears to be. Every one of us tried it and every one of us screwed up at least once. If we did it right the Kiwis would give us an “Achieved,” but if not it was a “Not Achieved,” and we got a lot of grief.

Second, apparently when you are on a boat, things fall overboard if you don’t tie them down. We are getting better at remembering that.

Third, even though we are all seasoned drinkers, we still are able to get properly pissed and hung over just like the younger whippersnappers!  Willy T’s is a floating bar in the middle of the cove off Norman Island, and on Day 2 we headed over there after a delicious dinner on board.  Willy T’s isn’t the classy joint the name connotes, and in fact encouraged women to take off their tops by displaying TVs with photos of others who had. (Don’t worry, we didn’t).  I wish I could tell you what happened over there, but for some reason I can’t remember a thing.  The next day no one even made it up on deck until mid-morning and we were all moving very slowly. After coffee and breakfast Captain Shane wanted to know if we were finally ready to let out the sails and turn off the motor. Rob had been itching to get the sails up, and here was his chance. Unfortunately, none of us were at our best.  Mark, Rob and Matt assisted with the sails and Erica did some steering (all I could do was nap on the deck). Rob was green for most of the ride and Mark ended up chumming for fish once we finally arrived.  It was a bit ugly, but we made it.

Fourth lesson, this is the life! We felt like the rich and famous as we cruised up to each mooring, hopped over for drinks or shopping on an island, and then lounged luxuriously on the spacious, comfy trampoline over the hulls.  We kept saying things like “Who do we think we are?” and “Is this for real?”

Pulling up to Saba Rock Island, just around the bend from Richard Branson's Necker Island.

Pulling up to Saba Rock Island, just around the bend from Richard Branson’s Necker Island.

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Here are some of the highlights:

First night’s dinner under the stars at Waterlemon Cay in St. John

Waterlemon Cay

Waterlemon Cay

After dinner we noticed a school of giant tarpon swimming under the boat so we jumped in

After dinner we noticed a school of giant tarpon swimming under the boat so we jumped in

 

Swimming and snorkeling at the Indians and the Caves at Norman Island

Erica and me looking for lost treasure in the caves

Erica and I looking for lost treasure in the caves

 

Indiana Jones-ing around the Baths and Devil’s Bay at Salt Island

See the Guiding Light, our catamaran, in the background?

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Matty’s action-filled birthday!  It started at 7am when we set sail for the 25 mile crossing from Anegada (most of which I slept through). Then we jumped off  the boat for a healthy 600m swim to Sandy Cay and a short hike around the island.

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This was my favorite island–totally uninhabited, beautiful white sand, and turquoise waters!

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Then we made a quick sail to White’s Bay where he proceeded to swim straight to the bar and order two Soggy Dollars, which would have been quite clever if that was actually a name of a drink rather than the name of the bar, although he did pay with the notorious soggy dollars from his pocket. This bar happened to be the home of the Painkiller, one of our favorite drinks of the islands.  In fact, Erica had three in that one sitting alone!

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On our way to White’s Bay

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Not too shabby of a bay!

Matty then kayaked around Great Bay before we went ashore for dinner.  We had a fantastic meal of conch fritters, pizza, tuna, and scallops at Corsair’s.

sm31 After dinner we ordered three 170 proof absinthe drinks that we were cautioned could be hallucinogenic, though none of us reported any of that but plenty of inebriation.

Apparently absinthe is an acquired taste

Apparently absinthe is an acquired taste

Finally we ended the night at Foxy’s in the early morning hours dancing to reggae music (along with one of our new local friends and his 30-year-old dreads), drinking copious amounts of alcohol, and crashing one of our neighboring boat’s party.

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Actually, there’s a bit more to that night than we actually shared with our Captain. Around 1am Erica and I were ready to head back to the boat, and I thought I could cleverly “borrow” the dinghy and get us back there on our own.  So I jumped in and miraculously figured out how to get it started. I yelled to Erica to jump in, but the practical woman she is, she said first show her I knew how to drive in a circle, then she would get in. It was a wise test, and I failed. I must have flooded the engine because all of a sudden it wouldn’t go. Luckily I was still in shallow water so I jumped out and dragged the dinghy back to the dock with my hands. We headed back to the bar (I was sopping wet) hoping none was the wiser. An hour later when we all stumbled back to the dinghy, we were giggling and praying that the captain wouldn’t notice. He did comment that someone must have been “messing” with the line, and we braced for it, but then the dinghy started right up and we all kept quiet!

Another highlight was the 15 mile sail to Anegada in 25-30 knot winds cruising at an average speed of  9 knots on a beam reach (I actually slept through the sail, but Erica tells me she steered for the whole trip) and then a 3 mile run on the white sandy road to the windward side of the island and lunch at Cow Wreck, which was completely empty due to the difficulty of sail that only our crew could manage.

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Spectacular sunset at Anegada

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Swimming at Turtle Cove with our new best friends, the turtles (Rob and Matty got a bit intimate with them, as a matter of fact)

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Rob with a turtle

shane_sm09Great run/swim/tour of the old Sugar Mill in St. John by Captain Shane

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Fantastic snorkel at the Cow and the Calf rocks where we saw an eagle ray, an eel, a turtle, an intimidating barracuda and then a bull shark!

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Endless inside jokes, including “eat an onion Mate”, me setting world sleeping records while at sea, deciphering between which of our tour mates was the “bloke” of the relationship, that the sheep-shaggers refer to us Yanks as Seppos (Is there any surprise that Kiwis refer to Americans as “Septic Tank Yanks” or “Seppos”?).  However, we know that Kiwis come from a land where men are men and sheep are nervous.

