Sunday, December 13, 2009

Frosty's Getting a Tan

I talked to my mom the other day and she mentioned the blizzard they were experiencing in southwest Michigan. My dad was out with the snow blower trying to keep ahead of the storm. That same day I went down to the beach and went for a refreshing swim before working on my tan and tackling some Spanish homework.

Is it really December? Christmas is just around the corner? With the two seasons here of really dang hot and pretty hot it feels like perpetual summer. Occasionally I get the feeling it might be late August or early September, but never does it feel like winter. My sense of time has become all garbled. With no regular schedule or seasons and living in a small town were much is the same day to day, it's a bit like Groundhog Day. A very pleasant one, but the same nonetheless. I never fully realized how much I rely on the seasons for my sense of time. I'm beginning to think that when Ponce de Leon went looking for the Fountain of Youth, all he really needed to do was spend enough time just living in a tropical environment where time stopped and counting age and time and days became pointless.

We are going back to Michigan on Friday. We may die of hypothermia. Tugboat has no fur on her belly, I have two pairs of pants and a cotton cardigan, Caleb's a little better off with a sweater, hoodie, and jeans. From summer to snowstorm. However, I'm really looking forward to time with my family, getting to know my new niece (who's due any day) and having a white Christmas. I've been singing Christmas songs in the shower and we may wrap our palm tree in free Christmas lights we just got from our neighbor. Tulum definitely get's excited about Christmas. There are decked out fake trees everywhere and children that come to your door, sing some kind of Christmas rap song, hold a huge poster of the Virgin and carry tin cans for your expected holiday donation.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Is it really October?

Flat Cookies, a Bike Pump's Gift and a Trip to Merida

I'm sitting in my very hot kitchen sipping a cup of coffee, waiting for my oatmeal raisin cookies to bake. I found baking soda - you'll never guess where - at the pharmacy! They don't cook with it here, just clean with it, still that seems like an odd place. Anyway, having found both light brown sugar, and baking soda I'm feeling these cookies will be a culinary success.

They need to be tasty because I'm taking them to a get together tonight. There are a great group of women that are all friends that meet each Thursday night and drink wine and snack on fun foods and talk and laugh and sometimes dance all night long. I was out until 3am last week and the woman that I know the best has a 5 month old baby who slept through all of it. Even through the loud karaoke singing in Spanish and Portuguese to YouTube music videos. What a little trooper. I love that people bring their kids to everything here. Though when he gets older he probably won't be out that late! The women call themselves "The Subversive Women of Tulum". I'm not sure what that implies exactly and how they are subversive yet, but they seem to have a lot of fun. I spent most of the night very confused as to what was going on and what they were talking about since it was all in Spanish, but I occasionally I got the gist of the conversation. Normal girl stuff: Food, Boys, Babies, Work, Recycling...

Anyway, I just checked on the cookies and I think the temp must be off on my oven because they just look flat and melty, not done. Hmm..

Something really funny just happened....I heard a knock on the door and there was the neighbor kid from a few doors down who I know has a crush on me. He's always gazing at me all googly eyed and once took my hand for a few moments when I was confused about what he was saying. He looks like he's about 17...

Anyway, tonight he wanted to borrow our bike pump. When he returned it, all smiley, he handed me a small napkin of something. I said, "Gracias!", closed the door and examined my little gift. Sure enough, it was weed! Hahahaha! Now it's sitting next to my laptop still gently wrapped in the napkin. There's quite a bit of it. What do I do with this? I don't smoke, but nearly everyone here does... do I toss it or bring it to my ladies night? A moral dilemma. But a really funny one. Only in Mexico do you lend someone a pump and get weed in return!

