Adventures

I have created this blog with the hopes that you, my friend, will follow me as I sail around the world (figuratively or literally, not sure yet) with my parents on their Contest 48. Whereas I hope to keep you updated with exciting adventures of exotic ports and epic waves, keep in mind that cruising - that is, traveling by boat in a leisurely fashion - tends to be filled with days of intense boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Please keep this in mind as you read these entries, for this platform will be just as much an attempt for me to maintain my sanity (and connection to the California-based world), as entertainment and reassurance for you. And so, follow me as I sail the world.

P.S. All material on this blog, words and photos alike, are copyrighted by me. Copyright 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014. If you decide that this material is worth re-publishing, please give me credit and lots and lots of money.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Horses and Cigars

The vaqueros of Viñales grow up on horses so they assume that everybody has at least basic knowledge of how to ride a horse, which is an unfair assumption in my opinion. Up until this point I had ridden a horse twice in my life but our guide Pancho gave me a solid lesson before we took off on our four hour tour through the countryside - he handed me the reigns, pulled them to the left and said izquerida, pulled them to the right and said derecha, and pulled them back and said stop. Then he hoisted me into the saddle and we took off. 

There's something equally exhilarating and terrifying about riding a live animal who, if he put his mind to it, I'm sure could kill me. Or at least throw me off if he didn't like my swagger. In reality, our horses seemed to be far more concerned with each other - nipping at each other's ears and what not - than with the people riding them, so we were safe I suppose. 

Our first stop was a tobacco farm where we were offered cigars and taught how to roll them. I asked our host how many cigars he smoked a day and he said "Three or four a day. They are much healthier than cigarettes. All natural." But he coughed and snorted and hawked loogies constantly so I wasn't convinced. However, when in Cuba.. 

As I puffed on a cigar I learned three things: that I really dislike smoking cigars, that real cigars are made entirely from rolled leaves (none of the chopped up tobacco inside a leaf business), and that tobacco farmers are required to sell 90% of their crops to the government for a dirt cheap price. They're also not allowed to brand their tobacco or cigars and can only sell the remaining 10% to "family and friends" and tourists that stop through on horseback. Yay communism. 

Pancho (our tour guide and horse wrangler) couldn't coax any of us to buy cigars so we set off for our second stop - a cave with a pool of purified water we could swim in if we so desired. On the way, Pancho occasionally slapped our horses so they would take off galloping which I found absolutely hilarious. Like, pee a little bit in my pants kind of hilarious. Watching my friends bounce around on their horses and and imagining what I looked like only added to the hysteria. 

We arrived at the cave and had to pay 2 CUC to enter the cave, which my cheap ass normally wouldn't pay but the promise of a nice fresh water pool at the end of the cave lured me in. We hiked for a few minutes through the dark muddy cave using our phones as flashlights (what did they do before phones?) and arrived at a dark, murky pool that seemed more like a muddy puddle than anything else. But I didn't pay 2 CUC not to swim and wanted a good story, so I dunked myself in the knee deep, dark, creepy water. I convinced myself that if monsters did exist, they would most certainly live in the caves of Cuba. That was enough to dry off quickly and head back out into the bright sunshine. 

Our last and final stop (thankfully - who knew riding a horse could make us so damn sore) was a coffee farm. We learned all about the coffee making process and why Cuban coffee is far superior to all other coffee, and then were urged to buy stuff - no pressure of course - surprise surprise. We also learned that the government only takes 30% of coffee crops to give people incentive to grow coffee instead of tobacco. If that's not incentive then I don't know what is. 

On the way back to Viñales we rode through the beautiful valley with limestone cliffs and rolling hills while huge birds rode the airwaves and I pondered humanity, love, natural beauty and the meaning of life, mixed with intermittent bursts of galloping where I held on for dear life while nearly peeing myself laughing. 

