Just a few things.

I am almost ready to show “after” pictures of our master bathroom.  We need to add a few cabinet pulls and we still need to remove some paint tape.  Maybe next week?

In the meantime, I wanted to share just a few random things….

I recently read about Harper Lee’s new book and it made me want to reread To Kill A Mockingbird.  I read it in school but couldn’t remember the exact story.  I am loving it.

My favorite moisturizer of the moment.  I keep it in my bathroom with this.

The best waterproof sunscreen.

This is on Scott’s short list of places he wants to visit this summer.  Who knew Waco could be such a destination?

I read about this shirt on a blog and bought one.  It lives up to my high expectations.  I want it in every color.

I have never taken a good fireworks photo.  Maybe now I can?

We love the movie Chef, and the Chef Pasta (with a few modifications: reserve some pasta water to add to the mix, cut the pepper a bit, and DON’T let the garlic burn).  The movie makes me hungry!

 

 

 

My vacation reading.

One of the great pleasures of vacation is devouring a good book or three. Because I had not read much lately, I have quite a reading list.  I somewhat randomly picked three and loved each one.  I keep my list of books to read on Pinterest.  Megan keeps trying to move me to Good Reads, but I have not yet made the plunge.  My running list is here.

big little liesBig Little Lies is set in a fancy Australian community close to Sydney.  It is a funny murder mystery, about a person who was killed at an elementary school fundraiser.  The remainder of the book reveals  how the murder happened, told through the eyes of kindergarten moms.  It is sarcastic and witty, and while I do not have kids, I can imagine the gossipy circles of elementary moms.  This story makes that reality a comedy.  It didn’t warm my heart or make me think, but it was very entertaining.

 

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Nobody’s Cuter Than You Are is a precious memoir on friendship, written by Melanie Shankle, who incidentally, went to Texas A&M at the same time Scott did.  They have friends in common.  I read part of this story out loud to Scott and he also liked it.  I laughed and cried, and took stock of my own friendships.  It made me grateful for the friends I have made in so many different stages of my life.  I read this book in one day and loved every second of it.  Now I want to read her other two books.  She also has  very successful blog that is hilarious.

light book

Light Between Oceans is the best book I have read in quite some time.  It took me a few chapters to get into it, but boy, it was worth it.  It is the story of a couple who lives on an island off the coast of Australia to maintain a lighthouse.  They encounter a boat on their shores with a surprise that turns their heartbreak into delight, but that later causes bigger problems.  I think this one hit home in some ways and really touched me.  It is a tearjerker, but is very fulfilling in the end.

I hope this is a summer of reading for me.  As I finish a book or two, I will report on them here.  I love having a good book to read, especially in the summer when TV choices are dismal.

 

 

 

Cenotes, rain and shopping in Playa del Carmen.

A tropical storm hit the Texas coast early this week and I am pretty sure it was organized over Playa del Carmen while we were there. Bummer. We left Holbox on a sunny day, made the ferry ride back to Chilquila and then had a very easy drive to Playa del Carmen. As we drove into Playa, the rains came. And while there were periods of sun during our visit, the ocean remained angry and the beach stayed blustery.  We never put our toe in the ocean.

My overall impression of Playa was mixed. It is a charming town. Lots of streets to explore and great people watching. But it is quite a tourism mecca, and as such, I found it hard to really dig to find the authenticity. Our favorite discovery were the cenotes.

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Our friend, Rosie, who grew up going to Playa from her hometown of Cancun, told me that her favorite cenote was Cenote Azul. It is open air—basically a swimming hole with cliffs bordering one side. Cool, refreshing water. Many Mexican families were there but we seemed to be the only English speakers. Perfect.   Continue reading

Isla Holbox, Mexico.

We just returned from 6 days in Mexico and had a lovely time. Our dear friends, Bruce and Rosie, helped us plan our trip. Rosie is from Cancun; over a few meals in the last several months, she helped us map out a trip that turned out to be one of my absolute favorites.

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Over the last seven years of traveling together, Scott and I have slowly refined our trips. We have learned that we like the areas that feel authentic—no canned tourist traps. We really don’t love resorts where you eat all your meals at the same place and pay big prices. We really love food experiences. And going to bed early. And pina coladas on the beach.

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Southwest Airlines now flies directly from Austin to Cancun, which makes getting to the Yucatan Peninsula easy. Rosie told us about Isla Holbox, northwest of Cancun by about 2 hours, and it turned out to be our spot. We also spent three days in Playa del Carmen. Over the next few posts, I will highlight my favorite things from the trip.

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Holbox is remote. Leaving the Cancun airport, we quickly found our road to Chiquila and started out. We mistakenly passed one gas station, certain there would be another. Another 15-20 miles went by and we had not seen another car, yet alone another gas station. But we did see a sign that said the next gas station was in 145 kilometers. So we turned around. Darn it. Lesson learned.

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We think without the gas hiccup, it would have taken us less than two hours to get to Chiquila. We parked in a very sketchy looking gated parking lot, in a long line of gated parking lots where all the parking lot keepers were waving flags and yelling for us to enter. And so we did. And then a nice man on a rickety looking taxi bike thing loaded our bags and took us to the ferry, less than ¼ mile away.

