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Posts Tagged ‘luna blue bar’

Playa del Carmen is On Sale at the Luna Blue

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 29, 2011

Luna Blue is on saleThe summer is over. The kids are back in school. The weather up north will soon be turning cold and (we hate to say it) the craziness of the holiday season will be on us before you know it.

If only you could grab one more trip down to Mexico before the end of year rush begins…one more chance to lie on a white sand beach or swim in crystal clear blue Caribbean water.

Good news! The Luna Blue is giving you that chance!

For the months of September and October we are slashing prices up to 20% on all of our rooms. You can stay in one of our adorable Courtyard Nook room for as low as $49 per night, or have a full suite with kitchen for as low as $79 a night. And our popular Treetop Terrace rooms are only $69 a night.

Of course you not only get to stay at the award-winning Luna Blue for these low prices, but you get all of our regular amenities: FREE use of four different beach clubs; FREE breakfast of coffee, tea & locally baked sweet breads; a FREE welcome margarita in the popular Luna Blue Bar; a FREE Discover SCUBA class at Mexico Blue Dream, 50% off day passes at the gym; various discounts on food and drink around town and much more. You’ll also enjoy our new organic bath products in tropical scents and flavors and of course you can be one of the first people to enjoy our brand new sunken tropical garden swimming pool!

The fall is a great time to visit the Mayan Riviera. The days are long and warm, and it’s the least crowded time of year. You’ll have no problem finding the best spot on the beach or the best seat in a restaurant. September is also very festive with the celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day. October, of course, brings Halloween and the legendary Luna Blue Fantasy Costume Party. October also brings the beginning of the celebration of Dia de los Muertos with the largest exhibit at Xcaret eco park.

Sale prices apply to new reservations only for any stay from September 1 to October 31. All other normal restrictions apply. Click here to make a reservation now.

You can spend the autumn watching the leaves fall and the weather turn cool or you can have a margarita on a stunning Caribbean beach. It’s your choice.

And if you just can’t get away until after the new year, you can still save money. If you book from now until November 15 for a high season stay in 2011 or 2012, you can save 10% off our already low rates. Click here for details.

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

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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

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Mexican Hotel Rejects Gay Wedding

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 22, 2011

It is hard for us to believe, but we have just heard that a giant five-star resort here in the Riviera Maya refused to allow a wedding ceremony in their hotel because the couple is gay. We are outraged and saddened by such behavior in our adopted country. But truthfully, we’re not surprised.

Whenever someone posts on travel forums looking for gay friendly hotels, there are often responses that question why someone would require a gay friendly accommodation. It is often asked: why can’t the gay traveler be content to accept accommodations which are open to everyone?

The simple reason is that the gay traveler still finds discrimination in the travel industry everywhere in the world, even in Mexico, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and where same sex marriage is legal in Mexico City.

An example of this discrimination can be found at the five star La Amada Hotel resort here in the Riviera Maya (just north of Cancun), which specializes in wedding ceremonies and honeymoon packages for their guests. On their web page “facts sheet,” the section on “Romance” reads as follows:

“Our professional staff, superior catering options
and breathtaking backdrops invite you to experience
the Mexican honeymoon you’ve always imagined.”

It would appear however that romance at the La Amada Hotel is limited only to straight couples. Recently when a gay couple contacted the hotel to arrange for a wedding and reception, they received the following rejection letter:

“Dear [Redacted]: Thank you for you interests for La Amada Hotel.
Being a family friendly resort, we unfortunately cannot support or perform
a gay wedding. I understand you want to have a small intimate
ceremony, but we cannot proceed.”

As members of the travel industry, we are outraged at such blatant discrimination. We, the owners of the Luna Blue Hotel, support equal rights for all people regardless of religion, race or sexual preference/orientation. We believe that a hotel can be both family-friendly and supportive of gay couples.

We would ask our friends and readers of our blog to join us in condemning such behavior in the travel industry. Let the La Amada Hotel know that such discrimination is not acceptable. You can send your comments to them by emailing weddings@laamadahotel.com .

News stories regarding this outrageous behavior have properly protected the privacy of the couple involved. However, if their names become public, we ask the readers of this blog to let us know. We would love to offer the wedding couple a free stay at the Luna Blue Hotel to celebrate their love and to let them know that not all of Mexico practices discrimination. We may not be a five star resort like La Amada, but we think everyone in love should have a chance to celebrate that love.

