Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Best Day in Mexico - Part 1


I jolt awake. My arm flails around the nightstand searching for the phone.


"Mumble, mumble, mumble."

"Um....okay, thanks." I have no idea what the person on the other line said, but since we requested the wake up call, I imagine it was something like, wake up sleepy gringos.  

We tumble out of bed, dress, then head outside.

The sky is still dark, the resort paths are guest free. In the lobby we are greeted by a representative from Holbox Adventure. We climb into a vehicle that reminds me of the vehicles at the Dinosaur ride in Disney's Animal Kingdom.  The driver drops us off at the ferry. Ferry tickets are placed in our hands along with an envelope. We are instructed to hand the envelope over to Celio who will be waiting for us on the other side.

The ferry is a happening place at the crack of dawn. Before we can board we must wait for the ferry to be unloaded. Boxes brimming with avocados, bags filled with tortillas, and cases of soda are carried off the boat then stacked into organized piles. Local island businesses arrive and load up their golf carts with their needed goods. 

We are finally given the all clear to board.

On the other side we diligently hand the envelope over to the young man who introduces himself as Celio. He escorts us to a large comfortable van. We take the seats in the very back.  There is another couple from the United States joining us on the tour. They are not chatty, and seem interested in keeping to themselves, so the long van ride passes quietly.

Just before reaching our destination, the van stops. A gregarious man, who introduces himself as Jose, climbs into the passenger seat.  Jose will be our tour guide for the day. He wastes no time and plunges into disseminating information about the area.

Jose announces that he wants us to see our lunch being made, so we stop by a little roadside restaurant. Inside a wooden building a woman is using a long spoon to stir a huge metal pan of slowly roasting tomatoes. Three little girls, the oldest looks no older than eight, sit around a low table. A mountain of dough looms on the table's center. The girls use their small hands to pat down  balls of dough, then they use wooden dowels to transform the dough into flat tortillas. When we enter, the girls erupt into giggles, quiet, cast glances at us, and dissolve into giggles again.  I wish I had taken a photo, but in the moment it seemed too intrusive.

We load back into the van and finally arrive at Chichen Itza.

It's still early. We have arrived ahead of the larger tour groups/buses. Jose encourages us to hustle so we can remain well ahead of the soon to arrive crowds.

Our first stop is the main temple.

Like all of the other tour guides, Jose claps his  hands to demonstrate the echo. The temple was built so that when someone stood at the top, their voice could be amplified for all the people to hear. We hear the other guides clapping throughout the morning.

One of the best things about having a tour guide is having someone to take your picture

Jose was an amazing guide. Not only did he posses a wealth of Mayan information, you could feel his passion for Mayan history and culture oozing out of him with every word.

Mayan Fun Facts

- Some of the Mayans were very smart and figured out things like how solar/lunar eclipses worked and when they would happen. They kept this information to themselves, then when an eclipse happened they gathered all of the people together and pretended that they were the ones who made the moon or the sun disappear. The people thought that they were awesome magical gods instead of mere mortals and both feared and revered them. Super clever. 

The Observatory

- There was once a Mayan Queen named Fire Macaw (that would be my name too if I was a Mayan Queen). We got to see her office.

The office of Fire Macaw
-The Mayans played a game that involved putting a ball through a high hoop without using their hands. The players of the game would dress up like their favorite fierce animal. Some would be eagles, or leopards, or snakes. Sometimes instead of going to war, disputes were settled by playing the game. 

Game hoop

Ball Court
- The Mayans practiced human sacrifice. Instead of sacrificing weak virgins like other cultures, the Mayans sacrificed the best athlete or the strongest warrior. It was a great honor to be sacrificed. The sacrifice would be placed on an alter in front of everyone. A very skilled person would then use a knife to remove the still beating heart from the sacrifice and hold it up for everyone to see. The sacrifice was supposed to ensure that the sun continued to burn.

