The Map Project

Welcome to my Map Project. Sometimes when I’m bored I update the map with my travels. Places I’ve been for an appreciable amount of time (as defined by enough to have a real and *remembered memory) go on the board.

It serves many purposes:

  • A reminder of how fortunate I am.
  • A condensed Notebook Project.
  • Visual reinforcement. Working hard = me playing hard. And vice versa.
  • Offers suggestions of where to go next.
  • Reminds me how big the world really is.
  • Helps me remember Why I Travel

Some places I get to chose to go to. Other places get chosen for me. Where have you been? Where do you want to go? How do you keep track?


View My Travels in a larger map
*Note: There are such things as unreal memories and forgotten memories. Trust me.

Rio de Janeiro: A Counterfeit Paradise

To recap; beautiful people, stunning landscape, near-constant threat of unavoidable violence, sex, drugs, and rock n roll. Interested? Keep reading my (literally) feverish notes typed while I was still in the moment.

My notes from a Rio de Janero Honeymoon have changed a bit since I first wrote this article. For one, I have been back in the states now a month since returning and my perspective has mellowed a bit. The bronchitis my new wife and I contracted has finally gone away, though the medical plan co-payments still show irregularities. My pending legal action against my hotel and of course Orbitz is, well, still pending but you can be sure I’ll tell you about that later.¬†With the distance of a few weeks – and tons of vacation photos – I can better appreciate the beauty. Not having watched a live mugging since getting back in the states must have done that.

Impressions from the Rio Airport

I write this from the GIG Rio de Janero International airport. My, that sounds like an august name. I’m sure that it conjures a exotic portal to tropical goodness. In reality, it’s anything but. If GIG is an international airport, than Charlotte Douglas is a galactic starport. But I forget myself. I turned this computer on to write about my Brazillian honeymoon. I need a distraction from the crazy, screaming hot mess that I find myself in. And, as you can surely tell, our pneumonia [editor’s note: it turned out to be bronchitis] hasn’t brightened my mood one bit. Let me tell you the story of a counterfeit paradise known as Honeymoon in Rio.

Our trip started early in the day on Monday, February 8th. We woke up in the Yucatan paradise known as Aventura Spa Palace, ate breakfast and departed. Jen had been sick for a few days at this point but was her usual cheery self and refused to cancel the trip. Just get me some meds she said and she’d be good to go. Of course that was during our flight from Cancun to Charlotte after some stewardess friends plied us with free airplane bottles and snacky foods pilfered from first class (which we had gratis for the trip south but not north). Their way of saying ‘Happy Honeymoon!’

As I mentioned before, the wedding week was great. The flight back was very nice. We picked up some cold meds for Jen and returned to the airport for our flight. The 10pm departure was hour 17 of travel for us.

After an hour delay cuased by our 767 “not accepting fuel”, our flight was boarded and we were off. USAir must have dumped the oldest crafts in their fleet and complemented them with the surliest stewardesses they could for this trip. Entirely opposite either of our arrival return voyage from Cancun. An old 767 outfitted with lights that would not turn off, a single widescreen for all of economy to share playing such classics as Wolverine and Amelia. Bright choice on Amelia; a 10 hour flight over waters unknown prefaced with a lost aircraft story. Didn’t, couldn’t know at the time that the plane and its crew would forshadow the entirety of the trip.

Take off the Wedding Rings

Our fellow passengers were the most enjoyable part of the experience. On first glance I thought they’d keep me awake all night with their nonsense. However, the bulk of the plane went to sleep early and it was a peaceful trip. We even learned valuable information like not to wear earrings, wedding bands, engagement rings, or any kind of jewelry worth more than a few dollars. The guide book served to corroborate the returning Cairioca’s warnings and we complied. My new bride gracefully agreed to stow away her rings though she was not too happy about it.

Welcome to Rio!

