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Dia de los Muertos

Posted by Tony & Cheri on October 15, 2012

Autumn in Mexico brings a cross-cultural pollination of holiday celebrations. Ancient traditions of mystery and magic from the Mayan and Aztec people combine with modern party vibes of the Caribbean and North America to make this one of the most fun times of the year here in Playa del Carmen.

The traditional Mexican Autumn holiday is called Dia de los Muertos, or “The Day of the Dead,” and takes place on November 1st and 2nd.
While sounding a bit scary, the holiday is actually a family-oriented celebration of life and a remembrance of loved ones who have passed on. The evening of November 1st is called La Noche de Duelo or Night for Mourning. On this evening it is said that the spirits of departed loved ones return to earth. Families gather for holiday meals which include the traditional pan de muerto or Dead Bread, which is a sweet cinnamon bread baked in a circular pattern. The spirits are welcomed and their lives remembered with feasting, drinking and music. Then on November 2nd, people will often visit the graves of family members and have picnics or other celebrations at the cemetery.

Dia de los Muertos is also celebrated by the building of ofrendas, or altars, in the memory of those who have died. These altars are decorated with photos, favorite food and drinks of the deceased along with brightly colored flowers, candles and ribbons. In addition decorations for homes, stores and schools feature images of skeletons in clothing going about their daily lives, often in humorous poses. In the same vein, candied skulls with frosting decorations are very popular among children. The idea behind such decorations is to remember that death is part of the cycle of life, and that rather than fear it we should learn to accept and even laugh at it.

We love this tradition and we build our own ofrendas each year for our friends and family who are no longer with us. For some photos and more stories about our ofrendas please take a look at our past blog entries: Day of the Dead and Mexico’s Day of the Dead Alive and Well in Playa del Carmen.

While the celebration of Day of the Dead tends to be a family affair, the famous eco-park of Xcaret here in Playa holds a huge annual public presentation with art, music and dance to celebrate and explain this holiday which predates the Spanish conquest of Mexico. For a great description and some wonderful photos of the park’s displays and activities please visit our friend Michele’s blog entry from a few years back: A Celebration of Life and Death at Xcaret.

Sugar Skulls for Dia de los MuertosOf course Playa has always been a magnet for many cultures, and so it is no surprise that the American version of Halloween has made its way down here. Many local Mexican children have fully embraced the fun of wearing costumes and running through the streets begging for candy. Stores like Walmart now feature the same costumes and decorations one sees back in the United States–something that was not true even a few years back when we moved here to Mexico. Bags of candy marked for Halloween and even pumpkins to carve as Jack o’ Lanterns are also commonly seen. On Halloween night (and for a few nights before and after), costumed children dressed as devils and witches and favorite superheroes will flood the resort zone pedestrian mall of 5th Avenue, running between the stores, cafes and restaurants asking for treats.

And it’s not just the kids who celebrate Halloween here in Mexico. Tourists and visitors arriving in Playa for the last days of the month of October will find there are plenty of fun and unique activities. For example our friends at the Mexico Blue Dream Dive Shop are holding a Pumpkin Carving Contest. However this contest has a Caribbean twist–it is held underwater in scuba gear! For details go to their Facebook event announcement.

There will also be plenty of adult costume parties at many of the bars here in town. Costumes that range from creatively funny to shockingly sexy will be seen up and down the resort zone’s 5th Avenue on Halloween night. The biggest and best of those parties is always the one at the Luna Blue Bar. There will be live music with the legendary troubadour of the Caribbean Coast, Barefoot Skinny. We will have costume contests with prizes for the best and the sexiest costumes. The pool will be open so bar patrons can have their margaritas floating in the pool. Playa’s best bartender, Jorge Sierra, will be pouring the drinks and there will be surprises and fun all night long from 7 pm until the witching hour of midnight. For some photos of our parties of previous years, please click here.

The fun doesn’t stop after Halloween. The beautiful fall weather here (average temperature around 83 degrees) is perfect for some of our other fall events like The Annual Riviera Maya Jazz Festival which features free concerts by internationally acclaimed musicians right on the beach. And America’s Thanksgiving Day/weekend is also a big celebration down here. Many restaurants will serve special dinners with turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and all the trimmings. Imagine having your turkey feast only steps from the blue water of the Caribbean Sea. Now that’s something to be thankful about.

Before plunging into the craziness of the holiday rush, why not treat yourself to a few days of pleasure here in Mexico at the award-winning Luna Blue Hotel & Bar. It’s a gorgeous time of year to be in paradise.

Halloween at the Luna Blue Hotel 2012

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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.

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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.

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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:

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St Patrick’s Day in Mexico

Posted by Tony & Cheri on March 5, 2012

We love St Patrick’s Day. We always have. It’s right up there with Christmas and Halloween as one of our favorite holidays.

Yes, we are Irish by heritage. Well, at least Tony is. His great-grandfather James Head emigrated from County Kerry in the 1800’s. And even if James was a bit of a scoundrel (drinking was his vice and gambling was his profession) he still managed to leave his descendants a legacy of love for all things Irish. Cheri is mostly Irish by choice rather than heredity, having fallen in love with the country and the people on a backpacking trip through the Emerald Isle after college.

St Paddy’s Day in the Irish Bars of San Francisco

We established our holiday traditions many years ago in San Francisco where a large Irish population joins with other hard drinking citizens each year on March 17 to wear the green and hoist a glass…or two…or twenty. There has never been a shortage of Irish bars in San Francisco, and we had several favorites when we lived there.

Harry Harrington’s Pub is a dive bar where lawyers and longshoreman rubbed shoulders (and sometimes exchanged punches) in riotous old school St Paddy’s Day gatherings; Pat O’Shea’s (sadly no longer in business, whose famous motto was “We Cheat Tourists and Drunks”) lined the bar with cups of beer and whiskey to be handed back through the packed, standing room only crowd; Ireland’s 32 featured pipers, step dancers and live performances of the classic rebel songs while the hat was passed for various Irish causes.

But our favorite St Paddy’s day destination was O’Reilly’s…owned by our old friend Myles O’Reilly who came to America to find fame and fortune. It was, and is, a classic Irish pub with good food and strong drinks and the finest St Paddy’s Day Party in town. In fact the celebration there became so popular that the local government finally just started closing the street in front of the bar to traffic so that revelers could sing, dance, drink and mingle on the boulevard.

Long ago we agreed we would never work on St Patrick’s Day. We took vacation days so that we could spend the holiday celebrating with friends and family. And each year would find us heading home at the end of the day full of beer and corned beef, covered in green beads and glitter, and with the sounds of “A Nation Once Again” ringing in our ears.

Finding Shamrocks South of the Border

When we left San Francisco for the sunny shores of Mexico’s Caribbean coast we were determined to hold onto our St. Patrick’s Day traditions. The only question was how. When we arrived here in Playa del Carmen, March 17 was just another day on the calendar. This or that bar might sell some Guinness or have 2×1 beers but nobody really celebrated “the wearing o’ the green” in the ways we were used to. We decided to change that. We wanted to show Playa how St Paddy’s should be celebrated.

And so it was that when we opened the Luna Blue Bar we held what we believe was the first real St Patrick’s Day celebration in town, and we have been holding them every year since.

What’s a “real” St Patrick’s Day Party?” you might ask. It’s loud, messy, fun and green. There’s corned beef sandwiches and plenty of beer. There’s Jameson’s Irish whiskey, Baileys and Guinness being served. There’s music…from live performers to recordings of Van Morrison, Christy Moore, the Chieftains, Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys. There’s dancing on the floor…and on the bar. There are hugs and kisses and pretty girls stamping your cheek with shamrock stickers or draping beads around your neck. And there are toasts to the Irish…and on St Paddy’s Day the whole world is Irish.

Of course this being the tropics we added some new traditions to the mix…like giving free shots of tequila (or Irish whiskey) to any lady who shows up wearing a green bikini or thong…and like letting people float in the swimming pool among green balloons as they listen to the music and sip their beer (a St Patrick’s Day pool party…only in the Caribbean!). And there is another tradition surrounding St Patrick’s Day here in Mexico: Remembering the San Patricio Battalion.

The Story of the San Patricios

We first heard this story from San Francisco’s legendary bartender, Mike McCourt, who you may know as baby Michael in his brother Frank’s memoir, “Angela’s Ashes.” On a quiet San Francisco day just before we moved to Playa del Carmen we went to say goodbye to Mike. He smiled broadly when he heard the news. “Mexico you say? It’s a fine place where they treat an Irishman like the hero he is.” As he filled our glasses for a farewell drink he told us the story of the Irishmen who had fought and died defending Mexico.

It was in 1846 that young men fleeing the famine back home in Ireland arrived in America only to be shipped off to fight as conscripts in the war against Mexico. Many of the young soldiers saw the war as an unjust action against a poor, oppressed, Catholic population…not unlike the people they had left behind in Ireland. John Riley, a professional soldier and veteran of many battles, led about 200 Irish soldiers in crossing over to fight with the Mexicans in defending their homeland against the Yanks. The Mexicans called them “los San Patricios”… “the Saint Patricks.”  Most of the Irish soldiers were killed in the war. Those who were captured by the US Army were executed as traitors, but here in Mexico they are still remembered as heroes. A plaque listing the two hundred names of members of the Battalion can be found in Mexico City where several times a year bagpipers play in memory of the young Irishmen who gave their lives for Mexico.

A few years ago the famous Irish band, the Chieftains, along with American singer/songwriter Ry Cooder invited some of Mexico’s finest musicians to join in creating a musical history of the San Patricios on CD. We will be playing some of that music here in the bar on St Paddy’s Day as we raise toasts to Ireland, to Mexico and to the heroes they share.

St Patrick’s Day at the Luna Blue Bar

This year the Luna Blue Bar’s Annual St Patrick’s Day Party will be on Saturday, March 17th. We will have some Guinness (in limited amounts), Irish whiskey and plenty of beer and tequila. We will also have corned beef sandwiches…with real corned beef. Trust us…it ain’t easy finding corned beef down here…but we did. There will be plenty of music: local favorite Mike Grabow (who does a great Playa styled version of the Dropkick Murphys’ song “Drink and Fight”) will be playing from 3-7; and the legendary unshod troubadour of the Caribbean coast, Barefoot O’Skinny, will play from 8-11. In between live sets our own favorite Irish music playlist will provide the tunes. As always, ladies in green bikinis and thongs will get free drinks. The pool will be open so wear/bring a swimsuit. We promise a day of fun and surprises.

Please join us if you can…and if you can’t make it, wherever you are be sure to raise your glass high on St Patrick’s Day and say “Slainte!”

Here are some photos of past years’ celebrations at the Luna Blue Bar Saint Patrick’s Day Party.

A green thong will get you a free shot of tequila at the Luna Blue Bar

Ireland meets Mexico in a south of the border St Paddy’s Day

Everybody in green

Our shot girl, Ginger O’Cutie, with a guest

Tony and a bagpiper

Irish Consulate Anthony Leeman came down from Cancun for the celebration. Here he poses with Tony and Ginger O’Cutie.

A typical Tony moment on St Paddy’s Day…surrounded by pretty girls

Nothing says St Paddy’s Day like funny hats

Our friend Rob Kinnon making the most of St Paddy’s Day

It’s always a party at the Luna Blue on St Paddy’s Day

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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.

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

Safety & Crime in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 5, 2012

Tulum MexicoAs the last year came to a close and the new one has begun, many people considering a trip to Playa del Carmen still have the same question…is it safe?

We know this because the top phrases by which people are finding our blog include safety and crime in Mexico. We also know it from comments on internet forums, by the questions people ask in e-mails and by talking with our guests who invariably say they were warned by friends and family not to go to “dangerous” Mexico.

So even though we have blogged about this issue several times before, we thought it would be good to start the new year with a clear statement: Playa del Carmen and Mexico’s Caribbean coast are safe to visit.

Mexico is America’s Favorite Vacation Destination

One way to judge the safety of Mexico is to look at how many people come here without incident. In 2011 Mexico continued to be the first choice for travel among Americans visiting foreign countries for vacation.

“Put the numbers in statistical perspective. Mexico is the United States’ #1 foreign tourist destination, and more people will visit Mexico before noon today than visit London in a year. With more than 50,000 people a day visiting Mexico your chance of being involved in a violent act in Mexico are less than half that of being struck by lightning and more unlikely than winning Powerball!”
BajaInsider.com, Looking at the Facts, Dec. 31, 2011 Update.

There is every reason to believe this will continue, as several travel publications and websites have listed Mexico as one of the most desirable vacation destinations for the coming year. For example, tourist industry giant Frommer’s has listed Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (which includes Playa del Carmen) as one of the Top 10 Travel Destinations for 2012:

“It [the Yucatan Peninsula] remains the safest region in Mexico, with far less crime than travelers are likely to encounter at home. Even so, the Yucatán offers all that is best about Mexico — sublime beaches, a unique cuisine, joyous fiestas and exotic wildlife.”
Frommer’s, Top Destinations 2012

A Geography Lesson

Yes, there is crime in Mexico. And yes, there are areas of Mexico where drug wars have created a real danger to the people who live there. But as we have previously pointed out on this blog, the geographical area where that problem exists is far from the beaches of Playa del Carmen.

“Without a solid understanding of the geography (761,606 square miles) and the nature of the drug wars many foreigners assume that all of Mexico is a war zone. But it isn’t.”
Washington Post, Mexico: A Guide to Which Parts are Safe

The distance in driving miles between Ciudad Juarez (heart of the cartel violence) and Playa del Carmen (heart of Mexico’s Caribbean coast) is approximately equal to the driving distance between Chicago and San Francisco. Would you skip visiting America’s Pacific coast because of crime thousands of miles away in the country’s midwest? The same comparison can be made about Mexico.

Crime Exists in Everyone’s Hometown

Yes we have crime in Playa del Carmen. And there is crime in the city you live in. No matter where you live, there is crime in your own hometown. But in truth, Playa del Carmen probably has a crime rate lower than most North American cities.

NBC’s cable affiliate msnbc.com recently indicated that visiting the Riviera Maya may be safer than going to Disney World:

“Most tourist-popular areas, such as Mexico City and the resorts of the Riviera Maya, are considered safe for travelers. (In fact, statistics show that these regions saw even less crime in 2010, per capita, than Orlando and Washington, D.C.)”
msnbc.com, To Go or Not to Go

Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya (Cancun to Tulum) are actually safer than a lot of American cities. In 2010 (the latest available statistics) the entire State of Quintana Roo (where Playa del Carmen and the all of the Riviera Maya is located) had fewer murders per 100,000 people than many US cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis, Miami, Newark, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tulsa and Washington DC.(based on FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics for the US and the statistics of the National System for Public Security of Mexico.)

Last Year in Playa del Carmen

BUT…some folks will say…there is violent crime in Playa del Carmen. Just last year wasn’t a tourist killed? Didn’t drug cartels murder the chief of the city’s police to stop his anti-drug campaign? Wasn’t the mayor assassinated? The answer to all three questions is “no.”

Last year there were two shootings in Playa which caused many people concern. We have discussed these previously. In short, a man from central Mexico who was involved in money laundering for the cartels stole money from them and then fled here to the coast, not as a tourist but to hide from his employers. His employers found him and killed him.

In a second unrelated incident the chief officer for the Tourist Police unit (not the chief of the city police) was killed. His killers escaped, and no motive for his murder has been discovered. The police officer was not part of any drug investigating unit, nor has any drug cartel claimed responsibility. These crimes targeted specific individuals for specific reasons. They were not random acts that threatened the general population–local or tourist.

A third incident which occurred last year was almost laughable in how the media and the internet reacted. It concerned an alleged shooting involving the mayor’s security team. It seems that after a trip by Playa’s mayor to Cancun, bullet holes were discovered in the SUV driven by the security team which accompanied the mayor. A local newspaper speculated about an armed attack on the mayor and the internet quickly was full of stories of an assassination attempt. Some even reported a successful assassination of the mayor. However, subsequent inspection revealed the shots came from inside the vehicle! It appears that a security team member’s gun accidentally discharged. No attack. No assassination. No crime.

But despite the fact that no tourists have been involved or injured in any of the incidents we mentioned, and despite the fact the predicted introduction of the drug war to Playa never happened, many people reading exaggerated comments on the internet have been left with the impression that Playa is now a war zone. That is simply untrue.

Playa del Carmen is Not a Small Village

No one likes violent crime in their city. People in Playa were shocked and saddened by the crimes that took place. But keep in mind that Playa is not a small town. The most recent population number listed by the Municipio of Solidaridad lists the population of the Municipio at 173,266, with an annual growth rate of 6.8%. This doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit here each year.

Playa del Carmen and the surrounding municipality is larger than both Green Bay, Wisconsin and Topeka, Kansas. Playa is also larger than either Tempe, Arizona or Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It is about the same size as Providence, Rhode Island and as Knoxville, Tennessee. Playa is not a small village; it is a good sized city. And in any city of this size, regardless of the country, one would expect to find some incidents of violent crime. Yet overall Playa del Carmen continues to be free of the crime seen in central Mexico or even in some places north of the border.

Don’t Listen to Rumors

While we were writing this blog, we saw an individual on an internet forum state that she worried Playa was too dangerous to visit because there had been an assassination attempt on the mayor! And in that post we realize the real reason for Mexico’s reputation as being too dangerous to visit: Public comments by those ignorant of the facts, always founded in speculation and often based in prejudice, have created a popular but false perception that all of Mexico is dangerous.

We will say it now as we have repeatedly said it in the past. Do NOT listen to the opinions of your neighbors who have never been to Playa telling you to stay home, or the speculation of people who post on the internet with no expertise or experience who advise you to stay hidden behind resort walls. If you have questions, turn to the experts…those news agencies and governmental offices whose job it is to keep us informed with facts; and blogs written by people who live and work in the area. A list of articles, blogs and sources that we believe are reliable can be found in our previous blog on this topic: Safety & Crime in Playa del Carmen Mexico 2011: The Truth. And you can always find up to date information about Playa del Carmen and the surrounding area on the Facebook page of the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar.

Mexico is More than Sensational Headlines

Finally people also need to remember that Mexico, like the US and like any other country in the world, is a complex place, and no one part of it should be seen as representing the whole. We would not condemn the entire US as dangerous because of a crime wave in one section of the country. Yet that is what happens repeatedly with regard to Mexico. Last year when 14 people were killed in 14 days in Dallas, Texas not one person suggested America was too dangerous to visit. Can you imagine the outcry in the media if a similar crime wave happened in Playa?

Most of us view other places with a different perspective than we do our own country or home. And while that may be understandable it isn’t always fair or factual. Mexico is not black and white, good or bad. It is a tapestry of different lives, cultures and experiences. It would be a shame if people continue to paint all of Mexico with one brush and deny themselves the opportunity to experience the greatness that this country has to offer.

We have lived and worked in Mexico for almost seven years, and we can say with absolute conviction that this little bit of paradise known as the Mayan Riviera is beautiful, relaxing, welcoming and above all…safe.

And on that note we will leave you with this video made by the Tourist Board of Mexico about the Riviera Maya. We think that without saying a single word it explains perfectly why we and so many others think of Mexico as someplace very special.

This is where we live…come visit us at the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar.

Read our other blog entries about safety by choosing the “Safety in Mexico” category in the right column of this page, or simply click:
Safety in Mexico Blog Entries ~ Luna Blue’s Playazone

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Posted in Safety in Mexico | Tagged: , , , , | 17 Comments »

New Year’s Eve in Playa Del Carmen 2011

Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 26, 2011

Playa del Carmen New Years Eve at the Luna Blue Bar 2011Playa del Carmen knows how to celebrate the coming of the New Year.

New Years Eve will find the streets of the Playa del Carmen hotel zone packed with people…and we mean packed! There will barely be room to move on some sections of 5th Avenue near the dance clubs. Restaurants will also be full through the evening with many offering special menus and seating times.

The party will go on through the night and into the next day. As the sun comes up, people will move down to the beach and continue there with dancing (and later some sleeping) in the sand. It should be great fun.

Yet we have noticed some changes here in Playa over the years. The simple tropical ambiance of New Years in Caribe-Mexico has given way to more decidedly hip, modern and yes, expensive forms of celebrations. Outrageous cover charges, menus with padded prices, and DJ’s as “live” entertainment are becoming more the standard in our little beach town.

That’s just not our style. We think New Years should be a time to celebrate–not a time to gouge people for that last peso.  And sorry, but we’ve never considered DJs to be “live” entertainment. No matter how you spin it…it’s still a guy playing records. We don’t think folks should have to pay a huge cover charge just for the chance to fight through a crowd, pay triple prices for drinks and listen to bad house-hip-techno-lounge-whatever music by some guy with a turntable.

So here at the Luna Blue bar we will stick to our traditional celebration. Live music will be supplied by the great Blues recording artist Brent Parkin. Brent is a Canadian Juno award winner and has been called one of Canada’s best Blues performers. And there will be NO cover charge. Just grab a swing at the bar and order from our regular drink menu at our regular prices.

We will also have a free champagne toast along with the Midnight Coconut Drop, a Luna Blue exclusive. For several years we have ended the old year and started the new one by hauling a cluster of decorated coconuts to the treetops and then at the stroke of 12, dropping them to the cheers of the crowd. In the past we have always dropped them into a large tub of water…but this year the coconuts will splash down in our brand new swimming pool!

The bar opens at 3 pm with Playa’s favorite bartender, Jorge Sierra, pouring the drinks until 1 am. The music starts around 9 pm. Our sunken garden swimming pool will be open for the entire evening so feel free to take a New Years dip. We will even loan you a beach towel to dry off.

If you are in town, stop on by for a tropical style New Years’ celebration with us. The Luna Blue continues to be a last little piece of the old Playa del Carmen.

We wish all of you a very happy new year in 2012. May it bring us all peace and happiness.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 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

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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.

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Owning a Saloon in Mexico: The Luna Blue Bar Story

Posted by Tony & Cheri on November 29, 2011

Luna Blue BarWhen we first thought about opening a bar in Mexico, we simply wanted a quiet little place for our guests to have a cocktail in the evening before and after visiting 5th Avenue.

We did have some strong opinions about how our bar should look. We wanted it to match the old-school tropical ambiance of our Luna Blue Hotel. So we decided it would be open air, with ceiling fans, a roof made of palm leaves, and–in the Caribbean tradition–swings instead of stools around the bar.

We also decided there would be no TV and no DJs playing music we didn’t enjoy. Instead we installed satellite radio and turned it to Radio Margaritaville. We wanted our bar to be funky, laid back and tropical. In short, we built the kind of place where we ourselves would want to drink margaritas.

After building the bar, we designed a few special drinks with the help of our good friend Eric Rogers, one of San Francisco’s best bartenders. We have great top shelf margaritas like the “Papa T Margarita” and twists on old favorites like the “Playa Colada.” We also have unique drinks nobody had seen before (but have since been widely copied) like the “Beso Cubano” (Cuban Kiss) and our all-time most popular drink, the “Sarita B Careful” margarita made with pomegranate infused tequila.

Leon J Morton at the Luna Blue BarOf course one of the most important parts of a bar is the bartender. And we found the perfect one in Jorge Sierra. Jorge is honest, hardworking, speaks perfect English, loves people, always has a smile and pours a strong drink. And he is creative. He is always coming up with new ideas for drinks like our very popular “Sex on the Bar” cocktail. Yes, Jorge is the inventor of Sex on the Bar!

Once we had the bar built, the drinks figured out and a great bartender hired we looked around the place and decided we needed one more thing…live music. After all what is a margarita in paradise without some good tunes to listen to? Since we couldn’t get Jimmy or Kenny, we hired local musicians whose music we liked…guys who played funky or bluesy or plain old good rock n’ roll.

Over the years the best musicians in Playa have performed at the Luna Blue. Chris Bolister, “Bad” Brad Ryan, most of the Nasty Bastards at one time or another, Barefoot Skinny, Pako Mondragon and Mike Grabow (who wrote “Where I Want to Be” about the Luna Blue). You can currently see Mike Grabow every week at the Luna Blue Bar. Even the infamous local legend Sharkey has growled “House of the Rising Sun” at the Luna Blue Bar.

This coming holiday season we are going to keep up that tradition of great music while trying to expand the type of music that is available here in Playa del Carmen. And one type of music that Playa needs more of (and we can’t get enough of) is the BLUES!

This December we are bringing back Blues Hall of Fame artist Leon J Morton. Jay (as he is known to his friends) is famous for his traditional roots Blues renditions and his bring-down-the-house performance of Blues-inspired rock n’ roll classics. Jay’s extraordinary performances have been honored by the Telluride Blues Festival and by the National Blues Hall of Fame which has designated him an “Ambassador of the Blues.” When he is in Playa Jay plays exclusively at the Luna Blue Bar.

Jay will be performing his repertoire of classic Blues songs on Friday Dec. 2nd. On Saturday, Dec. 3rd, he will be back offering his take on the best in Rock, Rhythm and Blues, as well as some original tunes. On Sunday, Dec. 4th Jay will be playing mellow and easy at our Barbeque and Pool Party.

Luna Blue BarThen later this month Brent “Guitar” Parkin will be returning to the Blue. Brent is one of the greats on the Canadian Blues scene and winner of the Canadian Recording Arts and Sciences’ prestigious Juno Award. In his forty years of performing he has toured with the likes of BB King, Johnny Winter, Otis Rush and Bo Diddley among others. The Edmonton Sun calls Brent, “one of this country’s best blues guitarists.” The Winnipeg Free Press says Brent is “One of the Prairie’s great blues guitarists.” The bottom line is that Brent puts on a heck of a show every time he plays.

Not only will Brent be a regular at the Luna Blue Bar this winter, but we are especially proud to announce he will perform at our New Years Eve celebration. That will be quite a party.

And we are pleased to announce that Brent has just agreed to play at for us on Sunday, Dec. 4th at our Barbeque and Pool Party. Both Jay Morton and Brent Parkin the same afternoon. We’re very excited!

Of course this year the Luna Blue Bar has something new: a swimming pool. Our beautiful sunken tropical garden pool is open most nights for bar guests to take a dip and float beneath the stars while sipping a margarita or listening to music. We are the only swing bar in town with its own pool. We think that is kind of special.

In the end the Luna Blue Bar turned out to be bigger and more popular than we ever dreamed. But in a lot of ways it is still exactly what we wanted when we decided to build it…it’s still a great place to get a margarita, enjoy a laid back tropical vibe and hear good tunes from great musicians. It’s also a good place to hang out and chat with your friends…or make some new ones. What more can you ask from a saloon in tropical Mexico?

And who knows…maybe someday Jimmy or Kenny will drop by…maybe.

If you’ve been to our bar or one of our events, please share your best memories in a comment below. Gracias!

Jay Morton

Mike Grabow

Barefoot SKinny

Chris Bolister

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Beware of Unscrupulous Charities

Posted by Tony & Cheri on November 18, 2011

We received an email at the hotel yesterday from a woman named Karen Johnson asking us if we would donate a stay at our hotel to an organization called the Cancer Relief Association, www.craglobal.org.

We were told they were “planning an online auction to raise funds to provide financial assistance to cancer patients around the world.” It went on to say that they provide cancer patients with grants that assist them in paying the expenses of dealing with their disease. We were asked to send information about our donation to either the email address listed or to their post office box in Florida.

Over the years we’ve contributed time at our hotel to different charitable organizations and functions both here in Mexico and in the United States. So when we received this solicitation, we were open to the idea. Besides, who doesn’t want to help people with cancer? Both of Tony’s parents died from cancer, we have a good friend battling the disease right now, and several of our close friends–as well as Cheri’s mom–are cancer survivors.

However as the email we received was so lacking in information we decided to investigate further. In this time of easy internet scams, we figured we should be a little cautious and confirm we were dealing with a legitimate charity. We also figured that no legitimate charity would have an issue with that.

We looked at Cancer Relief Association’s web site–a single web page–and found very little real information about this organization, other than a note directed to property owners about how a stay at their hotel would help provide money to cancer patients, which we found rather strange. It was very vague. The Paypal link for donations on the website was broken. When we googled them, we found virtually no references to this charity.

So we sent a reply email asking if the Cancer Relief Association was associated with any other cancer research organizations and asked Karen if she would provide us with a link to the website where the internet auction was being held.

The reply stated they are affiliated with the organization Center for Cancer Research Funding, Inc. at www.careforcures.org. Instead of a link to their upcoming online auction, we were told we could view the other items they have listed for auction at http://myworld.ebay.com/bidtofightcancer.

Hmmm. When we looked at the link we found nothing but vacation properties listed for sale on ebay by the user name “bidtofightcancer.” When we were originally told they were soliciting donations for an “upcoming online auction,” we were expecting some sort of event, not simply someone taking bids on ebay.

