Guerrero, Mexico

The girls taking the public transportation to the swimming pool with their cousins. (February 2015)

Tlaxcala, Mexico

Erika picking out pan dulce at our favorite panaderia. (January 2015)

Bend, Oregon, United States

Our family photo taken in Drake Park with all three of my daughters (October 2014)

San Francisco, California, United States

Enjoying the beautiful view from the top of Twin Peaks (July 2015)

Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

Exploring the ruins of Palenque during our Great Mexican Road Trip. (May 2014)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Days 5 and 6 of the GMRT: Exploring the beautiful city of Mérida

My husband loves two cities in the United States besides our hometown of Bend, Oregon. He loves the bright lights and activities of Las Vegas and the beauty that is San Francisco. Keep in mind, we haven't gotten the opportunity to explore many areas outside of the west coast. Coming to Mexico, we knew that we wanted to travel as much as possible and get to know this country of his. This trip is allowing us to see eight new states in Mexico. Now some of the states here aren't as big as our west coast states in the US but they are all unique in their own right.
Something about Mérida though has captured José and he keeps talking about moving here and starting a dual language school. Spanish for those who would want to come down and stay with us for 1-4 weeks in an immersion type setting or local expats who want to improve their Spanish overall. And English for locals who want to improve their vocabulary and fluency to increase their ability to work in the tourism driven industries here. It would take a lot of time, money, and energy to start something like that and my heart just isn't pulled by that right now. It's all he can talk about though so I'm pretty sure that I'd better figure out when I can fit it into our future!

We stayed at the Hotel Ambassador which is just mere blocks from the downtown area and even though they raise the prices 48 pesos on the weekends, it was definitely worth it to stay a couple more nights. At some point in the last 2 days, the rear gate on the Cherokee stopped working so we weren't able to open it at all to get at our belongings. Instead we had to drag everything over the backseats to get it out, not fun at all! We asked around and found a mechanic only four blocks from the hotel and took the Cherokee over there. He determined that the actuator had gone bad. He didn't have the exact same one but was able to rig up a different model and go the lock and door working only, all for only 450 pesos!

We took the girls downtown to walk around and explore more of the city and its beautiful buildings. Our goal was to find the traditional Yucatan shirts with the embroidery on the neckline and hems. Eva told us to find the mercado so we asked around again and found it. There were tons of stalls full of shirts but you have to really work hard to find the good prices. There were so many beautiful things and I wanted them all but we were operating on a tight budget so I couldn't fulfill all my shopping desires. I settled on a black shirt with bright flowers. I would really love to get a dress and belt as well at some point in my future as a rich expat. We got a dress for Mia and shirts for both our moms and Erika. We have been looking for traditional and regional food to try out on this trip. In the mercado, we found a lady selling a version of Yucatan tamales (I think!). They were thick and heavy corn like the maza with a crunchy black bean in them. They were tasty but I'm not sure I could eat them like the traditional Mexican tamal because they are very heavy. We found lunch upstairs from the mercado and we ordered this green drink that sounded weird but was delicious and now I can't remember the name of it!! Can anyone help me here?
The girls spent the afternoons playing in the pool. They have informed me that they like playing at the beach but prefer the swimming pools because they don't get sand in their cracks or salt in their eyes and it's safer for them to play by themselves for hours. As an adult, I prefer the ocean for relaxing and playing in the waves but I can understand their point of view. My husband and suegra don't know how to swim so large bodies of water can be daunting and scary in general.

José and I took advantage of the in-house babysitter and walked downtown for dinner. We walked all over reading the menus and checking prices and entrees before we returned to the Dos Toros on our street Calle 59. We ordered a Parrillada for 2 and wow, I could have moved there just for the pork leg that they made. The meat just fell off the bone and melted in my mouth, like a food orgasm. And that was only one part of a huge meal with so many offerings.