Cuba is a funny place. I've never cared too much for horseback riding or dancing, but after horseback riding through a valley and then dancing in the main plaza with the entire town of Viñales all night, it made me want to take salsa lessons and learn how to actually ride a horse (well). I suppose that's what traveling is all about - pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to learn more about yourself - and discovering a penchant for dancing salsa, smoking cigars, riding horses, trekking through mountains or whatever else it may be. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Cuba




Cuba. Cuba Cuba Cuba. The name alone evokes images of dark smokey bars, old cars and mojitos. Which isn't far from the truth, but there is a lot more to the country than cheap rum and tobacco. I've traveled a bit in Latin America, speak the language and have been in a lot of weird places, but Cuba is one of the most perplexing country I have ever been. Sensory overload. The sights, sounds, smells, watch your step!!, trying to figure out the difference between two national currencies, not getting swindled people who realize I can't figure out the difference between the two national currencies... To be fair I shouldn't judge a country after two days but Cuba is so absorbing that I can't not commentate on what I've experienced so far. 

My cousin Sasha and I debated for a few nights what to do with our week of travel after the family reunion. We wanted to stay in Central America (or close to) but get weird and go somewhere neither of us had gone. We boiled it down to Guatemala or Cuba, and ultimately decided on Cuba for unknown reasons. So after a three day luxury cruise through Mexico City we parted with the rest of the family and set off. Aside from having to buy a 500 peso visa at the airport, there was nothing different about flying to Havana. We, however, felt like total badasses traveling to a place we shouldn't really be going, even though it's legal now (I think?). 

From a five star hotel to a five bunk bed room

We landed in Havana and got through customs and immigration without incident. A driver from our hostel picked us up and drove us the 30 minutes from the airport to the city. I asked him a few questions along the way but he wasn't super forthcoming so I left it alone. He dropped us off at our Casa Particular, a home that is opened up for tourists, and our host Rodolfo showed us our accommodations - a smallish bedroom with high ceilings and five sets of bunk beds. Oh goody, I call top bunk. I had to laugh because the previous night we were staying in a five star hotel. As Darwin said, the survival of a species is based on its ability to adapt to its surroundings. Or something like that. 

Bienvenidos a Cuba

The cool thing about staying in a room with nine other people is that you make friends fast. Within five minutes two guys from our room asked us if we wanted to join them on the street to smoke cigars they had purchased that day. Sasha and I couldn't think of a better introduction to Cuba, so we obliged. As we sat on the corner of a rather seedy looking street a local man came up to us and told us how he loved seeing tourists in his neighborhood and how safe it is, thanked us for visiting his country and then tried to sell us weed. Thanks but no thanks. After cigars we decided we needed beers and food so we set off to find that. Easier said than done. 

One thing we had heard about Cuba that has so far been more or less true is the fact that the food here isn't great. We wanted to try some authentic Cuban food (beans, rice, meat) for our first meal but the little place around the corner was closed so we settled for the pizza place right next door. It wasn't phenomenal but it was cheap - 10 pesos for a small cheese pizza - the equivalent of $0.45 US. However, the confusing thing is that there are two currencies, the Peso and the Convertible Peso (called the CUC) and the lady serving our pizza rolled her eyes at us as we tried to figure out the two currencies. She finally took the bills from my hands and gave me change - I can only assume it was the correct amount. 

That is one thing I have noticed about being in Cuba: the people here are not the most friendly. And if they are, they are almost always trying to sell us something. Like I said before, I shouldn't judge an entire country based on two days of experience, but we've had some weird interactions. For example, it is common for people to come up to us as we're walking and ask us where we are from. "California" is my typical reply, and their eyes light up, "USA!! I have a cousin that lives there. Thank you for coming to Cuba!" And their excitement seems genuine. Then they ask us if we'd like to buy cigars because today is a Cuban holiday and cigars are half priced. Or some bs story like that. I only call bs because I've heard the same story two days in a row, and while I'm sure Cubans love their holidays, every day can't be one. 

Another time Sasha and I were walking and a bike cab stopped us and asked us if we would like a city tour. I was mildly interested (doomed) but we tried to get out of it by saying we were hungry and headed to eat somewhere. Another mistake. "Ah, I know a very good restaurant, I will take you there. Hop in." Somehow we ended up in the cab but I wanted to eat somewhere cheap and local, which was not his intended destination. After arguing with him he looked back at us and grinned, "OK, I will take you to a real Cuban place." 
"Great." 
"I will also eat with you." Even better. 

