September 29, 2013 § 3 Comments
I was around 3 or 4 when I remember my dad making reel-to-reel tapes of his voice. He was sending messages to his brother, who was living in England. I, of course, had no idea what that meant. But from this start I had a life long exposure to English culture, and specifically, mechanics.
With the next mail, I got a present. It was a small, metal tank. unlike a lot of american toys, this was heavy, with working treads, and a spring loaded barrel. it was probably supposed to come with some small plastic bullets or something, but those were missing, so we broke bits of spaghetti into short bits, and they shot out of the barrel quite nicely when we flipped the little lever.
This was my first Corgi toy. Corgi made amazing toys, most famously the James Bond cars, with shooting rockets and ejector seats and such, and my uncle sent them along with his tapes. Not too much later, something much larger arrived.
A flatbed truck with two very, very small cars arrived. Bigger than my tank, but smaller than any American car that I had seen.
These were Minis.
Between the two, I found out that one had a good body, and the other had a great engine. Both were rolled into our garage, and I watched as they were torn into bits. These bits were then reassembled into one working car. Ten the thing of the working car began. I watched as this little blue car, smaller than the hood of my grandfather’s Oldsmoblie, was upgraded and tuned, in our own garage.
Racing seats and five-point seat belts were added. Front rally lights were bolted on, and the whole car got “works” tuned. This was during the 70′s gas crisis, and this tuned sports car got over 30 MPG, and was our daily driver.
Then the Lotus arrived.
The Lotus Super Seven was a british kit car, not in the American sense that you would take a cheap car, like a VW Bug, and slap a body onto it to make a kit, but in the sense that you would get an open wheel race car in several boxes, and assemble it in your garage. This one was driven by my uncle in London, and now we had it. it had frozen badly in shipment, and was torn down to the frame by my father for rebuild.
We had a tubular frame in our garage for quite a while, I remember being able to pick it up and carry it around before getting yelled at for running off with the car. Bits would get riveted and bolted on each week, and it became more and more of a car. It was mostly back together when the Aston Martin arrived.
I kew the Aston right away, as I had the Corgi James Bond toy on my shelf. This was a DB6, not a DB5 as in the movies, and was in surprisingly good shape.
This was just my start with British cars.
My entire childhood was spent around little bins of parts saved for reassembly, marked and kept, as replacements were hard to find. We watched Monty Python and The Prisoner on channel 9 at night. I recognized the Lotus 7 in the credits, naturally. I also wondered why the other kids did not. and wondered why they looked at me funny when I mentioned watching The Prisoner.
Much of this explains why, earlier this year, I had no choice but to buy a Triumph Spitfire from my friend Henry. He made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse.
When he dropped it off, I could see that he was nervous. He was afraid that I might be upset by the condition of the car. The body was dented, the passenger floor had major holes from rust, as did the battery case. No lights worked. The brakes were built from hopes and wishes.
But I knew, that for a British car, this ranked as “average”. Henry had already dropped in a new engine and rebuilt the front suspension. These were the money jobs. The rest I could do.
And so far I have. Older cars are very easy to work on compared to modern cars. The systems are simple, parts are pretty cheap, so long as it isn’t a true classic. Tearing into this car and rebuilding some worn out system doesn’t feel like work.
It feels like home.
July 14, 2013 Comments Off
The nice thing about traveling to Disney is that we fall into a pretty good routine. We go often enough that we aren’t in a rush anymore to try to do everything at once. Also, Sasha is older now, and we are hanging out for shows and events more, as well as some of the big rides.
But, as is tradition, we started on Pirates of the Caribbean. We did this as soon as we dropped our bags in the room. It was the evening when we arrived, but when you stay on the resort, the best times for the park are the early mornings and the late evenings. Mid day is such a rush with the peak of everyone trying to get in as many rides as possible, that it is almost a waste, and we typically spend that time in the pool, shopping in Downtown Disney, or since Sasha remembered to take her pins this time, pin trading.
Sasha has been collecting pins since her first trip to Disney. She has a great collection now of cool and limited edition pins, and this trip we took some time with one of the cast members working one of the pin booths to get an explanation of how the sets go together, “completer pins”, newer Limited run pins, and all kinds of other info. It’s the best value for souvenirs at the park. Of course, you have to work the system. If you buy a top-run pin individually, it costs $9-$15, which is insane. Or, you can get a set of smaller, crappy pins for $25 for a set of seven. Cast Members will trade any pin for another. So I buy a cheap set once in a while, and Sasha scours the Cast Members for New Hidden Mickey sets and other cool pins.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was down for a refurbishment, which is a bummer as it is one of our favorites. We were staying in the Frontier tower of the Main hotel, which has a big model of that roller coaster in the lobby. It’s pretty impressive to look at the pattern of the coaster from above and see how it loops on itself. The display case noted that Thunder Mountain was built on the side f the old Mine Ride. You can still see some of the old ride tracks left over decorating the new ride. Two of the old ride effects, a waterfall and the “old faithful” geyser were removed from the park and built into the garden in front of the hotel tower. The geyser still erupts. Cool.
We were also close to the Tiki Bar, which is always fun, as the whole place is animatronic, with thundershowers, tikis that watch you, strange noises, and is themed for the headhunter in the Jungle Ride. Yulia and I sat at the bar, and I was picked for the “Curse of the Tiki” effect, where they slowly shrink the bar stool under you until you are almost on the floor. I love this bar.
