Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Mighty Maya

The Mayan ruins at Tulum were without doubt one of the highlights of our trip. I was a little sad to miss out on seeing Chichen Itza, especially since it was named one of the new 7 Wonders of the World last year, but even though it’s hyped in all of the guidebooks covering the Cancun region, it’s not exactly located nearby, at 2.5 hours west into the jungle. The Yucatan peninsula is HUGE! Disappointed though I was, Tulum more than met my expectations. It was awesome and definitely ranks as one of the most impressive things I've ever seen.

Tulum holds distinction as the only walled city and also the only beachfront city ever built by the Maya. Most of the 60 structures still standing today (thought to be only about 10% of the original city) were built between about 1200-1450, although an inscription dated A.D. 564 has been recovered from the site!! It exists today as one of the best-preserved coastal Mayan sites, and is the third most visited archaeological site in Mexico, after Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan. It was an important site for worship of the Diving or Descending God.

We saw a lot of these guys running around. Sure, he looks cute here, but he will later steal a banana from another lizard. The jerk.

The beach and the view of it, especially from the main temple, is breathtaking! All of the postcard views that I pulled up online before the trip didn’t nearly do it justice, and neither do the photos we took ourselves. The water is the clearest cerulean and you can't help but stop in the middle of the tour to enjoy!

We read on one of the placards about how human sacrifice was performed, and how some of the evidence unearthed from a nearby mass grave suggests that men, women and children alike were…um, offered. Yikes, right? I find this ritual fascinating...for the Maya, it served the obviously important purpose of satisfying the gods, but that type of violence is unimaginable!! At this point, I might have been starting to suffer the early symptoms of heat stroke and/or dehydration, and tried to get Matt to laugh by making some off-color jokes about "severed heads". Somewhat unfortunately, they endured throughout the rest of the trip.
Here, Matt had asked me to pose for a nice photo in front of this ancient building, but I couldn’t resist giving it my own creepy twist. And don't worry, I promise I'm wearing shorts:

In all seriousness, it was surreal and a little eerie to be walking in the same sacred place where this people lived centuries ago. Overwhelming!

Once we’d taken in about as much ancient Mayan culture as we could for one day, we headed back to the resort for some afternoon R&R. However, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to first try a local delicacy...milk straight out of a coconut!

They refrigerate the coconuts, then use a machete to hack off the tops (did I insert a severed head comment upon seeing this? You bet I did!):
Then, just add straws and voila!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dream Vacation

Well, we’re home…and what the hell kind of a greeting is this? 60 degrees and rainy? Psssh! While I’m trying to assimilate back into this gringo climate of ours, I’m going to do so slowing by reminiscing via blog for the next few posts. I hope you don’t mind :)

This first one is for anyone who’s curious about/considering (or actually even going…ahem, Mindy!) to Tulum in the near future…yes, there will be photos!

All in all, our trip was wonderful…glorious…spectacular! At the outset of this experience, we were both all-inclusive virgins. Keeping in mind that this was only our first time, we both agree that we are probably not the types for whom an all-inclusive is fundamentally designed. That said, here is my review of
Dreams Tulum

First, here’s what we really enjoyed:

Food and beverages at Dreams were covered in our package, and it was fantastic not having to worry about paying for anything, aside from tips (which we gladly gave, especially since the service was always excellent).

We only spent about $350 USD total during our time in Mexico, and that includes our car rental, gas, tips for resort staff, admission fees for the places we visited, wine (beyond the gratis house selections), and other food/incidentals at airports, etc. That’s less than we would have spent at home during the same amount of time!

There are 7 restaurants/cuisines from which to choose: Mexican, French, Italian, Pan-Asian, Sushi, seafood grill, and World Café (buffet/cafeteria). We also took advantage of 24-hour room service on (way) more than one occasion! There are also 4 bars, including a premium bar, located throughout the property.