10 hours on the plane passed with little difficulty. The plane was buzzing as soon as we were roused for breakfast. The meal, like the plane, left much to be desired. I busied myself by looking out the window at the spectacular vista of morning in Brazil. Warm light illuminated a diverse topgraphy. Gentle hills started as bumps in the earth and gradually expanded to full wrinkles of sheer mountains jutting into an azure sea. We were soon welcomed to Rio by the heat and an excited plane.

Taxi Over

We took one from the frist stand, agreed on a price 70 reals – a good price. We were treated to our first hour long tour of the city as we drove to our hotel on Copacabana. We learned of the Favelas– Rio’s slums – their hundreds of thousands (that’s >100,000 in many favelas) of denizens, and the drug gangs that control them. Red Command (Comando Vermelho), Pure Third Command (Terceiro Comando Puro ),¬† Amigos dos Amigos – Friends of Friends are the 3 he told us about. We later went on a tour of a Amigos de Amigos held favela. More on that in a separate article. The movie City of God – which I have yet to see – supposedly shows the early beginnings of Red Command. It’s now on my to-watch list.That first day was 40 degrees Celsius. 40C = 104F. 104 Farenheit with humidity is incredibly, mind-blowingly hot.Our hotel, the Rio Othon Palace seemed nice from the outset. Hansomly attired bellmen, taxis and porters at the ready, an agreeable concierge provided us early check-in but stated that the room itself wouldn’t be available until the afternoon. We signed in, checked our bags, and tried to walk around outside in the heat. Despite being 100 yards from the beach we didn’t dare go in the water. The intensity of the sun and the waves of heat coming off of the sand saw to that. When you are that hot it is hard to be hungry but we found a shaded outdoor Italian restaurant and ordered a pizza and a few drinks to idle the time away.

Eventually our room was ready. I could go into a tirade here but I will save that for a future article on Why You Should Never Book on Orbitz.In short we paid for a 4 star room and were given a 1 star. I have personally constructed wilderness shelters out of flea and tick infested shrubbery that were more hygenic than this disgusting excuse for a room. Jen cried. We complained. No dice.

Our experience with the hotel eventually ended up being a model of which we experienced all of Rio; By all appearances it ts beautiful on the outside but corrupt and empty once you scratch beneath the surface. A counterfeit paradise.

Good Things About Rio

  • Early AM beaches
  • Stunning Scenery (the beaches! the mountains! the freaking rain forrest inside a city!)
  • Sugar Loaf!
  • Christo Redentor
  • Infectious samba / Carnaval atmosphere.
  • Coconut water from real coconuts
  • Fitness fanatics everywhere – make you feel lazy. Everybody’s always moving.
  • Favela tour (more on this later)
  • Random parades with live music
  • Pretending to be a resident of Copacabana Hotel for a few hours

Bad Things About Rio

  • Muggings
  • !@#$ty hotel conditions
  • Constant begging
  • Group tours necessity
  • “Ladies of the night.”
  • Absolute inabilty to walk or explore anywhere on your own.
  • Having to take taxis to ridiculously expensive restaurants so you can eat without getting shived.

Honeymooning in Rio was like vacationing in a real-world Grand Turismo. Rio was one of the most dangerous place I’ve ever been. That includes Israel, Palestine, NYC, and West Virginia’s Mountaineer stadium wearing VT colors. It was also the most beautiful. (Again including Israel, Palestine, NYC, and West Virginia …) All in all, I am glad we went. I think I’m going to petition for a mulligan on this trip and call a re-do on the honeymoon though.

Playa del Carmen & Cozumel

Playa del Carmen and Cozumel Side Trip. We had an extra day before many guests would arrive to start our wedding week and decided to go exploring. An early AM breakfast and we were out the door on a taxi to Playacar palace – another in the Palace resort chain. Our concierge had given us the tip that the ferry to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen would fill up and we should try to get a ticket as early as possible. That meant a 5am wake up call on our wedding vacation!

Playa del Carmen

It was nice to see another Palace resorts – second breakfast at an all inclusive was even better! Got to love those bracelets of power! Playacar palace is tastefully decorated and most people were asleep by the time we got there. Playa del Carmen on the other hand seemed very tourist-y -even in the morning hours before anyone woke up. Nothing was open and we didn’t loiter. Just took some photos, did some entertaining people watching and moved on.