As for the six of us, I thought we made a great crew with very compatible interests and personalities.  Captain Shane was always calm even when our sailing skills didn’t impress him, and he was a patient teacher and excellent guide.  Erica’s sweet smiling face was a pleasure to wake up to every morning, and she looked after all of us like the mother she is.

last_sm03 We also were impressed to see her get more comfortable in the water, and I’ll always remember watching her dive down to the wreck below. Mark as usual was the all-around sportsman and I think everyone enjoyed watching his many exertions, and then later seeing him match them with the number of beers each night.

This looks awkward, but he nailed it!

This looks awkward, but he nailed it!

Matt’s even, mellow attitude kept us all calm and collected (and was a great balance to my Type-A personality), and we all relied on him for important information like the name of a song from 1962 or what year a certain country got its independence. last_sm01

And then there’s Rob.  He could have his own reality show I think.  His subtle humor had us all in stitches most of the time, and as I sit here I can still picture him shaking his head as he watches another sailor going by muttering something like, “That fella tacked a bit early, didn’t he, Cap?”

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He’s probably saying something like “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, get a look at this place.”

 

As for me, I have to say that in all my travels, this might be one of the best trips yet. Michaela is a happy, happy girl!

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Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

It’s all good

It has been months since I posted, and I think I fell out of habit for two reasons: my pace of life has picked up so I don’t find myself with as much free time, and we have settled into a routine that doesn’t feel like travelling, so I’m less inclined to “document.”

More and more I feel the urge to be compellingly honest when I write these entries. I don’t want to appear that I’m painting my life in a rosy color, and I certainly don’t mean to be bragging.  Yet, the overwhelming thought that comes across my mind on a day to day basis is, “Damn, how lucky am I?”

My general contentment feels especially rich because of the bumpy couple of years before.  More than a year after Diego died I could still slip into a sobbing mess just by letting myself think about him.  And then last year I was feeling really lost about where Mark and I belonged. I was wondering if we were too “light and free” from traditional bonds that held us to a place and a community.  But lately, and I suppose this is the past few months, I feel like we have gotten back our rhythm. Here’s my theory on why.

First, we have carved out a new set of home bases that are really working for us: Rosarito-Mammoth-Akumal.  Currently we are living in Club Marena, Rosarito in a perfect little townhouse we rent for next to nothing.  Unlike our condo last year, this unique location is protected from the wind by a bluff, so we’ve had terrific weather all winter and spring, without a hint of fog or marine layer so far.  This means that we enjoy our outdoor life so much here. We eat all our meals on the patio in shining sun, Mark surfs right out front, I walk Pancha on the beach every morning, we both swim in the pool and enjoy the hot tub, and we’ve even been playing tennis together.   I can’t stress enough how important it is for both of us to be outside as much as possible. If there is a condition that means someone is addicted to the sun, we both have it. Yes, we still spend a good part of the day inside working on our computers, but we hurry with our work so we can get outside.

Sunset at Club Marena

Sunset at Club Marena

Another great part about Rosarito this year is that we got our Sentri passes, which means the wait at the border is less than 15 minutes.  So we can run up to San Diego for family events or a doctor’s appointment or just a drink with friends without having to plan three hours ahead and sweat it out at the border.  It is so much better!

And this year we get to ski again, which is so much fun. We took last season off so we could travel, but this year I was so anxious to get back to skiing. Our first ski day was delayed for weeks because of a hold-up in our condo purchase, but the deal finally got done and we headed up on January 28. Since then we’ve been up four times. Our schedule (which has been flexible based on various events up there or down here) is two weeks in Mammoth, two weeks in Rosarito.  It is pretty ideal because after ten days of skiing our knees are pretty shot and it’s time to do some cross training down here.  Our new condo in Mammoth makes the transition so easy, too. The rental company takes care of everything and rents it when we are gone. For the winter months we’ve even made a profit (though we expect the summer months to rent sparingly). Still, it seems too good to be true!

Finally skiing again!

Finally skiing again!

Mark's nephew Ben on his  first solo visit

Mark’s nephew Ben on his first solo visit

With the Avila-Gorostizas, enjoying the hot springs in Mammoth

With the Avila-Gorostizas, enjoying the hot springs in Mammoth

And then in June we will head back to Akumal, and stay for six months.  This is our longest stretch in one place but I think we both admit this is our favorite of all the locations.  We can live even more comfortably outside in Akumal, and both of us are just suckers for the tropical lifestyle.  Whether we are paddling, snorkeling, or just staring at the turquoise water, we are addicted to Akumal.

So, I guess we have created some roots and normalcy out of our gypsy lifestyle. We have “stuff” and familiar places to rest our heads in each place, so it takes less than a day to arrive, unpack, and feel settled in each location.  We also feel like we have a community in each place. In Mammoth we have a few local friends and on the weekends there seems to always be someone visiting from San Diego.  In Rosarito we are making more and more friends.  This week was eventful as the next door neighbor invited us to a really fun dinner party and then the next night we bumped in Mark’s old Kingsburg buddy and went to the Tequila Festival with his crew.

The Rosarito Tequila Festival

The Rosarito Tequila Festival

Learning about the agave root

Learning about the agave root

Meeting the band and sharing tequila

Meeting the band and sharing tequila

In Akumal of course we are slowly becoming integrated into both the local and “loco gringo” communities through sports, happy hours, my teaching, and the dog spay/neuter project.

Anyway, I just want to throw it out to the universe that I am incredibly grateful for my happy, happy life.  I know things won’t always be this rosy, and that makes it all the richer!

