Tony & Cheri's PlayaZone

Adventures in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

  • Subscribe

  • Top Posts & Pages

  • Playa del Carmen Weather

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 719,706 hits
  • Pages

  • Networked Blogs

Archive for the ‘The Love of Travel’ Category

Getting Naked in Playa del Carmen, Again

Posted by Tony & Cheri on October 13, 2014

It has been our observation over the last decade of running a small hotel in paradise that people on vacation like to let loose a little and do things they might not do at home…like parasailing, drinking too much tequila or even getting naked on the beach. That last one seems particularly popular.

According to some travel experts, clothing optional vacations–once considered only for swingers and nudists–are now the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry.

That trend is even reflected here on our own blog. For the last three years “The Naked Truth About Playa del Carmen,” about topless and nude sunbathing on the Riviera Maya, has consistently been the most popular post on our blog. It has been viewed by thousands so far and is still viewed by close to 2000 people a month. It obviously struck a chord.

Enjoying the sun

 

The Huffington Post recently ran an article entitled The Top 5 Clothing-Optional Resorts in the World, confirming that showing a little skin while on vacation is now part of the mainstream of middle class tourists.

Not surprisingly, of the five resorts listed, two of them are in the Riviera Maya. It seems our little stretch of tropical heaven is the Mecca for folks wanting to bare all on the beach.

Of course not everyone wants to spend their vacation locked away in a giant mega resort, surrounded 24/7 by naked strangers. We have found most people just would like a chance for a afternoon or two enjoying the sun, sand and sea without the restriction of swimsuits.

So here are some alternatives to spending all of your vacation and all of your hard earned money at some All Inclusive fortress simply because it has a nude beach:

Topless sunbathing and swimming is still regularly accepted throughout most of the Riviera Maya beaches, even in the newer upscale clubs in central and northern Playa. Along the coast, La Playa Beach Club in Xpu-Ha and El Paraiso in Tulum still draw topless (and in Tulum, sometimes nude) sun worshippers. Luna Blue pool.  Photograph by Ken Bartle In addition, at least one clothing optional resort, Hidden Beach Resort in Tulum, offers day passes to non-hotel guests. This way you can experience the intimacy and charm of a small hotel in the center of town and still have the opportunity for that day in the sun getting an all over tan.

Hidden Beach allows for complete nudity in pools, on the beach and in its restaurants and bars. A day pass for 8 hours costs $100 USD per person, and only couples are permitted. However, guests staying at the Luna Blue Hotel receive a 10% discount on the day pass. The pass provides for all you can eat and drink in a nude atmosphere for the day.

Some smaller adult-only hotels also may have policies concerning clothing optional swimming or sunbathing. Here at the Luna Blue, guests may be topless if they wish in and around the swimming pool.

And finally, despite the growth and development of Mexico’s Caribbean coast, there are still some undeveloped beaches where you can swim in the all together. No, we won’t tell you where they are here (we would like to keep them a secret as long as possible) but if you are a guest at the Luna Blue, we will draw you a map to these beaches. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone else though. Naked on the beach in the Riviera Maya If you are going to head for the beach for some au natural fun, the general rules we set forth in our previous blog are unchanged…

  1. Topless sunbathing and swimming is still regularly accepted throughout most of the Riviera Maya beaches, even in the newer upscale clubs in central Playa. However, it is still the minority of people who do it.
  2. Complete nudity is NOT tolerated on most of the Riviera Maya. The exceptions are deserted beaches where there are no beach clubs, some areas just inside the Sian Ka’an preserve, sections of the beach in Tulum (particularly the north end near El Parasiso beach club and the Hidden Beach Resort.
  3. Going bare is NOT a practice of most local Mexicans (although young tourists from Mexico City seem to have a different view). Limit your exposure to designated clothing optional hotels, tourist area beaches or completely deserted ones away from where local families may gather.
  4. USE SUNSCREEN!

As always, enjoy your time in paradise no matter what you wear or don’t wear.

Even legendary troubador Barefoot Skinny likes to go topless when playing at the Luna Blue Bar
Legendary troubadour Barefoot Skinny
‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Posted in Activities, Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel, What's New | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What a Difference a Year Makes

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 21, 2013

Jaime Garcia, our most senior employee, with our 2013 Travelers' Choice Award

What a difference a year makes!

It was just a year ago that our little place, the Luna Blue Hotel, was struggling to avoid being crushed by travel industry giant Expedia as it bulldozed over small hotels like ours throughout the world. Things looked grim. But here we are less than a year later still thriving and now receiving accolades from some of the biggest travel sites on the internet. Quite the turnaround, if we do say so ourselves.

Early this year the Luna Blue Hotel was awarded its second Travelers’ Choice Award for “Best Bargain Hotel in Mexico” by TripAdvisor. It is one of the most sought-after and prestigious awards in the travel business. Then not long after that honor, About.com (one of the world’s most popular websites with 90 million visitors a month) named us the “Favorite Bargain Hotel in Mexico.” We are proud and pleased with these awards. It’s always wonderful to be named the “best” or the “favorite” on any list or in any category. To have it happen twice in the same year is a something very special.

What makes these awards even sweeter is the fact that both sites base their results on the opinions of actual travelers. It makes us happy to see that travel choices are not yet completely controlled by giant international mega-corporations but are still ultimately where they should be…in the hands of those who love to travel.

About.com Readers Choice Award Winner for Favorite Bargain Hotel in Mexico - the Luna Blue HotelOf course we are also thrilled that these awards show that people recognize what an excellent choice our hotel is for travelers. Being a bargain…a great value…has always been our goal.

When we first started on this adventure we knew our hotel would never be a fancy, luxury property. That wasn’t our style. But neither did we want a bare bones “budget” property. We believe people want and deserve a little comfort when on vacation. We wanted a hotel for people like us…simply a nice place to stay that average travelers could afford. To us that is what “bargain” means: a good deal for a good price.

In keeping with that idea, we have always tried to keep our rates some of the lowest in town. For example, compare the nightly high season price of a standard hotel room (not the most expensive room nor the cheapest…just the basic mid-range room many people want) at the Luna Blue Hotel with some of the other popular small hotels in the area.

Luna Blue Hotel…$90.00
Aventura Mexicana…$188.00 Riviera del Sol…$176.00
Casa Tikul…$160.00 Hotel Cielo…$125.00
Acanto…$153.00 Hacienda Paradise…$122.00
Hotel La Tortuga…$139.00 Hotel Bric…$125.00

 

In fact, our most expensive room–the Garden View Deluxe room with a full kitchen sleeping up to 4 people–is less expensive than all of the other listed hotels’ “standard” rooms!

All prices were taken from the respective hotel’s website, are exclusive of tax and are for the same high season time period. Not all the well-known small “bargain” hotels in Playa are listed here. Some of Playa’s small hotels don’t publish their rates but require you contact them for a quote. This gives them the chance to increase the rate on a moment’s notice if they want. We don’t deal that way. Our rates are always published on our website. What you see is what you get.

Of course no two properties are alike. Each of these hotels offers its own type of atmosphere, amenities and extras. At the Luna Blue we offer amenities we feel certain will help our guests get the most out of their vacation. Each standard Tropical Hideaway room has a queen bed, unlimited free bottled water, a refrigerator, air conditioning, safe, private bath, ceiling fan, daily maid service, either a porch or balcony, free or discounted use of four local beach clubs, a free margarita at our very popular bar, daily free breakfast snack of coffee, teas and locally baked sweet breads and use of our garden and pool.

Luna Blue Hotel wins 2013 Certificate of Excellence Award from TripadvisorObviously, price and amenities don’t tell the whole story. The fanciest place in the world isn’t worth staying at if the service isn’t good. We are suitably proud of our own reputation for great service. Our multi-lingual hotel staff speaks English and is renowned for being helpful and friendly. And as owners who live here in Playa, we personally look to the comfort and safety of each guest…which may be why we have one of the highest “Excellent” rankings on TripAdvisor in all of Playa del Carmen.

We think our outstanding service is also one of the reasons we also were awarded a third major award this year, our second “Certificate of Excellence” by TripAdvisor…an award given to only 10% of travel businesses worldwide.

Yes, it’s been a wild 12 months…but in the end we are confident that there is still a place in the world of travel for the small independent property like ours. We are thrilled to be recognized for the value we offer to travelers who come our way, and we are happy to still be here in Playa del Carmen, wishing “Happy Travels” to all our readers and friends.

Come join us in paradise.

Posted in Events & Happenings, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 12 Comments »

2013 About.com Readers Choice Awards – Go Playa del Carmen!

Posted by Tony & Cheri on February 21, 2013

About.com Finalist - Luna Blue HotelWe just found out that our little hotel is a finalist in the About.com Readers Choice Awards for Favorite Bargain Hotel in Mexico!!  Woo Hoo!   We didn’t even know we were nominated…so many thanks to whoever entered us!

And how cool is this..this year Playa del Carmen is well represented in other Mexico categories as well.