Ferry to Cozumel

The ferry to Cozumel was a quick affair. Buy your tickets, wait in line, get on the boat. 30-60 minutes later and you’re there. I love being out on any body of water and this trip was no exception. Motoring along through the Gulf of Mexico we could see cruise ships docked. Those things are massive! I think together the two of them were bigger than the island itself! I’ve never been on a cruise ship so I’m not sure if it would be any fun or not. I do assume that they have plenty to do if it rains though.

The weather didn’t improve but it wasn’t yet raining so we decided to walk the mile or so to Cozumel Palace (yet another of the Palace resorts). Getting off the ferry the hawkers surround you. Take a taxi! Sign up for scuba! Take this tour! Rent this Jeep. They come at you from all sides. We just pushed on.

Cozumel Palace

Our concierge told us we could snorkel from the back of Cozumel Palace. We thought about upping the ante and taking scuba lessons. Sadly, it was off-and-on raining with huge wind gusts and not-so-warm out so no scuba for us! We debated a few other options but put off by the commercialism we saw on our December 2008 Mexico trip, we decided against it. A few rum & cokes, snacks, and board games later the sun had come out enough for us to warm up playing ping pong. Snorkeling came soon after…. deep, warm, clear water with some fish. Nice but not spectacular. The day completed with lunch and with frequent trips to the swim up bar, of course. A pretty nice day.

Soon it was time for our walk back to the ferry. We checked out a few stores where the keepers and their minions followed us up and down every aisle. They must have trouble with American thieves we thought. Nothing was particularly good or interesting and so we bought a few sodas and off we went back to the mainland.

I think Cozumel and Play del Carmen would be a lot of fun on a warm, sunny day. As it was, we didn’t get that experience. Good time, just not spectacular. I was able to add a push pin to my Google Adventure Map and now we know what Cozumel has to offer.

We’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat

Last time I told you about tackling alligators while swimming. Or whatever that unwelcome creature from the black lagoon was. This is the story of it’s bigger, meaner, salt water brother.

We’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat

Early in the summer of 2008 I returned home to New York to go to a wedding. I had a little bit of extra time so I stayed with my parents on the south shore of Long Island and took the opportunity to get my kayak team, my friend Kevin and My Dad, out on the Great South Bay for some practice. After all, what could be better than actually swimming in the actual area where the race would be held? There was under 2 month until the race and my kayakers had never kayaked and I hadn’t ever swam in my wetsuit. It was time to get serious.

We woke up early in the morning, grabbed some egg and bagel sandwiches and made our way to the beach. Kevin had rented the kayak the day before so we were all set.

The practice was good, we got a great workout, and we learned about the logistics of how to carry, portage, and manage a kayak. Good information that would prove essential when I actually competed in the 2009 Cross Bay Swim.

You Play How You Practice

Like I said, this was my first time in a wetsuit and in salt water. Both dramatically increase your buoyancy. This led to me bobbing up and down comfortably when I would stop swimming. About halfway through our practice I stopped swimming and stood up on a sandbar to talk with my kayakers. I stood up a little out of the water, feet on the ground, and carried on a conversation.

Then the ground moved.

I remember cold fear welling in my stomach. My feet had just been standing on a sand-paper textured support that was clearly alive. And ridiculously huge. My limbs felt heavy and I was suddenly exhausted. Instinct propelled me to grab on to the kayak. I think part of my brain replayed the ‘visual accuity’ scene of Jeff Goldblum vs the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. ‘If I just don’t move, it won’t be able to see me’ I told myself.

We never figured out what I was standing on. Whatever it was, it was freaking huge! Best guess is that my stance kept my feet about 2.5 feet. My weight was around 200lbs at the time so let’s say that 1/2 of that was negated from buoyancy. What kind of salt water animals do you know that are bigger than 2.5 feet long, feel like sand paper-y, level ground, and can support 100lbs?