Locals only 

We arrive at a little restaurant with a dark doorway that I would have missed if I was looking for it. Alex, as we learned his name, asked us what we wanted to eat and went up to the counter to order. I ordered fried chicken with beans and rice and Sasha, who is a vegetarian, ordered plain beans and rice. Alex looked baffled with that but beans and rice is simple enough. While he was up at the counter, the other people in the restaurant (all Cubans) kept giving us sideways glances. Alex had a very in depth conversation with the lady at the counter before coming back to us. "She wants to charge you more for eating here. This is a Cuban place and she doesn't want to give you Cuban prices. But I sorted it out." Umm, ok. 

Our food came and mine was delicious - the best meal I've had in Cuba so far. Sasha's vegetarian meal was beans and rice and a big cut of meat, which she was a good sport about, giving the meat to Alex and eating the rest. During lunch I peppered Alex with as many questions as I dared ask about communism and life in Cuba in general, but he seemed hesitant to talk, spoke in a hushed voice and avoided eye contact with me. After lunch we said our goodbyes and will most likely never see each other again. 

That night at the hostel when we told people about our experience at lunch they all thought it was very cool and wanted to go, unfortunately I have no idea where the little hole in the wall was. Seems like a lot of our best experiences in Cuba have been ephemeral and impossible to recreate. So it goes. 

P.S. Sasha took most of these badass pics. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Mexico City Part 3




You could explore Mexico City for a lifetime and still not discover all it has to offer. In order to maximize our time and skip the tourist traps, Uncle Paul hired a local guide to take us around for the day. He took us to some interesting, local, delicious, not so delicious and weird places. 

We met Alberto outside our hotel at 9 AM sharp (after another amazing breakfast) and he led us to the bus station. Our first stop was to be the San Juan Market where all the top chefs of the city go to buy groceries for their restaurants. Unbeknownst to us the market doesn't open until 11, so Alberto took us on a meandering tour of the neighborhood. We stopped at little cafe that (allegedly) has the best espresso in the world so naturally, we had an espresso. It was so strong it made me want to grind my teeth but I knew it was going to be another long day so I drank up. 

The local Pulqueria

Our next stop was a local Pulqueria that (allegedly) has the best pulque in the world but there is no such thing as the best pulque or even good pulque so that was a trick. Pulque is disgusting. No offense to anyone who likes the mildly alcoholic, slimy shit but it is absolutely awful. Pulque is made from the same agave as tequila, but it isn't distilled, just fermented. It tastes sort of like stale beer, has something like a 3% alcohol by volume, and is thick and slimy. Like, chew your pulque kind of thick and slimy. Then it slides down your throat and leaves an aftertaste of old beer in your mouth. It astounded me that anybody would drink the stuff, let alone at 10:30 in the morning, but alas the little bar was packed with locals (literally) drinking it by the pitcher. Alberto told us this place serves free, very spicy food to keep patrons drinking. That's just mean. Regardless, the place was cool and authentic and now I can say I've had real pulque and never need to drink it again. Ever. 

¿Otro Pulkito? No graxias

By the time we drank enough pulque to last a lifetime (maybe half a cup) the San Juan Market was open our guide led the way but not before warning us: "They sell some illegal things in this market, so you can't take pictures. And if you do, be sneaky about it." Illegal things, eh? Like what? 

As soon as we walked into the market we were confronted by a stall selling roasted crickets, grubs, centipedes and scorpions. My favorite. Some of the stalls sold perfectly normal things - fruits and vegetables or deli meats and cheeses - but others, like the exotic meat stalls, had rabbit, duck and some sort of lemur looking carcasses on display. Then I looked at the menu and no joke they had lion, turtle and tiger meat for sale, along with more normal meats as well. I asked Alberto if something was lost in translation, because for example pizza de perro doesn't mean dog pizza, just hot dog pizza, but he told me, sadly no. In the San Juan Market you can get a legit tiger or lion steak. Or burger. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intrigued but I also didn't have the appetite or the chuspa to investigate further.

