Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cancun and Chichen Itza

Exact opposites – Ixtapan de la Sal and Cancun! The first has a history that goes back for many centuries while the other city was created in 1974! In Ixtapan de la Sal hotels and guest accommodations nestle into the environment. In Cancun hotels vie to outdo each other in grandeur, ostentatiousness, and exclusivity. Downtown Cancun, where many of the people who work in the hotels live, is way outside the popular hotel zone. There you’ll find City Hall – a tribute to Benito Juarez (first Zapotec Indian to serve as President, 1858-1872), and the famous park memorializing the quest for land and freedom.

View of the beach from the Fiesta Americana Hotel

Benito Juarez Building - City Hall, Cancun

A wide, well-kept bike/walking trail connects several hotels in the hotel zone and extends toward downtown Cancun. Getting around is very easy on the well-marked, very inexpensive public buses. A one-way fare is 8.5 pesos compared to the minimum fare of 80.00 pesos for a taxi. Sometimes there are entertainers on the bus – seeking a tip. By the way, did you know that the most frequently heard words in Cancun are “the tip is not included?”

Entertainment on the R1 bus

Most popular sign in Cancun

The history of the Mayan peoples is older than the history of Mexico. Within two minutes of exiting the hotel, or, within minutes of gathering your bags at the airport you’ll be sure to be greeted, actually pounced upon, by several sales people offering all sorts of goodies in exchange for two hours of your time to listen to a presentation for a time share. I accepted the reduced price trip to see the largest of the Mayan pyramids on the Yucatan Peninsula – Chichen Itza! It’s a 2.5 hour drive along the toll road that has very few curves (almost as straight as an arrow), relatively little traffic, and goes right by the Tequila factory and store.

This pyramid at Chichen Itza is the largest among the pyramids of the Mayan religious structures

Home of Agave and Tequilla

Cenotes, or sink holes, created by meteoric action many years ago in the creation of the Peninsula are frequently seen on Mayan lands. Cenotes on Mayan lands are not usually open to the general public. On the way to Chichen Itza we stopped at a Cenote located on a privately owned ranch. Swimming is allowed in the cenote. The visit included a demonstration of the traditional way Mayan women made tamales, and an opportunity to see some farm animals.

Ducks, doing what ducks do best

Even the saddles remind you what country you are in

Mayan ceremony taking place 60 ft below the surface in a cenote.
Mayan Woman, in traditional dress, using the ancient processes when making tamales.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Exploring downtown Ixtapan de la Sal

Hotel Ixtapan Spa and Golf Resort
 Travel is for value as well as for the experience. Well, in this one spot there is value, a unique experience, and more. In fact, the "more" comes from the many returnees to this spa. Some have been coming for more than 20 years; some come twice per year! They all say the same thing, no other spa offers the range of amenities and services for such an affordable price. For two consecutive years, the readers of Spa Finders have voted it as one of the most affordable spas.

Ixtapan is waking up!

Each day begins at 7 a.m. with a  2 mile walk around the 18-hole golf course, for those who are ambitous enough, of course. When you come downstairs at 6:30 a.m. the restaurant staff (there are those who serve the "SPA-DIETERS" and those who serve the other eaters) will have fruit - usually bananas -, tea, and coffee available. Juan, coordinator of the sports program, takes us through a series of warm up stretches and we're off to greet the sunrise.

Sunrise greets the walkers

Cathedral Santiera, Ixtapan de la Sal
A short walk from the Hotel Ixtapan Spa and Golf Resort, past the famous Parque Acuatico Ixtapan (Water Park) using water from the naturally spouting, volcanically-heated, thermal springs gets you into the town of Ixtapan de la Sal where many streets are named after the dates of memorial events in Mexican history. The center of town is marked by the Cathedral Santiera, City Hall, and an open air building where local musicians and dances perform regularly.

City Hall, Ixtapan de la Sal

Dance Pavilion, Downtown Ixtapa

There is a vibrant market place, stores, and street vendors.

Making pastry by hand

Food at the hotel is scrumptious, portion sized, and super healthy. Exerything is organic and most are locally grown. Desserts are usually fruit sorbets made in the spa kitchen. However, nothing or no-one says you can't venture out to sample local fare. The town offers many bakeries that often prepare pastries on the premises - all by hand.


