Monday, April 30, 2012

Casa de la Playa: Asi es la Vida

‘Asi es la vida’, in Spanish means, “such is life.” 

We didn’t rush to the small beach road. It wasn’t until our third trip to Bucerias, a small beach town north of Puerto Vallarta, last week that Joel suggested we  go visit our ‘old place.’  Walking down the beach road as we had done so many hundreds of times before brought back a flood of memories – both good and bad.

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Our Casa de la Playa, House of the Beach,  once reigned at the end of this road.  Now the road is blocked by a tall fence that encloses a condominium building called The Albatros. Our old Grand Dame was bulldozed within months of our sale to new owners from Mexico City. 

Somehow their assurances at the time of the sale that they loved the casa and would use it for years to come made saying ‘adios’ a bit easier.  They obviously hadn’t loved it as much as they claimed.

Ah, but, asi es la vida.

Riviera Nayarit 2012 038 There’s a prison-like feel to the large solid metal fence enclosing the place these days.
Riviera Nayarit 2012 039The garden area once at the side of the casa is now a very snug parking lot. The Albatros is one of a half dozen such multi-storied condo buildings that line the Bucerias beachfront these days – each vying for buyers.

We smiled as we noted the many “For Sale’ signs plastered to the front of this five unit building. And continued smiling as we walked down the beach.

Yes, Asi, es la vida.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Rancho Banderas: At ‘home’ in Riviera Nayarit Mexico

From the time we booked it, we knew this trip was different from those of the past. But that was never more evident than as the plane was making its approach at the Puerto Vallarta airport:  We weren’t scribbling a ‘to do’ list of home improvement projects that had to be completed while we were here.

Riviera Nayarit 2012 004This trip, seven years after the sale of our last home in Bucerias, is strictly for pleasure. We have entered the timeshare world, where those ‘to do’ lists are someone else’s worry.

And while I may have said we like this new lifestyle in earlier posts –  let me tell you this trip has made us realize we are loving it!

Riviera Nayarit 2012 008 We are spending two weeks on Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit, an area just north of Puerto Vallarta. Our time is split between two timeshare resorts, the first is Rancho Banderas on Playa Destiladeras about half way between the town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and Punta de Mita(Our deck is to the left of the resort’s restaurant palapa, that conical thatched roof in the photo above and the infinity swimming pools cascade down the cliff side to the right of the restaurant.)

Our one-bedroom unit is located on the top floor of this small development (there are less than 50 units here) and provides us an incredible deck on which we do nothing. Yes, do nothing. We’ve not had time to do nothing before in Mexico and are finding it quite enjoyable.

 Riviera Nayarit 2012 002 Each  day we have walked  the beach, often playing in the warm ocean waters in the late afternoon. We have daily maid service so there isn’t much housework to do. We’ve eaten most of our meals at home (but with a deck with a view  like we have, who needs to go elsewhere?)Riviera Nayarit 2012 010

Our kitchen and dining room are just the right size as is the living area and bedroom.

The cost of our week’s stay in this ocean-front condo was only the price of a $119 booking fee, or about $17 a day, as part of a promotion offered by our timeshare exchange company, Interval InternationalRiviera Nayarit 2012 011

We will move to our new place at Nuevo Vallarta on Saturday. 

As we made our final stroll on this beach we speculated: Can it get better than this?

Stay tuned, we’ll let you know.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

‘Basting Away’ in Margaritaville, Mexico

We are basting ourselves with suntan lotion on this Travel Photo Thursday as we play on the sand and in the sea  20  miles north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

We are in the midst of our first of two weeks on Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit; this week on Playa Destiladeras. So slide into that empty chair below, there’s a margarita just waiting for you as we celebrate another great day in paradise.

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We drank the margarita pictured above at El Dorado, on Playa Anclote, near Punta de Mita, and a few miles north of where we are staying.  We’ve come to this restaurant for more than two decades to spend a few late afternoon hours and usher in sunset.
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We’d begun our sunset celebration in this Mexican Margaritaville at another long-time hangout on this same beach,  El Anclote, which has been around since the mid-1980’s.  Our entertainment there was watching the beach vendors peddle their wares: jewelry, wood carvings, hammocks, rugs, and clothing  One of the most popular was the candy/nut vendor:

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I wasn’t the only one pulled to his display like metal to a magnet:

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Sunset and margaritas seem to go hand-in-hand in Mexico but this time of year the sun doesn’t set until after 8 p.m. – long after we’d sipped our margaritas. We toasted this day in tropical paradise with a glass of vino as we watched the sunset from our deck at the condo where we are staying.