Michele Kinnon’s “Life’s a Beach” blog is a finalist in the Favorite Mexico Blog contest (her 2nd year in a row).  Michele’s longstanding blog is certainly our favorite Mexico blog…she always seems to know the coolest places to go and see, and her family is always doing interesting things.  We have no idea how someone who works so hard still finds time to enjoy Mexico and then blog about it, but it’s something we aspire to.

Mitch and Shawn with Yucatreks are battling for the title of Favorite Mexico Tour Company.  Yucatreks is a small tour company with lots of personality–small, interesting tours that people rave about.  Not those giant cookie-cutter busloads-of-tourists tours but intimate, personal and fun.

Show us all some love and let people know that our little corner of the world is the an amazing place to visit.

Click here to vote for Luna Blue Hotel for Favorite Bargain Hotel

Click here to vote for “Life’s a Beach” for Favorite Mexico Blog

Click here to vote for Yucatreks for Favorite Mexico Tour Company

Votes are limited to one vote per award category per user/email address/Facebook account. But you can vote once every day between now and March 19 when the winners will be announced.

So please, take a minute to cast your votes and pass along these links to your friends. Share them on Facebook, Twitter or your favorite social media platform. It takes only a few seconds to vote.

Whether we win or lose, we are thrilled that Playa del Carmen is gaining the recognition as a world-class tourist destination that it deserves.

Thanks, all!  Hope to see you soon in paradise.

Tony & Cheri

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Tony & Cheri

Posted in Activities, Events & Happenings, Friends, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Carnival Comes to Town

Posted by Tony & Cheri on July 9, 2012

Hello to all our readers. We haven’t posted a new entry for a while as we have had a very busy high season at our hotel and have been occupied with some family matters back in the US. But now we are back, and in the weeks ahead we will be posting more information about life in our adopted home of Playa del Carmen.

********

A carnival rolled into town this week to the delight of all the local kids…and quite a few adults.

Beautiful gelatinas in many flavors

This is not “Carnaval,” which is a large multi-day series of parades and parties held just before the beginning of Lent. And it’s not the big, glitzy circus that most Americans and Europeans know. Instead the summer carnivals or “ferias” of Mexico are small truck caravans traveling from town to town with rides, games, food stands and cheap merchandise for sale. This is the Feria Playa del Carmen 2012, and it has its own unique Mexican personality.

To us the carnivals offer a step back in time, reminding us of similar shows that traveled the US midwest back in the 1940’s, 50’s and early 60’s. To people here in Mexico today they offer an affordable diversion from daily life. And for the kids they always mean FUN!

As in past years, the carnival set up around Playa del Carmen’s Palacio Municipal (City Hall), taking over the parking lot and part of the plaza that sits in front of the city offices. This year the operation was so big it also spilled over into the adjacent Walmart parking lot and a couple of side streets.

On the evening of the grand opening. hundreds of parents with kids in tow flooded the streets and filled the plaza as city officials, beauty queens, school bands and the carnival’s master of ceremonies crowded onto the hastily built stage under a gigantic tent cover for the opening ceremony. To everyone’s delight, once the ribbon cutting was over the sky above the Palacio exploded with fireworks. After that show, it was time to explore.

We walked along the rows of rides, most of which were for small children. Among the more popular rides were the merry-go-round, “flying” helicopters (which were about four feet off the ground), a tiny swinging pirate ship, a small Ferris wheel, and a train painted with various Disney characters. For the bigger kids there was a tilt-a-whirl and a “twister” that lifted a platform filled with seated riders to whirl them up into the air. And for kids of all ages there were bumper cars!

One ride we had never seen before was a row of five or six plastic bulls with very round bodies. As loud Mexican music played, the bulls would shift left and right and rotate rotate back and forth–a bit like a typical mechanical bull. The trick was to stay on the bull throughout the ride. Not very many were successful at it, so it was really fun to watch.

A very happy little girlIt is impossible to describe the wonder on the faces of the little children as they waited impatiently for their turn on a ride, or their delighted screams when their turn actually came. Sometimes we think Mexico has the most beautiful children in the world. Watching the kids have fun was the best part of the evening for us.

Eventually we wandered through the food area. Large tents offer traditional Mexican dishes like taco al pastor with large spits of marinated pork slowly turning on an open flame. Smaller stands offer churros (a sweet pastry stick), dried spicy shrimp on a stick, or grilled corn on the cob which is slathered in mayonnaise and chili powder. Other specialty items included artistically sculpted gelatin flowers in dozens of flavors and marquesitas, giant Mayan crepes. And of course there was cotton candy…what’s a carnival without cotton candy?

In the center of the carnival is a row of tents offering merchandise for sale. Furniture, clothing, plastic containers, records, shoes, toys, and plaster statues of saints and animals all vied for the attention of people walking by. And if the items don’t catch your attention, a barker with a microphone and amplifier probably will.

Of course there are games of chance. Booths abound where you can shoot an air gun, throw a dart or toss a ring in an attempt to win a great prize like a giant stuffed pink teddy bear. Strange, but we didn’t see anybody win that night. :)

And what’s a carnival without some freaky stuff? The oddity trailer had numerous items of weirdness from the natural world like a two headed snake, a four winged goose and even an alligator woman! We passed on that one.

When we had seen it all we started walking home. We passed a large lot, usually empty, now filled with truck trailers. campers and makeshift tents of plastic tarps. It was where the carnival folks had parked and set up housekeeping. We observed a young man step out of a tent from which very loud Norteño/Ranchera music blasted on a portable CD player. He carried a screw driver and a blender full of what appeared to be the basic fixings for salsa. He nonchalantly strolled over to a nearby building and set about hot-wiring the building’s electrical box so that he could plug in his blender! We laughed all the way home about his resourcefulness. We wondered about how different life must be for a carnival gypsy in Mexico.

The Feria Playa del Carmen is in town through July 16. If you are going to be in town (or you already live here) make sure to stop by.

********

Sale at the Luna Blue Hotel

Can you believe July is already here? The summer seems just to fly by. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could make summer last just a little longer? You can at the Luna Blue Hotel. Our Make the Summer Last sale and Advance Prepayment Rates offer rooms as low as $44.00 USD from Sept 1 to Oct. 14. When everyone else is pulling the fall jackets out of the closet and heading back to work or school, you can be lying on a white sand Caribbean beach. Just CLICK HERE for details.

Enjoy these photos from the feria:

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Posted in Activities, Dining in Playa, Events & Happenings, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Happy Anniversary to Us…But the Gift is for You

Posted by Tony & Cheri on February 1, 2012

Happy Anniversary to UsSeven years ago today we looked at each other one more time, took a collective deep breath, and signed the papers which made us the owners of a small hotel in Playa del Carmen, Mexico…that which shortly afterwards became the Luna Blue Hotel.

It has been a long, strange, exciting trip…and we’re still going strong.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, we’re offering a little gift to our fans and friends. For any reservation made on our website during the next 7 days (February 1-7, 2012) for any stay now through December 20, we will give a 7% discount.

You must write “Happy Anniversary” in the notes field and make a regular deposit. We will apply the discount and send confirmation. This offer doesn’t apply with other discounts and must be made via our website.

And in case we haven’t said it enough, let us take this opportunity to thank our fans, guests and friends who have been so supportive to us over the years…both in person and online. It has made a huge difference to us both personally and professionally.

Click here to reserve now. Help us celebrate our anniversary by coming to Playa and celebrating yours….or your birthday…or just being alive.

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Posted in Events & Happenings, Living the Dream, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , | 10 Comments »

Head to Mexico for Christmas…if only in song

Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 18, 2011

Photo by Ken Bartle.  Thanks to our models Mackenzie and AmandaWe love Christmas music. Over the years we have collected thousands of carols and songs on our ipod. We love it all, from traditional hymns to rock and pop standards. We even love the more esoteric music of the holiday, like Less than Jake’s punk rock version of Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, and Reggae star Eek-A-Mouse’s drugged out version of The Night Before Christmas.

Yet there is a small often overlooked genre of holiday tunes that is a favorite of ours: songs about running away to a tropical beach in Mexico and the Caribbean. We, and many others it seems, prefer our white Christmas to be made of sun bleached sand instead of snow. We like to hang our Christmas lights from our palm thatch palapas instead of storm gutters. Santa hats are worn with swimsuits, and on Christmas Eve we still remember to leave a little something for Santa… although we set out a margarita instead of cookies (the old boy seems to prefer them with a salted rim, over ice instead of blended).

Of course we know everyone can’t go on a tropical vacation at Christmastime, so as a present for our friends stuck in chillier climates, here are a few of our favorite “Christmas on a beach in Mexico” holiday tunes. We hope they bring a little Mexican-Caribe sun and warmth into your holiday celebrations.


Christmas in the Caribbean


First on our list comes from the King of the Tropical Troubadours, Jimmy Buffett. This song contains all the iconic images one expects from a holiday season in paradise: “snowbirds” filling the air, Santa on a dolphin, stockings hung from a boat’s mast. Most of all it reminds the listener why life, and Christmas, is better in the tropics: because down here “we don’t live in a hurry.”


All I Want for Christmas is a Real Good Tan


Kenny Chesney convinces his girlfriend (and the rest of us) that two tickets to a tropical shore is the best present he can get. A new bikini, toes in the sand and grilled mahi-mahi are Kenny’s suggestions as the best way to celebrate the season.