Ixtapan is also a farming community know for fresh fruit and vegetables as well as flowers - you'll see the greenhouses as you enter the town. Here are a sampling of the fresh fruit and vegetables on display in the market.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is memorialized on tote bags

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hotel Ixtapan - Spa & Golf Resort

Major USA TV networks and CNN recently have been sending out warning messages about safe travel into Mexico. It is unlikely that any one of those anchors or news writers have taken the 90 minute drive from the Mexico City or the 30 minutes from Toluca to the Hotel Ixtapan - Spa and Golf Resort. Tucked away in the southern region in the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains is the hotel and spa, in existence since the early 1950's and boasts many repeat visits from the guests.

Lounge Area - Holistic Spa, Hotel Ixtapan
 My first day - amazing! In the words of a guest who has been coming twice per year since the early 1990's "It is a boot camp for women, with manicures, pedicures, and hair treatments added!" And so it is. There is a walk at 7 a.m.; water aerobics at 10 a.m; pilates at 11 a.m.;  . . . . well, you got the picture. The amazing thing is that several spa services, that would be additional at other places are included. So, today, after water aerobics I had a deep tissue massage. After the hike (where I made friends with a relaxing cow) and before dinner I had a loofah and fango (the loofah scrubs the body while the fango - mud from the nearby mineral springs - moistures and rejuvenates the body)! Food is deliciously prepared to facilitate weight loss. There is no sense of being hungry or denying pleasures as I had a kiwi sherbert as dessert at lunch and a papaya sherbert after dinner.

The facility is extremely family friendly with a huge water park next door. I will explore it tomorrow.

I'm thinking she wants to know who is trespassing in her territory

Water park that uses the healing mineral waters

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant

Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant have authored 7 books together. Uptown, published earlier this year, is the newest and served as the springboard for today's discussion. In addition to gaining insight into the characters and learning how and why they were created, the discussion offered a rare behind the scenes look at the publishing business. Did you know:
  • booksellers can tell a book focuses on African American issues, or is written by an African American author by its ISBN.
  • publishers pay premium fees to have select titles prominently displayed at the front of the store and/or on special display shelves throughout the store
  • the sales of a book in the first month of release mirrors the first-weekend of a movie's release. The amount of sales determines the amount of shelf-life received.

The morning ended with the exciting news that Tryin' to sleep in the bed you made has been option for a movie. The screenplay is being completed. Check in on facebook "deberryandgrant" for more information.

What could have been siesta time was shared with the Boston family -
L-R: Errol, Charmaine, Mel, Claudia (sister to Errol), Jennifer, Samantha (sister to Debra), Debra (wife to Errol), and Mrs. McCreary (mother of Mel and Rob - not in the picture). So much laughter. Errol, Debra, and Mel are the storytellers. Now I know what I am missing in Philly!

The evening into the night was spent at Legal Seafood. Yummy!

Martha's Vineyard

The adventure to Martha's Vineyard began at 9:45 a.m. as we all climbed on the bus for the 90 minute ride to the ferry and then the 45 crossing of the Nantucket Sound. This 100 square mile island has a population of 100,000 residents during the tourist season but only 15,000 residents once the season is over.

Ellen is all ready to board the ferry. During the season (end of May through mid-September) there are about 30 ferry crossings each day between Woods Hole (on the mainland) and Vineyard Haven or Oaks Bluff (on the island). When the season is over, there are usually only 7 crossings daily. Did you know that the permanent residents of Martha's Vineyard call the mainland "America"? There are some perks for living on the island - for example, non-residents are charged $150.00 to bring a car over on the ferry while residents pay only $88.00. The trade-off is that cost of living on the island is about 30% higher than living on the mainland. One gallon of gas was $3.76!

So Ruth, our leader who consistently reshapes the meaning of "being literate" and brings exciting authors into our world, helps the purser track the number of "Literary Sisters" boarding the ferry. There are 44 of us on this expedition! These retreats are becoming reunions as we reminisce about how many, and which ones we've been on.

Charmaine and I are blood sisters AND Literary Sisters. We are on our third retreat together - San Franciso, Santa Fe, and now Boston. I've also gone to Virginia Beach and Washington, D.C. retreats with my Literary Sister, Caroline, who couldn't make it this time.

In Oak Bluffs, the historic African-America resort on Martha's Vineyard, we get on the tour bus. As always, Ruth has arranged a special experience for us.

Food! Great food! Atria offered mint iced tea, lobster mac and cheese, and super fresh seasonal fruit. Definitely satisfying. The meal is immortalized as the owners graciously created special menus with the group name and date. Less than 30% of the food consumed on the island is local grown. Once upon a time there was a winery - because wild grapes are indigenous to the island (hence the name vineyards - but the death of the owner and the reselling of the property brought an end to that amenity.