By the way, the rainbow flag shown above is a Tibetan Buddhist prayer flag. It is hoped that as breezes flow through the flags, the sentiments expressed there (courage, joy, spirit, celebrate, community, equality and diversity) will be carried out into the world. This flag proudly hangs in the Luna Blue Bar.

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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.

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Best of Playa Raffle & Fundraiser May 27 for the Peanut Pet Shelter

Posted by Tony & Cheri on April 24, 2011

Our friends at the Peanut Pet Shelter here in Playa del Carmen have had a rough year. A local competing charity and various individuals with personal agendas tried in a malicious and underhanded way to discredit and close them down. It was an ugly campaign that caused rifts between various individuals and businesses. Fortunately this small group was unsuccessful in their endeavor. However, the result of their effort was a reduction in donations to the Peanut Pet Shelter, which has since then been struggling to make ends meet.

We are big supporters of the Peanut Pet Shelter. Because of them, we have our dog Roxie (the star of the poster) and, indirectly, our dog Gypsy, both of whom entertain us and make us happy on a daily basis. Many of our friends here in Mexico and also in the US and Canada have adopted dogs that were rescued by the PPS. We have seen first hand the amazing work they do in rescuing and caring for the many, many abandoned animals of Playa.

As a result, we’ve decided to join together with other local business owners and sponsor a kick ass raffle and fundraiser to not only raise a boatload of cash for the Peanut Pet Shelter but to show them that the people of Playa del Carmen and the nearby communities care about them and see them as a valuable part of life here south of the border.

We’re calling it the “Best of Playa,” because most of Playa del Carmen’s best businesses (as well as several businesses from the surrounding communities) are donating prizes to this worthy cause.

Raffle Details

From now until the Best of Playa Raffle Party on Friday May 27, 2011, for every $10 donation to the Peanut Pet Shelter, you will receive one raffle ticket for the Best of Playa Raffle, where Playa’s best businesses have donated dozens of cool prizes to support this worthy cause. Tickets may be purchased via the link below until 4 pm the day of the event.

Before the event, tickets will also be available at the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar and at the Peanut Pet Shelter dog & puppy washes on Saturdays & Sundays. Tickets will also be available at the event up until the drawing.

You need not be present to win…but you do need to go to paradise to redeem. 🙂

Every 10 kilos of dog food donated to the Peanut Pet Shelter will earn the donor another raffle ticket. Food may be delivered to the Peanut Pet Shelter or the Luna Blue Hotel or brought to the event.

The drawing for prizes will be at the Best of Playa Raffle party at the Luna Blue Bar on May 27. We will have live music, drink specials and some fun surprises. AND 50% of the bar proceeds will go to the Peanut Pet Shelter!

Click Here to Make a Donation/Purchase Raffle Tickets

Click here to see a list of the dozens of raffle prizes available, including a private sunset cruise on the Catamaya for up to 80 people(!!), a seven night stay at the Royal Oasis condos, and a five night stay at our own Luna Blue Hotel! Prizes will be added daily up until the date of the event, so check back often.

And please patronize the many Friends of the Peanut Pet Shelter who have so generously donated prizes:










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Posted in Activities, Dining in Playa, Events & Happenings, Friends, Living the Dream, The Hotel & Bar, What's New | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

More Than Just Happy Hour….

Posted by Tony & Cheri on April 15, 2011

It's 5 o'clock somewhereThings are starting to slow down a little bit here in Playa del Carmen. The fast pace and the large crowds of the high season are disappearing as many of the snowbirds head home (probably to late spring blizzards!!!).

The locals can now find a seat at their favorite bar and a place on the beach. And travelers in the know will find less crowds and lower prices. Spring is a great time to be in paradise.

To celebrate our favorite time of year we are starting our own version of happy hour at the Luna Blue Bar.

Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 4-8 pm we will have $20 peso beers, 2 x 1 house margaritas, and free chips and salsa.

As usual we will have Radio Margaritaville playing via satellite. And as an added bonus, Jimmy Buffett’s live performances will be broadcast on many of those nights!

And as always, any chicas contributing a thong to the bar’s collection will receive a free shot of our best tequila. It’s a tradition. 🙂

Cheap beer and ’ritas, snacks and a front row swing to hear Jimmy’s concerts. We don’t call it happy hour…we call it the “Buffett Buffet at the Blue.”

