Saturday, November 17, 2007
Hola from Mexico
We've been in Mexico since Tuesday and I'm finally getting around to posting what we've been up to so far. This is the daily log I've been keeping and sending to our families but I thought I'd post it here as well. Enjoy! I have lots more pictures to go with this, but I need to get to bed, so it will have to wait.
Getting Here. Our flights went really well. Poppy was a bit apprehensive getting on the first plane, but after that she did fine. Peregrine, of course, was pure excitement! I was a bit concerned about making our connection in Seattle but we had plenty of time and even got to see the famed "wall of glass" in the food court area. The flight down here was five hours, and we had three seats together as well as the one across the aisle. Erik and I took turns sitting with the two kids. The lone seat was next to a lovely older couple who are originally from India but have lived in Edmonton for the last twenty-something years. I, of course, enjoyed talking with them. The kids both did as well as could be expected on a flight of that length;our arsenal of snacks, books, aactivities, and movies kept them pretty well occupied, although they did start getting restless the last hour or so. Peregrine took to referring to releasing his seatbelt as "pulling the trigger" and I kept trying to hush him and tell him to stop saying that! And Poppy enjoyed looking at the little safety card and talking about "the broken airplane"!
Our flight arrived on time and we got through customs with no problem. After you collect your luggage here, you put all of your bags through the x-ray machine, then proceed to the customs officer where you have to press a button that randomly gives you either a red or green light. If the light comes up red they will pull you aside and go through your bags. We let Peregrine have the honor of pushing the button and I told him to pray for a green light; he was very excited that God answered that prayer, and so was I. At that point, asking the kids to remain quiet and still for another while would have been hard. Thankfully we were waved through and made our way outside to where Jim, the property manager, was waiting for us. I think this was the first time I've ever been met at the airport by someone holding a sign with my last name on it; quite exciting.
We got loaded into the vehicle and got the kids buckled in- no car seats, but at least there were seat belts! It was about a twenty minute drive to Puerto Morelos, our "hometown" for the next few weeks. Jim gave us a "tour" of the town, which took an extra two minutes or so- Puerto Morelos is a very small and sleepy town. Even though it was only shortly after five it was beginning to get dark, so after getting settled in our little casa we made the fifteen or twenty minute walk back to the town center. We ate at a little taco stand on the zocalo (town square) and enjoyed the evening air, the food, and the feeling of having arrived in Mexico once again. Peregrine completely charmed the two women who were cooking with his dark eyes, big smile, and few words of Spanish. (You can imagine!) Poppy spilled her passionfruit liquado all over our feet, and having been up since before five that morning, we paid twenty pesos for a taxi back "home".
We got our suitcases unpacked and settled in for the night. It took the kids a while to fall asleep. Peregrine is on the "magical couch" (hide-a-bed) in the living room and Poppy in a playpen in our room. I also had a hard time falling asleep, and sometime after 11 came out to check on Peregrine. He was still restless, and asked me eagerly "It is almost morning?" That boy was so excited to get to the beach! Finally we all got to sleep, although Peregrine was awake yesterday morning at 6- that's 4AM Oregon time! Yikes. Erik got up with him and Poppy and I were able to sleep a couple more hours.
Wednesday Yesterday, after a simple breakfast of yogurt and a slathering of sunscreen, we headed, at last, to the beach. It's just a block or two away, and we all enjoyed playing in the sand and in the water. Poppy is taking a while to get used to the water, but is warming up to it. Peregrine, on the other hand, ran right in and is about as fearless as a boy who doesn't quite swim yet can be. The water is nice, not too cold or too warm, and very gentle due to the reef offshore.
We were about to head downtown for some lunch when we ran into the owners of our place, a couple from Minnesota. They were heading across the highway into the "colonia" and offered to let us tag along. The colonia is more like "the real Mexico" and I enjoyed getting to go over there. They took us to the produce market where we bought some pineapple, oranges, bananas, and eggs. Then we stopped by a place where they make delicious roast chicken; for about $6 we got a whole roast chicken, beans, rice, tortillas, and salsa, which we ate for our lunch today. We also stopped down the street at the tortillarilla where we got a kilo of fresh, warm tortillas for just over a dollar. Mmmm, there is nothing like them!