 
Chocolate con churros

We didn't spend too much time in the market although I would have been happy grabbing a tapas and vino tinto as many of the stalls offered, but we had places to go and other food to eat. Our next stop was Churreria El Moro, a 24 hour restaurant devoted exclusively to churros y chocolate. Seeing as how they are the best churros in the world (allegedly) we had to try some, in spite of the fact that I was not hungry at all and possibly slightly queasy from the market, and trying to make room in my stomach for the 2 PM lunch reservation we had. The churros were delicious and El Moro felt like a crowded New York deli that we decided would be a great place for a first date. One could spend as little as 10 minutes or as many as 10 hours in the place, people watching or chatting with good company. 


Moving on, our next stop was Ideal bakery, a sprawling, famous bakery that makes everything from 100 pound wedding cakes to light as a feather, melt in your mouth cookies. They supply pan dulce and pastries to many restaurants of the city, and naturally, being the best in the world, we had to try a few pieces, never mind the fact that our next stop was to be a very nice lunch. 

An interesting note on Ideal bakery: at one point it was the house of a Spanish noble family and was built with stones from the destroyed Aztec pyramids. If that isn't cool I don't know what is. Another interesting fact: remember how before it was Mexico City it was Tenochítlan? And that the city of  Tenochítlan was built on a lake? Now 500 years later some of the older buildings are literally sinking back into the lake. You can see evidence of this as you walk down the sidewalk. I thought it was an architectural thing for the buildings to be lower than the street but no, they're sinking. 

I digress. After eating all morning we headed to lunch at Nico's, which is apparently on the "100 best restaurants in the world" list or something like that. It wasn't stuffy or pretentious, in a rather industrial part of town well off the beaten path, with a nice dining room but nothing too fancy. I suppose the chef/owner lets the food speak for itself. 

Guacamole trolley

The meal started with a fresh jicama salad with piña and lime and a chia seed lemonade. Then we had guacamole (no crickets thankfully) made table side by no fewer than three servers along with fresh blue corn tortillas and three types of salsa. At some point a server pushing a cart full of different types of mezcal came by and I chose my favorite, the pechuga mezcal, feeling smug that I knew something about the trendy drink. What followed was a four or five course meal of traditional authentic Mexico City Mexican food - soft shell crab with pumpkin seed crust, egg soufflé with chiles, pork adobada, beef steak and some other things I've probably forgotten. Then came dessert: one of everything because Paul insisted we had to try them all. 

Uncle Paul and the mezcal trolley

I was about ready to be rolled out of the restaurant when the chef/owner came out to introduce himself to us. I guess he heard about the crazy Americans ordering everything on the menu and wanted to meet them for himself. When he found out that Anna was the general manager of the three star Michelin restaurant Jean-Georg in New York he bowed to her and told her it was a pleasure to cook for her. He then insisted we all try his favorite mezcal, and you don't turn down the chef, so I managed to make room in my stuffed belly. Paul and Lauren, who are total foodies and eat at the best restaurants all over the world, both agreed that this was quite possibly the best meal they'd ever had in their lives. So if you're ever in Mexico City check out Nico's. Breakfast and lunch only. Make a reservation. 

After a magical lunch we all piled into an Uber and went to check out Mercado Sonora, which for the most part is like any other market in a rather seedy part of town, but if you go in the far door on the north side of the building you will come across a section devoted to witchcraft. It was weird. Alberto told us something about a cross between Santeria and voodoo but I was paying more attention to the dried hummingbirds and animal skins than to him. I don't know if it was the long dark hallways and eerie quiet of an otherwise noisy market but the place gave me the heebie jeebies. There was a section of live animals for sacrifice, herbs, candles, idols, dolls and all sorts of other weird stuff, but I didn't spend too long at any one stall. Everybody I passed asked in a quiet voice, "¿Que busca amiga?" but I just shook my head and smiled. Please don't curse me. 

