Saturday, March 14, 2015

Playa Del Carmen and the Monkey-Dogs of Tulum

This trip was not exactly planned out ahead of time. Lydia's school kept having snow days and we weren't sure if this trip was even going to happen. Then like the day before we left Lydia came down with something which left a big hole in our plans where SCUBA used to be.

So, we winged it the whole way and for the most part everything worked out. We started out by taking one of those miracle buses to the touristy Playa del Carmen.

I stood in bus ticket lines quite a couple of times.

On February 1st Quintana Roo, the Mexican state in which Cancun is situated, permanently moved itself from the central to eastern time zone. I think this was done for the sake of US tourists, many of whom arrive from the east coast. Anyways, our phones had apparently not gotten the memo: when we had wifi the time shown would be correct but we were an hour off otherwise. I think this added to our sense of confusion and lack of a concrete plan. Oh well.

One fun part of riding the bus is that before every trip a vendor person would hop on with a box full of snacks for sale like a cigarette girl. I thought that these salt and lime flavored Fritos were a fitting snack.

As you can see Playa del Carmen is the logical point to pop over to Cozumel. That's where the SCUBA would have happened, but we just gave it a miss this time. We should probably come back to Cancun again someday for that reason. I read it's supposed to be some of the best diving in the world.

Playa del Carmen is kind of a Bourbon Street by the beach, with bars and tshirt shops everywhere. The barker guys were pretty sleazy here. The first one I heard from offered me tattoos, weed, and painkillers. 

When my face tattoo of Lincoln riding a pterodactyl was finished we stopped for some celebratory fajitas and beers. I helped the Japanese tourists at the next table read their menu. Lydia was impressed. The kind of impressed where you don't say you're impressed but it's really down deep in your soul.

This sign was pretty hard to argue with.

I'm not going to pretend to understand Mexico's prescription drug rules but they did seem to be more laissez faire than in the US. This little pharmacy is just in a touristy shop full of tchotchkes and sunglasses.

A hero turning this stupid cactus into sweet, sweet tequila.

I have no explanation for what's happening here.

We boarded yet another bus to the city of Tulum. I may have been a little too excited about the cheap buses because I didn't want to take a taxi from town to the ruins we wanted to see. I may have force marched us 3 miles to the ruins which were then closed when we arrived.

In my defense our walk was quite scenic, especially when we entered the park that surrounds the ruins. We saw a pack of these monkey-dog looking things called coatis. They are apparently in the raccoon family. I think somewhere in a stupid section of my brain I just assume that I've seen at least a picture of every kind of animal there is and I'm a little surprised whenever I see a new one.

Zoobooks is a lie.

So we are seemingly surrounded by a pack of hidden coatis. I could hear them rustling in the brush on either side of us, and they were crossing the path ahead of us one by one. If they weren't so darn cute it would have been terrifying.

Shh. What's that noise?

It's me! Monkey Dog!

Well since the ruins of Tulum overlook the ocean we walked to the beach nearby to sneak a peek of the ruins that way. There were a couple of boats taking people closer to the Mayan area so I channeled my inner Trump and did some expert dealing with them. I was proud of myself for getting the price of a ride from $30 a person down to $12.50. The guy was funny because he asked us at length not to tell the other boat passengers because they were paying way more.

So now with this picture I'm confronted with the fact that walking around with the guidebook makes me look like a doofus. I felt like I should put some of that walking time to use by reading about where we were headed. Plus it helped us find all of the best restaurants.

A couple of girls on the boat were from Dubai so we chatted about that a little bit. One cool byproduct of my quest to see every country is that I will someday be able to meet any human anywhere and really understand a little bit about where they come from and be able to relate to them a little. That'll be really cool.

By now the sun was almost down and we were tired so we took a cab back to town. We found another ridiculously great restaurant for dinner in Tulum called Cetli. We may have done zero planning but we were kicking some culinary butt on this trip. I don't recall what Lydia had but I had some stuffed cactus leaves with cheese and meat and deliciousness. I also had what was undisputedly the best drink of the trip: a tamarind margarita. It had this really tart tamarind fruitiness happening on the rim of the glass.

