¡Viva Mexico!

After a long winter that looked a lot like this most of the time:

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…we finally made our escape to sunny Mexico. The explosion of color and the warm, friendly people were just what the doctor ordered to thaw our frozen norteño bones. It was like we were in one of those movies like The Wizard of Oz where back in Kansas everything was in black-and-white, and then, bam, technicolor Mexico. What a sight for sore eyes!

First stop, Mérida. This charming city and its gorgeous colonial architecture and delicious Yucatecan food swept us off our feet. By the time we left a few days later, we were already planning our next trip back and all the eating, drinking, and wandering we’d be doing. When we do return, I’ll be seriously looking into how to get a job doing cool bird graffiti like the stuff we saw all over the place. Kind of amazing how tasteful it is in some cases, almost respectful of the building’s tenants and designed to go with the existing vibe.

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The Sunday market with its graphic displays of meats and other goodies was mesmerizing for gringos like us, raised on prepackaged everything in our grocery stores. We bought some spices for making cochinita pibil (a pork dish rubbed in delicious spices and baked in the ground in banana leaves) and wanted to try some of the tempting delicacies from one of the many food stalls but were too stuffed from the massive breakfast at our hotel. Though I did manage to choke down the tortilla the kind folks at the tortilleria offered me hot off the press. Next time, we’ll know to keep it light so we can indulge in more Yucatecan specialties like panuchos and papadzules!

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We fell in love with the town’s main square, the Plaza Grande, where evertyhing seemed to come alive, especially at night. All the families come out to cool off under the stars with the little ones running around playing together. We shared a delicious elote (or corn) ice cream cone (sort of like buttered popcorn without the salt) in the plaza one night. All around us lovers sat together in cleverly intertwined white chairs that allowed them to sit facing one another and gaze into each other’s eyes all night. ¡Qué romántico!

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And then we were off to Akumal. I sat next to a sweet Mexican grandmother who was on her way to visit her daughter in Valladolid. We passed a few hours chatting in my broken Spanish about her family and her children and life in Mérida, and all the things I have to eat next time I’m in town! Mexican buses are really quite deluxe: We had movies and TV shows dubbed in Spanish (Cake Boss seems virtually the same in Spanish, by the way) and plenty of A/C to freeze us half to death by the time we reached our destination.

Much as we hated to leave Merida, it was pretty great to get to the beach and feel the cool breeze coming off the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, while sipping margaritas of course! Akumal is a little corner of the beach about an hour south of Cancun that many refer to as Gringolandia because it’s jam-packed with gringos like us trying to get away from the frozen tundra we call home. For this reason, there’s not a lot of opportunity to practice your Spanish, but the drinks are cold and the beach is a snorkeler’s paradise, where you can wade right out into an amazing underwater world of wonders. Our condo was right on the beach and a great base for exploring, or just lying under a palapa. What’s not to like about that? (And how do we emigrate to Mexico, again?)

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One rainy day we took a colectivo over to Tulum. On our way out to catch the colectivo, we passed a 6-foot boa constrictor. A few guys were trying to wrangle it away from the sidewalk and Rich assured me there was nothing to worry about because I was about the same size as the boa, but it still made me a tad nervous as I scooted past.

Did I mention how awesome Mexico’s transportation is? For a few dollars we shared a ride in a little colectivo, or minivan to Tulum Pueblo, then a quick taxi ride to the beach. The beaches in Tulum really are way more fun for swimming (especially if you’re an adventurous swimmer like Rich) than Akumal’s. Tulum’s soft sugar-white sand really can’t be beat, but I’ll take the calm bay of Akumal once you get out there and start swimming! We stopped for dinner at our favorite place in Tulum Pueblo, Don Cafeto, and then a quick colectivo ride back to Akumal.

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Compared with Tulum, the dining options were pretty limited in Akumal, but Las Tres Acapulqueñas (run by three sisters from Acapulco) turned out some decent food that was great for taking home to eat on our deck. One evening the grandchildren of the owners were having a birthday party with a piñata strung up in a tree. The kids were having a blast. It’s pretty amazing how if you give a boy a cardboard box it quickly becomes a gun, and before we knew it we were under fire. After we pretended to take a few bullets, the birthday boy accepted our surrender and we got to talk with him about how excited he was to be turning 7. Cute kid!

On our last day at the beach the weather cooperated and we spent most of it in the water in front of our condo snorkeling. It was truly amazing how much coral there was so close to the shore and how many cool fish there were to see, though we didn’t spot any of the sea turtles who nest here every year (Akumal means “place of the turtles” in Mayan). Guess we’ll have to come back another time and look for them again.

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