Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

5 Days With ¨Hoo-lia¨ - Day 5



Photos by Julia Aron

Today is Julia’s last full day here and it will be a full one because tonight, Mexican Independence Day begins.

Independence Day is a two-day affair kicking off officially at 11pm tonight and going straight through tomorrow. The town of Tulum has been getting ready for the festivities for the last few days and this morning, the excitement is palpable.

We spend a lazy day at the beach and return home for a short rest before meeting up with Ron and Matt at Casa Dos to start the party. Ron, of course, knows a bunch of people who live here and we head into town to the Weary Traveler, the local hostel, to meet up with some of them.

It’s a lot of fun and I already know some of the guys from Ron and Matt’s poker game that I sat in on a couple of weeks back. It’s very chill and there are about ten of us, all chatting easily amongst ourselves.


Photo by Julia Aron

Gillian arrives. She lives here and has just returned from a couple of months vacation in Indonesia. She’s from New York and still has the edge that is only apparent (to me) in places like Tulum. A walking contradiction for sure, she seems like she should live on the Upper East Side, yet she lives in her van.

Gillian suggests we head over to the street fair to get some food. Though I’m starving, I’m a little apprehensive about diving in fully to the whole street food experience. I’ve been very free here with eating at places I wouldn’t normally try in the past, but carnival food feels a little over the edge for me. On our way over to the festivities, I turn to Ron. “It’s safe and all to eat, right?” I whisper. He assures me that it is and as an aside, offers, “Worst case scenario, you get some Cipro and you’ll be fine.”

Oooookay. Here goes.



Photos by Julia Aron


Our first stop is some sort of corn stand, where they smother the corn in mayonnaise and sprinkle it with spices. I’m game and Julia and I decide to share one between us. Somehow, we end up with something completely different – a corn soup of sorts. We go with it and it’s tasty - though I’ve never quite tasted anything like it.

The fair is jammed with people, rides, games, music, fair-workers on loudspeakers trying to entice people into playing their games. It’s no different than a fair you’d see in the states, except for the spinning sombrero ride!

After our corn extravaganza, we settle on a cross between quesadillas and tacos. The shell is doughier than a tortilla, almost sponge-like. There’s pork or beef. Gillian asks for one with just cheese and relieved, I follow suit. I would’ve eaten chicken, but pork, beef……no thanks.

The food is pretty good and there is no water to buy, so I settle on a tapioca-type drink and Julia orders a Jasmine tea-type of drink. We pay for our meal, which for the four of us, is around $10 – and head over to the town center where the fireworks are scheduled to start.

I haven’t been this close to fireworks for as long as I can remember. Living in NYC, you’re lucky to get a good spot on a roof deck on the 4th of July to watch the fireworks display. Here, it feels almost overwhelming to be so close to the noise and the actual launching site, which is not more than a few thousand feet from where we stand.

Somewhere along the way, we lose Gillian and it’s just Julia, Ron, Matt and myself. The guys are ready to head over to the beach to continue the party, but Julia and I are wiped out. We bid them good-bye and head home with me crossing my fingers that my street food experience will not come back to haunt me.

Day 4.....continued



Elated by our experience at the Cenote, we’re ready for more exploration. However, gas is a factor. We ask our friend at the gate if there are any gas stations nearby. He directs us to a place on the way back through town. Once again, Julia’s Spanish skills saving the day.

We find the place and I don’t see any gas pumps, but this is Mexico, so I wait for all the information before I make a final judgment. Julia hops out of the car and goes into the convenience store to ask about gas. A few minutes later, she comes out and waves excitedly, “They have gas!!” How much do we need?”

Surprised, I get out and tell the woman standing with Julia that we need 200 pesos worth of gas. She tells me it’s 280 pesos. We go back and forth until I finally realize that she’s selling us a container of gas! Julia translates my discovery and sure enough, we’re inches from buying some homegrown gas. “We’re not getting gas here,” I mutter quietly for Julia’s ears only.

We thank the gas lady and head back to Tulum satisfied with our efforts, but smart enough to know when to admit temporary defeat.

Photo by Julia Aron

On the way back to Tulum, we stop in the first town out of Coba to get “Cocos Frios” – cold coconut water. And I’m not talking about the kind you buy at Whole Foods. This is an actual coconut, chilled in a cooler, cut with a machete-like knife to create a small hole for a straw. Once you finish the water, you can give the coconut back and have it cut up into slices to eat.

I had this experience in Trinidad, though the coconuts weren’t cold. It’s delicious and we were both excited for the snack.

After the coconuts, Julia buys a hammock swing – a good alternative to her hammock obsession. It cost $20 and will fit nicely into her apartment back in New York.

Afterwards, we´re back on the road after a great day of fun and adventure.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

THAIZ........R.I.P.


THAIZ, one of the dogs in the condo died yesterday. She was around 9 years old and succumbed to a tumor in her chest. She was a sweet little dog who was obsessed with catching water from the pool in her mouth if you "threw" it her way. Sometimes, she´d follow me back and forth as I did laps hoping for a little splash or two. She will be missed by her family. I´m glad I got to know her.


Que descanse en paz.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

5 Days with¨"Hoo-lia" - Day 4



It is Monday and we’ve decided to take a road trip. Today, we will go to Coba, a small town about 30 minutes from Tulum. I’ve been told that some of the best Cenotes are in Coba. Both Julia and myself have never been to a Cenote, in fact, up until this visit, I didn’t even know what one was!

I will give you my interpretation with a link, of course if you’d like to know more. There are no rivers above ground on the Yucatan Peninsula. Instead, the rivers run underground with these Cenotes which are holes in the ground where the water collects. Check out the real definition here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cenote .

The ride to Coba is a straight shot from Tulum with not much in between. However, I’ve made the mistake of assumption. Something you never do in Mexico – especially when it comes to amenities.