It all starts next Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at the Luna Blue Bar and continues throughout the spring and summer.

Stop on by and you’ll say–in the words of Playa’s popular singer/songwriter Mike Grabow–the Luna Blue is “Where I Want to Be”.

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TripAdvisor Asks Us For Help

Posted by Tony & Cheri on March 16, 2011

We received the following message from TripAdvisor this morning. Our response to them follows.

Hi LunaBlue,

We hope all is going well with you and your role as a destination expert. Due to some recent disruptions in the Playa del Carmen forums, we are contacting you with a friendly reminder that we expect all of our experts to adhere to our forum posting guidelines and to embody our Community Mission:

tripadvisor.com/help/what_are_the_guidelines_for_…
We’d like to ask for your cooperation in helping us to restore a friendly and pleasant atmosphere in the forums. In particular, we’d ask you to please refrain from engaging in any personal confrontations in the forums or any personal gossip about other members by private message. Additionally, we’d like to remind you to completely refrain from posting any remarks that could be construed as self-promotion, such as announcing special events that take place at your property, suggesting your business when people ask for recommendations, or providing your Facebook contact information.

If you find any inappropriate posts made by other members, we would ask you to please refrain from responding to them and instead bring the specific posts to our attention so that we may investigate, track any members who are repeatedly in violation and take any necessary action.

Please let me know if you have any questions about our policies. We appreciate all of your contributions and your dedication to the TripAdvisor forums, and we thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Best regards,
TA_MikeW
TripAdvisor Support Team

Here is our response:

Hi, Mike,

We’d be glad to offer you some suggestions as to how you can “restore a friendly and pleasant atmosphere” to the Playa del Carmen forum. Our first and foremost suggestion is that TripAdvisor adheres to its own guidelines. This may require some retraining or replacement in your personnel that moderate the forums. But so far in our opinion the moderation of the Playa del Carmen forum has been laughably poor.

We’ll offer you an example. Recently, a forum member started a thread asking for directions to our bar. They stated that they had tried to find it in the past but were unable to do so. We responded by giving them directions, both via taxicab and on foot. We did not promote an event, promote our business, or make any statement which could be construed as advertising, i.e., we’re the best bar in town, etc. We answered a specific question from a forum member on how to locate our business.

This type of posting by a business owner is clearly allowed by TripAdvisor’s guidelines. TripAdvisor’s guidelines (a link to which you very kindly sent us) clearly state that a business owner can respond to comments or questions about their own business as long as they clearly identify themselves as the business owner and provide relevant information which is not promotion or advertising. It very specifically says that “contact” (i.e., how to find us) information can be given if it is requested.

Our response clearly fit into that category. By the way, please note that whenever we have posted on the forums, we have always identified ourselves in signature as the owners of a local business. We have never once posted and not done so.

Yet, despite clearly obeying TripAdvisor’s guidelines, our post was deleted. This is not the first time that has happened. Why did it happen? There has been for some time now a small group of people on the Playa del Carmen forum who have stated—often angrily and sometimes with insults—that business owners should not be allowed to post on the forums in any circumstances. We ourselves have been the target of substantial comments which have gone beyond rude, simply because we are business owners.

We suspect that one or more of such individuals marked our posting as inappropriate. The ball was then in TripAdvisor’s court. The moderator should have looked at our post and realized that it was well within TripAdvisor’s guidelines. Instead, he or she automatically deleted it. We suspect that this reflects an anti-business owner attitude among TripAdvisor moderators.

In the same vein, TripAdvisor could have done much to help “restore a friendly and pleasant atmosphere in the forums” by making an official pronouncement clarifying the guidelines and the role of local businesses in terms of posting. Instead it has allowed a small group to hijack the forum and use it to enforce personal views and sometimes personal vendettas.

Therefore, we find it somewhat amusing that you ask us to restore a friendly atmosphere on the forums when TripAdvisor feels it doesn’t even have to follow its own guidelines when deciding to delete our posts.

In the same vein, we have to note that at one point a poster from New York consistently made postings praising a certain hotel in Playa del Carmen. He did so under several different forum names. The problem with those postings is that he was the owner of the hotel. He never identified himself as the owner and instead acted as if he were just another vacationer who had discovered a great place. We repeatedly complained to TripAdvisor about this violation of rules. The moderators took no action for several months. Again, our suggestion is if you want people to follow the TripAdvisor guidelines, you follow them yourselves.

