Sunday, March 29, 2015

Penguins and Orangutans at the St. Louis Zoo

Today went to the St Louis Zoo with Lydia's family.





Saturday, March 28, 2015

Leave the Gun... Take the Cannoli

We made a trip back to St. Louis to see the families and also to see The Godfather with live orchestra soundtrack at Powell Hall.






The show was pretty rad but unexpectedly I think the live performance part was better at The Matrix. Godfather was rocking that awesome mandolin but Matrix just had a lot more going on, like a harp, eerie violins, and a freaking choir. Plus I think Godfather had a lot more spans of absolute silence.






Anyway Powell Hall's concession stand always has fancy made up cocktails with names that refer to the movie at hand. 


Lydia had never seen Godfather (un-American) so I made her drink enough coffee to kill a Colombian to keep her awake. It was a success. Seago and Margaret were also in attendance.


Monday, March 16, 2015

The Trip Out of Mexico

On the last day of our trip we returned home and absolutely nothing of consequence occurred. I did get some sweet shots through the plane window though.


We had one last clean, fast, cheap, non-taxi bus ride to the airport.


The check-in people made us fill out those silly paper tags even though we had our own tags plus the airline's baggage sticker things.






Up


And down we went. Over and over.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Alligators and Cinderella in Mexico

We had yet another really good lunch at a restaurant called Labna's which upped the Mayan street cred ante by having a building shaped like a pyramid. We were the only people in there so the waiter was especially nice. I guess the custom in Mexico is that it is rude to bring the bill without the guest first requesting it, even if they are clearly finished eating.


Labna's earned us additional legit tourist points because the food was not only Mexican but specifically from the Yucatan Peninsula.








Lydia's sangria seemed suspiciously like someone just poured some wine on top of some lemonade in a glass.


To start with we had papadzules: "corn tortillas stuffed with boiled eggs bathed in pumpkin seed sauce". We just shared one entree after that: poc chuc, "grilled strip of pork with local condiments and served with sour Yucatecan orange, chili/tomato sauce and steamed beans." I had an interesting sweet/tart drink made from the spinach-like chaya leaf with a shot of anise flavored xtabentĂșn to top it off. 


Outside they were already readying the mini cars for another night of festivities.


Well this was the day that our zero planning finally caught up with us. We went to the bus station to book passage to the famous Chichen Itza but were told the trip was like four hours long. The pyramid would be closed by the time we arrived.


Inside the bus station.




We attempted to salvage the remainder of the day by booking a trip to Puerto Morelos, where the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System almost touches the shore. The idea being to get some snorkeling done even though our SCUBA dreams had been scuttled. Well we got all the way to the beach and found that the rental shops had recently closed.


We caught a bit of a baseball game while walking towards the beach.




When you see a "Caution! Alligators" sign that has clearly been bitten in half it is time for you to move your ass. 


I did what I could for this little boy fishing nearby by yelling "every man for themselves!" as I jogged past. Poor little bugger. I'm a hero though.


At this point we were road weary and needed to stop for an emergency margarita and regroup.


Cutting our losses, we went back to Cancun city for another great meal. This time it was much closer to the style of Mexican restaurant that Americans are accustomed to, with lots of colorful things hanging from the ceiling and a roving mariachi band.














To finish the day we decided to risk our souls by entering the tourist trap hell called Cancun Island. It was sort of Vegas feeling with just a long straight strip of road completely flanked on either side with gigantic resorts.

We went to a mall to see Cinderella and I almost threw up in my mouth when I saw the chains. So many chains. Hooters, Hard Rock, Harley Davidson, Senor Frogs, Chili's, and the largest Bubba Gump Shrimp I've ever laid eyes on. I thought back to the lady with the sparkly cowboy boots who'd vacationed at the same place 20 times in a row. I thought to myself: this is what happens when you never grow up. This is an adult ordering from the kid's menu of life. What a horrible place this is.






Whew, things got real there for a second. Anyway I enjoyed Cinderella a lot more than I expected with the help of two actors from Game of Thrones and two more from Downton Abbey.

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.