We began our second full day in Tulum with breakfast a place that is quite popular with the locals, right on the main street:  Don Cafeto's.  It was good, but not our favorite meal of the trip, and we were downwind from heavy smokers sitting at the table next to us, so the experience was not the best.   But it was reasonably priced and conveniently located right on the main drag.  The coffee was really, really strong -- a bit too much for us.
They bring you this rather unexpected bowl of pickled vegetables and garlic (!?!) before your meal arrives.  I don't know if this is supposed to be a hangover cure or what, but it didn't hold any appeal to us in the morning, and we left it untouched.  The homemade salsa, however, was nice, and Barry enjoyed it on his omelet.  
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Barry's chaya omelet, served with a side of mashed potatoes, a traditional side dish here
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My fruit plate with yogurt and granola -- very nicely presented and more than enough
For lunch after our long bike ride, we were pretty hungry.  We decided to try Charlie's on the main street through Tulum, which we'd heard was good.  It really was!  We had the place to ourselves as Mexicans tend to eat lunch much later than we do (like 2-4 pm, with dinner correspondingly late).
We started with a couple of brews and the complimentary chips with very, very piquante habenero salsa.  Yum!
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Barry's veggie quesadillas with guac
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My mushroom cheese empanadas - yummy!
I liked this bottle wall behind Barry...what a great way to recycle and lets light in too!
For our last dinner in Tulum, we decided to splurge with a trip to Cetli, one of the fancier restaurants in Tulum.  We'd read some excellent reviews and were really excited to try it.  We had the place to ourselves when we first arrived to the candlelit garden, a beautiful spot for dining. 
The beautiful setting....
The chef/owner, Claudia, does most of the serving as well and really makes this place a special treat as she explains each of the dishes.  Everything is organic and so carefully prepared.  It's a foodie's paradise!  

Claudia first presented us with this lovely plate of starters.  I couldn't begin to tell you exactly what it all was, but every morsel burst with flavor and sounds of "mmm...mmm...yum" could be heard emanating from our table again and again.  There were a couple of homemade cheeses, delicious breads, and some tasty toppings.
Ordering was difficult as everything sounded amazing, but Barry decided to try the "Metzli", described as "Chicken breast roll with macho banana, covered with black mole sauce".  The presentation was as special as the taste.
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Barry's Metzli
I selected the "Na-a-a", which was a grilled grouper fillet served with grilled vegetables.  It was simple but perfectly prepared.
At a place of this caliber, of course we had to try dessert, because we knew they would be special too.  We tried the "Cetli" (Corn cake with chocolate and kalhua) and "Tzopelic" (Bread pudding served over a layer of white cream sauce with strawberry and almond liqueur topping").  Mmmmmm...it goes without saying that these were amazing!  We passed them around so we could both try each dessert, and licking the plates was oh-so-tempting, but we held back.  
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"Cetli"
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"Tzopelic"
With our tastebuds fully satiated, we were presented with homemade candies wrapped in corn husks as well as a couple of bookmarks when the check came.  This was our most expensive meal of the entire trip by quite a lot.  With two glasses of wine each and the two desserts, we paid $80 US, which included the tip.  We thought that was a reasonable price for a meal of this fine caliber and would have been much higher in the US or on Ambergris Caye for an equally fine meal.
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Check presented with bookmarks and delicious peanut candy
Our final meal was a quick breakfast the next morning -- a travel day.  We stopped in at a little natural cafe on the main drag on the way to the bus station and each had a lovely, large fruit cup with yogurt and granola, plus coffee.  This was one of my favorite breakfasts of the trip.  It was simple and delicious, and I especially liked that they had cut the fruit up very small, so it was easy to eat, no peeling or cutting necessary!
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No, I'm not cold -- just preparing for the sometimes chilly Mexican buses!
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Despite this promising menu, the two women working here this morning didn't seem to speak a word of English!
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A good, simple breakfast before a travel day
Stay tuned for one final Tulum post, then onward to Merida!
 
