Sunday, April 10, 2011

4-9-2011 Alkumal Beach Resort - Mexico People - food

Home again on Saturday.

We had such a great relaxing time.

The food was inviting as you can see by the photos below. Desserts my favorite.

We met lots of interesting people.

Tom and Jenny from Calgary, Alberta, Canada were both electrical engineers. She worked in the tar sands where they extract oil from the sands. To make one gallon of oil it takes six gallons of water. Quite a controversial deal. She flies 10 days into a remote area and has 4 days off. Temperatures drop to minus 40 degrees Celsius in the winter. She works in an administrative building with not much venturing out to smell the roses.

Shelly, from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada is a bundle of energy. She is probably in her mid-thirties if that and has a love for the senior population. She expressed a genuine interest in how the "aged" maintain the excitement in life. She must have hit the jackpot when she met Stan and I with our dancing and prancing to polkas along with playing accordion and saxophone at 5 am in the morning. We must have seemed strange. Shelley works for the city and brings communities together with social projects like engaging all ages to create gardens and benches along the walkways. She has a knack for talking with people. Her husband has a PHD in Environmental engineering related to clean water. Her little kids were on their way to success. At age 10, her daughter can already swim 179 laps and her son is a champ at hockey. Both children are fluent in French, Canada's second language. Hockey seems to be the well-followed pastime requirement for all residents of Canada - eh?

At water aerobics Stan met Anna from British Columbia, Canada. Seems she is quite the quilter - all by hand. I talked to her later in the week. She has a ten foot spot in her living room with a quilt rolled on the stretchers where she can sit down and hand quilt the layers together. She, like myself, has giving a lot of them away to friends and relatives. She also works with the Red Cross. They give her bags of six inch square fabric that she hand sews into squares and then quilts for homeless type folks that the Red Cross helps. She is not much for triangles or other pointy patterns. It would be interesting to see what she does with her fabrics. I gave her my email address and blog, however she said she doesn't have a computer. That's probably why she has so much time to sew by hand.

She also cans food: fish, tomatoes and the like. Stan said she either was recovering from cancer or still had it. I didn't talk to her about that, but noticed she had a fresh ten inch tattoo of a tinker bell type fairy on her calf. Hhmm. Quilting and tattoos; that's an interesting combination. I suppose if you're going through a bout of cancer you can pretty much do what you want. If you want a tattoo, oh well then - get one.

There were people on the same schedule as we were that always seemed to gravitate to the same tables for meals. We didn't really talk with them, but noticed them as they probably did us. One family with three little kids were known as the hairless family as the father didn't have a scrap of hair on his arms or legs, only his head.

Another we called the Blue Bloods after the weekly cop show that always eats together on a big long table. These vacation Blue Bloods filled a table of 10 each day to enjoy each others company on a family get together.

The gay guys, bald with short cropped hair, tan buff bodies and a few tattoos were every present, but ever private keeping to themselves. We guessed that they must have been from Italy or Brazil.

One gal got up and sang New York, New York at karaoke night. She was quite the extrovert and show-person. On Miss / Mrs Alkumal night she gargled away singing La cucaracha (sp) song. Her husband must like it. He was always smiling.

As we were winding up our week the long necks showed up. Both husband and wife have extremely long necks - about three or four inches longer than most folks. They were pretty tall and skinny, which added to their head turning look. Their little boy looked normal so far.

All the servers were very polite and cheerful. They spoke Spanish and pocito English and and we tried to follow the conversation. We spoke pocito Spanish. A smile here and there helped.

It was a beautiful relaxing vacation. We would go back.

4-8-2011 Akumal Mexico – Two Turtle Day

It was a “two-turtle” day at the bay in Akumal, Mexico. Friday was our last day at the resort. I really wanted to see the turtles toward the north end of the beach that I had heard so many people talking about.

