“Bends Ahead” in Ireland

Driving in Ireland is not for the faint of heart. For that matter, riding in cars is not for the faint hearted either. First of all, you drive on the left side of the road, the opposite of what we do in the U.S. The driver’s seat is on the right side of the car. The stick shift is to the left of the driver’s seat so you have to shift with your left hand but the shift pattern is the same as when you drive on the right. The foot pedals are also set up as they are at home so the gas pedal is on the right, the brake in the middle, and the clutch on the left. Are you totally confused yet? After an early morning flight out of Des Moines, Iowa, and an overnight flight to Dublin, Ireland, we were.

We left the airport in Dublin around 6 am on a Sunday morning to drive to our nearby hotel. It was a perfect time to get accustomed to the car while driving on the left because there was very little traffic although it was still dark and there was somewhat of a drizzle. Every block or two found us at a roundabout which the U.S. has recently caught on to so we weren’t totally outside our comfort zone except that, of course, you go to the left rather than the right in Ireland. Fortunately, we arrived at our hotel without mishap and the car sat in the parking lot for the next two days while we visited Dublin. 

It was when we left Dublin that the fun began. Jim drove and Brian navigated while Abi and I sat in the backseat of our Renault Captur. Although billed as a compact, it seemed almost mid-sized, especially on narrow roads with “bends ahead” as the signs say in Ireland.

The best feature of the car was the wifi. What an amazing invention! Ten years ago map reading, lack of detail on the map, and too few road signs to forewarn us of upcoming turns were among our biggest challenges. With wifi those issues were pretty much eliminated with Siri providing voice direction while the gps map application showed our route at all times. And you know how you get into Internet dead spots in the U.S. at the most inopportune time? That  happened rarely in even the most remote areas of Ireland. As long as we had previously mapped it, the gps continued to function.

Through Cashel, Cahir, and Cork, Jim managed fairly well. When we got close to Kinsale, however, the road got narrower, more winding, and the hedgerows were closer to the side of the  road. There was a center line only to give you a false sense of security thinking there were two lanes. It’s really one lane with a line in the middle of it.

 

Road to Kinsale

 
 That was nothing, however, compared to the next morning. Barry, our walking-tour guide, strongly recommended we drive up to the Charles Fort for a view of the harbor so I, of course, was adamant that we go. That was when the  trouble began. The road was narrow, winding, uphill, with cars parked willynilly on either side  providing one too many obstacles for Jim. Trying to avoid an oncoming car, we went over a stone step jutting into the roadway and the dashboard said STOP. We couldn’t just stop in the middle of the road and had to continue briefly to get out of the way. As we pulled into a parking spot at the fort, we felt the tire deflate and the dashboard read PUNCTURE.
While we had wifi in the car, we didn’t have phone service. Abi said the people in the vehicle next to us had uniforms and maybe they had a phone. I went over and asked if they were law enforcement, to which they responded, “Customs.” I explained our predicament, they loaned us a phone, Jim called the car rental who said get it fixed and bring the bill for reimbursement. Thank goodness we had added the extra tire coverage at the last minute!

And then, the most remarkable thing happened. The customs agents insisted they change the tire for us.

 

Customs agents changing our car tire

  

Customs agents changing our tire

 The Irish are the finest, kindest people in the world and, in our experience, the customs agents are topnotch among the Irish.  When they finished, they directed us to the nearest tyre shop to get the tire fixed. Luckily, the tyre shop got us right in and although the tire couldn’t be repaired and had to be replaced, we got a new one immediately and we were soon on our way. The visit with the proprietor, Dan Dempsey, while he worked was lively and entertaining, too.
 

Dan Dempsey Tool Hire

  

Dan Dempsey Tyre Shop

  We had a brief discussion at this point about whether Brian should take over the driving. Since we had managed pretty well with Jim driving and Brian navigating, in spite of the flat tire, the men decided to continue that plan for the moment. 

The following day, however, on the Ring of Kerry, it was time for Brian to get a taste of the driving experience in Ireland. We left Glenbeigh by 9 am to stay ahead of the tour buses and drove counter clock-wise around the Ring. Rick Steves advises that you go the opposite way toward the tour buses but we were glad we didn’t follow his advice in this instance. Meeting a bus on these roads is a terrifying experience and if you can avoid it, by all means, do. The best part was when we got to the one lane roads off the Ring that the buses couldn’t get to. 