Here are few more photos from the last few months:

Mark took his mom to her first Laker's game to ring in her 70th year

Mark took Jason, me and his mom to our first Laker’s game to celebrate Diane’s birthday

I had almost TOO much fun at our track girls reunion in February

I had almost TOO much fun at our track girls reunion in February

Paola and me at good old UCSD getting Isabella some hurdle training

Paola and me at good old UCSD getting Isabella some hurdle training

Pancha and I visited Diego's tree

Pancha and I visited Diego’s tree

Spent some time with all my nieces and nephews up north including this cutie, Amelia

Spent some time with all my nieces and nephews up north including this cutie, Amelia

Found this puppy at the K38 taco shop and fell in love! We named her Villa, took care of her for a week, and eventually helped her make her way to her forever family in San Diego.

Found this puppy at the K38 taco shop and fell in love! We named her Villa, took care of her for a week, and eventually helped her make her way to her forever family in San Diego.

Joe took this gorgeous shot one evening in Mammoth Lakes. Ah!

Our buddy Joe Smith took this gorgeous shot one evening in Mammoth Lakes. So pretty!

And since it’s Saturday night, I’ll end with this: two of my favorite munchkins performing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NE1JhVeWv6M&list=UUHUhXEf6oGxZJSi7MxxTlBg&index=3

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Hello out there! Anyone still follow this thing?  I’ve been meaning to update this for awhile, but I guess I’ve been having too much fun!  Here’s a quick run down of some fun events in the last two months.

Halloween

Halloween and Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) is a very festive time around Akumal. The Americans rally for a huge party at La Buena Vida, and costumes are mandatory.  Here are some pics:

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Magnum PI

La Catrina

La Catrina

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But just as fun was the Dia de Los Muertos party our friend Jennifer hosted out in her jungle house.  Jennifer has had her fair share of pets over the last ten years, and her pet cemetery was the perfect setting for a spooky evening full of altars, candles, traditional foods, and yummy Mexican hot chocolate.


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Sian Kaan

We squeezed in one more overnight trip this season and headed down to Sian Kaan, a nature biosphere about 50 miles south of Akumal.  We had heard for years how horrific the road was, but we sure didn’t expect it to be as bad as it was!

We only made it about 100 meters in our little car before we realized we better turn around.  We headed back to Tulum and rented this jeep.

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But two paddleboards don’t fit very well in a jeep, so we pulled over to re-adjust.  We brilliantly figured out a new position that would avoid them banging on my head, so we celebrated with a few refreshments. In all our excitement, though, we left one of the paddleboards on the side of the road as we drove off.  We drove back to look for it the next day, but alas, it was gone.  That was our first paddleboard, and we really mourned the loss.  May she rest in peace!

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Our beloved paddleboard on a sunset paddle a few months back

Anyway, we arrived at Xamach Dos, which is about halfway down the peninsula, and met the owner’s daughter Michelle, who was running the place by herself.  She didn’t know we were coming and didn’t have much to offer in the way of food, but said we could stay in a bungalow and then we all ate ham sandwiches for dinner. It was a great, mellow night and we really loved the “off the grid” feel of the place.  I also enjoyed all the dogs and cats!

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Visitors in Akumal

Our last two weeks in Akumal were full of visitors and festivities. Shannon and Venti came first, and we had so much fun showing them around, diving in Cozumel, and teaching Venti about swimming and paddling.

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Triathlon

November 8 was an exciting day in Akumal for us and the four other competitors in the first annual Akumal Triathlon.  It was DJ Bob’s idea, and it was so much fun. Mark set up buoys out front for the swim, and then we biked and ran around the road.   We also had a good group of spectators.  The race was a blast and then we had a fun beach lunch afterwards. Mark took first and I took second, so we currently hold “fittest couple in Akumal” honor. Let’s hope we can keep that for next year!

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The next arrivals were Bob and Tina Dameron, Mark’s old boss and his wife/our real estate agent.   We hadn’t seen them in over five years, and we had such a blast with them. Of all our guests, they might have liked Akumal the most. They were snorkeling or paddling every day and took their happy hours very seriously, too.


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Thanksgiving in Pacifica

Suddenly the summer was over and on November 15 we both flew stateside. Pancha and I went to Pacifica and had a great time with Mom, Meg, her family, Adina, and some other friends.

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Mission Beach

After a couple weeks up north I headed south to meet up with Mark in San Diego. We moved into our Mission Beach rental for the month of December, and have been really enjoying the boardwalk beach life.

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Nick with his new Mark-look-alike haircut

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Meg’s whole family came down last weekend and they seemed like Mission Beach locals after only a few minutes:

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We’re here til New Years and then we set up our pad in Rosarito in January. We plan to be back and forth between Rosarito and Mammoth all winter. Until then, Carpe Manaña!

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Posted by on December 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Isla Mujeres: No Shirt, No Problem

So, what do you pack in a bag when you plan to go away to a little island for a day and a night?  The basics, right? A change of clothes at least.  Well, as we boarded the ferry to Isla Mujeres yesterday I looked at Mark and noticed, as usual, all he was wearing were his flip flops and board shorts.

“You did bring a shirt, right?”  

“Oops,” he said.

So we spent a whole day and night in Isla Mujeres and somehow he got by without a shirt. If you know Mark, this probably doesn’t surprise you!

I suppose this was the right place to forget his shirt!

Here are a few more pics.

Avalon Hotel. Beautiful location at the northern tip of the island, totally surrounded by water. As usual, we stumble upon a great low-season last minute bargain!

We spent the next day cruising the five-mile island in a golf cart–fun 24 hour getaway!

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Cozumel

We’ve been in Cozumel six nights already but I’m still feeling giddy like it’s the first night of vacation.  I love it here!  Cozumel is an island just east of Playa del Carmen, a quick two hour trip from Akumal including driving and ferry time. We have been here a bunch of times, and every year it becomes easier for us to get here and settle in.

