Parting brings such sweet sorrow

The only thing worse than leaving paradise is getting to the airport and discovering that your flight home has been delayed. So instead of lounging around the villa, enjoying the breathtaking view of the sea, we spent an extra hour sitting in stiff chairs at the airport, staring at each other.



I did not want to leave. We’d been in Palmilla, Los Cabos, Mexico for five days, and it wasn’t long enough. When the car pulled up to collect us that morning, it was fifteen minutes early. I cried. I had spent the morning packing and I needed those last minutes to say goodbye. Not just to my pretty little room and the villa that we had enjoyed spending so much time in, but to the sun and the sea and the flowers and everything that made the place wonderful. So, while the driver began loading our bags, I took one last walk around. I touched every single piece of furniture and picked one last plumeria flower off the tree before slowly turning and walking back up the stone steps towards the gate. The driver held open my door and asked if I was ready to go. But it didn’t matter that I wanted to say no; that I wanted to run back down and throw myself on an over-sized lounge chair and watch the bougainvilleas bloom. So I stepped inside, looked sadly into his eyes, and said yes.



In the end, what struck me the most was my overwhelming desire to stay. In all my travels, I’d never had such strong feelings about leaving for home before. But what I did know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, was that I’d be back. Maybe not this year or next, but soon. And as we walked from the airport waiting area to the plane, all I could do was breathe in my last few breaths of warm, dry air and fondly remember the beautiful, magical place we temporarily called home. And smile.




Diving Los Cabos

There are certain travel regrets that everyone has in their lifetime. Today, mine was deciding to leave my camera (complete with an underwater housing case) on a boat. My brother Dusten and I had both been recently certified PADI open-water divers and decided to knock out our first real adventure dive while we were in Cabo. The Sea of Cortez is teeming with life this time of year, and we were eager to discover it. So, we asked our house manager to make reservations. He booked us with a company called Manta Scuba and said a taxi would be by to pick us up at 7 am. We arrived, checked in, and were shortly introduced to our guide Adrian, who with his medium brown hair and skin and clear blue eyes was one of the most beautiful men I’d ever seen. We geared up and headed out on the boat with the other divers and their guides and took the five-minute trip from the marina to t,brhe National Marina Park where our diving would commence.



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Everything happened in fast forward. Adrian was giving us the rundown in his beautiful Spanish accent. I didn’t feel ready. The boat was rocking violently back and forth from the rough waves, and the water was no better. We got in and checked our weight. It didn’t take more than a minute for us to realize Dusten’s regulator was bad. It was spewing air from the tank and making a high-pitched noise that sent panic through me. “Something’s wrong. Something’s wrong. We have to go back to the boat.” Adrian switched out his gear and we all met by the buoy, ready for our descent. “You two, follow me,” Adrian said, pointing to my brother and I. “Then you, Erin, and then Steven and Luchella close out the group.” We started to descend. We dropped 15 feet to the sandy bottom and waited for everyone to join us. I counted the number of people and I was missing one. Oh my gosh. WHERE IS DUSTEN!? The number one rule of diving (after never holding your breath) is to stay with your buddy. We’d only descended and I’d already lost him. Are you KIDDING!? Adrian gave the motion to follow him and pointed to me and a man clad in a blue and black wetsuit with a reflective mask, giving the buddy signal. Oh, I am an idiot. That IS Dusten. I just couldn’t tell underwater with the mask and all the gear on. We started our dive. Visibility wasn’t great. We could only see 10-15 feet in front of us, but that did make our arrival at the reef all the more surprising. We swam around, seeing fish of all colors and sizes and finally came upon small sandfalls (sand falling over the reef like a waterfall). We stopped several times so Adrian could help Luchella and Steve, who were supposed to be the more experienced of our group, but who were causing the most trouble by their inability to dive well. We surfaced after 45 minutes and swam to the boat, which took us around the bend to see Cabo’s famous arch, as well as Lover’s Beach and Divorce Beach.



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We switched tanks and geared back up for dive #2. I had been instructed to not bring my camera on my first dive because I’d be too concerned with surviving (and adjusting my buoyancy, etc.). But the visibility was so low that I decided not to bring it on the second dive either. Big mistake. Not only was the visibility better, but we saw some incredible fish and scenes that are terribly difficult to describe. Why didn’t I just BRING it? I could have decided not to use it once we were underwater, but I didn’t, and there was nothing I could do about it than enjoy it presently. We swam under a sea of red snapper that was so thick it blocked out the light on that side, and Adrian pointed out several stingrays and guitarfish that blended right into the ocean floor. We ascended after our safety stop and kicked back to the boat; our first scuba diving adventure a success.



