Friday, January 27, 2012

Yummy Road Trip to one of the Top Ten Beaches in the World!

1955 Oldsmobile - Dad, Judy, and I (The short one!)

When my sisters and I were kids, Dad’s favourite trick was to announce early in the morning that we were going on a “Mystery Trip” and to be in the car in an hour or we would get left behind. 

Road trips – love ‘em!

Beaches of Tulum Mexico

This time Lawrie and I were headed out on an overnight trip to visit the sugar white beaches of Tulum, dotted with little eco-chic hotels and gourmet restaurants.  

The beaches of Tulum were just recently rated in the Top Ten Beaches of the World by Trip Advisor fans. 

As we drove south towards the City of Tulum our first stop was Pelicanos Restaurant in Puerto Morelos for breakfast.  Situated on the beach at Puerto Morelos it was the perfect place to enjoy the view of the ocean and watch the local kids having a great time in the surf. 

We drove a few more miles south to the beach area at Tulum and ate a late supper at a fabulous beachside Italian Restaurant in the Posada Margherita. 
The owner/waiter came to our table and described our four dinner choices for the evening; grilled fish, fish sautéed in sea water, pasta with lobster, and pasta with veggies. 
We made our choices, ordered a yummy bottle of red wine. Five minutes later he returned with a wonderful selection of complimentary appetizers.   The food and wine were perfect.   

Copy of temple friezes for our pool on Isla Mujeres

After breakfast in the morning we headed up the road towards Coba – we were on the search for the creator of wall plaques that are copies of the temple friezes at various Mayan ruins.  The first location we stopped at had a few, but roadside vendor directed us farther on up the road past a couple of the small villages to where his dad and brothers made the pieces.
We eventually settled on a triptych of three plaques for the wall near our pool. 
A little dickering over the price, lots of admiring of Don Alfredo’s other works and his autographed book by a famous photographer from New York, and his sons wrapped our purchase in cardboard for the trip home. 
La Zebra beach cottages & gourmet restaurant
Next stop was back to the beaches of South Tulum to spend the afternoon at La Zebra Restaurant and Beach Club.  It is in the same area as Posada Margherita, but further along the winding beach road. 
Great spot to fritter away a few hours in complete relaxation – white sand beaches, very few people, nice restaurant within a few steps of the beach, and a shower to rinse away the sand before changing back into traveling clothes. 

Eventually we started our circuitous route home stopping for cappuccino at the Turtle Bay Bakery and Café in Akumal.
Turtle Bay Bakery & Cafe
Great road trip.
It was very different than any road trip that my sisters and I went on as kids; six people jammed in the 1955 Oldsmobile, with an aging cocker spaniel that had a serious gas problem. 
And no gourmet meals on those trips!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wedding Stalker!

I love stalking weddings!  I can usually get great candid photos while the wedding participants are concentrating the official photographer's very detailed instructions.  "Stand here.  Look over your shoulder.  Turn this way.  Pretend you are blowing a kiss."  (You know, you've all been there at some point either as the bride, groom, bride's maid, or best man.)

Photographer setting up the shots!

The young couple staying next door at Casa Luna Turquesa for the last few weeks, planning their wedding, finally tied the knot on Saturday afternoon.  Vows were exchanged on the beach in front of the house while an intimate gathering of family looked on.  I hung off of our upper floor balcony - paparazzi-style -  to take a few photos of the group, just as they released a blizzard of iridescent soap bubbles into the air.  The bubbles were a very pretty alternative to confetti!

Love her shoes!

A little later in the afternoon two blocks south of our house, we spotted another bride and groom working with their photographer.  This bride was wearing fabulous black sequined high-heels, not intended for clamoring over a rock-strewn beach.  However, her very attentive groom tried his best to help her totter from location to location, lifting her up and over the larger obstructions, at the direction of the photographer - looking for the very best photo opportunity. 

November 2011 in Centro

This got me to thinking about how perfect Isla Mujeres is for tropical weddings with sugar-white sand beaches, palm trees, mild and sunny weather most of the year, dozens of great restaurants and catering companies, plus lots of accommodation choices for the incoming guests. 

We have a number wedding and event planners working and living on the island, making it easier for couples to get married here. 

These talented coordinators will help with locations, flowers, cakes, entertainment, catering, photographers, and a myriad of details to make it a very special day.

