Kayaking Applegate Lake

Kayaking Applegate Lake
Kayaking Applegate Lake

Monday, March 26, 2018

03-09-2018 through 3-12-2018 Ahhhh….Three Days of Heaven

We are on vacation.  We are at a very nice resort on the Cancun coast.  What, oh what should we do?  Pools? Beach? Which pool?  Which beach?  Ah, life can be so difficult when on vacation.  Finally, after our two busy sight  seeing days, we were ready to relax and enjoy some of the delights of Vidanta Riviera Maya.  Because, in spite of my whining, it was really a very nice place, and there was much to enjoy.

We decided to begin the morning with the breakfast buffet at Havana Moon, the bright turquoise restaurant that I found on that first morning walk around the resort. At 7:30 AM there was still plenty of room, but after we were seated I noticed that the tables were filling up fast and the lounging steps covered with cushions on the far side of the restaurant were filling quickly with waiting customers.

The buffet was huge, with many interesting foods, not all breakfast.  The watermelon and pineapple were fresh and sweet, the special fresh squeezed papaya/orange/pineapple juice was worth two glasses.  I don’t remember another thing that we ate.  Pastries were so-so, once again, the star was the fresh pica de gallo that I put on something I ate, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was.  We don’t eat enough to make a huge buffet really worth the price, but I am glad we tried it once.  The view was nice, and we watched the sun  peek through the darkening clouds as we enjoyed our coffee, and the really great service in spite of it being a buffet.

I still wasn’t aware of the secret method of securing a pool chair, but with the threatening storm we got lucky and snagged two lounges where we deposited our shoes and wraps and slipped into that gorgeous water.  Just after we got in, there was a water aerobics class beginning, right in front of the stairway that was our only exit out of the water! I wasn’t about to exit that pool up those steps in front of all those people!  We swam around a bit, checking out the pool bar, watching kids play ball, and watching the sky get a LOT darker and listening to thunder.

Finally decided that swimming during a thunderstorm wasn’t the brightest choice and we headed home to enjoy the heavy tropical rains from the comfort of our room.  Cards and books kept us entertained until a crazy wild racket started up in the jungle around us.

It sounded like some kind of yelling, or weird construction equipment. I went outside to try to figure it out and eventually found the cause of the ruckus.  We were surrounded by a couple dozen chacalaca birds.  Related to chickens, they travel in groups of a dozen or so, aren’t very good at flying, but hang out in the tree tops. It seemed kind of strange that they hadn’t been around until now, but from this time on they were a constant presence in our part of the jungle.

When evening arrived we looked outside and said, “Nope, we aren’t tackling that walk again in that rain”.  Room service was a phone call away, and we were shocked when they showed up 15 minutes earlier than they had said, with some truly luscious salads, gorgeous presentation, lovely service, and a flower for the table.  It was no more expensive that going out to the restaurants, and was a delightful way to end a rainy day.

By Friday morning I had finally visited with a few people here and there, and learned that I needed to be at the pool or the beach by 7am or so with towels in hand to save chairs.  I know this seems quite awful, but truly, it is the only way to get any place at all to spend a day at the water at this resort, and is an accepted practice.  Once again I made the 2.5 mile round trip walk at 8am, and even then many chairs were already gone, but I did have some choices.

Mo wanted to go back to the infinity pool that we found on our first day here, and I found two great chairs with a sheltering umbrella right in front of the water but away from the shallow sandy part that draws all the little kids. We spent the rest of the day in our lovely spot, entertained by the people around us, families and kids having conversations that seemed like they should be a bit more private.  One family was discussing at length how their father should set up his will while the father was getting his birthday massage at the spa. 

A tiny lady not five feet tall, from Montreal, got in a verbal fight with 3 tall, thin, yes very bitchy women, who didn’t like the towel method and tried to remove her towels from the chairs she was saving for her friends.  They thought they knew the rules and made no bones about it, very loudly, but the tiny lady won.  We were all cheering her on.  I told her I would count on her to watch our chairs while we went swimming!

We were also entertained by two iguanas that seemed to be regulars, hanging around the pool.  Panchito was bigger and incredibly colorful, and her husband Pancho was darker and smaller.  People said they had a clutch of kids around the corner somewhere but we never saw them. 

It is amazing how the hours can slip by with sunshine, getting in and out of the water whenever we felt like it, swimming a bit, and finally enjoying the 2 pm happy hour with nachos and two for one pina coladas for me and zombies for Mo.  I thought two for one meant a pina colada and a zombie, so was a bit taken aback when the waiter delivered 2 of each drink for us.  Good thing they weren’t very strong.