We used our Early Entry passes once for each park, which meant getting up at 6am, but since we got in an hour before the general public, we were able to hit all the major long-line rides in each park before 9am. It was the only way to get on the new Cars ride, which had 2+ hour lines all day, every day. Fastpasses were gone within an hour. Once the crowds hit, we would hit some of the little kid rides, like Peter Pan and Mr. Toad. The crowds would usually chase us out by noon.
Our last day in town, we rented a car and drove up to Santa Monica. This was Sasha’s idea, as she loves LA, and wanted to see some of the nice parts of the town, and knew of some store on the promenade that she was dying to see (and had saved her money for). The promenade is very LA, with street performers every few feet, lots of cool shops, and great food. Once Sasha finished with her favorite shop, we found a little French Bistro and had lunch. This was literally a sidewalk cafe, with the kitchen built into a newsstand kiosk in the middle of the street, and all seating surrounding it. The food was great, and the people watching was fun as well. It was nice to have food that was not Mexican or Deep Fried. No matter how hard you try, eating while travelling is tough if you want to be healthy.
After shopping a bit (and buying a new suitcase to replace the broken junk we were using) we walked to the Santa Monica pier. I was excited to visit this as it is the ceremonial end of Route 66. The actual end of the old highway is at 7th and Broadway, a few blocks up, but the cool signs are on the pier, so that made a better photo op. The pier was packed with tourists and performers all the way to the end. It was hard to get through the crowd, but pretty cool to read the history of the pier on the placards. You could read about the building, fires, rebuilding, and the view of the beach from the pier was impressive. The beach itself was packed with people as far as you could see.
We walked back up the pier towards town, and the crowds were getting worse. It didn’t help that the Born-again preachers with megaphones moved in, and with their volumes turned to full, shouted to the crowds how we were all going to hell. While that was annoying, worse were the groups of people moving down the sidewalk that would not watch where they were walking, and shove is right off the path into the street.
For this, I invented a new game. I called this, “Pay Attention Asshole.” The rules were simple. Your family gets half the sidewalk. My family gets the other half. If you aren’t paying attention, I’m not getting out of your way. The number of people who barrel forward while looking sideways is amazing. The number of them who give dirty looks after getting a 200 pound shoulder slammed into them is slightly less amazing. Yulia and Sasha thought I was being terrible, but liked having the sidewalk cleared for them.
We headed back to Disneyland, and planned on having dinner at The House of Blues, and try to catch a show. We packed our bags in the room first, then headed over for dinner. I grabbed tickets for the show, and we headed in for dinner. Having dinner before the show let us skip the line. The drinks were good, and the food was as well. We were pretty surprised, as I expected the food to be typical chain restaurant fare, but it was really good Cajun fusion meals. I had a jambalaya that was some of the best that I have tried. It was really amazing.
The show was running a bit late, so we had an extra drink and some fantastic Key Lime Pie, then we waited at the side of the venue with the other diners who were seeing the show. After the line grew a little in our area, and a lot in the General admission area, they gave a security sweep to the group, and started letting us in. We were the standing room only section, and found a good rail with a view of the stage. Things were getting a bit late, and we were pretty tired, but we wanted to catch at least part of the show. I grabbed the bar special, and shot and a beer, both of which turned out to be supersized. We caught the opening act, which was a Funk band with a hard rock edge. I loved it, but I was harder for Yulia and Sasha to follow, as the band did a lot of original material, and only I knew most of the funk covers they did.
After they completed their set, we were too tired to stay for more. We flew out the next morning early, and this made a fitting end to the week. And to a great vacation.
July 13, 2013 Comments Off
The new terminal at the San Jose Cabo airport is a huge improvement over the old one. You can really see the impact of the tourism dollars, the old terminal was just a bit better than a Quonset Hut with a bar, and the new terminal is first class all the way. They sold beers bigger than my head. This is a good thing, as I have a large head.
I had checked us in online, so we just had to drop our one checking bag off, and go through security. We try to travel with one carry on bag each, and a single check in bag for the family. We still have an old Samsonite hard-sided set that is really a piece of crap now. the bag itself weighs a ton, and the latches aren’t TSA approved, so we can’t lock them (even if we did have the key) and we have to wrap a strap around the thing to keep it from popping open.
Also, airlines charge per bag, and have lower weight limits, and the weight of the bag itself puts us over the top, for another extra charge. We may ditch this bag in LA and buy something that sucks less in an outlet somewhere. We aren’t heading straight home, we have 4 days in Disneyland first, which is really pretty cool. Having more than one stop on your vacation really makes it feel like a few mini-vacations, and you get that cool feeling of “someplace new” with each location.
We love Disneyland. It costs extra, but we try to stay on the resort each time we visit. With the early entry, included tickets, meal plans, and all the other bonuses that you get with the resort, it saves so much time that it is like getting an extra day in saved time. Also, we spend the midday at the pool/tiki bar, avoiding the crowds. It rocks.
The flight up from Mexico itself was typical, but I forgot what a craphole the LAX airport is. The newer parts are fine, Sasha and I arrived into that part when we came down for her dance competition a month ago, but we were arriving in the International Arrivals section today, which is older, and like walking back in time to 1973. We walked through about 2 miles of tunnels, all covered in trippy tile mosaics and bad buzzing lighting. The lines at Passport control were confusing, and the scanners didn’t want to read our passports. We finally got through, grabbed our bags, and made it out of customs with just a few dirty looks.