There is an itinerary each day of programs to suit every age, from yoga on the beach (which I promised myself I’d do at least once, but always slept through it L) to Spanish lessons to SCUBA and snorkeling training. There is also the Explorer’s Club for kids that people said was great. They offer excursions for which you could pay extra to see nearby ruins, swim with dolphins, go deep sea fishing, etc. Each night, there is an event usually starting around 9p.m. Some of these included a beach party complete with BBQ and limbo, stargazing on the beach with live music and a show performed by Mayan dancers (our favorite):

There is also a spa onsite that was offering all kinds of specials for Mother’s Day weekend. I didn’t venture there myself, but I guess I should have because I overheard another woman say that it is hands down the best spa she’s ever been to. Here are some massage tables on the beach...mmmm:
Overall, Dreams is an upscale resort that caters to couples and families. Things were pretty quiet…no spring breakers here. There is also a disco, but we didn’t go.

The resort itself is only about 7-8 years old and is beautiful; the grounds are impeccably kept. The views of the ocean from the restaurants, pools and beach are jaw-droppingly gorgeous:

Our room, a Dreams Junior Garden Suite (just below the deluxe Ocean Suite), was perfect. It was spotless, roomy, well air-conditioned, and the bathroom featuring a Jacuzzi was particularly nice:

We stayed in the new section of the resort, which was just completed last year. The service was consistently superb, whether it was offering us champagne upon our arrival, getting our car for us multiple times a day, or bringing us drinks on the beach. Every time we passed one of the hundreds of staff members, he or she would always acknowledge us with a friendly “hola”.

The location of the resort (a 1.5-2 hour drive from the Cancun airport, depending on traffic) was actually a positive for us. You can see that Tulum is beginning to undergo the level of development that the rest of Riviera Maya has already experienced, but it still maintains a more off-the-beaten-path feel compared to more commercial areas like Cancun or Playa del Carmen. The center of the “town” of Tulum is quaint and authentic, with nothing bigger than a bank and a pharmacy/grocery store in it. This was refreshing after having driven past the Maya Shopping Center, boasting a Sam’s Club, outside of Playa del Carmen. I would definitely recommend renting a car to anyone thinking about it – we were a little wary, but ended up so glad that we went for it. Our car got great mileage, gas was incredibly cheap, and the main road is in surprisingly good shape. Going southbound, it had been freshly paved.

Tulum itself is also a great locale for eco-friendly activities of all kinds. Highlights for us were the Mayan ruins at Tulum (a 5 minute drive from the resort) and swimming in a freshwater cenote just off the main road outside of town. We also took a long drive through a relatively closeby biosphere reserve and saw kilometers of beautiful beaches, and lots of interesting flora and fauna.

Now for the minor downsides:

Quality of food was one of the concerns and stereotypes that we had about all-inclusives, and in this case we were unfortunately spot on. Having our meals and drinks covered was offset somewhat by the fact that…well, it wasn’t very good. Generally speaking, we like good food, but we’re no snobs. Our palates aren’t so sophisticated that we’re incapable of liking a simple cheeseburger or fast food, believe me!

The range of choices available was appreciated, and while nothing was inedible, most of what we ate was just extremely bland or overcooked. The few exceptions were the guacamole (which I ate more of than I’d like to admit, thank you), the spring roll appetizer and coconut red snapper that I had for our anniversary dinner at the Asian restaurant, Himitsu:

and the sushi at Gohan:

And even these weren’t terrific; they were simply not bad.

In fairness, I will say that we never ate at Bordeaux or Portofino, the French and Italian restaurants, which we read in reviews were the best. The reason for this brings me to another negative about our stay: the dress code. This wouldn’t have been such a big deal, had we been aware of it prior to our check-in. Some of the outdoor beachside restaurants are ok with shorts, cover-ups and flip flops, although none will allow only swimwear, which is fine. The others range from allowing Bermuda-length shorts and sandals with collared shirts to requiring long pants and dress shoes for men and long skirts/dresses for women. Bordeaux and Portofino are both formal, and neither of us were prepared with what we had packed. For Matt, the idea of long pants and dress shoes in 98 degree weather was ludicrous (and I have to say that I agree with him), and the only long “dress” I had brought along was basically a beach cover-up. I understand that this type of a resort would have a certain standard of dress for one or two of the restaurants, but formal on a beach seemed a little over-the-top for me. And again, had we simply known beforehand, it wouldn’t have been an issue.