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Mom and Dad met us at the dive shop when we returned. “Want to take a glass-bottom boat tour to see the arch?” “No thanks… we just came from there.” So they got on a boat to see the infamous landmarks, and we decided to do a little shopping. Evidently we’re in a three-month season when Cabo gets no cruise ships, so everyone at the marina’s marketplace was aching for business. The building was lined with 10 x 10 booths, each one lined with shelves and covered with any Mexican souvenir you could possibly want: Talavera, silver, Mexican vanilla, serapes with NFL logos, beach hats, t-shirts, bags, the works. “Senorita! Senorita! Come inside. It’s happy hour!” They’d say as we walked by. We came across a table loaded with silver and Dusten picked up a heavy chain. The cost of silver had gone up, and everything was weighed for value, so I knew we’d have a harder time bargaining. I picked up a series of silver charms with the Mayan calendar engraved. “How much for this?” I asked. “The small one is $35 and the small one is $48. But that is the best silver. It’s .950 instead of .925.” I looked them over. “I’ll come back,” I said. “We’d like to make a round before we decide on anything.” “How much do you want to pay? There are no cruise ships. I’ll do anything to make a sale now.” I looked at them again. I held the two sizes up and Dusten said the larger one looked better. “How much do you want to offer for that?” he asked. “Would you take $20?” “Oh, no, that’s real good silver. The best. $35. Or $32.” “How about $25?” He paused and looked at the charms, considering his options. Does he sell today or let this one get away? “$28.” “Deal.” He placed the charm in a tiny white dust sack, which he called Mexican Gucci, and we continued our walk through.



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Later we met our parents and took a water taxi over to downtown Cabo San Lucas via the beach. This place was much more lively than San Jose. The beach was swarming with people and music from different restaurants competed for peoples’ attention. Our water taxi driver, Carlos, had suggested we eat at a restaurant called The Office, so we strolled down the beach until we came to our destination. We got a patio table, which was “inside” compared to the rest of the tables in the sand, and immediately ordered Mexican coke (with REAL sugar) and a bucket of Tecate. This place was stunningly beautiful. Hot pink pillars held the patio together and many of the walls were lined with the remains of wooden boats, stacked with a variety of sizes of liquor bottles. Colorful glass stars and lanterns hung from the ceiling and the umbrellas covering the tables in the sand were a cobalt blue. We ordered food and were soon surrounded by a small band. “Requests?” They asked. “Do you know La Bamba?” I asked with a smile. “Of course!” and they started to play. I tipped the bass player and our food arrived. After feeling sick all day on the dive boat, all I wanted was something light. What I got was the most amazing bowl of Mexican chicken soup I’d ever tasted. Seasoned perfectly, it came with a plate of tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, onion, and jalapenos for flavor.



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When we finally left we walked back down to the beach to await our water taxi, which was scheduled to pick us up at 4. Beach vendors holding boxes and boards full of sunglasses, jewelry, t-shirts, and wraps wandered up and down the beach looking for potential buyers. Realizing I had a couple of gifts to buy, I accepted the company of a man bearing leather bracelets. “How much for this green one?” I asked. “$8.” He said. I found several other colors I liked and I switched them in and out, looking for the perfect color combination. In the end I got 4 bracelets for $20 and was on my merry way.



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The Sea of Cortez near Los Cabos.


Confessions of a haggling addict

I love traveling to places where haggling is part of the shopping culture. There’s something about the art of negotiating that I find mildly thrilling. So much so, that when we wandered into the sleepy town of San Jose del Cabo this morning, I blatantly avoided the higher-end shops with set prices in favor of the hole-in-the-wall shops with more flexibility. And in a town like this, negotiating is a must. I fell in love with Mexican Talavera (see photo for example) almost immediately. Half of all the pottery in our casita is blue and white Talavera, and it only took me about ten minutes of shopping to figure out that I had to have some. Unfortunately it can be extremely expensive.  The first shop we popped into was next door to the San Jose’s church and attached to an art gallery. The man who created the designs took my mother and I around to each table, picking up pieces one by one and describing them to us. I would have loved to buy one of his little Talavera teapots. Except that this shop already had written prices on stickers, and this was high-end. A regular dinner-sized plate ran around $40 and you can forget anything functional like a teapot. We smiled, thanked him for his time, and bowed out.