I'm not sure if it was the market or the seedy area of town or the fact that we had been out all day, but when we left the market and Alberto asked us if we were ready to go back to our hotel, we all gave an enthusiastic yes. 

Then we went out to dinner. Just kidding, no dinner. We had a quiet night and a good night of sleep so we could make the most of our few hours the next day before our flights. In the morning after one last bomb diggity breakfast at our hotel we zipped over to the Palacio de Bellas Artes to oggle a few more Rivera paintings. The Palacio is home to works by Siqueros, Orozco and "Man, Controller of the Universe" by Rivera. My high school Spanish teacher would have been proud that I vaguely remember learning about them and the impacts their works had on Mexican society, and around the world. 

Palacio de Bellas Artes

As I contemplated the incredible works I thought to myself, "Why the hell am I leaving this place? I'm not ready to leave. Cuba can wait." Sasha and I discussed this as we gazed into Rivera's universe and decided we would call the airline and see if we could postpone our flight to Havana by a day or two. Or six. But on the call our kind operator informed us that we couldn't make changes to a flight that was due to leave in three hours. Oh well. Cuba will be fun. 

I owe a massive thank you to my uncle Paul and aunt Lauren, who planned the trip and had the brilliant idea to invite their daughter and two nieces along. I could never recreate this experience but am already planning to catch a direct flight from Tijuana to Mexico City for a weekend sometime soon. You're welcome to join. 

Mexico City Part 2




Our first full day in Mexico City I woke up feeling like a kid going to Disneyland. There are entire books written on everything one can do in the city, but we only had three days so we had to use our time wisely. Fortunately my family and I have similar interests, so we charged around all day eating delicious food, museum-ing, shopping and getting to know the place. 

Bomb diggs hotel breakfast

First off, breakfast was included with our hotel and that alone was a production. After being served strong coffee and fresh squeezed mandarin juice, we were offered a selection of pastries (I recommend the chocolate scone) and fresh fruit before picking an entree from a menu of traditional Mexican breakfast dishes: chilaquiles, enchiladas, mole, huevos divorciados and my personal favorite, cazuales - poached eggs cooked in salsa with vegetables. Needless to say we were well fueled for a day of sightseeing. 

Our first stop was El Museo Nacional de Antropologia, where we learned about everything from prehistoric Mexico through modern times. It was absolutely flabbergasting to relearn how Hernan Cortés and his motley crew of a few hundred soldiers toppled the Aztec empire through treachery, manipulation and the fact that Montezuma thought he was a god... and all the more poignant to read about the history on the exact land it took place on.

Umbrella fountain of the Anthropology Museum

After brushing up on our Mexican history we headed to Ciudadela, a massive open air market full of art, jewelery, clothes and other souvenirs. Whereas a lot of these kinds of markets are full of cheap kitsch made in China, Ciudadela had mostly things hand made within the country. The vendors were rather reserved, not pushy at all but also not particularly interested in bargaining. These qualities combined with an excellent exchange rate made for a very pleasant shopping experience, which means a lot coming from me because I generally hate shopping. 


After buying lots of souvenirs (I knew you always wanted a Mexican wrestling mask, Mom) we headed to the Palacio Nacional for some more culture. We walked through the Plaza Mayor - the biggest plaza in the world if I remember correctly - and ended up in a massive Catholic church. Not exactly what we were looking for but cool all the same. After some hunting around and Google Mapping we found the Palacio Nacional and awe-inspiring murals painted by Diego Rivera. Perhaps his most famous work known casually as the "Stairway Mural" sits atop the staircase and portrays 500 years of tumultuous Mexican history. 


Not only was Rivera a masterful painter, but his commentaries in the form of art gave a people with a bloody history of enslavement and colonialism their first view of an indigenous culture to be proud of. His paintings from the 1920s through the 1940s were the first to show the indigenous people as a proud and sophisticated society, criticized the Spanish and American governments, somewhat romanticized the Mexican Revolution and absolutely romanticized socialism and communism. I'm no expert on Rivera but that his paintings could give me goosebumps nearly 100 years after their creation means their messages have withstood the tests of time and are still absolutely relevant. I can only imagine the emotional outrage, pride and turmoil these works of art created when they were unveiled to the public. I suppose one could think of them as a mid-century form of social media. 

