Thursday, September 25, 2014

travel: valladolid, mexico

the last of four posts on our trip to mexico.
// part one, two and three.
after visiting the ruins of coba, hubs and i spent an afternoon in the quaint little town of valladolid. as i wrote yesterday, getting there was a little more complicated than we planned, as we waited and waited for a bus in coba and, two hours past when it was supposed to come, gave up hope that it ever would. we ended up taking a cab, an option i wish we had chosen before the two hour wait!

both of us were pretty hungry and heat exhausted by the time we arrived in the city center, plus it was so very hot outside that we quickly surrendered our ambitions of finding a quaint, mom-and-pop restaurant for lunch and ate at the first taco place we could find. from there, we kind of just shuffled through the streets from church to church and then bought a liter of water and several ice creams (paletas) in a little air-conditioned convenience store to recover. 

pro tip: don't visit during siesta, or don't be shy to knock on doors- we only saw the outsides of all of the churches we visited. we were, however, successfully able to locate a map after learning that 'map' is 'la mapa' in spanish, so i give us points for that one.
to see:
iglesia san servicio: right in the center of town, this church is beautiful and dominates the town square.
iglesia santa lucia: on a quiet square, covered in papel picado flags.
convent de san bernadino de siena: we did not walk to the convent of san bernadino, though i wish we did! 
iglesia de la candelaria: catholicism meets mayan legend at this little church 10 minutes' walk from the city center. la virgen de la candelaria is the patron saint of valladolid and well known all over the yucatan. 

plus, the buildings around the town center are colorful and built colonial style, entirely unlike tulum pueblo. they and the church of san servicio are why we decided to visit!

the owner of our hotel in tulum said that there is a craft market in the parking lot of the prison selling the best hammocks for the best prices around. he also told us that in mexico, prisoners have to earn their food and so by purchasing a hammock you are quite literally allowing someone to eat. we looked for the market but halfheartedly, as we don't own trees from which to hang a hammock.

lastly, there are several limestone sinkholes called cenotes (say-note-ays) in the area that are worth visiting (cenote zaci comes highly recommended by a friend), though as our trip was only a few hours long we did not venture to see them. we were also told that people really only go to cenotes to dive and not really to swim. FALSE. it's our fault, though, for asking someone who was self-admittedly a little drunk. 

if we did this trip over again, i'd plan to spend a night in valladolid either before or after a trip to the ruins instead of trying to see everything in several hours in the middle of the day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

travel: coba ruins, mexico

part three on our trip to mexico!
{images all mine}
while in mexico, we debated back and forth for quite some time as to whether or not we should travel out to chichen itza.
chichen itza pros: it's one of those must see before you die places, it's the biggest, best preserved and most well-known mayan ruin, it's a UNESCO world heritage site. also, for those not afraid of heights (read: husband), the pyramid is open for climbing. 

chichen itza cons: it was several hours away from where we were staying, meaning the bus would get us there at the hottest and busiest time of day and would require us to spend more money than we'd want to on the fare. we also heard the hawkers were relentless and the entrance fee was a little steep.

we chatted with the owner of our hotel and he suggested we go to coba or ek balam instead. the bus to either was much shorter and less expensive than chichen and would allow us an afternoon to visit the little city of valladolid. he mentioned that as coba was relatively recently excavated and even then, only in part, exploring there made one feel a little like indiana jones gallivanting through the jungle. sold. 

getting there: navigating the mexican public bus system was relatively easy. we were able to book second class tickets to coba at the tulum bus station on the day of our trip. we took the first bus out, arriving half an hour after the park opened. it's also possible to hire a cab, but with how easy and affordable the bus was we saw no need to do so.

the bus dropped us off at what seemed like the only intersection in town, right on the edge of the lake. we wandered a bit before finding the entrance which really shouldn't have been as difficult as we made it. when in doubt, ask questions!

getting away was a little more challenging. the town of coba is very small and the buses aren't frequent. we were supposed to be able to catch a bus around noon from the "bus stop" (the plastic chairs outside el bocadillo restaurant) which would take us the remaining 30- 45 minutes into valladolid town center. however, the bus never showed up. we waited almost two hours before agreeing to hire the first taxi that gave us a fair price, getting us into the city at the hottest time of day. but more on valladolid tomorrow!

to see: i'm pretty confident that coba is only on the map because of the ruins, so aside from a few tourist-oriented restaurants, there isn't much else there. there are several lakes which the ruins are situated between, but i read somewhere that there are crocodiles (alligators?) residing there and to ask local children where the best, safest swimming hole is. no thank you.

