Monday, 16 December 2013


We're back to a cold and very snowy reality this morning. It's hard to believe that just yesterday I was drinking my morning coffee on this deck 

and this morning I'm ankle deep in snow. Now it's time to cull through the thousands of photos I took while we were away and catch up on the posts that I meant to do while I was gone. I'm going to blame the slow internet connection for the lack of posts. It was pretty painful waiting for photos to upload.

The one attraction I was determined to see on our trip was Tulum. I've wanted to visit these ruins for years, and it's one of the reasons that I chose to stay in Akumal on this trip.

Tulum is the only Mayan city built on the coast. It was a major trade hub (mainly jade, turquoise, and obsidian) and served as the seaport for the Mayan empire. The beach below was the landing site for ships. 

The city was built with a 784 meter long wall complete with watchtowers along three sides, with 12 meter high cliffs protecting the other side. It's very different than other Mayan sites I've visited.

Tulum doesn't have a lot of buildings excavated, and the ones that are are mostly off limits for touching. This meant that the kids weren't that interested in the tour, but they were fascinated by the thousands (and I mean literally thousands) of iguanas sunning themselves all over the ruins and the pathways.

The site on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean was very picturesque and I'm glad that we went to see these ruins, but I don't think that I would hurry back. It wasn't nearly as much fun as wandering through the jungle at Coba, it was way more crowded, and it was hot as the dickens.

And anyone who knows Cal knows that's a dangerous combination. 

 The highlight of this trip was definitely playing in the surf on the beach at the base of the ruins. It was a very windy day, and the waves were huge. It was also a very hot day, and the water was refreshing after wandering around the ruins up top.

 It was a difficult task to drag the boys away when it was time to leave. We lured them away with promises of a visit to another cenote that afternoon after a trip into town to eat some lunch. But that's a story for another day.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Cobá's cenotes

The same day that we went to Cobá, we visited two local cenotes, which are natural holes in the limestone that expose groundwater at the bottom. They can be totally open at the top like a giant pit, or they can be a closed-in cavern with only a small hole open to the outside. The water in cenotes is usually crystal clear as it has filtered slowly through the ground and contains no particulate matter.

Cenotes are very common in the Yucatan peninsula, and were often used by the Mayas for sacrificial offerings. The boys and I watched a BBC documentary before we came down here where they explored a sacred cenote and found the bones of hundreds of small children. It made Cal a little nervous that we would take him to such a place!

The first cenote we visited, Tamcach Ha, had a very narrow opening from the outside, with a long, steep, slippery staircase for access.

Once you got down far enough, it opened up into a large, underground cavern with a cool, clear pool to swim in. It felt amazing after our sweaty, dusty trek through Cobá.

We spent at least an hour there, floating around or perching on the big rock (the only place to rest as the stairway ended right in the water) while Cal happily snorkeled around chasing after small fish.

When we arrived there were about 20 people there, but, like most places we've been, the tourist collectivos all cleared out by 3pm and we had the place to ourselves. It was silent, with the only sounds the dripping of the groundwater as it filtered through from above and fell into the pool from the stalactites that lined the ceiling.

The second cenote, Choo Ha, was just a few hundred meters away, and while larger and in some ways more impressive, was not as inviting for swimming as it was shallow and kind of slimy looking.

 This cenote had some really impressive pillars resulting from the fusion of stalactites and stalagmites. The next picture is hopelessly out of focus, but it's the only one I took that shows the scale.

Cal was ready to jump in for a swim, but the rest of us were beat out, and ready to head back to Akumal for late afternoon cocktails. Three against one ruled the day, so we headed back to catch the last rays of sun. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Adventures in Cobá

The boys were itching to see some Mayan ruins, so we took them on a day trip to Cobá, which is thought to have been the largest of all the ancient Mayan cities. The ruins here are not as extensively restored as Tulum or Chichen Itza, but they are much less crowded and you can still climb the big pyramid. The kids were really excited by this.

It took about an hour to drive there from Akumal, along a well maintained highway. We passed through a number of interesting villages along the way, although we didn't have time to stop.

The name Cobá means "waters stirred by the wind". It is situated adjacent four natural lakes, which is very unusual in the Yucatan. This year, the wettest in 75 years, the waters are really being stirred by the wind. There has been so much rainfall that there is some pretty significant flooding at the site, which is right in the middle of the town. These pictures were taken from the ticket kiosk.

There were washouts in the road that were blocked off and partially repaired, water across the road that we had to drive through (holding our breath that we wouldn't hit some giant underwater pothole or be so submerged that the car would stall), but the town appeared to be going merrily along with daily life. They built walkways out of cinder blocks and some people had small boats tethered to their houses.

While the Cobá site is huge, containing an estimated 6500 buildings, few of them have been restored. As you walk along the pathways inside the site, everywhere you look you can see structures covered by jungle growth.

And many of the structures are only partially excavated. It lends to the overgrown lost-in-the-jungle charm. 

We hired a guide to lead us through the group of structures nearest the entrance. He was amazing with the kids, directing the tour mainly towards them. He was so good, he even managed to keep Cal engaged for 45 minutes - which many not seem long, but is almost unheard of for that kid!