  
  The views were definitely worth the effort. You can’t get these views from a tour bus because they can’t get here.

View from the Cliffs of Kerry of Skellig Michael and Little Skellig Islands

 

There were plenty of other obstacles on the road to avoid. This view of hay being unloaded while traffic waited was a first for us. 

Unloading hay

 Sheep grazing on the side of the road was not unusual but it was somewhat disconcerting. They must know to avoid traffic because we saw no dead sheep. 

We also encountered many bicyclists throughout the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Penninsula. I asked a local whether there were many accidents and he assured me that no one had ever been killed, mostly because the traffic moves pretty slowly. The only fatalities he sited were deer that bounded onto the road unexpectedly.
On our way to Tarbert from Dingle, we encountered runners on the road in a local race and then the Tidy Town Clean Up Days crews picking up litter along the roadways. When you add in the ever present tour buses and an occasional tractor, it seemed as if driving on these roads was more like an obstacle course than anything else.

I will add that  the motorways in Ireland are four lane like our interstates in the U.S. and they are wide and pleasant to navigate. We just didn’t travel on them much as our trip was more rural and along the Wild Atlantic Way. 

We survived the challenge of driving on many different roadways throughout the country and if you take it easy, I’m sure you’ll survive the experience, too. And it’s so worth it. But get the full coverage insurance and the extra tire coverage.
Based on travel in April, 2015   

 

Categories: Ireland, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Clontarf Castle

As a history nerd, I’ve secretly yearned to stay in a castle but honestly thought it would be way too expensive. I also believed it was contrary to my budget travel label and I would justifiably be called a hypocrite. My budget label is based on necessity as much as choice so spending $300+ for a night’s lodging would reduce the length of my trips and the number of my trips significantly. I was researching castles in Ireland and I saw the best rate for Ashford Castle was $330 per night. Not worth it to me. But then I saw this.

Screenshot from search for castle hotel prices

Screenshot from search for castle hotel prices

Do you see $110 for Clontarf Castle Hotel? That intrigued me. I checked out their website and immediately knew this was meant to be. Clontarf is a suburb in the north of Dublin where the Battle of Clontarf took place in 1014. The simple story is that High King Brian Boru (after whom my son Brian is named) defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf ending the Viking domination of Ireland. This sounded like the perfect combination of historical significance and price for a Lalor family stay.

 It’s always more complicated than the legend, however. In actuality, the Vikings had been in Ireland for a couple hundred years and were very well integrated into Irish culture by that time. In addition, there were Irish and Vikings as well as Brian Boru’s family members on both sides of the battle and the fight was really for economic domination of Dublin. Brian Boru was 72 years old and didn’t actually fight in the battle and unfortunately, he died that day. As one of our tour guides told it, they weren’t sure where he was beheaded but it was quite likely just below his chin. 

The castle was not in existence when this battle took place. The first castle on the site was actually built in 1172 by Hugh de Lacy as part of an inner circle of defense for Dublin. The original structure stood until 1835 when it was demolished because of a sinking foundation and the current structure was completed in 1837. The  castle was continuously occupied until the 1950’s when then owner, J.G.Oulton, died there. It stood vacant until the 1960’s when it was reopened for catering and cabaret events. Then it closed again in 1997 for major reburbishment, reopening in June, 1998, as a four star hotel. In 2007, another major renovation was completed to bring the castle up to today’s standards.

 

  

  

Brian, Abi, Jim at the entrance to Clontarf Castle

  

Inner courtyard at Clontarf Castle Hotel

  

Reception at Clontarf Castle Hotel

  

My Knight in Shining Armour

  

Original Tower of Castle

  

Facade of Clontarf Castle Hotel

  

The original castle with Jim’s tshirt to tell you where we are

The service at the hotel was outstanding. The staff are knowledgeable, helpful, and professional. We arrived prior to 7 am after an overnight flight and they allowed us to check in early because the rooms were ready. We were able to sleep for a couple hours which refreshed us for the heavy sightseeing schedule ahead of us. The following day, we arrived at the front desk for a 9:30 rendezvous with the Hop on Hop off bus to learn that we had just missed it due to a misunderstanding about the departure time. The staff person called the bus company and asked them to return for us. When they didn’t arrive, he sent us to city center by cab at the hotel’s expense. As we pulled away, we saw the red bus pull up to the hotel to pick us up. I call this amazing customer service on everyone’s part.