We also have to note that this letter either reflects a certain ineptitude on the part of TripAdvisor or certain rudeness. If this letter was sent out as a form message to all destination experts, then it is a simply a reflection of ineptitude. It is not relevant to our specific role or actions on TripAdvisor and should not have been forwarded to us in such a manner. If in fact it was specifically sent to us, it is outright insulting. Reminding us not to engage in self-promotion is an insult if it is specifically directed to us. Review the postings we have done over the past five years. We challenge you to provide us with specific examples of an attempt at self-promotion or advertising. We have NEVER talked about our hotel except in direct response to questions raised by other forum members. And we have always identified ourselves when giving such answers.

We also find your admonition that we “refrain from engaging in …any personal gossip about other members by private message” to be not only rude but shocking. First of all, we do not engage in such activities either on the forum or in private messages. Our private messages are almost exclusively giving answers to forum members who have contacted us about specific issues in Playa del Carmen (almost none of them related to our business). However, the second point is more important: How can TripAdvisor see itself as the moderator of “private” messages? The nature of a private message system is that it remains private between the people who are exchanging the messages. Certainly if someone is using that system to harass or attack another person or make unwanted intrusions into their account on TripAdvisor, they have every right to ask TripAdvisor to step in. But blanket warnings not to gossip indicates that TripAdvisor deems itself the moderators of exchanges between people who believe their communications to be private when in fact it appears they are not. We must conclude from your comments that TripAdvisor reads private messages. If that is the case, we suggest you change the term to “public messages.”

Lastly, we will admit to a single violation of TripAdvisor policies. Our last post on the Playa del Carmen forum (which has now been deleted by TripAdvisor) set forth our complaints regarding our unfair treatment simply because of our status as local business owners. We indicated at that time we found it impossible to offer people assistance in planning their visits to Playa del Carmen in such an atmosphere and suggested that if they wished to contact us with their questions they could do so via our blog or our Facebook page, the URLs for which were given by us. However, in all honesty, we did not do so to generate more business but because we wanted the other members of the forum community to understand why we would not be attempting to assist them with their questions on TripAdvisor in the immediate future. We wanted to offer our assistance in a friendlier atmosphere if people wanted to call upon us for help. In almost five years of posting on TripAdvisor’s Playa del Carmen forum, this was the first time we ever knowingly violated one of your rules. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for TripAdvisor itself.

Let’s be blunt here. TripAdvisor’s forums are a carefully controlled tool to bring people to the TripAdvisor website which in turn generates profits for the company. We don’t have a problem with that. We do however have a problem with maintaining a supposedly public forum where moderation is inconsistent, guidelines are enforced or not upon the whim of a particular moderator and where locals who own businesses are discriminated against and pushed out even when they strictly adhere to your policies. If you want to make the forum a more “friendly” place, we suggest you address those problems.

We have been staunch public supporters of TripAdvisor and have served the forum well as “Destination Experts.” And while exposure of our business via the forum, i.e., our signature on postings, can generally be considered beneficial, the effort, time and negative exposure resulting from personal attacks and a lack of support by TripAdvisor have made it an overall unpleasant experience.

At this time, we are the only Destination Experts who actually live in Playa del Carmen. The attempts by TripAdvisor to silence us leave its Playa del Carmen forum members without a single local voice to answer their questions. We fail to see how this serves the forum community.

We hope that you will give serious consideration to our comments. The issue here is actually larger than just TripAdvisor or the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar. The last two years have seen a dramatic drop in tourism in this part of the world. Media hysteria over dangers that actually have never touched Mexico’s Caribbean coast has caused many people to forego visiting this beautiful area. As a travel industry leader, TripAdvisor has an obligation to help set the record straight. Your forums are one of the opportunities to do that. However, that opportunity will be lost unless you operate them with a sense of fairness and an understanding of your own duty in such operation.

Please feel free to contact us in the future if you’d like to discuss this further.

Tony & Cheri
Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Final update: After we publicly announced we were withdrawing from Tripadvisor because of their treatment of us, we had a couple of surprises. First, people on the TripAdvisor forum began to speak out on our behalf. Thread after thread was started with many, many posts from people letting TripAdvisor know they did not agree with their censorship policy. Then, the biggest surprise…TripAdvisor sent us a message of apology. They said they were sorry for the “misunderstanding,” thanked us for our participation and support in TripAdvisor’s Playa del Carmen forum and re-published our deleted posts.