So, tomorrow I'm taking myself on an adventure to Merida. Merida is the capital of the Yucatan state. It seems to be a delightful colonial town and the biggest city I will have been in for months. Also, this weekend are the Day of the Dead (Dias los Muertos) festivities. A totally strange holiday where alters are built for dead relatives and all kinds of offerings are laid on them, poems are sung, a lot of scull shaped candy is consumed by children... I guess it's really not that much stranger than Halloween.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fresh Chicken

I bought a chicken yesterday that was so fresh it was still warm. Kind of fantastic and creepy. I ended up with 3 chicken feet as well, two attached to the bird and one random one. Also some organs I wasn't familiar with. Hmm. When I got home I had to saw it all apart with a very dull knife to make Coq au Vin. I did consider the machete from our back yard, but it too needs to be sharpened. I would have felt very Rambo-like slashing my way through warm bloody chicken thighs!
I had the most joyful afternoon cooking and singing along to Joni Mitchel at the top of my lungs. We had our first dinner guests. A couple, Sabrina and Diego and their little baby, Nicolas. They own a great little restaurant here called "Elemental", which Caleb and I frequent.
Lots of wine, a successful Coq au Vin, a little green salad, and coconut macaroons for dessert. We had a great time talking and laughing in the back yard and even little Nico seemed to enjoy himself camped out on our little couch, snoozing.
It felt really good having some friends over, feeding them and enjoying their company. Many of my favorite memories are of the times I've had a houseful of guests and cooked a huge meal, both in Seattle and in Providence.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Green Sea Turtle Adventure at Night

I caught the last bus out to the Sian Ka'an a few weeks ago on a Sunday night, not sure what to expect, feeling a bit insecure, but excited to help with the baby sea turtle release.

It's the slow season at Cesiak right now so the staff of tour guides and boat captains are a bit more laid back at the end of their shift. They snack, smoke, drink a few (!) beers, and play a pretty aggressive game of dominos. The guys were all hanging out when I arrived, in great spirits, and made me feel immediately comfortable. I made the mistake of saying I play a mean game of dominos and of course I lost the first game - though I do have to say I was just getting warmed up and they have different rules than I'm used to! They bought me a few beers, I chatted with their girlfriends, and after a while the sun began to set and it was time to release the baby sea turtles.

We went down to the beach, while Alberto, the main turtle conservation worker, carefully brought out the halved gas container full of sand and baby turtles. A small crowd had gathered, children and parents, mainly tourists staying at Cesiak, and a handful of staff. A line was drawn in the sand and directions were given how to carefully hold the turtles and then place them in the sand to make their mad dash to the sea. We named them, cheered them one, fearfully watched for birds of prey and sighed in relief when the last turtle made it to the water. Then in a few seconds they were gone, having caught a current out to sea where they would be spending the next 25 or so years of their life before once again returning to the same beach to mate and lay their eggs. Such is the beginning of a sea turtle's life. Only one in a thousand baby sea turtles actually make it to adulthood, which is a staggeringly small number. Sea turtle conservation here is taken very seriously, the beaches are patrolled nightly for poachers and stranded turtles and obnoxious tourists, and much care is put into ensuring the peace and safety of the mature turtles that do make it back to these beaches to nest.

After the release, and another beer and some more hanging out, it was time to start the 8km round trip walk patrolling the beach. It was dark that night, cloudy, a few scattered stars and no moon. The soft, warm breeze was a welcoming relief to the heat of earlier that day. Alberto and I walked barefoot in the sand, talking barely above a whisper, scanning the beach for telltale marks of a turtle pulling itself over the sand. Soon we came upon our first nesting female. She was enormous. About 3 feet wide and 3 1/2 feet long, heavy, and focused. We sat a distance in the sand, occasionally feeling the spray of the sand she was flinging towards us from 20 feet away as she dug her nest and prepared to lay eggs. We cautiously walked back toward the water and continued down the beach. She would take at least an hour to finish her nesting.

We found a few freshly laid nests -big mounds of sand- and labeled them with the date and a nest number on a plastic bottle found among the trash on the beach. This bottle was buried into the top of the nest and a piece of driftwood was erected to mark the spot. We continued in this way for hours, occasionally spotting another nesting turtle and carefully measuring it, checking it's tags and writing the data in our little notebook. At one point we tried to help a female who was trying to climb up the dune over some tree roots, apparently to nest in the jungle. She kept slipping down, straining to get up the sharp incline, and eventually pulling herself over some sharp looking roots protruding like an arm from the side of the dune. She fell with a loud thud onto the sand and I winced imagining the impact on her. Alberto consoled me with the fact that sea turtles go through much tougher circumstances on the reefs and are hearty animals. We left her to figure things out, very aware of the effort involved of a water animal struggling to make sense of land.