Christmas in Mexico


Key West entertainer Brent Burns says the best way to get over a broken heart is to head south of the border for the holidays. Since he says, “I try never to offend anyone wearing a thong,” he fits right in. When Brent meets a “pretty señorita” he concludes that “dancing by the pool, it’s hard to go wrong.”


Santa’s Going South (to Mexico)

Toby Keith and Sammy Hagar let the secret out: Santa’s “too old to take this much cold.” He is heading to Mexico this year. It’s all about “jet skis, margaritas and palm trees” for Christmas. So the boys are joining him by grabbing a “first class non-stop down Mexico way.”

Ho Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rhum

Jimmy Buffett again; this time he is telling the story of poor Santa who is “tired of the whole reindeer scene.” Santa wants to turn into a pirate and “dance with a sword in the sand.” He decides he needs rum, steel drums and the Caribbean… and so away he goes.

We hope these tunes help brighten your holiday. And we leave you with one more song: Mexico’s very popular singer Luis Miguel singing
“I’ll be Home for Christmas” in Spanish. Home of course is where we all spend our holidays if only in our hearts and dreams.

From our home here in the paradise of Playa del Carmen on the edge of the Caribbean Sea to all of you wherever you may be, we wish all of you the happiest of holidays and a Merry Christmas.

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Posted in Friends, Living the Dream, Recommendations, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Christmas in Playa del Carmen

Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 10, 2011

It’s Christmastime again, and Mexico, like the rest of the world, is celebrating. Here in our home of Playa del Carmen on Mexico’s Caribbean coast we have found that celebration is a unique mixture of holiday customs drawn from America, Europe and Mexico.

Mexico’s historical Christmas traditions have usually been centered around the religious nature of the holiday and have focused more on church, family and friends and less on the commercial rush to buy things so often seen in the United States. That’s something we enjoy. While the stores are more and more filled with holiday gifts and toys, there still does not seem to be the near hysterical feeling that one must find the perfect gift or buy the latest electronic gadget in order to make the holiday special.

Instead there is an emphasis in Mexico of taking time to enjoy people during the holidays. Schools, city offices and many businesses shut down from the middle of December until after the new year to allow people to spend more time at home.

Christmastime is made a little easier for folks by the fact that business are required by law to give a Christmas bonus called an “alguinaldo” to employees. Many employers also give a little more or give gifts to their employees, as well. A common present given to employees is a dispensa. This is a package or box of practical items for the home. It could include foods like rice or beans, cleaning products or other things used in the household. Stores like Costco and Sam’s Club will sell pre-packaged dispensas, much like fruit baskets or boxes of candy can be found on the store shelves in the US and Canada.

With the holiday vacations from work and school, people have more time for socializing. Many families host “posada” meals to gather together their friends and loved ones. Posada means “inn” and refers to the inn that had no room for Mary and Joseph. Guests ask to be admitted to the dinner but are told there is no room until they produce a statue of the baby Jesus. A traditional dish for a posada meal is Chiles en Nogada, a poblano chili stuffed with rice, nuts fruits and meat, covered in a creamy walnut sauce and topped with pomegranate seeds. It is one of our favorite dishes in Mexico.

Of course children are a big part of any celebration in Mexico, especially at Christmas when the little ones expect wondrous gifts to appear. Traditionally it was not Santa Claus who brought gifts to good girls and boys, but the three kings, the same kings who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child. However, in modern times Santa Claus has become a popularly-accepted figure, and children in Mexico now often receive gifts from both Santa on Christmas Day and from the Kings on Three Kings Day (January 6th).

It’s also common for children in Mexico to go caroling. They take a branch from a tree and decorate it with tinsel, ribbons and a picture of Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe. They then go through the streets singing. On 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen the little ones, usually accompanied by an older sister or brother (who often stand nearby talking with friends on their cellphones) go door to door or even table to table in a restaurant singing an enthusiastic but often humorously tuneless version of a Spanish Christmas carol like Peces in El Rio (Fishes in the River). They hope for a reward of a few pesos before going on to the next table.

During the weeks leading up to Christmas the town of Playa begins to decorate. At the Palacio Municipal (City Hall) a giant Christmas tree can be found right next to an large inflatable Santa Claus and a life-sized nativity scene. In fact you can find decorated trees all over town.

When we first moved to Mexico, we brought our own artificial tree with us as we had been told the Christmas tree was not a custom which was celebrated in this part of Mexico. That was true back then. However over the last five or six years the custom of having a decorated tree has caught on among locals. Fir trees are hauled in by the truckload and can be seen lined up for purchase at Walmart and Mega stores.

Living here in Playa del Carmen we have been able to continue our own beloved Christmas traditions while enjoying the slower, less commercial feel of Mexico’s version of the holiday. However we must admit, our first Christmas in Mexico wasn’t exactly idyllic.

Our first Mexican Christmas occurred only a few days after we had our grand opening as the Luna Blue Hotel. We had been working frantically for months trying to get the property ready. We finished only a few days before Christmas, and when December 24th came every room was occupied. We worked late into the evening that night to get everyone checked in and taken care of. Then we walked home to the little house we had moved into the week before (up until then we had been living in the hotel while we renovated it). We had not even unpacked yet and were sleeping on a mattress on the floor among piles of boxes.

We had not put up a Christmas tree or bought a single present. We had just been too busy and there had been no time with all the demands of getting ready for the hotel to be opened. We had been too busy to even go food shopping. There was no turkey or ham or a single candy cane to be found in our little house.

When we realized we hadn’t eaten all day we headed out to find a restaurant, but by then it was 11 o’clock on Christmas Eve and everything was closed. We finally gave up walking the deserted streets and went home to have peanut butter on white bread for our Christmas Eve dinner. Then we got a few hours sleep.

The next day we arose early to go the the hotel to clean the rooms and take care of the guests. Finally in the late afternoon of Christmas Day we finished our work and went down to the beach to swim in the warm Caribbean Sea. After a dip we laid down in the white sand side by side…and fell asleep. That nap beside the ocean was our Christmas present to each other.

Since then our Christmas celebrations have become a little less exhausting. With our wonderful staff and with the hotel now being well established we now happily have more time to enjoy the season.

We put up our tree early (Before Thanksgiving this year!) and decorate it with ornaments we have picked up on our travels around the world. A lot of the decorations are tropical themed…things like a snorkeling Santa, tropical fish, and Santa flying over palm trees. This year we also topped our tree with a large colorful mermaid.

We decorate the house and will have friends over for dinner or drinks through the holiday time. Christmas Eve we will call family back in the US and then settle down with some treats and a few favorite videos (A Charlie Brown Christmas, Love Actually, The Night of the Meek and a few others). Then we will get some sleep because…of course…we will have to be at that hotel front desk early Christmas morning. Yes…that is still part of our tradition. And afterwards we will go down to the Caribbean Sea. That too is part of our Christmas celebration now.

What we have learned living in Mexico is that how the holidays are celebrated is not as important as making sure they are filled them with love and happiness. So however you celebrate the holidays…be it Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or Buddha’s Enlightenment Day…we wish you peace and joy.

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Posted in Living the Dream, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Mexico’s Day of the Dead Alive & Well in Playa del Carmen

Posted by Tony & Cheri on November 2, 2011

People visiting Mexico at this time of year will undoubtedly see references to Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The colorful iconic figures of decorated skulls and dancing skeletons may lead some to believe that it is part of the American/European tradition of Halloween. It is not.

Day of the Dead is a pre-Christian, multi-cultural tradition which took root in Mexico centuries ago, possibly as early as the Aztec civilization. And despite its somewhat scary title the holiday is a celebration and a memorial to the lives of family and loved ones who have already passed on. Traditionally there are two days in this holiday. On November 1st children who have passed are remembered, and on November 2nd deceased adults are recalled.

As the first days of November approach, families in Mexico begin preparing ofrendas or small altars or shrines. The ofrenda will often be decorated with photographs of dead family members, along with flowers, candy, and various images of the calavera and calaca…the skull and the skeleton. Skulls are made of spun sugar and decorated like a cake. Paper skeletons are portrayed in all manner of dress and behavior (often comic). These figures are not meant to be scary but to show death is not to be feared but instead laughed at as having no power over us.

As the days of celebration approach, the altar will also be filled with the things the deceased may have enjoyed in life. Alcohol, cigarettes and favorite foods are placed on the ofrenda. We even saw a marijuana cigarette placed on one! Water and a special bread called pan de muerto (bread of the dead) are also included in the gifts to the dead.

The purpose of the ofrenda is to call the spirits of the deceased back to this world so that they might experience the love that is still felt for them here. On the days of the dead families will have memorial dinners or visit the graves of loved ones. It is meant to be a happy remembrance of those who have passed. Sadness is discouraged as it is said tears will make the path back to this world too slippery for the spirits to make the journey.

We fell in love with this tradition when we first moved here to Mexico and found it to be a wonderful alternative to the fear and suppression of death often experienced in Anglo-American culture. We quickly adopted the tradition for ourselves and have built an ofrenda every year since moving to Playa del Carmen.