The drinks were overall ok. We were always able to ask the bartenders to make ours a little stronger, and there was a premium bar available at an extra cost, if we’d wanted it. I had one great margarita at El Patio, the Mexican restaurant, but otherwise they were pretty intolerable. We stuck mostly with Corona and pina coladas:

We also had mojitos that weren’t too bad. Basically, it was nice not to give a second thought to paying for our food and drinks, but we also would have gladly shelled out a few pesos for some authentic and flavorful fare from local restaurants.

As I mentioned, the programs available are wide-ranging and some, like the Mayan dancers, we really enjoyed. However, the ones like “Dreams does American Idol”, in which resort guests basically sang karaoke in front of the gathered audience, were lame. I probably could have done without seeing a semi-drunk guy from Alabama who thought pretty highly of himself belting out a Creed song (shudder), but I suppose it did make for a memorable anniversary night :) I made the assumption that most of our fellow travelers were American (and they were), but on the Mayan night they polled the audience and there were indeed guests from all over Europe, the U.S., Canada, and Central and South America. Even so, it felt very homogenous, IMO.

The other snag about the resort is that the beach itself is great for laying around, but swimming is practically impossible except in a tiny area, which is usually crowded. This stretch of ocean is full of coral, which makes it good for snorkeling, but bad for swimming. It’s extremely rocky and seaweed-y. Luckily, there are plenty of other great beaches with public access and the one at the Tulum ruins is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Just below the main temple is a crystal-clear beach and the views from it are spectacular. They’ve made stairs that are kind of cumbersome and steep, so be careful…but it’s so worth going to the ruins just for this beach!! And parking + admission is only about $8 total!

Ok, so here’s the take-home message: Dreams Tulum is an excellent value for an upscale resort with the service to match, and it’s in a beautiful part of the world. For us, the structure and homogeny that an all-inclusive offers – when there are such cool things to see and do and people to meet off the resort – is unnecessary.

But this was exactly why we rented a car, and it’s not like you’re forced to participate in the activities that the resort offers…they’re simply there if you choose to. We also fully realize that there are plenty of vacationers who just want to lay at the beach, who look at sightseeing as exhausting and who are content to never leave the resort…and that’s cool, too. Different strokes, right?!

We had a fabulous time at Dreams :)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Feliz Primer Aniversario...a Nosotros!

Hola de Mexico! (I apologize for any butchering of the language I might have done...quite obviously, I've never studied Spanish)

Just teasing, actually…I recently discovered the feature on Blogger that allows one to manipulate the date and time of a post. Since I knew that we would be busy enjoying the Mexican surf and sun today and would hence be unable to post, I set one up in advance. I couldn’t let our first anniversary go by without a mention!

So, to my husband of one year: thank you for loving me so exceptionally, even and most especially on my worst days, for nurturing my dreams, and for being the one person who knows me so completely that you can anticipate my deepest wishes before I realize them for myself. I don’t know where the year went, but I wouldn’t have wanted to share it with anyone else in the world. I can’t wait for the next 50 or so anniversaries to come (unless, of course, we meet our untimely demise in a freak SCUBA diving accident – really, what are we thinking sometimes??) I love you!

Now then. To avoid this post being completely cheesy, I am including some fun things. Well, I think they’re fun. Understandably, you may not :)

First, let’s take a little stroll down memory lane with some wedding day photos, shall we? Now I could feature the ones where we all look our best, hair perfectly coiffed and smiles just right...but what fun would that be?

Huh? Here, I’m probably reacting to something hilarious Lajuanna was saying to help calm my nerves…as soon as the girls left me, I lost it a little. But seriously, what is WITH my facial expressions? I looked like I was suffering from a stroke for most of the day!

Throughout our courtship, Matt liked to annoy me by asking what I would do if he wore Nikes to our wedding, and then later actually threatening to. Luckily, this is all he got away with…the punk:
The 4-year-old flower girl, who was understandably traumatized by the wacko trolley driver’s decision to ring the bell right into her ear without warning:

My sisters/co-MOHs looking just thrilled about their impending walk down the aisle. Nice, guys:

Pucker up, Lou! Don't be difficult today!