Stay tuned for more adventures in Dublin, Ireland and the countryside.  

References:

National Museum, Clontarf 1014 exhibit 

Clontarf Castle History handout at Clontarf Castle Hotel

Categories: Ireland, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Planning with the Luck O’ the Irish

I was feverishly planning our upcoming trip to Ireland and wondered whether my itinerary was too ambitious when I saw a post on the Facebook page for our local Social Media Breakfast Club. The speaker that week was Jody Halsted from Ireland Family Vacations. Coincidence? Serendipity? Divine intervention? I call it simply the luck of the Irish. Check out Jody’s website at http://irelandfamilyvacations.com. Although her presentation that day was not about Ireland, I introduced myself before she spoke and asked if she had a few minutes after the meeting to look at my itinerary. She graciously agreed.

Jody spent over half an hour with me discussing Ireland and offering suggestions. She commented that the schedule was ambitious but doable at least until we got to Galway where she expressed the same concern I had. Planning to drive from Galway to Connemara then to the Dublin area so that we could be at Newgrange the following morning was too much driving in one day. I feared as much. I couldn’t bear cutting Connemara so I finally decided we’ll take a “wait and see” approach. It’s at the end of the trip and if we’re tired of riding in the car, we’ll save it for the next trip. On the other hand, if we’re feeling fresh and raring to go, we’ll attempt it.

When she saw Dan Dooley Car Rentals on my itinerary, Jody mentioned that she especially liked that company. Renting a car is risky business in Ireland because it’s one of a few countries where the collision damage waiver (CDW) benefit on your credit card won’t cover. I even called my credit card company just to make sure and yup, I’m right. No coverage in Ireland. That makes renting a car in Ireland more expensive (and less attractive) but if you have limited time and an ambitious schedule, it’s still the most efficient way to get around albeit driving on the left side of the road. My research led me to Dan Dooley and I found they had the best rates including insurance. It’s still nearly $700 for 10 days but I feel confident about my choice after Jody’s endorsement. They also offered wi-fi in the car for an extra $10 per day. I hope this feature keeps us from getting lost and allows some tweets and instagrams en route.

The Wild Atlantic Way is a 2500 km (approx.1550 mi.) route along the western coast of Ireland from County Donegal to County Cork. This is the itinerary I wish we could follow. Wild Atlantic Way Map Below, however, is the itinerary we hope to complete in 10 days. We’ll start in Dublin, head south to Cork and Kinsale, west to County Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula, then north to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway, and finally back east to Newgrange and Trim ending in Dublin. The entire route covers half the distance of the Wild Atlantic Way at nearly 1250 km or 800 miles. Driving on the left on narrow Irish roads promises to hold adventure with a dash of challenge.   Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 11.59.20 AM Ten years ago we explored Dublin and the area southeast to Kilkenny and Waterford with our son, Michael. We especially enjoyed County Laois because the Lalor family, my husband’s people, are from this area. This trip, we’re looking forward to seeing an even larger area to the south and west with our son, Brian, and daughter-in-law, Abi. I’d love to have the time to stay in one place and explore an area fully but this itinerary requires that we stay in a different town each night. I’ve reserved B&B’s, guesthouses, and hotels in advance which means we have to keep to the schedule every day. I hope you’ll follow my future posts as I explore and tell you about the geography, history, and culture of this magical island.

If you’ve been to Ireland and have suggestions along our route, I’d love to hear from you. I’m especially interested in points of interest, historical sites, and restaurant recommendations.

Categories: Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Siesta Key Reprised…Sort of… 

It began like most trips. I had an early morning flight out of Des Moines, Iowa, so I was up by 4 am and my husband dropped me off at the airport at 5:00. The plan was to meet my friend, Gail, at the airport in Tampa, pick up a rental car, drive an hour and a half to Siesta Key, and stay at the same condo we rented last year–a Siesta Key retreat reprised, so to speak. It turned out a little different from the plan, however.