The highlight of the ruins was definitely Nohoch Mul, which means "big mound". This pyramid is 42 meters (138 ft) high, which makes it higher than El Castillo, the main pyramid in Chichen Itza. Only one side of Nohoch Mul has been cleared of vegetation, which makes it seem rather wild and very unlike the perfectly reconstructed structures at Chichen Itza.

It was soooo hot climbing this thing in the blazing sun. The boys scrambled up it like billy goats, but Alan and I were considerably slower and more cautious. The steps were uneven and some were slippery, worn smooth by so many feet climbing. Honestly, the kids almost gave me a heart attack the way they attacked it.

We were all sweaty and out of breath by the time we reached the top, but the view was well worth it.

There was jungle as far as the eye can see. Off in the distance you can see the top of a pyramid peeking through the trees, and can just catch a glimpse of one of the lakes.

I learned an in interesting fact at the top of the 138 foot high, 120 step pyramid.

My firstborn doesn't like heights.

I have to admit that it was a little disconcerting standing at the top pondering how best to descend. Look how tiny those people at the bottom are - it was a long way down.

Cal and I scuttled back down on our bums, lowering ourselves one step at a time. It wasn't very graceful, but was much less nerve-wracking than trying to walk down. Alan bravely recklessly walked down as if he was descending a normal staircase. He didn't even hold on to the rope!

Thankfully, there was a small palapa at the bottom selling food and drinks where we stopped for a snack and a rest.

At this point the boys were overheated and started to lose interest, so we decided to ditch the third Groupo and head back the entry. There was still plenty to see along the way.

We finished it all off with a trip into town for a late lunch. We found an amazing little restaurant, and shared some delicious fish tacos, empanadas, quesadillas and queso fundido. Thankfully we have kids who aren't afraid to try new things. Unless, of course, it has too many vegetables in it.

After lunch we headed off on a trip to an amazing ceynote to cool off. But that's a story for another day.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

This is the life

We've escaped the frigid Toronto weather and are staying in Mexico for the next couple of weeks. The boys are playing hooky and Alan and I are relaxing this week in Akumal and attending a meeting in Playa del Carmen next week (the boys will be amused at the resort's Kids Club).

This week we're staying in an amazing two bedroom condo right on the beach. There are only six units in the building, and they're all filled with families with kids. Here's the view standing on the beach looking back at the condo.

The thatched roof on the left is a palapa with a hammock, BBQ, and tables and chairs. The blue tiled tower you can see just to the right of the building is an outdoor shower to clean off the salt and sand from the beach. The pool, on the right, is just outside of our unit (the one with the towels on the railing).

It's nice to sit and drink coffee (or cocktails, depending on the time of day) on the balcony while Cal swims in the pool. That kid is half fish - he'd stay in there all day if we let him. 

The beach on Half Moon Bay is amazing. We've been taking long walks morning and evening, and the boys have been having fun frolicking in the surf. It's been too wavy the past couple of days for snorkeling, but we're hoping the waves die down soon so we can get out there!

The weather has been warm, but overcast with periods of sun. I'm kind of happy to not have all-out sun as I'm sure that our pasty-white winter skin would be burned after spending the whole day outside, even with sunscreen.

We had fun exploring the local town - the boys love the Mexican food at the restaurants in town, and are fascinated by the dogs, cats, and chickens that run free in the streets.

Mother chicken with babies
It's certainly an eye-opening experience for them!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The piano bench

I made good progress on the piano bench last weekend. I managed to get three coats of glossy black paint and a coat of varathane on it. She's looking pretty fine.

The inside of the bench was looking a little grungy, so I gave that a fresh coat of paint too. I had some bright red left over from Cal's dresser, so I put it to good use.

I still need to do some touchups with a small art brush, but it's looking much better.

I can hardly wait to see how it looks on my brand new hall tiles - Xihao starts tomorrow!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Hallway seating

We've booked the tiler, and he's coming on Friday to start the hallway tiles. I'm really looking forward to finally having that job done. 

Now I have to finally decide on the finishes for the hallway. I've been mulling over a few ideas - I know that I want a seat for people to perch on when they're putting on their shoes. Especially for the winter, so that messy boots aren't moving onto the hardwood floors in our living room.

I was initially enamoured by the idea of a gossip bench, and I went so far as to purchase this one over the summer from a shop near our cottage.

We had it sitting in the hallway for about a month, and while the seat was useful, the profile was just too large. I felt it made the hallway look cramped, so it's now sitting at the top of the stairs on the second floor awaiting a makeover.

Then, about a month ago neighbours of ours were moving out and were getting rid of this little piano bench. It's smaller and narrower than the gossip bench, and doesn't appear to take up as much real estate in our small hallway.

It was kind of rickety, but that was easy to fix by tightening a couple of screws and adding in a little wood glue. The great part about this bench is that the seat lifts and provides a bit of storage - perfect for hiding the dog leash or hats and mittens.

The top of the bench was really scratched up, so I spent the evening yesterday stripping it.

 I considered staining it, but it was almost impossible to get into the carved parts on the legs, and it looked like it was going to take weeks. So I decided to paint it black. There are black tiles in the hallway mosaic, so I think it'll tie in well. Today I'm busy painting it - hope to have an update tomorrow!
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