After breakfast we hauled our bag full of snorkeling gear and towels down to where the resort sun-beds (chaise lounge chairs) end and the boats are moored in the cove. This was way before the snorkelers, in groups of ten or more start their march out to sea to view the wonders below. Snorkelers must be dropped off in van-loads from other resorts to learn snorkeling. There are always new groups out there learning. We stood beside one group to overhear how to do it the right way. We had always bobbed in the moving surf about knee high to put on our fins. They let the water slash on their fins and feet at the water’s edge facing away from the ocean. You can get into your fins a lot easier that way.

You can always tell were the snorkeling tubes congregate in the ocean, that there must be something below. We enjoyed the cool breeze and sounds of the ocean as we had the whole day to get busy looking for turtles.

I’m not a good swimmer and sometimes panic-up when I can’t touch the bottom. Swimming in the surf with the tides against you is another whole dimension from the glass-still surface of the lagoon a few days ago. At least today I didn’t need to hold Stan’s hand. I plan out the process in my head of what will be comfortable. I look to the buoy by the boats and the pod of snorkelers about 20 feet further in the distance. They are out too far but the buoy might be within a safe swimming distance, safe in my mind that is. Stan spits in my mask for me as spitting seems to be a guy thing. The spit keeps the mask from fogging up. I rinse the mask a little in the clear surf water and put it on. I start walking with my back to the surf while lifting my fins up and down as they suction to the moving sands. I lay back into the water and take a few stokes against the splash of the surf. I stand back up in waist high water and head toward Stan out into the bay.

Breathing in and out through the snorkel, everything seems ok so far. I can do twenty or so strokes and kicks. I try to breathe more shallowly so as not to panic and wear myself out. I look down at the ocean floor at the swaying thick grasses. A few small fish leisurely swim through the water. We are looking for the fine grasses that the turtles eat.

I bob up to the surface to check my location and also adjust my mask which is filling with water. So far so good. We head to the buoy another twenty or so stokes. More water fills in my mask. I come up to the surface and swallow some of the salty water leading a little panic. I hang on to the buoy for a while trying to regain my confidence and finish with the coughing fit.

Stan patiently waits for me to decide if we should go in or keep on. I know I can always float back in to the shoreline on my back if I need to and I was pretty comfortable bobbing in the ten foot deep water hanging onto the buoy’s rope out here. I just know there are turtles close by and want to see them.

The pod of snorkelers are still about twenty or more feet in the distance.

We decide to swim parallel to the beach. Slicing through the water with the surf pushing against you requires added energy. I see him. I bob up to call to Stan and point to the spot. We both float around the surface watching the turtle. He is beautiful about three feet long. His shell is covered with a thin layer of moss with his flippers dark green from age. He gently nibbles at the fine grasses on the ocean floor. When it is time for a breath he flaps his flippers a few times and floats to the surface with such grace and ease. That was worth the trip.
We swim back to shore and rest in the shade enjoying the warm ocean breeze. We meander over to the swing-bar and talk to some people while we wait for it to open. The bar has a name, which I forgot. We call it the swing-bar because there are swings hanging from the rafters. You can sit on them and swing back and forth making patterns in the sand with your feet.

I watch a couple of workers shoveling and racking the sand around so all surfaces are pretty much evenly covered. Can you imagine what it would be like to be in charge of sand dispersion? Every day the sand flows and blows around. Every day you and your buddy organize and smooth it. I guess we all do that to a certain extent, just with different material. Work on stuff and move it around. Next day more stuff. Work some more. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Time to go back out and look for turtles. Stan fixes my mask so it is tighter and maybe less prone to fill with water. I’m still pretty tired from our jaunt before so we decide for one more turtle try about 20 or so strokes out from the shoulder deep water. We swim past the thick grasses toward a patch of the thin grasses. There she is, smaller at about eighteen inches long. She must have been much younger than her friend by the buoy as her shell and flippers were a rich rust color with white under coat. She was nibbling at the grasses and then surfacing for a breath. Not sure if they were he’s and she’s, it just seemed they were.

What a delight. Made my two turtle day complete.