-The Mayans enjoyed their theatrics. There would be ceremonies and parties that included a lot of dressing in costumes, dancing, and pyrotechnics. They figured out a way to make the building's carved snakes breath actual fire. 

Our visit to Chichen Itza was great. Even when we had to walk through the pathways of vendors selling trinkets and souvenirs. 

I would suggest hiring a guide or going on a tour as Jose was able to tell us information, like interpreting the carvings on the buildings, that we would not have known if we just casually visited on our own. I'm glad we booked with Holbox Adventure. With only four of us on the tour, we were able to see everything at the site before it got too crowed. 

The carvings on the walls were used to record and tell the story of epic city evens

Some people might argue that Chichen Itza is a bit touristy, but that is no reason not to see it.  It's not the Mayan's fault that they built something truly spectacular. I'm sure they didn't think that someday people from all over the world would arrive in buses and vans to marvel at their history and architecture. I'm forever grateful that the ruins site is something we got to experience and  see with our eyeballs in person.

 As we boarded the van we had to exclaim,

"This is the best day!"

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Holbox Island Town by Day

After our lunch, we decided to take a stroll around town. We love chill beach towns.

Holbox has a nice locals vibe. Just people going about their day to day lives without a lot of emphasis on trying to get you to part with your tourist dollars. It was the kind of place where you could just hang; just be.

It's an island where artists and artisans like to come to find inspiration and maybe set up a shop.

The artist spirit is also reflected through the colorful murals that decorate the town's walls.

Some doggies are having a siesta 

I would like this mural painted on my wall at home. It was my favorite. 
 Of course no matter how small or large a town is, I'll always find some ice cream.  This ice cream shop on Holbox had one of my favorite ice cream shop names ever, Por que No (Why Not). 

The ice cream was less ice cream and more like gelato. 

I chose the passion fruit (that's the small size), while Shannon got orange. They both had the same smooth ultra creamy texture, but my passion fruit was boldly tart; Shannon's flavor was light and subtle. We were both happy with our personal flavor choices.  

While we sat eating our ice cream, a television nearby blared what I could only guess was the Mexican version of Jerry Springer. Also while we enjoyed our treats the rain began.  There would be a downpour then it would stop giving you the false hope that it was over. Then just as you were out in the open, the heavens would rain down their deluge once again.  We decided that it was probably time to head back to the Villas. It took us a while as we kept having to find places to duck out of the way of the rain drops.

The view from one of our hideouts.

The roads in town are dirt and flood quickly.  All those years of playing the floor is hot lava as a kid finally paid off as we gingerly footed our way back to the Villas. Exploring the rest of the town would have to wait for another day...or night. 

Island Arcade 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Restaurant Colibri-Holbox Island

Since lounging on the beach reading books really works up an appetite, we decided to meander into town for some lunch on our first full day on Isla Holbox.  

We chose Restaurant Colibri based on a recommendation from a friend.

We settled into an outdoor table situated across from the fruit stand. 

The fruit stand was a happening place. It was lots of fun watching people coming and going, buying their fruit for the day.

For drinks, we each ordered a fresh fruit juice.  I had a mango, coconut, and pineapple juice. It was quite refreshing. 

For our meal, we started off with chips and guacamole. I love fresh guacamole and you could taste the freshness in every bite. 

For our entrees, I got the chicken enchiladas suizas,

and Shannon got the steak tacos. 

The food was yummy, and the portions were huge, enough to keep us from needing dinner that evening.

While we were eating, we saw a crowd gathering across the street.  Little by little more and more people kept arriving and milling about in front of a green concrete building.  We wondered aloud about what could be going on. 

"Maybe something cool we need to check out after our meal?"  

An Irish couple sitting at a table nearby informed us that the crowd had gathered because the only ATM on the island had been broken for several days and word had spread that the ATM repair guy had just shown up. All of the people, including the Irish couple, who had decided to hang out with some fruit juice while waiting, were hoping to replenish their depleted funds.

