Friday, December 07, 2007

Sunburned, bug-bitten, blistered & broke

Thursday we rented another beetle for the day. This one was a franken-convertible.
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The latch on the passenger's side door was missing so it could only be opened from the inside (this provided much frustration for helpful folks trying to open the car door for me). the seat belts appeared to have been installed backwards and were awkwardly wrapped around the seats, which appeared to have come out of some other kind of car. Mine wasn't really bolted down all that well, and you couldn't flip it forward to access the back seat. The first time Dag put the keys in, some sort of electrical event caused the horn to honk and the poor woman walking in front of us to jump five feet in the air. It reminded me of my dad's bug that I drove for a while in college. If the keys were in the ignition and you touched one of the other keys to the metal horn, it would bleat out that characteristic VW toot. You had to be really careful about where the other keys were when you turned the ignition or you'd constantly have people glaring at you in parking lots. As we drove along the bumpy rode, I felt something hit me in the foot. It was the ashtray. At first we were glad that this guy said "the tank is full now - return it full tomorrow" instead of the other guy who gave it to us 1/4 full and expected us to return it the same. This was until we realized the gas gauge was broken and always read "full". Gee, convenient. So we only put in a little more than we thought we'd use from one trip around the island. It didn't fill the tank so I'm guessing it wasn't really full when we got it. When the guy came back the next morning to settle up he tried to use some creative math to bump up the price (which already included something he laughingly referred to as the Mafia Tax when we questioned him) a full $35 somehow but Dag got the calculator from the front desk and almost had to hold the guy's fingers from pushing extra buttons to make him honor the price he'd agreed to they day before.
We drove out to Punta Sur, an ecologically protected national park at the Southern point of the island. Many stretches of beach are off limits to all but nesting sea turtles.
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We stopped in the crocodile viewing zone thinking we'd be lucky to see one but we saw five in all!
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The roads out on this side of the island are amazing. The potholes are large enough to swallow up both wheels of the car at once - no exaggeration. You have to drive wildly from one side of the road to the other to avoid them.
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Once we reached the lighthouse, we had to let them truck us out to the beach for some of the best snorkeling I've ever experienced.
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We've been sharing my snorkel stuff and taking turns going out. Dag was out for an hour and I was getting all worried about him but once I got out there myself, I quickly saw that he could have stayed out even longer. There was so much to see! The reef just went on and on and on. I saw a few of the smaller skates that camouflage themselves to the bottom and then I looked to my left and saw one of the big grey skates just hanging out there in the sand! Wow! I hovered over him for a while making him nervous and then we both swam away. It was so hard to know where to look next! Then, I had almost made it to the buoy where I was planning to turn around when I looked ahead and saw a sea turtle swimming towards me! Oh turtle! I consider them to be the best thing I could ever see while snorkeling and there he was! I turned and swam next to him all the way back to the first buoy, where the reef really starts and then let him swim off. I love the way they look like they're flying underwater. Sigh. So I drifted back to the next buoy again and then decided it was time to go back. On the way in I saw another big skate, but the water had gotten cloudy near the shore and I just saw his outline flapping in the distance. We rode the truck back in, tipped the...guide?...the guy who rode in the truck with us making bad jokes...and climbed the lighthouse for some spectacular viewage.
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On the way out of the park one of the rangers was pointing back the way we came. Off in the distance there was a water spout - sort of a nautical tornado, I guess. I'd never even heard of one so you'll need to google it if you want more info. But I guess it's pretty rare and we were very lucky to have seen it. Within a few minutes, it was hidden behind clouds.
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We drove back to town by way of Mezcalitos for some more fish tacos by the sea.
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They have a dog too!
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We are both now crazily sunburned, covered in bug bites and blisters on our feet. But I'm so relaxed I no longer need that massage I never got around to scheduling.
This is our last full day and we plan to stick around by the pool and hot tub most of the day. There's one restaurant we need to hit again or maybe two. I may walk across the street to see what the snorkeling is like over there. Then tomorrow morning, it's back to the airport.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Wednesday wanderings

Warning: disturbing image to follow!

Today I saw both the cutest and the most hideous sights of the entire trip, both within the same hour.

I'll start with the good news:

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Yes, last year's baby girl from Los Portales del Caribe is now a full-grown toddler and massive tip-magnet. Her mom put a santa hat on her and gave her a notepad and pencil when they came out to take our order. Yes, I died.

Then on the walk home Dag says nonchalantly: Oh hey...tarantula.

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There was no way I was getting in close enough to give you something for scale. He or she was about the size of my hand without the fingers. But if you stretched out all eight legs it would have been the size of my hand WITH the fingers! I really like bugs a lot - but tarantulas are really too big and fuzzy and creepy. I was such a strange mixture of elated and horrified I didn't know what to feel! Every so often during the remainder of the walk home I'd burst out with a strangely gleeful sounding "AAAAAAACKKKK!"

