Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Vacation in Ruins

Two days visiting four sets of ruins can really do a person in. Here are the reasons why you need to see more than one.

You can climb all the ruins at Ek Balam and get the jungle view from the top. And Ek Balam has the best preserved artifacts, considering they were only "accidentally" discovered when an outer wall fell and the main tomb was discovered. (The palm frond roofs are to protect the carvings. They were never part of the original design)

The king's tomb, or Jaguar's Mouth.

For all you Elizabeth Peters fans, you can see real archaeological techniques: emptying the ruins to discover what they are, then sealing them back up with rocks or iron gates until they have time to return for full excavation.

Cenotes, or underwater lakes, are also an interesting phenomenon in the Yucatan. Since there are no rivers or lakes in the region, these places were once considered sacred, as they were the only source for drinking water. This one probably provided better water when the cave was sealed, but it's pretty to look at, and a nice refuge for several hundred pigeons.

Another cenote outside of Valladolid. This one has a tree growing at the top opening. Those are the roots growing all the way to the bottom. Incredible.

You can't climb the main pyramid, but everyone visits Chichen-Itza. We did too.

A typical vendor's table. They are everywhere--rows and rows of them--and will call out to you to buy their things no matter how many times you have said no, or even if you have already bought something. The bravest souls will leave their tables and approach you in person, promising unbelievable deals, until you decide to take them up on it, then the price goes up.

More for the Elizabeth Peters fans. If you look closely, you'll see that this section of wall has every stone numbered in chalk and placed in order, just as the archaeologists pre-assembled the wall after sorting the stones.

Chichen-Itza has a nightly light show. Who could miss that?

Coba has the tallest pyramid on the Yucatan penninsula. The only one taller is in Guatemala, almost twice as tall as this one. You're not allowed to climb that one, and with good reason. The stairs are treacherous.

Coba is one of the least excavated sites. Jungle-covered hills are all around the 26 square mile site, concealing ruins yet to be cleared. Unfortunately, the Mexican government only allows money for 3 months of excavations a year, and with the time it takes to keep the jungle from taking back the discovered ruins, there just isn't a lot they can do.

Coba is very spread out. We got a bike guy to pedal us around and save our feet. The poor guy. He earned his money that day.

Tulum had some of the least impressive ruins, and you can't climb anything, but it has the advantage of being the only remaining ruins on the seashore, which makes for some stunning photo ops (but also draws the most tourists. This was by far the biggest tourist trap area we found with respect to ruins).

Find the two iguanas.

After all that walking we needed a rest. Back to the beach for some R&R.
And that's our trip. A great week with the one I love.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Surf & Turf Special

Up for trying something new? We are too. While in Cancun we planned to snorkel, kayak, windsurf and parasail. But once we entered Aquanaut's Dive Adventures in the sleepy fishing village of Puerto Morelos, we got carried away--we scrapped all the other plans and took up scuba diving!

After a video and a short training session in the world's coldest pool, we were boated out to one of the world's best tropical reefs where we put our skills to the test. The ocean was a warm 80 degrees. Ahhh, perfect.

With 4 certified divers accompanying us, including 2 instructors, we were well taken care of.

When we surfaced and I said I was going to be sick, my instructor just smiled (almost laughing) and told me to go ahead. Pretty brave for a guy who's job it is to keep me next to him.
In my defense, they didn't tell us until later that those were rough seas that day: waves, swells, current, etc. Sheesh! I'm proud I did so well.

It took us a day or two to fully absorb the diving experience, but three days later we were scheduling our next dives. So cool! In all, we did three different dive sites and saw every fish I've ever seen in an aquarium, and a lot of other sea life including lobsters, lion fish, and even a barracuda.

Yep, saw a moray eel.

Saw whole schools of these, plus yellow tangs, angel fish, needlefish--everything imaginable.

We may never get fully certified, but it's fun to think where our next warm water dives may be: Australia, Belize, Tahiti?

