Saturday, February 28, 2015

Road Trip : Cozumel, Mexico
Febraury 18 - 25, 2015

It's been so long since Cece and I took a warm-weather vacation when her sister and brother-in-law invited us to spend some time in Cozumel in February ... well, it was rather easy to say SI ! SI !

That it coincided with the coldest Toronto winter in 37 years was just an added bonus.

Day 0

We set up at the airport Sheraton the night before our flight to mitigate any issues with bad weather and rush hour traffic. We leave our winter coats in the car and transfer from the hotel to the airport without going outside.

Day 1

Unofficial Motto of Cozumel:

veni, vidi, velcro (translates loosely to I came, I saw, I stuck around)

A hassle free start as our flight lands 15 minutes early and West Jet's excellent customer service transports us comfortably to the sweltering tarmac in San Miguel de's mid-afternoon and it's another world.

Within a half hour of landing we're in our rental vehicle heading  south on Ave 8 Octobre towards Ave Andres Quintana Roo. Quintana Roo is the province we are in as well. It includes the Yucatan peninsula on the mainland where we will visit Chichen Itza in a few days. It's Mexico-light, far removed from the beach scene on the Pacific Coast and the narco issues in the central and northern provinces. While Cozumel is a magnet for cruise ships and divers we managed to find more than a few things to occupy our time and nurture our spirit.

Did I mention it was sweltering?

In honour of leaving -30 degree weather behind in Toronto we change into appropriate clothing and begin to drink.

We are being hosted by Theresa and Paul. They're down here for a month of diving and have rented a wonderful 3 bedroom casa with a warm, clear pool and a wonderful outdoor deck that provides cover and a reason to kick  back, converse and imbibe.

Day 2

Morning coffee on the deck. Our hosts have had their diving cancelled due to inclement weather. Don't worry, it's still 28 degrees C, it's just really windy. A good day to circumnavigate the island. Cozumel is a very easy place to get around.Calle's go one direction, Avenues the other. Even numbers on the north, odd numbers on the south. Street numbers go up in units of 2 on the Calle's and 5 on the Avenues.

Once in awhile they rename a numbered street but keep the sequence going in a pattern of either 2 or 5 unit increments. Except for the 'Salas rule' where it's between 1 and 3 but it's not 2.

OK, maybe it's not that easy.

We head towards the eastern beaches and the only thing we have to do is find the Tranversal. But we don't. A small misreading of our surroundings finds us on winding unpaved roads leading in no consistent direction though most of us voted on south-east. After about 20 minutes we turn around and do it right.

The first turn off is to visit the Mayan ruins at San Gervasio .These are the most extensive ruins on the island. Stone pillars where a market used to be.

There were altars built high to the sky

 And smaller buildings where old white guys can pose, forgetting to take off their camera bag.

Remnants of the road that lead into the village via this archway.

At the north-east point of civilized Cozumel we find ourselves sitting for lunch at Senor Iguana's hut,

overlooking the sea, watching the wind-whipped waves crash on the shores.

We continue south along the eastern seaboard, on the inland road, passing beaches, mopeds and dune buggies along the way. We turn at the lighthouse and head back north towards town where the cruise ships docked two deep on the shore, wait for us to pass.

But first we take the only interior road available when circling the island and find ourselves at El Cedral  home of the oldest, and perhaps smallest, Mayan ruin on the island.

Next to it, it's antecedent, a small church. Didn't see any Jesuits but this guy was left behind.

Day 3

We're out early, heading for Punta Sur Eco Beach and Lighthouse.

This 250 acre park contains nesting grounds for sea turtles, a crocodile swamp, sand and coral beaches as well as the lighthouse and attached museum.  And it's own Mayan Ruin.

After lunch we park the car and head out on the streets of San Miguel. Our target is the Atlantis Submarine location, to check on availability this week. It was a lot farther away than we thought. After walking the ocean sidewalk for about 45 minutes we decide to turn back. This is not a hardship, the water is a glorious blue, the sun is, well let's stick with sweltering, and once in awhile a breeze makes it just like heaven. Or just like heaven is purported to be.

We stop at Alberto's where the sign says they have the best tail in town. We opt for Marguerita's and Sol.

 Day 4

Today we visit Chakanaab National Park for some sand and snorkeling.

Cece doesn't get to sandy beaches much anymore. We're not really beach-type reposers in any case but it's hard to resist the white sands and blue green waters. This place has a beach wheelchair that made navigating the dunes effortless.