There’s just under a half tank of gas in the car and I think we’ll find a station easily on the way to Coba. There are two things about gas that I’ve learned so far. The first is that gas stations are not hard to come by in Mexico. In Tulum alone, I’ve counted at least five, which by American standards may not be a lot, but don’t forget that Tulum is very small.

The second thing is getting gas here can be stressful. The attendants are known to scam tourists out of money left and right. It’s a whole thing. They pretend to overcharge you by a few pesos. While you’re looking for the extra change, they switch your 200 pesos for 20 pesos. By the time you come back to them with the change, they try to convince you that you’ve given them too little.

I’d only heard about this and each time I get gas, I’m ready for them. Flashing them my 200 pesos and waiting until they finished filling my tank before giving them the money. It’s also important to watch the tank to be sure they have given you the exact amount you’ve asked for because sometimes, they’ll give you less.

Normally, I don’t shy away from being a tough girl. I’m a New Yorker. It’s in my blood. But there’s something about being in a foreign country that prevents me from automatically getting my tough on. The language barrier makes it harder to assume that someone is in need of a little New York-ness. It’s also a respect thing for me – hey, I’m in your country, I’m going to try and go with the your flow. That is, until you try to scam me and then….sorry amigo, all bets are off. My solution is to avoid it for as long as possible, which is exactly what I did by assuming there’d be a few gas stations on the road to Coba.

Photos by Julia Aron

There are about 3 towns between Tulum and Coba and when I say town, I mean 3 or 4 stores on a short stretch of road. It’s hot, but we are excited for our adventure.

The main attraction in Coba is the Ruins. Much larger than the Ruins in Tulum, it was recommended that we visit the Ruins first and then head to the Cenotes. Julia and I both agreed that we had no interest in more Ruins so we headed straight for the Cenotes. A new friend of ours, Josh, tried to draw a map for us directing us to the best Cenote in the area. He also explained it as he drew. It seemed like a lot of information and I hoped that I got it all when he wished us a good time and sent us on our way.

Once in Coba, I mention the need for gas and Julia points out a Pemex station to our right. We pull into the station only to find that it’s not open. In fact, it’s not even completely finished! The man sleeping in a hammock tied to the posts where the pumps will eventually sit is amusing though.

There’s really not much to Coba except for the Ruins, a few “mini-supers” (convenience stores) and a library. We follow Josh’s map and drive around the lagoon past the Ruins.
Once we’re past the Ruins, there’s supposed to be a fork of some sort. We don’t see it and now we’re confused. “Do you think we went too far?” I ask Julia as I navigate around the holes in the dirt road. “I don’t know. Maybe we’re just supposed to stay on this road longer,” she ponders. We decide that we’re probably overthinking it and once we do, the fork appears with a sign to the Cenotes.

We arrive at the entrance and talk to a man stationed out front to take our money. Thank goodness, Julia speaks Spanish because there have been so many times on this trip where less time is wasted trying to communicate with my broken Spanish and someone’s broken English. With Julia, we can cut to the chase.

There are three Cenotes from which to choose. Everyone talks about the one where there’s a spiral staircase downward into the Cenote and a platform for diving. We motion to the man out front making a spiral with our fingers asking, “Donde es?” He answers in Spanish, we pay 90 pesos, about $8US and drive onward.

The thing that always strikes me about Mexico is the constant adjustment of expectation that I experience almost everyday. Some days, it’s annoying and other days, it’s a reminder that in the States, there’s so much to be taken for granted. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the Cenote experience – just the way I like to roll. Being American, however, things are almost always more simplified than I could ever imagine.

Sure, we could go to Hidden Worlds, a “Cenote Park” 30 minutes north, where it’s more of an attraction than an experience. People pay upwards of $80 to get the full theme park experience. There are restaurants and souvenirs. No expectation adjustment there I suppose.

At “Cenote Dos”, we pull into an unpaved parking lot. There are outdoor showers to our left where people are required to rinse off before entering the Cenote. A man sits on a bench – a long piece of wood atop two large rocks – and collects our tickets. We opt to leave everything in the car except for our towels, but as we’re showering, we decide to go back and get Julia’s camera which we’ll wrap up in our towels while we swim.


Photos by Julia Aron

The entrance to the Cenote looks like a stone gazebo with a palapa roof. There’s a long, spiral staircase descending down into the Cenote. Though it’s made of wood, the stairs are sturdy and the lower we go, the more the air changes. Three-quarters of the way down, there is a platform, though it’s roped off. I figure it’s the “trampolina” the man who took our money was talking about.

We are now deep down in the Cenote and I can see everything. It’s strangely serene and daunting all at once. We are literally in a cave. There are stalamites everwhere. The rock is a terra cotta color and the water, because it’s dark inside the cave, looks to be a deep, cool bluish black color.

It’s not crowded, thankfully, but it’s interesting to make the trek down the stairs and maneuver around the token person coming up the stairs to exit. Julia stops to take some pictures and I continue on down where I come to the second “trampolina”, about ten feet lower than the first one. This one is not roped off and I walk out onto the 3 foot-long platform taking in the scene. The water looks so crisp and clear, it’s mind boggling. There’s no plant life except for a little moss on the back side of the cave, near the staircase.

Julia snaps my picture and we excitedly descend to the bottom where there is a ledge of sorts that serves as a dock and place for belongings. We wrap up the camera and head towards the gigantic wooden ladder leading into the water. There are two sides to enter with the staircase in the middle. We choose the one to the right.

Standing on the ladder, I can feel how cold the water is. I dive right in bracing myself for the shock of the cold. And cold it is!! Wow. After two weeks of swimming in the comfortable waters of the ocean, this feels more like swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in early June. “It’s coooooold!!” I call out to Julia who is making her way down the ladder.

Once my body adjusts to the temperature, I’m thrilled to be swimming around in a cave. Who gets to do this?!! Matt was telling me that the water itself, is very dense. He went on to describe the time his friend jumped off the “trampolina” improperly, landed on his ass and was sore for days to follow. Floating in the water, I can feel the density – it’s almost syrup-like. Hard to describe, but noticeable nonetheless. I look up at the platform for jumping and think about the fact that there’s a proper way to jump. Not knowing what this is, I silently opt to pass on jumping into the water today.