We decided that based upon this we would return to posting on the TA forum. We thank TA for taking the unusual step of actually reconsidering the situation and being willing to admit an error on their part. However our greatest thanks is for the many people (most of whom we’ve never met nor corresponded with) who spoke on our behalf and said so many nice things about us. That really meant a lot to us. So in the future you can continue to find us on the TripAdvisor forum offering information about Playa del Carmen and this beautiful part of the world.

   

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Posted in Living the Dream, The Hotel & Bar | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Tripadvisor Punishes Local Playa del Carmen Businesses

Posted by Tony & Cheri on March 14, 2011

We posted the following this evening on the Tripadvisor Playa del Carmen forum. We think it’s pretty self-explanatory.

Where is the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar? We know, but we aren’t allowed to tell you.

We have been posting here on the TA Playa Del Carmen forum ever since we moved to Playa almost six years ago. After a couple of years of posting we were made “Destination Experts” for this forum. There are a lot of “Destination Experts” for Playa, but we are the only ones who currently live here. We think that gives us a knowledge that can’t be obtained simply by vacationing here occasionally.

From the very beginning we’ve done our best to offer as much information about Playa as we could and to obey TA’s rules for postings by a local business. We always signed our name as business owners so there would never be any question about it. We never started threads about our business. We never responded to questions about where to stay or which is the best hotel. We never offered opinions about the value, quality etc. of our business or competing businesses.

Mostly we have answered questions about Playa from people who needed information. If you want to see what kind of posts we made and what kind of information we have offered just click on our avatar at the left of this post. Go to our profile and look at the list of our postings.

We think most people will agree that we have regularly answered questions about Playa that had no connection to our business. And we have answered questions regularly from people who clearly were staying at large resorts and would never consider coming to a small hotel like ours.

Of course we realize that exposure on a forum like TA is generally good for business. But the reality is that the TA Playa forum is overwhelmingly populated by people who prefer the AI experience. We have NEVER had a guest tell us that they picked our hotel after seeing us on the TA forum. We have always felt that we had a unique knowledge and experience and wanted to share it.

However some other people saw it differently. An increasingly vocal group on this forum has started a drumbeat against local business owners posting here. We have never understood why. As long as people know it is a business they can judge the weight of the opinion accordingly. Readers can ignore such posts, accept them or take them with a grain of salt.

In the end, our attitude has been that locals—those who live and work here—have more information to share than those who occasionally visit some large resort on the Riviera Maya once or twice a year. We think many people are interested in what we locals think and know. However a small group of forum posters acting as self-appointed censors saw it differently. This group has made a real effort to drive locals from this board.

Because we are local business owners, we have been called shills for the tourist trade and representatives of the whole Mexican hotel industry, accused of blatant self promotion and even personally attacked. One person who publicly said we had no place on TA went on a TA forum and said our hotel was a front for an escort service! We have dealt with this stupidity as best we could over the years, continuing to post in the belief that we were actually helping some people discover the wonders of this part of the world.

However today was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Someone started a thread asking where our bar was. We posted our address and directions (both via cab and walking). No promotion, no advertising, no “we are the best bar…” etc. Just directions, no more. Someone complained it was self promotion and TA removed our post.

In short we aren’t allowed to even say where we are located without being attacked by those members of this forum who have decided they and they alone can decide what others will post. We find this unfair, and we think TA’s willingness to allow this sort of bullying to take place is equally wrong.

For us the stupidity and pettiness of certain members of this forum have reached a point where we no longer find it worth our time or effort to share our knowledge of Playa on this board.

We are still more than happy to share what we know of Playa…just not here. If any reader here has questions about Playa and think we might be able to help, please feel free to contact us at our blog (www.playazone.wordpress.com), our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/lunabluehotel) or through our website (www.lunabluehotel.com). Or you can even just by stop by our hotel and ask your questions in person. We’ll do our best to help.

We love our adopted home of Playa Del Carmen. We walk its streets, visit its beaches and experience its people EVERY DAY…not a couple of times a year, but EVERY DAY. If we can help others discover the pleasures of life here we are happy to do it. But we are not willing to be attacked for offering people this help.

Yes this post will quickly be removed. As soon as one of the self-designated forum police sees it and reports it, TA will remove it. But we are going to post it on our Facebook page and on our blog. We think forum readers should know how Tripadvisor has allowed a few people to restrict information on this forum.