Ok, he looks high and I've either just heard something hilarious, or I'm hissing...either way, scary!

Browers going above (below?) the call of duty:

"Messing up my hair right now would pretty much be cause enough for me to disown you"...the faces here are priceless!

For those of you still with me,
here is the slideshow to our first dance and second choice for first dance songs, by the famed Browers duo :) This still makes me sniffle!

Thanks for indulging my sentimental side and for reliving the day with me. Hopefully, I’m off to enjoy another cocktail with my hubby right now. I think you should as well, in the name of first anniversaries and second honeymoons!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Second Honeymoon

We are T minus 7 hours from our Mexican getaway and not even my stupid cold is enough to stifle my excitement!

As of around noon tomorrow, this will be our digs for a glorious 5 days and 4 nights:

We’ve delivered the puggles to their grandparents’ and I’m trying to ignore the teensy bit of guilt I feel about it by busying myself with my specialty: last-minute packing before a 6:15 a.m. departure:

I’m notorious for excess packing (what red-blooded American girl isn’t, I ask you?), but I had genuinely tried to keep things under control for this trip. After all, the only clothing I really need in Mexico is a few bikinis and a cover-up, right? With that in mind, I limited myself to one small suitcase and a monogrammed tote, an awesome shower gift from our friend Tricia.

Ok, plus my (massive) purse. But whatever. Matt will use another small suitcase and carry on his laptop. It was going to be a squeeze, but I think things would have been fine and dandy had my super fantastic mother-in-law not decided to invite me for a J.Crew shopping spree as my birthday gift last evening. I was powerless to resist picking up the following selections...

This cute tangerine-hued jersey miniskirt:These kelly green 3-inch shorts:A fabulously skinny gold belt:And this mini, except in white with horizontal gold stripes that I guess is not available online. It's sassy:So much for traveling light…

Other than packing our bags, I’ve left copies of our itinerary and passports with both sets of parents, stored all of our reservations and travel documents in a zipped folder for my carry-on, and stockpiled a complete arsenal of sun and skincare products! Although you’d never guess it by the skin I’m sporting (a truly hideous shade of paste peppered with random bruises), I am R-E-A-D-Y to be on a beach!

Now, I’ve just touched up my manicure using OPI’s ‘Second Honeymoon’ (cute, right?)…

…and I am officially counting down the minutes!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! I hereby promise to return with as many pictures as my memory card will allow :)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Dog Day Afternoon

As promised, here is the video that I took on Sunday of these two bozos:

Untitled from meghan graves on Vimeo.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Worm To Your Mother

Yeah, I said that.

So, Matt took Desmond for his first vet appointment this morning and worms galore basically sums up his fecal test. Delicious, isn’t it? I’ll spare you the trauma I suffered when I Wiki'ed ‘hookworms’. I don’t care that Gordon had them too and that vet after vet keeps assuring us that this is extremely common in puppies…it’s still absolutely gross.

As if my gag reflex hadn't been tested enough for one morning, I had to hear that the worms were just the tip of the iceberg...homeboy also has a PARASITE! Are you kidding me?! Mr. Roly Poly weighed in at a staggering 10.2 lbs at the tender age of 13 weeks…I can’t even imagine how fat he’d be if he didn’t have a foreign body leeching nutrients from him!!

The treatment is a banana flavored dewormer that he loves (surprise, surprise), so I guess things could be worse. Luckily, thanks to almighty Heartgard, Louie shouldn’t be affected.

Even though I didn’t get to go along, I know we both feel a lot more comfortable back in the care of the Humane Society. Matt told the Gordon story to the vet they saw today and she did suggest that he probably should never have been neutered as young as he was, but who knows. Matt also explained that since we’re still a little leery, we’d really like to see the same vet each time we visit. She was extremely nice and understanding, gave him her card and said that when it's time for Desi's snip job, they'll take extra special care of him. And she also has a puggle herself (and a beagle and a poodle mix)! Hooray!

The only problem left is that I'm just not so sure about letting this dude sleep in my bed until he's free and clear of creepy crawlies:

I have a feeling this is a battle I'm going to lose...

"In Honor of Cinco de Mayo..."