We left our towels and wandered off for a walk around the lagoon, checking out the beautiful gardens and boardwalks on the way to the flamingo park where we sat and watched the birds for some time.  I have never seen flamingos feeding before, watching them drag their beaks in the water to strain out tiny crustaceans was fascinating.

We continued along the pathway to the crocodile enclosure, but it was hard to get photos through the heavy fencing, which I was very glad was there.

The pathway around the lagoon led to the Lago Restaurant, home of the huge buffet and entertainment show that was touted as something not to miss while at the resort.  There was another show that we chose to miss, the Joya Cirque de Soleil, something that Vidanta is known for, with the theater specially built on site to house the acrobatics venue.  The shows were pricey, with $100 USD per person for the Mexican Fiesta and $130 per person up to $175 per person with dinner for the Joya show.  Neither of us had any desire to part with that much money for entertainment, so we skipped both of them.  My daughter said Joya was a fabulous show and worth every penny, so if you ever go, you might want to consider it..

One of the additional benefits of our Grand Luxxe upgrade was access to the fancy Grand Luxxe pool and the Burger Place there at poolside.  Reviews for the burgers were high, but we didn’t think much of the uppity pool.  It was long and narrow with everyone lined up on top of each other.  Not our style at all.  We did think we might try to get there before 5 to try the burgers for our supper, but by 4:30 our tummies were still full from drinks and nachos and we decided instead to amble back home. 

Later on in the evening, the thought of a burger kept coming up  and we decided to order just one to share, via room service.  That burger was huge, and excellent, with fries, and of course the ever present group of little dishes of condiments, and with half each it was a perfectly decent supper right in the comfort of our home space.

Sunday morning dawned with gorgeous blue skies and a lovely breeze.  I so enjoyed my morning walk to the beach, taking in the fresh smells of the thick jungle along the boardwalks, and the sea breezes.  We decided that on this, our last day, we should enjoy the beach.  Arriving at 7:30 AM I found two perfect chairs facing the ocean, under a lovely palapa, and just steps from the entrance to the big pool.

On this morning, picking up some bits for our breakfast, I discovered orejas, the Mexican version of palmiers that I later learned are a Mexican staple that can be found all over Mexico.  Why, oh why didn’t I find these monstrously good things sooner?!  Talk about addictive.  I ate half, and then another bite and another until I ate the entire thing, and it wasn’t small.

We were in our beach chairs by 10, enjoying the sunshine, the gorgeous water, the lovely breezes, and the delightful shade of our palapa.  We sat doing nothing at all, then read a bit, walked up to the nearby pool just behind us for a swim, back to our chairs to sit some more.  A perfect day on a beautiful Mexican beach.

Later in the afternoon I went walking along the water, noticing the thick algae that lined the shoreline after watching people with rakes trying to clear it.  I found a sign explaining the presence of the ugly stuff.  Sigh.  We certainly didn’t want to swim or snorkel in that water, although I did see many people out in the waves beyond the brown stuff that had bits and pieces of garbage here and there.  I kept imagining what my feet might run into on those rocks in that water.  No thanks.

Still, with the clean, cool pool so close by for cooling swims, we had a perfect day on the beach.  In the late afternoon we ambled home to clean up for dinner.  We chose to save our one big special dinner outing for our last night at the resort.  With several very high end restaurants to choose from, it wasn’t an easy choice.  I read the reviews, and hemmed and hawed, trying to decide if we wanted a really fine steak at 100 bucks a pop, authentic Spanish food, (which we aren’t that familiar with enough to take the chance this time around), Blue Fish, which sounded wonderful, but the reviews were less than stellar, the French restaurant which we had checked out earlier and looked just too stuffy, and finally Tramonto, an Italian restaurant that had a lot more than pasta.

Tramonto was a great choice.  We walked to the Grand Luxxe and were lucky enough to get a shuttle to the restaurant, located on the second floor overlooking the pool.  What a delightful dinner!  The ambience wasn’t as Italian as I had hoped for, but it made up for that with fabulous service and truly wonderful food.  I had mouth wateringly tender osso bucco with a green herbed risotto and sauteed mushrooms.  Mo had a perfectly wonderful filet mignon. The salads were fresh and so artistic, and the bread basket was filled with all sorts of creative crackers and breads, including some parmesan crackers that are so popular now since they contain no flour.  Yummy.