On our second and last full day in Tulum, we decided to rent cruiser bikes in town and ride to the beach.  At first we thought we might be disappointed as the rental place requires that you leave a photo ID with them, and all I had was my passport, which I would not leave anywhere.  I had not bothered to bring my North Carolina driver's license along on the trip as I had no plans to drive.  Fortunately, Barry had his, and although he was reluctant to leave it, he ended up doing so so that our day's plans wouldn't be dashed.  Yay Barry! 
Once suited up with our new steeds, we rode on the back roads over to the bike path that runs over to the beach.  It is flat and nicely paved so a nice easy ride.
Before we knew it, we were at the intersection with the beach road and hung a right to continue alongside the beach and the resorts along the coastline.  We passed the excellent restaurant where we'd eaten lunch the day before, Puro Corazon, and were soon rewarded with some stunning views.  Here is where we stopped to take photos.
And here's why we stopped.  Can you blame us?
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Looking south
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Looking north
As we rode south, glimpses of the beach became few and far between as fenced resorts lined the shore, along with lots and lots of tropical foliage.  It was very lush and green, and the foliage and trees provided occasional shade on a very sunny, warm day.
Time for a water break...
We finally made it down as far as we could go on the road.  At the very end is a Biosphere/park that looked quite interesting.  Maybe on our next visit we'll check it out, but today we decided to give it a pass as we hadn't brought binoculars for birding and were more into pedaling off some calories.
Barry ventured inside just a short ways to snap this photo looking towards the road we'd just biked down.
Here's Barry on his red bike.  He's always smiling on a bicycle!
Time to turn around and head back the way we came....
Back in Tulum, we had to ride through construction rubble on the access roads adjacent to the main highway through town.  Looks like they had just laid some new drainage and were having to replace the cobblestones.
We both declared that these bikes were less comfortable than our cruiser bikes back home on Ambergris Caye, which we've customized with different saddles and handlebars.  We would not be hanging onto these bikes until 7 pm, the deadline for returning them to the shop, as our bodies couldn't take too much more.  But we still had a blast, and Barry calculated that we rode about 16 miles -- not bad!

We went ahead and turned them back in upon our return to town.  Time for lunch!
Stay tuned for Tulum food Part 2 and more photos from the town itself....
 
We'd heard raves for Tulum's food (thanks Rebecca aka SanPedroScoop.com!) so came here with high expectations, and Tulum delivered.  It's going to take two posts just to cover it all!  

Right after arriving in town and checking into the hotel, we stopped in at a little coffee shop on the main street.  Rebecca had recommended their reasonably priced cappuccino, and I hadn't had one in ages, so it was on my brain.  Yes, it was perfect at about $2 US and perked me right up after our morning of travel.  Barry ordered a tropical fresh-fruit smoothie.  Delish!
On our first evening, we walked down to El Camello, recommended by Rebecca and Joshua (who owns the Secret Garden Hotel, where we were staying).  Supposedly it had the freshest seafood in town at the best prices.  Nothing fancy, just good, honest food.  You know a place is good if it's packed, and El Camello was certainly busy, even at the early hour we like to eat.  Many of the diners were locals, another good sign.  We both had the grilled fish with refried beans, salad, fresh tortillas, chips, and a couple of Mexican beers apiece.  We walked out of there for a grand total of $300MX or about $24 US, including tip.  Wow!  
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A very popular place
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Loads of food for a great price
The next morning we tried a place for breakfast that had also been highly recommended by both Rebecca and Joshua -- Azafran.  We arrived around 7:30 am and were surprised to find that they didn't open until 8, but they said we could sit down and they'd serve us coffee.  They ended up taking our order after all, and we had an a delicious omelet breakfast with some wonderful grainy bread and the best coffee I've had in ages, all in a lovely garden setting that we had to ourselves.  Service was excellent.
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Nice garden setting
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My chaya and gouda omelet
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Barry's fancy omelet with everything but the kitchen sink!
Our first lunch was at Puro Corozon, across from the beach.  We walked there from the Tulum Maya ruins having no idea what the mileage was going to be, but it was a long and very warm walk.  Barry later calculated that we walked about three miles (excluding our earlier walk from the collectivo to the ruins and the walking through the ruins!)