There are a few community inner-tubes that on which we are able to take a turn. It’s great floating around in the water. At closer glance, the water is crystal clear and the bottom is filled with plant life. I doubt there are fish because the water is fresh, not salty. I make a mental note to ask Ron about this. We stick to the center of the Cenote as we’re both a little grossed out by the cave walls. They’re very porous and remind me of the guy’s skin from the movie Grease. You know the guy, Kenickie´s rival, who challenges the T-birds to a drag race and loses to Danny after Kenickie is accidentally knocked out minutes before the race.

I digress.

I’m cold, so I get out of the water and commandeer the camera, but it’s too dark for good pictures and I’m happy to sit and take in the whole scene in while Julia splashes around on her tube.

Upstairs and outside, it’s hot and we’re feeling refreshed and somewhat strange. The water is full of minerals and we were told that it’s got a cleansing effect, so perhaps the woozy feeling we share is because of that. It’s not bad and I’m sucker for anything cleansing, so we head back to the car to contemplate our next move.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

La Cucaracha


Photos by Julia Aron

My first or second night here, I met La Cucaracha. He was the biggest one I’d ever seen and…..he had wings. Naturally, I was distressed about this and completely petrified by the notion of killing him with my flip-flop. The idea of the crunch alone sends my mind racing into a frenzy with a fantasy of paying the $150 to change my flight and getting back to New York as soon as possible.

I mention this at dinner one night with some friends who live at the Condo.

“I had a roach sighting last night.”

“Ahhhhh…” they whine with empathy.

Robin, Jamie’s husband says matter-of-factly, “You gotta take care of that and get that fucker.”

I don’t know him that well or else I would’ve responded, “Uh…DUH! You’re telling me. I’m afraid to sleep!”

Instead, I share my fears of the crunch and his flying capabilities.

“Ohhhh…I hate the ones that fly.” Jamie pipes in. “You gotta just stomp on it. They’re everywhere here and ya just get used to doing it.”

“Just get yourself some spray and you’ll be fine.” Robin reassures.

On a mission, I buy some spray the very next day. I feel sheepish as I place the can on the counter for purchase as if I’m the only one in Mexico with a roach problem. $4 later, I am armed and ready to go.

That night, I return home, announcing to the roach, “Okay, brotha. I am here. This can go two ways. You leave me alone and you live. You don’t and you’re dead.”

I say this every night, but now that I have ammunition, I believe I sound more confident. He doesn’t come out that night. In the morning, I feel victorious and relieved. Maybe I won’t have to kill him after all. Maybe he got the message and has moved onto someone else’s casa.


Julia has arrived and upon returning home her first evening, I spy La Cucaracha dancing around in the living room.

“There it is!” I almost scream as we’re standing outside the glass doors that open into the living room.

Julia’s just as horrified as I am. To calm her, I say, “I have spray. Don’t worry.”
We enter the house and I grab the spray, but La Cucaracha is too fast for me crawling under the island in the middle of the kitchen.

“Damn. Should I spray underneath?”

“YES!!” Julia exclaims.

I grab the can and spray under the island, but to be honest, I’m not keen on spraying poisonous chemicals around my current home. “Do you think it’s bad for us to breathe this stuff in?”

“Gimme the can girl!” And with that Julia sprays the shit out of the area just underneath the island. That bug has no chance in hell of surviving.

Sniffing around I say, “Actually, it’s not so bad. It smells like air freshener.”

The next morning, La Cucaracha is toast – lying belly-up near the door. I ask Julia to take a picture for posterity and announce to anyone else who might be out there.

“Ya see that La Cucarachas!!! There’s a new sheriff in town Don’t make me have to spray you dead too.”

Friday, September 18, 2009

5 Days with "Hoo-lia" - Day 3




Tulum Street Photo by Julia Aron

Today, we are spending the day with Ron, Matt and some of Ron’s friends in Akumal – a 20 minute ride to the north of Tulum. Akumal, which means “place of the turtles” in Mayan, is very small community. The beach is much rockier than in Tulum – perfect for snorkeling.

The beach we’re going to in Akumal sits on a bay. Half Moon Bay, to be exact. Before we head to Akumal, Julia and I must go into town to take care of some things. I need to get a local cell phone – something I’ve been meaning to do since I arrived. Julia needs to get a hat and some sort of shawl – she got hit pretty hard with the sun yesterday and needs to be covered today.

In town, we wander up and down the main avenue – a short road – no more than a mile long. On it, sits Tulum’s restaurants and various tourist shops. After awhile, one shop molds into the other, so it helps to be on a mission. And today, we are all about a hats and shawls.

Did I mention that Julia also likes hammocks? Yes, she’s into those as well – maybe not as much as the iguanas, but each time we pass one, she exclaims with delight, “Ohhhhhhhh……hammocks! I love them.”

Yesterday, on the beach, we indulged Pedro, a local man selling handmade hammocks. They were pricey and before she decided the money would better spent on something else, we got a full hammock presentation. Don’t get me wrong, Pedro’s hammocks were really beautiful, but a hammock in a NYC apartment??

Today, we’ve found some hats, trying on different ones before settling on a simple straw hat that resembles the one the Panama Jack guy wears on the suntan lotion. It’s Julia’s turn to bargain today as I played “bad cop” yesterday with Pedro and his hammocks. The guy at the store, Ricardo, I think, is haggling back and forth with Julia while I browse around. She mentions her need for a shawl and they head to the front of the store.

After what seems like a long time, I go looking for her, weaving my way in and out of the hanging blankets and ponchos. There she is, with Ricardo, admiring a hammock, of all things!! I approach announcing dramatically, “Girl! Again with the hammocks?” She just looks back at me with a smile and turns back to the hammock.