The afternoon entailed another walk downtown for lunch, a siesta, another trek to the beach, and then back to the town square where we explored a bit, got dinner, and let the kids play on the playground. We all got to sleep more quickly last night and slept until 8 this morning, except for Peregrine, who actually slept later!
Thursday So far today we had breakfast of chilaquiles here at our casa followed by a long swim and play at the beach. We all worked hard to build a sand castle complete with a moat and large seawall. Poppy exclaimed over and over (and over) "I've been working!" in her excited little squeal. I guess she was pretty happy to feel like she was an important and productive part of such a building project! We had our roast chicken for lunch today as well as some quesodillas for the kids, and are now enjoying our siesta.
We're very happy with the place we chose; the apartment is one of several overlooking a pool, which we haven't used yet. Ours is on the second floor and we have a large balcony. Like I said before, the town is very small, and everything is walking distance. Wherever there are no buildings there is thick vegetation, and many yards have coconut palms, hibiscus, bananas, and bougainvillea growing. Happily, we've seen a few geckos on our ceiling, and just as happily, we've seen no cockroaches except one down by the beach. Peregrine spotted a small snake on a chain link fence yesterday and was quite excited about that. There are several restaurant options, although only a few that are fairly inexpensive. (By inexpensive I mean less than restaurants at home.) It would be nice to have a few more options, but we didn't want to be in a super busy resort area, and we'll mostly be eating breakfast and lunch here at the house. It's warm and humid, but most of the time there's a nice breeze blowing off the sea that helps to keep us cool. The skies are blue with some clouds that blow by, and last night there was a beautiful sunset. We are looking forward to exploring a little further afield over the next few weeks, taking in some ruins, doing some snorkeling, visiting a few other towns, and maybe going for a swim in a cenote.
After siesta we all got suited up again and walked down to the beach. It was only four when we got there but already the sun was low in the sky and most of the beach was in the shadows. The wind was blowing and I didn't feel warm enough to get in the water, but Erik and Peregrine did. The kids were excited that the sea wall we'd built around our castle earlier in the day had done its job and was intact. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of tides here, and very, very gentle waves. We played in the sand a while, then came back, cleaned up, and applied mosquito repellent before heading downtown for dinner. It gets dark not long after five, and light quite early, so we're trying to adjust our routine accordingly. We ate at a little taco stand named Triny's that is painted in garishly bright shades of orange and green. We sat at a rickety red plastic CocaCola table outside and watched the evening activities in the zocalo while we waited for our food. The kids are eating lots of quesadillas and frijoles, and Erik and I are enjoying trying different dishes. Last night I had something called Nopales Rellenos, which is a cactus leaf stuffed with shredded meat and swimming in some sort of sauce covered with cheese and crema. It was delicious! After dinner Erik treated us all to an ice cream bar and then we caught a taxi home and settled down for the night.
Friday The kids were both up before seven this morning, and Erik brought Poppy out to the living room so I could sleep some more. I could see the bright morning sun shining through our white curtains, and it was after 8:30 before I woke up. So much for an early start, but I guess I needed it, and Erik did a great job keeping the kids quiet. When I got up the skies were overcast and it looked like it would be a cooler day. I made oatmeal for breakfast and then we got ready to go to the beach. It seems to take an unbelievably long time to get the four of us ready; thankfully Peregrine is a lot more independent and it's only Poppy who needs a lot of help. I put sunscreen on the kids in spite of the cloud cover, and finally we were all ready to go. That's when we noticed it was raining! We stepped out on the patio and decided to go anyway. Hey, we're from Oregon, and even though the air was cooler than it has been, it was by no means cold. To be honest, I'd have been happy to stay behind, but we all set out in the rain, probably confirming that we're "loco gringos" as we went! We were wet by the time we got to the beach, and began to build a new seawall as the "ruins" (as Peregrine called them" of yesterday's were just that, ruins. After a few minutes the rain stopped and we played and swam for a while before heading back here.