By the time we got there, we were sweaty, tired, and hungry.  Joshua had told us this place had authentic Mexican food, and the menu alone made us drool.  Our timing was good as well as they had Happy Hour beginning at noon, with half-price margaritas.  Need I say more?  We decided to try the mezcal margaritas, and they were so good (and potent!), we ended up lingering there for quite some time and drinking FOUR apiece!  Not something we would usually do, but we were in full-on vacation mode!
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Super cute signs -- I wonder what the "Mayab" is?
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The first of many...
We shared these delicious mixed veggie tacos, and Barry ordered a lovely chicken mole.  I had a "Latin Tower", described as "a tower of sweet potato, pesto cream cheese, and fresh tomatoes".  This may be Mexican, but it was certainly gourmet Mex!  The flavors were as delicious as the presentation.
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Veggie tacos
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Chicken Mole on top of pineapple sauce and sweet potatoes and garnished with sunflower sprouts
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"Latin tower" -- pretty and delicious
For dessert we splurged on the chocolate fondue with fruit.  We were a little disappointed to receive only bananas and apples.  Pineapple would have been a great addition, and of course we would love to be here during mango season!
We can definitely recommend this excellent restaurant to anyone staying in Tulum.  It was one of our very favorites of the entire trip.  And the garden setting is as delightful as the food.
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Puro Corazon is pure pleasure!
After catching a taxi back to town from the beach and sobering up, we weren't all that super hungry for dinner, but I was determined to try the #1-rated Tulum restaurant in Trip Advisor, Altamar.  They are only open for dinner and looked a bit fancy, but we didn't care; most people dress so casually in Tulum, we just went with the flow and walked right in.  Both the service and food were excellent!  Instead of going the entree route, we shared a trio of appetizers and got to try their delicious condiments.  The staff took great pride in explaining each one to us.
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Condiment board they bring out -- some very piquante!
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Ceviche
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Delish guacamole
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Shrimp fingers with yummy Asian dipping sauce
I'm sure the entrees would be amazing based on the deliciousness of the appetizers, but we were craving some gelato, and this way we saved room.  Next stop, gelato shop!
It was not on the level of Tutti-Frutti in Placencia but was still a yummy treat and a great way to end our first day in Tulum.

To be continued...
 
Continuing our adventures in Mexico...

On our first full day in Tulum, we caught an inexpensive collectivo from the main street through town to the Maya ruins and beach nearby. This is the number one tourist destination in Tulum, and it is well worth a visit.  Although you can take a private taxi for just a bit more ($50 MX, or about $4 US), collectivos run every few minutes and cost just $40 MX for the two of us (approximately $3.20 US).  Just ask them to take you to the"ruinas" since many of the drivers don't speak English.
Be forewarned, however; the collectivo dropped us on the main road about a quarter-mile from the entrance to the park, so we had to hike in the rest of the way.  A taxi will presumably take you right up to the entrance.
We'd been warned to get to the ruins early as the tour buses would start to arrive around 10 am, but unfortunately, we arrived right about that time.  And one of the most striking things about the entire day was how many people there were, everywhere.  After getting used to visiting Maya ruins and national parks in Belize, where we sometimes had the place to ourselves, or were among just a handful of others, this was a real shock!  Since these ruins are just south of Cancun and Playa del Carmen -- and with end of the Mayan calendar just days away -- it seemed that everyone and his brother, aunt, and cousin wanted to see the ruins and the gorgeous Tulum beaches on this day.  I recognized a lot of French being spoken in particular, but there were certainly people from all over the world visiting the well-manicured site overlooking the beach on dramatic cliffs.  We heard almost no English being spoken in the park.
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So many people!
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Certain parts of the ruins were roped off to keep tourists on paths -- different from Belize
When we glimpsed the beautiful turquoise water and wide white-sand beach for the first time, it took my breath.  All the hype I'd heard about Tulum's beaches was justified.
A closer look...
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Ahhhhh...gorgeous!
The ruins were nice, though not as dramatic as some we'd already seen, like Lamanai.  And unlike in Belize, quite a few of the structures were roped off and could not be climbed on.  A little disappointing, but I guess this site gets so many visitors, they have to be really careful to preserve the structures.  This reminded me much more of a well-manicured park in the US than one in Belize, where pretty much anything goes.
From one of the structures high on the beach-side cliff, there was a staircase allowing people access to the sandy beach below.  This was definitely the most crowded beach we'd seen in a long, long time.  We didn't bother going down; we planned to hit the less-crowded beach after leaving the ruins.
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Tourists everywhere!
This guy didn't mind the crowds one bit from his sunbathing post.
Your intrepid reporter...
These cliffs were so beautiful and rugged.
One more shot of the crazy gorgeous view.  Barry did a great job with the photos today!
Once we'd seen the entire site, it was time to leave the worst of the crowds behind.  
We walked down the road south of the ruins for quite a bit and finally found a public access to the beach.
Now this is a beach!  Super wide, with incredibly soft, white sand for walking, and stunning blue water.  Enchanting!  And the best part?  Not many people at all.  They were all back on the little beach below the ruins.  Ha!
It was still a little too early for the numerous beach bars and clubs to be open, so we eventually cut back to the road to start walking to a restaurant for lunch. 
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View from the road -- stunning
This proved to be a long -- and very warm -- walk (though quite a few taxis offered us a ride along the way).  We'll share our eventual destination in a future post.  Stay tuned!
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We were glad to finally get to this sign and see exactly where we were!
 