From behind it looks like they’re looking at something in the hammock. What could it be? A baby? “What’s the deal?” I say as I walk up behind her.

Nobody answers and as I look over her shoulder I don’t see anything. Well, not at first. After an awkward moment of silence, I look down and see a small bag of weed lounging in the hammock.

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhh…….” I say, understanding now.

Julia giggles and points to me claiming that I’m the “expertita”. Ricardo gives me that hard sell and wants to give us a deal with the hat and the weed for 400 pesos – about $35-$40.

Apparently, he thought that when he asked her if she liked Bob Marley and she said yes, it meant that she was looking for weed. Who knew?

In the end, Julia got her hat and I didn’t get a cell phone. But we did have some amazing smoothies.




Photos by Julia Aron


After our short adventure in town, it was off to Akumal with the boys. Ron’s friends turned out to be lovely people! Andrew and Lisa – originally from the East Coast, then onto Denver and currently, living in Puerto Aventuras, a small community north of Akumal. I had such a great time hearing about all their adventures upon moving to Mexico. They’re involved in property management in the area and have made a nice life for themselves here in Mexico.

Lisa became very ill, just a couple of months after they moved. Her story of going from doctor to doctor and having test after test to determine the problem was harrowing. I’m trying to convince her to blog about it. Hopefully, she will and you can read all about it.

Thankfully, she is healthy now. The day was fantastic. The guys snorkeled and we chatted easily under our umbrellas. Julia found a hammock in the shade and I played a little with Andrew and Lisa’s dog, Lola.

The Beach Bar was open and it was so fun to just sit on a beach chair, order food and drinks from our waiter and just pass the afternoon away with good company. The bar had swings, which is always fun. There were also two towers where you could climb up the ladder and sit in some chairs – very treehouse-esque. The best part is the bucket that is attached to a rope that hangs over the side allowing for drinks to be pulled up to your respective perch.

Inside the bar, was a bizarre death altar. There were also a couple of token dead people seated at the bar – a photo op of which Ron and I took full advantage.

Today definitely goes down as one of my best days so far.

5 Days with "Hoo-lia" - Day 2



Photos by Julia Aron


Day 2

I took Julia to Playa Azul a preferred spot of mine on the beach where on Sundays, there’s live music. Although it was Saturday, I thought it was a good place to chill for the day. We settled onto our chairs, me under the palapa and Julia in the sun. On the way to the beach from the condo, Julia kept saying, “No wonder why you were so mixed about being here, you’ve been walking miles and miles everyday. I like to walk, but even this is too much for me.” It was funny and also validating to hear because it didn’t occur to me that my first week in Tulum wasn’t necessarily a picnic with the heat and no car.

We had a great day on the beach and because Ron was in Cancun for the day with his mother-in-law, I suggested we go back home to see if Matt wanted to join us at the Tulum Ruins. He did and the three of us headed out of the pueblo up to the Ruins, about ten minutes north of the center of town. It was hot and we were grateful for the beach that sits at the bottom of the Ruins.



Photos by Julia Aron

I, of course, was more interested in the beach than the Ruins. One, it was REALLY hot and two, my attention span is limited. I’d like to tell you more about the Ruins, but I just know that they’re really old and made of limestone. The rest is up to you –

The best part of visiting the Ruins was Julia's obsession with the Iguanas. I won't post all of her pix, but I will tell you there are at least ten of them!




Photos by Julia Aron, except the one of us. (Thanks Matt!)


In the evening, Julia and I headed to the beach for a really nice dinner at Posada Margarita. It’s a small hotel with a restaurant overlooking the beach. The prices are more New York than Mexico, but I heard it’s worth it and thought it would be nice to treat ourselves.

Posada Margarita didn’t disappoint. We sat on an oversized bench overlooking the ocean. It felt more like chilling in my living room. Even our table resembled a coffee table - low to the ground.

Alessandro, our waiter, whom we found out later is also the owner, greeted us by asking, “So, how much do you eat?”

Always ready for a little sarcastic banter, I responded, “Everyday, or just in Mexico?”

Amused, he explained that the portions were very large and then spoke about the appetizers and side dishes. I was completely lost by then. He’s Italian and his accent was thick. Couple that with his lightning fast speech, both Julia and I were confused. In the end, we ordered two dishes, a pasta with lobster, tomato and pine nuts and a local fish grilled simply with salt water, lemon and olive oil. There is no menu at Posada Margarita – there is only Alessandro who is warm and intimidating all at once. We agreed to fall into his hands, sit back, drink our wine and enjoy the ocean air.

The food was incredible. For starters, there was a platter of everything from olives to bruschetta to pistachio nuts to tortilla chips. We happily munched on our snacks when an American guy walked over to us and asked if we’d like our picture taken. We obliged, of course and proceeded to strike up a conversation with him. He was handsome in a distinct way – maybe 40 years old, shaved head, dark eyes, lots of tattoo’s. Matt was his name and he and his friend, Josh were sitting at the table just to our left.

Matt was very friendly and we talked a bit only to find out that I’d met him once before!! His sister owns the hotel, Amansala, home of the famed Bikini Boot Camp. Their step mother was the “angel” who came to my rescue the day that I crashed the moped on my last visit to Tulum. I’d seen her in town a few days later where she introduced me to Matt and his sister, Melissa. She’d sent Matt to the hospital to check on me, but they wouldn’t let him see me. He was also the one that alerted me to the fact that mopeds for rent are often not in the best condition. He told me to make sure there wasn’t an equipment malfunction, which indeed there was!

Such a small world, it is. Matt and Josh joined us after we’d finished dinner and they invited us over to Amansala to hang. We declined with the promise of a raincheck for the following evening as Julia and myself were exhausted from a long day in the sun.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

5 days with “Hoo-lia” - DAY One


Photo by Julia Aron


Where to start? It’s been quite a week here in Mexico. Julia arrived on Friday afternoon and I was thrilled to have some company. I picked her up at the airport in Cancun. We rented a car for the time that she planned to be here. I negotiated a deal for a week and was so happy to have some wheels for a change.