My flight from Des Moines arrived in Tampa at noon. When I arrived, I found a text from Gail saying that her 11:30 am flight from Columbus, Ohio, was delayed. That was the beginning of a long day in the airport. You know how it goes. Or maybe you don’t. The airline can’t predict how long a delay will be. The staff tries to keep the passengers informed but it’s a guessing game for everyone. There was a mechanical problem with the plane which they thought they could fix but one delay led to another and another. Consequently, I spent the day waiting, calling, texting, and exploring TPA. It’s a nice airport with great amenities and now I know almost every inch of it.

Gail called the rental car company only to learn there was good news and bad news. The good news was they would hold the car until 1 am. The bad news was I couldn’t pick up the car even if we added me as a driver because Gail had rented the car in her name. We’d have to cancel the booking and rebook at a higher rate. So, I was stuck at the airport.

Finally, at 5 pm I decided it was time for a glass of wine at Wine Flight while I pondered my situation. I checked shuttle and taxi rates to Siesta Key and found it would cost me over $100 to get there. I checked with Uber and with a $20 coupon, the cost was about $80. At 5:30 Gail called to say she was scheduled to leave Columbus on the 8:30 pm flight which would arrive at TPA about 11. If anything delayed that flight, I’d be forced to stay in a hotel at the airport when we’d already paid close to $200 a night for the condo in Siesta Key. Decision made.

I contacted Uber. If you’re not familiar with Uber, keep reading. Uber is a phone app that launched in 2009 and is now available in 55 countries and 270 cities worldwide. In short, you “request, ride, and pay via your mobile phone.” (Uber.com) I downloaded the app, entered my credit card information, and requested a ride. Within 5 minutes I had a text that said my ride was 5 minutes away. I jumped up, paid my wine bill, and flew (no pun intended) through the airport having no idea where Uber would pick me up.

I’d read about the conflict between Uber and the taxi companies in Tampa so I should have expected trouble when the fellow at the taxi stand, seeing my distress, said, “Can I help you?” and I responded, “Probably not, I’m looking for my Uber ride.” Well, that elicited a stronger reaction than I expected when he started yelling that Uber better not show up there and they would pay a $10,000 fine if they did. I raced away from the taxis and went back inside to hide. There I texted back to Uber asking where they would pick me up. The response was, “Sorry we’re not sure what you want. Download the Uber app at uber.com/app. Std msg data rates may apply.”

I opened the app and saw a picture of Nader, my driver, his car information and phone number, and a map showing his location approaching the airport. Just then my phone rang and it was Nader asking where I was. I told him my location and within minutes, he arrived to pick me up. It was that easy…once I knew what I was doing.

Whew! After observing the obligatory social conventions with Nader, otherwise known as giving him the third degree about his background, family and job, I called my husband to report my whereabouts. When I told him I was riding to Siesta Key with Nader from Uber, he said, “Oh, the company I’ve read about having some problems with sexual assaults.” Great. That gave me confidence.

Obviously, I arrived alive and unharmed. After all, you’re reading the story. I had a positive first experience with Nader from Uber and I would recommend giving Uber a try. By the way, after your ride, you rate the Uber driver on the app and the driver rates you, the customer. Interesting. Although it actually wasn’t much cheaper than a taxi or a shuttle, with the coupon I saved some money.

Siesta Key Condominiums

Siesta Key Condominiums

I finally arrived at Siesta Key about 7:30 that evening, but Gail didn’t arrive until many hours later. But that’s another story.

Based on events from March, 2015

Categories: Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Oops. How Embarrassing.

It had to happen sooner or later. That’s the risk you take when publishing digitally rather than on paper. This morning I thought of an idea for a future post and jotted down some thoughts on my computer so I could work on it later. Imagine my progression from surprise to shock to horror when I realized I hit the “publish” button instead of the “save draft” button right next to it. Why are those buttons so close to each other anyway?

NOOOOOOOOOooooooo! Panic ensued. How do I recall/retract/delete a published post? Google that quickly with shaking fingers typing the search parameters. Go to the Dashboard, select the post, hit trash. Whew! It’s gone.

Not so fast. My posts automatically go to Facebook and Twitter. I pull up Facebook and see someone already liked it. Really? A stream of consciousness, an unfinished sentence? Ugh. How do I delete a post? Done. On to Twitter. Delete tweet. Done.