After our first day trip to Mexico and the problems we had leaving the country, I wasn't sure if I ever wanted to return, but time has a way of mellowing out our memories, and we knew that there were many wonderful things about our neighbor country that we really wanted to see.  It's just too close to Belize not to check out, and we'd been studying Spanish (via Pimsleur audio course) off and on over the past year, and wanted to have a chance to try out our rudimentary skills.  Plus, by staying over a week, we knew the exit fee was expected and not a scam.  So, we planned a bus trip that would have us staying in five different cities over a two-week period and venturing west from the Yucatan Peninsula up into the dry highlands of Chiapas.  We'd hoped to make it to Oaxaca as well, but the long bus rides there and back would have lengthened our trip by too much, so we'll have to save that one for another time.

We'd bought our tickets for the 8 am ferry to Chetumal and taken Paisley to the Pampered Paws for boarding the day before, as we wouldn't be able to get her there before the ferry departed.  We had to catch a very early Coastal Express water taxi from the Grand Caribe dock the day of our travels, which left us plenty of time to walk over to Water Jets International and to wait for them to officially open so that we could go through immigration to check out of Belize.  Fortunately, the security guy let us wait on this bench on the lagoon side of the island by the dock.  We were the first ones there.
Here was our ferry to Chetumal.
In addition to the usual $7.50 BZ Belize port fee, there is a new $30 BZ ($15 US) exit tax that must be paid by all non-residents when leaving Belize by boat since the last time we went to Chetumal.  Grumble.
 
Fortunately, the boat wasn't very full, so it was a comfortable ride over to Mexico.  We had taken the competing ferry line last time, and this one, while a bit more expensive ($75 US per person), had a few more luxuries.  Better (padded) seats, a complimentary cookie and glass of juice, and even a DVD movie!  

Note:  Currently the two ferry companies alternate days going to Chetumal, and we found out on returning that that alternation is not just a slow-season thing (as we'd assumed) but will continue indefinitely.  Something important to know when planning a trip for a certain date, you have to know which company will be running that day, especially since the other company's dock is on the sea-side.  You don't want to end up at the wrong dock without enough time to get to the other if need be!
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Inside our snazzy -- and very shiny -- ferry
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DVD movies!
Once we arrived at the Chetumal dock, we had to go through the drill of having our bags checked by the drug-sniffing dog, accompanied by the Mexican police with machine guns.  It's a bit intimidating since there's certainly no such procedure when arriving in Belize, but we had nothing to hide.  Still, we joked about how the dog smelled something in Barry's pack last time, so its contents had to be inspected; and believe it or not, out of all the bags from passengers on our boat, the same thing happened again this time!  This time it was his waist pack containing all his toiletries, and the police paid verrrrrry close attention to a bottle of OTC melatonin, but fortunately, they found nothing suspicious and finally let us go on our way through customs and immigration.  We were advised of the exit fee on our way in this time, a process improvement since our last visit, and it was the same $25 US (or approximately $300 MX) as the time we only spent a few hours on Mexican soil.

We grabbed a taxi ($50 MX, about $4 US) over to the bus station and bought our bus tickets to Tulum.  We ended up on a second-class Mayab bus. This was to be our only second-class bus of the trip, but we just wanted the next bus, and that happened to be what it was.  I got to use my Spanish right away as the ticket seller spoke no English.  Fortunately, we'd written up a little cheat sheet of common phrases that we might need for purchasing tickets, checking in at hotels, and ordering in restaurants, so I was able to do so without too much difficulty.  Plus, they show you the screen as you are buying your tickets, so you can point.  That always helps clarify things!

Despite being a second-class bus, the Mayab was far nicer than the "chicken buses" we're used to taking in Belize.  It was luxurious by comparison, with plus seats, air conditioning, and curtains on the windows.  Since it was a second-class bus, it stopped quite a few times, and in some cases, local vendors would enter the bus briefly to sell their wares.  

Being hungry for lunch, we bought this delicious pastry that ended up being filled with apples, cheese, and thinly sliced ham.  Let the eating begin!
And I bought this chicken salbute for Barry.  The pink pickled onions on top are very popular in Mexican cooking.
Both items were extremely cheap!  We were loving Mexican food already.

After a little over three-hour bus ride, we arrived at our first destination, Tulum, where we'd be spending our first three nights.  
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Tulum ADO Bus Terminal
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Mayab second-class bus -- very nice!
It was only a few blocks walk over to our hotel for the next three nights, the Secret Garden.  It was a real oasis right in town with many beautiful trees creating a cooling garden setting even on a warm, sunny day.
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Secret Garden Hotel
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The garden
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Our room -- room 3
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This extra bed was great for putting all our stuff on
We were greeted warmly by Maura and Joshua, both of whom spoke great English.  Joshua gave us lots of good information about Tulum, along with an excellent map of the area.  After a quick change of clothes, we wasted no time in setting out to start our explorations of this little beach town we'd heard so much about.
Stay tuned for much more on Tulum:  the ruins, the beautiful beach, the town, and (of course), the FOOD!
 
