Monthly Archives: September 2016

Beach Day at Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is one of the top destinations on the Riviera Maya and while I’d been through there several times on my way to other places, I’d never spent any time there. It was time to correct that omission.

We took the colectivo, a mini bus that shuttles locals and tourists along the Riviera Maya, from Puerto Aventuras north to Playa del Carmen for 25 pesos (around $1.40).

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Colectivo that shuttles people up and down the Riviera Maya

The bus dropped us a couple blocks from the beach. We passed the main shopping street, Fifth Avenue, but we were intent on finding a spot in the sand so we postponed any shopping until later.

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Fifth Avenue in Playa del Carmen

Portal Maya, one entrance to the beach, was built in 2012 to commemorate the end of the Maya calendar. You may recall the Maya calendar ended on the winter solstice, December 21, in 2012, which resulted in many doomsday predictions but needless to say, they were wrong.

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Portal Maya

I’m a shade lover so we found beach chairs with an umbrella that we could occupy for free as long as we ordered food from Wah Wah Beach Bar. Gail, on the other hand, stretched her towel out on the sand in the hot sunshine.

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Jim and our beach chairs under the umbrella on Play del Carmen

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Our view

As we explored the beach, we spied the pier to the south where the ferries to Cozumel arrive and depart. Next year maybe we’ll check out Cozumel for a day trip.

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Pier at Playa del Carmen

Walking the playa, Spanish for beach, is a good way to explore the area while getting some sun and exercise at the same time.

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Looking north on the beach

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Playa del Carmen

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Walking the playa

I’ve always had a special affinity for lighthouses so I was charmed when I spotted the one below, called Faro Lighthouse. Faro means lighthouse in Spanish.

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El Faro (Spanish for lighthouse)

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Fishing and snorkeling boats

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Boats tied up on shore

At the end of a perfectly gorgeous day on the playa, we wandered back to Fifth Avenue. You can find all the usual souvenirs along this street but there are also some higher end shops and plenty of restaurants, too. Jim and Gail had to try out the gelato but found it was more expensive than their favorite, Jessie’s, in Puerto Aventuras.

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Gail and Jim on Fifth Avenue

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Fifth Avenue

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Shops on Fifth Avenue

Overall, I would recommend a visit to Playa del Carmen if you’re seeking a party atmosphere with lots of people and action. It was fun to visit for the day but at the end of the day, we were happy to return to quiet, laid-back Puerto Aventuras.

Based on events from January 2016.

Categories: Food, Mexico, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Stinking and Sinking in Puerto Aventuras

Our condo at Chac Hal Al overlooked Bahia de Fatima, a beautiful, serene bay with clear cerulean water perfect for swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, or paddle boarding. For the less active, it was a beautiful setting for sunbathing or just sitting in the shade of a palm tree or palapa with a good book or a cocktail.

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Bahia de Fátima (Fatima Bay) from our beach

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Báhia de Fátima (Fatima Bay) from our balcony

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Swimmers and snorkelers at the beach

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Gail paddle boarding

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Jim chillaxin’ poolside with a view of the bay

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Gail sunbathing on the beach

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Jim with a view of the pool and the bay

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Time for nachos and Coronitas

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My view

Idyllic, wouldn’t you agree? That is until our idyll was disturbed by two events. The first disruption occurred when we observed this.

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What looked like brown seaweed invaded the peaceful azure waters and definitely discouraged water activities. My research revealed it was sargassum or sargasso seaweed, which is an increasingly common problem in the Caribbean. The free-floating algae originate in the Sargasso Sea located in the Bermuda Triangle of the North Atlantic. While its existence is nothing new, the amount has increased dramatically and may be attributed to the warming of the ocean due to global climate change. In normal amounts, sargassum provides habitat for lots of marine life including hatching sea turtles but the massive amounts washing ashore today can adversely impact tourism. Clogging the water, it discourages swimmers and snorkelers and the smell as it deteriorates drives away beach-lovers.