We had a shuttle reserved that was part of our hotel package. I had printed the pickup instructions, and we looked around for the correct drop spot. The whole pickup area was insane, and really poorly marked. My reservation said to wait under the orange “Shared Rides” sign, but none of the signs were orange. We walked until we found someone else looking for the same service, and he found the stop, under a white sign that also did not say “shared rides”. Nice.
In about 10 minutes, the correct van came for us, and a tiny little old man came out to check our ticket and load our bags. He could barely lift my carry-on, let alone the big checkin we had. But that was fine. I gave him our printed ticket, and he went to the front of the van t enter it into his GPS. To do this he pulled out a big magnifying glass to read the screen. Not one of those small square units you get at Barnes & Noble to look up stuff in the fine-print dictionary you got for Christmas, but a giant Mr Magoo looking thing.
Holy Crap. Our driver was Frail and Blind. Fortunately, he spoke little English, and with a thick accent for the words that he did know.
Once we were in, and buckled up in sheer terror, he started the van and got us moving. He went a bit along the concourse, and puled up to another stop to load someone else in. Slowly. Out came the magnifying glass to enter the information. And we moved on. I thought we should exit the concourse soon, but it just kept going. I knew that LAX was big, but this took forever. We took another stop, and the space in the van got tighter.
We drove in the concourse more, and stopped again, when I realized that THIS WAS THE STOP WHERE WE GOT ON. The bastard was looping the concourse until the fucking van was full.
Fuck. Me. Running.
We were stuck and this continued until he had the last seat filled and fully ruptured his hernia loading the damn bags in. The sunlight had long since burned hotspots into the dash from his magnifying glass getting pulled out, and we left the terminal to enter the Twilight Zone.
I was lucky, as I had a small boy sitting next to me. He sang a song. It went like this.
chewing my gum
chewing my gum
chewing my gum
chewing my gum
3641st verse same as the first.
I would like to note that I did not stab him to death with my ballpoint pen. I am applying for sainthood.
The air conditioning shot off once we were on the freeway, and we crept slowly along towards Anaheim. It was like being in the river boat in Apocalypse Now, but without the benefit that you might be shot dead by Charlie any minute, putting you out of your misery. We appeared to be the first stop, and were glad to see the van pull off to Disneyland Drive first. The driver followed the GPS directions, and past the entrance to the Disneyland hotel.
I guess we weren’t first.
The driver went straight through the park, and out the other side. He turned on the neighborhood street. Then, when the GPS instructed, he turned again. And again. And again, into the drive of our hotel. He was a local to LA, and looped the entire block to get into the city’s biggest landmark. Then he went the wrong way, as the cast members waved and yelled as politely as they could that he was going the wrong way.
The second he stopped we got the hell out of that van. He wrestled the wrong bags out of the back. We pointed to the correct bags, and I pulled the big one out for him. I gave him a decent tip to make him go away, and we ran for our lives into the hotel before he started moving the van again. We were safe.
Welcome to the Tragic Kingdom.
July 11, 2013 Comments Off
The staff was working all morning to erase any indication that we had just been hit with a storm. The cushions were back out, the umbrellas were up, and they were literally drying the walkways with towels to clean the place up. We had a tour planned for the evening, so the morning was left free to walk into town again.
We wanted to resize a few rings at the silver shop. When the heat bloats you up, things tend to be a bit big once you deflate, and the cool of the storm had deflated us all down to close to normal size. The humidity was off the scale. Once you have gotten used to dry desert heat, having the humidity rise really knocks you for a loop.
The master was out of the shop once we got there and the owner had to call him in to do the resizing. It would take about an hour, so we walked across the plaza and sat in Starbucks. We really didn’t want to check out the markets anymore, so sitting in air conditioning seemed like the best plan.
They grow really excellent coffee in Mexico, but apparently there is some federal law that keeps Starbucks serving their regular crap instead. I gave up on coffee there, and got their iced refresh lemon whateverthehellitis. It’s too sweet, but cold.
The moment we stepped out of the Starbucks, all our glasses fogged up, telling us that the humidity was still insanely high. A small breeze started, so it felt a little better. We went over to the shop, and they were still working, so we looked at the crap, and found that they actually had some pretty good linen men’s shirts and dresses in their joining space. I had already picked up one shirt here, and found another that was the right size and a cool traditional design. Yulia picked out a dress, and bargained a good price for both. I love the quality of the linen work in Mexico. I brought a Tommy Bahama linen shirt with me, and the local shirts are just as good, if not better and less than half the price.
We chatted with the owners a bit about our tours to Miraflores and Santiago, and they knew the zoo and thought that that area was a good one to see. They recommended a few points further north near La Paz to see next time. I will have to look these up for our next trip.
We walked back to the hotel, after a week here, I finally was finding the shortcuts, and we took a back street out of the marina and cut between the restaurants on shore, saving us a walk around the point. The beach was really different from the storm, although the vendors and salesmen appeared to be the same.
We went to the Pirate Boat Bar for lunch, and had our usual margaritas, guacamole, tacos, etc. I’m not sure if a new bartender was on staff, but when we got up from lunch I could feel that those margs were much stronger than normal. We had been drinking these margaritas all week, and as expected for an all-inclusive resort, they had been pretty watered down. Not these. These felt like full-on doubles. I felt fine, hell – I felt great, but once they hit Yulia, she was way overdone. Swimming helped clear her head a bit, and we went upstairs to cool off, but we didn’t have much time before our evening tour.