Tamarind: the fruit that looks like poop.

I think Lydia ordered what she thought was going to be water with mint and cucumber in it, which sounded refreshing. Instead she got this mint and cucumber smoothie looking thing. I think it tasted pretty good but Lydia said the cucumber smell reminded her of the lunches she packs for school. Total bummer.

We headed back to the bus station and stumbled into yet another little festival in the town square. It was a bit smaller than Cancun's but all the same basic parts were there. This time the entertainment was some clowns making kids dance on stage and other hilarious child torture.

What I assume is Tulum's city hall over there is labeled the "municipal palace" and lit up like a casino.

The little park also had this pretty awesome Mayan calendar set up happening.

We watched a bit of a girl's indoor-style (and yet outside) soccer match and then headed home.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Successful First Day In Mexico

Southwest Airlines doesn't have assigned seating, which turns the boarding process into quite the struggle for territory. No one wants the middle seat, so the last third of the passengers to get on the plane have this "first day of kindergarten on the schoolbus" situation where no one wants to share their space. Anyway a lady wearing sparkly cowboy boots sat in our third seat and ruined our chances of comfort.

Anyway the lady didn't say much to us until we were nearing Cancun. But then she opened up. The lady said she'd been to Cancun about twenty times! I felt sorry for her. It was funny too because I was trying to take advantage of her wealth of experience but she hadn't been to many of the highlights. I was telling Lydia that we should skip Isla Mujeres because it just sounded like a boring bunch of beach. Guess what our new friend's first recommendation was? "They have sand like powdered sugar!"

I was flipping through my trusty guidebook on the plane and found a really cheap bus system that would take us up to like 2 blocks from our hotel for a fraction of what a taxi would cost. That bus service went everywhere went we wanted to go. We barely stepped foot in a stupid cab the whole trip. It was awesome.

As you can see Cancun is a city with a long appendage. We gave that beachy, touristy, resort filled appendage the nickname "hell".

I picked one of the cheapest hotels that my Chase credit card points could buy, which was nowhere near the beaches and resorts. It was the best accident ever. The hotel was walking distance from the supermarket, a ton of restaurants, the bus station, and this city center place where there was like a three day festival taking place.

We had dinner at one of those walking distance restaurants called La Habichuela and it was fantastic. They gave Lydia a free little Mayan necklace when we walked in. Our table was in another world, with lots of tropical trees overhead and ancient looking statues. The food was really well prepared as well. The table next to us ordered caesar salad and their waiter stood next to the table while he whisked the egg yolks.

The meal started with a free drink made from bark or something served in a gourd. This place was really good about all of the little extras.

We started the feast with some baller soups. I had the "Cream of Avocado: a cold soup of emerald avocado with aromatic herbs". I'm skeptical of cold soups in general but this one was killer. Lydia had the restaurant's namesake, "Cream of Habichuela: famous stringbean and vegetables soup prepared daily since 1977". Those were both like 6 bucks a piece.

There was a free lime sorbet palate cleanser for Huitzilopochtli's sake!

Lydia's main course was shish kabob flambe and mine was "The Famous Cocobichuela: chunks of lobster and shrimp cooked in a curry sauce served in a coconut shell with rice and garnished with tropical fruits." It was really good. And in a damn coconut. Hers was $20 and mine was $33.

Lydia's pick even involved a flaming pineapple for some unexplained reason.

It took every ounce of willpower to not order this chocolate pyramid.

After dinner we scoped out the festival that was right across the street from our hotel. Tonight on the stage there were lots of kids in fun costumes. I especially liked the little kids zooming around in their rental cars. Many of them were questionable drivers.

I've probably mentioned it before but I am obsessed with foreign grocery stores. They give you a little window into how people really live, and they have reasonable prices that are actually posted and the same for everyone. It's the best. We looked around, bought some bottled water, beer, and snacks then called it a night.

When we got back to the hotel we both had abundant reminders that bug bites are still a thing. My ankles are delicious.