We headed south with the intention of stopping in Playa Del Carmen for some lunch. Julia had never been to this side of Mexico before so I wanted her to see as much as possible. Since Cancun had no appeal to either one of us, we were off to Playa, about 45km south of the airport which takes about 30-45 minutes depending on traffic.

Playa Del Carmen or “Playa” as known to the locals, is considered the “city”. It’s much bigger than Tulum and over the last several years, has become quite a popular tourist area. I’ve been several times, only for a few hours, but my feeling is that it’s not as americanized as Cancun, though it’s certainly close. There’s Walmart and Starbucks and Sam’s Club and Office Depot – need I say more?

With both hands on the wheel (no power steering) and mi amiga by my side, I felt more adventurous than I had in days. We turned right off the highway, just north of the main Avenue de Constituyentes because I’d heard from some of the locals that the north side of Playa is nicer and less gentrified. Julia knows Spanish so it was fun listening to her call out the signs she’d see as we passed them.

We ended up on the north side of 5th Avenue and I wasn’t sure if we’d missed the “cool” area. It’s kind of hard to find something when you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for. We settled on a spot that served Mexican food and enjoyed some guacamole and fish tacos. Afterwards, we walked around a bit and dipped into a few shops when the skies opened up washing the streets for a good fifteen minutes. We waited it out in a jewelry store / tequila bar browsing but not drinking.

The rain stopped and then started again so we decided to walk back to the car in spite of the rain.

Forty five minutes later, we arrived in Tulum, did some food shopping and headed directly to the beach. It was close to 6pm, but I didn’t want her to wait until the morning to see the ocean and connect to the fact that she was truly in Mexico. After that we headed to mi casa. Julia was pleasantly surprised at my digs for the month, which by the way, are really nice. I joke that I’ve been “living in a palace” to which she agreed enthusiastically.

She settled in and we poured ourselves a drink and headed over to Casa Dos. I wanted to introduce her to my “posse” – Ron and Matt, with whom she hit it off immediately. We originally planned to have a drink with them and then head out to dinner, but they’re so easy to be with, we ended up staying for dinner and many more drinks. It was so much fun.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11th – A Fine Line Between Looking Forward and Looking Back

Editors Note: I was going to publish my piece which is a personal account of the events on Spetember 11th, but at the last minute, I decided to publish the following entry instead. If you are interested in reading about my experience on that day, please email me at gari47@gmail.com and I will send it to you.



It’s hard to believe it’s been eight years since September 11th. Where do you put an event that rocks you to the core, yet each year, is overshadowed by the natural continuation of life? The clichĂ© comes to mind – “Life Goes On.”

And it has.

The first couple of years found me frozen in the past – reliving the day in honor of all that was lost and not to be forgotten. Two years became three and four and eventually, I began to wonder, each year as the day approached, whether it was wise to immerse myself in the past or focus on the future in front of me.

At what point are we allowed to put the past behind us without dishonoring the importance of the very event that inevitably shaped the future? We all move forward naturally – if we’re lucky. However, on this day, I always find myself torn. Part of me doesn’t want to think about it anymore. It took me so long to move past the pain, the nightmares, the adjustment - all of it. Why would I want to bring it all back? At the same time, why would I want to forget something that changed all of our lives collectively and individually all at once?

This year, I am in another country. It would be easy to forget as in Mexico, the days all mold into one and everyday is Saturday. But my friend arrives today – a tricky “coincidence” that in spite of my isolated existence this month, I am forced to acknowledge the day.

And I will. But this year, I will honor the past by focusing on what I’ve learned since then. I will think about my progress forward since that day eight years ago and most importantly, I will honor the love and support that got me through the aftermath. I will be thankful that my family and friends are all healthy and alive and just an email away (for now).

Life will go on as it always does – and that’s okay. As long as we acknowledge where we’ve come from as we continue our journey into the future. I will never forget, but I will continue on.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sororities and Solo-hood

Wow. I feel like it’s been ages since I’ve written anything. There’s definitely some pressure as part of the reason I came here was to write – and I’m not talking just emails. But, I’m trying to go with the flow and find some sort of rhythm within that flow.

I’m a productive person by nature. Coming to Mexico for a month, I had to have a mission. I, of course, had several. The first being writing, of course. I told my friends, Daphne and Julia at our final lunch together in New York, that I was “looking forward to being a writer every day.” (Insert audience laughter here.) Though, I must say that what I know about writers, they are always looking for a reason not to write. Tulum is a wonderful place to lose yourself. It’s also a great place to distract yourself from writing. There’s so many things to blame!

The beach, is first and foremost – the sand is so fine, who wants to get the computer all full of sand? Best to leave it at home and save the writing for later. Then, there’s the heat factor – which is only good for about May/June through August/September. “It’s too hot to write or do anything or that matter. Maybe it will cool off tomorrow. Until then, I will sit in the shade and bear the heat.” I’ve also been using the “adjustment” mode excuse this trip thinking that I need some time to adapt to my new environment, so what’s the point of writing? Yes, better to write when I’m feeling more acclimated.

And lastly, there’s the connection factor. This is probably the trickiest of all for me in that I need a certain amount of interaction to feel comfortable and inspired. I travel alone a lot and mostly, I like it very much. There are ups and downs, but, my motto is this – until the downs outweigh the ups, I have no problem tackling new things and places on my own.

I’ve been traveling alone since the late 90’s. Officially, that is. Unofficially, I was back in High School and all of my friends chose to go to college either locally or with others from the town in which I grew up. I flew solo from the get-go. I don’t think I was aware of my innate wanderlust at the time, though, looking back, I find it interesting that I didn’t apply to any of the schools my friends were applying to – hence my break from the nest, I guess.