We decided to stay an extra night on Saturday because the town had been advertising their event La Noche Blanca which was supposed to be full of events from 8pm to 2am. José and I left the girls with grandma so they could play in the pool and we walked to the Paseo Montejo where all the old buildings and monuments are located. It was a little walk over there but we planned on renting bikes as soon as we hit the Paseo because it's long! And right when we got there, we found the only bike rental place. Only 60 pesos an hour to rent a bike so we each picked one out. The sidewalks are quite wide and it was so awesome to ride up and down and stop wherever you wanted to take pictures. It took us less than an hour to go all the way down one side and back up the other. I think this has got to be one of my favorite parts of our vacation. I need to make a point to ride bikes more often with my family.
In the afternoon, we took everyone to the Parque Zoologico del Centenario. It is a combination park and zoo but it's free for everyone every day! This is a big deal to me because it shows that the town is more interested in taking care of their residents than the profit margin. We got raspados right before we walked in the gate and they are forbidden in the zoo for good reason so José sat outside the fence while we walked around inside. The girls loved the giraffe reaching up with its tongue to eat leaves and the baby hippo that stayed under water forever with its mama. After we wandered through the zoo, the girls went to go play in the huge water fountain.
After playing in the pool and having dinner, we walked downtown to explore the night time event. The streets were packed with people, the restaurants had pulled their tables and chairs into the streets, everything was peaceful with a great energy, and we enjoyed walking around. There are several parks scattered around the downtown area so there were billboards with the schedule of events and you could walk around and attend what appealed to you. Our only drawback was that we didn't know the names/locations to each place so we just wandered around and stopped when we found something interesting. The girls tired of it pretty quickly though so we walked back to the hotel around 11pm. José wanted to go out and explore more so he headed out by himself and had a great time. It sounds like all the good bands turned out to play after I went to bed!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Day 4 of the GMRT: Exploring Edzna, Uxmal, and Merida