Exactly.

I’m surprised I didn’t soil my wetsuit.

Flashback

This episode reminded me of surfing in Virginia Beach early one morning over Labor Day in 2001. I had taken a surfboard and paddled out to calm surf before anyone else had woken up. Although there were no waves, I was happy to be out in the ocean. That’s when the sea came to a boil. There was a ton of bait fish suddenly jumping up all around me trying to escape some predator that was chasing them below my dangling, and very exposed, toes.

It wasn’t the bait fish that stole my breath away. It was what came next.

A single dark fin breaking the water.

I remember going cold, my limbs feeling like lead, and a vague nauseous feeling over come me. ‘Don’t get eaten,’ I remember thinking.

Careful not to lose my balance and tip myself into the feeding frenzy, I drew my legs up on to the surfboard. Visions of the movie Jaws flashed in my head.

As it turned out, the fins belonged to bottle nosed dolphins. That became clear after just a few seconds, but My God, how long those few seconds felt!

Not the last time

That trip to Virginia Beach wasn’t the first nor was it the last time I’d find myself swimming with dolphins. The Cross bay swim training in New York wasn’t the first nor last time I’d swim with large marine animals. In fact, later that same summer my fiance and I would come fin-to-face with a large shark patrolling the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.

Sometimes you’ll be out living your life and thinking about that scene in Jaws where they learn the true size of the creature they are hunting and for safety’s sake Roy states “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” I am as certain that I’ve swam along side things I had no idea were there as I am that I’ll run into more critters in the future.

While terrifying, you can’t go through life avoiding what scares you. Whether it’s swimming in the ocean, travelling through Palestine, or learning to fly an airplane. Chris Guillebeau over at the excellent Art of Non Conformity has an excellent write up of this concept in his article Beware of Life.There’s no need to retread ground he covers there so I’ll just add my two cents here:

What’s more terrifying? Encountering the ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat’ moment or going through life safe but unchallenged?

Tell us below.

Things That Go Bump in the Lake

This past Spring and Summer (2009) Kevin and I spent a great deal of time practicing on lake wylie. He in my kayak leading me, watching out for me. I swam along side getting my mileage in.

Most of the time we swam in Lake Wylie, South Carolina – the lake on which I live. A previously-flooded Cawataba river, it had over 350 miles of fractal shoreline for me to cover. It is freshwater and it is fed by the Cawataba that starts far north and feeds into the enormous Lake Norman 20 miles north of Charlotte, and makes its way down to a Duke Energy dam just across the South Carolina line that creates the lake.

Swimming downstream of a major metropolitan area you expect to find interesting things in the water. The Cove Keepers, a local volunteer conservency pull all sorts of interesting things out of the lake on a regular basis. Despite the appeal of the Bass Master’s tournaments held on Lake Wylie, you don’t expect to find a lot of wildlife.

That would be an incorrect assumption.

You see, we had to get out on the water early in the AM in order to avoid boat traffic while we practiced. Unfortunately, that’s when things from the black lagoon like to feed.

My parents have visited me before and encountered snakes of various species, sizes, and colors but that is expected in the south. As was the snapper turtle I found swimming from one landing early one morning. Note that his size – roughly equivilent to a garbage lid – was not.

One morning we had been swimming for about 2 hours continuously on a glassy-smooth surface. No one else was on the lake except fro a few die-hard bass fishermen. Everyone else was still asleep. It was beautiful. It was perfect.

We were directly on the east side of the lake, about 50 yards off shore and heading west straight across when it happened. This was the final 1/2 mile stretch and we were aiming for the beach which represented our begining and finishing line. I had been slowing down. Swimming 2+ hours continuously will tire you out! My resting glides on my crawl stroke were getting longer and longer.

One one particular glide I crashed in to SOMETHING!

It felt like I was tackling a slimy punching bag. This something was the length of my arm, which went under the beast, to the crown of my head – which I used to spear the animal. It felt like I was tackling a slimy punching bag.