Several African-Americans own vacation property and are permanent residents on Martha's Vineyard. Many well-known authors, including Dorothy West lived and vacationed there. Ms. West wrote all four books there and server as a reporter for the local newspaper. There is the long standing African American community of Highlands. There are the Shearer Cottages developed since 1913 to provide vacation homes to the African American community. President Obama and his family have joined the legacy and will be returning for the second time on August 19, 2010.
Whaling, the foundation of the economy in its early history, had many African American crew members and captains including John Masters, who is buried there.

Among the famous and powerful African-Americans who owned propery on Martha's Vineyard was Adam Clayton Powell. Here the house, now a historic landmark, has been dubbed "The Bunny House" because he and his wife called each other bunny.

Six towns, but 10 police stations! Safety is guaranteed! Gloria, whose son is among Detroit's finest, poses for a picture.

Before getting back on the ferry for the ride back home, some of the young at heart took a ride, for $1.50, on the oldest operating carousel in America.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Blue Ginger Restaurant

Food Networks Master Chef Ming Tsai is one of my favorite people. When I learned the Literary Sisters Retreat was scheduled for Boston, MA the first thing I did was to check out the details on Blue Ginger, his restaurant in Wellesley, MA. My sister Charmaine along with friends Gloria and Ellen met at the airport, picked up a car and headed out. Thanks to the GPS we were there about 30 minutes before the lunchtime service ended. We each had the signature dish - Sake-Miso Marinated Alaskan Butterfish. Appetizers of calamari with a terriyaki mint sauce and shiitake-leek spring rolls with a three chile dipping sauce was the start of this "more than I could ever imagine" experience that ended with desserts - key lime icecream sandwich, vanilla creme brulee, and bittersweet chocolate pot. We bought his cookbooks - how well do you think we'll be able to replicate those dishes?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Back home - one week already

There was no mistaking that the Air Jamaica plane was coming to carry me, not home, but from home to the USA.

The last few days were filled with family connections. Here I am with my favorite cousin, from childhood, Karl Fletcher, we haven't see each other in ages, only hearing from intermediaries what "stuff" each other was getting into.

I met his wife Mabel for the first time - and . . .  

enjoyed their beautiful garden with flowers and dwarf fruit trees.

Ripe grapefruits on the tree

June plum tree laden with fruit

One night was spent with Karl's brother Winston, and his wife, Maxine. Also found out that they are very good friends with the sister and brother of a good friend of mine. Talk about a small world!

Finally, I spent some time with my Dad's cousin Arthur Williams, Snr.,

before people watching at Buccaneer's Beach in MoBay -

deciding whether I should take a walk,

or, catch a crab.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Connecting the dots . . .

A visit to Kingston, for me, is never complete unless I walk the grounds of my high school - assessing the changes and reminiscing. Of course with the unrest in Western Kingston (cross town from Excelsior High School) forced the cancellation of that "memorial" trek. So what did I do instead? Check out my elementary school. Yes, I could have been one of those little girls - dark blue tunic with the light blue blouse! There is now a new sign!

I was able to connect with a dear friend from high school who now practices medicine in Mandeville.

Juliet Wynter-Daley

One of my favorite memories as a teenager is taking the train, with my cousin Heather, and being met by our Uncle Preston. The passenger train system has been defunct for quite some time, but I was just as happy to wait as a one-car freight train carrying bauxite ore rumpled by.

In the tropics the sun rises and sets at about the same time each day. And for those without a rooster to give that wake-up call, the sweet songs of the nightingale are super welcomed! Here is the bird whose sweet song gets my Uncle Sydney and Aunt Dorothy up each morning.

And what do you do between sun-up and breakfast - for my Mom, Uncle Sydney and Aunt Dorothy its a morning walk!

Uncle Sydney, Aunt Dorothy and Mom taking the morning walk

Seeing the Post Office where my Mom was employed at age 18 years evoked many memories.

Here is Mrs. Foster, daughter Pat, and my Mom. Pat has a restaurant - Lingah by the Sea - on the beach of the Mariner's Negril Beach Club. Check it out the next time you are in Negril - they are ranked # 2 in Negril.

Pat Foster, Beryl Foster, and Sybil Beaumont

Sunsets are spectacular at Lingah By The Sea