When we were first visitors to this area we often would stop and admire an ofrenda only to be told all about the deceased individual by the altar’s owner. We cherish those memories lovingly shared by people about their departed loved ones and still remember some of their stories.

On our ofrenda this year we celebrate family and friends who have passed away:

John Vernon Head ~ Tony’s older brother John was only 63 when he passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack this past June. He had lived his life fully as a loving son, brother, father and grandfather to his four children and grandchild. He had been a lawyer admitted to practice law in several states and for many years operated his own law firm. Although a tough-minded and practical attorney, he still delighted in his family, directing great celebrations for Halloween, Christmas and birthdays where he would even bake the cakes. He was as sweet as he was strong.

Tony’s Mom and Dad, Jack and Rosalie Head ~ Rosalie’s picture is her high school graduation picture showing her red hair, green eyes and bright Irish American smile. Jack’s picture is when he was 21 just after he made corporal in the Marines on the eve of WWII. It is inscribed “To Rosalie, The Sweetheart of the Marines.” On the back of the picture of Rosalie is a brown smear. It is Jack’s blood. The picture was inside his shirt on the island of Guam when he was hit by mortar fire. He carried it with him through the rest of the war, and still had it when he returned after the war to marry Rosalie. They remained together until Rosalie passed in 1997. Jack passed away in 2002.

Cheri’s dad, Ed Skultety ~ Ed is pictured on our altar in his US Air Force uniform. He spent twenty years in the Air Force serving honorably in Vietnam. He was later stationed stateside, mostly in Omaha, Nebraska. He married Sally Vernon (Cheri’s mom who now lives in Sacramento) and together they had six children. He retired from the Air Force in 1974 with the rank of Master Sergeant. That year he and the family moved from Nebraska to Pennsylvania where Ed had grown up and where much of his family still lived. He passed away in Pennsylvania in 1985.

Bill and Barbara Oates ~ Bill and Barbara were one of the strongest, most loving couples we ever met. They lived through a time when interracial couples (Bill was black, Barbara white) were often ignored, treated with disdain, or worse. They never complained, never returned the hatred they occasionally saw and never looked back. They held on to each other no matter what. They found a wonderful life in San Francisco where they were known at every good restaurant and decent bar in town. After they got older and ill they passed away within a few months of each other…it seemed they couldn’t live without one another. We miss them very much.

Our Pets ~ We also include on our ofrenda some of the many pets which have lived with us, brightened our lives and given us their love, including Huggybear, Belle, Pixie and Carib and the latest of these, our cat Shammy. Shammy was 21 years (over 100 in equivalent human time) when he passed just a few days ago.

Over the next few days we will take time to remember each of these members of our family. We will treasure those memories and renew our love for them. It is our hope that if the spirits of the dead pass this way tonight and tomorrow, they will feel nothing but the love we still have for them.

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar


Posted in Events & Happenings, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

What were we thinking?!

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 26, 2011

Tony and CheriWe are coming up on an anniversary. On August 27, 2005 we pulled up in front of the Zanzibar Hotel (soon to be renamed the Luna Blue Hotel) in Playa Del Carmen to start our new life in Mexico. Six years ago. Wow.

People ask why we did it. The truth is there really wasn’t any one reason. Like many people, we spent a lot of vacations on the beaches in Mexico. We would often would sit there margarita in hand and say to each other, “We should live here.” But we never really thought it would happen. We would just listen to those Jimmy Buffet songs and dream.

We had a good life in San Francisco. Tony had been a lawyer for over 30 years and Cheri was an IT business analyst with a large international corporation. We had a nice home and many good friends. Yet, as we had grown older and more established, we felt that perhaps a little mid-life adventure was in order. Our son was grown and had started his own life, and we felt that we now had a chance to do something…well…a little crazy. Perhaps we were feeling what singer/songwriter Michael McCloud calls “middle age madness.”

Whatever the reason, we decided that a few years living and working in another country would be a great adventure, and so we bought a run down little hotel on the outskirts of Playa del Carmen.

We had found the Zanzibar Hotel in the spring of 2004, almost bought it, then almost bought something else, then came back to the Zanzibar and finally reached an agreement with the sellers in December of 2004. We took over on February 1, 2005. We spent the next six months preparing for our move, and then in August we started out for the new life.

No, we don’t regret doing it. Sure there have been rough spots and some difficult times: Hurricane Wilma, dishonest contractors, local ex-pat con men, dengue fever, the swine flu hysteria, and a world wide recession, among others. And we do miss being near our family and friends in California. We also miss San Francisco, one of the truly beautiful cities of the world. Still, our life here has been rewarding, often lovely and never dull. Most of all we got what we wanted…an adventure.

To celebrate this anniversary we thought we would re-post our very first blog entry, which recounts our drive from San Francisco to Playa Del Carmen in August of 2005. We hope our readers will enjoy hearing about it (again). And we hope it might inspire others to seek out their dreams. So here it is:

The Ultimate Road Trip

The Journey Begins
Monday August 15, 2005

We had planned to leave San Francisco on Monday, August 15th, 2005. And we did…by about five minutes. The day had been insane. We had been up all night finishing the packing and cleaning. In the end, we were hauling things out the back door as our new renters were coming in the front door.

Mexico border at TexasWe were moving in a 15 passenger Chevy van with most of the seats pulled out to make room for our important stuff. What we decided to take or not take led to some interesting “discussions” between us. “You want to take that? Well, if you’re taking that I’m taking this!” This explains why we have a suitcase full of Cheri’s favorite cosmetics and shampoos and also have Tony’s favorite carved wooden trunk from Belize featuring voluptuous bare breasted mermaids, Amazons and angels (you have to see it to appreciate it). Just think about it. If you were leaving the country and could only keep a 10 ft by 5 ft by 4 ft square container of everything you own and have accumulated through the years, what would you take? We found the answers very surprising.

We dubbed the van “the Big Bastard” in homage to the world’s best (only) Aztec Priestess/Vampire/Erotic Dancer Action Movie, “From Dusk ‘til Dawn.” Those who have seen this classic will remember George Clooney commandeering Harvey Keitel’s RV and telling him to “point this big bastard” towards Mexico. It seemed appropriate. At 11:30 at night we were tying our 12 ft sea kayaks to the roof. With three cats and an English bulldog in tow we finally…FINALLY…rolled out of San Francisco around 11:50 that night.

We were sad to be sure. SF had been our home for thirty years. We had met here, married here and raised our son here. Still, we knew this was the right choice and so with our hearts in our throats we headed out for the 4000 mile journey to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. That night we got as far as Sacramento. We were bone tired. We had not slept in almost forty-eight hours, and so we decided that safety required a rest stop. We crashed at the Sacramento home of Cheri’s brother Don and his son Curtis. We spent two days sleeping and resting up. We also got a lot of help and attention from another of Cheri’s brothers, Dean, and his wife Ali. Thank you, guys. You were all great.

Thursday August 18, 2005
Our boy HuggybearOn Thursday afternoon we figured it was now or never to get this trip really started. We hugged and kissed the family, climbed into the cab of the Big Bastard, put Linda Ronstadt’s “Heart Like a Wheel” on the CD player and pulled out onto Highway 5 heading south.

Before going any further, let’s talk about the pets for a moment. We were traveling with three cats, Shammy (world’s fattest cat), Carib (bitchiest little princess of a feline you will ever meet) and Belle (tiny, sweet and almost twenty years old). We were also taking our English Bulldog, Huggybear. Have you ever been in an enclosed space with a Bulldog after it has eaten? Enough said.

We had originally planned to put the cats in carriers and put them and Huggybear in the cab with us. Did NOT work. Not only was there no room once the carriers were inside, but the cats hated it. They howled, they sprayed, and they generally turned the cab into a feline hell. By the time we left Sacramento we had abandoned the carriers and let everyone loose in the cab with us. We put in water, food and a litter box. Everyone liked this better except for Carib the Princess who threw up…twice. But eventually even she got the hang of it. In preparation for the trip with the cats, we had gone to AAA and bought “Traveling with Your Pet,” which lists pet-friendly hotels by state. After we bought it, we realized we could have gotten the same information from the free (for members) state “tour guide” books. (This was the first money we spent needlessly, but certainly not the last.) Reviews of hotels in AAA’s tour guides list whether or not they take pets (look for the little dog symbol). A lot of hotels charge an extra fee for pets, and others will let them in for free.

In preparation for our trip, the consulate in San Francisco told us we needed an International Health Certificate and a rabies certificate for each pet. We read on the internet that these documents had to be dated no more than 72 hours before crossing the border. However, other sources said this was not the case, and the consulate in San Francisco said they simply needed to be a couple of weeks before our trip. We got ours approximately two weeks before we reached the border. We got these certificates from our local SPCA for a grand total of about five hundred bucks. We put these documents in our “important papers” folder to have them ready for anyone who asked to see them at the border or in Mexico. Of course, no one at any time ever asked to see them or concerned themselves about our pets. More money we could have avoided spending-again, it wasn’t the last.