I fought it though. The total immersion in college life. My first college, Quinnipiac College (spell it and you’re in!) was only about an hour north of my hometown. Though I loved my college friends, I was still tied to home and would travel frequently home, just to get a manicure. (HEY!! It was still the eighties!!) In spite of my attachment to “home”, I was determined to prove my independence as well as quench my thirst for new and different experiences.

I’d always wanted to live the stereotypical college life of fun parties and football games – just like the movies. And at 20 years young, knowing yourself is still an exercise in experimentation, so I figured if I went to one of the big schools, I would then, live a big life.

Enter University of Miami – a cinematic dream of American college life. Sprawling campus complete with palm trees, an outdoor student cafĂ© with music piped in and a lovely manmade lake running the length of the walkway separating the campus from the dorms. I transferred in as a Junior, but was put in freshman housing. My roommate was obsessed with joining a sorority, something I’d never even imagined. In the end, she talked me into participating in Pledge Week - a week designated for potential new recruits to visit each sorority, get a sense of whether it’s the right fit and most importantly, impress the “Sisters” – the existing members of the sorority and secure a “bid” which is an invitation into the sorority at the end of the week – on Bid Day.

My participation in Pledge Week was mostly detached. I cared less about being in a sorority than I did about meeting people as I knew no one at this school. In the end, I was more attracted to the Catholic-driven sororities – a direct result of my upbringing. Though I was raised Jewish, we were never influenced in my family to only stick with “Jews”. Plus, all of my friends in my hometown were Catholic so naturally, I was attracted to the Catholic sororities in which I felt most comfortable.

“Bid Day” arrived and my freshman roommate was anxious about her hope to be accepted into her first choice – Delta Phi Epsilon – aka “DeePhiE”. Me, I was hoping for a bid from Delta, Delta, Delta, aka, “tri-Delt”, but in truth, I wasn’t all that invested. I guess I saw life outside of the Pan-Hellenic world. I was just looking to connect with some people. Belonging to a sorority was secondary.

On Pledge Day, each Pledge writes down their top three picks for the sororities for which they’d like to be chosen. A half hour later, each pledge receives notification of the top three “bids” they have received from all of the sororities. In my case, the irony was this – I had no bids from any of the non-Jewish sororities which happened to be my top choices. The final kicker was that I received a bid from DeePhiE! I was mildly thrilled thinking that at least me and my roommate would be together, so I accepted their bid and prepared for the welcoming ceremony.

In the interim, I searched for my roommate to give her the good news only to find that she didn’t receive a single bid – except from AEPi, who supposedly bids on everyone because they are so unpopular. I was conflicted. Being in a sorority meant nothing to me. I did it mostly as a goof and an act of participation because my roommate was so into it. However, I am human and being chosen felt good. I struggled with the idea of banning the whole Bid Day and standing in solidarity with my roommate against the whole process of being “chosen”. She insisted that I go forward and in truth, I didn’t argue that much. I cared less about belonging than I did about finding some people that I could truly call friends.

Months later, after I transferred to NYU, I got a letter from my former roommate letting me know that she had finally gotten into DPHiE. Though, through my experience, she realized that she didn’t have to become someone that she wasn’t and that in the end, she was grateful for the time it took to be accepted – now she could enter with a sense of self, as I did and for that, she was grateful.

I never really vibed with the whole sorority thing. As a Junior, I wasn’t all that interested in kissing ass or pretending to be someone else just to win approval from the Sorority Sisters. Strangely enough, that catapulted me into a place of honor and individuality, excluding me from bullshit pledge duties and creating an instant equality with my sisters. My Pledge Sisters didn’t love this pseudo popularity of mine, but I was less about the popularity and more about the connection, so I didn’t mind.

How this relates to Tulum, I’m not so sure…Certainly there are no sororities here! However, connection is important to me. A great conversation with a stranger can carry me for days. But there’s a fine line between being open and being desperate to talk to anyone just for the ake of talking.

Tulum’s certainly shaping up to be a different experience than I’d imagined. Though unnerving at times, I have faith in the fact that whatever it has in store for me will serve me in the end. The biggest challenge of all is remember this very thing each day.

Hasta Pronto mi amigos!

Friday, September 4, 2009

It rained last night. I didn’t hear it, but I saw wet spots on my patio this morning as I took my coffee and laptop to the pool for my newest morning ritual. There’s a lot going on in the pool area. Mickey and Terry are here. They take care of the complex. Hailing from Iowa, they’re an interesting couple. He’s a bit older than she. Maybe 50’s. He’s a Harley guy – well, he used to be. She’s in her early forties. They’re simple people in the most positive way. He’s got gray hair, a full mustache, very blue eyes and a weathered face I imagine from being in the Tulum sun for the last five years. Terry has dark brown eyes, dirty blonde hair and a round physique. Her face is happy in spite of the few bottom teeth she’s missing. They both like to talk and each day when I see Mickey he announces in his gravelly voice and Iowan accent, “Another day in paradise.”

Today, he and Morrison, a tenant in one of the condos next to the pool are trying to decide what to do with a snake. Yes, I said snake. I’m sitting across the pool from them, so I can’t quite see the snake, but apparently, it’s poisonous.

“I’ve got a machete!” Morrison exclaims, running into the house.

His wife is standing on the steps, with their Pomeranian in her arms. “But honey, you’ve never used one before.”

Mickey holds watch as Morrison returns. I don’t know Morrison, but I’m sensing he’s kind of excited about getting his caveman on. He proceeds to chop up the snake as the women look on.

“Oh man! The back-end is still moving!” Terry observes.

I’m speechless because I hadn’t even thought about snakes.

“That’s the third one I’ve seen this year, “ Mickey announces. “Not too bad.”

He proceeds to tell all that are listening about the scorpion he killed yesterday and the tarantula that he’s taking to the jungle in a few minutes. “This one’s not poisonous.” He says, grabbing the shovel on which it sits and shows it to Morrison. “Ya see, it’s got the little orange hairs. If they get on you, it will just sting, but it won’t kill ya.”