Erik borrowed a bicycle that belongs here and rode down the street to buy us a chicken lunch and some fresh tortillas. The chicken reminds me of what we used to get at El Pollo Loco; I wonder if this is the sort of meal they based their menu on. It has really nice spices on it and it roasted, then served up with rice, beans, and some salsa. Yummy, easy, inexpensive, and a perfect "to go" lunch for our family. And Peregrine, who will hardly touch chicken at home, ate two wings and a drumstick! I guess I need to find out what that seasoning they use is!
Siesta is drawing to a close. Poppy is looking at books in her bed and yelling out "I'm a clown" and "They're piled on my head" and "Do I look funny Peregrine?" I wonder what she's up to... I've been researching different places to go explore; I think we may rent a car and head south tomorrow, to snorkel in the lagoon at Akumal and stock up on groceries in Playa del Carmen, which boasts some big (American) stores. There is only a small grocery store here, and lots of tiny ones, but we've been told that if we plan to cook much it's worth buying groceries in the bigger cities. So, that's the plan. I have a smoothie to make, so I'd better get going. We haven't taken many pictures yet, but will take, and send some soon.
Our smoothie turned out to be a disaster. I cut up a couple of oranges, but the membranes were so thick they didn't get blended up very well and so the drink was anything but smooth. Where's a Vita-Mix when you need one? We paid a dollar tonight for a little orange juicer, so next time I can juice the orange before putting it into the blender.
After smoothie time we headed to the beach again, a little earlier today. By this time the sun was trying hard to come out in spite of the clouds. We had a nice time in the water. I'm amazed at how fearless Peregrine is; I think next time I'll have him wear his life jacket so he can be a little more independent, as he does like to be!
After rinsing ourselves and our things we walked downtown in search of some dinner. Erik usually carries Poppy in the carrier, as walking with her is very slow, and she seems to like her ride! It was getting dark, and as we walked along the edge of the street an old Volkswagon van drove around the corner with it's sliding door wide open. The driver stopped and we were delighted to see that instead of seats there was a wooden table running the length of the back of the van. The table was laden with pan dulce, Mexican sweet breads, and was brightly illuminated. We picked out several items and paid the seller, who was a boy of about ten or twelve; I assume the van was driven by his dad. We also brought some rolls that we'll make into sandwiches tomorrow. It's the sort of thing you just don't see where we live! A couple of days ago we saw an old pickup filled with oranges driving down the sandy street, it's driver calling out over his loudspeaker "Naranjas, Naranjas". Those things bring a smile to my face.
After our encounter with the bakery-van we walked around the square and negotiated to rent a car for the next two days. After that we walked back to a little hole-in-the-wall we'd seen earlier where we'd planned to eat dinner. But alas, it had already closed so we returned to the happy green and orange place. Tonight I had mushroom enchiladas with mole sauce and it was delicious. Peregrine loves to try out all his new Spanish words on the waiter, Victor, and the women who cook. They all call him "Peregrino" and he refers to their restaurant as "the one where the people really like me".
We returned to our casa, by taxi, and tried out our pan dulce. As can be expected, they're never as good as they look, but hey, how often do you get an experience like that? Tonight we're getting ready for a drive south tomorrow. Erik is reading to Peregrine from The Coral Island, a story of three boys who were shipwrecked on a tropical island in the Pacific. We're all really enjoying the story, and it's fitting as we're seeing some of the same things talked about in the book. Peregrine was very interested in trying a green coconut, and after asking Jim, the property manager where we might find one, we found one waiting for us later in the day! Peregrine was quite excited to try the coconut "lemonade" as the boys in the book called it. We also were able to find a piece of coconut "cloth", the fibrous clothlike stuff that grows around the bottom of the coconut palm fronds. In the book, the boys were very excited to discover this stuff and put it to good use. So we have a nice piece of it to bring home and try to find a good use for.
And with that, I must be off to bed. We're off on an outing tomorrow, so they'll be no sleeping in for me!
