Sunday, July 29, 2012

Last Day in Paradise. For now...

Day Sunday, July 29, 2012
Our last day in paradise. It was an easy day. We got up and had breakfast at Las Mañanitas and then came back to the hotel to relax. Dad and I spent some time in the hotel pool. It helped my sunburn to be immersed in cool water. I took a nap after that and then we headed to La Vagabunda for our last supper. I had filet mignon and Dad had chicken. I did some last-minute shopping and we got some ice cream at Dairy Queen and then headed back to the hotel. 

I have packed my bags and will be ready to go tomorrow morning with dreams of our next trip on my mind.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Whale of a Shark!

Day 6: Thursday, July 26, 2012
This was a do-nothing day, the first one since we arrived. We had nothing scheduled so Dad and I went shopping and had a very nice meal at a restaurant - I had filet mignon. It was delicious. Nothing more to really say about this day, it was one of rest and we both needed that.

Day 7: Friday, July 27, 2012
I woke up at 6:15 a.m. to get ready for the journey to Cancun to snorkel with the whale sharks! It was super early, but I was so excited to have the opportunity to do it. The van picked me up around 6:55 and we were off. It's a long journey, about an hour by car, but we finally got there and got loaded on the boats. 

That was when things took an unfortunate turn for many of us. It takes A LONG TIME to find the whale sharks in the ocean. They tend to congregate together and it seemed we were on the boat forever. In reality, it was about 90 minutes. I do not get sea sick. Ever. This has never been an issue for me. I'm from Oregon after all. Water in all forms is plentiful there - rain, the Pacific Ocean. Water? Please, it's no problem for me. But imagine being on a roller coaster for 90 minutes. That is what this was like. 

Thankfully, I had not eaten breakfast so that when I threw up over the side of the boat, it was only water. Ironic. Water was causing the problem and it's all I had on my stomach. I was not alone. Two others in my boat and some others in the other boats also tossed their cookies (or in my case, water) over the side of the boat. It was rough going. 

BUT!! It was worth it. Swimming and snorkeling with the whale sharks was AMAZING!!! I cannot recommend it enough. The whale sharks are huge and they swim close to the surface so a snorkel is enough to be able to see them. They come very close too, you can literally reach out and touch them. They don't seem to mind the humans being in their "house." They just swim on by, no problem. We were allowed to swim with them three times for about 7-10 minutes each time. I did it twice and opted to just stay on the boat after that and try to calm my stomach.

Just a note - whale sharks could literally eat an entire adult human in one gulp. They are huge and their mouths can span up to four feet wide! Fortunately, they are incapable of biting or chewing. They feed by opening their mouths, distending the jaws and sucking, then closing the mouth while water flows out the gills. They mainly eat plankton and occasionally some fish that might get in the way when they are sucking in the plankton, but they do not feed on humans. They are sometimes known as the "gentle giants" of the sea since they are the world's largest fish, but they are not predatory. 

After everyone was done, we were off to the shore. My stomach was still practicing for a spot on the Olympic gymnastics team so I laid down on the bench in the back of the boat and fell asleep. Unfortunately, I forgot to put sunscreen on because I was feeling so shitty, I just didn't think of it. My legs, arms, hands, face, and neck have been severely burnt. I am a pale person who does not tan. At all. Ever. DOES. NOT. TAN. Yeah. So now I am walking around with a funky looking burn and I'm having a hard time bending my knees, but it was worth it.

Before going back to shore, the boat pulled up and anchored close to the shore and we were allowed to swim in the water. It was no more than 5 feet deep, but it was absolutely beautiful! The water and the palm trees looked like a postcard. I took some pictures of the trees because they literally were postcard worthy shots.  The captain gave us some tortilla chips. They were put on a life vest and tethered to the boat with a rope - our makeshift food bar! They also served shrimp ceviche, which I could not eat since I am allergic to shellfish. But the chips were good and they gave out ham and cheese sandwiches as well so it was bueno!

We then got in the boat and headed back to our dock where we were to catch the van to go back to the hotel. I bought a T-shirt of course. Made it back to the hotel and took a shower and then found my Dad. He had gone diving at the Cenotes while I was communing with the whale sharks. He doesn't like snorkeling so we went our separate ways for Friday activities. 