Dessert was so much fun.  I ordered the tiramisu, having read a bit about it in a review and I didn’t want to miss the spectacular presentation.  The dessert arrived in a rather unassuming looking round ball of dull chocolate on a white plate.  After placing the plate, the waiter brought forth a pitcher filled with molten chocolate and began to slowly pour it over the ball.  Slowly the hot chocolate melted a hole in the top of the ball, revealing the globular heart of the  tiramisu hidden inside.  It was fun to watch, but oh, so incredibly good as well.  I never get all excited about tiramisu as some people do, but this one was exciting.  With our truly perfect Italian coffee it was a delightful end to a delightful meal.  We even got a shuttle all the way back to our room in the dark, another delight.

With our Mexican week coming to a close the next morning, we stopped at the concierge desk for our final checkout.  It was surprisingly smooth, with a the bell boy picking up our luggage at 10AM as we exited our room, taking it to the main lobby where we would meet up with it once again as we boarded the taxi for the airport.  It seems as though all shuttles are going to the Main Lobby, and this morning it was no exception.  The bell boy at the lobby arranged our cab, $35 USD to the airport, luggage loaded and we were comfortably transported to the Cancun airport and dropped off at our departure terminal.

Leaving Mexico was MUCH easier than getting into Mexico, and we were checked in and through security in a very short time.  With a couple of hours to kill before we boarded our plane, we found a place to eat on the other side of security where we split a sandwich to share with a good Dos XX beer at the Guy Fieri restaurant, with his shows playing on all the tv’s.  Sure didn’t feel much like we were in Mexico!

The flight home was completely uneventful, with too many clouds to see anything at all.  Mo and I had booked aisle seats across from each other, and with the very full flight, that was a good choice.  We both love not having to crawl over anyone to get to the restroom. During the flights, I reviewed some of my blog notes, finished the book I was reading, and did nothing at all for part of the time. 

I can barely remember de-planing in San Francisco, where we had to pick up our luggage, go through customs, and then again check our luggage on to Medford.  For a time there was a bit of worry about missing the flight, but by the time all was said and done we landed safely in Medford a few minutes early.  Such easy flights, both coming and going! 

As I said at the beginning of these stories, in spite of some of the moments of frustration, overall it was a perfect little week long vacation in Mexico.  Not too expensive, easy, and really quite nice.  I find that looking back on the memories and the photos, gives me a chance to realize just how nice it was. Is that a bit like labor?  You forget the hard parts and just remember how good it all is!  Good enough to do it again.

Friday, March 23, 2018

03-07-2018 Chichen Itza and Tulum

When we first started planning this trip, Daughter Deanna told us about Viator, a tour company that they used when she and her husband stayed at Vidanta Riviera Maya with their friends.  Following up on her suggestions, I booked a tour for us that included early entry to the ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum on two separate days, with the hope of enjoying the sites before they became completely overcrowded.

The Pyramid of Kulkucan

Chichen Itza, Tulum, The Yucatan, the Mayans, words that bring to mind all sorts of magical, mythical thoughts of ancient cultures.  It always amazes me how archaeology manages to string together so many little unlinked parts into some kind of cohesive whole, developing an entire story around a few stone images, pieces of old pottery, a random tool in a random place.  Fascinating.

Like many people, I had always wanted to visit the Mayan temples, but also knew that so many of these sites are now completely overrun with tourists.  I knew it might be hard to really experience the temples in the same way that some of my friends have talked about who visited many years ago. Still, I didn’t want to miss out and was really looking forward to the next two days of seeing the magnificent ruins.

Once again, we discovered that Vidanta is not particularly excited about guests leaving the resort with any kind of private tour.  If you book through them, it may be a bit easier, but I didn’t know that at the time, and I am sure their tours are probably more expensive as well.  For us, we would be required to be at the main entry gate for our early morning pickup at 5 AM.  I called the concierge, the main desk, and anyone else I could think of to try to be sure that a shuttle would be at our building to pick us up in time.  I was told that we needed to be ready at least 45 minutes early, even though it was less than a mile to the gate from our room.  Still, we were as yet unsure of the layout of the resort, and had no clue how to actually walk to the main gate on our own in the pitch dark jungle morning, so we made plans to be outside at 4:30 AM for the shuttle.

As luck would have it, the shuttle was actually on time and we were at the gate half an hour early, along with one other couple waiting to go on a similar tour.  We laughed together in the dark, and once again the world got smaller when we discovered that the couple was from Pacifica, where Mo taught school for 25 years.  They knew many of the same people.

