September 5, 2006


The weight of the world has moved, at least partially, from my shoulders to my stomach and butt. Vacation. You didn't do it right if you don't gain weight. That's what I always say.

A week in playa del carmen was just what the doctor ordered.

We spent two days in an all-inclusive resort in order to stay at the same hotel as sister and brother. Weird, but fun, and glad we experienced it. Instead of the frat party we feared we found a 20- and 30-something Euro-American party. Made lots of friends. The all-you-can eat food and drink were approximately the quality you'd expect -- not so great.

We spent the remaining time in one of 6 condos in a small building in downtown PDC. The star of the vacation was the outdoor shower on the balcony. E probably took 10 showers on the hottest day. I wasn't far behind him in number. We'd get wet, dry off in the heat and stare at the lights of Cozumel over the ocean while listening to the surf.

Deep sea fishing was wonderful. It's powerful: the ocean, the storms, the fish (I caught a barracuda and an darkfin jack), you, and the wind. There's not much space for stress. I can see why it was one of my dad's favorite things to do.

We also spent one day driving around Quintana Roo and Yucatan. Toll roads through the jungle between Cancun and Chichen Itza? $23 US. Open roads back via Tulum -- no tolls, a bit more time, but much more to see including many mayan villages selling their wares. Unfortunately, chichen Itza was closed to the climbers on the day we were there. But, it was probably for the best since it was a billion degrees and 1000% humidity. Had we climbed, we probably would have been the next sacrifices to Quetzalcoatl.

Another day, we took the ferry from PDC to Cozumel. The ferry was much more modern than the last time I took a ferry between Oakland and San Francisco. We expected Cozumel to be horrifically touristy and over-developed. We were surpised to find that the majority of the island is undeveloped and that the downtown is fairly small. We found that PDC was much more bustling and tourist-laden than Cozumel, which was counter to what we'd heard from previous visitors. During our vacation, I spoke to several people who live and work in PDC and apparently it is changing at a very rapid pace. The bartender at one of the bars told me that you wouldn't recognize today's PDC against the one of 5 years ago. The women who did my manicure at the spa told me that she didn't know the population of PDC, but that it was shrinking every year and that soon she wouldn't be able to afford to live in town despite growing up there. What was particularly striking to me was the amount of private, all-inclusive, compound/resort developments. They have guards. You check in. You experience the resort version of Mexico that they provide you with, and you leave. You may not give any money back to the local community if you make all of your purchases at the resort.

Mornings when we had nothing planned, I'd do my favorite thing: run in the sun and then jump in the ocean. E would also do his favorite thing: sleep. Other than that we ate and we were lazy. We took lots of balcony showers. We read. We learned about the hurricane after it decided not to hit us. In short, vacation.

Finally, because I live for food, for those who are interested, I present my favorite meals:

1. The barbacoa shack just outside of Cancun city on the 385(?). E2 had raved about barbacoa for so long that I just pulled the car over. I think sister and E were a little scared by the shack and the lack of menus, but they were polite and waited to pass judgment. We navigated the all verbal menu and ordered barbacoa tacos, nopales and beer. We received a soup that was to die for and two tacos of heaven each. The nopales were raw, so we erred on the side of safety and didn't eat 'em. (FYI: Another surprise was that driving through downtown Cancun, away from the beach resorts, felt much more like Mexico than navigating the ever-expanding euro-american town of downtown PDC)

2. The hole-in-the wall taqueria outside of PDC center that we found with our new-found Belgian food-aid friend. E probably got sick from the Chorizo tacos since the next day he was a little rough, gastrointestinally-speaking. But, he said it was worth it. I had a stuffed potato (beef, chorizo, cheese, fresh cream instead of butter for some reason and chives) and it was heavenly. I swear, Mexican taqueria food is my favorite food in the world. Good thing I live in California.

3. The Italian-run restaurant just outside the front door called "La Siesta." I stopped in for take-out the night after E got sick from everyone's number one restaurant recommendation (La Cueva del Chango -- if you think the Tuna's bad, it probably is). I chatted with the manager and he recommended papas al horno y sopa de verduras. He was friendly and helped me with my spanish while I waited for the food. E was better the next day. As a gesture of thanks, we went back on our last night. The salsa was this wonderfully Italian take on salsa: it tasted like cooked down tomatoes, spiced with oregano, and pureed with habaneros and olive oil. It was amazing on the chips. We chatted with the manager again and ordered pizza and grilled octopus. Yes, it was Mexico. But the Italians just do the best damn food -- so we compromised, I had a "mexican pizza" and E had grilled octopus, which we decided was a local catch even if it was prepared in the Italian style.

4. The gazpacho and margarita lunch we had on La Quinta at 2 PM one lazy afternoon. It was siesta. We were the only ones in the restaurant. We watched the town slowly wake up and come alive. The tourists took to the streets and we listened to the melodious mixture of Italian, French, Spanish, English, German and Northern European languages. Then we went home, took a shower on the balcony, and relaxed some more.

5. The "La Parilla" stereotypically mexican grill dinner with brother and sister. Yes, they cater to tourists. But they also make damn good nopales and beef tacos. Arrachera Monterrey was awesome too. But the local bacon-wrapped shrimp specialty in an orange-colored tangy sauce made at the table with tequila, etc. was the winner. Plus, we had tall beers. It was a fun stereotypically touristic experience.

6. Ignoring that E got sick from the Tuna, La Cueva del Chango was good too. The appetizers were amazing. We were prepared for it to be our favorite meal. Grilled curd cheese in olive oil with oregano and the habanero cream soup both were crowd-pleasers. But the dinner was a bit of a let down after that. Just okay. Except for E, who got sick. Plus, there were many bugs that ate sister and E alive. Overall, just not the awesome experience that everyone promised it to be. But cute, and fun, and if I could do it again, I'd eat nothing but appetizers.

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