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.

Recent favorites

One good thing about my blog hiatus is that I have discovered a whole new collection of favorites to share.  I love discovering new things–brands, products, stores, etc–and hope you do too.

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I don’t keep my love for Trader Joe’s a secret.  I counted down to their arrival in Austin.  Their face soap is fantastic.  It is very similar to Purpose, another of my favorites, but doesn’t take a special trip to CVS and it is a few bucks cheaper.  Who knew you could buy TJ stuff on amazon?

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Another new discovery of mine is face wipes to remove mascara.  The ones from Sephora smell good.  I tear them in half to make them last longer.  I am thrifty that way.  (Others would say cheap.)

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I am also loving Sephora’s Sun Safety Kit.  It is fun to try all the different products without waste.  I bought one last year and it lasted me all summer.  Of course, I have a day job so my pool/beach excursions are fairly limited.

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Moving onto food and back to TJ’s.  My friend, Keira, introduced me to this goodness.  It is the perfect snack at the bewitching work hour when you want to gorge yourself on Cheez-Its from the snack machine.

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Avacado Toast is one of our breakfast favorites.  Sometimes with an egg on top.  Always with a squeeze of Sriracha when mashing. (photo credit above, Faith Durand)

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I may be the last to jump on the Jesus Calling bandwagon.  I love starting my day with this devotional.  I have the app on my phone, which means I have zero excuses to skip it.  Sarah Young speaks to my heart!

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And lastly, my new favorite store in Austin, Spring Frost.  Spring goes to my church, and she has a lovely boutique on Burnet Road (almost as lovely as she is).  Good prices.  Lots of merchandise.  I bought two dresses that I have worn all spring (work and elsewhere), a pair of Hudson black waxed jeans ($50!), and a few other favorites.  My mom, sister and I all went in and came out with a big load.  Which means I need to limit my trips there.

And there you have it!  A few of my favorites.  What are yours?

I really love my kitchen.

We moved into our home over four years ago.  The best advice we received was to move in and get to know the house before making remodeling plans.  I am so grateful we took that advice.  For the first few years of living here, we sat on the front porch and made plans on post it notes.  What started as a “maybe we can update the kitchen a little and add a dining room” turned into adding about 500 square feet, changing the location of the kitchen, turning the kitchen into the dining room, gutting our master bathroom, refinishing all the floors, installing new windows, replacing the siding and buying a new roof.

In the terrible picture below, you can see what used to be our back patio. The door and window accessed our master bedroom, but have since been removed.  Just adjacent to our bedroom, we installed a master closet, and the rest of the “outside space” in this picture is now kitchen, pantry and a mud room.

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Below is a very similar vantage point, post remodel.  The picture ledges you see on the far left are hanging on what used to be the exterior wall.

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We bought a simple Kenmore full size freezer, full size fridge, and a trim kit to make it look like a sub zero.  And with all that space, I now shop at Costco.

You can see that we are still working on a few touch up things, like painting trim.  I did not notice that we still had blue tape  up until this picture!

I love my sink, with the farm style drains on the right.  They work okay, but mainly I like the look.  My countertop guy hates me for the trouble they caused.

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We also have a few nooks in the kitchen between the studs, to shove appliances a little further back.  They were a pain to work out, but I love the detail.  You can see one in the above picture where my coffee pot is sitting.  Another is below, with the blender and mixer.

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Here’s the view from the other side; the picture was taken with my back to the stove.  We will install barn doors to close off the mudroom on the right, and the extra nook on the left.

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I am pleased with the final product (so far).  I still need pantry doors (painted citron, I think), and the barn doors, and some tweaking on the cabinets.  But I am officially in love.

Some of my sources and choices are below.

Counters: butcher block and soapstone.

Cabinetry: inset–some flat front and some shaker style, color is Sherwin Williams Rosemary, which I copied from Erika’s kitchen, of Urban Grace Interiors.

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Pendants over island: Barn Light Electric clearance (irregular but nobody seems to notice)

Bar Stools: Crate and Barrel (thanks Mom and Dad)

Drawer and Cabinet pulls: I admired these School House Electric ones but couldn’t justify the price for the quantity I needed.  I spent more hours than I care to admit to find these instead (in various sizes) from someplace called the Hardware Hut.  Throughout the whole house, we had close to 100 pulls to install.  Scott said these were the worst, because they required great precision.  But I love the final product.

My kitchen inspiration came from all sort of pictures but the one that stuck in my head the most was this one.