I was still buzzing pretty heavy when we got on the bus, Yulia looked like she was spinning. A big bottle of water and some Gatorade (regular, not Mexican) helped a bit. The ride out was fairly long, and by the time we got there and got out, we were both fairly sane, which was good.
We had two hours of horseback riding ahead of us. Sasha really likes horses, and has been riding several times back home, I on the other had am terrified of these goddamn things.
They all look like Sarah Jessica Parker, minus the shoes.
We were given a few seconds of instruction, and each fitted to a horse. We were all informed that our horses speak Spanish only, so when giving commands we have to call them caballo, not horse. I just held on and pretended that it was a large hairy motorcycle, which I also do not know how to ride. These horses had been trained to just follow each other and stay in line, although occasionally one would want to stop and snack on the ground, or wander off a bit, and if we just pulled the reigns a bit, they got right back to work.
We were taken on a tour along the desert, and down to the beach. It was a beautiful ride up and down the coastline. I really love the look of the desert, and since the sun was going down, it wasn’t too hot. We were told to wear long pants and tennis shoes, which was good as my horse like to get a real close look at the plant live, to scratch his neck and back I suppose, and it was better to pluck a few spines out of my pants rather than pluck them out of my leg.
We turned along the open beach, and the horses liked to run up a bit and reorder themselves for no apparent reason. They did this a few times until one of the ranch hands pulled up on his horse and whistled a few times, which is apparently the caballo equivalent of “cut that shit out”, which they promptly did.
On the bluffs above the beach there were a row of pretty big houses, and one huge abandoned mansion. It looked to be only a few years old, with a three story house, back house, gate house, plaza and the works. It was amazing, and totally abandoned. Apparently this is pretty common, where someone runs out of cash and properties never get resold. Nearby on the cliff was a burned out restaurant, also never to be rebuilt. We rode around and up to it. The view from the former patio was amazing.
On the path we saw a few jackrabbits, it was the first time we had seen these in Mexico. They chased about near the horses, mush the same as the rabbits do on the streets at home, but they are much larger, and their ears are huge. I don’t know why, but watching rabbits is always fascinating.
We headed back to the ranch. In the morning, we were heading to the airport. We were going to take a few days in Disneyland next, but this was it for our time in Mexico.
So we got on our horses and rode off into the sunset.
No seriously, that’s what we were doing. If that’s isn’t cool enough for you, go watch cat videos or something. You are wasting my time.
July 9, 2013 § 2 Comments
So, that happened. Hurricane Erick, downgraded to a Tropical Storm.
...Erick moving generally parallel to the coast of the Baja California peninsula... summary of 200 PM PDT...2100 UTC...information ---------------------------------------------- location...22.6n 110.8w about 60 mi...100 km WSW of the southern tip of Baja California maximum sustained winds...45 mph...75 km/h present movement...NW or 310 degrees at 10 mph...17 km/h minimum central pressure...1001 mb...29.56 inches
It was wet when we got up for breakfast, but not too bad. The walkways here are slick as snot when wet, my Luna Sandals had no problem (Vibram soles) but the girls were skating most of the way to breakfast. We had just a few minutes to eat before we needed to catch our tour. We were supposed to have a tour of some smaller towns today, but were unsure if the rain would have any impact. It wasn’t raining at them moment, but things were still pretty soaked.
We were given a table on the porch, even though the buffet had been moved inside, there were still a few tables outside. We grabbed a quick few plates of food, then sat down t eat. There were just a few drops of rain coming down. Then a few more. And some wind. Within a few minutes it was pouring down, with wind whipping water all over the porch. We signed out tab and headed to the Lobby. It was too wet to walk by the pool, so we wove our way along the hallways, sliding along the tiles, until we got to the lobby. Yulia checked with the concierge, and our tour was waiting at the entrance to the other resort.
Once he headed over to the right entrance, our tour guide confirmed that our tour was still on. Apparently, they normally didn’t run tours on Monday anymore, but our booking agent had an old brochure. some stuff might be closed. We figured that with pretty much everything closed at the resort, we might as well head out and give it a shot. We loaded into the van, and headed into town, back towards the airport. The rain was still coming down like crazy, and the roads were crazy.
Think Seattle drivers can’t drive in snow? Try watching Mexican drivers drive in the rain.
The standing water on the road was everywhere. the center of town looked like the “Mexican Flood” effect at Universal Studios, with water rushing out of back streets across the road. no one slowed down, they just hit their hazard lights before driving through a foot of water at full speed. We would get hit with sheets of water across the windshield, blinding us, and when it cleared we would be 1 foot away from a tanker semi filled with something Peligoroso. But all said, it was still easier than driving in Paris.
After a pit stop at Starbucks for coffee, we headed out of town. The rain got a bit easier as we made our way up the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula. There was still standing water everywhere, but the dounpours came in squalls that moved quickly overhead, and he wind was mild. Our first stop was Miraflores, where we say a local furniture workshop, and a leather tannery. The artist at the workshop was out, but his kids let us in to tour and see his work. He made rough-hewn furniture out of desert salvage wood, and it was pretty impressive. The girls followed around their home and dad’s shop, looking at us like we were the strangest thing they had seen, which may have been true. The wood was amazing, a beautiful deep grained wood with a golden-reddish color. Some really fantastic pieces. Our guide mentioned that we could always get a chair, and we noted that a chair might be difficult to pack.
