Family in Mexico! Chuck and Tasha, Ken's brother and his wife Tasha came for a vacay/visit. First can I just say how amazing it was to have some girl time?! Also, Ken had someone other than me to talk to about Toyota's, campers and boats. Ken got some brother time, I got some girl time, and we all got some family time. Win, win, winning.
Birds. ALL the birds. Tasha, since I know you're reading this.. Remember that one time we went birding at night and I feel asleep standing up? Yeah us too...
Tasha is a professional bird lady back in Alaska. The State of Alaska pays her to play with birds, at least thats what I tell people :) So needless to say there was a good chunk of our time with the other Alaskan DiMarzios spent looking at birds. You definitely see things birding that you otherwise might not. The salt flats for instants.. Rio Lagartos, the northern most tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, one of the few places in the world where flamingos live in the wild. These beautiful and stunning pink salt marshes are where the flamingos get their vibrant pink color from, who knew!? Tasha, thats who. Rio Lagartos, also the town that flooded Chuck and Tasha's tent with rain water and almost blew it in to the river right before bed.
Chuck, Tasha and Ken all went on an early morning boat ride in Rio Lagartos to go birding while I stayed back and made sure all photos and videos were backed up. I was in panic mode during the laptop breakdown, well that and it also meant I got to sleep in. Once they got back, Ken and I went and grabbed some fish for dinner from the fisherman at the docks and met up with the other DiMarzio's at our next camp spot, a birding lodge. It was perfect. Quiet, calm and gave you all the feels. The feels that make you sleep through the night. Not to hot, not too cold. I made a fish fry dinner for all of us, the bird guide and the grounds keeper. It turned out kinda meh, I have never fried a fish whole before and only had olive oil soooooo. Between the weird fish fry dinner, good company and the night birding, it was a really great evening.
The next birding destination, Celestun, a small city on the western bit of coastal Yucatan Peninsula. It was honestly kind of a dirty shit town but we had a stellar flamingo tour there. Camped right on the beach in a super clean campground with one of the strangest campground showers yet. There was no shower head, just a whole in the wall but the water pressure was high enough that it shot straight out and turned out to be quite nice, warm even. The next morning we went to go see the flamingos, by way of tuk tuk. Four adults being towed around in a motorcycle/taxi hybrid, what could go wrong? Nothing. It turned out to be a really great trip. We saw a shit ton of flamingos, climbed around on big mounds of salt, visited an old abandoned town, and were almost killed by a snake. Apparently the older I get, the more terrified of snakes I become. Well its either that or the remanence of a traumatic snake encounter I had while hiking in Colombia. What I refer to as "a near death experience with a boa constrictor". Thankfully we all made it out alive and live to see another day and another centote.
A natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.
Yep, we love them. Any chance we get- cenotes, rivers, mineral springs, hot springs, lakes, waterfalls, you name it we want in it. Unless it's the ocean, then I don't want in it. We visited 2 of the 3 centoes (Samula and Xkeken) in Valladolid, both of which were absolutely stunning. Very few people, clean and extremely refreshing. Our campground in Vallodolid came with our very own personal dry cenote. Sounds tiny when I say personal, but it was pretty big. The dogs had a good time sniffing out all the new smells. I took pictures, Ken was probably scoping out the engineering of the well system and Chuck and Tasha were investigating all the bird nest and eggs they found.
While Chuck and Tasha went and visited some ruins, Ken and I split off and went to IK KIL, another cenote. Huge with a ton of people but we managed to find our own little nook with nobody around. It was the perfect temperature, with little tropical fish swimming all throughout. After a good stint without a shower it felt pretty amazing.
Tall pyramids, temples, ball-game courts and sacrificial sites, yes please. Uxmal, an ancient Mayan city with its largest pyramid sitting at almost 13,000 sq ft. Some ruins are all roped off and you're not allowed to climb them. Some.. are not. These, were not. We got up early enough to get in right as they opened and before the bus loads of people showed up. Not only were there no crowds, but there just weren't any other people at all, well almost... It was a great morning. I got to take photos/video with out random people in my shot, Tasha saw plenty of birds, Ken got to read EVERY SINGLE informational sign, and Chuck got a workout in! Chuck and I did modified box jumps, jumping up the stairs of the pyramid. Perfect morning.