The first year, we spent a whole day driving completely around the island going door to door to hotels asking if they allowed pets, and none of them did. Finally, a little hotel called Villa Blanca took pity on us after I broke down into tears, and said we could stay one night with our dog. After they saw that Diego was a quiet, well-behaved dog, they said we could stay on, and we ended up living in that tiny hotel room for a month.  The next year we realized the hotel had superior suites for just five dollars more, so that trip was much more comfortable. Then the next year we found Costa del Sol, a small group of homes in the south of the island, which we enjoyed for a few years.

This year we decided to try out the new condo buildings in the north of the island. The advantage with the north is that it is a lot closer to the town center, and the accommodations here are brand new high rise towers with amazing infinity pools, modern units, and of course beautiful views. But what is also great is that people actually live in the north….it’s not just all-inclusive hotels.  However, the one disadvantage is that it is a longer boat ride to the good diving in the south.

Anyway, we both had to laugh at how easy things were for us this time.  We decided last minute to head out here because there was construction happening at our condo in Akumal. In a few hours we had packed, booked a condo, loaded up our car with all our toys including two paddleboards and Pancha’s crate, caught the car ferry to Cozumel, drove off the ferry, met the condo manager who gave us our key, and we were moved in! So much easier than the first few years!  And oh my god the condo is amazing. Here are a few photos and a video.

A few hours after we got here the security guard called up and said, “Look out your window.”  There was a school of dolphins swimming by. So beautiful!

So far I’m totally sold on the north side of this island. Pancha and I go for walks every morning and evening, and there are a ton of locals out exercising and walking their dogs. The wide sidewalks are lined with trees so there is lots of shade, and there are even kilometer markers for the joggers and cyclists to measure their workouts.  This island is full of exercise-junkies.  Next week they are hosting a half Ironman, and in November is the real Ironman, which attracts a lot of athletes from all over the world. But the coolest part is to see all the locals exercising themselves. This is not typical for Mexicans, and it reminds me a little bit of New Zealand.  Like New Zealand a lot of the joggers cruise at a very modest pace, but I love that they are out there just doing it. Very cool!

The town center is really lovely, too.  Built around a typical Mexican plaza, the centro has lots of restaurants, bars, and street performers, and once the sun goes down everyone just hangs out there.  Old people dance in the plaza, young people hang out on benches, little vendors sell food, and of course there are lots of dogs everywhere that keep me entertained.

We found a wonderful new dive shop located just a few doors down from our condo. The dive master Fernando is a really friendly guy from Acapulco, and the operation is very organized and professional.  I was so excited to dive that I couldn’t wait for Mark, so the first day I dove without him while he caught up with work. This is not typical for me….I used to be so nervous to dive and would never go without Mark. But again, it’s this vacation-giddiness that has overtaken me!

Finally, we can’t get over how friendly the people are here. Cozumeleños are a lot different from those that live on the mainland, mainly because this island has been inhabited for more than a hundred years (compared to the coast that was developed for tourism just about 40 years ago, and all the workers were recruited in from the neighboring state of Yucatan).  Thus, the Cozumeleños are a distinct group of people that have lived here for generations. They are a bit more educated, more cosmopolitan, and enjoy a higher standard of living than those on the mainland. Many own their own businesses and steady tourism keeps everyone comfortable and happy.  And they are just so darn friendly! We’ve already met so many people who have welcomed us. One waiter gave us an open invitation to dinner at his house and spent time carefully giving us directions to where it was located.

And we are lucky to be here today, September 16, for Mexican Independence Day.  This date marks the start of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain, over 200 years ago.  This is what happened. On the night before, at 11pm on September 15, 1810,  Mexico’s “Father of the Revolution” Miguel Hidalgo shouted the Grito, a cry of patriotism and independence, in order to rally the people and encourage them to revolt.  Since then Mexico celebrates this night by re-enacting the Grito. This is done all over Mexico in every town center.

Last night we headed down to the Palacio Municipal early to enjoy the festivities. Several streets were blocked off and there was a huge mobile amusement park, carnival games, several stages, professional dancers performing traditional dances from all the states of Mexico,  bands, and tons of food and beer vendors.  The place was packed with what seemed to be everyone on the island: families, kids, old people, one month old babies, etc. We had some delicious tacos and enjoyed a few beers while sharing a table with a New York couple who hooked us up with shots of tequila out of their backpack.

Then the Cozumel mayor stood up on the balcony of the Palacio Municipal and made the pronouncement.

First he listed the rights of all people in Mexico, and then he began the grito, which was basically a salute to the revolutionaries, “Viva Hidalgo!” and “Viva Allende” and each time the crowd would repeat back “Viva!” Then he brought it closer to home, “Viva Cozumel!” and “Viva Quintana Roo” (our state), and again the crowd cheered back “Viva!”  Finally he ended with three cheers for Mexico: “Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico!” Then he rang the bell and a spectacular fireworks show began. Here are a few photos to capture the evening!

After the fireworks show we wandered around the carnival and were entertained by the rickety rides and unusual games.  One man was auctioning off a whole warehouse of merchandise in a matter of minutes.  We watched him get hundreds of people to buy random junk instantaneously. Mark was fascinated!

We are already talking about how maybe we need to spend more time in Cozumel, and put this spot into our regular rotation.  For now, we are enjoying it! Viva Cozumel!

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Some stories from the summer

Can’t believe it’s Labor Day Weekend already. The summer tourist season is officially over and things are quieting down even more than usual.  The winds have died down, too, and without a breeze our condo is HOT!  We try to spend as much time as possible in the “refreshing” 88 degree water, but alas, we have to get our work done. Both of us hunker down next to our high speed fans and try not to be too grouchy with the heat. Mark still won’t let me turn on the air conditioning because of the environmental impact, but we’re surviving. Neither of us wear anything but a bathing suit all day.  Pancha uses minimal energy by laying under my fan and saving her beach romps for twilight when the sun is almost down.  That all sounds pretty miserable, but in fact, we both just love this climate (weird, I know).  Anyway, I thought I’d share a few of our summer stories in this blog, in case you are curious.