The leather tannery was working, we could tell by the smell. We were shown the whole process of soaking, scraping, and dying the leather. It was a open-air building, so the chemical smell wasn’t too bad. Local boys ran inside as we were there to swing on a rope hanging from the rafters. One dropped his shoe into one of the active pits, then jumped right in to pull it out, shook off the chemicals, and went back to the swing. He still had feet, so it must not have been one of the more active stages. But he was dripping with something. The owner showed us some of the finishing and tooling that he did, including a few chairs that he was repairing with leather seats. Our guide mentioned that we also could get a chair, and we noted that we still didn’t have that much space in our luggage.
We moved on.
We went further north, with a driving tour of Santiago, which had a beautiful Mission and Plaza, big Mango and Avocado orchards, and a Zoo. The zoo was closed, but we could see Emus through the fence. That was fine with me because the rest of the place was just filed with animals, and I had no room in my luggage for any.
Further up the road we stopped on the Tropic of Cancer. The weather cleared up a bit and we got out. There was a fairly impressive Highway rest stop with a marker showing the line where the Parallel ran, along with a small Catholic Prayer alcove, and a small plaza with shops that had examples of art from the local town. These were all closed of course, but it looked cool through the window. The rain hit again and we headed out.
We had lunch at the seaside resort of Buena Vista, which was built over hot springs, and apparently was originally the home of some famous General. This was a big fishing destination and Spa, and we headed inside for a few beers and food. Probably the most fascinating aspect of this resort, unintentionally, was the Gringos. This resort was time-locked in the late 60′s, and filled with fat American guys there to fish and live cheaply. The place was amazing, it was like going back in time. This place couldn’t have changed a bit from the day it opened. The guys were that semi-familiar rude to the staff, with that leathery tan from being our in the sun way too long for a white guy. They gave Yulia a good looking over when she walked past the pool, then waved for more beers.
The food was quite good there, Yulia had Sea Bass, Sasha had Chicken Fajitas, and I had Beef Tacos. It was all made local, and went well with Pacifico Light. A few strong rain showers hit while we ate, and the humidity shot right up. It was good to get back in the van to some AC as we drove back. The rain let up for the ride back, and the view of the desert was really great. I love cactuses, with the variety and alien nature. you could see how the rain had carved out the sand along the road, which wouldn’t last long, once things dried out wind would take away all the sharp edges and give back the smooth desert look again.
We made a final stop in San Jose. This wasn’t on our tour, but our guide took us here to see the old town since we had some extra time (with the zoo and everything being closed). The old town was very cool. This would be well worth a full day on it’s own. The shops, art galleries, restaurants were all really impressive, and they apparently do a Thursday art walk. We hit a small jewelry shop, the church, and a Tequila tasting. We were tired and didn’t take too much time, but now we have a new location for our next trip down.
As we drove back into Cabo, the rain and wind got stronger. We entered the resort and found that all but two restaurants were shut down. Our elevator was closed off (to save power) and the wind was still fairly nasty. As strange as our day had been, the storm had hit Cabo pretty much all day. Lots of folks were getting stir-crazy, and room service for food was 3 hours behind. We managed to get in to a buffet to sneak some food, and things started clearing after dinner.
We looked out to the beach, and found that the sand had changed completely. What was a fairly sharp drop off of sand in front of our place was now a long, smooth sandy beach. Further down we could see hotels that didn’t have much beach left at all. The shallows behind the hotel looked like a wetlands. We could hear birds hiding in the potted plants around the resort refusing to come out and screaming at each other.
The next morning, it was bright and sunny. Welcome to Mexico.
July 7, 2013 Comments Off
For the weekend, we took a bit of a rest. (note: I had to look it up to figure out that it was the weekend. ) Saturday was spent with me at poolside, learning that you can still get sunburnt through a deck umbrella. Sasha rested in the room most of the day, and Yulia swam and walked the beach. We ordered drinks, swam and read until 6pm.
Seriously, that was it.
We booked tours for Monday and Tuesday, and headed down the beach for dinner and music at the Mango Deck. We have been doing so much during the day that we haven’t had energy to go out at night, so this seemed like a great plan. The live music at the Mango Deck was the best and biggest on the beach, so we went there. It was a party madhouse. It was full of drunk teenagers, dancing and taking down shots, and the food was fantastic. It was pretty cheap too, for a beach bar.
The band ran for a full set, then took a break, pounded shots, then headed offstage. We ate dinner, then the MC came out for a TV song trivia contest. This was pretty hard, as we sat behind the speakers, so it was hard to hear clearly, but we were able to get 14 points, with Sasha getting our biggest score by naming the song to “Full House” after a few clues were thrown out.
We didn’t win, but it was a blast.
On Sunday, we went back into town to get some shoes for Yulia, check out the silver shops again, and bargain at our favorite Flea Market. The guy at the flea market recognized Yulia, which saved us a lot of time haggling on prices, he pretty much just took whatever offer she made. We walked back around the marina and had lunch at the Hard Rock café, which is a total tourist spot, but they had some cool memorabilia, and the prices weren’t too bad. It was also nice to get American food for a change, especially since we don’t actually eat American food at home, so it was actually unique for us.
Sasha was blown away by the guitars, gold records, and all the cool stuff on the walls. We played our usual game of naming the artist and song that was playing, and were stumped on one for a bit, until we recognized it as the Skype ringtone. The bartender was running the music off his laptop and someone was calling him. It happened twice.