Email is next. Some readers subscribe by email so that when I publish they automatically get the post in their inbox. Google that. No way to recall that I can find. Not done.

Now what? Write an explanation and publish that. Am I making it better or worse? You decide.

Lesson learned.

Categories: Uncategorized | 11 Comments

The Best Thing I Ate in Puerto Aventuras

Our first night in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, we didn’t venture too far from our condo. The closest restaurant was Hoo Haa! which sounded like a Chinese restaurant to me but fortunately it was Mexican. We like Chinese cuisine but we didn’t plan to eat any in Mexico. The food at Hoo Haa! was fine but nothing special, although I’ve since seen rave reviews on TripAdvisor and Facebook.  Following chips with pico de gallo and guacamole, Gail and I ordered the fish tacos and Jim had the specialty plate that looked quite impressive.

Chips, pico de gallo, guacamole

Fish Tacos at Hoo Haa

Jim’s Specialty Plate

The next evening we tried Hippos Marina Lounge. The Blues Brothers in front of the restaurant attracted us although honestly, what does that have to do with good food? Hippos Marina Lounge The food was well-presented but rather bland. Someone later told me when you order grilled fish in Puerto Aventuras you must tell them how to season it or it won’t be seasoned at all. I don’t know overall how accurate this is, but it was certainly true in this instance.

Grilled fish at Hippos

Grilled fish at Hippos

After asking around for restaurant recommendations, we found Latitude 20 uniformly received high marks so that was our next choice. There was good cause for the accolades.

Whole chicken at Latitude 20

Whole jerk chicken at Latitude 20

Fish at Latitude 20

Fresh grilled fish at Latitude 20

I had the fresh grilled fish with coconut curry sauce which was outstanding. The sauce definitely added plenty of flavor. All three of us thoroughly enjoyed our food and the entertainment at Latitude 20 and I hope the food is as good next year. The evening we were there, we met the new owner and I saw on Facebook that the chef, Danny, recently left as well. Next year, we’ll definitely go back to Latitude 20 and I’ll let you know whether it’s still our favorite.

We had a great meal at Cafe Ole on Sunday night when they serve all-you-can-eat ribs accompanied by beans and cole slaw. One serving was plenty for me but Jim had seconds and even thirds. The ribs were done to perfection and literally fell off the bones.

All You Can Eat Ribs at Cafe Ole

All You Can Eat Ribs at Cafe Ole

Each night we finished off the evening with home-made gelato and soon found our favorite was Jessie Gelato. I was led astray by Jim and Gail as I would never seek out dessert of my own volition. The generous servings were delicious and samples were freely provided to help us decide. Fortunately, the calories in the samples don’t count.

Jessie Gelato

Jessie Gelato

We’d read that the food in the village populated by the locals was cheap and tasty so we decided to take a walk over there and give it a try. Once there, however, common sense prevailed. I was worried about whether we’d end up with Montezuma’s revenge which Jim already had a touch of, so we opted for middle ground and visited Taco Paco located outside the village along the highway. Their excellent shrimp tacos are made fresh while you wait.

Taco Paco

Taco Paco

All in all, one of my favorite meals was actually in Tulum on the beach at Adelita’s. The chips, pico de gallo, guacamole, and fish tacos were only outdone by the tasty fresh kiwi and mango magaritas.

Adelita's at Tulum Beach

Adelita’s at Tulum Beach

I love Mexican food and with fresh ingredients, you really can’t go wrong. I tend to choose fresh local fish whenever possible since that’s not available much in North Iowa. We did try to purchase some fish from a fishing boat in the marina but we couldn’t agree on price. Next year I definitely want to try my hand at grilling local fish at the condo. We enjoyed breakfast and lunch on the balcony each day and with our view, you just can’t get any better than that.

Breakfast with a view

Breakfast on our condo balcony

Based on events from January, 2015.