This was a phrase made popular during my sophomore year of college. I forget now how it started, but on that particular May 5th, we decided to use the Mexican holiday as an excuse to pretty much do (or to avoid doing) whatever the hell we wanted. Go out for a lavish lunch on a college student’s budget? Si! Skip class? Si! All of them? Si! Go shopping and drink margaritas all afternoon and night instead? Si, si, SI! We found the phrase so marvelous that we used it consistently for months.

We tried to celebrate by grabbing Nachomama's for dinner, but the Hacienda traffic was insane (seriously...how early do you have to get there to get a spot in the actual parking lot?!), so we're postponing the celebration until Friday night, which will be better anyway since we'll actually be on a Mexican beach!

So, how did you finish this sentence today?

The Weekend (yep, can't think of a better title!)

Another painfully short weekend…another beautiful wedding! I know I’m doing something I love when hearing Trumpet Voluntary for the thirty-ninth time still gives me goosebumps, and I tear up myself every single time I look through the zoomed lens to see the groom’s face when the doors open and the bride appears. I love weddings!

Starting with Friday evening first…I boldly continued a solid week of gluttony, gorging on Qdoba and Skinny Cows (yes, plural) during the course of our movie selections: Awake and Things We Lost in the Fire. The first featured a laughable script that was terribly acted (Jessica Alba stars – enough said), but managed to hold our attention with a rather juicy and suspenseful plot. Things, on the other hand, was extremely slow, not to mention depressing, but the cast was super. I still liked it, and it marked the first time I’ve ever been fond of a character played by Benicio del Toro.

Saturday was another big wedding day with the Browers, and it was amazing, of course. Not only was it Michael’s birthday (which no one told me until halfway through the day – I felt like a giant ass!) but he was also sick as a dog. Would I have had any clue if he hadn’t told me? Not a chance, and no one else would have, either. These people astound me! Amy was beautiful and probably the calmest bride I’ve ever seen – nothing like yours truly here J I’ll let the
Browers’ images speak for themselves, but I will say that I’ve never had so much fun being chased out of abandoned buildings by a homeless person threatening to beat us down before! Congratulations, Amy and Blake…all of your hard work and planning made for a gorgeous day!

Sunday was meant for cleaning up around the house, but that quickly gave way to hanging outside with the pups as soon as I caught a glimpse of this little scene from the back door:

I loved this so much, in fact, that I took a couple minutes of video just to see if anything cool happened. Nothing really did, but it’s still cute. Unfortunately, it's taking an eon to download, so I'll have to make a separate post...

From there, I didn’t put down the camera for about 2 hours. Working with the Browers has inspired me, but it’s also made me look on our little Canon point-and-shoot with even more disdain than it usually garners. For the time being, though, it’s the only camera I’ve got. So, I decided to make nice and actually give it a chance to flex its (puny) muscles.

I started out with my favorite subjects, of course:

Then I started exploring the most intricate details of my surroundings with the digital macro setting for the next hour:

I started to have a hard time finding things to shoot, so I moved inside, where the offerings weren’t a whole lot better…

I realized that I’ve never ever EVER been able to take a decent photo of my rings and I’ve always been inspired by Lajuanna’s talent for extremely cool ones, so I turned my attention to my diamonds:

Could be worse, right? Maybe?

I’m still dying for a “real” camera, but I’m going to at least do what I can to play around with this guy until an upgrade is an option.

After my little photo session, we celebrated our best friend Matt’s birthday – unfortunately, since I’d spent all afternoon taking pictures and neglected to recharge the camera battery (Browers would be horrified at my lack of preparedness!), I don’t have any pictures aside from this crappy one of the delicious cake. First was dinner al fresco at Massa’s in Kirkwood (a perfect night for it!) followed by ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins. The gluttony continues…

We ended the weekend on a kind of sour note by watching Cloverfield. Worst. Movie. Ever. I mean seriously. I wasn’t the least bit surprised as the credits began to roll to see J.J. Abrams’ name listed as one of the screenwriters, since he’s the same idiot ruining Lost. Do yourself a favor and skip this piece of rubbish!

What a weekend! I’m spent :) And now it’s Monday :(