Our waiter spoke great English, and he turned out to have graduated from Federal Way High School. He was living back in Mexico, as he was trying to get his US citizenship, and needed to apply from Mexico, while his sister sponsored him. (we weren’t sure of all the details, but we wished him luck on his application)
We headed back to the Hotel, as we had a seminar at 4:00 on “How to burn Belly Fat” This was too fun to miss. The personal trainer for the gym here held a little talk on diet and exercise. It was pretty much just basic Paleo talk and HIIT for exercise, but some of the folks there thought this was the most foreign thing possible. At least there was free water.
All day the waves on the beach were getting closer and closer to the hotel. Red flags were up. Californian tourists were surfing. When we returned to our room, we had a notice on our door of an impending storm warning. The staff was loading up the cushions from all the deck chairs.
Arranging the deck chairs, eh? Should be fun.
July 7, 2013 Comments Off
Our snorkeling cruise wasn’t until 1pm, so we didn’t have to rush in the morning. That’s the one problem with a lot of tours they tend to start pretty early. This gave us time for breakfast, and to pick up some things in town. Pretty much we just needed some extra Sunscreen, which can be a pain as I have an allergy to most sunscreens, and only feel safe using Nutregena. We had brought a lot, but were using it faster than expected. The mall has a pretty good pharmacy, and they had it, but it was expensive as hell. A sunburn is bad, but an allergic reaction is wayyyy worse, so I paid the ransom and got the stuff.
Our next stop was a surf shop to get some swim shirts. These things look dorky as hell, but are UV resistant, and a Poly/spandex mix that keeps you just a little warmer in the water. I picked one up earlier, and tried it out, and it made a huge difference in heat while swimming. Since we were going to be floating face down for about an hour while snorkeling, these looked like a good investment.
Our boat was on the far side of the marina, by the cruise ship dock. It was a hot walk all the way around, with vendors and water taxis offering us their services all the way. We had been here by cruise ship years before, and the whole plaza had been rebuilt. It was really an improvement, even the vendor flea market was upgraded, so we checked out the stands nearby while the boat was getting ready. Yulia haggled a vendor down on the price of a wrap/dress/blue thing which was good for post-swimming, but other than that is was all the same stuff as everywhere. There was no cruise ship in town, so prices were at their normal level, as opposed to the “special” price reserved for the cruise boats, which was approximately double.
Our boat was a nice catamaran, the “Cabo Blue” It was a group snorkeling trip, and we got on early to snag good seats in the shade. The trip was pretty full, and those who got on late were hanging out in the webbing or baking in the sun. Once we were underway, it cooled down nicely, as we had a light tailwind, and an open bar. I stuck to light beer, which at 3% was basically Mexican Gatorade. The volume of beer drinking also meant that I got to visit the Men’s Head, which was located on the Starboard hull, down a hatch, and the toilet was up on a platform from the floor. This involved some creative footwork and angles to use while we were underway, because as the ship pitched and bounced, the toilet would gurgle and spit at you. It was horrifying yet strangely hypnotic.
We cruised past the arch, took a few photos, then headed around the point to the anchorage. This was nice as most of the local snorkeling tours just go to Lover’s Beach, and this was further out, with fewer people. This meant a longer drive, but as I said, the beer was free. The wind was stronger at the anchorage, but once in the bay, it was calm enough to set anchor and dive. They gave detailed instructions in Spanish to everyone, then said, “For everyone in English, it’s the same thing” then threw us in the water.
We had 50 minutes to explore. The water was cold, and the swimshirts worked great. The water wasn’t super clear, as it was a choppy day, but the schools of fish were huge. A calm day would have really improved visibility, but what we could see was really impressive. The swimming was really the hard part, and we got tired fast. We started heading back t the boat when they blew the return whistle. It was had to believe that the full 50 minutes had passed, it went so fast.
Once back on the boat, they served lunch, which was pretty basic but good, had more drinks, and started heading back. What was a nice tailwind on the way down was a pretty strong headwind on the way back. Waves were splashing up through the webbing, and across the deck. It was really chilly, but a lot of fun. Our seats were the driest on deck, mostly out of the splash zone and it was fun watching the others get soaked. One guy loved it, moved down onto the webbing and was drenched from head to toe. The wind was drying the salt water on us, and we kept brushing off salt crystals.
Finally we made it back to dock, with the wind stopped it went from chilly to overheated in about 60 seconds. We planned to just walk back to the hotel, but halfway around the Marina this plan just wasn’t going to happen. An hour of swimming and hot/cold swap were a bit much, and we found a Pedal Cab to take us back to the hotel. The guy looked like he was going to have a heart attack about halfway through. With waterlogged towels and clothes, we were probably heavier than he was expecting. He got us there without serious medical attention, so we tipped him and left. Planning for our next tours was underway…
July 5, 2013 Comments Off
We had originally planned at going to the 4th of July event at our resort, but after seeing the debacle of the Latin Dance show, and that the food was a nightmare, we didn’t bother planning for that. We just headed into town for the day and figured that something would come up in the evening. Something usually does.
It was hot. Not much wind either. We walked into town via the Camino Real instead of the beach, which was actually easier, as there was a bit of shade and our feet didn’t slide all over the sand as we went. We didn’t have much of a plan, so we started at a cheap tourist shop to get some hats, as it was really getting hot, and then we figured that we would walk in through the tourist shops that were a couple of blocks off of the marina.