Categories: Mexico, Travel | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Walk on the Wild Side in Mexico

I was surprised by some of the wildlife I saw around Puerto Aventuras. I’ve been to the Yucatán Peninsula before and naturally I’ve seen plenty of geckos, iguanas and even a cucaracha or two. Incidentally, I’m a screamer. If I see a bug, especially one like a cockroach, I’m very likely to scream.  At home I have an exterminator once a month, not because we have bugs but because I don’t ever want to see a bug in my house.  On this trip, however, I saw some animals totally unfamiliar to me so I had to consult Michaelpedia. Michaelpedia is my son, Michael, who has been an expert on animals since he was a small child. When I saw a strange animal, I texted a picture to him and soon had reply with the name.

But first, let’s see the ordinary ones. Dolphin Discovery drew a lot of interest from children and adults who want to swim with the dolphins. I’m not a fan of keeping dolphins in captivity but I did take a photo.

Dolphin at Dolphin Discovery, Puerto Aventuras

Dolphin at Dolphin Discovery, Puerto Aventuras

As we explored the beach and area around our condo, we encountered iguanas languidly sunning themselves.

Iguana

Iguana

One morning, I was up early having my coffee alone on the balcony when I saw this pair on the lawn below me.

Agouti

At first, I thought they were rabbits but when they moved I knew they were something else. I sent the photo to Michaelpedia and learned that they were agoutis, rodents that are native to this area. To see them in action, watch the video.

Then on our visit to Tulum, we spied this creature which necessitated another text photo to Michaelpedia to determine that it was a coatimundi, from the raccoon family. You can see a second one just emerging from the jungle. The woman ill-advisedly luring them with food from the jungle didn’t warrant a picture, however. I hope she didn’t get bit but why do people do that stupid stuff?

Coatimundi

Coatimundi

I tried to get a photo of the gecko that Jim inadvertently brought in from the balcony after it dropped on his iPad but the fellow was too quick for me. I would also have loved to get pictures of the sea turtles at Akamal but the crowd of humans swarming in the water made the prospect of snorkeling in that area most unappealing. I’m just happy to have digitally captured some of the amazing wildlife we encountered while in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Categories: Mexico, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

Contrasting Tulum and Akumal

A friend recently shared a blog post from a friend of hers entitled Celebrate the Contrast. It was an entertaining read and thought provoking as well. It was with that concept in mind that I approached this week’s post for my blog.  All beaches are not created equal but, that said, any beach is better than no beach in my opinion. So, it may be an easy first step in the exercise of “celebrating the contrast” to apply this concept to beaches.

There were two beaches close to Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, that we wanted to check out. The first was at Tulum. I’d been to Tulum before to see the Mayan ruins but didn’t set foot on the beach so this time we skipped the ruins entirely and went straight to the beach. Jim was suffering a bit of stomach upset so he stayed behind while Gail and I hopped on the colectivo (local bus) at Puerto Aventuras. For the 28 mile ride south, it cost us 35 pesos ($2.35) each. Then we walked about a mile from the highway to the beach, just following the foot traffic and found our way with no trouble.

Tulum National Park

Tulum National Park

We walked the beach and checked out a couple of restaurants. I’d read if you ate or drank something at a restaurant on the beach, you could use the lounge chairs and palapas all day long. A palapa is a Mayan structure with a thatched roof that really looks and acts like a sun umbrella. This restaurant, called Adelita, attracted us but when the fellow told us there was a minimum of 300 pesos to get a chair, we said we’d keep looking.

Tulum Beach

Tulum Beach

In the end, we returned to Adelita and ordered some lunch and margaritas which covered our minimum anyway. I had a mango margarita and Gail ordered the kiwi. (Watch for a future post of all the awesome food and drinks we enjoyed on the Riviera Maya.) The best part was that I would have this palapa all day to sit in the shade thus preventing a major sunburn from the intense Mexican sun.

IMG_9924

My Palapa at Adelita

The water was a beautiful turquoise, the perfect backdrop for beach photos. Disregard that guy in the water in this photo. He doesn’t belong to us.

IMG_9969

Beach at Tulum

Me and Gail

Selfie of me and Gail

One of the coolest things I had read about Mexico is that on Sundays the locals are admitted free of charge to area museums and attractions. I think Sunday is the day that families get out and do family “stuff.” We observed many Mexican families enjoying time together on the beach. Maybe they stopped here after a free visit to the ruins. I don’t know whether they owned these boats or whether the boats are considered fair game for seating space but several were occupied. I loved the local feel.

