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Family Bar Hopping?

14 Mar

When planning vacations, I do not take into consideration the possibility of torrential rain or unforeseeable weather conditions that would stop regular activities for more than an hour or two.  While most of my tropical vacations have been during the “rainy” season, I usually have had pretty good luck from Mother Nature.  A few times I have experienced the afternoon thundershowers and random short downpours.  I view those as perfect for an afternoon nap, some quiet downtime, or even a swim in the rain.  A couple of years back, while visiting the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, that all changed.  My family and I experienced some crazy weather and received a quick education on what a  Tropical Depression really means.

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The afternoon before the “storm” began with dark skies and scattered showers.  That was nothing we couldn’t handle.  We went to bed naive of the storm warnings and awoke totally shocked to a flooded bedroom, over flowing pool, and unimaginable amounts of water falling from the sky.  After a couple of hours of board games, eating, and jumping on furniture, it was time for the family to make an escape.  We needed to get out.  I searched the web and came up with a few ideas of what to do with 4 kids, in a foreign county, in torrential downpour.  We came across the ideas of shopping, museums (not in the right place for that), and bar hopping.  We decided on shopping…

We took one of the scariest taxi rides of our life. We were literally racing through what seemed like rushing rivers of water to finally arrive at the mall of Playa del Carmen.  Let’s just say that calling it a mall was a bit of a stretch. It was an experience that lasted all of about 30 minutes.  The “mall” was somewhat of a flea market.  It was filled with pharmacies, souvenier shops, portable carts, and anchored by a store that remided me of the childhood memory of FEDCO (a 1970′s California discount store).  Oh, there was a movie theater, but watching a movie in Spanish wasn’t going to fly with the kids (or grownups).  Needless to say, things were decling rapidly and I needed to act quickly.  I remembered one thing that stood out during my searching the web of things to do…bar hopping.  Surely, not what I had envisioned during a family trip, but at that point we were game for anything.

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Off we set to 5th Avenue for a search for the best margaritas and chicken wings in town.  We had the kids in tow and were thankful for the fact that World Cup Soccer was on at every bar in town.   The crowds were huge and loud.  At least no one would take notice of our obnoxious and under stimulated children.  We spent the next several hours and the better part of the next day bar hopping.  The kids drank more sugar than they have ever possibly ingested in a 2 day window, made new friends, ate some fabulous chicken wings, and rode out the storm.  It was a great time had by all.  Salud!

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Mexican Vacation…Family Style!

7 May

With summer approaching, I feel that I must share what I consider the perfect easy tropical getaway.  With my crazy busy life this past week, I’m posting a “Flashback Friday” memory on a Monday instead.  I’ll just call this one my “Magnificent Mexican Monday”, in honor of Cinco de Mayo perhaps.  Better later than never, right?  So, all you  families out there looking for that last minute summer getaway, here’s an idea for you…

A tropical vacation…sipping an ice cold fruity drink while relaxing under a palm tree.  Hot days full of adventure and warm summer nights, all while enjoying fabulous local foods.  This is the type of trip we all dream about.  But, in the reality of real life, with multiple kids, and a busy family life, making this happen can be tough.

The reality is that many tropical destinations are not easy vacations.  They can be hard to get to, get quite pricey, and some destinations even require special vaccinations.  This is especially hard when traveling with a large family.  One of my absolute favorite places for an easy and reasonable dream vacation is the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.  Direct flights from most major cities and no special pre-travel vaccinations needed.  It is reasonably priced, has great dining, beautiful beaches, and more activities than you could imagine.  It is touristy enough that you have all the modern comforts, yet it still has the feel of a smaller fishing village.  Also, the summer is the low season, so you can really rock it on getting a great deal.

Flashing back to the peak of the recession a couple of years ago.  I was in search of finding the perfect family vacation and taking a week away from real life.  I needed the flights to be easy and staying on a budget was important.  After pricing out a few U.S. trips and realizing how expensive that option became, I started moving south.  With the help of some saved up frequent flyer miles and flexible dates, Cancun was the way to go.  Knowing that I am not a huge fan of the huge mega resorts, but still love having the option of a different restaurant every night, I decided on Playa del Carmen.  Just an hour drive from Cancun, on a beautifully constructed highway, this was the perfect first international trip for our young family.  We were able to score a great beachfront condo and were just steps from the famous 5th Avenue promenade.  We hit a local grocery store for snacks and beer, avoided the huge tourist traps, and found some great unique excursions that didn’t have to break the bank.  We visited a Mayan ruin, snorkeled in cenotes, fished, swam, and overall just relaxed.  Our tour guides treated us like friends, showed us the best the area had to offer, and were an amazing help with our kids.  It doesn’t get much better than relaxing on a boat and eating fresh guacamole while the kids are fishing their little hearts out.

The locals of Playa del Carmen were some of the most family friendly people I have ever encountered!  They catered to my family and actually seemed to enjoy my free spirited (another way of saying wild and crazy) children.  We played in the rain during a Tropical Depression (perfect opportunity to take a break from the sun and teach the kids about bar hopping).  We let the kids indulge in soda, stay up late, sing on the street corners, and run around in Mexican wrestling masks.  We totally let loose…family style!!

Mexican Grocery Trip

17 Feb

I am a huge fan of exploring the local culture of the places we visit.  I want my kids to get away from the fancy hotels and touristy shops and learn about how real people live in other parts of this amazing world we share.  What better way to learn this skill then by grocery shopping right alongside the locals?

Our Playa del Carmen, Mexico grocery excursion was well planned, just as all our vacation plans.  I researched stores, distances from our condo and how we would safely return with 4 kids and bags full of groceries.  Check.  I’m a planner and I have this covered..so I thought.  Let me 1st tell you that a one mile walk at 9 a.m. in 90 degree weather with more humidity than you can imagine sucks!  The streets were uneven, sidewalks were missing, kids were complaining, and did I say that it was really hot?  I can’t forget to mention that I enjoyed one more cerveza than I should have the night before and the double shot iced latte wasn’t helping make the walk any easier.  After a couple wrong turns and a few circles around the block we had arrived to our shopping destination, Mega!  I don’t think a grocery store has ever looked better.  All I could think of was air conditioning!

My vision of a relaxing and leisurely shopping trip was thrown away as fast as I walked through the doors.  The place was packed.  I don’t mean packed like Costco the day before Thanksgiving packed…it was insane.  Extended families with a lot of kids, screaming babies, and grandparents along for the ride.  Obviously, I didn’t realize that it was payday in Mexico and shopping was a full family event.  We navigated through the store with aisles full of boxes, wood pallets, and people restocking shelves.  We managed to get some of what we needed, learn that avocados were sold out, and not permanently lose any of our  children.  We filled 2 carts, spent over $300 and left with food for only 1 dinner and about a  month worth of snacks.  But hey, we did purchase Hello Kitty toilet paper (you never know when that may come in handy).  We hopped into a beat up Nissan Sentra taxi surrounded by all of the junk we bought, never went back, and ate out all but 1 dinner.  Lesson learned…have the refrigerator stocked  when you arrive at your destination and look for that cultural experience in a cute and charming local market.  While a nightmare at the time, that had to be one of the top 3 travel stories to make us laugh!

The saying says, “A picture says a thousand words”.   Well, this one lies.  We sure look like a calm and relaxed family after a successful and educational grocery shopping experience.  Not exactly the case…

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