If it had a motor it would have been dangerous.

Theresa and Paul join us in the early afternoon. It's time for some water. I was in about 1 minute without a life vest before I headed back to shore for some assistance in buoyancy. Much I could just float. With the help of my experienced companion, Paul, I was able to find out the names of most creatures I viewed while they were still in my view. For a small offshore and very public snorkeling area there were a large variety of fish. Parrot fish, some small and one huge Rainbow parrot. Chubs galore. A battalion of Sergeant-At-Arms, colourful fish, and not afraid of close contact. Paul pointed out a small barracuda I followed for a short while and we came across some small squid, a rarity I'm told. There was a moray eel poking his head out of the sand bottom and a peculiar floater called a triggerfish.

Off for dinner and a tequila tour. We choose Mi Mexico Lindo where our host Manny regales us with stories of blue and green agave and why his is the best in the land. His was damn fine. We bought two bottles of the premium stuff.

Special treat at dinner...Sopo de Lima. I'm making some this weekend.

Day 5

Stay close to the casa in the morning, waiting on the noon departure of the Atlantis Submarine .

Safety talk before we head under water. Life vests and masks to help you breath if there is an onboard fire. The Captain assures us that in 20 years they've never had to resort to these emergency tools. In fact, he's not even sure they work. I was a little anxious but a 7 year old local girl sang me some narco-ballads to calm me down.


We spend some time around 60' feet down, where the colours are still bright and the fish are plentiful before our guide asks if we'd like to go deeper. Si! is the response and we dive to 110', about as deep as most divers can go and at that depth they can only stay for 5 to 10 minutes. Here you lose some of the spectrum.  Red doesn't exist anymore but the white sands reflect enough light to allow us to see.

At this point we are at the continental shelf, staring down into 2000' of blackness. The guide asks if we'd like to go deeper yet and gets another positive response. Alas, we had to pass, as it would be a one-way trip in the vessel we are in.

This was a journey well worth taking. No real need to bring your camera though...just not enough light. You can get the odd picture if something swims buy your porthole but it's best you just relax and watch this strange unseen world pass by.

It's another glorious day, some would say sweltering, so I decide to walk back to the casa at #258 Calle 11 Sur, stopping on the ocean road for the early afternoon happy hour. 2 Sol por favor.
From here I wind through the side streets enjoying the pastels.

Late afternoon new guests arrive. Jeff and Sheila summer in Tobermory and winter in Florida, a mere skip away from this island paradise. Avid divers as well they are here to enjoy the local waters. And other liquids, the ones you can drink.

We head out for dinner, no destination in mind, skip by the garish display that is Jimmy Buffet's Margarita-ville franchise restaurant and find ourselves taking seats at Alberto's. Service was great, food was too and the drinks were cold and plentiful. Not much more you can ask.

Day 6

Up real early...5 am. On a ferry across the waters to Playa Del Carmen, the Niagara Falls of the Yucatan Peninsula, the demarcation point for a day tour to the massive Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, a wonder of the world.

Beginning to wonder if there's anything the Mayans didn't ruin.

The ladies and gentlemen on the crew of our ferry help us on and off the boat without issue. Very accommodating of people needing assistance over here. We disembark in front of a Senor Frogs (see Jimmy Buffet's Margarita-ville above, but in Spanish) Our intrepid guide for the day, Juan, loads us into his van for the 2 hour 45 minute trip. Along the road we pass a high-security prison. Juan tells us it's the islands only all-inclusive resort. You get all your food and drinks provided. Clothing too. They even have an exercise regime and a welcome massage. You can find love there, we're told, but it's optional.

The rest of the ride takes us through a number of small villages; all sorts of stuff for sale from trinkets to blankets to sombrero's. Open kitchens and fruit markets. Dusty little town after town.

It's warm today. The grounds are huge. It's said you can't cover it in a single day and we are not here to dispel any myths. Tons of shade though and well travelled gravel paths make it very accessible.

We wander, take pics.

Wander some more, take more pics.

Read stuff on plaques that tell us about the edifices or walls we are photographing. You'll have to go to Wiki for the low down.

'Cause I'm wandering and taking pics, seeing dead people.

And the birth of X and O's (O won).

And a jaguar.

 More columns.

And the new King of the Mayan Ruins.