Baptism

One very memorable night happened a couple of weeks ago.  Merly and Orlando, a local Mexican couple that owns a fruit stand in the Akumal pueblo, invited us to their son’s baptism. We only know them from our fruit shopping, but they have always been friendly and last year when Merly was pregnant we talked a lot about the upcoming baby. Well now Axel is a year old, and her older son is turning five, so Merly and Orlando planned a Baptism/Birthday Party for the two of them. We were honored to be invited, and had no idea what it would be like.  First was the mass.  It was at 5 o’clock on a Saturday. We cruised into the pueblo and hopped out of the car, and there was Merly and her family, all dressed up. She welcomed us and we sat in the second pew right behind her. Her husband asked me to be the photographer, and handed me his digital camera.  The service was about an hour and involved anyone who happened to be at the church (it seemed like many of the townspeople were there just for the mass).  They invited several people up to do readings, and Merly tried to get me to go up, but there was no way I was going to stumble in my gringo accent while reading biblical passages in Spanish!  Still the service was lovely and everyone was so welcoming to us obvious foreigners.

Then was the party. I imagined it would be ten or twenty friends and family members gathering for some cake, but boy was I wrong.  She said it was in the “cancha” which is the cement basketball/soccer court in the center of town. This pueblo doesn’t have a plaza, so the cancha serves as a gathering place for people in the evenings. When we got to the cancha we were shocked to see tables and chairs for 250 people, a giant jump house for the kids, numerous tents covering serving tables for the food, elaborate cakes, waiters, a DJ, and three fancy pinatas.  The party went on for six hours, and included tons of food, drinks, entertainment (freaky clowns and lots of pinatas to destroy), dancing contests for the kids, etc.  We met some nice people, including the sweet godparent couple and a very drunk uncle/cowboy from Panama.  Basically everyone in the town was invited, and it was a great party!

The freaky clown pinata

Hurricane Ernesto

We also experienced our second hurricane last month, Ernesto, who passed through on August 6.  The anticipation was more eventful than the actual storm (technically it was only a tropical storm when it passed through Akumal, though it was at hurricane wind speed level about 40 miles south of here).  No one was evacuating so we stayed put, too, but we were a bit disconcerted when the Mexican Federal Military knocked on our doors at 8pm and recommended that we evacuated or otherwise, just be advised that we were on our own.  By then it seemed too late to evacuate (the storm was supposed to hit with a few hours), so we just shut the hurricane shutters and hoped for the best.  The storm surge came all the way up to the terrace a few times, but water never entered the condo, so that was that.

Apocalypto

I’m continuing to teach my English class every Monday to the locals who want to learn.  Most of my students are the hotel maids, along with a few maintenance men and hotel reception workers.  They are so sweet and slowly becoming less shy around me. They’ve been asking me funny things like “What does holy shit mean?” And when I explain it to them (and by the way, this phrase really is odd and makes no sense literally) they tell me that’s what their gringo boss says all day long! They have also been teaching me some words in Maya (their native, indigenous language), and we started talking about the Mel Gibson directed movie Apocalypto, which was filmed in Mexico and is in the Maya language.  So last week they all came over on their lunch break and we watched it at our condo. Mark downloaded the version that has English subtitles, so they listened in Maya and we read the subtitles in English.  If you’ve seen it, you know it’s incredibly violent, and my students knew I wasn’t crazy about violence.  So whenever a violent scene unfolded, I winced and they watched my face and laughed. There was so much laughing going on that you would have thought we were watching a comedy!  Anyway, it was a really fun afternoon!

Paddleboarding Adventures

We bought a second stand-up paddleboard this summer, which is better suited to catching waves, and Mark has been having fun surfing on the little waves that pop up into our bay from time to time.  Now that we have two boards, we’ve been going paddleboarding together, too, which is really fun.

Although as Mark says, I’m a paddleboarding liability!  Last month we did a long paddle to a couple bays south of here, and the plan was to paddle for an hour or so, have a floating picnic, and then paddle back.  Mark had all the gear tied to his board and all I had to do was paddle along beside him on the shorter board, which turned out to be tough.  We noticed a tiny set of waves was coming through, and Mark wanted to try to surf them, so we swapped boards and he headed over there. I paddled around the set, and thought I was fine, until somehow I got sucked into the break. A wave hit my board sideways and everything fell off (snorkels, lunch, beers, the waterproof radio), and my board also floated way.  I panicked, and yelled to Mark, “What do I do?” And he yelled back, “Get the board!” So I swam to it (note that these waves were tiny, maybe one foot tall, but were breaking on very shallow reef so I was getting all beat up). I finally made it to my board and tried to collect all the gear floating around.  Mark came to my rescue and grabbed the rest of the stuff, secured it to my board, and we headed back out. About thirty seconds later another wave hit my board and knocked me and the stuff off all over again. I screamed at Mark, “What do I do now?” and he said, “Just get the fuck out of here, I’ll find all the gear.” 🙂  It was pretty funny! Somehow I managed to get myself and the board out of the waves, and I waited patiently in the calm water outside while Mark got knocked around and collected all our gear again!

Last week we finally convinced the dive shop to rent us tanks, and we went on our maiden solo scuba trip. We loaded the paddleboards up with full dive gear, paddled out to the deep, and went diving by ourselves. We didn’t go too deep (around 30-40 feet). There is a decent reef right outside our bay where we saw lots of fish, a turtle, a grouper, and some pretty coral.  Pretty neat!