The sun was shining right in our window this morning and we didn't have any great reason to lounge around in bed as the lack of an air conditioner meant the room was nice and muggy after last night's heavy rainfall. The girls gathered up all the shells that they had washed and laid out to dry the night before. We loaded everything up into the car and headed out for our first destination, the ruins of Edzná, just south of Campeche. Depending on traffic and road conditions and how long it took us to explore Edzna, we weren't sure if we could continue on to explore Uxmal as well or have to double back and explore it tomorrow.
I personally don't recall ever hearing about Edzná unless it was briefly in my Mayan history class that I took back in 2005 when I returned to school to finish my Bachelor's. I had posted a request for ideas about places to visit during our road trip and another expat had mentioned this place and it looked beautiful. I like to find smaller places that are off the beaten path because it's so easy to miss some places if you aren't aware of them.
The drive out to the ruins is a little two lane highway and sometimes you wonder whether you're going in the right direction or not until a random sign pops up on the side of the road and confirms you're not lost. When we pulled into the parking lot for Ednzá, there were only 3 other vehicles in the parking lot. There is thick vegetation and trees all around and you can't even see the ruins from where you stand. The path leads you into a thatch roofed building where we buy our two adult tickets for 48 pesos each and continue walking. The next building has several artifacts that have been removed from the ruins and set up for display. The girls started to run on ahead and then started yelling at us to come quickly because the path was blocked off. When we came around the corner, there were 4 large lizards standing in the middle of that path leading to the ruins.
We tried to keep track of all the lizards we saw but we lost count after the first hundred I'd say. The ruins at Edzná were beautiful and peaceful and I felt free to let the girls run all over up and down. We ran into another couple on top of one temple who were from France. She asked me in broken English if I wanted her to take our picture and then we reciprocated the favor. I think my favorite part about traveling is meeting other people. The hardest part about Mexico is the apparent mistrust of everyone so it's hard to really get to know anyone on our travels now. It was only about 12:30pm by the time we had finished wandering around Edzná so I decided that we'd push through to Uxmal before making our way to Mérida. It was about a 2.5 hour drive from Edzná to Uxmal via the "Mérida via Ruinas" route that was well marked. We crossed over from Campeche to the state of Yucatan, our 7th state of the drive now. There was a huge archway over the highway to mark the state line, very classy!
Uxmal is definitely a major tourist attraction for Yucatan. There are resorts and restaurants and all sort of businesses set up at the entrance to the park. We had to pay 22 pesos just for parking which has been a first for us on this trip. After parking, I went to the taquilla to purchase our two adult tickets. After handing me two tickets, the cashier told me to step to the next window and purchase two more tickets from the Yucatan tourism board. The state wants their money and the feds want their money too. Only this state chooses to charge extra if you happen to come from another country. The first cashier told me that I'd have to pay the gringo price without even asking if I happened to be a resident. I had a moment of confusion because the feds do not charge for seniors or children under 13 years of age while the state can charge for whatever they want.
I gave the two tickets back to the cashier and asked for a refund because I didn't have enough cash for everyone based on the incorrect information he had given me. I stopped to read the flyer that was posted on the wall between the windows and realized that he totally confused me. I'm a permanent resident so the price is only 73 pesos. The cashier was quoting me package prices that were like 183 pesos so I was lost. Anyway, only Jose and I had to pay the two fees and the whole family was finally in.
The ruins were definitely beautiful, no doubt about that. We walked up, down, and all around admiring the ancient civilization. It's fun to stand high on top of a temple and imagine where the people lived, worked, and played. It started raining on us while we were walking around the quadrangle of the nuns so we ducked into a doorway to escape as much of the rain as possible. Thankfully it wasn't the drenching rain that can wash you away, just a light one.
The wind started to pick up a little by the time we made it to the last of the ruins, the governor's palace. We were sweating from all the climbing up and down so it felt awesome to feel that breeze while standing on top of the world. There is such a sense of awesomeness and amazement at what was created here. I wonder if Jose's ancestors date back to the Mayans or what his lineage is. Mine weren't building anything as cool as this.
After Uxmal, it was a short drive north to the capital of Yucatan, Mérida. And the rest is history. José started walking up and down those streets and somewhere in there he just fell in love with the town. It isn't overpriced, it's not immediately on the ocean, the downtown is almost spotless clean(!!), and it's a safe town. Law enforcement is strictly handled by state police which make their presence known.
I guess I should mention that we followed the main highway into downtown. I had plugged the Best Western into our GPS since their website was quoting rates of 595 pesos. On the way there, I noticed a sign for 350 pesos and there we stopped. A five story hotel with AC, wifi, and a swimming pool so we decided to pay for two nights and see this town for ourselves. We treated ourselves to a nice dinner in the center and the whole family to a horse drawn carriage ride around town and it was worth every peso over our budget!
Our expenses for today were: 16 pesos for a bag of ice, 600 pesos of gas for 169 miles, 96 pesos for 2 adult tickets to Edzná, 22 pesos for parking at Uxmal, 118 pesos for 2 adult tickets to Uxmal, 146 pesos for tourism fees at Uxmal, 350 pesos for one night at the Hotel Ambassador in Mérida, 250 pesos for a horse drawn carriage ride around the historic center, 435 pesos for dinner for 5 at the Nicte-Ha restaurant downtown, and 68.50 for alcoholic beverages and FrosT's for the girls. Total expenses: $2101.50

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Day 3 of the GMRT: From Villahermosa to Campeche

The only plan we had for today was to get from Point A to Point B, simple enough, right? Only this is the first time I've taken a vacation and not made hotel reservations ahead of time. We didn't have them on the move south but that was mainly because we didn't know where we were going to end up each night. Now I'm hoping that we can find cheap lodging in places that don't bother to advertise on the internet. We slept in a little bit this morning, all of 9am, and then it was rise and shine so we could get back on the road again.
We estimated about 5 hours for the drive so we decided to let some spontaneity enter our schedule, if by doing so we just don't completely negate the whole idea of spontaneity. Can you plan to not plan or is that an oxymoron? We filled up at the Pemex and headed out of town. The drive was supposed to take us along the coastline for the majority of the drive. Eva had told us to wait until we passed through Ciudad del Carmen and went over two long bridges before we stopped to look for a beach.

Today's lunch was peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches. We stopped at the Bodega Aurrera when we reached Ciudad del Carmen and bought a couple bags of potato chips and lunch fixings for tomorrow. We try to eat cereal and whatnot for breakfast, some kind of sandwich for lunch, and then eat out for dinner in one manner or another.

