Tag Archives: Mexico

My Seven Super Shots

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The other day, Erin at The World Wanderer tagged me in the HostelBooker’s 7 Super Shots game, so I thought I would join in! Choosing photos for these categories was actually much more difficult than I expected, but fun nonetheless!  Without further ado, here are my 7 Super Shots:

A photo that tells a story:

This structure, the Nielsen House,  is the last remaining Revolutionary War-era building at Saratoga, where the Battle of Saratoga took place in 1777. It amazed me that this house played a part in the independence of our nation – and in a battle that is considered to be  a turning point in the war.  I snapped this photo while Brian and I were visiting Saratoga (in upstate New York), and we were the only people there. It was so peaceful and quiet, you could almost picture General Enoch Poor and General Benedict Arnold strategizing their next move against the British forces within the walls of their new headquarters.

A photo that makes me dream:

How could the beaches of Maui not make you dream?! Perfect sand, clear and warm ocean water, and 85 degrees and sunny.  Also, add a view of Molokai and Lanai off in the distance and a mai tai :) . This was taken at the beach near Kaanapali, north of Lahaina during one of our best trips yet.

Takes my breath away:

I took this picture, believe it or not, in my own backyard (in the SF Bay Area) when I was in high school. There was a storm and it was raining as the sun was setting, creating some crazy colors that were reflecting into the pond. I love this picture – it reminds me of home and  proves you really can find beauty in your own backyard! Makes me miss Northern CA!

Makes my mouth water:

Ohhh shave ice. I knew I would only be able to have real shave ice in Maui for the short time we were there, so we made it a point to go to Ululani’s in Lahaina almost every day of our trip. My go-to was the Coconut Lover’s – pina colada, coconut, and tiger’s blood. The ice is so finely shaved that it it soft, not crunchy. It absorbs all of the syrup and then there is a straw at the bottom to get the rest!

Makes me think:

We visited Armstrong Redwoods State Nature Reserve in Northern CA to check out the giant redwoods. I had seen these when I was younger, but I don’t think I was old enough to be able to fully appreciate just how old these trees are. While walking around the groves, we came upon Parson Jones, the tallest tree in this area. At 310 feet tall, it is taller than the length of an entire football field. What is even crazier is that this tree is about 1,300 years old. It makes you think how short and insignificant one entire human lifetime really is in the scheme of the history of the world and the rest of the living things on it.

Makes me laugh or smile:

A few photos before this one was taken, there is one of me holding my swimsuit bottoms up with my hands – the dolphins push your feet so suddenly that I thought the force of the water was going to make them fall off! Swimming with dolphins was something that was always on my list, so it makes me smile that not only did I get to swim with them, but that I had a dolphin chariot of sorts!

I am most proud of:

Not only am I proud of the picture, but also of the fact that we woke up basically in the middle of the night in order to see this magnificent sight. It was well worth it! We arrived at the top of Haleakala while it was dark, but the park ranger said it would be a good one because there were some scattered clouds. It was DARK looking down into the crater, but as soon as the sun came up through the clouds, the crater was beautifully illuminated. Find out more here.

Exploring Tulum

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One of the things that you don’t see growing up in California is extremely old and historic man-made structures. Mostly everything here is relatively new, in the scheme of human history. Even the oldest structures in California are new in comparison to the ruins of Tulum – which were inhabited between the 13th and 15th centuries (almost 1,000 years ago). We had a chance to visit Tulum when we took a trip to the Mayan Riviera. Although Chichen Itza is also in the area, it is a little farther away and is recommended you go for longer than just a day trip, so we decided we would take more time to see it next trip and do Tulum on this visit.

Tulum is thought to have been an important port city for sea and land trade. There are a number of structures still standing inside of this walled “city,” ending at a beautiful beach.

The scale of these structures was amazing to us. It is possible that they have been modified in the many years they have been sitting there, but the size of the openings and of the structure themselves is very small. Those pillars were probably only 3 to 4 feet tall (assuming they walked through those and the ruins have not been modified).