Friday, April 8, 2011

4-7-2011 Akumal Yal Ku Lagoon

4-7-2011 Akumal Yal Ku Lagoon

I paused on the moss covered steps to slip into my fins as I looked into the clear blue water below. Small stripped fish swam in random patterns beckoning me to come in. I put on my mask and set the snorkel then slipped into the chilled water of the Yal Ku lagoon. Viewing the rock formations below brought dimension to the beauty of the area. Colorful fish swam around the crevices of the large boulders. The water was so still in this cove it made it easy to float on the surface with a few kicks of the flippers to propel around the edge where the fish swam.
Other snorkelers dotted the surface of the quiet water along with schools of 10 or more learners wearing bright orange or yellow safety vests in classes. They talked and kicked up the water as they churned through the area.

There are rustic benches of planks of wood to sit on through-out the park. Sign remind you not to wear sunscreen unless it is environmentally biodegradable. Ours probably isn’t degradable so we wore a t-shirt. It is easy to get sunburned with the intense sun reflected off the water.

As I rest on the bench, I notice a family in the distance chatting up a storm by calling out orders to their little girl to not climb on the rocks, come over here or look over there. The dad was wearing sunglasses and carrying his snorkel and mask in his hand. How can that really work? The mom was in a blue life vest, floating high around her head, with her mask and snorkel propped up on her forehead going through the water vertically. She must have been toe tipping through the water on her sandals. What a different experience for them. The really should have taken some lessons with the others to better understand the concept of snorkeling. If they bothered to rent half of the equipment, it wouldn’t have taken much to get the whole set.

Leslie and Kevin from Bailey, Colorado, floated up to us and said hello. I hardly could recognize them in face masks and snorkeling gear from this morning when we had chatted at breakfast. They were celebrating their 32nd anniversary and loved to snorkel and watch the world below the surface of the water. Leslie knew just where to find the big turtles in the thin grasses 30 or so feet from the edge of the ocean. Today they decided to check out the lagoon.

In the morning we walked from the resort north toward along the beach to one area of Akumal where there are small shops and a few restaurants. We heard the cab ride to the Yal Ku lagoon would be $6. It was $8, but worth it on a warm day. We road through bumpy residential roads, that were in need of repair, viewing large beach homes along the way. Yal Ku is a charming area that accesses the lagoon. We paid the $9 / person entrance fee and walked through gardens of bronze sculptures and thick foliage into paradise. We had been there before with John and Rachel. It is still delightful. On the way back Leslie and Kevin gave us a ride on the back of a golf cart they had rented for the morning.

Back at the resort a hamburger or for me cheese burger, no meat hit the spot. Juicy watermelon and a cup of chocolate ice cream topped it off.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

4-6-2011 Akamal Beach Resort '- Mexico

4-6-2011 Wednesday Akumal Beach Resort – Mexico

Dancing in the sand on the beach to a live band is harder than you’d think. Your feet sink in and your knees ache as you accidentally step in the uneven surface of the sand.

The music is great. A three piece band: keyboard that mimics many instruments, drummer and vocalist might seem a little corny, but not when they all know how to play and sing all types of music really well with lots of energy it lifts your spirits.

We heard this band our first night last Saturday when they played at the bar in subdued lighting. Tonight we heard them in front of the beach bar at the far end of the resort play in the dark with dancing on a dance floor at the edge of the ocean. During the day this place is known as the regular ole’ beach filled with sand castles and the ebbs and flows of beach sand.
I was surprised the band would bring out their instruments and equipment to these sandy conditions, but they did. I tried to video a Latin song, but it was just too dark. We could barely see silhouettes of the dancers in the darkness.

This is the same beach we went snorkeling today. My equipment came from a dive shop in Australia. Stan’s came from a small shop on Wadsworth in Lakewood where he could order a prescription insert for the facemask so he could see something in the depths below. We have hauled them all over the world. It still works. It was so interesting seeing the fish swimming and patches of coral shaped like fans. Some folks we met said they saw a few large turtles in the grasses. We’ll need to look closer tomorrow.