A short while later we saw another great she-turtle nesting. This one successfully. Quietly, carefully, army style we crawled up to the back of her and with a tiny red light, were able to see her lay eggs. There are a few moments of pure wonder that stand out for me when I think of life/birth. Once I saw baby Alaskan huskies being born and that was pretty neat. But this blew me away. I was about 2 1/2 feet from her tail watching the gooey eggs drop by ones, twos and threes into the perfectly shaped 3 foot deep nest she had dug. Before each egg dropped I heard her inhale and then sigh as her efforts produced more eggs. She laid perhaps 100 or more. They were like soft white golf balls. Her hind fins were webbed and toe-like and had carefully dug that perfect hole without her ever even seeing it. I lay in the cool sand in awe. Huge and prehistoric, deserving of respect, from a whole other world. A sea turtle so vulnerable and intimate in that moment.

All this has made me contemplate our role as stewards of this earth - it's animals and resources. For the most part we are not doing a very good job. Rarely do we treat with respect, respond in awe and work to protect what we have been blessed with. Think on that.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Sian Ka'an

More of the Sian Ka'an

I have so many photos of this place that I could start a blog just about the Sian Ka'an. Here are some pictures of the canal and floating through the mangroves. There's also a photo of the strip of land that Cesiak is located on. On the left you can see the lagoon and on the right the Caribbean.
Just a quick note, I got a call from the Pirate that I will be helping with the baby turtle release tonight. I'm thrilled and will give you an update soon. By the way, the Pirate is in a film ( To The Sea Alamar) being shown at the Toronto International Film Festival. Imagine him with a feather in his hair, a bone his ear and tusks in his nipples and that's pretty accurate. Also, the film was shot here - so what you see is my extended back yard! Ha.

I love the Sian Ka'an

The Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is one of the most amazing places I have ever been. If you follow the spit of land south out of Tulum along the beach road eventually you will be on the Reserve. On one side of the dirt road is the turquoise Caribbean and on the other side tangled mangroves and the jade green lagoons of the Sian Ka'an. The Reserve is enormous, covering over 1.3 million acres. Sian Ka'an means "where the sky is born" in Mayan. After spending a day in the lagoons I understand why. The sky does appear greater here. Perhaps it is the vast amount of crystal clear water reflecting the sky, perhaps it is that when you stand up in the boat taking you through the canals in the mangroves, you can see for miles.

My first in depth experience with the Reserve was through Cesiak. This organization runs a small ecotourism center and runs conservation and education programs about the Sain Ka'an. All the money from their tours goes straight back to the local community and protecting the Reserve.

My friend Elisa and I had been anticipating the Cesiak tour for weeks. Since this is the slow season for tourism we were the only ones on the tour. We were picked up in town in a bus along with our tour guide, Antonio, and a bird specialist that most refer to as "La Pirata" - the Pirate. Imagine Jack Sparrow from "Pirates of the Caribbean" if he was Mayan, tan, and had small boar's tusks as nipple piercings. You get the idea. These two men were our educators for the day, though most of our time was spent with Antonio - who's our age and passionate and knowledgeable about the Reserve. We spent spent about equal time learning about the Sian Ka'an as we did counseling him about his relationship troubles. Needless to say we enjoyed ourselves and felt very comfortable with him!

The van dropped us off at the arched entrance to the Sian Ka'an. We immediately followed a short path through the jungle to a cenote. Cenotes are fresh water caverns that supply all the water here in the Yucatan Peninsula. When it rains the water is filtered through the limestone foundation of this peninsula and collected in a vast underground system of tunnels and caverns. Eventually this water if further filtered by the mangroves and mixes with the Caribbean sea. The nutrient that this fresh water collects on it's passage to the sea is essential for the health of the Mesoamerican Reef. It is so amazing to learn about the interconnectedness of the ecosystem. I've never fully appreciated it until now.

We refreshed ourselves with a swim in the cool waters of the cenote for ten minutes or so before heading to our small motor boat docked on the lagoon. Elisa and I and our guide Antonio, along with our very capable boat driver began our tour of the canals of the Sian Ka'an. These canals that wind through the mangroves, frequently not much wider than our boat, were the ancient trading routes of the Mayans. These canals lead from the jungle to the sea and many a boatful of jade, obsidian, cocoa beans and salt made it's way through these waters to far off worlds.