Tuesday Traipsing

Today we were planning on having another slow day so had breakfast at our hotel by the pool where I got to finally try "divorced eggs" which consists of two fried eggs on corn tortillas, one covered in red sauce and one with green with beans in between. But...for one thing they forgot my beans and the sauces tasted not so homemade. It wasn't even really pretty enough for a photo. Bah! We walked downtown to an open market Dag had read about and it was so nice to be able to look around without being yelled at (SENOR! ALMOST FREE!). Prices were marked on stuff and English was rare. I bought some of those Loteria cards and two spoons for our room in case we need to eat any leftovers later. We've been making do with some pretty uncivilized methods. We had some disappointing ceviche right down the street from the restaurant where we KNOW they have perfect ceviche. We just wanted to make sure to try different things. Sometimes though, if you know exactly what you want, it's best to just go get that. The weather in the morning was windy and chilly and threatening to rain. But it turned out to be one of the hottest days since we arrived. This called for more snorkeling so back to Dzul-Ha we went!
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Today I saw a family of five squid and a water snake and Dag saw an octopus. It was awesome. Not really much of a slow day but definitely a good day. Now we're off to have dinner at the one place we KNOW will have heavenly food. Los Portales del Caribe!

Saw lots of pretty colors today.

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Update: PdC was CLOSED! We forgot that from last year. Tuesday is their dark day for whatever reason so we went to El Foco instead, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Monday Meandering

First I would like to say WOO HOO! This is my hundredth post!

We've finally got some relaxing scheduled in to this vacation. This morning we got up early (7:30am) and drove out to the East side of the Island to the restaurant next door to Mezcalito's where we had lunch yesterday: Senor Iguana's. My guidebook said that they open at 8am. They were prepared to serve us beers when we arrived at 8:10, but when we asked for coffee, they said no can do until the kitchen opens in 10 minutes. We were happy to read on the upstairs terrace and wait. Probably 35 minutes later, our server came upstairs to tell us that the "chicken is open" and would we now like some coffee? 15 minutes later, he arrived with a tray containing two mugs of hot water and a plastic tub of freeze-dried coffee crystals. Hee.
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In their defense, this is much more of a ceviche and beer beach club, not a breakfast restaurant. We both ordered fish tacos which came out totally different from yesterday's but just as delicious. The onions inside were sauteed almost to carmelization with a few tomatoes stirred in. They were served with salsa with plenty of lime juice and guacamole. Delicious.
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By the time the whole experience was over, it was 10am and time to get the car back to town. Everything was happening at true tropical speed. Now we're reading by the hotel pool. I'm trying to get into Under the Tuscan Sun but getting bored by all the descriptions in the beginning. Apologies to everyone who loved this book but I'm bored. I'm ready for someone to die or something. Maybe I should do crosswords instead.

I've officially abandoned Under the Tuscan Sun as it appears to be an extra-long description of a house remodel with some recipes in the middle. Hokay. That's not really how I remember the movie when I saw it on a plane once. Now I'm reading World War Z. It's about Zombies and is awesome. This is how Dag and I spent our day - reading by the pool! We heard a quasi-reggae Island-esque version of that Cat Stevens song Wild World probably twelve times, no exaggeration. But it was great to be doing absolutely nothing. We walked downtown for dinner and had some awesome Tortilla soup and some mole enchiladas which were a touch too sweet for my taste.
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Then back to the zombies. Dag has been asking me all night "don't you want to post now?" and I'm like "yeah, after this chapter!"

And now, some photos specifically requested by Kristen H.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sunday Driver

Today, Sunday, we decided to rent a car to get us over to the reportedly deserted Eastern coast of the island. It's unsafe for snorkeling or swimming, but supposed to be some great hammocking. The helpful lady at the front desk called another helpful guy who brought us a blue VW Beetle (SO COOL!) and off we went to Mezcalita's Beach Bar and Grill for what I'm going to say were the best fish tacos I've ever had. They were lightly grilled with onions and avocado and a lime to squeeze over it.
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Delicious.

This opinion was shared by an extra- friendly Siamese cat who ran up to our table as soon as the tacos came out.
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I wonder if beach cats get sand fleas.

After lunch, we moved over to the hammocks and swung in the breeze for a while.
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Our family had VWs when I was little and so many things were familiar in a cozy way. I can still stare at the dots on the nagahyde roof and make it go all Magic Eye style 3-D so it looks like the dots are hovering about 1/2" above the white ground. I knew instinctively where the hood release latch was (inside the glove box) even though I didn't consciously remember. And I can't believe I was ever so small that my sister and I could both fit in the place behind the back seat where the spare tire goes (yeah, that was back before seat belt laws).
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We finished the tour all around the perimeter of the island and landed at a snorkel spot recommended to us by both a taxi driver yesterday and the guy who rented us the bug: Playa Corona. It was kinda just OK. It dropped off to deep really quickly and was a little on the cloudy side so we didn't get to see as much, but then again it's kind of nice to hover in close to shore and really spend time looking at each individual fish. We saw some real lookers. Then over nachos and lime soup,
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the waiter excitedly started pointing out to the ocean. There was a pod of dolphins swimming by and doing the little arching jumps for us. OH that was cool!