Day 8: Saturday, July 28, 2012
This has been an easy day for me. Dad went reef diving and my sunburn and I went shopping. I went to the dive shop to collect Dad and we had a nice dinner at La Vagabunda followed by ice cream at Dairy Queen. We headed back to the hotel. I've been napping and watching TV, just unwinding and relaxing. We leave on Monday. I wish I could hang out at the beach forever, but life calls me back. For now.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

In the Cave - Playa Del Carmen

DAY 4: Tuesday, July 24, 2012
This day began early once again. Dad and I were at breakfast at our hotel at 7:30. We headed to the dive shop around 8:15. We had to be there by 8:30 and it's a short walk so we set off on foot. We got there while our gear was being loaded onto the truck. We were going to dive a Cenote and were joined by a couple from China. They are an interesting set of people in that they are originally from China, but are working in Cuba for a telecommunications company and of course, are vacationing in Mexico right now. The man spoke English and Chinese, and the woman spoke Chinese, English, and Spanish. We have met some very interesting people on this trip so far.

We got in the truck and drove about 35 minutes or so to the Cenotes. The dive master showed us where we would be diving and we got our gear on and made the trek about 100 yards down some stairs to the diving site. We did this in full diving gear, including the tank on the back. It was heavy, but manageable. Unfortunately, I have an internal bruise on the bottom of my left heel right now so that makes walking somewhat painful and adding the weight of the gear and the tank was a bit rough, but as I said, it was managable.

And totally worth it! Once we got in the water and began the dive, I was in awe!! This place is AMAZING!! It's called Dos Ojos and is so beautiful I cannot even describe it. It contains a lot of stalactites and stalagmites and is very dark as you dive through so we used our flashlights to keep track of each other and to see everything around us.

The second dive took place in the same Cenote, but it was the other side of it and it contained a literal bat cave! The water has a place where bats congregate. It's so quiet and peaceful there, almost ethereal. Everything about the Cenotes is beautiful and I highly recommend diving them. I say this despite the fact that one of the stalactites jumped out and attacked me as I came around a corner leaving a nice bump on my noggin. Luckily, my brain has not been affected at all...well, I'm fairly sure of that anyway.

After our dive, we purchased T-shirts and a photo CD of our dive (like any good Americans on vacation, we must buy T-shirts and photos) and then got in the truck for the drive back to the dive shop. After that, Dad and I made our way to Las Mañanitas for dinner, which was quite a surprise. We ate breakfast there in February when we passed through Playa for a few hours, but had never eaten dinner there. The portions are HUGE! You definitely get what you pay for and then some. After that, we stopped by the Dairy Queen. Again, we are total Americans. Neither Dad nor I had eaten at DQ in quite sometime so it was a nice treat.

We grabbed a taxi back to the hotel because we were tired. I have now showered and stretched out in the best bed ever. I seriously want to take this bed with me when I leave, it is SO comfortable. This was an amazing day and finally, on Day 4, I am starting to feel really relaxed and peaceful. Tomorrow, we have opted to dive Cenotes once again. I think we will be at a different Cenote than the one today, but if not, that is OK because seeing this one again would be welcome too!

Day 5: Wednesday, July 25, 2012

This day started with my not feeling so well, but I quickly got over it, which was good because we had diving to do! Dad and I had breakfast at the hotel and then headed to the dive shop where we hopped in the truck to make the trip to the Cenotes. We had the same dive master, Andrea. She is amazing so we were both happy to have her with us. We were also joined by a man visiting from Spain so it was the three of us and Andrea. A good group for the dive. 

We arrived at Chac Mool, the Cenote site. It was gorgeous!! I love the Cenotes, they are so peaceful and calm on the surface and what lies beneath them is amazing. A true natural wonder!! 

The dive master showed us the two sites we would be diving, they were next to each other. We then got our gear on and trekked over to the site, which was a few yards away. Once there, we got in the water and were ready to go. I simply cannot do justice to the Cenotes. It's just incredible, absolutely incredible. We dove for about 40 minutes and part of the dive was a cave where we could see tree roots growing. One of them grows until it reaches water and then stops so it has a flat surface underneath it. It was fascinating to have a view of the roots from underground. It's so peaceful and it feels like communing with nature when I am diving. I love it!

The second Cenote was just as wonderful as the first. It was deeper and had more intricate structures, but it was beautiful as well. I am in awe of these natural wonders. Words really cannot do them justice. 

After the dive, we headed back to the dive shop. I went to pay for our diving, only to find that my bank put a block in my card for security reasons. This meant I had to call them (at $1.79 a minute) and convince them I had not stolen my own debit card so they would remove the block and I could pay for the dives. My Dad will reimburse me for all of this since his credit card was stolen at the Subway earlier this week and normally he would pay for it. But still, it was irritating to be on the phone with this guy for 20 minutes at such a high cost. I appreciate my bank offering security measures, but it annoyed me. Anyway, we got that all taken care of and then headed over to Las Mañanitas  for another excellent meal. After that, we had Dairy Queen again. We are treating ourselves down here. :-)

We walked back to the hotel and I took a much needed shower and nap. Now I am lounging in bed and resting. Tomorrow, we have nothing on the agenda at all, it's a free day. So I am going to sleep in and go shopping. Dad will come with me. He's one of the few men in the world who can stand accompanying a woman who shops for hours. LOL!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Buenas noches desde Playa del Carmen, Mexico!