Mexican families at the beach

Mexican families at the beach

This is one of my favorite photos. I saw this little guy striding among the boats and had to capture him on film.

IMG_9936 - Version 2

Mexican boy

One more view of incredibly beautiful Tulum, a relaxing idyllic paradise on the Riviera Maya. Ahhhh.

Beach and the Caribbean from Tulum

Beach and the Caribbean from Tulum

Akumal was on our itinerary for the following day. It was only half as far as Tulum by colectivo but the cost was the same which was still a bargain. Akumal is the beach where tourists go to snorkel and view the sea turtles. Our first look at the beach was certainly the opposite of our experience on the previous day. It seemed that every inch of shade was already occupied.

Beach at Akumal

Beach at Akumal

We finally found a spot far down the beach under a spindly palm tree shared by a beautiful young couple with a selfie stick that they used to capture pictures of themselves on the beach and cavorting in the water. You can see a frond here under which I moved about every few minutes to try to stay in the shade. But the more interesting point of this photo is the swarm of people going out to snorkel to view the sea turtles. There must have been at least five or six such groups churning the water at any moment. I was glad I hadn’t planned to snorkel that day because it was a madhouse.

IMG_0007

Unfortunately, the constant cacophony of construction noise disturbed any thought of idyllic sunbathing. I would say that Akumal will become the next Playa del Carmen and we experienced it in the making.

IMG_0009 - Version 2 So, my celebrating the contrast caused me to appreciate our experience at Tulum with its low-key, relaxed, local vibe. I’m sure that young people who like to be where the action is would feel that they had scored big by being at Akumal instead. But, as I said, any beach is better than no beach at all. Yep, celebrate the contrast.

 

 

Based on events from January, 2015.

Categories: Mexico, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

#AmysGift

It’s been a tough week for bloggers in my world. We have a tight knit blogging group in North Iowa and on Wednesday, February 25, 2015, in the midst of a snow storm, one of our bloggers died in a terrible weather-related car accident after attending our monthly Social Media Breakfast.

Amy was a young, beautiful, talented woman who welcomed me into the world of blogging. I’m still pretty new to so many aspects of this world and she, in my opinion, was a genius with this stuff. I attended a previous meeting where she presented a number of apps and techniques that I was certain would improve my blog by leaps and bounds. I told her afterward that I needed to master those concepts but it was too much for me to comprehend the first time through. She breezily told me she’d share the powerpoint with me but of course, that didn’t happen before her tragic death.

Another time, at a birthday lunch for one of the bloggers, she shared with me that school had been difficult for her. I was surprised, to say the least, because this young lady was so knowledgeable and poised that I would have thought everything came easily to her. Her sharing that piece of personal information increased my admiration for her.

The visitation last night, March 1, was amazing. There must have been at least 800 people waiting two hours or more to offer their condolences to Amy’s family. What a tribute in this fast paced impatient world we currently inhabit. Today, the church was filled to capacity and the service was, without a doubt, the most moving I’ve witnessed. Amy’s cousin eulogized her with love, grace, and humor and the minister read a letter from Amy’s fiancee, Spenser, that expressed the depth of love every woman longs to hear from her beloved.

I was not a close friend and I haven’t known Amy for a long time but I am forever changed by knowing her and for that, I am grateful. That is Amy’s gift.

Amy

Amy

 

North Iowa Bloggers Selfie with Amy

North Iowa Bloggers Selfie with Amy

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Better than Finding 20 Bucks in a Cenote

I’m from a family of storytellers. Funny storytellers. I’m a storyteller, too, but not a very funny one. Or so they tell me. Years ago, my sons shared a technique to rescue my stories from a boring finish. At the end of a boring story, they told me to say, “…and then I found 20 bucks.”  It’s been useful at times.

While we were at the Latitude 20 Restaurant enjoying the results of our Mexican cooking class, we asked the women sitting with us about the cenotes in the area. A cenote (say-NO-tay) is a sinkhole created when porous limestone collapses into the underground water beneath it. Cenotes were sacred to the indigenous Mayan people who regarded them as the entrance to the underworld.  They were also the only source of fresh drinking water. There are over 7000 of these sinkholes on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and we definitely wanted to see some.