We also found it interesting that the Mayans had family burial sites in the center of their homes. After visiting most of the ruins, we walked closer to the beach. Tulum sits on a cliff which overlooks the ocean – you have to walk down the stairs to access the beach below.

Caught ya!

The structure above is the biggest of the ruins, and is called “El Castillo.” I snapped a few photos of those peculiar windows. Well, it turns out they aren’t windows at all – they were used for incoming ships to navigate their way to Tulum. So this structure was actually used as somewhat of an ancient lighthouse! El Castillo is the structure in the center with three openings:


Don’t quite fit there…

That’s better!

We Love Zip-lining

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I am not a daredevil, adrenaline-junkie type of person. I don’t even like roller coasters (I actually dislike them). Despite this, zip-lining has become our new favorite thing to do. When you zip-line, you are sitting in a harness, which is attached to a pulley on a wire, which you “zip” across using gravity to gain momentum (a simple way of explaining it). The very first time we went was in Mexico, and I didn’t really know what to expect.

I think what was more frightening than the actual zip-lining was the build up to it, having to climb up the rickety towers they had. Of course Brian volunteered for us to go first out of the group, so my fears didn’t have a chance to last very long. There were 3 lines, and they went from tower to tower, over the jungle canopy.

Listening to the demonstration – all geared-up, and scared!

ZIPPING!

See what I mean about the rickety tower?

After the first line, my fears were gone – it was SO much fun. It is fast, but not too fast. And high enough that you feel like you can see far in all directions, but not so high that your innate fear of heights kicks in. We were ready for the rest!

As soon as we returned home, we were still so excited that we went online and searched for different zip-lines around the world that we could possibly do – the highest, the longest, the fastest (maybe we were getting ahead of ourselves a bit!). When we went to Hawaii, we knew we had to go zip-lining again. It sounded all good until the day we were actually supposed to go. I got scared all over again. It sounds silly now, but I really didn’t even want to go and was secretly hoping they would cancel it due to high winds!

Zipping on Maui was a lot different than the first time we went. It was a much larger, higher, and faster course. We went with a company called Flyin’ Hawaiian – they have the self-proclaimed longest, highest and fastest course in all of Hawaii. The lines are up in the West Maui mountains, and you actually have to take a Polaris all the way up the mountain to get to the first line! What we also liked about this company was that they encourage sustainable tourism – every zip-line group they take up plants a native tree/flower on the mountain, or waters the existing plants that the previous groups have planted.

Going up…

Hoooly Heck. First line – you can barely see the platform on the other side, that white dot.

We made it across – check out that view! You can see all of Central Maui.

Let’s go again!

Zip-lining through the mountains in Maui was amazing. So much so, that we actually contemplated going again the next day! The views were breathtaking, and each line got longer and faster as we went. You can’t tell by looking at the pictures, but there were 40 mph winds while we were up there. We felt very safe both times we zip-lined. The two different companies each had their own safety protocols and procedures that were followed by each employee, and they took the time to explain to us what they were doing and why, which gave me confidence, even though I was about to fly over a huge canyon or over a jungle canopy at 60 mph. I cannot wait to go again! Anyone know of any good zip-lines in Europe?? ;)

Riviera Maya & Playa Del Carmen

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I think Mexico gets a bad rap from the general population. Yes, there is a lot of drug cartel-related violence throughout certain areas of the country (looking at the State Department’s travel warning can freak you out). But Mexico is very large, and saying that it is too dangerous to go to places like the Mayan Riviera because of violence that is occurring in Cuidad Juarez or Mexico City is a bad generalization. Last summer, We decided to book a trip to somewhere tropical. We were considering Aruba, Costa Rica, etc., but we decided on Mexico because it is a little closer, and very affordable. I had been to the beaches in Mexico on the Pacific Ocean side, but never the Yucatan Peninsula area (where Cancun is located). Where we stayed was about an hour south of Cancun.