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Many of you know this trip is taking us down Memory Lane. It’s our first visit since we sold the last of our homes here seven years ago. It has been a blend of discovery and nostalgia. I’ll tell you more about our Memory Lane, the places we are staying and Bucerias in future posts.

For now it is Travel Photo Thursday so stop by Budget Travelers Sandbox for another great photo journey around the world.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dining at Carnival’s “Chef’s Table”

The cooks moved in synchronized precision preparing and handing off  plates to the parade of wait staff who would deliver them to the hundreds of fellow cruisers eating that night in Carnival Spirit’s formal dining room.

We watched the  choreographed movements from the pastry table at one side of the ship’s shining stainless steel galley; a culinary arts gallery, not galley, we thought.  We also sipped a glass of Prosecco, (that white Italian wine with just a bit fewer bubbles than champagne), with our Head Chef Jerry Furtado.

chelan2012 024Actually our Chef Jerry only sipped only enough to make a welcome toast to the 13 of us who were embarking on a near three-hour, eight-course gastronomic odyssey known as “The Chef’s Table,” ~ a fine dining experience that surpassed anything we’ve ever experienced on any of our previous cruises.

Our extravaganza began with a tour of the galley, and a private reception there which included a sampling of appetizers with such goodies as: Chorizo and dates, Piquilo Sofrito and Langoustine and Sundried Tomato Jam Fritters. (sorry, photos weren’t allowed in the galley).

Then it was on to our private dining room and a parade of food so delicious that even writing about it now, several weeks later, can make my mouth water.   There is not enough room to show you it all, but here’s a taster:

Carnival Cruise 2012 108Our wait staff  hovered throughout the meal to make sure everything was as it should be, asking repeatedly, “Is it to your liking?”

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This garlic brioche was too much for my will-power. It was baked in a miniature flower pot. Way too cute and way too tasty. . .I ate it all and they brought another!

The Chef’s Table was launched as a pilot on a few Carnival ships in 2010 and as result of its popularity it is now offered on all 23 ships in the fleet. 

Carnival Cruise 2012 112We had been on the ship for only two hours when we learned of the dinner and that there were only a couple of spaces were left. Make note, word is out: this experience is popular!

The cost was $75 per person which included unlimited wine (as if you had room to drink to excess) and included the galley tour and souvenir photo.

The photo above was of the salmon course (which arrived fifth in a series of scrumptious offerings).  What I found most delightful on this plate was the paper thin red rolls standing to the left of the salmon. They were dehydrated beets and the dark speckles on the carrots were a dusting of truffles.

Carnival Cruise 2012 114The salmon was followed by a course called Wagyu, slow stewed short ribs and the dinner finished with the plate pictured to the side, simply titled, “Chef in a Candy Shop”.

Each morsel was mouth-watering, including all those little morsels tucked between the wafers. By the time we got to this course I was in a near coma- state from overeating. . .I sampled half these ‘tasties’ wishing I had just a bit more room.

Should you find yourself on a Carnival cruise in the future we would wholeheartedly recommend signing up – early! -- for The Chef’s Table. You won’t be disappointed.  I can tell you that meal alone is reason enough for me to take another Carnival cruise.

Note:  Google has changed its format and I am on the road, bear with me if the spacing and flow of this post is jumbled.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Traveling and Writing ~ Love and Legacy

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On a ‘cool, slightly overcast’ Friday, March 23rd, 1956  -- the Italian freighter, Eugenio C, set sail at 8 p.m. from Dock 5, in Brooklyn, New York  heading to Genoa, Italy.

Among its passengers were a Central Washington State daily newspaper reporter and her photographer husband, Phil and Dean Spuler.

Carnival to San Jose 067Following their April 8th arrival in Italy and a few days spent with friends on the Riviera; they boarded a train in Chamberey, France bound for Milan, Italy.

(photo of the Spulers departing France)

In Milan they purchased two Lambretta scooters, (earlier versions of the one pictured here),
1A1[1]that would carry them on a year and a half  journey through Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, England, Scotland and Ireland.

But their story really doesn’t begin nor end with this journey . . .

Phil and Dean Spuler
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Phil (who never used her given name, Phyllis) and Dean  had met in the late 1940’s  while students at San Jose State College in  California;  both worked on the campus paper, the Spartan Daily. Times were tough, money scarce. Romance bloomed, they married and began their careers at the paper now known as the Yakima Herald-Republic in Central Washington State.