We got a helpful tip from one woman who told us a number of cenotes have been developed into Disney type tourist attractions and we first needed to decide what kind of experience we were after. The adventure parks or private tours in the area cost $100-$150 per person depending on the package which may include a guide, transportation, equipment, and lunch.

After studying the list of nearby cenotes and their amenities, we chose one that allowed snorkeling and provided minimal facilities including restrooms and a restaurant but not the crowded, popular adventure park atmosphere. Rather than hire a guide, we opted to do it ourselves at a total cost of less than $25 each. Our first stop was the dive shop to rent our snorkel equipment. We rented the snorkel tube, mask, fins, and life vest for the day for $10. Gail also rented a shorty wetsuit for another $10 as the water in the cenotes comes from underground and can be chilly.

 

Dive shop in Puerto Aventuras

Dive shop in Puerto Aventuras

Talking to the staff at the dive shop, we learned that Dos Ojos, the cenote we planned to visit, was closed that day, Saturday, for a Mayan religious observance. He suggested another cenote, Chikin Ha. So, Chikin Ha it was. On the highway outside Puerto Aventuras we hopped on the local bus, called a colectiva, to ride the couple of miles to the entrance at Chikin Ha. The cost was 25 pesos or about $2.

When we got off the bus there was a sign, a ticket booth, and a guy selling tickets. He collected our fee which was about $10 and directed us to walk 15 minutes down the dirt road where he said they would collect our tickets and direct us to the cenotes. We walked, and walked, and walked, toting our equipment and finally arrived more than a half an hour later. If I hadn’t seen signs along the way, I may have questioned whether we’d find anything back there.

The road to Chikin Ha

The road to Chikin Ha

Chikin Ha

Chikin Ha Ecopark

When we finally arrived, we were somewhat surprised to be almost the only ones there. The ticket taker seemed listless and disinterested and really preferred to talk on her cell phone rather than give us directions. I admit I thought maybe we’d made a bad pick. The restrooms were fine, however, so we used them and we were ready to explore the three cenotes in this park.

Chikin Ha Ecopark

Chikin Ha Ecopark

 

Chikin Ha

Chikin Ha

As we walked the path to the first cenote, we encountered this fellow with a Harris hawk. I have no idea why he and the hawk were there.

Harris Hawk

Harris Hawk

Cenotes range from entirely open, like a lake, to entirely enclosed within a cave and many variations in between. The first at Chikin Ha was open. The water was so clear that the limestone rock and fish beneath the surface were easily visible.

Open Cenote at Chikin Ha

Open Cenote at Chikin Ha

 

Chikin Ha Cenotes

Chikin Ha Cenotes

We decided not to snorkel in this cenote and moved on to the second. The second cenote was in a cave and we struck up a conversation with the young couple we encountered swimming in it. Hannah and David were from Australia traveling around Mexico and heading next to Cuba. They had been to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, and disliked it as too touristy but they loved the ruins at Tulum because it was the opposite. They had talked to someone familiar with many of the cenotes in the area, and picked Chikin Ha based on the recommendation that it was exceedingly beautiful and not so touristy. I felt reassured that maybe this was a good pick, after all!

Gail and Jim in cenote

Gail and Jim in cenote

The line that you see in the photo above was very useful for guiding us across the cenote allowing us to keep our masks in the water to see beneath us.

I'm going in!

I’m going in!

Swimming and snorkeling wasn’t allowed in the third cenote due to its fragile ecosystem. It was probably the most beautiful of the three and we could fully appreciate it without getting in the water. The turquoise color is so amazing and really more impressive than I could capture in photos. There were also many stalactites and stalagmites in this cenote.

Cenote at Chikin Ha

Cenote at Chikin Ha

We observed a candle ceremony at the back of the cave of the third cenote. We assumed this was a Mayan religious ceremony of some sort.

Mayan ceremony at Chikin Ha

Mayan ceremony at Chikin Ha

When I was about to enter the water of the second cenote, I went to remove my Fitbit (an activity monitor) from my wrist and discovered it was gone. I howled to Jim, “Oh no, I lost my Fitbit!” Hannah asked, “What color is it?” I responded, “Orange” and she said, “We found it on the road on our way in!”  So, while I didn’t find 20 bucks on this adventure, something even better happened.

 

Based on events of January, 2015

 

 

Categories: Mexico, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

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