Saturday The morning dawned sunny, and, as much as I'd have liked to sleep later, I woke up at six. It was a while before I got up and I could see the sun shining through the curtains. After a quick breakfast Erik walked downtown where he was supposed to pick up our rental car at 8 o'clock. As could be expected, these things don't always go as planned, and the car wasn't yet there. They had to bring it down from Cancun, and after some time he got it and returned here for us. The extra time allowed us to be almost completely ready and have the breakfast dishes done too!
Then we were off, headed south down the highway toward Akumal. It's a very nice divided highway that cuts through thick jungle. On the west side of the road is mostly vegetation and the occasional Pemex station, turn-off, colonia, or shop. On the other side, just a kilometer or two in lies the Carribean Sea, and on this side are the extravagant entrances to luxury resorts that line the coastline. Erik and I were almost in disbelief at the decadence of some of these places- and all we could see of most of them was the entrance! There are also lots of billboards advertising all sorts of things, various resorts, tours, swimming with dolphins, etc. My favorite billboard though, read "El Sabor del Caribe" (The Flavor of the Carribean) and showed a picture of a heavily laden coconut tree. Instead of coconuts, however, this particular palm was bearing Whoppers. Yes, it was an advertisement for Burger King! Another funny sight along the highway was a tour bus pulled over by the road. The underneath baggage compartment was open, but instead of baggage someone had hung there hammock and was having their siesta!
We arrived at Akumal and made our way down a windy little road with way too many speed bumps, and pot holes where there were no speed bumps. Our destination was Laguna Yal-Ku, a saltwater lagoon with turquoise water and lots of fish. We rented some snorkel gear and climbed down into the water. Poppy pretty much instantly freaked out; I'm not sure why as she's fine with being in the ocean, so I got out with her and Erik put on the flippers and let Peregrine ride along around the lagoon. They swam around a mangrove "island" while Poppy and I ate our lunch. When the boys got back Erik stayed with the kids while I got to have a turn snorkeling. Even though it wasn't spectacular I really enjoyed it and was able to see some different kinds of fish before it was time for the boys to go back in again.
After a while Peregrine got out so Erik could actually snorkel and the kids and I explored along the paths around the lagoon. We saw a couple of iguanas and were able to get quite close to them. They were smaller, and duller in color than the ones we saw in Zihuatanejo last year, but it was fun to be only a few feet away from them. Meanwhile, Erik got to see a Moray eel out in the water. After a while Peregrine went back in for a final swim and Erik taught him to use the snorkel mask; he was very excited about this.
After we dried off and got changed we headed north again toward Playa del Carmen where we stopped at a big supermarket to stock up on groceries for the next while. Grocery shopping is never that exciting, although it's a lot more interesting in another country! We filled our cart with most of the things we needed, and a few things we didn't. I think we were all glad to have that experience over with. From there it was only about a half hour back to Puerto Morelos. Since we had a car we decided to get some dinner in the colonia, which is about a mile out from where we are. We ended up at a place called Shangai Pizza y Comida China. Yep, pizza and Chinese food in one place, in Mexico. We ordered pizza along with some orange soda, because, in my mind, it just wouldn't be right to come all the way to Mexico and not drink orange soda. (Flashback to my childhood here, drinking orange pop at La Bufadora!) It wasn't the most pleasant dining experience; we had the highway on one side and a futbol game blaring on the TV in the open air restaurant. To add to the strangeness of the Chinese-Pizza-Mexico experience four people walked out of the alleyway with djembes (West African drums) and a couple of the restaurant workers were decorating a three-tiered cake that appeared to be for a wedding! It was white, with lavender rosettes, quite tasteful, until she got out the red gel and put on the finishing touches. Upon further inspection we saw that it was for a girls' fifteenth birthday, which is a huge deal here in Mexico, probably second only to a wedding celebration. The kids were admiring the cake and I was explaining to them that it was for a girl's birthday party and Poppy, in her most demure voice said "I'm a girl." Yes, my dear, but you're not fifteen and we don't live in Mexico.
And that was our day. The evening at home consisted of putting away groceries, showers, and very, very tired children. We are off on another adventure tomorrow, to see some ruins, and will write more....manana.