It was at that paper, in the early 1980’s, that as a ‘cub reporter’, I worked with -- and became friends with -- the Spulers. They were the seasoned professionals and as such, mentors, in a newsroom bursting with several other near college-age journalists. They’d returned to the newspaper at the conclusion of their European adventure (and stayed until their retirements).

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Their European Adventure

It was never clear what had sparked their desire to sell most of their belongings and head to Europe. Perhaps inspired by writer Ernest Hemingway who had returned to Paris in 1944 or Julia Child, of cookbook fame, who arrived in France four years later. . .they never said. Regrettably, I never thought to ask.

Their travel budget was $5 a day and that included all food, lodging and travel expenses. They stayed in youth hostels and rode their scooters in both good and bad weather.

Carnival to San Jose 070Their travel journals tell of spending  the winter in Paris where they enrolled in a French language school, and spent time exploring art galleries, sidewalk cafes, and attending plays and operas.

Spring found them in Berlin. They returned to the United States the summer of 1957 on a small Italian passenger ship.

Their Love and Legacy

Our friendship grew over three decades and during that time their travels – although shorter and more luxurious than their Europe trip – included cruises and excursions to foreign lands. They drove “dune-buggies’ through the desert surrounding  their Arizona retirement community until age and health slowed them. Then, they told us, they lived vicariously through our travels.

Carnival to San Jose 073Prior to their deaths – now, a few years ago – they set forth their wishes to help other journalism students at their alma mater, San Jose State University.  Since then we’ve had the pleasure of working with the university to make that happen: Each year two scholarships are available to journalism and photojournalism students. They endowed an annual symposium.

Carnival to San Jose 038Author’s note: I wrote this post after returning from a whirlwind campus tour of the media and journalism department at San Jose State University this week. Joel and I attended the 4th Annual Spuler Ethics in Media Symposium, we visited the college newspaper and magazine. We met inspiring and enthusiastic professors and students.

Our two-day visit concluded with meeting this year’s journalism scholarship recipient; a soft-spoken, dedicated young man, Francisco Rendon,  former editor of the  Spartan Daily paper and now a contributing writer to it.

When we asked of his future plans. He told us he’ll be writing for an organization in Israel.   Travel and writing. . .we know  Phil and Dean Spuler would be delighted!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Signs: Preventing “Lost” ~ Providing “Laughs”

When visiting a new place, don’t you find yourself often relying on signs to get you to where you want to go?  We do.
And often, while preventing lost, signs are providing laughs, like that morning in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. . .

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If you didn’t know it, Cabo is a deep-sea fisherman’s paradise, so how appropriate to name the streets after the pescados? Here it is for Dorado and Marlin fish, both types of fish caught in these waters. (And two very important directions – to our ship and restrooms).

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How about those rickety buses belching exhaust fumes as they pass? They may not be modern, but one look at the window and you know where they will be stopping.

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Cabo is also a  party town – this store seemed to offer ‘parties-to- go’. . .or vitamin water; whatever the bebida, (beverage) it took to refuel your engine.

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One thing travelers to Mexico’s beach towns must be aware of are the ‘free breakfast. . . or lunch. . . or tour. . . or drink’ offers from timeshare sales touts.  This bar made it clear you wouldn’t have to be on guard.

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We spotted this bit of Happy Hour philosophy while sipping a latte across the street at . . .yes, I have to admit it: Starbucks, the Seattle-based coffee company.

And for my grand finale on this Travel Photo Thursday, I leave you with this gem outside a farmacia, (pharmacy)we walked past:

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For more travel photos be sure to stop by Budget Travelers Sandbox today!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Safely South of the Border, down Mexico Way

Two month ago, the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, issued a lengthy advisory about travel to Mexico
Carnival Cruise 2012 054It notes that while hundreds of U.S. tourists and students continue to successfully visit our neighbor to the south, there are some places that should be avoided and others where common sense when traveling should be used.

Carnival Cruise 2012 066We didn’t pay much attention to the early February warning because Mexico travel wasn’t on our radar screen then.

That’s changed. Not only did we take a short cruise to Cabo San Lucas  in March, we are soon heading to Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit for a two-week timeshare stay.

A few friends have responded to our south-of-the-border destinations with the skeptical raised eyebrow and almost whispered: “Are you sure you want to go there? It’s not safe right now is it?”

An answer to those questions:

Carnival Cruise 2012 057We had two days to wander through Cabo San Lucas; around the touristy marina area and then on cobbled streets with uneven sidewalks into the town’s el centro, the center. On our two morning excursions we were on our own, heading where ever our feet led us.

I wore jewelry and carried a purse and camera. We felt safe . . . aside from a fear of breaking an ankle on those crazy Mexican sidewalks, pictured to the left,  that raise and lower without notice.