With that in mind and our boat precariously navigating the snakelike channels surrounded by mangroves as far as the eye can see, we searched the treetops for birds. There are over 336 known bird species in this area and the air is full of their sounds. It was tremendously peaceful to feel the warm breeze in our faces and rest our eyes on the beauty around us. Nearly halfway though our tour, we stopped at an ancient Mayan ruin. After a bit of exploration we jumped into the clear water of our canal and sitting on life vests we began to gently float down the current. Our motor boat had preceded us and was waiting much further down. This was my favorite part of the whole experience. Imagine being at water level with the twisted roots of the mangroves, seeing the life all around you, the delicate birds nests, the yellow leaves in the jade colored water, the rich mineral smell of the air, the cacti and flowers growing out of their host plants, the mangroves. It was quiet.

We floated like this for at least half an hour. I didn't want it to end. When we reached our boat we still had about an hour left of touring the lagoon. We headed out to the wide open waters, the waters that meet with the sea. The blues and greens that converge at the tip of this estuary are breath taking. Since being in Mexico my appreciation of color has intensified. It's as if I've always had a foggy lens and now I can actually see.

On our way back to the Cesiak base we saw a crocodile! Antonio had been talking about crocodiles a lot, which was not much of a comfort considering Elisa had dreamt the night before about a bloody croc attack and we had just been leisurely floating in that water! Granted, the canal that we had floated down had been used by Cesiak for the past ten years with no crocodile incidents, but still.... I was glad that I had been in the water before I saw that croc, not after! He was big.

At the Cesiak center we were treated to a delicious dinner of fresh fish with garlic, rice, beans, and tortillas. It was so delicious. After dinner a quick swim in the sea and then we climbed to the top terrace of the building for a spectacular sunset. Cesiak is on the narrow strip of land between the lagoon and the sea. The view is magnificent. It is surreal watching the sun set over the lagoon and the Caribbean behind you painted pink with it's refection.

Full, content, and rosy from an amazing day, we headed back to town. I am now deeply in awe and in love with this place. I hope to be volunteering with Cesiak soon and helping the Pirata with turtle conservation and the native plant nursery.

Monday, September 7, 2009


If you take the second class bus to Coba at 7:10am, you may have to spend the 45 minute trip standing, swaying, nodding off and being the only tourist on the crowded bus full of locals. However, this is definitely the best time to go to the Coba ruins. When we arrived, the parking lot was empty and we were one of the first visitors to the site that morning. It was still moderately cool (high 70s) and peaceful. Caleb's sister Michaela and I ate our little picnic breakfast at the base of the first temple pyramid.

Coba was once a large Mayan civilization with over 50,000 inhabitants. Most of the site dates back to 400-1100AD. It's impossible to comprehend age like that. To view these amazing ruins surrounded by jungle and have their age actually sink in is very hard. I found it fascinating that these ruins were not open to the public until 1973 and that most of it's 6,000 structures are still coverd under centuries of jungle growth. There were no roads to this place until the early '70s. The current town of Coba didn't get electricity until the 1980's!

We rented bikes for 30 pesos and began to explore. It's a really lovely, slightly bumpy ride on wide jungle paths. Birds were singing and the air smelled rich. There are many great ruins to explore, but the one that blew us away and nearly made us catch our breath Nohoch Mul. It is a 140ft temple pyramid whose presence dwarfs everything else in it's surroundings. Rising out of the jungle like some great tower of Babel, this pyramid alone was worth the trip. And here is the most astounding thing - you can still climb this pyramid! It is trecherously steep, a bit crumbling and the only thing to grab in case you stumble is a two inch wide rope that hangs from the top and is draped to the bottom. Like climbing a huge set of stairs, we made it to the very top and Oh! what a view! We could see across the jungle for miles. And for miles all we could see was jungle. Green, and dense and stunning. A tiny indent in the trees indicated the town of Coba, but other than that, there were no other buildings, roads, or civlization in sight. It made me think about what this land was like, Pre-Colonial times, when it was just the Mayans and the jungle.

Michaela and I sat for a long time up there, at the top of the world, watching eagles soar around us. When we finally headed down the very steep steps, hoards of tourists on bikes and in pedicabs were flooding in. We visited a few more ruins and headed out as more busloads of tourist were unloading. I must say, we had the perfect experience at Coba. We got there early, avoided the crowds and the heat and had the place mostly to ourselves. We patted ourselves on the back for a job well done and then headed to a tiny restaurant for some grilled chicken.