Still speechless and fascinated, I listen intently feeling foolish for being all freaked out over the gigantic flying cockroach I met last night in the bedroom. Yeah, I said flying! OMG. I’m gonna have to figure out that one, but given the latest reptilian encounters, I’ll wait it out and be thankful that it’s just a roach.

I’m heading to the beach for awhile, hoping that I won’t fry myself into oblivion.

Mezzanine and New Friends

It’s been a few days since my arrival and things are shifting slowly as I settle in and find my way into new routines and experiences.

Having internet totally helps and Ron, of Ron and Catherine in Casa #2 has been extremely generous in allowing me to use his wireless whenever I need to. I have a key and can come and go as I please. It’s nice because I can just sit right out on his patio and do my thing. In the evening, he’s home along with his new biz partner, Matt. Catherine has gone off to Guatemala for a month-long yoga/meditation retreat. Though I’m bummed she’ll be gone for all of my stay, I’m excited about her journey and very curious about her experience.

She’s going to a full moon retreat which basically starts on the full moon and ends on the following one. It’s in Guatemala which is at least an 18 hour bus ride from Tulum. Catherine left around 6:30pm on Wed. and arrived in Palenque, a Mayan town in Southern Mexico, 12 hours later. Unfortunately, she just missed the bus to Guatemala, and of course there’s only one, so she had to stay overnight and catch the next one in the morning. Traveling all those hours by bus, for me, is quite a stretch. Factor in her limited Spanish and very gentle nature, we are all anxiously awaiting word of her safe arrival in Guatemala later today.

Back in Tulum, I met up with Stacie, a woman I’d met online while I was looking for places to stay a few months back. She’s from Denver and has a place here where she and her family are staying until the 6th. I emailed her to let her know that I’d arrived and she subsequently invited me to join her family and 2 friends from Akumal (20 minutes north) for a drink at Mezzanine, one of my favorite places on the beach.

I was hesitant to say yes only because I was feeling so out of sorts the night before with my walk into town, but I realize I have two choices - I can stay folded into myself or I can get out there and meet some people.

Mezzanine is a great bar/ restaurant/hotel. During the high season, they fly dj’s in from all over the world for a lively Friday night party. I arrived early and settled in at the bar with a beer and my journal. It was great to see the ocean again!! Amazing that from my bar stool, just 20 feet from the shore, there wasn’t one person on the beach in either direction. Plus, I was one of 3 patrons in the restaurant. More reminders of the realities of low season.

Stacie and her husband were lovely. Her two year-old son, Holt, was gorgeous, with white blonde hair and eyes as blue as the Caribbean. Sherwood and her husband, whose name escapes me, were also very nice. They don’t officially live here all year-round, but they keep coming back and staying longer each time. It was nice to listen to their stories of dealing with their travel visa’s and the border patrol – they drove here from the States. Sherwood asked for my email – she wants to have her chart done.

As the visit wore on, I was conscious of my tight budgetary restrictions. This week, I’m trying to live on $20 per day. It’s quite possible to do so in Mexico, though I’d be drinking at home and eating Torta’s (sandwiches) from the stand in town and walking everywhere. It’s just for this week only, thankfully. With paying for groceries and transport from the airport, my self-imposed weekly stipend was cut dramatically.

I hate being on a budget which is why I only took exactly enough pesos with me. Had I taken more, I would have blown the bank because I was tipsy and having fun. Instead, I bid my new friends adios and headed back into town. The unfortunate part of this story is that I didn’t have enough money for a taxi back to the condo. So, I was on foot for the long haul. I don’t how far the beach is from the condo, but I’d venture a guess of 2-3 miles. I didn’t mind. I had a nice time and I was feeling more positive about my time in Tulum.

About 10 minutes into my journey home, a young mexican boy passed me on a bicycle. He said something in Spanish and stopped. All I could make out was”ride” to which I exclaimed, “YES!!” Two minutes later, I was standing on the pegs affixed to the back of his bike, with my bag hoisted on my back. He spoke no English and I don’t speak much Spanish, but it didn’t matter. I was so grateful for the ride.

He let me off at the edge of town and I walked home from there happy to have a shower.


The next day Catherine asked me to lunch. She wasn’t leaving until that evening and she wanted to introduce me to some of the people she knows in town. In the end, a bunch of us went and it was fun to eat a great meal for very little money. I was able to ask a lot of questions of everyone at the table as each of them live here all year ‘round. Robin and Jeannie husband, live in the condo next to my friend, Karen’s. I met them on my last trip. They just moved from Canada days before my departure. Both of them are leaving for the month of September, a common theme that’s starting to amuse rather than irritate.

There’s going to be a lot of room for meeting new people on this trip and the departure of the majority of the ones that I know, though disappointing, leaves the space open for the new. Yet another moment to choose my perspective – gain or loss? Gain keeps the energy moving forward. I’ll go with that until it proves otherwise.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Different View

Once I unpacked, I decided to take a walk into town, something I reveled in on my last trip. I love to walk anyway, but taking the short journey into town on foot gave me a sense of connection to the locals. Many people walk here, so I would frequently pass small families walking along the highway, on their way home from a day’s work, I assumed. Their faces were always inviting with wide smiles and warm eyes as they greeted me, “Hola!” About a month before my trip, I was walking down the street in Brooklyn and the very idea of walking to town once again in Mexico made my heart skip with joy.

Though I’m exhausted, I know the walk will do me good, reconnecting to the very thing that draws me here – the warmth. It’s still really hot, (which is not the warmth to which I’m referring!) but I’m on my way. It’s not yet dark, but the sun is definitely setting as I turn left off the condo driveway and head north on Highway 307 towards town. Highway 307 runs all the way from Cancun, through Playa, to Tulum and beyond. It turns into Avenida Tulum in the pueblo or the center of town. The condo sits about a half mile from the edge of town, which on foot, usually takes about ten minutes to reach.