Stan was so excited this morning to join the water aerobics again today. It is fun and sure doesn’t impact your body like regular aerobics does. We’ll need to try that back home. Vacation willingness is so much easier than breaking everyday routines.

We met G√ľnter from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada early in the morning at the pool. He does laps. Lots of them. He was on number 64. We had a little chat about getting older and keeping the body working. He had a heart attack three years ago at age 57 when he was working 12 hour days driving a truck for the coal industry - too much work and stress. He mentioned that overeating and drinking brought him to well over 300 pounds when this happened. He had really trimmed down since this eye opening experience when he took charge of his own destiny with daily exercise and weight lifting for strength training. We commiserated on the aging process and how youthful activities sneak up on you. Then one day you’re practically, if not literally, taken out as if by surprise.

Lots of people we met here are from Canada. They seem to have a stronger economy than the USA. Out of work people just don’t take vacations when they are trying to put food on the table.
One Canadian woman, originally from Uruguay, has been to this same resort about 22 times. She loves it here as so do many others. The beaches are nice and long, snorkeling close by, and food is really pretty good. They serve four or five meats every night, not that I’m a meat eater, but most are. Stan had the first slice of a big turkey breast one night and beef kabob another, along with a chunk of pork in sesame sauce. There are lots families with well behaved children enjoying each day.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

4-5-2011 Akumal Beach Resort Mexico

After our visit to the Tulum ruins we stopped at the small tourist village. I found a Subway nestled between stalls selling jewelry, tote bags, ceramics and other such souvenirs. I bought an ice cold Pepsi light for $1.70. I really hit the spot on just a humid day. I would have paid five bucks.

We watched about 6 guys dressed in full feathery costumes hustle the tourists for photos. They looked great with arms full of rows of feathers that looked like eagle wings when he spread them wide. Faces and bodies were painted as is ready to go to war. When they saw me pull out my camera from my perch in front of Subway, they made it clear photos cost money. The rebellion part of me just wouldn’t bit and it all seemed so contrived and Christmas card like. I did a little shopping instead.

We walked back to the highway passing by men selling cab rides and collectiveo (bus) ride and instead opted for the fun of just waiting by the side of the road. Soon lights flashed as the collectiveo van pulled over. Is was packed. I asked. He said three. We got on. Move stops and more people crowded on. The driver dutifully stopped at Akumal (no announcement of course- you just pay attention). We paid our 6 bucks and were relieved to be back at the hotel.
Food here is amazing. Totally inclusive with the price. All you can eat does require restraints on your part I you won’t be able to fit into the airline seats for the ride home. This is buffet type service. You learn quickly what is good and what is not so good.

Tomatoes, lettuce, guacamole if you mixed it with the chopped onion/tomato/chile salsa and squeeze some lime juice, tortilla chips, oatmeal, most things made on the grill (like omlets, grilled fish cut fresh from a 3 foot long specimen caught just today, fresh tortillas lightly browned and so forth. The cantaloupe, watermelon and honeydew are the best flavored if you pick carefully.

Desserts – some great some not so great. The beautiful cakes are actually soaked with some kind of liquid – maybe sugar water, so not to my liking. Stan gobbles them up. Cheesecake, flan and rice pudding are my favoriates. Although the coconut macaroons were great too.
Stan likes a hamburger from the snack bar by the beach, which is open all afternoon. I usually mix up the guacamole salsa combination with chips with some cantaloupe.

Onions are so mild and good you can eat them like apples. Any pasta looks disgusting. Sauce is on the side so pasta sits in large pans drying out. There is pizza, but really don’t we eat enough of that at home where it is actual fresh and delicious.

We have finally changed our at home rigorous awake schedule to a more relaxing vacation schedule. We ate breakfast first instead of swimming laps first to the best surprise. Our laps overlapped into the water exercise class so we joined them. It was the most fun and seemed like we were at camp again like when we were kids. We laughed and jiggled in the water. IAerobics I can do that make my knees work better.