The town is actually pretty cool. The pushy salesmen on the marina front turn into some interesting shops scattered among the standard tourist stuff. The buildings are older and with a lot more character than the rebuilt marina. We walked into a small covered flea market, and Yulia found a vendor with some pretty cool silver jewelry, and started bargaining for some nice items. I stood by like a sweaty guard while Yulia worked the guy over on price.
I should point out that Yulia lived in Turkey for a year, so the Mexican never really stood a chance. She once worked a vendor in Turkey over for a leather jacket for months, coming back each day. She talked him from $500 to $30. But that was pretty much just to make her go away at that point.
We didn’t have months to work on this guy, so it largely was for the principle of the thing. After a bit of preliminary chatter, the guy showed Yulia the difference on the table between the “tourist” items, that he could let go for really cheap, and the actual jewelry. She had already figured this out, and eventually they settled on a price for a bracelet and a ring, and I just stood, smiling like a dope. I really don’t haggle well. So I just kept my mouth shut. And then I sweated some more.
A street down or so we found a shop with some nice linen shirts, and I found a nice one my size. Yulia haggled the lady down in price, naturally.
We wandered through the shops, Past Cabo Wabo again, and hit the marina front for some lunch. We went to a restaurant that we ate at on our last rip to Cabo, which is attached to the Tequila Museum. When we were here last, the Tequila Museum was a sop that has a little presentation and tour about the making of tequila, with interesting murals and such, followed by a tequila tasting. Now it is just a part of the restaurant, with boxes in front of the murals, but the food is really great.
We were really sweating from the heat at this point. Yesterday had a bit of wind to cool us down, but today was almost perfectly still. We got some water and Margs to cool off. Even though they had a nice deck, we sat inside to take in some of the AC. As an appetizer, we had a melted three cheese with tequila. This is basically a Mexican Fondue, but wow. They bring out a Carved Stone Pig Bowl, red hot, and start dumping cheese in. the thing sizzles and smokes. then the light some form of flammable Tequila, pour it around to be artsy and shit, then add that to the cheese to the whole thing catches fire.
And that pig-bowl.
This is scooped over Corn Tortillas, and you fold into Quesadillas. They serve with sauces and salsas, and holy crap is it good. I then had Chile Relleno, which is peppers stuffed with more cheese. (I should note this was fresh Oxaca cheese, truly amazing) Yulia had a Cactus leaf salad, and Sasha had a curried fruit salad, that was great, but a bit strange.
I don’t think I have ever eaten more cheese in my whole life.
Once we were able to move again, we headed down the beach back to the hotel. This put us through the gauntlet of the growing party in front of The Office and Mango Deck who were getting ready for the night’s festivities. As we pushed through the crowd, a whistle blew. As we looked over a woman in a lifeguard outfit ran up, blew her whistle again, and promptly poured a shot of something orange from a Grey Goose bottle down Yulia’s throat. She blew here whistle and the crowd behind her cheered. She stuck a shot glass into Yulia’s cleavage, blew her whistle, and instructed me to drink. Not wanting to argue with authority, I did my best, when she grabbed the rest of the shot, poured it in my mouth, shook my head and promptly charged me 10 bucks.
Ah yes, Mexico.
I paid so we could quickly leave and have enough time to take antibiotics in the room for whatever she gave us. At least I had stopped sweating.
We got back, cleaned up, and rested on the patio for a bit. I got my call confirming our Snorkeling reservation for the next day, so that was good news. It felt like it had cooled down, so I took a rest. I woke up cold. I looked around, it was still hot out, but I was shivering. The first thought was poisoning from the orange shots, but Yulia was fine. It took me a second for my Boy Scout brain to kick in – High Temperature, No Sweat, Shivering.
I had Heat Exhaustion.
The pretty resort may fool you, but this is still a desert here. And if you don’t respect the desert, it will bite you in the ass. Today’s score was Desert:1, Mark:0
I put something on since I knew I was losing heat at this point, and was severely dehydrated. We had four bottles of water on our walk today, but with the heat it was not nearly enough. The girls were fine, but I was a wreck. Hell, I kept telling them to drink up as we walked, but obviously didn’t take my own advice. I started re-hydrating right away, and things started to get back to normal by the time we had dinner.
We got a table at the restaurant on the corner of the resort, it has a full view of the bay, and we found out that there would be a full fireworks show over the bay at dusk. I had more water and a few light beers to keep rehydrating over dinner. We ate light, and over dinner we ended up seeing three fireworks shows , one at each end and the middle of the bay, each at different times. It was an amazing show.
July 3, 2013 Comments Off
Winds and waves were lower this morning. So we made plans to get a water taxi to take us across the bay to Lover’s Beach and the Arch. The upside to being offered a taxi every few feet on our walk into town the other day was that we now knew the best place to pick one up. We already knew that the water was too rough right outside our Resort, even with the wind down the waves were still way too rough to get near the waterline. But halfway down, in front of the Mango Deck, there was a very smooth landing spot, and a company with foldup ladders on the boats.
This was much easier, and meant that we had a lot less chance of Yulia hurting her rib any worse (from her fall three weeks ago). it was a cheap ride, and the driver told us that the latest storm wiped out the beach under the arch, so we gave him a tip to take us around the point t get a few photos of the famous stone arch, then headed for the beach.