After crossing over the two very long bridges that remind me of driving through the Florida Keys, I spotted a beach that had some sand and one other vehicle parked under a tree for shade. Jose of course wanted to keep driving and look for a better beach because the water looked brown in one area due to all the tree vegetation that was floating in it. We walked down to the beach and it was covered with millions of seashells so forget the water, the girls and Sara started walking along the beach and collecting shells. Let's hope there is not some national law against it that I'm unaware of. As it is, the car now has a lovely funky smell to it.

Next stop after the beach was finishing the drive to Campeche, Campeche; the 6th state we've visited on this trip. Remember, we have no hotel reservations so we do a quick google search to get an idea of where the hotels in town might be and we start driving towards the boardwalk. I pulled into a huge playground just across from the boardwalk so the girls could get out and play for a bit while I searched the web. And then what started out as a few drops of rain turned into a flooding deluge that filled the streets and then some. Jose was having to get out in the pouring rain and run in to check prices for a room. I think we asked at 5 different motels/hotels until we hit the budget jackpot. A double room for only $300 pesos and a secure parking space. There was no WiFi, AC, or cable TV but it fit our budget and that's all I cared about.

We hauled the campstove upstairs and I made a pot of Bear Creek Creamy Wild Rice Soup and we kicked back to watch the rain pour down.

Today's expenses were: 800 pesos for gas for 241.7 miles, 25 pesos for a bag of ice, 192 pesos in cuotas, 300 pesos for lodging, and 42.45 at the Bodega for one day's supply of snacks. Total expenses equals 1359.45 which still puts us over budget but not terribly.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Day 2 of the GMRT: Exploring Palenque

I learned the hard way that it's probably not the smartest thing to stay up talking until 5am in the morning when you are supposed to wake up at 8am so you can go explore world famous Mayan ruins. What in the hell was I thinking? I'm not 18 or 20 anymore, my children are! My body just can't function on a couple hours of sleep, much less driving around Mexico with potholes that can eat your front end and crazy ass drivers that easily turn a two lane highway into a four lane Autobahn. Since José also dislocated his shoulder at the gym a couple weeks ago, he's unable to drive here too because it puts too much stress on his shoulder. So little ol' me will be driving THIS COMPLETE ROAD TRIP!! Seriously, whose idea was this trip anyway?

I had a hard time dragging my butt out of bed but there was no way that I was going to miss out on exploring Palenque! It wasn't even on my original list of places to explore until Eva mentioned it. We followed them out in their car and us in ours. Last night I knew that I was running on empty but we agreed to fill up first thing this morning on our way out. Well the Pemex this morning was a little farther than the fumes in my gas tank took us so we ended up running out of gas and dying on the side of the road. Thankfully Eva and Hugo were able to drive up ahead and bring us back a few liters of gas in a large water jug from their car.

The rest of the trip out to Palenque was very uneventful which is exactly what I hope for every day! We had worried that it would be pouring down rain on us due to the thick cloud cover but we only had sweat pouring off our faces instead! I am not one to sweat by some freak of nature but I was sweating today. And it wasn't the polite glistening that my grandma used to refer to sweat as, it was bright red in the face and huffing and puffing up those millions of stone steps so I could reach the top. Palenque is huge!! I could easily have spent a whole day here if I didn't have an overheated 6 year old starting to break down due to an overload. We slowly worked our way back to the entrance, stopping by a stream so she could put cool water on her head which she didn't do out of spite.

I couldn't climb anymore after this one!

An iguana growing a new tail

Chiapas is a very beautiful state; lush and green and rolling pastures with some hills thrown in to break up the plane. If it weren't for the heavy humidity and heat, I would love to buy a piece of property here and build a finca and have lots of horses. We stopped at a Pollo Feliz on the way home and fed the starving family. José, Sara, and I shared a whole chicken with tortillas while the girls had chicken nuggets that were overcooked and dry and french fries. We all shared a pitcher of agua de limon. It wasn't as good as the one we've eaten at in Tlaxcala but the service was great. There was almost no one there but the servers were very attentive.
We got home at a decent hour and I went straight to the air conditioned bedroom to lie down and try to take a little nap. Unfortunately, the girls had other ideas and just thought it was jump around the room like monkey time. I told Mom that we had wifi during our stay here so we set up a Skype time to meet online and chat. Everyone was home there so we got to see Kara, Justin, AshLee, and Mom all at the same time. It won't be long before we're home for a long visit!