The restaurant was no more than three plastic tables and chairs in a cement block porch. The mouthwatering smell of chicken cooking on their grill next to the road, stopped us in our tracks and drew us inside. We ordered, a little unsure of what we would get, but when our food arrived we were delighted. We each had half of a grilled and marinated chicken, beans, rice, cabbage and carrot salad, salsa and tortillas. Quite the feast. The tortilla factory was not more than ten feet away and our server, the owner, went over and bought us steaming hot, fresh tortillas.
I watched a very old Mayan woman with a bucket of maize, go into the tortilleria, dump the bucket into a grinder and scoop out armfuls of cornmeal dough.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Meal at Home

The result of my successful shopping trip was a simple, home cooked meal. I made a mixed green salad and pasta in a red sauce with zucchini, capers, anchovies and basil. I even baked a cake. This was an adventure in and of itself.
I bought what I hoped was baking powder, flour (which smelled strangely sweet), and what I hoped was plain unsalted butter. The only cake pan in the store was about half the size of what I was looking for, but it was cute with scalloped edges, so I bought it. I chose an easy peach cake recipe and made it with canned peaches. I mixed all the ingredients in a soup pot since I don't have a mixing bowl yet and stirred everything in with a fork. Easy enough.
I'm very grateful for the Internet since it not only provided me with a cake recipe, but also converted Fahrenheit to Celsius so that I could figure out what to set the oven on.
Well the cake turned out fine. Not amazing, but considering most people here use their ovens as extra storage, I felt just using it was a success. The next day I made a tasty Seville orange sauce to go with the remaining two pieces. Believe me, if we didn't have airconditioning I would also only be using my oven as storage!
I had bought a cheap bottle of wine to celebrate my minor culinary success. Caleb and I sat down in front of the monitor to watch "Redeye", pasta bowls in hand, the smell of cake in the air, and it felt so good and routine, and right. Tradition. An evening at home, and that could be anywhere, with a glass of wine, dinner and a movie.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Touche, Kathleen Walker!

A little while ago my friend Kathleen posted this gorgeous picture of the fresh produce she picked up at the farmer's market in San Francisco. It made me salivate and and a wee bit jealous. See, it's been a bit of a challenge cooking here in Tulum.
I love Mexican food. It goes without saying that the ingredients at the grocery stores and markets here are full of anything you may need to make great Mexican food. However, we've been eating out a lot. And why wouldn't we since we can buy the worlds best tamales from Angelo at the Oxxo station for less than $1 a piece. His chicken and green salsa tamalitos are to die for. The same goes for Angela's sopes, Urge Taqueria's mixto ceviche, and Charlie's enchiladas poblanos. So, why would I cook Mexican food when everybody makes it so much better than me?
Now, if you want to make something other than Mexican food, it's a bit of a challenge. Not only are there large bags of mystery spices and piles of unknown herbs and produce to navigate, most things are unlabeled. Even armed with my trusty pocket dictionary, and grabbing every bag and shoving it in my face for a good whiff, many items are unidentifiable. What I can identify is black pepper, ground oregano, chile powder, cinnamon, and cloves. That is the primary spice selection at our local store. So along with the 95 degree heat and the bicycling from store to store to find basics like a real loaf of crusty bread, fruit and veggies, cheese and meat, I've been feeling rather uninspired to cook.
Hence, I've still been feeling like a tourist and not like I actually live here. We usually eat breakfast and lunch at home, but there is something so homey and grounding and downright domestic about cooking dinner.
I had a breakthrough the other day. I learned from Lorena at the Italian bakery that there is a store called Frutas Y Verduras Pool. They have actual fresh arugula and basil!!! Granted you have to know it's in the back and ask for it (which was an adventure in pantomime and trial and error). However, my creative juices started flowing, and I spent a good long time looking at every bag of dried hibiscus flowers, mystery spices, coconut milk, olive oil, and root vegetables and thinking about actually cooking.
Here's what I ended up with: Arugula, basil, chayote, zucchini, red pepper, local avocado, a carrot, cucumber, big bananas, and tiny cute ones, penne pasta, capers, anchovies, a can of tomatoes, oolong tea (the first black tea I've seen!), real tasty wheat bread from the Italian bakery, a croissant!!!, and to top it all off, fancy food for Tugboat because I finally found the one and only bona fide vet.
This may seem like a totally normal and average shopping list, but to me it's the beginning of really living here and being able to cook.