The beach was stunning, and hot. We took something like five bottles of water with us, and when we felt the heat we were glad to have it. The sand cracked under our feet as we walked inland, with a dry crust that we would step through until we got close enough to the other shore for it to be moist again. Waves from the unprotected side were crashing up the rocks, and it was a really amazing sight. Once the heat really got to us, we headed back into the bayside of the beach, and found the swimming area just a bit in. We rented an umbrella, and a few beers from one of the locals, and Yulia swam while Sasha and I watched the local Chipmunks steal food from the other Americans when they weren’t looking. Pelicans stood on the rocks nearby watching the whole show, waiting for small fish to be scared up to the surface by the snorkelers. It was hot and good.
We took in as much heat as we could, then caught the next taxi back to the shore. This one was a glass-bottom taxi, which gave us a full view of not a goddamn thing. Cool bubbles though.
We made shore, hiked back to the hotel, with local vendors offering us a water taxi, after watching us just disembark a water taxi, and had a great lunch on our Pirate Boat. Eating lunch, I did a little math. At every meal, even though it is covered on our all-inclusive plan, we get a bill. This lets us add an extra tip past the pre-included amount, if we want. It also lets us see what this meal would have cost if we had paid cash. Extrapolating out, if we keep eating at our current rate, we will eat the equivalent of 1.5x what we actually paid for our stay here. With a little work, we could double it.
I ordered two shots of bar tequila and beer chasers, and retired to poolside. We checked the Resort schedule, and found that tonight was the “Latin Dance Night” over at the partnering Villa in our group, and was part of our all-inclusive. This seemed like a good plan, so we rested at the pool, swam, and rested some more until the evening. Once we cleaned up and dressed, we walked over to the other resort for the dinner and show.
It is a short walk from Villa del Arco to Villa Del Palmar. But as we noted, they couldn’t be farther apart. Villa del Palmar is the “economy” resort, and while it has a great restaurant on the beach, the shows are apparently the nightly “all you can eat” bonus. The crowd looked like extras from “Jersey Shore” and men large enough to use their bellies as their own speedos. The food was of low quality, but made up for it in volume. Wow.
The drinks were the same as our hotel, so we clung to our little alcoholic life rafts and waited for the show. It opened with a round of musical chairs for the kids, which by a strange coincidence, had better footwork than the show to come.
At her last showcase, Sasha was judging the younger kids in their dance events. Not as in being judgmental, but the actually ran a kid’s event, and she was scoring them professionally. Both Yulia and Sasha were very excited to see Latin dance in Mexico, but this wasn’t it. It was bad enough that Sasha started scoring the show from our table. “They are moving their hips and ribs at the same time”, “This is not a proper Samba”, it was awesome, and probably the best part of the show.
We did get a souvenir bottle of tequila with a family photo on it, which comes in a close second.
We are still hoping to find some great latin dance here. But that wasn’t it.
July 2, 2013 Comments Off
The internet connection in this hotel is fucking marvelous. It’s like being back in 1994. Thank god I’m too drunk to actually care.
The ocean this morning was a damn blender. huge waves were crashing on shore, even though the wind was not too bad. The red warning flags were up, and while a bit unnerving, it was really beautiful to watch. Yulia took an early jog along the beach, and when she was done, I went down and did a few runs in my new sandals. Running on sand is always a good workout, and trying to learn a forefoot strike while wearing huraches makes it even more fun.
That made us all good and hungry, so we had another great breakfast at the main restaurant. The food is amazing here, and the service is so good that it is starting to creep me out. I feel like I need some indifferent hipster to ignore me and get my order wrong so I can get back to normal.
Today was spa day for the ladies. Having a world-class spa was one of the selling points of this resort, so Yulia and Sasha signed up for a nearly full day spa treatment. This was massage, skin treatment, hot and cold spas, and all that general witchcraft. I don’t really know how it works, because I’m a guy, and consider Old Spice to be a skin treatment and falling down the stairs a massage.
While they were off, I inquired about some snorkeling tours, checked on Oscar at the Dog sitter, and went for a walk. I decided to walk a city loop from the main entrance of the hotel, into the marina district. The streets are a bit sketchy behind the hotel, but not actually bad. This just looped around the downtown to the marina, then I walked back up the beachfront to the hotel. It was a good hour walk, and great exercise.
Coming back into the resort I ran into our friends from First Class again. They were a bit surprised that I walked a loop of the town for no reason, and looked at me like I was insane.
I spent the rest of the afternoon on our balcony, reading the latest Dan Brown book. Which like all his other books, is a frustrating mess of implausible plot littered with dense art history that I have no chance of understanding. Naturally, I can’t stop reading it. Eventually Yulia and Sasha returned, looking very refreshed, and we went to the Pirate Boat restaurant for a late lunch (which, I think,is technically a “supper”. Or some damn fancy name. I just know it’s free.
Did I mention that we have a pirate ship shaped restaurant and bare in the middle of the pool? Fuck. And. Yes.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at the pool swimming and chatting with folks in general.
Later, I was introduced to some kind of Mexican public shaming ritual called “Zumba” Apparently, this is a kind of cleansing ritual where one dances poorly in public while others drink and film you with their iPads. Yulia joined me for Moral support, and after shaming myself sufficiently, we were dismissed to a crowd of laughter, and I took two Margaritas to complete the washing of my sins. Sasha moved across the pool and refused to watch at all. The shame was apparently too great.
Later in the evening, we ordered food into the room, and watched the sunset from the back of the hotel. It is really quite beautiful, and I hear that it happens every night. I hope it’s part of our all-incluseive package, because I’d hate to pay full price for it.