The streets were pretty much empty other than for shopkeepers and a few other tourists.

The only time we were verbally accosted was when a timeshare salesman called out. We stopped. He showed us photos of the development he was pitching and then of his family.

Carnival Cruise 2012 118Ricardo Garcia Castro, director of Planning and Tourism Development in Baja California Sur, quoted in Los Cabos Magazine, may have said it best: 

“Mexico is a very large country and the lack of knowledge of geography by the American media make people [think] an incident in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua affects Los Cabos and the California Sur. It is like if an incident in New Jersey would affect Florida or Montana.”

Nayarit Advisory:
Out of curiosity, not concern, I’ve read the U.S. State Department advisory and this is what it says about our upcoming destination. (I’ve added the boldface highlight):

Map picture

“Nayarit: You should defer non-essential travel to all areas of the state of Nayarit north of the city of Tepic as well as to the cities of Tepic and Xalisco. The security situation north of Tepic and in these cities is unstable and travelers could encounter roadblocks or shootouts between rival criminals. There is no recommendation against travel either to Riviera Nayarit in the southern portion of the state or to principal highways in the southern portion of the state used to travel from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta.

Our planned safeguards: I will be leaving  jewelry in our safe deposit box at home, but by now you know I can’t travel without a camera. It will be with me, as will my purse.

We will travel using common sense when out exploring. But are we going to get out and explore our old haunts tucked away in the Sierra Madres between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta?

You can be sure of it! 

What about you?  Been to Mexico lately? If so, what was your experience?

Note: Click the link in the opening paragraph to read the entire U.S. Department of State travel advisory for Mexico issued Feb. 8, 2012. Click the map pins for details.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Walk in the Woods ~ Near the Sea

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp drizzly November in my soul. . .then I account it high time to get to the sea as soon as I can.”                  
-- Ishmael, in Moby Dick

Finding ourselves in that state of mind, we headed to the sea – and the woods one morning on Washington State's  Copalis Beach. . .

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At low tide we walked to the water’s edge on hard-packed sand that  glistened like an ice skating rink.

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A twisted and coiled a piece of seaweed  -- or was it a sea demon ready to strike?

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The sea had turned this driftwood into a sea sculpture. . .

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A beach deserted but for a lone sea gull; Copalis Rock in the distance.

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Our path to the beach led us through a coastal forest where trees wore coats of moss.

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Then back to the comfort of our cabin to reflect on the wonders that surrounded us. . .

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Ever taken a walk in the woods. . .by the sea? What treasures did you discover? 

These photos were taken while we were guests of Iron Springs Resort overlooking  Copalis Beach.  For more Travel Photo Thursday photos click the link to Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Carnival Spirit: The Inside Story

Carnival Cruise 2012 028Our cruise tales from the Carnival Spirit continue with a tour of some of our favorite on-board places . . . the ‘inside story', you might say.

It was our second sailing on this ship that stretches 960 feet in length (about the size of three American football fields) and 106 feet in width. When completely full – as it was on our cruise – the total guests number 2,124.

Now, more than a decade old and recently renovated, it sports some new ‘fun ship’ features, yet it retains many we remembered from our earlier cruise.

Carnival Cruise 2012 011 We loved the light fixtures and the seat backs in the Artist’s Lobby. Located in mid-ship we often strolled through it on our way to the Empire Restaurant.

The Empire Restaurant, Carnival Cruise 2012 012the main dining room, is -- as is the case with most present-day cruise ships -- enormous. It takes 45 teams of three people – to serve dinner to guests that fill this elegant two-story venue each night.  There are two set-mealtimes and 'any-time' dining options, so the place is a continual hub of activity. (I’ll tell you about one of our culinary adventures on board in a future post.)

Carnival Cruise 2012 006At the opposite end of the ship is the equally enormous two-story theatre, the Pharaoh’s Palace. The eye-popping motif remained as we recalled it being the first time we sailed this ship.

The Lobby was always one of the liveliest places on the Carnival Cruise 2012 034ship as there was always some musical entertainment or other activity and  guests were always gathered at the circular bar.

The best way to get an overview of it was to ride the glass elevators.  This shot should give you an idea of the height of our ship as well.

Carnival Cruise 2012 009 Our balcony cabin was located toward the front of the ship, not far from elevators and stairways – one of our preferred locations on a ship.
Spending time on our own balcony is one of our favorite parts of cruising.  (Balcony rooms do cost more than inside rooms that have no windows or views but we think the cost difference is worth it.)

What about you?  What is your favorite part of cruising?


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