Good evening from Playa Del Carmen, Mexico! Dad and I arrived on Saturday afternoon and it has been quite an adventure already! I usually chronicle the details of our vacation on my blog, but I'm already behind on this one. I need to catch up, so be warned - the boring details will be included. Read on at your own risk.

DAY 1: Saturday, July 21, 2012
I was up early for my flight. I arrived at the airport just after 7:00 a.m. for my 9:00 a.m flight. The ticket counter and security lines were long. In the security line was a woman with two children, one of whom was 2 or 3 years old. He was a menace. The child tore down the security line separator while playing on it with his cars and then proceeded to have a tantrum where he laid on the floor crying. His mother removed his shoes and left him on the floor as she tried to get ready to proceed through the metal detectors. The child then took off his pants, stood up and removed his diaper. At this point, the TSA agent told the woman that she needed to put the child's diaper back on him or at least make sure he was covered. Fun times.

I made it on to my flight and proceeded to meet a very interesting woman who had recently retired. She and I had a very interesting conversation, which made the flight go faster. It's always nice to meet interesting people. More on her in another post!

I arrived at Cancun Airport. You cannot fly directly to Playa Del Carmen, you must go to Cancun and then take ground transportation to Playa. I waited for my father's flight. He was arriving an hour later. We had some trouble finding each other, but finally did so and then got on the bus to travel to Playa. We arrived in the late afternoon, at which point we checked into our hotel. It's a small boutique hotel on 5th Avenue, which is basically the main street in town. There are restaurants, bars, shops, etc. all on 5th. After getting settled in the room, we went to Dive Shop Mexico to plan our dives for the week. Having accomplished that, we headed to El Fogon for fajitas. This was a restaurant we had heard many good reviews about and decided we needed to try.

Unfortunately, it was a bit of a disappointment for us both. Dad and I had beef fajitas and they were very good, but they did not include rice or refried beans and there was no sour cream. We are glad to have tried the place, but we both enjoy rice and refried beans with our fajitas and I love sour cream with mine so we will not be visiting El Fogon again. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and I promptly fell asleep at 7 p.m. It was an exhausting day.

DAY 2: Sunday July 22, 2012
We were up VERY early on this day because we were going to see Chichen Itza! Both my Dad and I have a great interest in history in general so we love things like this. We made our way to the hotel where the tour company would be picking us up at 7:30. The bus ride to Chichen Itza is very long. We first stopped at a cenote and then made our way to a Mexican buffet, which was included in the tour. It was good food for a reasonable price, but we found out they make their money on the drinks. Dad had two sodas and I had one, which we ended up paying $10 for. This was OK since we were easily able to pay it, but it still would have been nice to know that the drinks were not included.

After this, we were again on the bus for another hour or so before arriving at Chichen Itza. The place was PACKED! Think Disneyland in the middle of summer! It literally was wall to wall people and with the humidity already high, the amount of people generating body heat did not help. We received a guided tour of the grounds. Chichen Itza is incredible! There are simply no words for it. It has often been shown on television and you can see it on the Internet of course, but there is no substitute for seeing it in person. I highly recommend it, even with the hoards of people.

Dad and I finished with Chichen Itza around 4:30 so we took a seat outside to wait for the rest of our group. There were a ton of tour buses around the place. Suddenly, it started raining and we ran to take refuge under a tree with several other people. Dad said he thought he saw our tour bus across the road. I checked it out and indeed it was ours so we made a run for it and settled into our seats while watching others dash through the rain. I am originally from Oregon so rain doesn't faze me at all. It is interesting to see how others can become practically debilitated by it though!

We left Chichen Itza around 5:30 p.m. and proceeded to spend the next four hours in the bus. We made a small 20 minute stop in a little town not far away and the rest of the time was traveling back to Playa. The bus was crowded with people and everyone was let off at their hotels. Dad and I were last. They let us off about a block from the hotel meeting point (which was not where we were staying, but rather a few blocks away) and we decided to see if we could find something to eat that late. We did not need to worry. 5th Avenue was full of open restaurants just getting started for the evening it seemed. We stopped at one of the first places we saw. Dad had chicken and I had fajitas. It was not bad at all. We got back to our hotel, went to our respective rooms and dropped from exhaustion.