Tired yet? Yeah, it was a big day. After the Palacio Nacional - which not to mention was also Cortes's headquarters as well as where the famous grito which declared Mexico's independence from Spain was shouted (rich history no?) - we hit up one last museum and walked through the park before returning to the hotel to clean up for dinner. 

We had dinner at a posh restaurant close to the hotel in Polanco. Anna's friend from high school who moved to Mexico City ten years ago joined us, and it was fun to dig in with a local about what it's like to live in the city. He told us that everybody has their own hustle because if you work for someone else you won't make any money, and he makes ties for a living. After dinner he, Anna and I went out for drinks and then went back to his house where he taught me how to use his sewing machine (terrible idea after lots of drinks). Staying in fancy hotels is great but so is going to a local's house and seeing how people live day to day. 


I only know that I arrived back to the hotel at 2:43 AM because I took an Uber back, all the way across the city for the bargain price of 80 pesos ($4). What a life, eh?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mexico City Part 1


From Cancun to Mexico City 


Salvador Dalí once said Mexico City is the most surreal city in the world, which means a lot coming from him. The city is vast and sprawling, with neighborhoods that compare with Beverly Hills and neighborhoods that compare with the slums of Mumbai. Mexico City was never on my radar for places to visit, but when my very generous uncle offered to take me and my two cousins there for a few days, I didn't hesitate. After one day I was considering moving there for a month or two, maybe a quick year. 

Why is Mexico City so cool? Hard to say, really, but it has an energy about it that rivals New York, an appreciation for art that rivals Paris or Rome, and a badass history unlike any other. I suppose when your city was built the Mejicas atop a magical lake where an eagle was eating a snake on a cactus, then conquered by the Aztecas, destroyed and rebuilt by the Spanish, you're bound to have a colorful culture that has thrived in spite of a lot of turmoil and bloodshed. The country itself is the connection between North and South America and has access to both the Caribbean and Pacific which makes it a melting pot of cultures. 

Paul, Lauren, Sasha, Anna and I left the family compound at Akumal on Saturday morning, hopped on a quick flight and were checking into our (very fancy) hotel in the posh neighborhood of Polanco by late afternoon. My adrenaline was pumping to be in the city - the energy there is infectious - and we've all seen the movie Man on Fire. 

That night Paul had arranged for a Mezcal and Tequila tour through the city, so at 8 PM we were picked up by our guide and took off in a van to find the best tacos. First we stopped by a microbrewery that sold craft beers of Mexico, which was cute but paled in comparison to San Diego, home to over 200 microbreweries (spoiled, I know). 

Next we went to a taco shop that I can't remember the name of for the life of me, but we had a taco that was spicy and cheesy and crispy and delicious and my mouth waters just thinking about, especially compared to the bland food of Cuba (where I'm writing from). Back in the van and on to the next place, we went to a restaurant that was closed (again I forget the name), but opened after hours especially for us. Our host and owner of the establishment took us through a mezcal journey that was delicious, informative and left me in quite good spirits. 

Mezcal tasting and tapas

The first mezcal we tried was strong and smokey and and had an overpowering flavor, but then again I'd never really had mezcal before so didn't have anything to compare it to. The second one had the classic worm in the bottle (for flavor) and was accompanied by a salt that had ground up grubs in it. Yum. The fourth one, called Pechuga, was filtered through raw chicken breast, which sounds absolutely disgusting but for some reason gave it a nice smokey/sweet but easy to drink taste. The sixth mezcal was 65.4% alcohol by volume, and evaporated in my throat (i.e. was absorbed directly into my bloodstream) before making it to my stomach.  After making our way through six mezcals, our host had us try the first one again. It tasted light, sweet and smokey and totally palatable, particularly compared to the 65%. It was cool to experience how the taste of the mezcals change in comparison to one another. 