The tour bus was big, quite roomy, and comfortable, and we were the only guests on it at the beginning.  There were several stops before we actually got on the main highway leading to Chichen Itza, a toll road that was in excellent condition.  The Yucatan peninsula outside the window was broad and very nearly featureless, with miles and miles of thin trunked trees and vines.  I only discovered later why this jungle looks so not like a jungle.  The entire peninsula is formed in limestone and there are no above ground rivers or lakes, and as our guide said, it is like a giant green pool table.  No mountains, no rivers, and very flat.  All the water is underground, in the form of ceynotes and underground rivers that connect them, sometimes very deep below the surface, and the trees have to reach deep to get to the water, so they are skinny but have very long roots.

We arrived at the site a bit after 8, before most of the tourists, but there were definitely a lot of people already there.  Our guide, Frank, was Mayan, and talked incredibly fast, first in Spanish and then English, going from one to the other mid sentence, rapid fire.  He was interesting, and knowledgeable, but then once we were at the site, he turned us over to another guide, an archaeologist who conducted our part of the tour in English.  Carlos was also Mayan, and gave us lots of little tidbits of information about the current status of the descendants of Mayan people in Mexico, and his thoughts on some of the interpretations of the temples, the art work on the temples and what life was like during the time when Chichen Itza was the most powerful center of the Mayan culture.

I think the most fascinating thing were the acoustics in the “Ball Court”, where the rulers could hear every soft spoken word of visiting guests several hundred yards away, and yet the guests could not hear the rulers at the opposite ends.  Talk about surveillance! The guides all demonstrated this in one way or another and it was fun to hear the echoes and the conversations.

Notice the bearded man.  Maya do not have facial hair

He showed us some interesting images that indicated there was a great diversity of cultures that visited the city, including what he interpreted as a Viking, another as a Middle Eastern person, centuries before Columbus and his supposed “discovery” of the Americas.  He pointed out several images that showed how revered the snake was in Mayan culture, and images of eagles which do not exist on the Yucatan Peninsula, among other indications of a lively and varied trade with many cultures. 

The main pyramid follows the cycles of the sun and the Venus Platform follows the cycles of Venus.

Our guide showed us the interesting angles of the Pyramid of Kulkucan, the iconic image recognized by most everyone as the most famous Mayan temple.  He explained the complex astronomy of the temple, and its connection to the nearby Platform of Venus.  He discussed what is called the Temple of the Warriors and said it was really a marketplace.  (and he knows this how?)

The Sacred Cenote was not on our tour, with a long path leading to it that was a bit daunting for the time period we had to explore, and there were several other locations that we missed seeing simply because we weren’t sure what we had actually missed.  I should have done a bit more research before we traveled here so that I would have known better what to look for at the site.

I really wished for more information, more in depth detail, but realized again that as I perused the internet about the site, there are as many theories as there are scientists expounding them.  I learned that it is difficult to take in all the information given during these tours, especially when someone is talking fast and there isn’t a lot of background. 

After the guided portion of the tour was completed, we were given about 45 minutes to walk around and look at the buildings and take more photos.  I did get a few of the big pyramid, but the people were starting to pour in and I was worried because Mo and I had separated.  Seems we didn’t communicate well enough about our meeting point and I went outside the gates to find her.  We were told definitely that I couldn’t return once through the turnstiles, but with no Mo in sight, I convinced them to let me back in, and sure enough she was waiting for me at the place were she thought we had agreed to meet.  Lesson: don’t separate for any reason in a really big crowd!

The three hour drive home was broken up by a buffet lunch at the small town of Pista.  There were handcrafts, but more expensive and not nearly as charming as what was sold at the temple site.  I fell for the tour guides instructions not to buy at the site because where they were taking us had much better goods.  Stupid me, of course they say that.  How could I have forgotten.  I guess it was a good thing, I came away with no souvenirs of the place except photographs.

There were also a few moments of entertainment by some Mayan women who danced, and I literally mean a few moments, maybe 4 minutes at most.  They were waiting at the door for tips as we left the restaurant.  I don’t mind tipping for something like this, if it is at least some real entertainment. Call me a scrooge, but I didn’t tip the three girls.

Lunch was OK, with some typical buffet type food that wasn’t recognizable, but a big bowl of really good pica de gallo and some nachos that were yummy.