The only problem was that when we surfaced, suddenly there were waves lining the entrance back into the bay. This is very unusual (and were caused, we realized later, by another hurricane that was north of us). With a heavy scuba tank and BC balancing on my paddleboard, needless to say I was very nervous to paddle in. We paddled around for awhile and Mark studied the waves, picked the best spot to head in, and then said, “Go now!” I was so scared, and paddled my little heart out, but made it in without falling off my board.  Phew!

Turtle hatchings

Every year we see turtles laying their eggs on the beach and babies hatching from their nest, but this summer we’ve seen more than all the other years combined. This is mainly because we’ve figured out which beaches have the most turtles. Here are a few pics and videos.

Henning and Brandi seemed to attract turtle nests like crazy!

Mark and Henning swam with a group of baby turtles on their first venture into the sea:

Small World

Finally, this little anecdote reminded us what a small world it really is.  Even though Akumal is in a tropical area, you might be surprised to know that there is a not a lot of access to fruits and vegetables here. This soil is not very rich and this peninsula is quite different from the farming areas northwest of here.  All the fruit and vegetables we eat are usually trucked in from central Mexico, and there are often slim pickings (mainly just bananas, tomatoes, avocados, and oranges). However, over the years more and more produce is making its way here, and I’ve discovered shops where I can buy more fruit.  Last week I came home with a bag of nectarines, and as Mark bit into the first one, he commented on how much it reminded him of growing up in Kingsburg, in the Central Valley, the tree fruit capital of California.  The next day he ate another one, and as he picked off the yellow sticker on the fruit he gasped. Yep, you guessed it. These nectarines came from Kingsburg!

Alright, that’s all for now. Headed to a gringo party in the jungle this afternoon. If it’s hot here, it’s gotta be blazing there….but planning to spend all my time in the pool!

a nice sunset a few days ago

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Della

This summer started off with a bang (Paola’s wedding) but then quickly slipped into a slower pace. I wondered how I would handle the monotony of quiet Akumal life for the next two months. And then suddenly that all changed when Meg called me on July 22, two weeks before her due date, to say that she was in the hospital ready to have the baby.  I was surprised, nervous and excited, and twelve hours later I was on a plane to San Francisco. Luckily (for me, not for Meg) the labor was long and slow and when I arrived Meg was still many hours from delivering.  I don’t know what I expected, but seeing my little sister in a delivery room about to give birth was such a moving experience for me.

12 hours to go

All smiles on our end!

I still think of her as twelve years old, and we kept joking, “Babies having babies!” But she handled it like a real pro, and John says she was quiet as a mouse as she pushed baby Della out the next morning.

I stayed in Pacifica for two weeks and totally enjoyed every minute with Meg’s growing family: my new niece Della, my recently acquired niece and nephew Gaby and JT, and my brother-in-law John.   I helped as much as I could to make everyone’s life easier while they adjusted to a new baby and all that brings.  It sounds funny (and not like me at all), but I truly enjoyed being helpful and needed, and was happy to shuttle kids to gymnastics, take them for walks on the beach, and fill them with junk food (donuts, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell were our most common meals).

Noni is loving this!

It was Gaby and JT’s idea to throw Della a surprise party when she first came home. They carefully picked out balloons that said “Welcome” and “Good luck!” They were so adorable telling everyone at the store that their two-day-old baby sister was coming home!

I also enjoyed quality time with my sister.  The first night they brought Della home John had a cold and was coughing a lot, so Meg sent him to swap with me on the couch. So Meg and I slept with Baby Della the first night. Meg was up feeding her most of the night, and I would look over at her every once in awhile, wishing I could help, but then of course nodding off again.  I definitely got the “full” experience!  Since Mark and I are not planning to have our own kids, I really appreciate getting this close to the action.

We took Della out for lunch when she was six days old. Is that wrong?

It was so hard to leave them, and I hope to go back soon for another visit. Already Della is growing so fast!  I can’t wait to see them all again, but I’m grateful I was able to share all this with them.

a few months earlier


 
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Posted by on August 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Nocturnal Visitors

I have always been enchanted by nature and the wild creatures living within it.  Growing up in Pacifica, it was always a big event if I spotted a deer or an owl in the backyard. At the county park I sometimes glimpsed coyote or a bobcat.  As I moved further south to San Diego, I relished the dolphins that often showed up in the surf and the PB parrots that flew by from time to time. This year living in Rosarito I loved seeing the many gray whales migrating north.  This side of Mexico has even more marine animals to enjoy, and that is a big reason why we’re here. Swimming with whale sharks, schools of tropical fish, eagle rays, and turtles is truly amazing. And this summer, actually just this week, I am reminded of all the natural wonders that exist on land as well.

Our condo is right next to a jungle, which is full of lots of nature.  Since we arrived we’ve seen our fair share of insects and reptiles. We’ve seen three snakes, dozens of iguanas and geckos, and six scorpions. Here’s one little snake that we found in the condo. He was small and harmless (sorry the video is so shaky, I’m not a very calm videographer when it comes to snakes!)

All the scorpions, unfortunately, were found in our condo. In fact, in our bedroom.  We are slowly getting less shocked when they show up in our house, and Mark has become an expert at killing them quickly with a newspaper-wrapped book.  But sometimes you just don’t see them until it’s too late.  Last week a scorpion was dangling on the inside of a clean towel, hanging outside the shower. Unknowingly I wrapped the towel around me and wore it for about 10 minutes as I dried off.  When I grabbed the end of the towel to take it off, the scorpion stung me with its nasty stinger.  Even though I didn’t see it, I knew right away what had happened, and I screamed for Mark to come and check under the towel. There he was, ready to strike again. Mark caught him and kept him just in case I had a reaction to the sting.  The sting hurt like hell for three hours, part of my arm was tingly and my mouth and tongue went numb, but eventually the pain subsided and I don’t even have a mark now.  Guess that means I’m not allergic to scorpion stings, which is good.