That's some legit mezcal

In all honestly I was pretty drunk by the time we had made it through six mezcals. Our host then served us each a plate of small tapas - bread with chorizo, smoked swordfish, taquitos and a beautiful mound of guacamole topped with roasted crickets. I'm not totally opposed to eating bugs, but when you sprinkle crickets on my favorite food we might have a problem. I thought about picking them out of the guacamole but I figured their legs would break off and stick out of the avocado, so I might as well give it a go. Eating roasted crickets on a belly full of mezcal wasn't the most pleasant experience, but had I been more sober and had they not been tarnishing my guac, I think I would have liked them a bit more. They weren't too bad, crunchy and earthy tasting, but I did feel like I was picking crickets out of my teeth for the rest of the night. 


Mexico City cuisine is some of the finest in the world, and its chefs use interesting and innovative ingredients. Apparently crickets commonly used, and have been since ancient times, along with grubs and scorpions. Chapultepec, the site of Montezuma's palace in Tenochítlan (ancient Mexico City) literally means "Cricket Hill". An empire built on the backs of crickets - go figure. But I shouldn't be surprised because Mexico City is full of surprises. 

After the mezcal journey our tour guide took us to two more taco shops, one of which is an auto repair shop by day. When the tour ended at midnight I was so stuffed with tacos and booze that in spite of the crazy energy of a Saturday night I fell blissfully into a king size bed, shared with Anna and Sasha, which we giggled about it until we all passed out. 

Three peas in a king size bed

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Viva Mexico




I've fallen in love with Mexico. Again. Not that I ever fell out of love with the country, but when you can climb a tree in your backyard and see Mexico, or drive for 20 minutes and be in Mexico, or go to the neighborhood grocery store that feels like Mexico, or just live in San Diego, it is easy to take the country for granted. However, the past 10 days have been surreal and I've enjoyed every minute (except for a few unpleasant ones spent in the bathroom but even those could have been worse). 



I've gotten really good at spending time in airports. Kera and my goodbye beers. 

Kera and I said goodbye to each other in Costa Rica and went out separate ways. My flight to Cancun had a "technical stop" in El Salvador which turned into a pleasant layover just long enough to snap a photo and grab a coffee. As we took off I saw how close the airport was to the coastline, which is dotted with beaches and points, and noted it for my next Central American surf trip. 

The flight from El Salvador was short but felt long because I was so excited to meet friends and family in Cancun. After getting through the circus that was customs I waited and waited for like 30 minutes for my amiga Nadine to pop through the Customs doors. Alas, there she was. We grabbed our bags and headed to our hotel to catch up before meeting the rest of the family, all of whom I was very excited to see. 

You see, about two years ago my sister Caity started planning a family reunion for the entire Schneider family - aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins.. you name it they were there. She booked us an amazing house on the beach in Akumal (south of Cancun) that all 23 of us could live in as one big happy family for 5 days. The reservation started Monday, but a few of us arrived Saturday to get the party started.


After a few very fun days in Cancun we piled into vans and headed to our sweet ass house in Akumal. The house was over the top luxurious, with 16 private bedrooms, bathrooms, balconies, rooftop deck, pool, spa, swim up bar, coconut palms and a beach with beautiful, warm aquamarine water just steps away, not to mention a chef and his crew of four that cooked us breakfast, lunch and dinner. 


But seriously, and I'm not trying to win points or be maudlin or mushy, but by far the best part about the trip was being with my family. There are some of my family members that I don't see very often, but I really like each one of them - even the uncle that makes us count off every time we go for a family outing - and enjoy spending time with all of them. And while nobody wants to read about how great someone else's family is (although I have a hunch that my family are the only people who read this) I have to say that every single person in my family is successful, which is an inspiration to me. We have business owners, journalists and reporters, world travelers, teachers, intellects, social activists and artists; everyone is well-read and up to date on current politics, engaged and hard working. It is an inspiring family to be a part of and makes me realize that I better get back to work or my slack ass will be the black sheep of a very successful family. 