First there is Tiffany Lanier and her group of talented wedding coordinators working under the name of SunHorse Weddings.  Tiffany has been creating fabulous weddings since 2002. Her website is -   

Then there is the sister team of Maria del Mar, and Kin Lima who grew up on Isla Mujeres, are fluently bilingual and are descendants of the Lima family.  Their website is -

The third wedding planner is Sabina Tamm, arriving in 1988 from Germany she has been organizing special events for the past fifteen years.  Her website is -

For great catering our favourite is Barlito's Bakery and Cafe & Sonrisas Catering, with yummy creations from Brad and Tiffany Wareing.  They have a FaceBook page that you can join for more info.

Well equiped photographer - she has 3 cameras!

So once the decisions are made and the day begins - just remember to relax, enjoy, participate, and be present in the moment. 

And keep your eyes open, you may see me smiling in the background, snapping photos of your special day.


Our Recent Restaurant Review:  Limón Restaurante

Limón is the brainchild of Sergio Martinez and Charrissa Gillingham - formerly of Sergio's on Playa del Sol.  It is situated on the ground floor of their pretty family home, near the Super Express in la Glorias.  (If you are looking at the Super Express, turn to your left, and look for the terracotta-coloured house just up from the corner.)

Limon Restaurante on Isla Mujeres

Out of a possible 1 to 5 Forks  - here's our rating for Limón:

Food:        4 Forks - My Seared Tuna was fabulous as were my Mussels.  Lawrie had delicious Beef Carpaccio and a Trilogy of Rosemary Kebabs with beef, chicken, and shrimp.  His only difficulty was in removing the meat from the skewers - maybe a little spray 'pam' would fix that situation.

Ambiance:  5 Forks - lovely inside, and in the garden
Service:     5 Forks - with the exception of one forgotten beer - perfect!
Wine:        3 Forks - one red and one white, good wines, but limited selection
Value:       4 Forks - $800.00 pesos for the two of us including tip and wine

Charrissa and Sergio

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cruising the Neighbourhood, plus reviews of Wine and a Restaurant

Interesting new sculpture on west side of Isla

It's always fun to see what's new on the island when we are out walking in the early evening. 

We left our house around 4:30 in the afternoon and headed towards town, eventually wrapping around the airport to walk along the west side of the island.

New stamped concrete sidewalk and seawall on west side

We ambled along while I snapped photos of the seawall re-construction project, admiring the white stamped concrete walkways, white stone walls, and the new fishing boat sculpture.

When completed it will be a beautiful place to seat and watch the sunsets.

On our walk we eventually made our way to the new Bahia Tortuga Bar (Turtle Bay) just to have a peak at this new facility. 

new - Bahia Tortuga Bar

It is located about two lots north of the ever-popular Soggy Peso Bar & Grill.  Danny, the owner, has created a beautiful setting for the bar.  

And, some of you may remember J-J, the very tall and very pleasant young man who worked last year at the Soggy Peso as a bartender.  He's the new bar manager for the Bahia Tortuga Bar. 

Beautiful sunsets from this location as well.


Wine!  by Lawrie Lock

The Curse of the Tropics

I know - you think all is perfect down here in paradise.  I assure you it's not!  Wine (my little vice) in the tropics has a shelf life that is decidedly short, especially white wine. 

My favourite white wine is a Sauvignon Blanc, and it's a good example of why I don't buy anything over two years old.  The fruit flavours and citrus overtones fade when the wine is too old, or has been mistreated in transit.  A hint for you, if you see a white wine that is lemon yellow in colour when viewed in a bottle or poured in a glass - stay away.  It is old, has no flavour, and just plain nasty to drink!  The exceptions are the big, oaked, Chardonnays from Australia and California.  French Chardonnays are typically not "oaked" and should be light in colour, not lemon yellow.

 Our favourite: Sauvignon Blanc, and a Chardonnay
So now that it's 2012, for white wine, I buy nothing older than 2010.  The date on the bottle is when the grapes were harvested.  And you have to remember that when you are looking at wine from south of the equator such as New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina, their seasons are opposite of ours.  Their winter is our summer and vice versa which means that the wine is six months older than when calculating for our northern seasons.  A good Chardonnay can be a bit older but will also lose its fruit characteristics with heat and rough treatment.

Recommendations for Sauvignon Blanc in Mexico
Argentina - Secreto
Chile - Santa Rita Medalla Real 
Chile - Santa Rita 120
New Zealand - Kim Crawford
New Zealand - Nobilo

For the reds, again use caution when buying.  Nothing over three years old.  Yeah, I know, in Canada, the US, and Europe this would be considered to be a very young red wine.  Remember the temperature in the tropics is hot all year around.  The bigger stores may be nice and cool with air conditioning, but the un-refrigerated truck that brought the wine to your city traveled over miles of highways and rough local roads pitted with pot holes, through temperatures of 120F or 40C.  Not good for wine!  Rough treatment will prematurely age wines.

