Friday, July 24, 2015

Mexico 2015

We had a great time on our vacation to Mexico this summer! The boys were thrilled that they got a stamp in their passport and I'm proud at their patience during international travel. Going to customs (on either end) was not the fastest process. If you have little kids, expect to endure some crying and whining while they're waiting in the long lines.

Ok, onto the fun stuff.... Here's a recap or our journey... We stayed at Dreams Puerto Aventurous. We flew into Cancun and pre-booked private transportation to take us to our hotel. It took 1:15 minutes to get from the airport to the hotel. My advice is do not take a cab from the airport. Book a shuttle so you know what you are getting into. Our shuttle driver gave us lots of good info regarding tours and things around the city.

Also, do NOT stop to talk to anyone at the airport even if they motion you over. We got caught by a guy who I thought worked for our shuttle company. Turns out he was trying to up sell us to come to a different resort and took 20 minutes of our time in the airport. Just keep your head down and keep walking.

I did a lot of research trying to find the "right" all inclusive for us. When I started looking, I wasn't quiet sure what I was looking for. But by the time we booked a location, I knew I wanted the following aspects:

1. An all inclusive resort that didn't require "wristbands".  Most all inclusive resorts use a wrist band system that allows you to be on the resort property. Some even have differentiated wrist bands that coincide with your room "type". Those allows you different privileges from the restaurants you can eat at to the type of liquor you get in your mixed drinks. Basically at many resorts, you get what you pay for. Also, I did not want to have to make reservations for meals. At Dreams Resorts, you do not have wristbands, all restaurants are included and no reservations are needed.

2. I wanted a beach where we could snorkel. This meant considerably smaller waves coming in so it was a trade-off.

3. I did not want to pay extra for non-motorized water sports (snorkel gear, kayaks, catamarans, etc..). The Dreams resort we booked included all of these items.

4. A place that had a "swim with the dolphins" on the resort. I didn't want to have to walk anywhere or stand in long lines.

5. Someplace small enough that we could walk to the beach. There are a lot of BIG places out there where you have to take golf carts around the resort. We enjoyed being able to walk right out to the beach.

Onto our was a blast! The first flight was short and the second was long. We only lost one pair or earbuds so I consider that a success.

 The only glitch we had the entire stay was with our room arrangements. We booked the "deal of the day" which was about $700 less that choosing our room outright. There was a notes section where I specifically stated that I did not care about our view, the make up of the beds or the level of floor. However, we MUST have enough sleeping accommodations for 4 people. In Mexico, they were pretty amendment that all four of us could sleep in a king bed together. We ended up having a cot brought into the room. Colin slept on the settee (he said it was comfortable). After two nights, with much arguing with the front desk manager, we were moved to a room with two double beds. 

We had a view of the adults only pool and the dolphinaruium. There was some sort of concert going on that first night. It was very very noisy but we were so tired after traveling all day, it didn't matter. We were very impressed that the mini fridge was restocked each day. The boys really got a kick out of that.

 We went straight to the beach that first night. Not much sunlight left but they needed to put their toes in the sand.

The food at this resort was great! I read a lot of online reviews saying that the food at all inclusive resorts was bland cafeteria food. Our meals were the opposite. Of course, the kids stuck to cereal, pizza and burgers. So sad.

The water was crystal clear. The seaweed was plentiful but hey, we were at the beach. This first day we spent ALL DAY at the beach. The resort had an iceberg bolted into the ocean floor and the boys had a great time climbing and falling into the water.

King of the mountain right there. The darker area of the water behind the iceberg was the beginning of the reef. You could snorkel out there and see some pretty awesome fish and crabs. However, the reef broke up the waves so there was not body surfing or surf boarding on our beach.

The resort also had a smaller cover that was very calm. Tons of fish in there to view. No fear of sharks!

You can see the one small opening where the water was coming into the cover in the upper right hand corner of this photo. That's why we felt it was safe for the kids to swim in there by themselves. It was deep, but safe.

The pool chairs and shade at the beach were plentiful. We never had a problem finding a spot. The bathrooms were just a hundred yards was the bar. Perfect location. The did have beach service so you could order drinks and food to have delivered to you in your lounge chair.

Every restaurant was very accommodating. Of course, they all required shirts and shoes. Some required slacks and dresses. If you book an all inclusive, be sure to check out the dress code. Also, none of the restaurants had a terribly effective a/c system. If you want to cool off in the a/c, going back to your room is the best option.

The boys were absolutely spent by 3 pm the first day. It was a full day at the beach and in the sun.

The wildlife was fun to watch. This pelican was the same one that scooped down right in front of us in the water to eat his lunch. It was fascinating!

We walked down to the little village near our resort. These lizards were everywhere! They were huge and didn't seem bothered by humans.