One final point on the mascotas (pets): at the Consulate’s office in SF, they told us without question that we could take no food of any kind into Mexico, including pet food. We therefore budgeted the pets’ food with the idea that it would be gone by the time we reached the border and that we would buy more food (at more expensive Mexico prices) on the way. At the border, although we planned to throw the rest of our pet food away, we changed our minds at the last minute. Let’s see what they do, we decided. What they did was nothing. We could have brought a years supply along and nobody would have cared it seemed.

All right, enough about the animals. Now, back to the trip.

We spent the next several hours on the road and expressed our relief that we had not been attacked by banditos, rabid dogs or heavily armed Federales. Of course we were still in California’s central valley, but we felt encouraged nonetheless. Around midnight we pulled into Pasadena and stopped at a motel that AAA had said took pets. We unloaded the animals into the room and called Domino’s Pizza (the only thing still open at that hour in Pasadena). Once the pizza arrived (pepperoni and mushrooms) we popped open a bottle of fine champagne given to us by our dear friend Walid in SF. Thus, the first day of our new life in the tropics ended in a Super 8 motel in Pasadena eating bad pizza and drinking great wine out of plastic cups. We knew then this was going to be one hell of a journey.

Friday August 19, 2005

The next morning we headed out on Interstate 10 going east. This part of the trip can best be described as tedium interspersed with Denny’s and IHOPS. We crossed over into Arizona and began to take note of interesting road signs such as the ones that announced a prison area and suggested that drivers not pick up hitchhikers. DUH!

We passed through Phoenix while playing Isaac Hayes’ 20 minute version of “By the Time I get to Phoenix” (“Hot Buttered Soul” 1969, possibly the greatest R&B Album ever made-editorial comment by Tony) and continued southeast on 10. Since Tony is a HUGE history buff and an absolute fanatic about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, we decided to stop and spend the night in Tombstone, site of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Leaving 10, we found the road to Tombstone was a dark, narrow two-lane highway that seemed to go on forever. Actually it was only 20 miles, but it turned out to be good practice for Mexico. We even saw a new sign: “Watch for Animals next 114 Miles.” We checked into the Overlook Best Western in Tombstone. It was a real find. Clean, pleasant, with a friendly staff. They took pets and had a large outdoor fire pit which guests sat around in the desert evening.

Saturday August 20, 2005

Tombstone ArizonaThe next morning we stepped out of our room to an unbelievable vista. Tombstone is in a quiet desert valley surrounded by towering mountains. In these mountains the great Cochise united the Apache nations and Geronimo raided the valleys below. You can feel the years past seep into your skin just standing there. And of course, just down the road was the OK Corral.

Tombstone is a tourist attraction with period piece restaurants and shop owners dressed as gunfighters. Still, it was fun. Most importantly, Tony got to take Cheri on the exact same path the Earps and Doc Holliday took to the OK Corral. (“Whoop-de-doo”- editorial comment by Cheri). The actual site of the gunfight was a small alleyway now surrounded by a fence. They have these hokey animatronic robots standing where the actual participants were, but it was still pretty cool.

On the way out of town we stopped at a small store for snacks and water. A group of nice folks sat around the stove (yeah, just like on the Walton’s). An elderly lady spoke up and said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but can I ask where you are going with those kayaks?” They thought it was pretty funny to see ocean kayaks in the middle of the desert. And when we told them we were on our way to the Caribbean Sea they really cracked up. They wished us well, but it was pretty obvious they thought we were crazy!

We returned to Highway 10 and continued southeast. We passed through the rest of Arizona, a small patch of New Mexico and on into Texas. On the way we stopped at a Quicki-Mart type place for provisions. A friendly cashier asked “Where y’all from? “ San Francisco,” we answered. “And where y’all going?” she asked. “Playa del Carmen on the Caribbean coast of Mexico,” we answered. She stared at us for a moment wondering if we were lost or just nuts. She finally responded, “Y’all know you’re still in Arizona, don’tcha?” We assured her we knew where we were and then continued on our way. We drove to El Paso which was much bigger than we expected. We also noted a number of pawn shops and gun stores confirming our presence in the Lone Star State. Late that night we stopped in Van Horn, Texas which did not seem to be any more than a truck stop with multiple hotels and fast food places. We chose a Best Western only because the one in Tombstone was so good. It was the right choice. And while checking in we discovered that the owners were from San Francisco. Cue puppets to sing “It’s a Small World After All.” There were friendly exchanges and then to bed.

Sunday August 21, 2005

The next day we took 10 into San Antonio. Did anybody mention that Tony is a history freak? Of course we decided to stay overnight in San Antonio so that Tony could visit the Alamo the next day. That night we had dinner on the Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio. Well done renovation, great restaurants and pretty surroundings all on the bank of the river. A lot of fun, if a little pricey. We stayed a few blocks away at the La Quinta. Good motel. Reasonable, clean and secure.

Monday August 22, 2005

The next morning we went to visit the Alamo. We expected something a little touristy but found instead that the preservation and presentation were really well done and very moving. The grounds are beautiful, tranquil gardens. The only remaining structures of the original fort/mission are the “Long Barracks” which is now a museum and the church which is now the Alamo Shrine. Even Cheri who is not a big historical site fan was impressed. Its combination of history and referential honoring of the dead reminded us of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. It was well worth the stop.

After leaving San Antonio we said goodbye to Highway 10 and we headed south to the border on 87. We figured to spend one more night in the U.S. to avoid crossing into Mexico late in the day. We knew we wanted to cross the border early in the morning to give ourselves as much time as possible with Mexican Customs and Immigration, and to still allow us drive time to avoid spending the night in Matamoros because of the reports of increasing border violence and crime. Our plan had been to stay in Brownsville, Texas that night, but while looking at the map we saw how close South Padre Island was to the border. Hmmm, let’s see. Spend the night in a trucker hotel on the border or find a beach front place on an island in the Gulf of Mexico. No brainer.

Wanna WannaSouth Padre Island is about 30 minutes from the main highway south. The island has a Gulf side and a bay (mainland facing) side accessible by a bridge (upon which traffic stops if pelicans are crossing). There are tons of budget hotels as the island makes its living from crazed college students during spring break and crazed suburban families during the summer months. The summer season was over when we got there so we had the place to ourselves. We stayed at a nice Travelodge and finished the day drinking Margaritas and eating fried shrimp and oysters at a beach front bar called Wanna Wanna.

Tuesday August 23, 2005

We started out this day with whoops, hollers and high-fives. We were on our way to Mexico. We cruised down highway 49 from South Padre Island to Brownsville and asked directions to the border. We were sent to a small bridge called the International Bridge (very original) which we crossed after paying our two dollar toll. We drove into our adopted country to fanfare and celebration. Well, not exactly. Actually we drove in without any sign of Immigration or Customs. We were in Mexico and nobody seemed to care. For one brief moment we thought, “Hell, let’s just keep driving,” but saner thoughts prevailed (Cheri’s of course) and we did a u-turn back to the border, parked the Big Bastard and went into the Mexican Border Patrol offices.

We found the appropriate customs office and presented our manaje de casa. Mexican law allows families moving to Mexico to do a one time only transportation of their household goods tax free. This requires the creation of a comprehensive list of all items being transported known as the manaje de casa. There are certain restrictions (only one computer per person, no new items, etc.). The list is given to the local Consulate who then approves and stamps it. The stamped list is then to be given to Customs at the border who then verifies that the approved list matches the actual items being imported and then the tax is waived…in theory.

After passing our list around to several people with obvious confusion as to its purpose, we were told that we would have to enter Mexico at the other point of entry in Brownsville/Matamoros, which is the Veterans Bridge (not the bridge we had taken). We were then sent back into the U.S. (paying another toll of course, both to Mexico on leaving and to the US on entering).

We found the Veterans Bridge and crossed over. Another toll payment, please. Again, the Customs office. Again no one seeming to understand why we were there. Eventually after an hour or two and several people saying they could not help us, a nice Customs official with reasonable English (better than our Español), told us we needed to hire a customs broker.

Customs brokers are licensed businesses who assist in the importation of goods to Mexico for a fee. In San Francisco, the Consulado staff had told us we did not need a broker since the amount we were importing was so small. Wrong! How much would the broker cost we asked. The fee for the broker would be about $400.00 to have him assist us in gaining a “tax free” entry into Mexico. We asked if the tax would be cheaper and we were assured it was, about $200.00. Great, we said, we will just pay the tax. Lo siento, that is not possible. Since we were entering with work visas, a broker, according to this customs official, was required by law (a law the SF Consulado knew nothing about). How long would this take we inquired. About three hours unless we wanted to return tomorrow morning in which case our papers would already be processed by the broker. So back to the States we went, paying one more toll. We went back to South Padre Island, back to the Wanna Wanna. And back to the shrimp, oysters and margaritas. Hasta mañana.