For dinner, I made the girls each a Cup of Soup that we brought with us in the food box while José and I walked with Hugo to corner taco stand a few blocks away to get some tacos. They had a special of alpastor tacos 2 for 1 so we got 16 tacos for the price of 8 and only 12 pesos each.

Our expenses today were: 15 pesos for two bottles of water, 40 pesos in cuotas (20 each way), 265 for a late lunch of a whole roasted chicken with tortillas, two orders of chicken nuggets and fries for both girls, and a pitcher of agua de limon as well as an additional tip of 17 pesos, there is a CONANP fee of 28 pesos for each person to enter the park so that was 112 pesos (they let us get off without paying for Mia since 5 and under is free), another 118 pesos at the ruins itself to get in, 20 pesos for two necklaces for the girls with a stone pendant of their Mayan zodiac sign, 96 pesos for dinner, and lastly a soda and bottled water for 20.50 pesos. Add in about 40 pesos for prebought food like sandwiches and cups of soup, snacks, etc. Gas to fill up the car at the end of the day was 517.12 pesos and we drove 178.6 miles today. Total expenses: $1260.62 (still slightly over budget with that damn gas expense in there).

Chiapas now joins the list as the 5th Mexican state that we have visited on our trip so far!

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Great Mexican Road Trip

I am a lover of road trips, wide open roads and the freedom to just go anywhere you want. This is our first major vacation where the only limiting factors are money and June 13th. My sister and nephew are flying in to see us so we have to be in Mexico City on Friday the 13th to pick her up. My mother-in-law Sara is along for the ride with us so we're a family of five now. I decided to drive the Grand Cherokee because it has more power and easier to maneuver in crowded city streets than the full sized van. I would come to consider how rational this choice was after filling up the Jeep for a whopping 965 pesos. I set the alarm for 8:30am on Monday May 19th and finally rolled out of bed at 8:45am and the great adventure began. We were able to finish up all the last minute packing and get on the road by 10:30am which was only 30 minutes behind schedule for us so we were doing good.

The plan:
Drive to Villahermosa, Tabasco and meet Eva and family
Explore Palenque, Chiapas with her family
Drive to Campeche and explore Edzna
Drive to Merida and explore Uxmal
Drive to Valladolid and explore Chichen Itza
Drive to Cancun
Drive to Tulum and explore Coba
Drive to Chetumal
Maybe take a combi down to Belize and explore an island?
Drive back to Villahermosa
Head home

Our schedule is pretty loose, if something pops up that we want to do, perfect. If something doesn't turn out like we expected, we just move on. My daily budget is approximately 1000 pesos a day. Some days are going to be a lot more and other days will be less so they will hopefully balance out.
This first day on the road is going to be the most expensive, the same as the last day will be. We have the greatest distance to cover on these two days: Tlaxcala to Villahermosa is about 400 miles apart and the cuotas add up to 676 pesos for that one stretch of the road. Our gas costs for this one day ran us 1115 pesos. Private restrooms cost another 10 pesos, about 50 pesos for the sandwich fixings, and 60 pesos for 6 raspados in the park. Our total expenses for the day came to $1911.10, $911.10 over my daily budget.

We are staying this first night in Villahermosa with Eva and her family. She has been living here for the last 11 years. I love driving all over the country and meeting all the other wives in my predicament. Eva had home made mole all ready to eat when we got there so she must know how starving travelers are! Then she introduced us to a regional beverage called Pozol that is a mixture of ground corn and cocoa seeds, very interesting. It is drank cold but I think it would be good sweet and hot too. My girls loved playing with her four boys!! They were bouncing off the four walls. She and I stayed up talking until the wee hours of 5am.

Our road trip today took us across 4 different states in Mexico out of a total of 31. Let's see how many we can mark off this trip!


Free counters!