Since we slept in voraciously again today and got such a late start, we have the car until 11am tomorrow and plan to drive out to the East side again in the morning for breakfast and maybe stop in at Dzul-ha and this time remember to bring the underwater camera.

Tonight is the big weekly festival in the plaza ( I guess last night was just dress rehearsal) which we will probably go to.
(we did!)
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But first we'll park in our old neighborhood and have some tacos at Los Portales del Caribe, the restaurant on a family's back patio cooked on the grill of an old hot dog stand that we enjoyed so much last year.
(see next post for photos!)

Saturday Snorkeling

Saturday afternoon we took a taxi South to Dzul-Ha for some snorkeling. To remember for next time: bring lots of cash because they don't accept cards. This is also a great place to get rid of small coinage as there is a stern-looking bathroom attendant who seems mostly to attend to the tip box on a table outside the restrooms. We saw two eels on the first trip out. The current was so strong we were practically swimming in place until we realized that it was better closer in to shore so we swam out a ways along the shore and then back out to let the current take us back. On the second time out, we saw two small skates! At one point Dag started waving at me wildly and I was like "yeah! HI! I know! So cool!" until I realized he was trying to tell me that my swimsuit had migrated a bit too far to one side. Whoops. Not cool!

Now we're showering up and headed out to...well...anywhere but here. There's a children's birthday party being hosted in the pool area outside our patio it seems and someone has given a perky little girl a whistle and she's blowing on that thing...oh about every time she exhales.

Saturday evening, worry not, we finally got into El Foco for some nachos and their famous $8 margaritas.
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The waiter gave us a pen for writing on the wall but it had been so overused that it just made this kind of nondescript fuzz on the wall. I wrote the date next to our signature from last year. Then we headed out to the main plaza where a band was setting up and little girls were dressed in impossibly frilly dresses and groups of children were wandering around singing then demanding money (we saw these kids last year too - I think they're actually collecting for their church). Even after we told them (in spanish) that we didn't have money, they sang for us anyway, which was impossible to enjoy knowing that we couldn't pay them. They were pretty aggressive. I mean, even a mariachi band can accept that they aren't gonna get paid and move on to another table. Of course, we had to go to a stall and buy some water to break a big bill then go find the kids and shower them with cash. Maybe mariachi bands could learn a thing or two from this rogue group.

Also, Dag bought a cowboy hat.
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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sleeping and Eating in Cozumel

We arrived well, although dead tired, yesterday (Friday) late morning and took a taxi to our hotel. I was cranky all over the place, even though I'd gotten by far the most sleep of the two of us. Dag keeps telling me about things that happened on the flight from Houston to Cozumel and I keep saying things like: "they played a movie???". I also slept a bunch during the layover with my hat pulled down over my eyes and my mouth hanging wide open. Still, when we arrived, Dag was the one all raring to go go go and I was pouting on the couch. The idea of having a late lunch at El Foco perked me right up and we decided to see how long it would take us to walk downtown since the hotel turned out to be a lot closer in than we had expected it to be. It only took a half hour to reach our favorite superstore Chedraui and another 15 minutes to get to El Foco, which we found CLOSED!
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After wiping our tears, we backtracked to La Choza and had some stellar Ceviche and that crazy-good dip they serve with fresh made chips.
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We picked up some supplies at Chedraui and walked back to the hotel and both fell asleep reading on the couch. We did some exploration of the area just south of us, discovering two markets that sold the same stuff we had hauled back from Chedraui earlier...good to know...and then made friends with a hermit crab
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and watched the cruise ships leaving port and making room for the next bunch the next day. Cozumel is much different than it was last year, tourist-wise. A guy who served us some much-needed iced teas (it's HOT here this year) was telling us that last year people were still spooked by the whole Hurricane Wilma thing and were staying away. Now they're coming back in droves. Downtown is almost unbearably touristy but it does make for some interesting people watching. Within the span of five minutes we saw both a full grown man wearing a giant clown-sombrero and a girl wearing a t-shirt that said "tease me, squeeze me, please me". Then of course there's the three guys in the green unitards outside of Senor Frog's waving for everyone to come and party naked. Now we're taking side streets wherever possible.
We managed to stay awake til about 10pm (remember poor Dag had only slept a couple non-consecutive hours) and slept in until 9 - whoo! Today is a slow day. We walked down to El Girasoles for the best chilaquiles I have ever had.
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Dag had a really great poblanos juevos with mole sauce.
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Next on the agenda in no particular order: Tulum ruins/snorkeling at Xel-ha, exploring the East side of the island possibly by jeep, diving, snorkeling at Dzul-ha and we keep talking like we're going to relax at some point too. We may need to schedule it in.