Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Cuba Raw

Got the travel bug again.  I cannot wait to go to Cuba, hopefully sometime in the near future.  Enjoy this quick look in a beautiful culture and place.  

Friday, January 15, 2016

Honeymoonin' in Tulum / or / Paradise in Mexico

We've just returned from paradise.  Just two hours down the road from the mega resorts and ivory towers of Cancun lies a paradise known as Tulum, Mexico; an ancient world of Mayan temples, thick jungle, gorgeous beaches, and my new favorite thing in the world: cenotes!  

After much deliberation on exactly where we would spend our Honeymoon, we decided on Tulum after stellar recommendations by no less than 8 different people.  After doing some quick research we booked it.  It is amazingly affordable.  

Like most tropical paradises that foreigners have made their own, Tulum is a tale of two cities.  The town of Tulum itself (aka the real Mexico)...and the new, hip, yogafied and Americanized strip that runs along the beach.  You'll be able to spot the difference.  Both were great in their own right, but we much preferred the real side of town.  

Everything was spectacular.  The people were so friendly.  The drinks were amazing.  The food, so fresh.  We ate nothing but guacamole, ceviche, and fish tacos for five days straight and it was glorious.  Just like in San Sebastian, the best food is the freshest and simplest.  No need to over-complicate things.  

Tulum is a haven for expats and it's not hard to see why.  It's a paradise.  I plan to go back many times...there are thousands more cenotes to explore.  As we go along, I'll include some favorite spots you should absolutely visit if you plan a trip to Tulum, which you should.  Start planning.  It is a 2 hour flight (from Houston). 

Hit play and enjoy.

If you ever visit Tulum you must seek out Batey.  It was our favorite spot of the entire trip.  I'd fly back right now just for one of their margarita's.  It was the freshest food and drinks I've ever enjoyed.  Freshly squeezed fruit juice, mezcal, and sugar cane...that's it.  So crisp and fresh and delicious.  So insanely good.  I'm telling you, we had great food and drinks everywhere we went, but Batey stood tall above the rest.  Amazing.  Get the guacamole.  (Thanks Ciera & Zander!)

Sure, there may be bigger and "better" ruins for you to explore in Mexico, but none have a view that can hang with Tulum.  Built on 40 foot cliffs that overlook the bright blue waters of the Caribbean, Tulum is believed to have been one of the last great cities built by the Maya.  Complete with it's own protected beach, this place must have been a paradise...that is, until the Spanish showed up and wiped the place out with all their diseases.  

First mentioned in a 1518 expedition log by the Spanish, this place was at the height of its power between the 13th and 15th centuries.  It is one of the last sites built and occupied by the Maya, and even lasted about 70 years into Spanish rule.  By the end of the 16th century though, Tulum was completely abandoned.

It was HOT and touristy, but absolutely worth the visit.  It's crazy to think about this place in the height of its power.  It made me really want to watch Apocalypto again.  And speaking of tourists, the selfie stick should be banned worldwide.  There is nothing more annoying.  Nothing.

If you're looking for an insanely delicious restaurant on the beach, look no further than Le Zebra.  It was the single best "queso" I've ever eaten in my life, topped with pumpkin seeds and pork rinds.  Try not to drool.

Ahhhh- the single greatest experience we had in Mexico was the cenote.  The Cenote is basically a giant sinkhole caused by a collapse in the limestone that exposes the underground river water below.  Filtered by the limestone and earth above, it is the cleanest and most pure water you can find.  You can drink it.

Cenotes are everywhere in the Yucatan...there are literally thousands of them.  The Maya believed they were special, and of course, made the perfect place for sacrificial offerings.

With so many cenotes to choose from, we simply asked locals for their favorite one.  When Sac Actun came back more than once, we decided to start there.  It was perfect.  It is impossible for me to describe how magical these places were.  It was like two different worlds above and below the water.  Under the surface looked like a world straight out of Avatar.  I managed to get some cool pictures, but they still don't do this place justice.  If you travel to the Yucatan without experiencing one of these places, you are a sad, sad human being.

Sac Actun is also known as the Pet Cemetery due to its large number of fossils in the caves below, including those of a Sabertooth tiger.  Pretty cool, but you have to scuba dive into pitch black dark caves in order to get to them.  Count me out.  

Also, as you snorkel through the caves, giant bats, and I mean big, circle above you the whole time...swooping so close that you can reach out and touch them.  Now, bats don't freak me out, but as someone who suffers from some serious arachnophobia, I can understand the fear of such a spectacle.   It was awesome.   

Riki and I completely lucked out.  The group before us had about 12 people in it, but since no one else was around when we showed up, we got a private tour of the place.   The room you see above is not normally on the tour, but our guide Rodrigo was awesome.  

Another day and another cenote.  This was one known as Casa Cenote, and was the exact opposite of the cave we explored a day earlier.  I'm having a hard time picking with one I liked better.  This one was wide open, but again, transformed into a completely different world under the water.  There were parts where you had to hold your breath to dive under the roots of the mangrove trees.  It's hard to describe how awesome it is to be completely surrounded by the roots above and caves and tunnels below.  Another must see.  As our guide Rodrigo the day before told us, "if you see only two cenotes, makes sure its Sac Actun and Casa Cenote."  They compliment each other perfectly.  

The photos of this one really don't do the place justice, as my camera housing started to fog up at all the good parts. 

Our guide...the other Ricky.

So long Mexico, it's been real.

[A note on the underwater photography:  for these shots I used my Fuji X100S, one of my favorite cameras...perfect for situations like this.  I found a very affordable underwater housing that worked remarkably well.  The only problem came from user error- I opened the case next to the water and apparently some moisture got in, fogging up the housing a few minutes into the water.  After reading the instructions, this is a big no no.  My bad.  Otherwise the product did exactly what it was supposed to.  It was really cool.]