We wish the readers of the TA Playa del Carmen forum good travels. Please come to Playa and see for yourself how sweet, laid back, and beautiful life down here can be.

Now we are going to return to our life here in paradise. We will see you on the beach.

Tony & Cheri
Luna Blue Hotel & Bar


Someone at Tripadvisor must have been sleeping last night, as they allowed this post to stay up for almost 14 hours before it was deleted and the thread closed. LOL Thanks to all the nice people who had positive comments.

Posted in Living the Dream, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Safety in Mexico…Canadian Alleges Rape in Playa del Carmen

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 19, 2011

We had hoped to be blogging about the new restaurants in town, but the recent story by the Canadian Broadcasting Company about a woman who alleged rape by Playa del Carmen police has once more brought a lot of people to our blog asking questions about safety. So we thought we’d give our views.

First, we want to say that no woman’s allegation of rape should ever be treated lightly. Rape is a serious crime, and any allegation of that crime should be thoroughly investigated. It should never be assumed that a woman alleging rape is lying. But neither should it ever be assumed that she is telling the truth. We have police systems and courts in the US and Canada and yes, here in Mexico, whose purpose it is to investigate allegations of crime.

Therefore, we find it disturbing that so many people are automatically assuming this couple’s story is true and concluding, once again, that Mexico is a dangerous place to visit.

As far as the facts of the case are concerned we, like many people, have serious questions about the allegations. It appears that the couple was drunk on New Years Eve, got into a street fight, struck someone’s car and when the police were called had a confrontation with the police and resisted arrest. That seems to be without dispute. They were taken to the jail and housed separately. The woman says that she was raped by two police officers. In the meantime, her fiancee in another part of the jail admits he tried to hang himself in his cell. He says that other prisoners told him of his girlfriend’s rape and he decided his own suicide would bring attention to her situation somehow. (How other prisoners would know of this activity in another part of the jail, or even if the man spoke Spanish has not been addressed by him.) Police intervened and saved him from his self-inflicted hanging.

The couple was released the next day after paying a fine. They filed complaints both with Canadian and Mexican authorities. A physical examination of the woman showed no evidence of rape. Instead of returning home after this alleged ordeal, they continued their vacation for another 18 days. On the day before they returned to Canada, almost three weeks later, they gave an on-camera interview to the CBC in Playa del Carmen and continued to appear on CBC News once they returned home.

For us, the couple’s bizarre behavior raises questions about their truthfulness. But that is not for us or anyone else to decide. An investigation is ongoing by the authorities in Mexico.

What does concern us is the sensationalized nature of the coverage and the public reaction to it. As a result of these types of sensationalized stories–and in particular this story–some people are immediately willing to condemn Mexico and make a determination that it is dangerous to visit there. We disagree.

Even if the allegations of the woman are true (and no objective observer is able to say that they are or are not at this point), it would not reflect upon the typical tourist’s safety in this country. The sad fact is that assaults, including rapes, occur everywhere, including Canada and the US. The idea that one such allegation concerning one incident among literally millions of tourists who visit this country is proof that everyone who visits here is in danger is a ridiculous proposition founded more in bigotry than in fact, more in prejudice than in reason.

We continue to assert that our adopted home is as safe as any city in North America. We’ve lived here for six years and never been the victim of a serious crime. Is it perfect? Of course not. But then no place is. There is crime everywhere, but there is less of it here than in most places. And here, as in most places, we strongly suggest you not get so drunk that you end up in violent street brawls or resist the police when they tell you you’re under arrest. Don’t act here differently than you would act at home, and you’ll be just fine.

Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

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Posted in News & Politics, Safety in Mexico | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Nibble Your Way Through Mexico…at Taste of Playa

Posted by Tony & Cheri on November 16, 2010

Sex on the BarHow would you like to eat and drink at dozens of different restaurants and bars…all in one afternoon? No, you don’t have to race around town from place to place ordering meals and beverages until you burst. Instead you can spend the day enjoying the special tasting menus offered by 40 restaurants and bars at the 2010 Taste of Playa food and drink festival.

The Taste of Playa
This year’s annual Taste of Playa culinary festival has gathered together some of the most popular and critically acclaimed eateries and bars in all the Riviera Maya. From 3-9 pm this coming Sunday, November 21, 2010 they will be offering incredible samples of some of their signature dishes and drinks to the hungry public. This year among those offering a taste of their best will be our own Luna Blue Bar!