The biggest thing that struck me about this part of Mexico was the beaches – they are completely different from the beaches on the other side, like in Cabo San Lucas, for example. The last time I was in Cabo, you couldn’t really even go in the water at the beach. The waves are extremely rough and the water isn’t as warm. The beaches on the Mayan Riviera are AMAZING – crystal clear, bathtub-temperature water, and soft white sand. This region seems much more tropical, in general. It also has a very rich history (and LOTS of mosquitoes).

The Mayan civilization occupied the Yucatan Peninsula, leaving behind the ruins that still stand there today. Now, the area is known for its tourism and beach resorts. We stayed at the Barcelo Maya Resort, which was just off the highway along the beach (like most of the other resorts). While inside the resort you are isolated, but you are obviously free to catch a taxi and leave to explore the surrounding areas. We ventured out to Playa Del Carmen a few times while we were there. Playa is a charming town – you can find your usual touristy things, like a Senor Frogs, American restaurant chains, etc., but it also has a lot of local elements as well.

The marina terminal in Playa

Brian making friends, playing soccer on the beach in Playa

There is a main avenue in Playa that is pedestrian-only with shops, restaurants, and hotels.

After exploring Playa Del Carmen, we decided to go to Parque Xel-Ha the next day. Xel-Ha is an ecotourism natural water park based around the natural inlet and lagoon where the ocean salt-water and the fresh water from underground sources is mixed. The park is a commercial tourist attraction, but they use the park to do a lot of preservation and protection of the native species and habitat. They have a number of water activities at the park including snorkeling, tubing, cliff jumping, swimming with dolphins, and caves/grottos. We decided to pay extra to swim with dolphins – something I have always wanted to do. The dolphins were very well-trained rescues, and we could not believe how strong they were! What beautiful and intuitive animals.

We also did some snorkeling, checked out the caves, floated on the tubes, and went cliff jumping! There was definitely a lot to do and a little bit for everyone. The park is a bit commercialized, but as long as they use it to do some good, I am okay with that.

The rest of the trip, we explored Tulum, lounged at the beautiful beaches, ate and relaxed (and enjoyed the all-inclusive drinks ;) ). We will definitely be back to the Mayan Riviera, hopefully sooner rather than later!

Looking Ahead

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When I was about 11 years old, my family went a cruise to Mexico. It was my first time there, and I believe my second trip outside of the US. Even though the trip was just a cruise, it was still a cultural eye-opener for myself, especially as a child. We were at port one day, I think in Mazatlan – while walking around the city, we were bombarded with children selling gum, or chiclet. It was hard for me to comprehend exactly what was going on. My mother had to explain to me that the kids were selling gum to make a living for their families. But where were their mothers? How come their parents could not provide for them? How did they learn to be this aggressive? I was too shy to order food for myself at a fast food restaurant, much less sell anything to anyone. Why were they out there roaming the streets by themselves? I was shocked, and I told myself that when I grew up I would return to Mexico and save every one of those little kids selling gum on the streets.

The point of this anecdote is that my goal with this blog is to show people parts of the world, landscapes, and cultural nuances that they have not seen, and may not be aware even exist. I did not and could not fathom the state of these chiclet children before I saw them shoving their gum in my face in Mexico. You mean not every child like me has the safety and comfort provided by two responsible adult parents? For the people who live there or who visit frequently, it is nothing new. But for someone who lives in the US, where you don’t see things like that everyday, and has never left their home state or even their hometown, it is something very foreign. I believe this is an example of why it is so important for people to travel. Sure, we can see these things on TV on travel shows and movies, but it is surely not the same.

So, that is one of my goals with this blog. Even if it is just something local in or around San Diego or California, it still may be something new to someone reading across the country, or even across the world. As cliche as it sounds, there are things to be discovered in your own backyard! I will chronicle things to do, see and eat in San Diego and we will also be chronicling our preparation for our European backpacking trip in 2012, and hopefully blogging while in Europe. We are SO excited!