It was Mexican food night at the restaurant. They went all out to provide interesting local foods. Tamales wrapped in husks along with chicken wrapped and baked in banana leaves. Burritos prepared on the grill spread with pureed black beans, rice, cheese and pulled pork browned to a slightly crunchy texture. They were delicious. Every Tuesday Stan and I go out to for Mexican food. We are right on schedule.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

4-4-2011 Tulum Mexico

4-4-2011 Tulum Mexico

After breakfast and a swim we decided to venture to Tulum, a near-by village with ancient Mayan ruins a top limestone cliffs over-looking azure-blue Caribbean ocean. Five years ago we took a day trip to Chichen Itza to walk up to the pyramids and look up close at the stone carvings built around 750AC.

Tulum is about 24 kilometers (~12 or so miles) south from Akumal where we are staying. We asked our Apple vacation representative Miguel, who casually has his office in the lobby.
Miguel is an interesting guy with those striking characteristics of the Mayan influence: rich chocolate brown skin, short in stature, high cheek bones, with a round face with equally bright round eyes and a smile full of promise and excitement. He was telling me about his little 4 year old boy. Parents are so proud of their children and have proven convictions that their child is the smartest and brightest. Miguel is no different. He is teaching his son Spanish, English and French in pretty easy fashion. He shyly let me know he was happy and surprised when his son could count in all languages.

When we talked to Miguel about things to do in the area, we mentioned Tulum. There is really not an excursion for that as it is a National Park and only a few miles down the street. You just catch a bus on the highway and there you are. The buses are not on a scheduled time and prices vary from $3 to $5 per person. Simple task for him, he lives here and speaks the language. I’m more than a little concerned about the drug traffic and associated shootings we hear about on TV. Miguel offered no assurances except to say the drug lords aren’t targeting this area as they are busy at the border. As vacationers start demanding drugs in the future, surely smart businessman will fill the demand.

Armed with vague information we lathered up with sun screen, filled our water bottle and grabbed a couple bananas left from breakfast in a bag and off we ventured to the busy highway on a very humid warm day. The sea breeze helped keep us cooled off. The traffic on the 4 lane highway is brisk. We scurried across to wait for the bus. After all this is Mexico and I wasn’t sure if I would be waiting for an old rickety bus, filled with people, chickens and goats.

It was hot and perspiration comes easily. Not a minute after we started waiting we saw a van pulling over with a label saying Collectivo on the front and side of the vehicle. We figured this must be the “bus” and bravely jumped on. I asked the driver, “how much”. He replied, “$2.” I gave him four for both of us and that was it. The van was clean, air conditioned (thank God), with local people and tourists riding from one place to another on a busy freeway. A couple of guys hopped out at resorts with their execution notebooks in hand. Others ran across the street to jump on. The driver had a little wooden box to the right of his steering wheel stacked with coins. The bus stayed full with about 14 passengers. Our turn came to jump out at Tulum. Phew we made it.!.

We crossed the busy highway to the village of Tulum following people who looked like they knew where they were going. The Mexican hawkers started their barrage of needs. One guy with plastic spoons filled with ice cream beckoned you to take one and come in a buy another. I don’t think so. Others asked if we wanted cab ride down to the ruins. Others beckon us to buy a tour ride on trolley pulled by a makeshift tractor. It did look inviting, but we kept walking and sweating. The path was dirt and mostly shaded.

We stopped briefly at the sound of drums to check out the activity in the little village to watch guys in red and white costumes perched on top a 100-foot spinning steel pole. As the drumming continued, four of them stretched their arms out and began their spinning decent upside down on ropes rotating leisurely like a maypole to the beat of the drum by the guy left perched on top. Finally they reached the ground. We found out later that is was such a feat that they had charged the other tourists $25 to see this and we had viewed it for free from the sidelines. I feel I was back stage peaking through the curtains at an Elton John concert and didn’t even know it.