The offending scorpion–he (or she) was about six inches long.

So, probably some of you are wondering, why the heck do they live in a place where there are scorpions running around? Well, the jungle and the sea bring more than just scorpions.  We have seen some other critters that make it all worthwhile.  A couple nights after the scorpion sting, we heard some noise out on the patio. Often there are hermit crabs crawling around at night, and they sometimes bang against the window with their shells, so we figured that’s all it was. Then we saw the security guard on our patio, stooping down to pick something up. We thought, “Why would he be picking up hermit crabs?” And then we looked in his hand and he had a couple of baby turtles!  They had just hatched from their nest right in the sand in front of the condo, and instead of running towards the sea they were attracted to our lights.  We jumped up, turned out the lights and then scurried around the patio and the rest of the beach collecting baby turtles with the security guard. We placed them in a bucket and after a half an hour we had about 17. A typical nest yields about 100 babies, but rest had made their way safely into the sea. So we took the bucket back to the water and released them one by one into the waves. It was a completely moonless, cloudy night, so we could barely see them enter the water, and then they were gone.  I wish I could have taken photos but the flash would have blinded them. But here’s an old photo and clip of our first turtle hatching experience in Akumal five years ago.

But that’s not it!  Last night about 1:45 am Pancha woke us up, barking. She often barks at the guard walking by or a passing raccoon, but this time her bark was different.  She didn’t go charge at the window like usual; she just made short little barks every few minutes.  I looked out the window but couldn’t see anything, and I didn’t really want to go wander around by myself outside because we had just come home from seeing Savages at the movie theater and I was paranoid that drug cartel kidnappers were outside.  So I tried to shut her up but she kept on barking for two hours.  Mark was irritated, too and neither of us slept much. Around 4am we finally started hearing a noise outside. It was the sound of bushes moving and then the banging of hard plastic.  Clearly something was out there. Finally we spotted movement next to the plastic chaise lounge right on the sand next to our patio.  Whatever it was, it was huge! At first I thought it might be a large cat (rumors are there are jaguars still living in the jungle), but it was actually bigger than that. Then it lifted its spotted head and I thought, “Of course!” It was a giant green sea turtle digging her nest right next to our patio.  She was huge–probably six feet long and three feet wide, and the hole she was digging was three feet deep.  She was using her flippers to dig in the sand, and had sort of wedged herself under one of the lounge chairs. She happened to have chosen a spot in the sand right under our red light (the red light apparently doesn’t disturb turtles, and now we know for sure!) so we could see her perfectly. Mark crept out there and helped move away the chair so that she had more room to dig. She looked exhausted, but kept digging, taking breaks to rest and breathe deeply.  After awhile she stopped and crawled away, without laying her eggs. Apparently that wasn’t the right spot. We watched her crawl around the beach for a little while longer, considering other nest sites, but eventually she went back into the water and swam away. When she left we saw why she was so tired.  She had dug four different holes while she was there–you could see her path in the sand–but she didn’t leave eggs in any of them.  She must have been out there for hours, which explains Pancha’s unsettled barking all night!

We didn’t want to disturb her by taking photos, but here’s a stock photo of a similarly sized green sea turtle on the beach.

Turtle tracks the morning after

This morning, even though I had only a few hours of sleep, I was still energized by the magical visit by the mama turtle last night.  My next wild animal sighting, I hope, will be a monkey. My Spanish tutor says that there is family of spider monkeys living in Puerto Aventuras, so I will try to find them!

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Bienvenidos a Miami

Well, you might have heard the Miami Heat made it to the NBA finals last week.  All season Mark had watched their games and for the last month he had been studying the schedule and trying to estimate when the finals might be, which games would be in Miami, and if we might go.  And to go back even further, for years we had daydreamed about hopping over to Miami for the weekend from Akumal, since Miami is a direct, hour and a half flight from Cancun. So now was the perfect opportunity.  We gambled a little by waiting until Game 5. The series score was 3-1, Miami, so we knew that we had a chance of seeing the championship game.  And we got lucky!

We flew into Miami the day of the game and checked into our snazzy party hotel in the heart of South Beach (the hotel had a DJ spinning in the lobby, and free mojitos during happy hour).  We grabbed some dinner on Ocean Avenue and then took a taxi to the arena, just a few minutes away.  It was a gorgeous, clear warm night and everyone was super excited. Quickly we realized that of course all the fans were wearing white to support the home team. Duh–we forgot to wear white! Oh, well. They gave out white Heat towels to everyone and we tried to blend in.

We had bought our game tickets just a couple hours before on a ticket broker website, and were pleasantly surprised at how close we seemed (though we were still very high up!).  Right away we spotted Chuck Barkley and Shaq on the court, doing interviews. Soon we saw the ESPN crew, including Magic Johnson, set up in the box over the court.  Then both teams came out to shoot around, and we were giddy with excitement.

Chuck and Shaq

The fans were amazing. We’ve heard Miami fans were fair-weathered, but the people sitting around us were great.  There were about five different groups (young and old) and they all had season tickets so they had sat together all year. We were impressed that they didn’t “sell out” their championship game seats. They were die-hard. One of them had the most adorable one-and-a-half year old, who was totally into the game and dancing during the time-outs. They told us he had been to every game this season!  Pretty amazing, since the games usually start at 9pm. He almost made it to the last quarter, but fell asleep.  One tiny African-American grandmother next to us was totally into the game. She was a big fan of Mike Miller and kept yelling, “It’s Miller Time.” As he kept sinking his three pointers she started dancing around and yelled, “I just can’t be still!”

The game was action-packed, too. Even though The Heat had the lead the entire game, it was still full of exciting shots and amazing dunks. I suppose that’s all I will say about basketball because I barely know the lingo…but I have to admit, I had so much fun watching basketball (who would have guessed?).