On the way back to Cozumel we stop at one of those open kitchens in a nearby town. They graciously setup a roadside table for us. A whole chicken, split and grilled, on a bed of rice with vegetables. the ever-present tortilla's and salsa. Oh, and a tomato-pasta soup trying to emulate vichyssoise. (We'll get to that in September) Only 130 pesos per chicken. Do the math, it ain't much.

Dinner and drinks at the casa tonight, it's been a long, sweltering hot day.

Day 7

We have a cooking class booked for this afternoon. Theresa, Paul, Jeff and Sheila are off for their morning dive. Cece and I take another round of the island in the car...just because we can.  Glorious blue sky, crystalline waters, white sand and warm breezes accompany us.

In town we hit the Mega mall for some luggage...can't lose that tequila.

At 2:30 PM we are settled in at 465 Calle 3 Sur, home of Josephina's cooking class. Our late start means we're not hitting the market but that's not a great loss because it's sweltering outside. Josephina's team has picked up all the provisions we will require. What they didn't buy is growing in the garden outside.

We are served a tasty Hibiscus Iced tea. This I'll make once I find those flowers.

Not a lot of 'hands on' cooking, we help mostly with the preparation as we're told about the different elements of the meal we are creating.

It does cover a lot; making tortilla's from scratch, preparing a pumpkin seed sauce for the squash salad, de-thorning a cactus for a salad with local cheeses. Learning how to use lard again. And not that PC vegetable lard stuff, this is pork lard, bacon fat, adds the flavour to the re-fried beans recipe.

Make a margeurita.

And the main dish; Pollo Adobado Veracuzano...

We got her ebook recipe pdf as soon as we got home. The cooking class was something a little outside the box and very enjoyable. Think I'll look for one in Paris this fall.

Day 8 Relax and leave.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Shadows in the Night
Bob Dylan Sings Sinatra

What is this shit?
Bob Dylan's new album, Shadows in the Night, is being released on February 3rd. Good thing it wasn't a day earlier or we'd be asking what we have to pay to get out of going through all these things twice.
In fairness I will play it twice because I'm sure I slept through part of the first play.
Fortunately I wasn't in the car.
An album full of songs covered (to say 'made famous' would be hyperbole) by Frank Sinatra, arguably the greatest voice of our generation...or our parents'. Sung by a man who was the voice of our generation yet has never been confused with Caruso outside of an early breath-holding challenge they had back in the East Village.

Somewhere in the missing John Bucklen Tapes there's a snippet of Bob, after he'd finished denigrating Johnny Cash, telling John that if he ever became as big as Elvis he will blow everyone's mind by releasing an album of Sinatra covers. This is followed by two 15 years old kids ROFL.
What's good?
Bob's voice.
He doesn't stretch too far with an exception or two or three.
He croons instead of growling.
He keeps his voice low on the register.
It's relatively inoffensive and would be well suited to being background music at a wine and chesser.
The record is under 40 minutes long.
What's bad?
Pedal steel.
Almost all the arrangements.
Most of the songs.
He doesn't come close to challenging the listener.
Adjectives that apply: somnambulant, dirge, jeremiad, waltz, monody, hymn, boring, sleep-aids.
OK, just finished the second listen. The AARP crowd is going to love this. Bob's always been at least 10 years ahead of me. Maybe when I'm 70. What we have here is an artist of the greatest stature amusing himself,  while doing the best in years with his declining skills.
The songs, as a collection, are mediocre.
There are better singers doing better interpretations of better songs on the shelf at Walmart.
Now opinions are like assholes; everyone has one. I don't have to show my Bob bonafides, I am after all the KreweChief of the "I Love Bobby More Than You Do Krewe".
I've been struggling since June 25,2005.
In 2013 I attended the first concert for which I never obtained a copy.
Didn't tape it, didn't download it.
In the near future I hope to not attend a show in my city.
Bit by bit I am controlling the obsession to get Bob-stuff.
This is the first album I won't own.
I listened to a pirated version which I will now delete.
I may be alone on this one.
Alternate opinions can be found under these links.

From The Telegraph- UK "mesmerizingly moving"

From The Irish Times "A Sonic Masterclass"

From GQ, where I go to get all my music news " A Tour De Force of Restrained Genius"

From the LA Times "SITN" Illuminates American Standards"

OMG, they are running out of superlatives. I'm going to get out my thesaurus and beef up my adjectives.

PS I lied, I didn't listen twice. I was pre-typing.