Well, Chuck showed up in Mexico looking like a homeless DiMarzio and while in Vallodolid we went on the hunt for a barber. Thanks to google maps and Tasha's internal compass we found one! 8x10 photos of 1990's models with a variety of haircuts wallpapered the walls with a number next to it, as if this were McDonalds and he was ordering fries and a burger. After contemplating a number 7 with lighting bolts on the side, he ended on a number 15, a nice clean look. We are not so sure he ended up with a number 15 but it was a $2 hair cut so what could he expect. A few days later while driving to the ruins in Uxmal we spotted a barber on the side of the ride in a very small town and he got all fixed up with another $2 haircut and now looks like a proper DiMarzio.
After the Uxmal ruins we made our way to Campeche, where the camping situation was pretty meh. We spent the night in a public parking lot, where using the bathroom is always a challenge and usually turns into a good story and a great laugh. There was an beautiful and massive mural painted on the concrete building that boxed us in, gave it a slightly better vibe. Chuck and Tasha spent the night in a hostel in town just 5 blocks away. This is one of our favorite towns in Mexico, just had a really cool vibe. It is a walled in city, the streets lined with buildings painted with bright colors. There is one main street that is closed off to cars, where all the touristy shops and restaurants live. While Chuck and Tasha got settled in and showered, Ken and I went up on the wall surrounding the city for sunset. It was reminiscent of our time in Cartagena, Colombia a few years back. Only sunset on the wall there included two very strong and not so tasty cocktails.
The next morning we walked outside the wall to have breakfast near the market we had visited the day before, where I stocked up on a ton of delicious veggies. Coffee and tacos for breakfast. It was after breakfast that we said our goodbyes. Chuck and Tasha continued their vacation and finished the Yucatan loop, while Ken and I headed for the chilly city of San Cristobal!
Just a hop skip and a jump through the winding green jungleous mountains of the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca, and we arrived at Lake Bacalar. Passing by acres upon acres of blooming sugar cane fields. Stunning.
We had hoped to camp at this campground that I found randomly on Pinterest about six months ago, it has a swing set placed just above the shallow lake. Your feet get wet but your head stays above water, totally my style. Buuut, we were turned away because they don't accept dogs. No big deal, it was pretty over crowded with people. Just a few miles down there was a parking lot next to a restaurant that worked out perfectly for us. Big grassy lot right next to the lake with a long wooden dock and two water slides! Dogs were happy to roam and we were happy to swim and enjoy the lake. I actually swam laps if you can believe it. Sunset was perfect. Sitting on the dock with my love, feetsies in the warm water with pastel colors as far as the eye could see.
The next morning we got a late start and made our way to Puerto Morelos, just a 3.5 hour drive up the coast towards Cancun. There aren't a lot of great camping options in the Cancun area (mainly because of the dogs), so we settled on a parking lot near the beach in an ally. Sounds sketchy but it was wonderful, the only worry we had-- ANTS. The beach was full of families of all kinds, made for exceptional people watching. We spent most of our day and night walking the beach and streets, not our cup of tea but I imagine Puerto Morelos would be a great destination if you have kids and are looking for a little beach time for a week or two.
With quite a long chore list and about 5 days until Chuck and Tasha arrived, we headed for the big city, Cancun.
To do list:
4 of the 6 were completed on our first day, we make quite the efficient team. Found a nice shop owned by an english speaking Peruvian couple. New brakes and calipers, maintenance we actually planned on! They have already saved us from hitting multiple topes at full speed. The owner called her waxing lady and made me an appointment for right then. Annnnnd there was a laundry place right across the street. Three birds, one stone. The next day we did find a car wash and they did an exceptional job, felt like a whole new truck!
Last but not least, my poor laptop. It randomly decided to not turn on a few weeks ago with out warning and then two hours later booted itself up and was operating at a snails pace with the fan constantly running. At least it was on? After hours of research and following all the instructions on all of google, still no luck. She needed to go to the doctor. A few days at the Cancun laptop doctor and we were told the logic board was super dirty and possibly not salvageable. Greeaaat. So my new laptop has no brain basically. Thankfully, it is covered under warranty and will either be repaired or replaced at no expense to us. The down side is I don't have a laptop to edit photos or video, hence the wordy blog posts sans photos. I am sure eventually I will go back and add photos. In the meantime, I am not going to worry about it and be thankful I didn't loose any of my files (I store them all on an external hard drive). About 10 years ago I had my camera stolen in Argentina and lost a large number of photos from my trip in South America, it just about crushed my soul. Lesson learned and everything gets triple backed up and stored in numerous places.