Recommendations for reds in Mexico
Australia - Cabernet or Shiraz
Chile - Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
France - most of the reds, but watch the dates
USA - Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon

So, remember drink fast and often.  You don't want the wine to go bad. 
(Did I say that?)

(Lawrie, has in a previous life, managed several gourmet restaurants, and he managed a winery in the Okanagan Valley of Canada.  He wrote a weekly wine column in Canada for three years. He enjoys wine!)


Restaurant Review:

This year there has been a rash of new restaurant openings, so many in fact that a group of us decided we would try one new place each week. 

Almar, recently re-opened

Almar Restaurante, located at Casa Suesnos on Carretera Garrafón. (It's on the southwest side of Isla.)

Out of a possible 1 to 5 Forks for each category - the results have been averaged for the 6 people who voted:

Food:                     4 Forks - mixed reviews, some good and some not
Ambiance:              5 Forks - beautiful spot on the west side of the island
Service:                  3 Forks - inattentive
Wine:                     2 Forks - a choice of one red and one white

1 order of Beef Fajitas - good
1 order of Fish and Chips - good
3 orders of Fish with Tamarind Sauce - okay, but not great
1 order of Quesadillas - good

Total for 6 people, with two bottles of Chilean wine, and 4 beers = $2200.00 pesos (before we added on the tip).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Night of the Kings

In Spain, and some Latin American countries including Mexico, January 6th is called El Día de los Reyes (The Day of the Kings).  That's the day the three kings: Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar are said to have arrived in Bethlehem on horse, camel and elephant, bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. (Both frankincense and myrrh were highly sought after aromatic tree resins thought to have healing properties.) 

Night of the Kings parade on Isla

Most towns in Spain and Latin America arrange colorful parades on January 5th representing the arrival of the Reyes Magos to town so children can see before they go to bed.  Sweet wine, fruit and milk are left for the kings and their camels, similar to the milk and cookies my sisters and I left for Santa Claus and his eight reindeer to enjoy. 

On the eve of January 6th, Spanish and Latin America children frequently leave their clean shoes ready to receive the kings' presents. 

(We, on the other hand, put our dad's big woolen work socks at the foot of our beds on Christmas eve.)
Party for island kids in sports dome
Imagine our surprise when on January 9th, a Monday night, we discovered a massive island-wide kid's party just a few blocks from our house, celebrating the Night of the Kings!  The covered sports dome near the Donasusa grocery store, and behind the Naval Hospital was crammed to overflowing with kids. 

Kids on bouncy castles. Kids on slides. Kids inside what looked to be a wresting ring. And more kids falling off, into, or over every type of kid apparatus you could imagine.  The laughter volume was turned all the way up to the max! 

How many can we fit on this slide?

At one point while I was haphazardly shooting photos of the bedlam, I noticed a couple of little kids that we knew, about to be squished under the feet of several slightly older girls.  Happily, the older girls quickly reached down and pulled the younger ones out of the mess, handing them safely over the top of the inflatable slide to their grandparents.  And the laughter carried on!

Then as we continued walking up the street heading in the general direction of our house, we encountered the Night of the Kings parade.  There were three kings in the lead vehicle along with a political representative from the state, followed by another twenty or thirty decorated vehicles, golf carts, and motos.  Everyone had handfuls of candy to pitch towards the spectators.

Tossing candy!

(Amazing how quickly my sweetie could scramble after the tasty goat's milk toffee candies.) 

As we meandered our way home, several neighbours hailed us with greetings, requests that we come over and view their colourful Christmas decorations, or elaborate Nativity scenes.  It was a pretty great way to end our evening walk.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

“Hagamos un viaje por carretera” Let’s take a road trip!

When our friend Janet tore off the page on her Living Language day-by-day Spanish calendar to reveal the words of wisdom for the day this is what she discovered – “Hagamos un viaje por carretera.” Let’s take a road trip!  Prophetic words indeed!

Sun's comin' up while we're on boat
We had arranged to pick up Janet and Dave at 5:30 in the morning so that we could catch the first car ferry off of the island which leaves at 6:00 a.m.   Dave – it turns out – is definitely not an early morning person.  He doesn’t do “o-dark-hundred.”  He was still grumping about getting up at 4:45 when we picked them up at 5:30 a.m.  He grumped more while on the ferry, and still more as we drove towards Valladolid.  In his world morning doesn’t start until 8:00 a.m.   We even supplied him with a pillow so that he could resume his beauty sleep.