Miercoles 24 de Agosto, 2005

Mexico border at TexasThe next day we returned to the border. We had been told that our papers would be completely processed by 10 a.m., so we arrived at 11 just to give them more time. Of course the broker did not even start our papers until 30 minutes after we got there. The work of the broker, which took another two hours, seemed to be no more than issuing a single document saying that we were responsible for the accuracy of the manaje de casa, not him. He asked us no questions other than our estimation of the value of our belongings, and he examined none of the contents of the van. Finally we were told that the process was done and that we were required to pay $400 cash, which we did. We were then told by the broker that the paper work still did not guarantee our passing through Customs. The agent told us that the Customs officials would now go through all of our things and that it would take several hours. HOWEVER, a small gift of $100 to the customs official would avoid this difficulty. We paid. We were then told that there was a $10 “processing fee.” We paid. The customs inspectors then came to our van, opened the doors, glanced inside, closed the doors and waved us through. Our tax free entry across the border had cost us a mere $510 plus two days in a motel and numerous bridge tolls. Welcome to Mexico Mr. and Mrs. Head!

We headed south for Tampico. The map from AAA said the road was 180. The map from Walmart said it was 101. Road signs seem to use both designations. We learned that in Mexico one highway may have several different names or numbers. Sometimes two roads or even three roads going in several directions would have the same highway number. It may have been that the highways were going in different compass directions, i.e., 180 south or 180 north, etc. But there was nothing on the signs to indicate the direction. You had to pick one of the roads and hoped you picked the right one. We also found that there is an amazing lack of reliable maps for Mexico on both sides of the border. Our maps omitted most towns, added some we couldn’t find, misrepresented the types of roads and generally couldn’t be trusted.

Outside of Matamoros we hit a customs inspection stop where they verified that our manaje de casa had been processed at the border. The agents were polite and professional. We headed off again. We simply followed the signs to Tampico and Ciudad Victoria. It got a little confusing at one point when the road split in two and used the same directions and numbers for both roads. We figured it was a “business loop” and that the roads would reunite. We were right. Eventually the highway offered us a split where we could go to Ciudad Victoria or Tampico. We chose Tampico. It was our plan to travel down the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and on into the Yucatan. That may have been a mistake. What followed was several hours on a narrow two lane highway with no shoulder. Buses, trucks and other cars passed each other and us at will all going about 85 mph. It was on this stretch of road that we learned for the first time that the yellow lines on the highway and the road signs (like the ones that say “no passing on the dangerous curve ahead”) are actually just considered suggestions in Mexico. Drivers can follow the signs or not as they wish. Mexicans, having a strong sense of pride and independence, generally seem to choose not to follow these “suggestions.” We thought we were going to die, not once, not twice but every few minutes for hours on end.

Eventually the road widened as we neared Tampico. It took us about 6 hours to drive from Matamoros to Tampico, the last hour or so in the dark. We decided the national game of auto “chicken” made driving at night just too crazy so we looked for a place to bed down. We chose the Best Western recommended by a friend. It was just before Tampico in a town called Alta Mira. It’s right on 180, and the well lit Best Western sign can’t be missed. Normally we try to avoid American chain hotels when traveling in Mexico. We like the adventure of smaller local hotels. However in this case, with the pets and the van full of our belongings we decided on the Best Western. We were very glad we did. It was clean and modern. Parking was in a locked courtyard (a must for us with the van) and it had a cozy little in-house restaurant and the last wireless internet connection we were to find on our trip. It met all our needs so we checked in and called it a night. We had done it. We were in Mexico!

Jueves 25 de Agosto, 2005

We hit the road (still 180 heading south) with high hopes for a wider if not better road than we had seen the day before. Neither proved to be true. The road from Tampico to Veracruz was smaller than the road from Matamoros and was so badly filled with pot holes we feared not for the undercarriage of our van but for the fillings in our teeth. At some point the highway divided (no name change for either direction) and we picked one. We ended up in a tiny pueblo where the streets were in worse shape than the main highway if possible. As we crawled over topes (speed bumps) and car sized craters in the street, Tony saw a Veracruz security officer standing by the side of the road and then he made the mistake. He made eye contact, smiled and waved. “Careful, don’t draw attention to us,” Cheri warned from the driver’s seat. Too late. Whistles, pointing and commands to stop. The officer came up to the van grinning. He explained that he stopped us because Cheri wasn’t wearing a seat belt (something he could not have seen while standing on the side of the road.) She showed him that indeed she was wearing her belt. He then said she had been speeding. She protested that she had been barely moving, certainly no more than 10 mph because of the road conditions. He responded that she had to go slower because of the “niños” (children). He placed his hands together in prayer (seriously) raised his eyes to heaven and said that his job was to protect the niños. Of course the street was empty except for us and no child could be seen in any direction. After concluding his prayer the protector of children asked us for fifty U.S. dollars. We pretended not to understand and he repeated it a number of times. Each time we said how sorry we were but we did not understand. Tony then held up a five dollar bill which he took, smiled, thanked us and motioned us to move on.

We were now truly lost. As we headed through this unknown town we passed a Municipal Police Station. Cheri pulled the Big Bastard over and Tony went inside-not without some concern after the Veracruz state cop. It turned out we had nothing to worry about. Inside were two local cops, one old and one young, in a room which was bare except for a single desk where the two of them sat in their shirtsleeves. In Tony’s broken Spanish and their broken English they were able to understand the problem. They gave Tony directions back to the highway and even drew a map to get us to Veracruz. They could not have been nicer. They followed Tony outside to meet Cheri and wished us luck. Before going Tony showed them our AAA map of Mexico and asked them to show us their town. They laughed loudly at the idea that their little town would be on a map. They did show us where it would be IF it were on the map. Then handshakes, “Adios,” and off we went. In a few minutes we were back on 180 heading south again.

The road eventually smoothed out and we passed the Costa Esmeralda which is a stretch of the Gulf Coast which seems to be a resort/vacation area much like South Padre Island. Lots of little budget, seaside hotels. We headed on, planning to spend the night in Veracruz. We occasionally stopped for gas. Pemex, (the national gas company) had stations everywhere. We also would stop at small mom and pop restaurants. No McDonalds out here. We would leave the van running with the air conditioning on for the pets, and lock it up with another set of keys. After we ate we would walk Huggybear and count up the cats to make sure nobody got out. At one stop we sat in a restaurant when Tony said he was going back out to the van to get the maps. Cheri said, “If you come in here with those maps people will think you’re a tourist.” Tony looked around the room of entirely brown faces speaking Spanish and began to laugh. Up until that moment of course nobody there suspected that the pale Irish guy with the white beard and the blonde girl talking English were anything other than natural born Mexicans. He left the maps in the car and our secret identities remained safe.

We reached Veracruz early that evening. If we had it to do over again we would have skipped going through Veracruz. The city is a large port town with a giant malecon along the Gulf Coast. There is a very large, unbelievably busy tourist/resort area. Some day we will come back to visit Veracruz. We hear Carnival here is the best in Mexico. But on this trip, just trying to get through town, maneuvering through the traffic was a nightmare. Friends from Mexico City have told us that this is only a fraction of the people and traffic we would see there. No thanks, this was bad enough. 180 goes right into the center of town and follows the ocean front from commercial port into the hotel/resort zone. We saw only high rise style hotels, generally of an upscale type. We knew this would not work with pets. After driving all the way through Veracruz we entered a section (town?) called Boca del Rio which appeared to be the cheaper part of town. We saw few hotels but none we could stay in. We finally saw a Best Western sign and went for it (which means we had to drive out of town on a two lane street for a few miles until we could turn around and go back). No problema!

The Best Western was perfect if pricey. It had a secure locked parking area and all of the rooms were suites with two bedrooms and full kitchens. The animals finally got their own room for the night. There were two upscale restaurants adjoining. We ate at the Italian one. The hotel did not allow pets, but when the desk clerk heard we were from San Francisco, he made an exception. He was the first openly gay person we had seen in Mexico. He was very nice and did a small curtsy when we gave him a tip. So far this trip Best Western had really come through for us. We decided we would spend the next night at a Best Western too. Oh, how wrong we were.

Viernes 26 de Agosto, 2005

Mexico border at TexasThe end of this day found us drinking cold beer and eating quesadillas in an extremely nice whorehouse a few miles outside of Villahermosa. It had been a long day.

The day started out with much promise. We decided to make this a short travel day and go no further than Villahermosa, about a six hour drive away. We figured we would find a hotel in a city that size (we knew they had a Best Western). We thought that with a day of “rest,” we could start early from Villahermosa the next morning and make the long haul to Playa in one day.

We put our cats and Huggybear back into the Big Bastard and rolled out of town. We didn’t even get lost. At this point we decided to take toll roads instead of continuing on 180. We followed the signs out of town on toll road 150, which took us southwest for a short period of time before intersecting with toll road 180 marked by signs to Villahermosa. Of course, the toll road and the regular highway several miles away were both designated 180. We discovered to our delight that the toll roads from Veracruz to Villahermosa were all well paved, multi-lane divided highways. The tolls were expensive (about $40 US for the day), but after the previous day’s nightmare of narrow two-lane pothole ridden roads, we figured it was worth every penny. We were in great moods and actually were able to go 65 mph for the first time since leaving the US. Woo hoo!