DSC_1069 The two competing ferry companies yell over each other to get you to buy from them. Welcome to Mexico! We picked the one that seemed to be leaving soonest, even though the boat looked like it had seen better days. Our luggage went in the front part, along with the avocados and onions that needed a ride. We were loaded on the back. No air-conditioning on this one, but the one on the return trip did have air-conditioning.

In about 25 minutes, we landed at Holbox, and were greeted with another taxi driver, this time on a golf cart, to drive us to our hotel. On dirt roads, we travelled by golf cart to Casa las Tortugas, were greeted by a lovely woman named Azul, whom we later learned was saving money to open her own hotel. DSC_1125Azul showed us to our room, which was a beach front bungalow, with a hammock on the shaded porch. The room was charming, simple, and all we needed. The view out front was remarkable. The beach was the most beautiful I have seen.

DSC_1077At Rosie and Bruce’s recommendation, we found lobster pizza for dinner that night, and had our first pina colada of many. I am not a big pina colada drinker, but something about the fresh juices and the beach turn me into a pina colada fan. And those we had at Holbox did not disappoint. Fresh, lovely, huge, and cheap. I think our meal that night was about $13 bucks, and we had an appetizer.  It was open air, full of Mexicans, and the waiter did not speak english.  Perfection.

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Each morning, we ate breakfast at the hotel.  There were always two options–something sweet and something savory, along with toast with homemade jam and fresh squeezed juices.  Lovely.

The next day, with the help of our hotel friend, Azul, we rented a golf cart and explored the whole island. DSC_1084We drove to one end of the road (though the island went another 20 miles only accessible by boat) and swam in shallow, beautiful waters without another human in sight. We drove to the other end and did the same. We had civeche for lunch, in an open air restaurant. Scott had a beer (cheaper than water) and I had a jamaica water (hibiscus tea). Yum.

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In the picture below, you can see where we parked our golf cart and how far out we could wade, ankle deep in the water.

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The next day, we went on a whale shark tour. We were a little worried that this would be canned, as tours tend to be. But Bruce and Rosie made us promise to do it, and so we did. And it did not disappoint. We were on a boat with 2 guides and 8 other tourists—French, Mexicans, and Americans. We drove out for about an hour and then joined a circle of about 6-8 other boats who had already found the sharks. We put on snorkel equipment and two at a time, jumped in and swam just above the sharks. DSC_1192We found two of them, and each of us had two turns in the water. We then boated a bit further, unclear what would be next. Our guides gave us spools of fishing line with a hook and a weight on the end, and told us to fish for lunch. We each sort of laughed and thought, “no really, what is for lunch?” A few of the folks caught fish but mainly one of the guides would drop a hook in the water and two seconds later pull out a fish, repeatedly. DSC_1196And then we snorkeled while one of the guildes fileted the fish, soaked it in lime juice for an hour or so, and proceeded to make the freshest ceviche I have ever had. They passed around a bag of chips, handed us a water or coke, whichever we preferred, and we had ourselves lunch. Back on the boat, we headed to the farthest edge of Holbox, and walked in the lagoons. Beautiful, remote, and vast. Unlike anything I have seen before. Back on the boat, we headed home, encountering a flock of pink flamingos on our way. 8 am until 3 pm.

We ate at the hotel that night, enjoying a lovely meal without shoes on. Our waitress was a beautiful young woman named Luna, who had multiple friendship bracelets on each of her limbs. I asked her about one of them because it looked different than what I had seen before. I asked if I could buy one from her and she said yes. She delivered it to me the next day, having stayed up most of the night making it. I wish I could help her start her own little friendship bracelet business. She was delightful.

DSC_1101The rest of out time in Hotbox was spent laying in lounge chairs, exploring the cute town, swinging in the hammock, and doing very little.  The town has bright colors and funny little things to see.  Lots of locals riding bikes, meandering through town and taking life slow.

Scott and I want to go back.  Maybe tomorrow.  And stay longer.  There was one little piece of property for sale–a 3 bedroom home right on the water.  We discussed in great detail the idea of buying it and moving.  But I don’t see that happening anytime soon.  Our gastro systems are happy to be back on US soil.

But here are the things I want to remember for our next trip or to share with those who may want to go.  Except maybe don’t go.  Because we want to keep this little place our secret.

  • Gas up the car immediately, because once you are out of Cancun, THERE ARE NO MORE OPTIONS.  Or maybe, hire a small Cessna.  There is a small airstrip in town–that is just dirt.
  • Pack a lunch for the drive because there is no “grab and go” spot on your way out of town.
  • When you reach Chiquila, park in any of the lots, they pare pretty much all the same price. You pay when you return for your car. We realized that our car did not lock at this time. But, lo and behold, our car was still in one piece when we returned.  Parking is about $2 a day.
  • Get pesos at the airport, because ATMs are few and par between and you need cash for the ferry.
  • Buy only a one-way ferry ticket, because there are two ferry companies and you really want to ride on the one leaving soonest..
  • At the Casa de Tortugas, bring your own shampoo, conditioner, body soap, etc, because their organic versions are fairly useless and sparsely supplied.
  • We really didn’t need to pack exercise clothes, or shoes for that matter. And we probably could have gone without underwear or pants of any kind. We pretty much lived in swimsuits, a hat, sunglasses and lots of sunscreen.
  • Explore the island by golf cart.
  • Do the shark tour.  It is worth it.
  • Try to quickly get on Mexican time–which is not a time zone, it is a mentality.  Things happen perfectly slowly in Mexico.