Instinctively, I reacted how I feel most of you reading this would; I shreiked like a little girl and swung my arm – already in a mid-stroke arc – and connected with the beast.

At one time I was considered a trained fighter, entering tournaments and the like. I know what it is like to punch someone, and connect solidly, in fear, anger and with authority. Believe me when I tell you I punched this beast, whatever it was, and connected.

Completing the hit, I scrabled to the underside of the kayak, wrapped my body around the boat, and said a silent prayer that I wouldn’t get eaten. It took a few minutes for me to regain my composure. All the while Kevin was laughing his a$$ off.

Eventually I was able to man up, let go of the kayak, and swim the last 1/2 mile. I don’t mind telling you that I was more than a little jumpy. Kevin of course mocked me the whole way back.

Once we reached shore, Kevin let me in on something else about this behemoth. Remember how I said that you occasionally run into flotsam on the lake? There was a sneaker floating nearby this encounter. Apparently the creature from the black lagoon saw it, too. As he put it “I didn’t want to tell you while you were swimming, but I think whatever that was tried to eat the sneaker.”

Fun, fun, fun!

Later that week we read that there were (3) small aligators sighted on the lake. The area has a history of gators, the last monster pulled out of a nearby cove reached over 12′ in length. I don’t know what I crashed into but I was glad the sneaker got the worst of it!

Crashing into a lake creature wasn’t the only time I screamed like a little girl and sought the safety of the kayak. No, those series of dance moves were pre-rehearsed. Except that time I was in the ocean. And the animal was much bigger. I’ll tell you about that one next time. Keep reading.

The Final Miles

The second mile of the swim proved more difficult that the first. Now that we were clear of the small barrier islands, the full effect of the wind became apparent blowing up waves from the East. Coupled with this, the tide started coming in from Fire Island inlet in full force – in direct opposition from the wind – creating a chumming effect. It felt like trying to swim in a washing machine. I had a lot of trouble keeping my body level in that mess as some strokes would lead me to breath in full waves and others would flip me over on to my back. I think I spent as much time swimming forward as I did up and sideways.

I wasn’t the only one having difficulty with the waves. Each time I managed to get a glimpse of my kayakers they were bailing out their tiny ship. I have no idea how Kevin managed to steer the boat as well as he did but we remained parallel for the entire journey. Having Dad and Kevin along side was very comforting as I was tossed around.

The 8 pairs of goggles we brought turned out to be fortuitous as the force of the waves broke several pairs of my glasses. I must have been swimming the wrong way as I didn’t hear of any other swimmers having this problem. Still, fortune favors the prepared and I dutifully retired at least 5 pairs of goggles that day. My MP3 player was attached to my first set of goggles and I never did get the time to re-attach it to the other pairs. It woud have been nice to mark the time but I was certainly not bored. The effort made the swim seem interminable though.

The effects of swimming in that chop were plain exhaustion. Things didn’t smooth out until around mile 4 or so and by that time I was too tired to capitalize on the relatively flat water. It was everything I could do to keep my arms rolling over. I could literally feel the muscles in my rotator cuffs fraying. Having recovered from a torn rotator cuff 2 years earlier I knew the feeling well. Each stroke I had to make a concious decision to keep injuring myself so I could keep going.

Making the swim even more fun was my ‘farmer John wetsuit. This wetsuit is sleveless, like a tank top, and continues to my ankles. Over time the salt and sand kicked up in the chop made their way into my suit. Each stroke was like sandpaper. I began to understand why some swimmers opted to do the race in speedos. Despite the pain and the open sores the suit created along my chest and under my arms I was very thankful for the buoyancy it provided. I am not sure I would have been able to finish with out it. The fish even got in on the act with something biting me on my toe! That was another nice open, bleeding wound for the salt water to creep into. FUN!