So yeah, great family aside, we spent a week touring ruins and cenotes, playing games, eating and drinking tons, hanging out at our beautiful house, laughing, sharing stories and genuinely enjoying each other's company. Even when I got a touch of the stomach flu (or something unpleasant of the sort) I couldn't help but think how lucky I was to get sick in the comfort of my own room with my own bathroom (big win) and have my family to fawn over me. I felt very smug that I traveled all through Peru and Costa Rica without having to take Imodium once, camped, stayed in some really crappy hostels and ate some very suspect food, and then got sick in the most luxurious place I stayed, but hey, life is a funny thing. 

There are worse places to have the 24-hour flu

It was sad to say goodbye to my family at the end of five magical days together, which is rare. Most families I know would be at each other's throats by day two but as far as I know, there was no drama to speak of (kinda boring right?) Who knows when we will all be together again, but it was an unforgettable week during which I got to get to know the younger generation better and party with the older. The blow was also softened by the fact that I was headed to Mexico City with two cousins and an aunt and uncle, where I am now. I'll save that adventure for another day. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

La Vida Buena




Costa Rica is dreamy. If you're looking for a destination with warm weather, warm water, nice waves, good infrastructure and easy accessibility and the exotic experience of monkeys, parrots, rainforests and waterfalls, Costa Rica is the spot. It is a beautiful, tropical country that is very easy to travel to and around. 

Back in Mal Pais, which is more off the beaten path (as far as Costa Rica is concerned) people wrinkled their noses when Kera and I told them we were going to Jacó for a few nights. "Watch your valuables", they told us. "Don't go out alone at night. Lots of people come from San Jose to steal from tourists there. It's the Las Vegas of Costa Rica. You might as well be in Miami." So we heard lots of good things about the place before we even left Mal Pais. 

However, you never truly know unless you go, and we weren't about to change our travel plans based on some haphazard opinions. Plus, it made for a nice loop through the country, was on the way back to San Jose and my friend Marie who I met in Peru was meeting us there, so we ventured out. We took the jet boat from Montezuma to Jacó on a hot and glassy morning which was a fun and easy ride. It took about an hour to get across to the mainland, and you can't argue with door to door service. 

Jacó

Kera and I arrived in Jacó clutching out passports and watching our backs, but after walking down the Main Street we both had the same thought, "This place is cute!" Sure, kind of touristy, lots of kitsch shops all selling the exact same thing, bars and strip clubs, a few high rise hotels and casinos, but it reminded me of Rosarito or any other beach town that caters to tourists on a quick getaway from knee deep snow. 

We checked into our hostel, Room2board -  your classic backpacker's hostel - waterslide into the pool, happy hour from 5-7, drinking games at 8, pizza on Wednesdays and a host of activities to do during the day. Everybody was friendly, our room was clean and cheap, and it was right on the beach. The surf was small but easy and friendly, which lends itself to drinking beers poolside all day while the tide comes up and surfing glassy waves at sunset. I know, it's a tough life, but someone has to support the local economy. 

We went out for Lady's Night that night (girls drink free) so you can imagine I was feeling fantastic for our 7am surf after three hours of sleep. A quick surf, a quick nap and then Marie showed up. Upon her arrival my hangover magically disappeared, so we spent the afternoon reminiscing about our time on the Inca Trail, drinking beers and going for an evening glass off surf session under an epic sunset. Like I said, Costa Rica is dreamy. 

The next day we surfed in the morning before getting ready to head back to San Jose. I was a bit melancholy as leaving Jacó meant the end of an epic stint in Costa Rica, but the blow was softened by Marie hosting me and Kera at her flat for our last night. Kera made us a nice dinner and we enjoyed each other's company for the last night for a little while. 

Costa Rica was great - surf eat drink sleep repeat - but it was absolutely the people that I met and spent time with that made it so special. There is something about meeting people from all over the world in an exotic location, sharing experiences and then making plans to do it again in the future that is so special. 

And now off to Cancun where I will meet up some of the people that I love most in the world. My sister Caity organized a Schneider family reunion over a year ago, and the time has come for us all to spend a week together in the lap of luxury. Just when I was getting a little homesick, my family is coming to me. It's hard to express how grateful I am for everything.