We arrived back at the resort just before 3pm, and as we had been instructed, asked the gate guard to call a shuttle for us.  Excuse me?  “There are no shuttles until 6pm, you will have to walk to the Main Lobby and get a shuttle from there to your room”.  The main lobby was much farther away than our room was, so we decided to take the service road I had seen that led along the back side of the resort directly to the Grand Luxxe Jungle.  Suddenly a nice little man tried to stop me, saying, “No, No, cannot go”.  He insisted we walk the other way. 

Walking home on the “service road” where we are not allowed to walk

Well, my red haired temper started rising, and I said, “Try and stop me!”  and I said to Mo, “Come On, I know the way”.  We didn’t go down the little guy’s road, but wandered off a bit till we found another entrance to the service road and in 15 minutes we were back at our room.  Man I was ticked off!  By that time of day the walk was hot, and I was really worried about Mo’s ankle, but we did fine and got to see the back end of the resort where all the dirty work is done in a way that isn’t usually visible.

Just to add a little perspective:  The blue line is our prohibited route that we took home.  The red line is what they wanted us to do, with the pink circle in the middle the lobby of the Grand Mayan.  We are in the second to the last building where the red and blue line join together.  The other pink circle by Azur Restaurant is where the front desk told us we would be located when they “upgraded” us. 

That evening we skipped supper, with a good lunch in our bellies, and neither of us had any desire to wander around the grounds looking for shuttles and food and instead relaxed at home in our comfy space. 

The next morning was another repeat, only we had an extra hour before having to get to the gate by 6:10.  I was a little less stressed about it because I knew the back road and could get us there even in the dark if I needed to and if the shuttle didn’t show up.  But it did, and we got there in time for our second day tour, this time on a less comfortable bus.

Our destination was the ruins of Tulum, about 2 hours southeast of our hotel right on the coast.  We stopped again to pick up several different people at different locations before continuing.  Just let me add a little side note here.  I spent the entire time on the Yucatan Peninsula trying to figure out which direction I was facing.  The sun was in the wrong place, the ocean was definitely in the wrong place, and no matter which direction we were traveling, it felt like the wrong direction!  I pride myself on my sense of direction, but that peninsula, with water on all sides and everything at crazy angles completely confused my map maker brain.

When we arrived at the site of the Tulum ruins, there was just a slight cloud cover, in spite of the day’s prediction for rain.  There is a small area of shops near the entrance, and then a long walk down a rough gravel pathway leading to the ruins.  Once we were through the entry gates, however, everything turned really magical.

Both of us immediately loved the place.  It felt different, probably because there has been a lot less restoration here than at Chichen Itza, and the ruins really feel like ruins.  There is also more vegetation, and the location is magnificent, right on the coast overlooking the sea.

Our fast talking guide held up tattered photos of what the temples and houses looked like.  I can only imagine how colorful the city must have been in its heyday.  Sophia was quick, especially in Spanish, and she was sharp tongued and a bit funny, but her part of the tour really didn’t last very long.  She gave us a few tidbits of information, but once again, I really wished I had done my research before I came to visit these amazing sites.

Later, at the resort, I attempted to find some kind of library or book store to follow up on some of the sites we visited, but they have nothing, except for a few tattered travel books scattered about the buildings here and there.  In my comments at the end of the visit, I begged for a bookstore or a library!

Tulum felt like a place where people lived, even though we were told it was only the wealthy rulers who actually lived within the walls and the rest of the folks who tilled the soil lived in the jungle outside.  The city was inhabited later than Chichen Itza, with theories that the Maya moved there as drought dried up the ceynotes inland.  At Tulum, there was more rain, and they had the sea to provide food even in times of drought.  Again, all theories, and I hope I can find the time to dig in a bit more into the assumed history of these places.  The Conquistadors destroyed the people with their diseases when they landed on the beach here at Tulum, and the city was found rotting in the jungle in 1842 by more explorers. The Mayans had no gold, no silver, no metal of any kinds, and so there was nothing for the conquerors to take from them except their health and their culture.

After the tour ended, we were again given a short hour to wander a bit, and to walk the steps down to the beach.  We had been told to wear swimsuits so we could swim in the water, but with all the algae the water seemed murky.  It was also quite windy, and the sediments were stirred up too much to even consider swimming.  Our snorkel gear is safely stashed in our suitcase back at our room.  Turns out the windy weather kept us from any chance to explore life beneath the surface of the water during any part of our Mexican vacation this time around.