I have a guilty confession. I love Nescafe. I know, I know! Enjoying a cup of instant coffee isn't such a big deal, but I'm a professed coffee snob. Working three years at a really great coffee shop in Seattle, working as a barista, snubbing those Starbucks lovers..... we'll next to our organic, fair trade coffee is a jar of Nescafe. And that's what I drank this morning. Two cups actually.
There's just something so delightfully simple about a spoonful of little coffee crystals melting into my microwaved hot water.... okay, I'm a coffee hypocrite, I'll admit it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Around Town

Here are a few pictures I took the other day just walking around Tulum pueblo. The fruit stand is where I get all my produce and it always smells like decaying fruit. Sort of a sweet, intense smell. There are birds in cages that hang above the produce and a little family of small, fluffy white dogs that wander about underfoot. I think it's great.

This Morning

I finally pulled my tired rear out of bed this morning at 6:30am. I've been saying for weeks that we should ride our bikes down to the beach in the morning before it gets hot and full of people. With all the corn tortillas, guac and chips, sugary drinks, etc I'm getting a bit soft around the edges. In a land where I wear my bathing suit more than underwear, that's a problem.
So I actually got up, grabbed some water and a snack and rode the 3+km to the beach. I went for a run along the water. It was just me and the silvery blue water and the gigantic clouds. I could see it was raining in the distance. The air was cool and fresh so early in the morning. Little white and black birds were picking through seaweed looking for breakfast. Matthew McConaughey flashed through my mind for a moment. You always see pictures of him working out on the beach in Maui. Going for his morning run, wearing that ridiculous headband.... Now, I don't care much for McConaughey, but I did take pleasure in thinking that even he probably didn't have quite the pristine and perfect beach work out that I experienced this morning. I'm referring to the setting more so than my physical capabilities.
I ran, did some crunches, some push ups, ran some more, then went for a swim. Just to make this as over the top as possible, as I was floating in the water gazing at the sky, I saw a rainbow. I spent a long time this morning thinking about how good God is, how majestic and spectacular is His creation, and wondering if Paradise looked something like this. I just felt so deeply grateful and wholly undeserving. I still can't believe I'm here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


To be a real man in the jungle you must own a machete. I know this both from watching "Romance in the Stone" and seeing the men here use machetes for everything from clearing land, building fences and screen doors, to opening difficult fruit. It's a manly Protector/Provider must have. Therefore, we bought a machete for Caleb.
His first conquest was of a very difficult coconut. I have to say there is something visually very appealing too - of your man, shirtless with a dangerous looking knife, hacking away at the hull of a coconut until he can rip the husk away and reveal that sweet tasty white flesh and nectar...which he proudly presents to you (with a straw!).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Tulum Ruins

The morning that Michaela and I set out to view the Tulum ruins was stormy and grey. Rain fell in dramatic bursts, drenching everything it touched. The wind whipped the palm trees around, their green leaves dancing in the air, bending and waving like so many sharp fingers. We pressed on up the dirt road leading to the site where the ancient walled city stood. Tulum played an important role in the Mayan's extensive trade network. Dating back to 564 A.D., this city overlooking the Caribbean, was where the land routes and sea trade routes converged. It is unique in that it is one of the few walled cities the Mayas built. It's primary structure, "Castillo" is stunningly situated on the tip of the bluffs overlooking the sea.
As we wandered the ruins in the rain, Michaela and I marveled at the tiny doorways, lovely meandering paths and dramatic vistas of the ruins against the dark sky. It's hard to imagine the grand city it must have been, bustling with small, fiercely proud people doing trade with the rest of Mexico and Central America. It was such a complex culture and they observed so much about the world around them. They are known as the only civilization on the pre-Colombian Americas to have a fully developed written language. They are known for their sophistication in art, mathematics, architecture and astronomy. The more I read about them the more fascinated I become. They also did human sacrifice....but that's not one of their more admirable accomplishments!
At the bottom of the bluff that the Castillo is perched on is a little beach. The sun was just beginning to pierce though the clouds as we headed down for a dip in the water. The sea was an irresistible shade of jade. It is so different seeing pictures of this color than being surrounded by it. Swimming in a gem, seeing it sparkle and change color ever so subtly - being saturated in it and seeing the deep, dark, sky above is unbelievable. It satisfies a visual hunger.