The countryside was muy hermosa. Lush green jungle, beautiful valleys and lots of farmland. Mostly cattle ranches and pineapple farms. Unfortunately we also saw some extensive flooding from the tropical storm which passed through earlier this week. The toll road was elevated above it, but we could see fields and the occasional house submerged. This went on for miles and miles in several different places.

When leaving Veracruz, we also saw some of the largest and most painfully poverty-stricken shanty towns we have seen in Mexico. This on the edge of one of Mexico’s most successful port towns. No, it isn’t fair.

On the way out of town we stopped at a small roadside restaurant/tienda next to a Pemex. The food was okay, but the highlight of the stop of Cheri’s discovery of a nearly life-sized plaster statue of a bulldog. Despite the fact that we had a live specimen of that species waiting in the van, she insisted that we purchase it for our new home in Paamul. At $180 pesos, she said we couldn’t possibly pass it up. Can you say “trailer basura?”

We then spent the day driving towards Villahermosa, arriving late in the afternoon. Before getting to town, we noticed a good sized “auto hotel”/motel on Highway 180 just before Villahermosa. It looked nice, clean and secure. However we passed it by with the expectation that Best Western would come through for us once more. Little did we know.

Although not as large or insanely busy as Veracruz, Villahermosa was still a good-sized town, and took a bit of maneuvering to find the Best Western. We were hoping it would be a regular motel where we could park our van right outside our door, but instead it was a fancy high rise. Knowing we could never smuggle the pets into a hotel of that sort, we asked if they accepted pets. Not only were we told in no uncertain terms that they would not allow pets, but that we would find no hotel in Villahermosa that would. On the way out of the hotel, the doorman suggested we try the El Camino Real and gave us directions. When we worked our way across town to the El Camino, we found it to be a luxury high rise. They didn’t want our type there, either. This desk clerk not only said no to the pets, he literally turned up his nose and walked away.

It was now getting late, and we still hadn’t found a place for the evening. Our choices were to 1) sleep in the Big Bastard with the engine running all night to keep the AC on for the pets, 2) drive back to the auto hotel we had seen on Highway 180 just before Villahermosa or 3) keep on heading out of town and hope to find something on the other side of the city. We decided on #3 with the expectation that there would hotels and/or motels more suited to us on the outskirts of town.

Unfortunately we saw no hotels at all except signs to the Hilton, which we followed diligently until we realized it was a mountaintop citadel of conference rooms and luxury high rise rooms. We knew without being told that we would not be welcome there. After all, we had already been tossed out of better places than that.

At the last (and possibly 12th) toll booth of the day, we asked the toll taker if there was a hotel “cerca de aqui.” He smiled, actually smirked, and said we would find one 30 km ahead near the town of Estacion Macuspana. Buoyed by this news, we drove on. About 20 minutes later, we remembered we had forgotten to stop at the banco and counted up all of our pesos and dollars. We were sure we wouldn’t see another ATM until probably Chetumal. Now our concern was whether we would need to spend all our money on gas and not have enough for even a cheap hotel. However, we pushed on with our fingers crossed. Outside of Villahermosa 180 reaches a junction with 186. 180 goes north, and 186 goes southeast. 186 is what we wanted. However, once we turned on to the highway we still saw no hotels or, at this point, even towns. The road at this juncture will, at some point in the future, be a wonderful divided highway. Unfortunately, now it is a narrow path through a very long construction zone, with only one lane of traffic going each direction.

We were just about to give up and return to Villahermosa and try a second time for a motel when we saw a bright, big and beautiful compound on the side of the road. It was set back somewhat on a hill. It appeared to be surrounded by a wall with interior rooms. It seemed perfect.

We pulled in through the front gate and were immediately met by a very attractive young chica wearing tight jeans, heavily made up, with a streak of purple in her hair. We pushed the dog down so he wouldn’t be seen and got out of the car to ask her about availability. We were nervous because not only the dog but two of the cats were now peering out the window, and we didn’t want to be rejected yet another time because of the animals. Our young hostess seemed nervous, too-we thought because of her inability to understand our broken Spanish. Regardless, we negotiated a room for the night for $35 US, the cheapest rate we had seen yet!

We began to have some questions about our lodging when we saw our room for the first time. The room had no key. The entrance to the room was a private garage which could be closed electronically once inside. From the locked garage, guests entered the room. Unusual, but we assumed it was a security measure. Of course, the Big Bastard, with kayaks on top, was about an inch too tall to fit into the garage. An ancient toothless stooped caretaker in a cowboy hat told us to park out in the open and guaranteed that the compound would be secure through the night and that our vehicle would be safe.

We then went into the room. It was brand new with very nice furnishings. The main room was divided into the bedroom area and separate sitting area with an overstuffed half-moon couch. The bed was quadruple normal size. This made us happy, as the animals had been sleeping with us in a double bed, but it did raise the question of why a hotel with such luxurious furnishings charged such a minimal rate. The bathroom was equally interesting with an extremely large walk-in shower behind a totally glass wall suitable for a party of ten or so. The toilet was in a similar glass enclosure across the way. This also seemed a little unusual for a $35 a night trucker hotel, but still no alarms went off. We then found that the mammoth dressers were just blocks and contained no drawers. Atop one of them was a TV which, when turned on using the controls built into the headboard of the bed, provided nothing but non-stop American hard core porn channels! We then found the notice on the back of the door indicating that rooms rented by the hour, and that if “services” provided were inadequate, guests should speak to the “manager.” We began to suspect that we may have just booked a room for the night in an “adult” motel at best and possibly a very upscale house of ill repute at worst. Just as the light bulbs went on in our heads, the lights went out in the hotel. It seems there was a regional power failure. Our lights, our air conditioning and our American hardcore porn all shut down. We stood there in the dark room of a Mexican whorehouse and simultaneously said “Shit!”

After a few moments, we took a flashlight and walked up to the reception area to see what the situation was. We found a number of young ladies of all shapes and sizes sitting around an electric lantern and joking and laughing in Spanish. With our appearance, they quickly faded back into the interior of the building. We were told that power was out for the whole area and there was nothing they could do. They sold us some ice for our cooler, and we returned to our room. A short time later, the power returned after a few false starts. We then considered our circumstances. Here we were, spending the night in what just might be a Mexican whorehouse, albeit a very nice one. The room seemed secure; however, our imaginations ran wild with the possibilities of the dangers of spending the night here with an expensive van full of our things parked outside. Our location out on the highway many miles from the nearest city made it unlikely anyone would hear our cries of help if our hosts decided to help themselves to our van, our belongings, our virtue or our lives. However, the only alternative was to hit the road in the pitch black night on unknown highways. We decided to go with the devil we knew and hunker down for the night. We reminded each other that every time we had traveled in Mexico, the people we had met, regardless of the circumstance, had almost always been helpful, protective and nice. There was no reason to think that this young group of entrepreneurs would be any different. After all, they had waived their normal $25 per hour fee and charged us a ludicrously low amount for the entire night! Besides, we had Huggybear to protect us. And they had 24 hour room service. A telephone call would produce any number items from a room service menu including full dinners, snacks, condoms, various delicacies and expensive alcohol, including American whiskey, or, if you were feeling particularly generous with your “date,” a bottle of Moet and Chandon champagne. We decided to stay and opted for quesadillas and Coronas.

Food and drinks arrived through a rotating drum in the wall. A knock was given on the wall, and the drum rotated with our food and drinks on the inside. Our dinner was removed and payment placed back inside the drum, which was rotated back towards the unseen waitress. Much to our surprise, some of our money was returned as it turned out management wanted to buy our beers as an apology for the power failure. Tony felt that a more generous offer could have been made by management, but Cheri was happy, pointing out that if they had planned on murdering us in our beds, they probably wouldn’t have bought us beers.

We settled in for the night with our guard dog snoring loudly on the couch but not loudly enough to drown out the enthusiastic sounds of the couple in the next room. We tried to ignore them and practiced our Spanish for a while by reading the subtitles provided by the porn channel. However it occurred to us that we had no idea where we could ever repeat the phrases we were learning! Oh well, time for lights out.

Sábado, 27 de Agosto, 2005

We left early from the maybe-brothel with a wave from one of the girls. As we drove we counted our money one more time and hoped we could get to Chetumal for no more than $100. After gas, this allowed little for food and none for bribes in case Cheri got stopped yet again. We were still on 186 heading northeast, following the curve of the Gulf of Mexico. The road is paved but under construction to make it a larger highway. There were hardly any cars on the road going either direction, which was great for us and allowed us to pick up some speed, despite the fact that the road was uneven, like most roads we’d seen.

Mexico border at TexasHighway 186 runs from the state of Tabasco, briefly skims through the top of the state of Chiapas, comes back into Tabasco for a short time & then crosses into the Yucatanean state of Campeche. Every time we entered a new state, there would be a toll booth where we’d have to pay a small toll. Near the border of Chiapas we saw a number of military stops and inspections. However, they either ignored us or waved us through each time. We were finally stopped at the border of Campeche. Our military inspector was Ernesto, who was born in Anaheim, California (four blocks from Disneyland), had friends in Gilroy, California and occasionally worked as a tour guide in Playa del Carmen for English and Italian tourists. We gave him the name of the Hotel Zanzibar and promised we would all meet up again in Playa. It seemed that the stop was less about inspecting the van & more about giving Ernesto a chance to practice his English. And, of course, as with most bilingual Mexicans, his command of English far outdistanced our command of Spanish.