On this day, there was no lunch offered, just a simple “snack”, which was a cookie and a box of some kind of tropical juice.  We were glad that we had taken the opportunity to pick up some snacks at the 7-11 type store in Playa Del Carmen when the bus stopped there to pick up a few people.  Eating lunch under the trees while we watched the coatis was delightful.  They are quick little animals related to raccoons, with prehensile tails like monkeys. 

There are still beautiful flowers and gardens around Tulum, and for the first time we saw the endemic Yucatan Jay.  The young birds have the yellow eye ring and yellow bill and the mature birds have a black ring and black bill.  As with all jays, they were friendly and noisy, and made for fun watching.

Once back home in the early afternoon, with Mo’s ankle feeling OK, we decided to walk the suggested route to the Grand Mayan Lobby and get a shuttle from there.  It took quite a bit longer, but was a pleasant walk and we got to see another part of the resort that we had previously only seen in the dark.

As we entered our room once again, the rains started in earnest.  Hard rain, and even a bit chilly.  We had no really warm clothes with us, and curled up in the big fluffy white bathrobes provided in our room while we tried to decide what to do about dinner.

The Taco Bar at Greens was the closest place, but in the pouring rain we thought better of walking and decided to take the shuttle instead.  Our concierge in the building was very helpful, and for a $300 peso deposit gave us a large umbrella.  With a shuttle ride to the Grand Mayan lobby once again, we just had a short walk along the boardwalks to get to the restaurant.  I think that was the hardest, thickest rain either of us have experienced, and by the time we walked the distance, in spite of the umbrella, we were soaking wet.  And in spite of the hard rain, the little taco bar was completely filled.  Our friendly hostess once again found a place for us to sit while we waited for a dinner table, but the rain was bouncing off the sidewalks and all over the table as well. 

No photo can show how hard that rain was coming down, but it was a true tropical magnificent crazy rain, and we laughed a lot as we got wetter and wetter waiting for our dinner.  Finally a table emptied, and we had one more luscious dinner full of Yucatan flavors that are so different than the typical Mexican food you find in a typical restaurant in the US.  Fabulous.  Not sure I even managed a photo of that dinner, and I cannot even remember what I ate, but I remember the flavors and how incredibly good it was.

When we finished the hostess told us to wait and she called a shuttle for us.  We stood under our trusty umbrella in the pouring rain and within 5 real minutes were on a shuttle scooting us to our warm and dry suite where we both immediately took a very hot shower and called it a day.  And yes, I DID manage photos of the dinner, including my quesadilla with a magnificent hand made corn tortilla, and the most perfect flan I ever tasted.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

03-05-2018 Let’s Go to Mexico

We are home again, back in Grants Pass at the Sunset House, where the chilly weather has no clue that Spring is officially here.  Before I tell the story, a caveat.  I wrote notes as we were experiencing this trip, and the blog will reflect that.  However, by the time it was all said and done, we both decided that it was a great value for the money, and we might choose to do it again someday.  So take our little rants about this and that with a grain of salt. It was a great vacation. Also, keep in mind if you click on a photo, you will be taken to the SmugMug album online where that photo resides, and will be able to see the entire album if you choose.

Even with three weeks in the Southern Deserts, we did know that March in Grants Pass can still be gray and wet.  Time for one more escape before spring brings out the daffodils, the party pretty pink trees, and the rakes and mowers.  Last Christmas when I was visiting Daughter Deanna in Northern Washington, we chatted about Mo and I wishing to fly off somewhere warm.  Air miles were waiting.  Originally, a tentative trip to the US Virgin Islands was floating around in the back of our minds, but the hurricanes put a big dent in those plans.

Deanna popped up with the great idea that we use one of their timeshare weeks near Cancun.  At $800 for the week, it was less expensive than most of the hotels I searched before we made the commitment.  Deanna found a nice week for us at Vidanta Riviera Maya, about half way between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen on the beautiful Caribbean coast of the Yucatan.  Air miles in hand, Mo and I managed to get decent flights leaving from our local Medford airport on United to Cancun with only one stop in Denver.  Although I was a bit leery about United, with some rather nasty reports on the news and from friends who had flown United recently, it was the best deal for the miles we had so we bit the bullet and booked the flight.

Similar to my recent flight to Spokane at Christmas, everything went without a hitch.  We got up at 2:30 AM, with plenty of time to leave by 3:30, drive to Medford and go through the check-in line at 4:15.  Perfect timing for our 5:30 flight.  I had previously downloaded the United app, and we received our boarding passes via the phone, including our passports being scanned and entered.  Seems crazy to put my passport on some kind of app, but I guess everything is a bit crazy in this digital world.  If they are going to get me, they will get me one way or another.