so, the park! we did a little reading up on the ruins before visiting- both in our guidebook and via random googling- and i'm glad we did. there wasn't much to read signage- wise once there, and i'm a pretty big fan of knowing a little something about where i'm going and what i'm seeing while traveling. you can hire a pedi-cab/ cycle rickshaw at multiple points in the park, or you can rent bikes and pedal from place to place. as with the ruins at tulum, the walk from the entrance to the different ruins isn't bad. most of the individual ruins require you to park your rented bike a little ways away and walk up anyway, so we saved our pesos for some paletas/ ice creams at the end. 

visiting so early in the morning was the best! for the first several hours we were there, we had the place virtually to ourselves, only sharing with two other couples and several hippies performing some sort of prayer at the base of the pyramid. on our way out we were a little overwhelmed by the waves of visitors walking in. 

in all, we really enjoyed our visit to coba. if we had been able to stay a night in valladolid or another town closer to chichen and not had to spend 6 hours on a bus in one day, we may have done it. as we booked our hotel for the entire week before arriving in mexico, we didn't regret skipping out on chichen itza in favor of these ruins which were a little more off the beaten path.
tomorrow, valladolid!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

travel: tulum, mexico 2.0

back in june hubs finished his master's degree, a feat which we decided necessitated a proper vacation. when i asked him where he might want to go after one degree and before starting the next, he said "somewhere where we can sit on a beach for a week."

well, cross off iceland, ireland, morocco and turkey. as i said before, mexico wasn't on our wanderlist, but upon arrival we quickly discovered why people vacation in the caribbean: it's close (one hour different from mountain time! direct flight! everyone is so friendly and helpful!) and it's ridiculously beautiful. we spent a good week kicked back in the white sand, swimming in the turquoise waves and exploring mayan ruins and it was pretty darn close to perfect. 
to see:
the beach. obviously. there are several spots where the public can access the beach, but most of the shoreline is owned by private hotels. even so, we were surprised by how few people were actually on the public beach each time we went. there are plenty of rather pricey restaurants within walking distance from the public beach. we paid a highly inflated price for a bottle of water one day, but enjoyed raspberry margaritas during a happy hour special just next door another afternoon.

pro tip: be sure to have a decent idea of where the public beach is, or don't be afraid to ask for help. we ended up riding 22km/ almost 14 miles on beach cruisers on our first day in town along the beach road because we weren't entirely sure where we were going and weren't confident in our spanish abilities. 

the ruins:  go early to beat the crowds and the sun, and wear your suit so you can swim. the guides will tell you it's a long walk from the entrance to the ruins, but really, it's not. it's just hot outside.
the town: there isn't much in the town besides restaurants and shops catering to tourists. even so, we did enjoy wandering the main street, poking around in the pottery shops and sipping coffee while reading books at a cafe. our lonely planet guidebook said that the town was a dusty little place and not to waste time there, but we disagree! plus, it was nice to do something other than lie in the sun at the beach all day, especially when needing to recover from insufficient sunscreen application from days prior.

our guidebook and several people on tripadvisor suggested taking taxis from place to place, particularly to the beach. we decided against that because we'd rather have spent our pesos on tacos, and because you miss so very much while sitting in the silence of an air-conditioned car. 
to stay:
we stayed at teetotum hotel and we didn't regret it for a second. after trolling every single listing on trip advisor, almost booking at several places and feeling non-committal about all of them, we took the plunge with teetotum as they had single digit negative reviews. upon arrival, we never looked back. 

the thing about staying in tulum is that you can choose to a) stay by the beach and pay through the nose, b) stay on the beach but stay "jungle side" where you'll pay slightly less but have to cross a public street to get to the beach, c) stay in town and spend your time taxi-ing/ riding bikes to the beach, or d) you can stay between and get the best of all options. we were rather happy with our decision to stay between, as we could ride bikes to town and buy tacos, then ride bikes to the beach to eat said tacos. instead of only eating at our hotel (the restaurant was amazing, but you know- variety), we got to try a few different places and spent some time exploring. plus, teetotum had bike rental included in the cost of our stay. SOLD.

we also considered luvtulum and zama's, as they are on the beach, but wanted to get more for our dollars by staying somewhere between.
to eat:
el pollo bronco: hubs found this place while walking (biking?) down the main street through town. 60 pesos for half a roast chicken, tortillas and salsas. SO GOOD. i have dreams about it even now.

taco carts! i made fun of hubs for suggesting that we get a "bag of tacos" to go but it turns out that you can actually do that if you know how to say "to go" in spanish (it's para llevar, for the record.)  our favorite place was called honario, around the corner from the scotia bank. order cochinitas and thank me later.

also try tortas from a taco cart and the empanadas at el pequeno buenos aires (but don't bother with a main course there. it's pricey and not that great.)
up next: mayan ruins and the town of valladolid!