At Francisco Escarcega we stopped at the Pemex and found to our delight an ATM! Our first prayer of the day had been answered. Now we could afford gas, breakfast and bribes! Francisco Escarcega had a number of hotels, which we filed away for future reference. At this point, 186 moves sharply to the east across the Yucatan peninsula towards Chetumal. The farmlands starting being replaced by jungle, and we were feeling more at home. This was the Mexico we know and love. 186 took us through Xpujil (little sister of Xpu-Ha, we joked), which is a sizable town. We hadn’t seen a Pemex since Francisco Escarcega and were getting a little concerned, given how the Big Bastard guzzles gas. Within five minutes of that conversation there appeared a Pemex – our second prayer of the day answered! Life is good, and we’re almost home. Just past Xpujil, we finally entered our home state – Quintana Roo. Unlike other states, they didn’t charge us a fee to enter. QR rules!

A few miles down the road, we were pulled over at a military inspection point and surrounded by a group of four or five young men in camouflage with automatic weapons. One of the soldiers asked us to open up the doors to the van, and he found himself face to face with Huggybear. He asked in Spanish if he was friendly, and after we understood him, we said yes. He petted him hesitantly. The other soldiers gathered around and soon they were laughing at and playing with Huggybear. Cheri said “Huggybear” to one of the soldiers about 20 times before he got the pronunciation right. After we explained the name came from the movie Starsky & Hutch (remember Snoop Dogg as Huggybear?), the soldiers laughed & made the connection. They had obviously seen the movie. By the time Cheri offered them some revistas de chicas (Playboys)-a suggestion we heard about on the Playa Info board-we were all good friends. One thing we learned is the best way to travel through Mexico is to bring an English bulldog. People can’t seem to resist them.

We headed on our way and 186 opened up to a wide, smooth paved road with little traffic all the way to Chetumal where it intersected with 307 north. We were happy to see the intersection outside of the city limits. Thank God we didn’t have to go through another big city to get home. We’ve been lost in Chetumal before, and it wasn’t fun.

We took 307 north . At this point our journey was practically finished. Four more hours.

No stops now, we could almost see Playa del Carmen in the distance. The road north from Chetumal began as a wide and well maintained road. Unfortunately, it turned into a heavy construction zone where the road becomes a narrow two lane highway with no lights. Continuing north we passed through Felipe Carrillo Puerto. 307 divided to go through town and we once again chose the wrong fork in the road (business loop again!), but it eventually re-joined the main highway. The road became the standard Mexican highway…no lights, two lanes and mad man drivers all about. We kept going. Muyil. Tulum. Akumal. Around 11 p.m. we pulled up in front of the Hotel Zanzibar in Playa del Carmen. We unloaded our pets into one of the larger rooms and headed down the street to see our friends Karent and Alex at their restaurant, La Quinta Pasión. Hugs, kisses, bienvenidos. They fed us margaritas and fish tacos and then we went back to the hotel to get some sleep. After thirteen days and 3903 miles, we were home. Now the work begins. And the fun.

“I don’t think I went where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I intended to be.” Douglas Adams

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Posted in Living the Dream, The Love of Travel, Trip Report | Tagged: , , , , | 9 Comments »

The Naked Truth About Playa del Carmen

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 20, 2011

Playa del CarmenAs owners of the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar, we read a lot of internet chatter about Playa del Carmen. After all, we live and work here and want to keep up with what people are thinking about Playa. We also take note of people’s questions about traveling here. Over the years, we have seen many repeat questions on a few certain topics that never seem to go away or get fully answered.

Many people ask about the weather: “My family will be there the second week of August of next year. Will it rain during our vacation?” Others ask about safety: “My brother-in-law’s friend’s boss’ cousin says he heard that people were being machine gunned down in the Walmart. Should I cancel my trip?” But probably our favorite repeat question is…“Are there any nude or topless beaches in Playa del Carmen?”

Some folks ask about nude or topless beaches because they want to search them out to do a little au natural sunbathing. Others want to avoid them, worrying their husbands or sons will be scarred for life by exposure to all that flesh. And some are just…curious. So here is the truth about what you can and can’t wear on the beaches of Playa del Carmen (and some other select spots).

The Law

Many people say that Mexico prohibits all public nudity. And they are right. Mexico federal law prohibits lewd or immoral behavior, including nudity, on public federal lands. All beaches in Mexico including those in the Riviera Maya (Cancun to Tulum) are federal land. However, as in most cases of the law, there are few absolutes and a lot of gray areas about this.

Mexico’s federal law on public nudity is enforced by local authorities who have the discretion to decide what constitutes lewd behavior. In Playa del Carmen the local authorities have never enforced the law with regard to topless sunbathing. They do not consider it “lewd conduct.” On Playa’s main resort beach (between Juarez and Constituyentes) and in Playa’s north beach (Playa Norte), topless sunbathing is commonplace and will not draw the attention of any cops, except for perhaps an admiring glance. Topless sunbathing and swimming is also accepted on the beaches in Xpu-ha and in Tulum.

The Tradition

Xpu-Ha BeachSo why does Playa allow women to go topless on the beach when other places in Mexico don’t? Primarily it is a tradition that predates Playa’s city government and status as a resort town.

A couple of decades ago Playa del Carmen was a sleepy little beach town know mostly as a place to catch the ferry to Cozumel. The world and the travel industry paid little attention to it. However, Playa was exactly the unspoiled tropical paradise many people were looking for.

European travelers, mostly from Italy, began to visit here. Some never left, and a large Italian expat community began to develop. The Italians brought many traditions to Mexico with them including great pasta and “European style” sunbathing. In other words…topless.

Along with the Italian expats, Playa became a destination for American vagabond travelers, i.e. “hippies,” whose lifestyle was based on being free–which included getting naked on the beach.

In the beginning, there was no one who cared. The town was too small and remote for anyone to worry about boobs on the beach. By the time the town grew and was discovered as a destination by the travel industry, the existence of topless beaches had become accepted by the local authorities.

This is not to say everyone does it. Only a relatively small percentage of visitors to our beaches go topless, but it is still a significant number of women who feel at ease in just a swimsuit bottom on the beach, in the water and occasionally at the beach bars.

The All Over Tan

While being topless is acceptable on Playa’s beaches, complete nudity is not.
In all the years we have been coming to and living in Playa, we have never seen nudity on the town’s main beaches. We suspect that if someone was nude on one of those beaches, with the first complaint from onlookers the police would step in.

There was a nude beach in Playa some 10 or 12 years ago. Coco Beach, north of town, was commonly used by those seeking to avoid tan lines. Back then the town ended at Constituyentes, and access to this beach was limited, so no one raised a fuss. However, the famous nude beach disappeared when it was washed away during a particularly bad storm season and then rebuilt as condos and resorts as Playa’s city limits expanded north. As of now, there is no place in Playa’s city limits where public nude sunbathing is allowed.

TulumHowever Tulum has for many years had a reputation for allowing total nudity. A few beach hotel/resorts in Tulum are clothing optional. In addition, while there is no nude beach per se, we have observed over the years that the smaller beach clubs seem to have no objection to nude guests. We have seen a fair number of nude sunbathers on the beaches of Tulum and once observed an entire soccer team from England get off their bus and completely disrobe in the parking lot before running buck naked down to the water! However Tulum has recently grown large enough to create its own local government which by some accounts is very strict about beach club rules. It might be best to ask the beach club employees if it is okay before losing those swimsuits.

Beach Etiquette: What do You Say to a Naked Lady?

Women who sunbathe or swim topless or nude are doing so for their own enjoyment, not yours.
It is not an invitation to stare at them, talk to them, photograph them without permission or comment about them. They may not meet someone’s particular standard of beauty or age…and neither should they have to. The same goes for men who may choose a swimsuit to their liking but not yours. We have seen all ages, shapes and sizes in all stages of undress on the beaches and we have never felt offended.

If someone’s attire or lack of attire is bothering you, simply move to another part of the beach. There is no beach so small in the Riviera Maya that you need sit near someone or something that makes you uncomfortable. We regularly relocate when someone near us is smoking heavily.

If you do want to get topless or naked on a beach, remember that Mexico is still a conservative Catholic country where many women swim in t-shirts and shorts rather than a skimpy bathing suit. Please limit your expressions of personal freedom to the resort zone beaches which allow such behavior. Avoid the smaller out of the way beaches where local families gather. Tourists are guests in this country and should conduct themselves in away that does not upset the locals.

The Final Word

A word of warning: If you do find yourself on one of the Riviera Maya’s tropical seashores, and in the heat of the moment you are tempted to expose a little more skin than you normally do back home, we would strongly suggest one little word to make the experience more enjoyable… SUNBLOCK! And lots of it.

Have fun on our beautiful beaches no matter what you do or do not wear.

For our most recent blog entry on this top, check out Getting Naked in Playa del Carmen, Again.

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Posted in Living the Dream, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 699 other followers