The village was home to a manatee enclosure. There were quiet a few babies.  I never realized that they use their front flippers to scoop the food into their mouths. They seem like very gentle creatures. You could "swim with the manatee" here but we did not sign up for that adventure. It sort of confused me because when we kayaked with the manatee at Cocoa Beach a few years ago, we were told that we couldn't even attempt to touch them because they are an endangered species. Touching them would result in an arrest.. at least in the state of Florida.

There were several bars and restaurants at our resort. You could catch a really nice breeze off the ocean in these huge swings.

The kids found a lot of things to do. Mini-golf was always a hit. They also had games in the pool (volleyball and basketball), different dance parties, bocce ball, beach volleyball, yoga sessions, bike tours, free scuba diving intro ... lots and lots of activities.

That is a rough as the waves got. Very mild and great for snorkeling. Also, good for really young kids that might be scared of the water.

Their sand castle creation. I hope they are never too old to build sandcastles. The sand was fine and flour like.

The seaweed towards the later part of our trip was insane. Again, you're at the beach so it comes with the territory. The resort had a crew of men (sometimes 5-10 men) cleaning up the seaweed all day long. They worked long hard hours. They were hand scooping it into wheel barrows with shovels and rakes. It was an all day process from sun up to sun down. The beach was never completely clear but again, it's the beach. There are worse things in life than seaweed.

Stomping out the sandcastle... see what I mean about not being too old to build sandcastles?

Absolutely crystal clear water. I'm probably 3 feet deep into the water. You could see every piece of coral, every crab and fish that swam by. Ironically, we didn't find a single shell. It's very interesting to me that different beaches has such different qualities.

In the water. All. Day. Long.

This one too.

We took a cab to the 5th Street market on Riviera Maya. The cab ride cost $30 US (each way) and probably shaved a few hours off of our lives despite the fact that it only took 20 minutes. The speed limit signs in Mexico are in kilometers. When I looked at the dash, the cabbie was going 120 per hour and the speed limit was 80. We made it there safely so I guess that's all that matters. In the middle of the market we saw this beautiful sculpture. It was crafted in December 2012, which was the end of the Mayan Calendar. To commemorate a new era of light and prosperity, the structure, titled Portal Maya (Mayan Gateway) was built. The monument portrays a man and a woman, being pushed upwards by a spiral of wind and water, and holding hands. All around the spirals, the sculpture includes depictions of other elements important to the area including a jaguar, shells, people from the past and present, and two rings from the Mayan ball game. The market was fun. Lots of bartering and haggling. It's not for the shy or intimidated. However, if you really want the best prices, just go to the larger "chain" stores in the market. They have the best prices on the same items and no haggling.

We took an amazing tour of the Mayan Ruins in Tulum. Our tour guide, Yolo, was great. She knew so many interesting little facts.  She was passionate about her job and you could tell she loved what she did for her profession. She was also our tour guide when we snorkeled with the turtles.

This is a view of Akumal Bay. This bay is home to the second largest coral reef in the world. In this photo you can see the edge of the reef (where the water turns dark). I had no idea that Mexico was home to the second largest reef in the world. (The Great Barrier Reef in Australia being the largest.)

The Mayan village in Tulum was the one and only Mayan village built near the beach. As the "sweet water" inland dried up, the Mayans found a way to process out the salt from the ocean to make the water drinkable. They also switched from farming to fishing due to drought conditions.

This is a photo of a dried up cenotes. Cenotes exist all around this area. They are pools of water connected by a series of under ground caves and tunnels. Some cenotes are at ground level where others are pools that you have to dive into. Some contain sweet water and some contain salt water. They are all able to sustain their own species of fish, coral and other sea life. What you see in one cenotes, you probably won't see in another cenotes.

 A great view of Akumal Bay. It was hot hot hot.

This is the only photo I got of Turtle Beach. We really enjoyed our time snorkeling. Again, the water was crystal clear and very warm. Steve and Cam saw an eel when we first headed out. Then we were all a little freaked out when we saw an eagle ray. It was about 9 feet down and massive! Our guide said she wasn't sure why it was so far inland. It should have been farther out by the reef. We saw some gorgeous turtles, big and small. We also saw sting rays and lots of fish. I didn't realize until afterwards that Cam was a little intimidated because when I told him we were snorkeling with the turtles, he thought we were going in a big tank. Oops. I guess I should have clarified that for him.

I lost track of the number of weddings that took place on the beach. The resort did a beautiful job setting up the fanfare for these special events. It this photo you can see the lights on the point where a wedding was taking place. You can also see the seaweed taking over the beach at night.

Colin got a weird rash on the second day. It was only on his face. It was sort of bumpy, red and angry looking. We're not sure if it was from the sand, sun, seaweed... maybe a combination of all three. It was gone by the morning and we were thankful for that!

We were able to go out on the catamaran a few times. The lifeguard was very particular about the strength of the waves.  We would have liked to have gone out more but the weather (waves) wouldn't allow it. I was told by the guide that shark season in that area is Oct/Nov ... just so you know.

Two cuties. 