Our other source of entertainment involved two British children with very laid back parents (I’m all for not being a helicopter parent, but there is a balance, especially when it involves other people’s property). We recognized the children because they were also staying at the Villas.  They were like two small tornadoes.  Here they are out of sight of their parents, playing on a bike that someone had left parked by a shop. 

The owner returned to find the wooden bed on the front of his bike broken.  They were also playing, again out sight of their parents, in the shop across the street, touching items on a table, dropping them on the ground.  A young boy, probably no more than four years old and presumed to be related to the shop’s owner emerged wielding a plastic baseball bat. We couldn’t tell if he was trying to get them to leave or if he wanted to play a friendly game of ball.  It was great entertainment, better than watching television. 

If you are visiting Holbox, I would recommend Restaurant Colibri, especially for lunch where you can get a good meal with large portions while being situated in the middle of all of the town’s action.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Martians, Marshmallows, and Music

Saturday started off with one of my favorite events of the year, International Table Top Day.  

For those of you not familiar, Table Top Day, promoted by Geek and Sundry and their show Table Top, is a day for people to get together to celebrate and play board games.

As in previous years, I celebrated Table Top Day at AllThings Fun in Berlin NJ.  This was the first year that Shannon joined me.

The turn-out for Table Top Day was great. The place was jumping.

Lots of people were playing games.

We started out by playing a round of Martian Dice. 

Martian Dice is a slightly more complex version of Zombie Dice.  It was a quick, fun, easy game, made all the better by the fact that I ended up the winner.

Speaking of quick, fun, and easy games, next we played a few rounds of Tsuro.  We own Tsuro and love that it’s easy to explain and play.

We use Tsuro as a warm up game to give everyone a chance to turn on their board game brains before moving on to something more challenging.

We were excited to run into our game board enthusiast friends, Josh and Len, at the Table Top Day event.  They invited us to play a card game called Guillotine with them.

Guillotine was yet another easy to pick up, entertaining game. 

It was so fun, we ordered a copy for our ever growing game collection.  

Lastly, we played Batman Love Letters. 

I played original Love Letters before  and liked the game. Using Batman characters made the game extra special.  A shout out to Pete who was really nice and talked us through the game as we played. 

We probably would have stayed longer, but we had to jet to ensure a punctual arrival to our dinner reservation. Before leaving we placed the tickets we earned playing games into the red cups of winning.

During dinner we found out that I won a preview copy of a game called Dark Seas, and an exclusive Table Top Day set of Dix-it cards (I love Dix-it).  

Shannon also ended up winning the Dix-it cards too.We both put tickets in the cup with the hopes that one of us would win them. It was a terrific event, as always.

For dinner that evening, we made a reservation at Jamonera. 

We adore tapas and have wanted to try Jamonera for at least a year. We had-


Complimentary Olives

Meat and Cheese Plate

Stuffed Dates wrapped in Bacon

Radish and Fava Bean toasts

Scallops and homemade Sausage


Sundae topped with a toasted marshmallow

White Peach Sangria sorbet with rosemary shortbread cookies 

Everything was wonderful.  We love stuffed dates and declared Jamonera’s stuffed dates the best we have had so far.  We look forward to going back in the future to sample more of the menu.

After dinner we made our way to Philadelphia’s Academy of Music.  

This was actually our second night in a row visiting the Academy of music. We were there the previous evening to hear the fantastic Sufjan Stevens.

We were back, this time to jazz geek out over Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea.  It’s hard to describe the amazingness that was seeing these two jazz legends playing together on stage.

Between songs they bantered, chatted with the crowd, and during their last song they encouraged audience participation.

It felt less like a formal concert and more like two friends hanging out, jamming together.  It was the kind of music event that made you feel like music is, and was, and always will be. That music isn’t something that was invented, but it is something that is inside everyone like blood and guts. 

It was a marvelous day.

The encore. The image is terrible, but the music is good.