We packed fairly light, but with snorkels and cameras and such, still needed to check a bag each with the baggage charge of $25.  Another fact of life it seems.  One more time I was shifted into the fast lane for security, no idea why, but Mo wasn’t as lucky.  Still, we had plenty of time to get to our gate and wait for the on time airplane. 

I still love flying, and the plane was empty enough that we had the 3 seat row to ourselves, so I could stretch out and still get a good window seat to watch the landscape below.  I loved seeing Dallas/Fort Worth from the air, sooooo big!.  As we approached the Yucatan coast, the vast green jungle spread out below us, and I kept imagining how truly awful it would be to have to land in that jungle, no roads, crazy snakes and bugs, alligators, wild wild looking country.  I could see the famous cenotes, sinkholes in the limestone that characterize the peninsula, and along the silvery white strand of beaches there were strange colored backwaters. 

Some in orange, and pink and lime green in patterns that gave no clue as to their source.  I finally found them on Google Maps and read about the Parque Natural Ria Lagartos, “Alligator River”, and the nearby salt ponds that turn different colors based on types of algae that grow in them. The research confirmed that while the jungle may be beautiful and filled with all sorts of birds, the landscape was just as scary as I imagined it to be.

I was surprised to find that the plane wasn’t too terribly uncomfortable, although United now has an entertainment system on some planes that requires that you use your own device for movies or whatever, and for that to work the app must also be on your device.  I had it on my phone, but Mo didn’t have it on her IPad.  She had her card games to keep her occupied, however, and the flight to Denver was on time and uneventful, as was the next flight to Cancun.  On time, uneventful, no crying babies, and a bit of a view until the clouds took over.  We felt incredibly blessed.

Until we hit the airport in Cancun.  Seems as though the personnel was significantly reduced and at the more than 2 dozen booths available for immigration into Mexico, there were only 2 and sometimes 3 people actually checking in all the incoming passengers from many flights.  It took us two and one half hours of standing in slowly snaking lines around rows and rows of ribbons and frustrated people to get through that nightmare.  Sheesh!.  Luckily I had dressed in layers and managed to peel down a few of those layers to a light shirt and capris and no socks to enjoy the warm and humid Mexican temperatures.

By the time we got through the line, we were exhausted, and it was a bit of a kerfuffle trying to find the “man in the blue shirt” who would be taking us to our transportation for the resort.  Seems as though there are several men in blue shirts, all insisting that “they” are your transportation, but of course they weren’t.  After getting caught by a couple of them, thinking they were ours until they asked for a deposit for a “free day” at some new resort did we figure out we were being scammed.  And Deanna even warned me!  We didn’t fall for it, but by the time we did finally find the real guy, it was already getting late.  A man in a cart at the curb sold cold beer in a plastic glass and we gladly shared one while waiting another 90 minutes for our shuttle to actually pick us up.  The driver kept saying “5 minutes”, but we learned over the week that in Mexico 5 minutes can mean anything from 20 minutes to actual hours.

When we got to the resort, we had to jump through a few more hoops.  The shuttle took us to the “main lobby”, where our baggage was again rolled off somewhere to meet us later at our room.  We were then shuttled some distance to the lobby of the Grand Mayan Lobby, where we were to check in.  Another 40 minutes or so passed and we finally were assigned a room, an “upgrade” they called it, showing us on the map of the resort a very nice place not far from the pool and restaurants.  OK, whatever that means, I guess we will take the upgrade from the “Bliss” to the “Grand Luxxe Jungle”.  And please, where can we get some food? 

We finally decided to walk to the closest restaurant before going to our room, (which would require waiting for another shuttle) which turned out to be the Greens taco bar on the golf course, still open and very very busy.  The hostess took pity on us, weary travelers who hadn’t eaten since some ungodly morning hour, and found us two seats at the bar.  We watched the chef carve the roasted pork which ended up in our tacos, and had a meal that tasted fabulous to our tired and hungry souls.  (We ate there again later in the week, and the food was really fabulous then too.)

We walked back to the Grand Mayan lobby where we once more waited for a shuttle to take us to Grand Luxxe Jungle.  “Next one, 5 minutes”.  That became the refrain that we got used to by the end of the week, but we also learned that walking was often the best option, even if it meant 1.2 miles each way to get anywhere.  That was the downside of our upgrade to the newer and really quite lovely Grand Luxxe Jungle.