Onto the ruins. We heard from some friendly people along the path coming from the ruins that is was about 200 yards down the way. Well I can probably walk a couple lengths of a football field even in hot humid backing sun. The path was flat, dusty and shaded. We arrived at the entrance and paid the fee - $51 ($5 dollars US). The park is well organized with paths that circled the area. The ruins were roped off to keep things in tack. They were smaller buildings with no carvings then Chichen Itza where you could walk up and touch the stones.

The view at the cliffs of blue-green ocean took your breath away in contrast to the dark stones from the ruins. I gingerly walked up uneven rocks of make shift steps on slippery sandals wondering if crawling up would be more appropriate. There just wasn’t much to hang onto except Stan’s hand.

We sat down under some trees to eat our bananas. A couple of women were resting and eating their sandwiches. Yikes. Up came a two-foot long iguana with spikes running the length of his back. He jumped across the ladies legs toward her sandwich. Every jumped up. The iguana blended into the rocks so well you had to really look closely to see him. When we looked, we noticed we had been sitting by his whole family of four or five smaller iguanas. We weren’t really afraid, just startled and interested.

The women tossed part of her sandwich to the eager iguana. He gobbled it in one mouthful. A guy standing next to me - speaking what sounded like German, was cajoling me to take a piece of banana in my hand and give it to the creature. Not so sure about that. I gave the man a piece of banana. His wife got impatient with our skittishness, took the banana from her husband, held it in her hand toward the iguana. It was gone in a flash as the iguana came up and grabbed it. That was exciting.

Monday, April 4, 2011

4-3-2011 Akumal Beach Resort Mexico

Had a leisurely day at the beach. We started off swimming a few laps in the pool before breakfast. It is a big pool. Wider than the normal hotel pools where you can swim across in about 13 stokes. I counted for a while twice and still was not at the end of the pool. I’m not much of a swimmer, but I know it moves the creaky joints around. I usually do the front crawl one lap and then backstroke on the next. I enjoyed looking up at the blue sky with wisps of white clouds slashed across the sky. Palm trees heavy laden with green coconuts larger than a softball draped palm fronds on either side of the pool. It was a sight to stop and enjoy. Stan and I were the only ones in the pool which made it even more pleasant. The water was warm and the gentle breeze cooled the humid air.

We are on the third floor of the hotel. The view is great. The walk up the stairs (no elevator) is tedious on my creaky knees and Stan’s lower back ache. This is the first time we actually plan and contain how many trips up and down the stairs. Instead of popping back up to change out of swim wear into street clothes, we used the near-by restroom. Oldth. It’s not for sissies.
Our room is cheerful. Opposite walls are painted the same bright colors: school bus yellow and red orange. A foot wide strip of wood is painted bright turquoise above the wall of drapes. Occasionally we see a little lizard an inch or so long scurrying by outside our doorway. I also saw some butterflies sleeping on the hallway walls this morning. They were more like moths, but big ones with pretty brown designs in their wings.

On the balcony we have a grass roof as we are on the top floor. I’m typing this note and watching the sun rise on a breezy morning. I better go get my camera.

Yesterday Stan was on the balcony listening to a bird sing his repertoire from the top of the opening to the grass roof. What an assortment of songs he had. The most delightful thing we noticed about this resort is the peace and quiet. No rowdy young adults playing loud music, drinking too much or splashing noisily in the pool. Just people quietly enjoying their day.

This resort is closed to Spring breakers and caters to mostly families of all shapes and sizes.
There are times when salsa lessons are offered by the pool with the accompanying large speakers. One evening at the bar we waited for a group of three musicians to start up. There was a drummer, keyboard and singer. No expectations on how this was going to sound. Pleasantly surprised to hear genres from the 80’s and 90’s some old time rock and roll and a bit of Latin cumbia and salsa. The dance floor was full the entire evening. Stan and I tried a few. We had just started dancing polkas, waltzes and two-steps five years ago in 2006 as an exercise after his heart attack in May of 2005. After weekly dancing for five years we can finally find the beat and have some fun.