Day 3: Monday, July 23, 2012
This day did not begin as early as the others, which was a blessing. Dad and I both needed a day that started at a reasonable hour. We met for breakfast around 8:30. The hotel serves a continental breakfast on their rooftop, so we went up there and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. We then made our way to the dive shop for our first dives of the trip! We decided to take a dip in the dive shop pool just to get reacquainted with the diving equipment and practice a bit. We did that and while we were waiting to begin our reef dives, I went to a small pizza shop and had a slice of pizza and a Fanta, which is quite popular here.

Upon returning to the shop, all of our dive equipment was loaded into a three-wheel bicycle/cart and we followed the dive master with the cart down to the beach. It was a quaint way of traveling, but I liked it. There is something very refreshing about doing things the simple way. My Dad and I were the only two divers on the boat today since the other boat had students who are still learning to dive.

We made our way to the first reef, which was called Chum-Zumbul. It was a nice, shallow dive (40-45 feet) with some pretty coral and fish. I enjoyed it. But, after our first dive, I was unable to swim back to the boat. The surf was very choppy and I kept getting further and further from the boat. I was so tired and it felt like I had lead in my feet. Because the water was choppy, I was also taking in salt water and starting to cough. It was not a pleasant situation and I must admit, I panicked slightly, but I kept my cool for the most part realizing that I would be fine if I just stayed still. Thankfully, the dive master came to get me and I made it on the boat. but wow was I tired and I felt nauseous too. It was the pizza I ate earlier, I just ate too close to the time we were to go diving. I have learned my lesson and I will not do that again.

Our second dive was Moc Che reef, which was also shallow (also 40-45 feet). I was still feeling nauseous on the dive, but it was a good dive and I started feeling somewhat better once we were on the dive. This dive was nice and went without incident. Once I was back on the boat, I was ready to get back to land, have something to eat and relax. Dad and I planned to go to Subway for dinner and then to Wal-Mart to pick up a couple of needed items. Yes, Playa has a Wal-Mart and no, I don't care for any political commentary on the evils of Wal-Mart thank you very much.

We had a nice dinner at Subway and then headed to Wal-Mart. I was carrying a bag with my money, my Dad's plastic money container that he had taken to the dive shop and various items we had for the day. When I went to get my Dad's container out of the bag, I realized it was gone. I knew we had it at the Subway as he had used it when he paid for dinner, but I must have left it on the counter there. Dad headed back to the Subway to see if he could find it, while I paid for our purchases, but it was not there. The problem with this is that the container had Dad's credit card in it, which he had been using to pay the major bills we incur here - the dive trips, the horseback riding we will do later this week, and so on.

Not to worry though!! Thankfully, he was able to cancel the card and they will reissue him one. Meanwhile, I have enough in my checking account to cover our costs  and I have my debit card so I will pay for those things and Dad will reimburse me when we return home. So it all worked out, but it still stinks to lose something like that. Dad is awesome though in that he takes such things well and we worked out what to do about it together. That is one of the many, many things that makes him an awesome travel partner - he does not freak out over such things and we work out together how to deal with stuff. It's a beautiful thing!

So, here we are about to head into Day 4. Tomorrow, we begin the day early by diving cenotes. I am SO excited! Stay tuned for the recap of cenote diving and our search for a good restaurant for tomorrow's dinner. I know, I know, it's riveting!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Stealing Starbucks

So I spent the first part of the 4th of July at Starbucks being judgmental of others. There were two women and one guy sitting next to me. One of the women (Nice) was writing down the other woman's (Biatch) order for Subway, which is right across the road. Biacth was being nasty in her tone toward Nice and it made me wonder why Nice was even bothering to get Biatch a sandwich. I kind of hope Nice spit in the sandwich before bringing it back.

I was originally at the Starbucks because the Internet at my house went out. AGAIN. Fracken Charter. I am seriously getting sick of that. Anyway, Starbucks has free Internet so I headed there on July 4th to use their Internet. I did not buy anything. And yes, I felt bad for about two seconds and then I got over it. I do have some shame though. I had to leave to get a sandwich at Subway. I did not return to Starbucks with my food from another establishment. Instead, I went to another Starbucks. I am not sure if that actually qualifies as having some shame or if it qualifies as just using two Starbucks without buying anything. 

In any case, I am once again in Starbucks now using their Internet since my home Internet is out. AGAIN. And I did buy a small tea. So I can surf guilt-free. This time anyway.