The boys learned how to play pool and really caught on by the third day of playing. We pretty much had the bar to ourselves. But again, it was hot and muggy in there. Not much a/c.

A little out of order but this was on our Tulum tour. Did I mention that it was hot?

Playing bocce ball on the beach.

Beautiful view.

Cam getting kissed by a dolphin. This was the BEST experience. We were in an enclosed (man made) cove with the dolphins. Our dolphin's name was Aueros. We got to boogie board with him, pet him and ride on his belly. It was probably my favorite part of the vacation.

Colin's turn. 

Holding Aueros.

Steve boogie boarding with Aureos.

Colin's turn.

My turn for a kiss.

You really got going when Aureos pushed you.

We've decided that we don't need a boat. All we need is a dolphin!

All in all the vacation was great! We weren't sure what we were getting into with an all inclusive. The only thing the boys missed was large waves at the beach. For some reason my boys get a thrill of being knocked off their feet by the waves.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Three Years Later - Happy Anniversary

Has it really been three years since we moved from Colorado? Yep, three years ago today we drove away with tears in our eyes. I remember pulling out of the driveway and trying to not look into the rear view mirror at my boys. I just knew if I made eye contact with them that I couldn't do it. I couldn't leave that place that we had come to love so much. The place where we had best friends and memories to last a lifetime. We were at a crossroads and needed to move. It was a terrible way to spend our anniversary. But, as parents, you do what you have to do to take care of your kids and make their lives stable. We knew if we stayed that we were facing a serious unknown and so we chose the safe but very difficult path to move. Steve and I both cried the first day that we met with our realtors. We tried to explain to them house much we cherished our home. We changed our minds 200 times in 24 hours when we decided to move.

 I took this photo the morning before we left for Kansas. It was bright and sunny and beautiful.
That house still holds so many memories for us. Almost daily we hear, "Do you remember when.... in Colorado?"
Like the time Cam broke his arm? He was scootering home from the bus stop. We were walking Colin home and Cam slipped on a patch of sand in the road. I also remember that night some very dear friends bringing over a kitkat bar and a card for Cam. Those were the amazing kind of friends we had in Colorado.  
Or Colin's first day of Preschool? Both boys went to Promise Preschool. It was such a sweet little school. Again, we still have very dear friend that we met at Promise. I will never forget their teachers. They were two of the kindest most gentle souls I have ever met.
Not to mention all the Birthdays we celebrated in that house? The first birthday was celebrated was Colin's third birthday. Little did I know that by inviting the neighbors to that first birthday party, we would have some friends for life. The best neighbors, I tell you. The best!
The snowy days? Ironically the day we tried to move into our Erie house, there were back to back blizzards. The semi got stuck in front of our driveway.
The hotwheels tracks? Our lives now have less toys and more electronics, but we still have stuff strung out all over. How is that possible?
That house, that town, those schools, they all held such great memories for us. Memories we thought we could never recreate. Three years later, we still miss Colorado. But three years later, we can't say "We just moved to Kansas". Or, "We're new here." Or even, "We haven't lived in Kansas very long".
It's hard to believe that we have now been in Kansas for half as many years as we lived in Erie. We're settled in here. We love our school and like our house. We're in a safe neighborhood with easy access to any store we could ever want (and even a few that we don't want).
We enjoy our neighborhood pool. Most days when we go, there is no one else there. It's awesome!
We've celebrated milestones. Cam's First Communion, Colin's 5th grade graduation, Steve and I both turned 40, new baseball teams, new basketball teams, boyscouts campouts....
And first days of school. This first day of school was met with anxiety and tears. The first two weeks I walked the boys back to their classrooms. The school staff was gracious and understanding.

We've become huge Royals Fans. Oh boy, have we ever! We enjoyed our first game in 2012 and have been hooked ever since. They Royals even had a playoff game on Cam's Birthday in 2014 and Cam was stoked when Lorenzo Cain "liked" his birthday photo on instagram.
We've even had a lot of snow! Like, a TON. The first year we had so many snow closure days from school. Last year we had none so it will be interesting to see what this year holds. Steve seems to be out of town a lot in the winter so it seems that I've traded shoveling an extra long sidewalk for shoveling and extra big driveway.

If anyone ever tries to tell you, "moving is easy",  it isn't. If anyone ever tries to tell you "kids are resilient", slap them. If anyone says, "you'll figure out someday why this is happening, why God has put this in front of you", believe them. Steve and I cried a lot of tears those first few months here. The kids cried a lot of tears too. It was hard. So hard. But we made it through. We've made some great friends. We've had some great experiences that we wouldn't have had in Colorado. We get to see our families more (still not as often as we would like but at least more than we used to). The boys are so happy in their school. We've definitely made friendships here that will last a lifetime too. We still miss Colorado but the pain has turned into a swell in our hearts. We can smile now when we think about Colorado. We are making new awesome memories in our home. It feels like home now, not just a house. That being said, we have plenty of space for Colorado visitors!