Making my way north, Tulum feels different to me. I dismiss the feeling and chalk it up to the internal dialogue that continues to haunt. I want to be afraid – a default mode of sorts. But I gently remind myself to breathe and have faith that it will be okay. I pass several locals on the street, but they don’t greet me with the same enthusiasm as my past experiences. In fact, they don’t greet me at all. I try to take the initiative and offer up a cheerful, “Hola!” but their responses are either lackluster or non-existent. This fuels my fear. The inner dialogue growing in volume, “Ya see? Tulum was just a fluke. It’s not so great……”

I focus on my feet and the ground beneath them telling myself that in the heat, perhaps, it’s just too much energy to be friendly.

I think about dinner. I’m craving something light and Mexican. I decide on Charlie,s, a local spot in town that has a great chicken tostada with black beans, guacamole and tasty pico de gallo. With renewed enthusiasm, I carry on.

At the edge of town, I notice some places that have shut down. Empanada Joe’s is for rent. Disappointing, as I liked their breakfast and free WiFi. My usual internet cafe is shuttered too, but I wonder if it’s just for the low-season. And, unfortunately, Charlie’s is closed too. Not shuttered, thankfully, but closed. Perhaps it’s because it’s Monday. I continue on and notice several places seem to be closed as well. The town seems sleepy and not as inviting.

I settle on La Nave – my favorite Italian spot, though it’s a little hot for pasta. I have a quiet dinner amongst 5 other diners and decide to call it a night. I am truly exhausted – it’s 8pm.

I hail a cab back to the condo and even the driver seems unfriendly. I’m so disappointed as I can’t help but keep comparing it to my last visit where I would converse with anyone willing to deal with my broken Spanish. I feel myself pulling inward – a silent warning bell ringing. “I can’t disappear. I have to stay present,” I tell myself. I think about sleepaway camp and my childhood, determined to trust my choice and give this journey a chance.

Arriving “home”, I turn on my NY cell phone hoping for a text message from someone reminding me that I’m not completely shut off from the outside world. I don’t have wireless in the apartment. One of the couples, Ron and Catherine, who live here all year ‘round, have offered me a key to their patio, where I can use their wireless connection for access to the internet. It’s great that I have this option, but I’m conscious of not wearing out my welcome.

No messages from home. I am tired and anxious to sleep. Tomorrow, I tell myself, I will start fresh. Tomorrow, it will be better.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Surrender / Intention

A good theme for this trip. A friend of mine just texted me(free for incoming, 35 cents for each outgoing text). Her text read: "Thinking a lot about surrender and intention." Her text was a gift to me - a reminder of my own journey. My own intentions. And ultimately, the courage to give them up and let the universe do it's thing.

I can feel the pressure of being an inspiration to people – near and far. I don’t mind mostly. I chose it, boasting about going away for “a month” to my customers and strangers while at work. I wasn’t really bragging. The trip just provided casual fodder for conversations that needed an injection of excitement.

I'm a bartender. A storyteller. It's my job to keep people engaged and interested. (and drunk, but that's the easy part.)

Good stories are essential to the job.

I've been planning Mexico for months. The story had chapters. Some people were supportive. Others not so much, saying things like, "Mexico? Well, don't get kidnapped down there." or "Bring a mask." In my final days before the trip, I was anxious to start the next part - PART 2....the trip.

Shall we go?

*********************************************************************************

I am here in Tulum – finally. I arrived on Monday after a long day of travel. To save money, I opted for the Super Shuttle to the airport in NY. For $27, I got a ride to Newark with 11 strangers. The van was full when it got to me, so I sat up front with the driver. Although it was 5:30 in the morning, it struck me funny that I was sharing such close quarters with people, some of whose faces I never saw as my back was to them for the entire ride.

I landed in Tulum and was to be picked up by Gilberto, the caretaker of Brian and Gina’s apartment, where I’m staying. I met Gilberto only once and couldn’t recall his face, but thankfully, he had a sign with my name and we were on our way down to Tulum.

Cancun is about 90 miles north of Tulum. Playa Del Carmen sits in-between. Playa serves as the “city” to those that live south. It’s built up over the years and many people in Tulum fear that it’s a preview of what will come in a few years to their sleepy town. Convenience-wise, Playa is great.

There’s a Walmart which makes the American version look like an outpost. Walmart here, is huge! It’s got everything, including produce and fresh meats and fish. Gilberto suggested we stop and pick up some stuff for the condo. I was grateful to have a Spanish-speaking person with me to translate some of the labels and answer my questions about some of the local fare.

After Walmart, we continued down to Tulum. Gilberto is a wonderful person. He’s very smart and his English is really good. We spoke easily throughout the trip and he’s a great audience for my humor, so there were a lot of laughs as well. He’s married to Priscilla and they take care of a few of the condos here in Tulum. He and his wife are a jack/jill of all trades. He transports people to and from the airport, the market, the beach. She teaches Spanish, cleans, irons. It’s a great thing they have going.

Arriving at the condo was mixed for me. The last time I was here, I stayed in a different apartment which faced the pool. I liked it because I felt connected to what was going on around me with the others and it was an easy way to socialize without really trying.

Brian and Gina’s place faces the back part of the property, which is much more isolated. However, it’s decorated really well and there’s a warm energy in the apartment, so walking inside, I was glad to be there.

It was blazing hot outside, so I was thankful for the modern amenities like air conditioning and ceiling fans. I bid Gilberto good-bye and unpacked my groceries and clothes. I wasn’t as excited as I thought I would be. I kept trying to find the joy that I felt the last time I arrived in Tulum, but all I felt was apprehension. The noise in my head translated to, “What the hell am I thinking? A month? What am I going to do for a month?” This would quickly become my new mantra.

I know myself. It takes me a minute to adapt, but once I do, I’m golden. Even when I was a kid, I’d go to camp and spend the first week crying and missing home so badly that I thought I wouldn’t make it through the month. Once the month was over, I’d spend the car ride home crying because I would miss my new friends so much. I decided to counter the mantra with another one, “I will be fine.”