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We had heard that San Jose was the quieter of the two Cabos, but we didn’t anticipate just how quiet it would be. For most of the day, only a handful of tourists walked the streets and there was an eerie stillness. But I soon found that there was an advantage to the shop owners outnumbering the tourists 20:1. Everyone was looking for business, but there was no one to buy. No one, that is, but us. I popped into a small souvenir shop that had a back wall with shelves stacked high with Talavera. I picked up a piece and found that it had no sticker. Bingo. “How much is this?” I asked. “$35” said the man. This I could work with. I scoured every piece before discovering an entire backroom with pottery covering the floor. I laid out three pieces I liked and squatted down next to them. “How much for these three?” He grabbed his phone and started pressing numbers. “For you, I give you good price. For all three, $75.” “Hm…would you take $50?” “The man shifted in front of me and considered my question. “Ehh…how about $72?” Not good enough. “$55,” I countered. He wasn’t buying it. I removed one piece. “How about now?” $65” he said. “Will you take $50?” Finally he agreed, we shook hands, traded money for pottery, and I walked away satisfied. I got my haggling groove back.



We sat down for lunch at a little place called Teo’s. The specials included three tacos, a beer, and a very friendly server who was more than happy to tell us about all the celebrities that stay in our villa and visit San Jose. “Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom were here a couple of years ago. Very nice couple, no matter what anyone says. And Paris Hilton. Everyone comes here.” We finished up our tacos, fed advice to a couple who were agonizing over menu options, and hailed a cab.



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We decided to do dinner at the casita tonight. I love to cook and don’t get the opportunity very often, so we stopped by a grocery store to pick up ingredients and I was on my way to making cilantro-lime chicken with avocado salsa, a personal fave. When we had returned from San Jose, we went down the villa’s beach club to enjoy the sand and sea (where I also haggled a vendor out of a beautiful beach bag, because I’m an addict), so there was nothing we wanted more than to chill in the comfort and privacy of our house, and enjoy the views of the sea. Our side dish was saffron rice, which happened to be the very same saffron rice that my sea-soaked phone had been sitting in for a day to dry out after our little Sea of Cortez incident. The good news is that the rice was delicious. The bad news is that my phone isn’t turning on. But it’s hard to let even an expensive mishap distract you from paradise.



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Phoneless in Paradise

My iPhone and I are on a break. Not because we don’t love each other, but because I am on vacation and salt water and electronics don’t really get along. My family and I are vacationing in Los Cabos, Mexico as part of a trip my mother won from a Fund for Teacher’s fundraiser (she’s received two grants to travel in Europe and Scandinavia, so she’s pretty much the luckiest person I know). It included airfare for four (naturally, I insisted she take me dad, brother, and me), and a five day, four night stay at a funder’s  private villa in Cabo San Lucas/San Jose del Cabo. We arrived today.



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After checking out the bougainvillea-wrapped two-story house (complete with four separate suites, an infinity pool, hot tub, and fabulous views of the Sea of Cortez), we decided to take our golf cart down to the beach. And that’s when all hell broke loose. We parked the cart and skipped down to where the water kissed the sand, standing back, admiring the shades of blue and green. Mom and I both stepped out onto the wet sand where the water had barely been a moment ago, only to find that the tides in Cabo are pretty unpredictable. Immediately water rushed up to our calves, and my mother (who was wearing capris instead of shorts), bent over to roll them up. Everything happened fast. A small wave came and knocked her off balance and soon she was IN the water, grasping for her shoes, being pulled further out. Laughing (I mean, come on, it was hysterical) I went to help her up. Unfortunately, a gigantic “ten foot wave” (my dad’s description) came and knocked us both completely over, sending me and my brand new iPhone 5 under water. I rushed onto the beach and threw my phone at my dad who ripped the cover off and started patting it dry with his shirt. Panicked, we drove back to the villa, threw open a bag of saffron rice (for future reference, saffron rice is like the worst idea for drying out a phone), and dropped it in. Phoneless. What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to check snapchat and what’s app and my work email, which I can’t access from my laptop, to make sure there’s not an emergency!?