I had originally planned a pretty rigorous agenda for the day; pottery shopping in Leona Vicario (a small hamlet near Cancun), then Valladolid for breakfast, next Ek Balaam temple ruins, then Rio Lagartos to see the flamingoes, and return to Punta Sam to catch the last car ferry around 8:15 p.m.  It didn’t quite happen that way but we had a fun day with lots of laughs all the same. 

Valladolid Centro

I drove, Dave co-piloted, and Janet and Lawrie navigated from the back seat.  We had breakfast in Valladolid at the Hotel el Meson del Marques, which is turning out to be one of our favorite places to stay and to eat while on road trips.  Then we headed north (I think, but have absolutely no sense of direction) towards the Ek Balaam temple. 

As it was already 10:00 in the morning by this time I suggested that we bypass our visit to the ruins to the accompaniment of sighs of relief from both Dave and Lawrie.  In their words: "seen one ruin, seen ‘em all."

We made pretty good time on Highway 295, until we hit Tizimen, a medium-sized town between Valladolid and Rio Lagartos.  All the streets are one-way, which is pretty common in the colonial towns that were built before the invention of vehicles as the streets are now too narrow for two-way vehicle traffic.  But they were one-way with no directional signs other than “Tizimen Sorriana’s” which I took to mean that this was the way to follow.  Nope!  It took us to the Sorriana's grocery store in Tizimen.  It’s was great place for a pit-stop to use the very clean baños.  Then in desperation I turned to the back-seat drivers and said “which way?” Lawrie and Janet both said north.  Okay, where the hell is north?   Dave said turn left, they said turn right, turns out the driver and co-pilot had absolutely no sense of direction, but the two back-seat drivers were right bang on and we found highway #295 again.

Calotmul Cathedral

The next photo op was a very small town called Calotmul with a beautiful but abandoned cathedral.  Just a quick stop to take a couple of photos and back on the road again.   We discovered that the road from Valladolid to Calotmul has many, many furniture makers that display their chairs, stools, tables and other wares along the roadside.  It would be a good place to shop if we were in need of furniture.

We arrived in Rio Lagartos around noon, and headed to the Rio Lagartos Adventures and Torreja Restaurant owned and operated by Diego Nunez and his family.  He was recommended to us by another island friend, Harriet Lowe. 

Thousands of birds on the Rio Lagartos

We had an interesting two-hour long boat trip up the river.  We saw flamingoes, osprey, storks, herons, and other fascinating birds.  Diego took us through the mangroves on the off chance that we would spot a crocodile, but they are nocturnal so no luck there.  He also suggested that we might want to participate in the mud baths, but fortunately none of us had brought bathing suits so we could skip that dubious pleasure.  I don’t know, but somehow the idea of plastering ourselves with a combination of sand, mud and bird poop just didn’t do it for us.
Folks who did the mud bath (sand and bird poop) option

By the time we got off the river boat a nasty storm was hanging over the community of Rio Lagartos.  We managed – with a few wrong turns down unmarked one-way streets – to find Highway 295 back in the direction of Valladolid.  Then the storm hit!  Ugly but short.  

Rio Lagartos

Our adventure back through Tizimen was nearly as exciting as the first time.  We drove straight into town on Highway 295 only to discover, as the locals were madly waving at us, that it suddenly turns into a one-way the wrong way!  Damn-it!  We turned around, headed left!  Nope – dead end!  Turned around again, and headed back towards the group of guys who were hanging out on the street corner laughing at us.  One of the guys was motioning towards the road that we should have taken.  Faking embarrassment Dave hid behind his pillow while the woman-driver stopped and thanked the guys for helping us out, that made them laugh even harder! 

Our favourite restaurant in Valladolid

Back in Valladolid by around 4:30 p.m., we decided to have an early dinner at the Taberna de Los Frailes (Friar’s Tavern) near the nunnery.  It’s a great spot with a pleasant ambiance, and varied menu, except of course, not everything is available all the time.  We arrived back at the UltraMar water taxi at Puerto Juarez around 7:30 p.m., having decided to leave the car on the Cancun side for the night.

Lawrie and I love road trips – and they are a heck of a lot more fun with willing adventure partners.  Let’s do another road trip soon … and yes, Dave, we will be leaving again at o-dark-hundred!