As most regular readers of our blog know, in addition to operating one of the Mayan Rivera’s favorite hotels, we also run our own little bit of “Margaritaville”-style paradise called the Luna Blue Bar. We designed “The Blue” (as we affectionately call it) to reflect our dream of what a tropical bar should be.

The Luna Blue Hotel Bar
We have swings instead of stools around the bar, a palm thatched roof overhead and a deck overlooking our cenote/waterfall garden. We have local musicians play in the bar a couple of nights a week, and play satellite radio (Caliente Latin, Reggae and Radio Margaritaville) the rest of the time. Occasionally we will have fresh bunches of bananas and coconuts from our garden piled up for people to enjoy. And hanging from the rafters are dozens of thongs and g-strings…traded by lady visitors for a shot of tequila and the chance to leave a little of themselves behind at “The Blue.” It makes quite the sight.

Like any great tropical bar we have our own versions of some of the most popular “umbrella drinks”…like Papa T’s Margarita and the Playa Colada. We also have our own special recipes that stand out as something unique and different. We will be offering tastes of two of the most popular of those signature drinks this Sunday at Taste of Playa: The “Sarita-B-Careful” margarita and the “Sex on the Bar” cocktail.

The Sarita B Careful Margarita
When we first moved to Mexico and met our dear friend (more like a daughter) Sarah, she would entertain us with her stories of partying late into the night and dancing on the bars around town. The only problem was that after a drink or two our girl would be too tipsy to keep her balance and would invariably tumble off the bar with resulting scrapes and bruises. We were always telling her…”Sarita, be careful!”

We remembered those stories when we came up with our very first signature drink and decided to name it in honor of our sweet but clumsy friend. The Sarita B Careful is a sugar rimmed margarita on the rocks featuring pomegranate infused tequila. It is tart, with just the perfect balance of sweetness. Sarah, by the way, has retired from bar dancing, is happily married to a wonderful guy and has a beautiful new daughter. If you come to the Taste of Playa this Sunday you can taste the drink named for her.

Sex on the Bar–the cocktail
When our bartender Jorge first came up with this new drink recipe, we had some taste testing at the bar to see what people thought. Everyone raved about it, and one guest laughingly proclaimed, “This is better than sex!” With that kind of inspiration it didn’t take us long to come up with a name. The drink is as good as the name promises… a combination of sweet tropical fruit juices, hibiscus flower-infused tequila and almond-flavored liqueur. It may not be better than sex…but it’s darn close.

When we thought about how to promote this “sexy” drink, our good friend Renata came to mind. Renata is often a featured guest at our holiday parties where she appears in brightly colored bikinis to help serve drinks, hand out gifts and pose for pictures. She is always a hit with the crowd. So we asked her to help us advertise our new cocktail. The result is a series of “Sex on the Bar” posters which will be available for purchase at our Taste of Playa booth. Stop by for a taste, and then take a little “Sex on the Bar” home with you.

The 2010 Taste of Playa is a not-to-be-missed event and will be held at Parque Fundadores (5th Avenue and Juarez) between 3 pm and 9 pm on Sunday November 21. VIP pass holders will be allowed entrance at 2 pm. “Playa Pesos” will be on sale at the event for 10 pesos each and will be used to purchase “tastes” from each restaurant and bar, with most costing either 1 or 2 Playa Pesos. You will be amazed at the array of foods and drinks which will be offered for tasting. And make sure to stop by the Luna Blue Bar booth to say hi and try one of our special cocktails. See you there!

A special note: Yesterday morning there was a terrible incident here in Playa when a gas explosion at a large resort outside of town killed several people and injured several more. At this time authorities are investigating possible causes, including the build up of natural gas under the building or perhaps a faulty gas tank. Many people who love Playa are already offering condolences and prayers to those, both visitors and locals, who were victims of this event.

Sadly, some people are using this tragedy as an excuse to once again denigrate Mexico and warn people not to visit here. Such comments now circulating around the internet are simply the result of ignorance and/or bigotry. We urge you to condemn such stupid remarks and to join us in offering our prayers and best wishes to the victims and there families. All of us in Playa are greatly saddened by this tragic accident. We hope the injured recover quickly and that the families of those who died will find some peace.

Posted in Activities, Events & Happenings, The Hotel & Bar | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »