Mexico - Day 4

So day four was our most touristy day of the trip. We spent the day at a place called Xcaret, which I guess I would describe as a sort of amusement park. It is built around an underground river that connects to the ocean. Basically a natural lazy river and you spend a good hour or so floating down this river to the main section of the park. 

The river was pretty cool, but they funnel everyone who enters the park to this location first so it is extremely crowded during the morning. We actually went back and tried one of the other routes on the river (there are a total of three) around 2:00 pm that afternoon and we were basically the only ones on the river at that point. 

Lunch turned out to be pretty good. It was a one of three buffets in the park and we elected to goto the Mexican one. It was huge and the food was very high quality. The horchata also really hit the spot in the afternoon heat. 

The rest of the park I would consider to be "so-so". Many of the attractions required additional expense, so we sort of meandered around there aquarium and their Mayan village section for a few hours. There was a nice botanical type garden and a pretty good butterfly house. 

Those turned out to be pretty neat, but the highlights of the day really turned out to be the shows we stumbled across. 

First was some aerial dancers who did a sun ceremony on top of a pole. You can see the photos below. 

The next performance we came across was some sort of Mayan ritual dance. Again, a great performance. 

The highlight though was the grande finale at the end of the evening, which was a two hour show starting at 7:00 pm. If you don't go to this thing I wouldn't consider the park worth it. The show was basically a highlight of Mexico's entire history and heritage and it would be the opening ceremony to the Olympics of Mexico got them. The first hour focused on the Mayan history and the arrival of the spaniards to Mexico. The second half then focused on the traditional folk music and dance from different areas of the country. 

It was incredible and I was taken aback by how much pride was displayed from the audience. Mexicans who were there at the show were singing to many of the songs and they really got into the show. It really was quite impressive. 

Mexico - Day 3

Day three in Mexico was gorgeous. The weather was amazing and not too hot. That day was our day to go scuba diving. So we did a demo of scuba diving two days earlier in the hotel pool to get an idea if either of us would "freak out" while under water. We both handled it well so we decided to sign up for the excursion.

That morning we met back at the pool and the dive instructors ran us through about two hours worth of training. We got the basics down. We then chilled at the pool for a couple of hours and then later that afternoon came back for our dive. 

Now our dive group was small, only three people but there was another group that was diving with us. I have to say that I enjoyed the dive, but I didn't quite fall in love with it as I thought I would. I had some problems equalizing the pressure in my right ear so there was quite a bit of discomfort and both Megan and I had some ear issues when we were done diving. The water was also a bit murky due to the storms that had rolled through the area a few days earlier. 

Now when they said they were going to take us diving, they really did take us diving. We dove to ten meters, which is right around thirty feet. I could see how people could possibly freakout down at this level and you do get a bit of reverse vertigo when you look up to the surface and cannot see the top of the water. 

I would highly recommend the experience though for anyone who is wishing to try it out. It was well worth it. 

After diving we then went out and had some afternoon tea on the balcony of the hotel and then went to the spa for a massage. The evening ended with some pasta at the hotel's Italian restaurant. 

Mexico - Day 2

Day two of Mexico was our big day visiting Mayan ruins. We visited the ruins of Tulum, which was costal city and the ruins of Coba, which was located about 45 km inland from the coast. 

Tulum was extremely pretty. It was a good sized city with a large wall around it located right on the cliffs of the coast. The site was completely packed with people though and it was extremely hot. Iguanas were everywhere and Megan really felt the need to try and capture them as much as she could. 

After spending a couple of hours at Tulum we then made our way over to Coba, first stopping for lunch at a local restaurant in the town. The food was just 'OK', but it was a very pleasant restaurant and we sat on an open air balcony on the second level .

Next stop was the city of Coba, just up the road. Coba was very different than Tulum. Most notably was that it was extremely spread out over a large area. So much so that it is recommended that you rent a bicycle to get around the ruins. Coba definitely had more of the pyramids that one might expect from a Mayan city. We visited three in total, plus two ball courts that were used for sport. Our guide, Paco, told us a story how one of the courts was essentially built upon a sports center that a wealthy and powerful woman from the time built for her son, who was apparently a good athlete. 

Once at Coba, we had the opportunity to do what we really came there for and that was to climb the 136 steps to the top of one of the pyramids. It was, hot but a lot of fun and the view was great. Getting back down though was a bit hair raising. 

Finally we ended our tour that day by visiting a Cenote, which is sinkhole in limestone filled with rain water. It was refreshing since the heat that day was so hot. The water was extremely cold and there were fish in there. Megan seemed to have a better time swimming in it than I did as I seemed to sink almost immediately. 

We ended our day back at the hotel at the restaurant Ventanas, which was the fanciest restaurant there. It was a gastropub so all of the food was top notch. we were exhausted though and I was literally having trouble trying to stay awake at the dinner table.

Mexico - The Flight and Day 1

A little over a week ago Megan and I went on vacation to Mexico. We wanted to use our passports this year for vacation and we also did not have much time this past spring to really plan out a trip, so an all-inclusive resort seemed like the perfect sort of trip. 

We booked our travel arrangements through Costco Travel and I have to say that I was super impressed. The itinerary that Costco provided was very thorough and they were even quick to assist me with a passport issue a couple days before. If you happen to have a Costco membership I would highly recommend you take a look at the travel options. 

Let me start of this series of blog posts by stating that I had an absolutely wonderful time in Mexico. The people were absolutely wonderful there and it really was an incredibly charming country. I wouldn't hesitate at all in recommending someone go there for a vacation and I would absolutely go back. We were impressed at how friendly not only the employees in the tourist areas were, but how friendly and genuine all of the Mexicans who were also vacationing were. We met a wonderful man named Luis who was vacationing from Mexico City and he just sort of summed up the who feeling we got about Mexico. More about him later though. 

Our flight leaving Chicago from O'Hare was of course delayed. Megan and I were stuck sitting in the airplane at the gate for about forty five minutes while another passenger had to deal with a passport issue. I guess they didn't have Costco Travel. Once we left Chicago our landing was also delayed in Cancun by about another hour due to a major storm in the area. Finally though we were able to land and get into Cancun where we hopped on a shuttle at took an hour ride south to Playa Del Carmin where our hotel was the Royal Hideaway Playacara.

We arrived at our hotel close to 5:30 that evening and it was a long day. I have to say though that the hotel was incredibly impressive, as were most of the hotels we saw. All of the hotels had these incredible, open courtyards. When we checked in we were seated at a desk and met one on one with the staff to get our keys while they gave us lemon towels for hour hands, champagne and chocolate. The concierge then made a reservation for us at the hotel's restaurant while we had our luggage brought to our villa. 

Now the hotel was gorgeous. All of the guest rooms were set in several villas that housed about twelve rooms apiece around the property. The villas had open courtyards in the center of each and they each villa had its own concierge who would help setup dinner reservations, etc. 

Our dinner that evening was at one of the four restaurants at the hotel and it was called Azia. As you can expect it featured Asian inspired cuisine. We order sushi and sake, had a few cocktails and then Megan ordered a Salmon dish and I had roasted duck in a curry sauce. 

Our first full day at the hotel was us just basically hanging out at the beach. The large storm from the day before made for some good waves and we had fun just swimming in the ocean, which was quite a bit warmer than the pool. Breakfast each morning was always fantastic. It was a large buffet with all sorts of Mexican food, a huge assortment of fruits (Chinese pomegranate anyone?) as well as fresh smoothies, omelets, etc. Fresh orange juice was also always served. 

We then grabbed a few drinks at the local bar in the evening and that night was dinner and a show at the hotel where they had some performers do some traditional music and dance. The food that evening was also a buffet, with a wide range of mexican and mayan inspired food. It was quite good. 

Ride Log - June 1st, 2014: Koval Distillery

Today was literally the worst ride I have ever ridden. I had a tour over at Koval Distillery in Chicago today so Megan and I took the bike over to that. I figured it would be fun to drive through some of the Chicago neighborhoods and the lake on the way to the distillery. It was a miserable experience. The traffic on I-55 in both directions was crawling. What should have been a 50 minute ride each way turned into a 90+ minute ride each way. It was hot and miserable. I have never been so uncomfortable on the bike before and it didn't help that I had a passenger that was also hot. 

The tour of the distillery itself was cool. It lasted only about 35-40 minutes, but it was interesting to see how whisky is made. I was surprised at actually how small the distillery was. There was a back portion that we didn't get to see, but the building was fairly small. Overall it was a fund trip and made me appreciate Whisky and the Koval brand more. I came away really enjoying the millet whisky that they make. The Bourbon had a really creamy flavor to it as well. If you find yourself in the area, definitely check out the tour there.

May 2013 Video Gaming

Time for another video game update. First up is my thoughts on the Ouya. So far, I have to say that it is a Beta of a 1.0 product. I see the potential, but there isn't much there yet. I have to say that the SNES emulators on it are pretty good and you know what is a good game? The Secret of Mana. I wanted to play that game so bad when I was probably 10 years old and I unfortunately never got it back in the. I must have spent a good four or five hours last week playing through that. I am not sort of stuck at what is known as one of the harder boss fights with some sort of fire breathing tiger. Man that guy is hard. 

The other game I am working on right now is Dragon's Dogma, which ironically enough is another Japanese RPG. I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised by this one, even though it got high praise from the Giantbomb crew on their podcast. It has a little bit of a Monster Hunter vibe going to it. It is difficult, but not brutally punishing. Stick to the story elements early on and it is very satisfying. My only major complaint however is that the Japanese tropes and mannerisms come out too much in the characters. You of course are playing the silent protagonist and the facial expressions they use to try and convey emotion for the character just seem silly. 

The pawn system is really cool though when it is shared online with the world. I love looking at how other people designed their pawns.

May and June Donations

Slowly but surely I am catching up to my monthly charitable donations. My May Donation is for the ASPCA. I am sure we have all seen the commericals with Sarah Mclachlan in them that tear at your heart strings (i might just cry typing this). As I have said before I am a sucker when it comes to caring for animals. The ASPCA seems like an obvious choice.

My June donation is for the Garfield Conservatory in Lincoln Park. Last year they suffered a devistating blow when a hail storm knocked out a large portion of the windows at the conservatory. 

The Convervatory has always been one of my favorite places to visit whenver I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo. I have always found greenhouses and conservatories incredibly calming. So warm and quiet inside. I often times went to the green houses at University of Illinois when I was there during the winter just to escape the cold and drab weather and the stresses of the school. They were an incredibly meditative place in all of thecrazy that is sometimes a college campus.