Puerto Morelos Lighthouse. The Leaning Tower of Beacha.

Okay, we didn't really do any surfing, but it's a cute photo op anyway.

On another day we took the ferry to Isla Mujeres and visited the sea turtle sanctuary. We arrived right at feeding time and the little guys couldn't get enough.
But we saw three much bigger sea turtles while diving. I swam right over one and had to be careful not to kick it in the head or have it bite my flipper.

We walked for miles on Isla Mujeres, mainly avoiding the tourist areas where vendors bombarded us with shouts to rent their scooters, golf carts, buy their silver jewelry, baskets, blankets, trinkets, or what have you. All junk. It really got annoying. But for a country where the people barely subsist, it hurts to constantly say no.

I wish I had pictures of some of the typical Mexican scenes we saw away from the tourist zones: a man riding a scooter down the street holding a huge fish out to the side, taking it home for dinner. A family of three or four squished onto the seat of a scooter. A young man with a rifle strapped to his back, riding a bike next to the jungle road looking for dinner. A father and son next to their parked bike near the jungle, filling the cart with cactus leaves to eat or sell. Old men with heavy logs tied on their backs walking along small town roads, either to build a thatched hut with or to use as fuel to cook with. And all the wild dogs running loose, even in downtown Cancun. Unfortunately, these were all fleeting glimpses as we drove past, or as they drove past us on our walk. Too bad. I still feel that those scenes were the "real" Mexico.

The ferry to Isla Mujeres (Island of Women). Legend has it that Mayan women made pilgrimages to a temple at the end of the island for fertility blessings. I didn't bother to walk that far. Baby turtles were good enough for me.

Erik giving me the Can't we just stop walking? look.
He's always a trooper to keep up with my action-packed itineraries without complaining. But we both paid for this trip in blisters. We bought band-aids on two separate occasions. Ouch.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Room with a View

Last February I was making plans for our 20th anniversary trip. Big plans. Sweden was on the radar for May 2010. But plans change, so we had to make plans for late 2009.

Luckily, Erik got assigned a business trip to Holland, near the Belgian border, so I planned a trip for me to accompany him, incorporating a weekend in Paris, stops in Brussels and Bruges, and seeing all the Christmas markets. I even had a new book outlined to incorporate Flander's Fields. But, as usual, plans change, and Erik's trip was cancelled. And that left us in a tight spot, having no trip scheduled and needing to use up vacation days.

So what else could we do? We took Erik's accumulated flight miles and went as far as we could--Cancun. (He doesn't get to keep most of his miles)

I wasn't that excited after thinking of the other exotic places we could have gone, but it turns out Cancun is a good choice for January, and for anniversaries. I'll cover our activities later, but really, we could have been content forever in our room with a view.

Caribbean sunrise

Our Hacienda Hotel

Daily morning drama

The fishermen are out early
Sunrise over the ocean from the back balcony, Sunset over the city and lagoon from the front patio. Not bad.

Hotel Lobby, 48 steps below our ecclectic penthouse. No elevator.

Our stucco suite, complete with window walls on both sides, each leading to a private patio. The floor artistically rises two steps all the way around the bed, which is nice, but easy to forget, until you find yourself falling head-first toward a window.

Relaxing after church, which was interesting. No habla Espanol.

Back of hotel

So blue, so warm, so missed . . .

Until the next time.

We definitely need a third honeymoon.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Christmas Afterthought Picture

Family snow day

We didn't get a family picture together this year. I didn't even think of it. I have no excuse. So if you're wondering why you didn't get a picture included with your card this year, you'll see why. These are the only family photos I could dig up from the whole year, and they are pretty ugly.

I don't know why I'm posting them except that people like to see how much we've changed. Well, we havent. But, enjoy, and we'll try to do better in 2010. And if you don't receive your New Years letter by the end of this week, you really should send me your address.
Model-T Museum
Niagara Falls

I promise we'll get an official family picture taken--Soon!