Monday, September 22, 2014

kenosha pass

this past saturday morning, hubs and i headed up to kenosha pass in the hope that we'd be able to catch the aspens turning fiery yellow.

we had the same idea as the rest of the city of denver, but even the crowds were worth the views! the aspens glowed so fiercely in the morning sun that they seemed to have a light all their own. we hiked a few miles along the colorado trail to a point overlooking a valley below and then drove down to have lunch and poke around the town of fairplay.  i was most interested in seeing the ghost town of south park, but was a little disappointed to find that in order to walk through the street you had to pay an entrance fee. even so, i can now check this little former mining town off my to-visit list where it has been for 8 years.

the trees were so beautiful i'm hoping we can get out again this coming weekend. we haven't been to see the leaves turn since hubs moved out here in spring of 2010, so we've got a little lost time to make up for.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

travel: tulum, mexico

two weeks ago, hubs and i spent a week in the mexican caribbean on our first no- wedding, no- holiday, no-agenda vacation in a long while. we have a fairly extensive wanderlist and honestly, the caribbean wasn't on it. however, places like iceland, scandanavia, turkey and morocco take some time and a pretty penny to visit. thanks to skyscanner (the 'fly me anywhere in the world over the course of one year' function is amazing!) we discovered that we could fly to cancun for less than many places in the US, including my hometown. not really ones to enjoy overly touristy locations, i set to work finding for us a destination along the riviera maya that would be a little more removed from drunken college students and springbreakWOO!.

enter friend and travel buddy grace and her enthusiastic recommendation of tulum, mexico. 

i looked into it. inexpensive, direct flights + an easily navigable mexican public bus system + off season hotel prices = our week long vacation in the paradise of tulum, mexico on the teal blue waters of the caribbean sea. 

tulum town was tourist friendly without being overly aggressive about it. people were helpful and kind, gracious with our lack of spanish and even paco the airtran employee who we suspect stole our credit card information was good-natured and easy going (maybe in part because he's now about $600 richer). the food was incredible, the beaches gorgeous and would you look at the color of that water??

i apologize that these photos are all recycled from instagram. when i get my photos correctly uploaded and edited from my actual camera, i'll share them and a little more about our trip here. until then, these will have to do!

Friday, August 29, 2014

hot air ballooning

the winds have welcomed you with softness
the sun has blessed you with its warm hands
you have flown so high and so well 
that god joined you in your laughter and set you
gently and safely back into the arms of mother earth.
-balloonist's prayer 
said at the end of each flight, usually toasted with champagne

the first word i ever spoke was 'balloon.' or, more accurately, 'boon.' growing up on the edge of a smallish midwestern town, nestled between the urban sprawl of grocery stores and strip malls to the north and the fields of the farming community just south, my parents would spend summer evenings taking our family on drives. we'd drive everywhere- to the beach to watch the sunset, to the woods nearby, through the one-stoplight towns scattered among the crop fields.

occasionally, we'd happen upon a hot air balloon in flight and spend an hour or so following it, anticipating where it might land. when it did, we'd sit in the car and watch from the open windows the basket touch the ground, the pilot deflate the giant balloon overhead and then a scrappy crew of  helpers pack the whole thing up into a large canvas bag, toss it in the back of a pickup truck, toast some champagne in plastic cups and drive away. i don't remember the first time my parents had a conversation with the pilot, but it wasn't too long before they joined that crew and spent evenings in the passenger seat of a chase vehicle, eyes on the sky while communicating flight information into a squawking cb radio. i don't remember much about my own first trip as balloon chase crew as i think i was about 7 years old, but i do remember a phone conversation with our pilot friends one evening when my parents were unavailable for the third or fourth flight in a row. they asked if my younger brother and i were free to help if someone could come pick us up, as at the time we were both too young to drive. we both went that night, and every night we possibly could after that, quickly becoming in the words of our pilot, "far more experienced than most of the crew- before even owning drivers licenses!"