We really enjoyed watching the players celebrate as they realized they won, especially Lebron. He was giddy and bouncing around and picking up his coach and fellow players. It was pretty cute.  I was really happy for him. Then there was a big party which started at the arena but pretty much lasted all night. As we poured out of the stadium we could tell that the whole city of Miami had watched the game, and everyone was driving around honking and hanging out of their cars, screaming.  When we got back to South Beach it was the same, so we just wandered the streets enjoying the festivities.  Such a fun night for the both of us!

The next day and night we enjoyed South Beach. It is full of such a wonderful young, diverse (but especially latin), and beautiful group of people, and the people-watching was fantastic. We basically wandered around the shops, restaurants and bars all day around Collins and Ocean Avenue, and relished being in a culture so completely opposite to Akumal. We sure do love contrast!

We accidentally paid for our most expensive drinks ever by ordering two mojitos at the Cardozo Hotel.  We knew they were going to be pricey, but when the bill came at $50 for two drinks, were were shocked. Still, they were pretty big drinks, so we were sure to drink to the very bottom!

Me and my twenty-five dollar mojito

Saturday we checked out of the Chesterfield and drove south to the Keys, another place that we both had wanted to visit for many years.  First stop was lunch in Key Largo (yes, we of course had to play the Beach Boys’ Kokomo song a few too many times on the road).  We made a detour in Islamorada where we fed some gigantic tarpon and pelicans, and then we drove down to Key West, the southernmost point of the Florida Keys and also of the entire eastern seaboard.

Key West is our kind of town. Mellow and relaxed, surrounded by water, but with a wonderful little strip called Duvall Street that is packed with restaurants, bars, shops, and full of people looking to have fun.  We had a full day and night on Duvall Street, including amazing sushi and the obligatory cheeseburger in paradise at what is claimed the original Margaritaville.

This was a bar completely plastered with one-dollar bills. Mark did the math (it took him awhile, his built-in calculator was running a little slow) and estimated $100,000 were on the walls!

We hadn’t booked a room in Key West, and were a little worried that since it was Saturday night we might have trouble. But as soon as we drove in and picked out the part of town we wanted to stay, we spotted an adorable bed and breakfast that had one room left. It was super cute and we wished we were staying longer.

The next day Mark went for a run and I walked over to Hemingway’s old house, where he lived in the 20s and 30s. It was such a treat.  Restored the way it had been when he had lived there and full of fifty cats that were genuine descendants of Hemingway’s famous six-toed cats, the house had so much charm. Walking through his writing room gave me chills and lit the fire in me to get my act together!  I also learned more about his life in Cuba, and now I need to go see his house there, too. Put that on the list!

Sloppy Joe’s Bar–Hemingway’s old hangout

What a wonderful weekend. By Monday afternoon we were back home (after picking up Pancha from the doggy hotel in Playa del Carmen), just in time for my Monday English class.  Now it’s back to the grind, I guess! This last sign sort of sums it up:

Finally, here is a video of the Heat Band on game night:

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Back in Akumal

Well, it’s been quite awhile since my last post, and I know my two faithful readers (our moms!) might want an update.  I cheated a little by just uploading photos of some of our events in Northern California last month. We had a great time visiting some of our friends and family up in Big Bear (Shannon), Pacifica (my mom and sister), San Francisco (Adina), Los Altos (Rhodes et. al — if this was not a G-rated blog Mark could tell you some stories….), Healdsburg (Steve and his family), and Mammoth (the bump crew!).  And it was bittersweet to say goodbye to the family and friends in San Diego, but on June 1 we arrived back in Akumal for the summer.

And now more than ever Akumal is feeling like home, and I suppose technically it’s the place we are spending the most time in, so that qualifies as our default home right now, huh? It sure feels like it.  I admit it sounds a bit cheesy, but as soon as we arrived we felt embraced by the warm tropical breeze, the beautiful turquoise water, and the laid-back pace of life.

Immediately we were welcomed back in the Akumal community, for better or worse!  The waiters at Lol-Ha definitely were happy to see us, and we have been spending a lot of time at Tequillaville, a bar/restaurant in Akumal Pueblo, since they show all the NBA games.  In fact, the other night a girl was proposed to, and somehow she dragged me up along with the owner of the place so we could dance on top of the bar. Pretty hilarious!

And Panchita is really getting into her groove down here. At first she was timid and yappy and clearly confused about what the heck we were doing here, but now she’s learned to enjoy chilling under the palapa and paddleboarding.

I started teaching my local English class and all my students returned from last year, plus a few new ones. They are so cute, and often stump me with “Why is the English language like that?” questions. My answer is always the same, “I don’t know!” 🙂

I also started working with a Spanish professor once a week, who is “refining” my Spanish, as she kindly puts it.  She’s amazing, and our classroom happens to be a cafe overlooking the dolphins in Puerto Aventuras, so it’s quite a pleasant tutoring session!

Mark is, of course, working out like a maniac, and after a shopping spree at the sporting good store (including his new weighted jump rope), his outdoor gym is all set up.

And the past week has been full of fun and revelry for Paola and Troy’s wedding, which happened just a few miles away. It was such a blast to have fifty of (their) closest friends visiting. One of them was our old roommate Ulrike, who made the major effort of coming down for the weekend and leaving behind her two small children. She was a champ and in the 48 hours she was here managed to fit in lots of snorkelling, swimming, running, palapa time, and many drinks, too!

The wedding was a wonderful success.   The ceremony and reception were both at beautiful sites and the party was pretty out of control! Here are a few of the more tame photos.

Not much else to report. Basically, we are both happy and settled here for awhile!

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2012 in Uncategorized