El Mariachi Restaurant

This is the first restaurant that Caleb and I ate at in Tulum and still remains one of our favorite. Like most restaurants here, it is entirely outdoors, including the kitchen and serves a very good Alambre. This dish is a wonderful combination of beef, onions, cactus, and bacon, all grilled with a hot layer of cheese on top. It is served with a side of corn tortillas (of course), limes, and salsa picante. It is delicious!
We took Caleb's sister Michaela here one night and had a very relaxed dinner.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Busy, busy, busy

I have a lot to catch you up on. The Tulum ruins, Coba, our attempt to go out to a DJ "Wrestle", very bad Flamenco dancing, and then tomorrow the Sian Kaan biosphere reserves. Caleb's sister has been visiting and now we are cleaning the apartment getting ready for his folks. It's going to be very tight here for a bit. My guts are tied up in a bit of a knot - I think it's just all this heavy food we've been eating. Don't get me wrong, the food is great, but just a different diet then I'm used to.

Also a few days ago, I nearly killed my laptop. That would possibly have been the end of this blog - at least for a while. I spilled a bottle of water onto the keyboard. If anyone out there is drinking a beverage while they are reading this, please take a moment and move it far, far away. The screen went blank and I didn't have a computer for a long, tearful while. The hairdryer set on cool dried things out a bit. Honestly I know it was a miracle that this thing works again. I am a fool, but God is merciful. This is a lesson I learn over and over again.

So, when things settle down a bit and we're not trying to pack it all in, I'll post pictures and a detailed account of all our adventures. I promise.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Reef, Turtles, and Salsa Dancing

Yesterday was like no other. Caleb's sister, Michaela is visiting us and we had waited until she arrived before going out snorkeling on the the Great Mayan Reef which is the second biggest coral reef in the world.

We we're in a small group of six as we headed out bouncing across the water in our little motor boat. The faster we went the more excited I got and loved every minute of salty wind and ocean spray. When we stopped the boat out on the reef and got ourselves ready to snorkel, my heart was racing... I'd never been out on open water like this before. I didn't know what creatures lived in the waters around me and everything just seemed so deep and mysterious. As soon as my mask was on and I'd gotten a bit used to the flippers, I looked below me into the coral. And that's all it took, that first look, and now I'm hooked.

We spent an hour and a half swimming and looking on our own. I swam into purple and soft green and brown gardens of seaweed and coral and lovely little fish. Yellow, red, blue, purple, orange... so many fishes so many colors. Some were bigger and some so small I didn't realize they were fish until I stared at the same spot for minutes. They dove in and out of the coral which looked like beautiful lace billowing in the current. I saw very sharp looking black sea urchins and florescent little spotted fish trying to hide. Michaela saw a sea turtle and Caleb saw a fairly large barracuda. Some of the other passengers saw calamari and a spotted stingray. It was a pretty amazing place. You may be imagining tranquil waters and floating gently around looking a sea life, however, the current was strong and waves were crashing above us. There were times where you really had to struggle not to get tossed about and knocked into the reef. I found it enthralling and quite the rush.

On our way back to shore we befriended a guy named Miguel who works for the marine reserve at Sian Kaan National Park. He had snorkeled for free since he had been a reef guide and knew all the guys. Miguel was full of useful information on local attractions. Since there is so much to see and do here, it is helpful to have someone guide you. He suggested we go see the turtles in Akumal, just a short drive north of Tulum. There are hawksbill, green, and loggerhead turtles in the area.

We had rented a car for a few days and wanted to make the most of it. On our way back toward town we saw Miguel hitchhiking and offered to give him a lift. He was and is such a nice guy that we invited him along on our sea turtle adventure. He blew off his plans to go rock climbing for the day and became our private tour guide. We stopped at a lovely little restaurant right on the beach in Akumal and had lunch. The food was great and the view spectacular. It's a good feeling to eat a tasty meal with your feet happily in the sand.