I was impressed to see residents and employees working side by side to rake and bag the sargassum and haul it away from the beach. Soon they had the beach looking pristine again and ready for activities. We did, however, observe sargassum at other beaches along the Riviera Maya during our stay so I wonder how they are dealing with the issue.

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Jim walking back from the area where clean-up occurred

The next puzzling event occurred when we noticed a large ship which appeared offshore in Bahia de Fatima.

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Large ship in Bahia Fátima

After several days continued presence, we asked a local realtor that paddle boarded to our beach about it. She said a Mexican Navy ship hit the reef and sank. I posted a teaser on Facebook and Twitter that a blog post would follow. This is finally that post.

We still didn’t know the full story. Why was the large ship there? Day after day, when I saw it was still there, I wondered what it was doing and how long it would continue to be present. It dominated our view and became a daily topic of conversation.

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Mexican Navy Ship

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View of the navy ship from our upstairs balcony

We even discussed it over cocktails at the Omni swim-up bar.

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Our view of the navy ship from the swim-up bar at the Omni Hotel

And then it was gone and the drama ended. We finally learned from reading the local paper, The Pelican Free Press, a Polaris Patrol Interceptor boat lost power causing it to hit the reef. It was hung up on the reef for several days, where Jim first saw it, but it sank when it was pulled from the rocks. Salvage operations first centered around removing equipment and weapons from the boat. The Mexican Navy’s second largest multipurpose logistical ship, a BAL-02, equipped with a hoist arrived to refloat the sunken ship and tow her in for repairs.

Life on Bahia Fátima returned to its previous undisturbed halcyon state. But I’m sure the tourists and locals who were there sometimes say, “Remember when…”

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Next time: Playa del Carmen

Based on events from January 2016.

 

 

Categories: History, Mexico, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Miss Chichen Itza

The Maya are an indigenous Mesoamerican people whose civilization flourished as long ago as 1800 B.C. in southeastern Mexico and the northern areas of Central America in Guatemala, Belize, and parts of Honduras and El Salvador. The city of Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula was established by the Maya people in the first half of the 5th century A.D. and was the center of civilization until its decline around 1200 A.D.

I’ve been to Mexico many times and I’ve visited the Maya archeological site at Tulum but this was my first visit to Chichen Itza. When I discovered it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, I was keen to see it. Our guide, Norma, provided many details about the Maya and the structures we viewed. For example, the Maya grew cacao for a chocolate drink, they had a complex written language recorded in books, they were brilliant astronomers, and played a game on a large court putting a ball through a hoop.

There are many descendants of the Maya people still residing in the Yucatan and their homes continue to be organically constructed of earth or wood with thatched roofs as shown in the photo below.

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Typical Maya dwelling

As we entered Chichen Itza, the main thoroughfare was lined with vendors selling their wares. We were on a tour with a guide so there was no opportunity to shop at that time even though we had learned to ask in Mayan, “Bahoosh?” (how much).

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Vendors lining the entrance to Chichen Itza

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High Priest’s Grave

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Wall along the Great Ball Court

 

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Ruin at Chichen Itza

 

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Norma, our guide

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Caracol, an observatory for astronomy

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Las Monjas

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Path through the jungle at Chichen Itza

The iconic El Castillo, or Pyramid of Kukulcan, is the building everyone goes to Chichen Itza to see. The four sides of this temple each contain 91 steps which total 364 plus one single step at the top for a grand total of 365 steps which equal the number of days in the Mayan calendar. I was under the incorrect assumption that we could climb to the top and felt some trepidation at the thought. A friend of mine told me about the experience. She said the steps were so narrow and steep that coming down she had to sit on the staircase and ease down step by step. Thankfully, visitors are no longer allowed to climb so we dodged that bullet.

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The Temple of Kukulcan or El Castillo

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Temple of Kukulkan behind us

Following our tour of Chichen Itza, we had a tasty buffet lunch at a restaurant designed to feed busloads of tourists.