I’m too attached to my phone. The realization hit me about five minutes after I left it drying in rice. This incident was a blessing in disguise. Because I can’t access my phone, I won’t access my phone. I won’t think twice about checking for messages or looking at facebook. And only when I lost access to my phone did I truly start to go on vacation.



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Cabo is a funny place. It’s paradise on the Baja Peninsula. The combined population of both Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo is only around 400,000. It’s extremely clean and dry. The water is cool and the poverty that Mexico is known for is nowhere to be found. What can be found, however, is an excess of service in the hopes of ripping every cent you own from your bank account. We walked off the plane and towards the exit, where we knew our pre-arranged transportation was awaiting our arrival. “Where are you going? Do you need transportation?” a man in an orange polo immediately asked. “Um,” my mom hesitated. “We have have a car coming to get us.” “Ah, ok. Right this way and we’ll help you find it.” Except he had no intention of “helping us find it.” He lead us to a desk where another man awaited with maps and a smile. We told him where we are staying.



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“The Villas del Mar?” he asked. “That is a very nice place. A VERY nice place. Muy bonita. Do you own or rent?”

“We don’t own the house,” my mother answered.

“And are you renting a car?”

“No.”

“Would you like to rent a car?”

“No.”



I knew what was happening. I could tell from the moment we exited. Here we were, about to enter the playground of the super rich and famous, and we were surrounded by vultures. There were more men in monogrammed polos than there were people on our flight, and the ones that weren’t on the floor were all leaned over a long, white countertop, on their elbows, watching. They knew we didn’t need a ride. They knew we had a plan, yet, there was still opportunity. He systematically checked us for weaknesses. Then my brother became the target.



“You like golf?” he asked. Dusten was dressed in a white Nike golf shirt and cap with sunglasses on top. “Don’t cave,” I told him with my eyes. It didn’t matter if he liked golf or not. Everything was to be arranged by the house managers we’d been in contact with for weeks, so there was nothing they could offer that Ernesto couldn’t get us himself. After insisting that he didn’t even like golf (what? This is a GOLF shirt!?) we finally were dismissed and found a man holding a sign bearing our family name. We’d narrowly escaped.



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Weeks ago we’d made dinner reservations at the resort next door called The One and Only Palmilla. So, we spent most of our first day (post accident) lounging and sunbathing on our patio before loading ourselves into the golf cart and driving down to dinner.  “We’re here for dinner at Agua,” I told the man at the gate. “Last name?” He asked? “Hess.” “Ah, yes, of course. Welcome, right this way.” We drove down a windy resort road until we came to the valets who took our golf cart and walked us through the lush resort paths to one of the most fabulous restaurants I’ve ever been to. The gigantic patio overlooked the Sea of Cortez and we could see the lights of San Jose del Cabo twinkling in the distance. Everything in Mexico is slower than it is in the U.S. Dinner lasted nearly two hours, and every second was wonderful. Three members of a perfectly tuned mariachi band stood on a small stage, serenading us with their songs, as we munched on homemade bread and hummus. The food itself was extremely impressive: Mexican skirt steak with roasted veggies for me and Mom, while Dad had Chilean salmon and Dusten (whose food was so good he had to pretend like it sucked so no one would take any) had red snapper and shrimp. Dusten and I ended our meal by sharing a rum bananas foster dessert and we all finally, sadly, stood from our table to leave.



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One day down. Four more to go. So far, this is paradise.


jaymug:

Shapes of cities by Yoni Alter - New York

jaymug:

Shapes of cities by Yoni Alter - New York


Tip for savvy traveling #4: If you can afford to be flexible, always volunteer to let someone have your seat on overbooked flights in exchange for airline compensation. A little inconvenience can go a long way in getting you credit towards future flights.

If you think Disney World is the most magical place on Earth, try Tivoli at dusk, right when a thousand lights are starting to twinkle. Open since 1843, the amusement park and pleasure gardens are said to have inspired Walt Disney himself.


Tip for savvy traveling #3: For the lowest prices, hunt for airfare on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 4-6 weeks before your departure. Never buy on weekends, and try not to fly on Fridays or Sundays.

Breakfast in Copenhagen.