my childhood summers smelled of propane and cut hay fields, tasted of champagne toasts and post-flight pizza dinners. my mornings started several hours before sunrise, ended several hours after sunset. i ran after landing balloons through farmer's fields and along country roads, learned how to read an altimeter, to 'milk' a 12-story balloon of hot air after landing and, with lots of practice, built up enough muscle to make it all the way from one end to the other. i learned about weather patterns and wind direction and to this day still fear strong, gusty winds. i flew more times than i can count, learned to recognize a herd of deer running through the woods from above and how to pinpoint where a conversation was coming from below my feet. i made friends for life in these other crazy souls willing to chase an aircraft that literally is at the whims of the winds.

the chill in the air and the shorter days this time of year mean the end of the summer to most, and to my friends and family, also the slowing of ballooning season. nostalgia finds me sometimes fighting the urge to buy notebooks, pens and art supplies or to pack up my things in anticipation of another school-year move across half the country. it also leaves me longing to see the earth from the basket of a hot air balloon one last time. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

learning to sail, or: the anatomy of a sailboat

{image of hillview lake, where i learned to sail}

in college, i developed a love for rock climbing. me, with my "little girly arms" (thanks, dad) and fear of heights. i couldn't get enough, and would often climb until my fingers were raw and bleeding. i went to the regular gym once in my four years in college, but went to the climbing gym several times per week.

the summer after my freshman year, i knew i wanted to go home to michigan and work at the camp where i'd spent a week each summer throughout middle and high school. i also knew i'd make a terrible counselor. i wanted to use my newfound love of and experience with rock climbing and high ropes courses, but there was a problem: at the ranch, adventure staff doubled as beach staff. or, i couldn't just climb all day- i had to get a life guarding certification and actually be responsible for the lives of children swimming in our little lake among the weeds and the fishes. after one hellish week of lifeguard training i somehow earned my certification, though i was never very good at swimming to the bottom of our lake. or any lake. or swimming at all.

much to my surprise, spending two summers as adventure beach staff, or "ABS" was one of the best things i've ever done. i remember fondly the quiet summer mornings i spent in the beach house, swinging from our chair-turned-hammock, reading anything i could get my hands on. we had a collection of random stuff that lived in piles in and around our beach house- inner tubes, windsurf boards and sails, forgotten towels and swim goggles, a leach tally board, a megaphone (creating feedback provided us with hours of entertainment) and a little sunfish sailboat. one slow morning i decided it was time to put that little boat together and learn to use it.
{image from CHR summer photographer 2005}

i've always wanted to be the sort of person who sails. the wind in my hair, the sun on my shoulders, this amazing ability to pull a few ropes, point a boat in the direction i want to go and actually get there... no one on our staff that summer knew how to sail and so no one could teach me what to do. in the age before smart phones and instant internet access, i had to get a little creative. usually one for a challenge and an adventure, i set to work. i took the boat out for a bit, made some decent progress and, when i failed at sailing back into the wind, paddled the boat back home with a canoe paddle i had stashed inside.

it turns out, sailing a little sunfish isn't that tough when the wind is right. it's when you get clear across to the other side of the lake and manage to tip your boat over in water shallow enough to get the mast stuck in the mud that it gets a little tricky. anyone who sails could tell you that one of the best ways to flip your boat back is to stand on the centerboard and heave-ho.

this, of course, assumes that you're sailing a boat with a centerboard. or know what a centerboard is.

{image via the google. centerboard in the center.}

the morning of the mast-in-mud incident, i was fortunate to have a buddy with me to commiserate and attempt to tip the boat upright, a feat ultimately unsuccessful without our handy little centerboard. it was  also nice to have an extra voice to shout and set of arms to wave at our staff across the water to get their attention and ultimately get a "rescue" from our little rowboat with a motor attached super official waterfront rescue boat. four of us together managed to upright the sailboat and tie it to the boat with a motor, which then promptly died. 

we were then at the mercy of a friendly passing watersporter, who so kindly tied the whole mess to the back of his jet ski and towed us into shore in a parade of incompetence and faulty motors. we arrived just in time for monday morning swim tests with our new campers, all of whom had watched this debacle from shore with, i'm sure, full confidence in our abilities as lifeguards (we actually never lost a swimmer!)

we never did find a centerboard in the recesses of our beach house. 

and that, my friends, is how i learned to sail. 

{image from CHR summer staff photographer, 2004. maybe i should stick to canoeing.}
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