Each time we would swim past a marker, I would ask Kevin the time. I would calculate my average speed in my head and the results were not impressive. I figured I was dead last. By the time we were at the 3.5 mile point I could plainly see the masts of the sailing ships in the harbour we were aiming for. Nothing to do but keep heading that way. Every so often I would ask for some water. The salt water had gotten into my mounth and I’ve never been as thirsty as I had been on that swim. Unfortunately my throat was too sore to swallow so I could only swish the water around in my mouth. This provided a little comfort but not much.

I remember being disappointed in myself towards the tail end of the race. I began evaluating where my training went wrong. Did I really give supreme effort in my training? No. Should I have dieted and cross trained? Yes. Why didn’t I hire a swim coach to help my technique? Thoughts that I had wasted, absolutely squandered the last 18 months of my life played through out my head as I slowly made my way to the shore.

By mile 4 I was absolutely defeated. Luckily my kayakers were not.

By mile 4 the sun was shining, the water was flat, and Kevin was obviously having a great time! He had his sunglasses on and a ridiculous excuse of a boonie hat and was working on his tan. Gone from his mind were any thoughts of capsizing or bailing out water. He was on vacation! So Kevin started doing what any training partner would. He started yelling at me to go faster!

I remember being so tired that I flopped on to my back for a minute. I looked out on the horizon, the place I had swam from and I could not see the beach at all. What I could see were a bunch of other swimmers and kayakers! I wasn’t in last place. I was still in a race! And it was time to go faster.

Well, my mind was made up and I put everything I had into finishing strong. I don’t think my body complied with the request to increase speed but I will say that it was a lot easier to swim the final mile and a quarter without those negative thoughts weighing me down.

It was soon after that I was swimming past the docks and I could hear the crowds cheering. I had done it. I had finally finished. A goal that I had set sitting on a plane returing from the Holy land 18 months earlier was finished. It was a hell of a journey. What an amazing feeling. I don’t have the words to describe it. So I’ll let someone else do it for me;

“That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly.”

Maya Riviera Wedding – February 2010

2009 was awesome. It will live on forever in our hearts. But it’s time to let it pass. We will never recapture the glory that was there. Appreciate it for what it was, and let’s move on. We’re moving on to our wedding in Mexico. And I’m incredibly excited for this one.

The wedding will be at the Adventura Spa Palace Hotel. We chose Adventura because my parents have been several times and it made such an impression on us. Don’t confuse Adventura in the Mayan Riviera with the spring break legends you’ve heard of Cancun. You can read my recounting our first day in Cancun here. Contrast that with my first impressions of Adventura here.

The hotel is great, but there is only so long you can sit and do nothing in perfect weather as people wait on you hand and foot. We chose this hotel for it’s ease of access, sheer comfort, and for all of the available entertainment options.

Here’s a list of outside adventures you can do that come free with your hotel stay:

Some Available Activities

Chitzen Itza

Adventura offers a formulaic guided bus tour of Chitzen Itza. Matt, Christina, Jen and I decided to try this one on our own (read about that, here.)

If you aren’t up for renting your own jeep and driving into the heart of Mexican darkness with nothing but your inoperable iPhone, then take this tour. It is the iconic symbol of the Yucatan and worth seeing at least once. Watch out for the Topes along the way!

Wet n Wild

The 4 of us did this one. It’s a water park where they serve drinks. I will definitely be doing this again if for no other reason to enjoy the lazy river while Matt & Christina win the dance competition.

Tulum

Adventura offers a tour to Tulum. It’s an archaeological park on top with a pretty awesome beach below. No matter if you like Mayan ruins, or clean, clear ocean without lifeguards, go here. Tulum has both.

You can read about our trip to Tulum here.

Coba

We visited Coba as part of our own jeep tour but Palace offers a bus tour to Coba as well. This is the amazingly tall pyramid. For a time as she stood on the top, Jen was actually the highest point in Mexico. It is entirely unsupervised fun. You can rent bikes and go through partially excavated remains of a pretty important nexus city. Want to walk around ball courts where people were summarily executed, come here? By the way, look out for the gators in the swamp. They’re known to eat children. My favorite part of last year’s trip. I’d do it again.