After lunch we meandered over to the public beach. It being Sunday, the beach was packed. Sunday is family day here (as it should be!) and the best place to be was the playa. We were a bit dubious as to the existence of sea turtles with so many people about, but having trust in Miguel's promise that we would indeed, see a turtle, we swam out to the seaweed beds, faces in the water searching for that big shadow or a slight movement.

Miguel was the first to spot her. She was huge and graceful and oh, so lovely! Munching on seaweed below us she seemed so serene and only mildly curious of our company. Then she swam up for air and we could see how wonderfully this creature moves through water. Her head was at the surface for just an instant, just long enough to gasp for air and then down again to feed. At one point she swam very near Miguel, staring at him, as he remained motionless waiting to see what she would do. She merely circled him and gave him a long look, then settled back into the sea grass. It's a surreal experience being that close to a prehistoric looking creature much older than yourself and on their turf.

We spent a long time searching for turtles and watching them feed. I believe we counted six. On the way back to shore I swam through a school of fish and nearly turned back to follow them. The beaches here all have sectioned off bits where the turtles have laid their eggs. It's nesting season until September. Each night, the turtles come ashore and lay their eggs. I heard that only about one in every thousand baby turtles makes it to adulthood. There are many natural predators, they've often been hunted for food, and their habitat is constantly being encroached upon. There are some strong efforts here to protect these animals.

On our drive back to Tulum we continued visiting with Miguel and found out he's a Christian. We were thrilled. He had been so generous in sharing his whole day with us and had such a kind and gentle spirit. In retrospect, it all made sense. Caleb and I plan on attending church with him one of these days.

Our day wasn't over yet, and we had promised Michaela salsa dancing on the beach. So, we rushed home, got cleaned up and drove over to La Zebra. On first glance the salsa class (prelude to the evening dancing) looked like the making of a bad aerobics instruction video shot on the beach. A small, odd mix of people were shuffling around on a little wooden platform to the instructor's enthusiastic directions which he yelled into his headset. Half English, half Spanish. The instructor (who, we were told had won many competitions) was twisting and turning and prancing around while the rest of us felt like a bunch of lost goslings. Micheala did the best of all of us - she can just dance. I fumbled around and when I got too confused just threw in a few extra twirls and foot taps. Caleb, oh, sweet, tall, lanky, awkward husband of mine! He was so funny, flapping around, very confused and head and shoulders above everyone else. That he was out there at all learning to dance with us was a testimony to his love.

La Zebra was recommended to me by my new friend, Faby. Faby is teaching me Spanish and I'm helping her with her English. It's not only a good trade, but I think we are becoming close friends as well. She is a great dancer. After the somewhat painful dance lessons, a good sized salsa band set up and we grabbed some very tasty Mojitos. It was the first time I had been on the beach at night and the stars were spectacular. It was like staring into the Milky Way.

As the night wore on more and more people showed up and the dancing began. There were many awkward dancers like us, but several outstanding dancers as well. Michaela was so pleased to dance with the best man out there. She looked like a pro following his strong lead and loving every minute of it. We dance the Salsa and the Merengue with the cool sea breeze swishing our skirts and giving us tousled, wild hair. The band was fantastic and we hated to leave. Next Sunday night we will be back at La Zebra for more lessons and fun.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Friend the Iguana

The iguanas, lizards, and ghekos here are so fascinating. This big guy is about the length of my forearm. They are everywhere. Today I met an iguana named Charlie that almost let me catch him. When I went out this afternoon there was a bright green lizard perched on my bike seat. Just looking at me. Checking things out. I want them to be my friends.

Coco Baby

I just found out the other day that my brother is having a girl! Yaaaay. She's due in December. This is me pretending to have a coconut baby.

Lookin' Real Good


Aqua Azul

Snorkeling With My Alien Face

CM and I are trying to snorkel. I'm not very good yet. My mask keeps fogging up and if I smile then water leaks in. However, the other day we were playing around and saw some very big conch shells about 9 feet deep. I wanted one so much! Caleb dove, dove agian, got weirded out by a possible movement of something alive, dove again, dropped it, and then finally one last time he appeared out of the water with the biggest, heaviest conch shell ever. I'm just thrilled. I feel like he dove for treasure for me. The shell is lovely and pink on the inside and covered in fuzzy seaweed and sea stuff on the outside. I'm grateful that nothing was living in it.