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Fresh tortillas for lunch

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Buffet for a multitude

Following lunch, we stopped at Ik Kil for a swim in one of the most beautiful cenotes I’ve seen. A cenote is a sinkhole where the Maya and others located their towns to have a supply of fresh water available.

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Ik Kil

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Ik Kil

We declined to swim but enjoyed the experience, nevertheless. And best of all, Norma advised us before leaving the bus to be back by 2:30 saying, “If you’re not back on time, it’s okay.  We’ll be back here in two days and we’ll pick you up then.” No one was late!

Based on events from January 2016.

 

 

 

Categories: History, Mexico, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Behaving Badly in Puerto Aventuras

We enjoyed our week in Puerto Aventuras on the Mayan Riviera of Mexico in January 2015 so much that we returned in January 2016 and extended our stay to two weeks. (If you want to read my previous posts about Puerto Aventuras, check posts from February and March 2015.) In the several days before our friend, Gail, joined us, we got reacquainted with Puerto Aventuras; walked to the grocery store, Super Chedraui, to stock up on essentials; discovered a Starbucks; and even found a Zumba class.

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View from our condo

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View of Dolphin Discovery from Hoo Haa Restaurant

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Sea Lions at Dolphin Discovery

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Marina at Puerto Aventuras

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Cannon outside the National Museum of Underwater Archeology

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Marina at Puerto Aventuras

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Our condo at Chac Al Hal is on the right side upper 2 floors

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No explanation required

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Beach in front of our condo

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Poolside

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Guacamole on the balcony

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Iguana sunning itself

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Party boat leaving the marina

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Dinner at Dos Chiles

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Starbucks

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Zumba

Knowing  our friend, Gail, wouldn’t care to accompany us, we decided to take a bus tour to Chichen Itza before she arrived. We booked our tour through Paradise Tours located in the lobby of the Omni Hotel. For $85 per person, our package included narrated bus transportation, entrance to Chichen Itza with a guided tour, buffet lunch on the return trip, and a stop at a cenote for a swim. As it turned out, we got even more for our money.

A 12 passenger van picked us up promptly at the Omni and then picked up another couple at a nearby resort. The driver stopped next at Barceló Resort but the passengers were not waiting. What?!!? The driver got on his phone, drove around the resort a bit, waited some more, walked around looking for them, walked inside the resort lobby, and phoned some more. Meanwhile, we were worried we’d miss our connection with the tour bus and I was getting more annoyed by the minute. This is why I usually avoid tours; there’s always someone that keeps the group waiting.

When the young couple finally appeared a half hour late and climbed into the van laughing and chatting, oblivious to their inconsideration, something in me snapped. Honestly, if they had apologized or seemed contrite or abashed, I’d have swallowed my irritation but instead, I blurted, “I hope you were sick in the bathroom and aren’t just an a**hole making us wait.” Oops. I couldn’t believe I’d said it. The words just escaped from my mouth. My bad. And their bad certainly didn’t excuse my bad.  I heard Pete, from the seat behind us, gasp and say quietly to his wife, “And you think I’m outspoken.”

Well, we made our connection with the bus but when we got there, the guide took us and the couple that made us wait aside. I thought, “Uh-oh, now what?” The guide told us that everyone else on the tour had paid more for their package which included breakfast and snacks and they would give us the same extras at no additional charge but not to say anything to the others. Then they seated us together, with a table between us facing each other. Awkward. I was somewhat embarrassed and when I introduced myself, my husband offered, “You can just call her A**hole.” Thankfully, that broke the tension and we had a pleasant 2-hour ride to Chichen Itza. We also enjoyed the additional perquisites including  Coronitas, little Coronas which are just the right size to take the edge off an awkward situation.

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So tell me what you think. Whether you think I was horribly rude or just a little out of line, feel free to weigh in below in the comments. Has anything like this happened to you on a tour?

Up next time: Chichen Itza

Based on events from January 2016.

 

Categories: Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 12 Comments

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