Zip Line

Didn’t do the zipline tour last time. Will this time around. Looks fun. Plus, you can fill your backpack with all the drinks you can carry from your room.

Ek Balam / Valladoid

Have not done the Ek Balam trip yet. But you know I’m a sucker for ancient buildings. The Valldoid trip might be entertaining as well.

Other Tours

There are other tours. They cost money. I was really disappointed with the snorkeling tour. The snorkeling was free. The hemisphere’s largest living organism, the coral reef looks to be about dead. It was a tourist trap to get you to pay to hang glide, ride horses, atvs, etc. It felt slimy and after a few hours of waiting for a cab, we went back to the awesomeness of the hotel. Luckily, that tour operator’s website is long dead.

Other Palace Hotels

You get free admission & everything else when you visit other Palace resorts.

Xpu-Ha

I had a great time at Xpu Ha. It’s a jungle theme and they have monkeys, gators, deer, etc along side their grass huts. This is where I snorkeled in the estuary (first time since boy scout camp) and saw some pretty big fish. Lots of fun.

There are also other places within a cab ride of fun stuff to do. Matt tried to search for the true Mexico-the one with authentic food and no tourist. We were told to head north through Merida and on over to Tabasco country. Sounds like a great road trip to me, but not likely something I will be doing this trip. If you go, pick me up a hammock.

One other thing I would strongly consider would be cave diving in those ceynotes. Did you know those ceynotes are the remnants of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs? Thanks to Discovery channel for that one. Either way, what could possibly go wrong cave diving in limestone caverns in Mexico a few days before your wedding?

Things to do at the hotel other than sit in the sun and drink all day

  • Eat – tons of 5 star restaurants.
  • Kareoke
  • Gym – preferably before the tequila.
  • Rock Climb
  • Scuba Certified (costs, but you can do it)
  • Tennis
  • Multiple hot tubs the size of pools
  • Watch the super bowl!

That’s it! We look forward to hanging out with the people who are coming. We’ll miss everyone who isn’t.

Any questions? Suggestions? Leave them in the box below!

Chitzen Itza

There’s a lot you can read about Chitzen Itza. The pyramid itself is a spectacular tourist draw and the iconic image of the Yucatan Peninsula. So much can be said about the heritage, history, and cultural impact of this long-lost city. This article isn’t about any of those things. It’s about 4 fools and a quick, off the beaten path adventure.

We rented a car from Adventura Palace early in the AM an quickly ventured off the ranch. Boy do things change when you are no longer on hotel property. The guys with the Uzis don’t care so much about or for your Bracelet of Power.

I’ve already mentioned that the interstates in Mexico are what country roads are in the States. Their country roads are what our jungles would be. If we had jungles.

We drove south past armed checkpoints of the Mexican army checking cars for drug smuggling. Alongside the north south route you can see hotels popping up every so often and then some supporting villages. Actually, villages is too strong a word. Let’s call them dwellings. If that’s where the hotel staff lives, I have no idea how they can be so nice to us the visiting tourists.

Eventually we came to an intersection of sorts and headed due West into the jungle. Zipping by in our rented Jeep you can see breaks in the jungle brush that act as driveways. Sometimes a carton or a plastic jug will be upended on a stick marking the entrance way to a dwelling. Glancing into the jungle dwellings you begin to wonder if you could live like that. Are you tough enough? That reminded me of our Tulum guide’s quip about the Mayan supermarket; it’s the jungle. He related that people living there thought the idea of being so dependent on others for food was insanity. They may have a point.

We headed for the town of Merida, passing kilometers of jungle and more army checkpoints along the way. The road led directly into villages and towns along the way. Giant Topes, or speed bumps ensured you slowed your roll. That affords time for you to see village life as well as time for the villagers to see you and present their goods. These goods are all the same across the entire route. Obviously more expensive at the hotel and at the airport, I imagine there is some factory somewhere that spits these things out and it’s up to the villagers to weave stories about them being hand made.