Cancun was certainly not all running around checking things off our to do list. It has a lot to offer if you manage to squirm your way around and past the crowds. Or just embrace it and take them head on. We did both. One of our favorite free activities other than walking the endless beaches, is people watching. Where better to go people watching than at a busy shopping center right on the water. Coach, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, allll the fancy stores. Most with security guards at the door (which is locked until you walk right up to it, and then then unlock it). Looking and smelling as if we had just crawled out of the gutter we walked up to the large glass door at Tiffany's and waited for the guard to press the hidden unlock button.. The staff was so friendly to us even though we clearly were just looking. After walking through all the expensive shops looking at over priced watches and purses, we parked our booties at a restaurant on the water and enjoyed a cold beverage in our new prime people watching spot.
Isla Blanca, a long skinny peninsula just north of Cancun. Where the clear blue water is shallow enough to walk out a half mile and still only be up to your knees. It definitely is making the top 5 list of our favorite spots. We drove in the sand as far as the beach would allow and parked to where we could see ocean in every direction. It took a few tries and almost getting stuck in the sand but we found the perfect spot. 5pm, all the kite surfers and beach goers had called it a day and the beach was all ours. Shredded beef tacos for dinner and Jackass episodes off Youtube for some late night entertainment.
Back to Cancun the next day to await the arrive of Chuck and Tasha and find a carwash, salt water under the truck= no bueno.
Christmas Eve Eve
Christmas in Oaxaca, where all of Mexico goes for the holidays.. so we learned. There are very few camp spots in the city that allow dogs but we knew we wanted to be close to the action. So we settled on a public parking lot in the center of town. I mean, at this point I am getting quite good at peeing in a Nalgene, no se necesita baño!
We arrived in town late in the afternoon with our minds blown by the amount of people bustling through the streets. After getting settled in the camper and drugging our poor animals (damn fireworks), we headed straight to the Zocalo (main square) to check out the radish carving festival. The whole square was COMPLETELY full of people, a line with a 3 hour wait to see the radishes that zigged and zagged its way through in a surprisingly organized manner. Neither one of us have the patience for that so we just peaked through the crowds at them. Oversized radishes carved into intricate displays of art by local artists and farmers, unreal.
The food. Ohhhhh, the food.
Corn on the cob covered in mayo, chili powder, lime, and cojita crumbly cheese. I mean, come on! GET IN MY BELLY. I could have eaten 10 ears all to myself and still been able to take on the street tacos that came next.
Tacos, tacos and more tacos. Some are small & some are big, some with carne asada, some al pastor, some with meat from the head of a pig. Wait, what?! We were feeling adventurous and headed for the stand displaying an entire pig head. What could go wrong? We placed our order. There were three men in an assembly line chopping the meat into tiny little pieces and rolling them into corn tortillas with a mystery green salsa. While waiting we chatted it up with the guy next to us and learned that yes, the little chopped up bits in our tacos were in fact from the face of a pig. Snout, ears, eyes, all of it. Pig face tacos, check. We never need to eat that ever again.
The next morning we set our sites on the market for breakfast. Never met a market we didn't like. Found two seats at a busy vendor, and started scoping out the menu. We kept seeing these large crunchy tortilla type flatbreads all over the streets, so with a little research found they are called Tlyudas. A traditional Oaxacan dish that consist of a thin crispy tortilla/tostada covered with beans, different types of meat, cabbage, tomatoes, avocados and a variety of other toppings. Ken loves all things chorizo so he ordered his with chorizo. I however was still feeling adventurous. I recognized all the meats listed except for one, chapulines, so I got that. Breakfast was served and they both looked amazing! Chapulines, dried shredded beef, no big deal! A moment passes, Ken says in a very calm sweet voice, "Hey babe, I think you have a big plate of crickets." Yes, yes my darling you are correct, well almost. My tlyuda breakfast was in fact covered in about 2 cups of tiny grasshoppers. Grasshoppers toasted with garlic, lime, salt and the extract from agave worms. Mmmmmm. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't really good either...
We spent most of the day wandering the different markets and getting lost in the streets. What an incredible city. The Orchestra set up in the Zocalo was the perfect soundtrack to the sites around us. Parents playing with their children in the park, couples making out on a bench, women with large heavy stacks of blankets on their backs and arms full of trinkets trying to sell them to anyone who looked remotely interested.
It was the night of the parade, massive amounts of people all dressed in their Sunday best, as they are heading to midnight mass directly after. Loud music, parade floats, tall dancing statues on stilts? It was bizarre, amazing, loud and unexpected. Indescribable really.
Christmas day and the party had tamed down. The fireworks subsided, there was no longer a large figurine man dancing in the middle of the street. We took advantage of the quiet streets in the best way we know how, driving. Said goodbye to Oaxaca and hit the road. Going through the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca, and making our way towards the Yucatan, where eventually we meet up with Chuck and Tasha!