We were shuttled to our room, and when the bell boy opened the door I have to admit it was a bit overwhelming.  Our “room” was a suite with two bathrooms, a big kitchen, a living room, all sorts of really lovely decor and a LOT of space.  Quite the upgrade, for sure, and nothing like the photos I had viewed previously of the Bliss rooms.

We wandered around a bit, and almost got lost trying to find ourselves, but settled in to the truly comfortable king bed with luscious sheets, tons of good pillows and bolsters and a truly comfortable mattress.  I slept great every single night we were there.  The showers, both of them, were as big as most bathrooms, and the rain shower was my favorite, with plenty of hot water every time but once.  It had been a long travel day.

I turned on my phone, connected to the WiFi, and opened up Google Maps to try to figure out exactly where we were.  Seems as though everything was wrong!.  Google maps had the little blue dot at least a mile north of where I was told we were to be located.  I figured that something must be wrong with the satellite or maybe coordinates are different in Mexico, and I had no clue what to do about it, but decided I would worry about it the next day.

Morning dawned with a bit of sunlight coming through the filmy curtains and breezes in the jungle vegetation outside the big doors leading to the patio areas.  Thank goodness Deanna warned us about bringing our own coffee AND our own coffee filters, since it was a 2.5 mile round trip walk to the market, the restaurants, the pools, and anything else.  There was also a fancy Keurig pot with little tubs of coffee at 2.70 USD each, but we did find another regular coffee pot in the cupboard and made our own Seattle’s Best coffee. 

Mo has been having a bit of tendon trouble with her ankle lately, so we decided that I could go exploring, see where things were located, and hopefully find a bagel or something for breakfast.  Off I went, and of course there wasn’t a shuttle in sight, so I walked.

I had a map of the place, but each of the three maps offered of the resort are a bit different, and of course I didn’t think Google was telling me where I was.  Turns out it was, and we were exactly where Google thought we were located! I wandered the back roads toward the Grand Luxxe Lobby, through the back trails and onto the lovely boardwalk system that is well developed in the older parts of the resort, just not in our area.

I found the restaurants, the immense and quite beautiful swimming pool, and finally the market, with a coffee bar and a small bakery where I found a bagel and a roll to take back home to our room.  We knew that eventually we would need to get off the resort and go shopping for supplies in Playa Del Carmen, but didn’t want to try to do that on our first day there.  Turns out we never actually did that at all.  The taxi would have been $24  USD each way, and the shuttle was only $8 USD each way, but the shuttle only ran on the odd hours and the trip would have required us to stay in Playa Del Carmen for a few hours, and we never really wanted to do that, at least on this trip.  Next time we might know to head for the Mega store on the first day, and not worry about the lost day.

After breakfast, the two of us put on our swimsuits and cover ups and set off to explore the grounds and find the pools.  It was close to mid day by then, and when we arrived at the pools, they were busy, with every. single. deck. chair. taken.  Every one, both at the pools, at the beach, everywhere except in the “Premium” area by the beach for Grand Luxxe members only, of which we were a part since we had our Grand Luxxe upgrade.

We explored a bit, but found to our delight that the “river” that runs through part of the resort was accessible in several places.  No chair needed.  We dropped our shoes and cover-ups and slipped into the fabulous water.  Ahhhhh.  This is why we came to Mexico. 

After wandering the resort we found another lovely area reserved for Grand Luxxe upgrade folks only called “The Beach Club”.  It was private, and quite lovely, but also felt a bit snooty.  We asked for a chair and were told that the only thing available was one down toward the beach.  Seems as though people line up at 10 AM every day in order to get good seats even in the Beach Club. 

There are also sections there reserved for what is called “The Experience”, with unlimited food and drink all day long and a butler at your disposal for just $250 per day,. We took the small lounge that was offered near the beach, and decided to order a cocktail with a snack that would serve us for dinner.  After waiting some time for a menu, we found out from the folks behind us that it took them more than 2 hours to get served.  Nah, we had no desire to hang out there for that long at all so we left our “exclusive” strangely uncomfortable lounger and wandered back through the resort in search of some place to eat.  Near the pool we found a small informal restaurant that served excellent food at prices a bit less than most of the high end restaurants that define the resort.  Our service was also excellent, and very timely.  Exclusive isn’t all it is cracked up to be, for sure.

We had another lovely meal, with nachos served with several little dishes of amazing condiments, and something called a Mayan Wrap that was superb.  Great early supper for us before we headed back to our room to try to get oriented and figure out how we could manage to get to the main gate by 5 am the next morning for our tour of Chichen Itza.