Meanwhile, we emailed the Center for Cancer Research Funding to ask if they were indeed associated with the Cancer Relief Organization and were told by one of their three Directors, Dick Bornman, that yes, the Cancer Relief Association is a program managed by their organization.

So we looked at the Center for Cancer Research Funding website. Unfortunately we encountered similarly vague information as to where and whom the donations actually go and under what circumstances. Internet searches again provided little or no information about this charity.

Sensing a scam, we decided not to donate and sent the following email to Karen:

Karen,

We have decided not to contribute to your organization. Frankly, we have some questions about its legitimacy. It appears not to be associated with any well-known cancer research entity, appears to deal only on marketing vacation properties on ebay, and the organizations’ websites appear somewhat questionable and provide no real information as to who you are or who receives your donations. We prefer to make our charitable contributions to more established organizations.

We assumed this would be the end of it, or possibly that we might receive another email giving us more information to prove the legitimacy of either organization. Instead, a few hours later we received the following scathing email from Dick Bornman of the Center for Cancer Research Funding. You have to read it carefully to appreciate it. The capitalization and emphasis are all his:


Hello Tony & Cheri Head, Owners,

I can appreciate your response, but quite frankly am disgusted with how you worded it. Your hotel would be one of the lower price class hotels that we solicited so to receive your response is quite interesting. Your hotel is no Ritz and Mexico is not exactly highly sought after right now. In other words your number 22 in Playa del Carmen, there are 21 more established resorts in your town alone. Thank god people do not have your attitude or your resort would not be in business. We are a fully registered fully tax exempt organization, in AMERICA, which is more sought after than Mexico to begin with. So in other words from outer appearances both organizations are not the best not the most highly funded and far from number 1. Next time you reject someone do it appropriately and do not do it rudely and outrageously to someone who travels internationally, because I will make sure to inform others of your generosity and your kind words starting with the patients we assist, ending with the resorts that are in the top ten, Karen does not check on the numbers, or believe me we would not have solicited to you in the first place, furthermore most trips we receive have personal connections to someone in our organization, meaning they own a week, or they have spent money there before, nobody internally desires to go to Playa del Carmen right now, and after your insulting response nobody will ever want to spend money at your hotel. Just my five cents, take it for what its worth, and STOP INSULTING CHARITIES, it comes off EXTREMELY ARROGANT AND DISGUSTING.

Yours Truly

Dick Bornman

We were shocked at the nasty personal tone of this email and the spew of negativity against us, our business, Playa del Carmen and Mexico in general! It amazed us that someone representing a so-called charity would act so unprofessionally. It puzzled us that someone would solicit resorts in Mexico and then make comments about how nobody goes to Mexico and how America is so much better.

Finally, we noted with interest that Mr. Bornman had an opportunity to fill in the gaps for us by saying how the donations to his company were processed, distributed, what percentage of money was received by cancer patients and their families, etc. But he didn’t.

And then it got even stranger.

An hour later, someone named Michael L. Galbraith posted a link to a very old negative TripAdvisor review of our hotel ON OUR HOTEL’S FACEBOOK PAGE. Turns out that Michael L. Galbraith is the President of the Center for Cancer Research Funding, Inc.! We of course promptly removed it, reported him to Facebook and then blocked him.

We were stunned by the idea that the President of a so-called charity supposedly responsible for the distribution of aid to cancer patients “around the world” would take the time to play vindictive games on our Facebook page simply because we refused to donate. In the end, the actions of these two individuals convinced us more than ever that we did not want to be associated with their charity, regardless of what name it used.

After receipt of the threatening email and attempt to damage our business, we did a little more research with a public office in the US and learned that the Center for Cancer Research Funding took in over $90,000 US in 2010. We certainly hope at least some of that money actually went to cancer patients and not to line the pockets of such awful people. The fact that the money is tax exempt makes us cringe even more.

We find it hard to believe that representatives of any legitimate charity would act in such a way. After receiving such nasty treatment, we fear they may be scam artists, and we know they are unprofessional. Either way, we certainly hope that anyone who is approached by either the Cancer Relief Organization or the Center for Cancer Research Funding take a long, hard look at their credentials before donating to or buying anything from them.

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