Reaching Merida, what our guide book lists as a ‘sleepy’ little town, we look around for lunch. The road had simply stopped and turned into a mini city full of one-way roads, houses, shops, schools and mess of one-way streets. We had some confusion as a jeep of armed…were they militia? the welcoming committee? army? …. we didn’t know… started to follow us. They followed us up one way streets, down others. That ended any inclination to explore ‘sleepy little Merida.’ We eventually lost them, or they lost interest in us and we continued on to Chitzen Itza.

Coba

Coba is a ruined Mayan city set in the middle of the jungle. And as is typical of Mexico, there are no safety precautions whatsoever. A phenomenally fun time, in a sort of running with scissors kind of way!

We rolled into Coba on our way back from our Jeep side excursion to Chitzen Itza. Coba is another ancient Mayan city abandoned after the fall of that civilization. It stood directly on a trading route stretching from Chitzen Itza to Tulum. I remember there being several lakes in the region that supported the city. What is important here are not the lakes but the alligators in them. You can walk right up to the alligators. In fact, when we drove in, I saw a young mother and her toddler walking out to a pier on one of those lakes….. perhaps to feed the alligators? No idea.

After paying a fee, we were allowed into the park. The park is a massive network of dirt paths with tons of ruins interspersing them. Even with the minimal amount of archaeology training I have I could tell that the paths were bulldozed to make it easy for tourists to walk from one ‘big ruin’ to the other. The idea here, as it is in much of Mexico, wasn’t to preserve, understand, or learn from the past as it is to make a tourist buck. And that’s a shame. This by no means is limited to only Mexico. Most of the world does this. Remember, you vote with your dollars. Contribute to a dig site and you’ll get science. Visit these tourist traps and you’ll get more tourist traps. I’m pretty guilty of voting the wrong way here myself.

The Coba park is massive and winding. Bikes are offered for rent but we didn’t lease any. We should have as we spent way too much time walking around with sunset coming in.

There are a bunch of great sites in Coba. Basically, this is a collection of massive mound builders. Giant, multi-story towers dot the landscape and you’re allowed to crawl all over them. It’s fantastic! Couple chipped limestone with dense jungle growth and you’ve got scenes from Tomb Raider! It’s hard not to envision yourself being Indiana while climbing up these behemoths or running through the ‘death handball’ courts of the Maya. Remember, this is Mexico! Nothing is off limits!

The best part of Coba is the BIG, BIG, @#$ing BIG mound at the end. You can see some of the pictures I attached. It looks big from the ground but looks can be deceptive. It’s !@#$ing massive!!! You can climb up the temple, but don’t get too close to the sides! There are no guide rails and you will fall hundreds of feet to your doom.

Craziness!

Tulum

Some times I talk about building a resume for life. In short, that means having a bunch of experiences that shape your personality to a calibration that make you a unique and totally ‘you’ you. The set of event that you participate in, when described or set to paper, identify your soul the way a fingerprint marks you to the scene of a crime. This excursion, while short and sweet, was one of those for me.

I can now turn to my family and say ‘Remember that time we went for a swim below the castles and cliffs of the Maya at Tulum on Christmas Day?’ That was pretty awesome.

We took the Adventura Spa Palace tour bus from the hotel in the early morning and set out south. The ruins are not the best preserved in the world – after my training digging in Israel I could tell that some portions were patched up and moved around for tourist convenience. Still, Tulum was one of the first port cities that Spanish travelers (conquistadors, missionaries, explorers – call them what you will) saw of Mayan culture (you know, before they destroyed it). And it is exciting to try to replicate what they saw, and in turn what the Maya saw, hundreds of years ago in your mind’s eye.

The real highlight of Tulum wasn’t so much the ruins but the chance to walk down to the dramatic coastline and swim in the ocean with my family. Beautiful warm water + stunning scenery == good times that I’ll never forget.

After swimming we returned to the bus and were herded like animals to the slaughter to a crafts shop. That’s why I prefer going on my own rather than buses. You control your adventure. Not guides receiving craft shop sale kickbacks.