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We attended Bob and Helaine's (which I probably spelled wrong -- my apologies) annual Christmas potluck yesterday afternoon, and it was a great time!  I had gone last year as well, but Barry had a bad cold and had to stay home.  I was glad that he could attend this year and enjoy the food, friends, and festivities.

I transported the casserole I'd made down the beach in my bike basket.  It was a fun way to get to a party on a warm, breezy Christmas Day on the island.

There was a great crowd and lots of new people (and several pooches!) to meet, plus some familiar faces.  The second floor porch catches wonderful breezes and is a great place to hang out and chat.  The chicken wing I'm chowing down on here was made by Cheri of Lazy Croc, so you know it had to be good!

There were plenty of appetizers to munch on while the final dinner preparations were being made indoors.  I was saving my appetite for the meal so only tried the one chicken wing.

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The beautiful view from the porch
Jean made some excellent "Island Sangria" which of course I had to try.  I love sangria, and this was fruity and delicious!
Here's the dish I made -- my own creation. I was inspired by a recipe for a similar dish with spinach and bulgur wheat.  I substituted chaya leaves (which I'd never heard of until moving to Belize) for the spinach, brown rice for the bulgur, and added feta, oregano, and the tomatoes on top for a "Christmasy" look. 
The entire spread was awe-inspiring!  Plenty of a variety of delicious homemade treats to go around, including turkey, stuffing, gravy, and plenty of side dishes.  There was also a huge crockpot full of mashed potatoes (not shown in this photo).
Our groaning plates...
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Barry's
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Mine
Almost identical.  I think we we both tried a little bit of just about everything.  It was all yummy, but I could have eaten the challah bread (baked by Scott) all day long!
It got strangely quiet about this time.  I do believe that everyone was enjoying their Christmas dinner!  
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The outdoor crew
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The indoor crew, including Bob & Helaine's Dobie, Bess
Just when we thought we couldn't eat another bite, the desserts came out.  My favorite part!
Not pictured -- a gorgeous glazed pound cake came out late, so I cut a thin slice to take home and try later.  It will be my treat for today.
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Yum.
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Barry's plate -- he is thorough with his desserts!
Here I am with Helaine, a tiny and incredibly fit lady who can kick my butt in yoga...she's amazing.  We really appreciated the invitation to this excellent potluck.  Gatherings like this help so much when you're far from family during the the holidays.
Time to head home and get Paisley out on a walk!
 
This Christmas morning there was a knock on our door.  A Grand Caribe worker stood at the door with an envelope marked "B & E".  I thanked him and wished him a Merry Christmas, wondering what this mystery envelope could possibly be.  An invitation?  A note from someone?  

When I opened it, this is what I found inside:
Wow!  My jaw dropped as I showed Barry what was in the envelope -- something completely unexpected.  We were taken aback at this gift certificate from blog readers Glenn and Candy, whom we have not even met.  What a sweet and generous surprise!

We're delighted that they found our blog inspiring and hope that their visit to Belize is all they hoped for.  They certainly picked a beautiful time of year to visit, with perfect Christmas weather -- sunny and warm (cool to people who live here, but that's a good thing in my book!)

Glenn and Candy, if you are reading this, a heartfelt thanks to both of you for this thoughtful gift.  As I've mentioned on this blog from time to time, I love wine and rarely get to enjoy it here on the island due to the much higher prices than in the US.  The only time I've even been into Wine de Vine was to buy a gift bottle for someone else.  So this will be a real treat.  And if you are still at Grand Caribe, please stop by our veranda at Chico Caribe before you leave the island so that we can meet you and say thank you in person.  If the curtains are opened up, we're home.   We hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!
 
Taking a little time out from blogging to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!

From our home to yours,
Emily, Barry, and Paisley

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Merida, Mexico -- December 2012
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Photo courtesy of Pampered Paws -- Dec. 2012
 
Did you miss us?  Last night your intrepid BeBelizers returned from sixteen days of exploring the country next door, Mexico, by bus.  What a blast!  We visited five cities and traveled through five states.  We were enchanted by the colors, the colonial architecture, the people, the fiestas, and the glorious spicy foods -- not to mention all the great Mexican beers we can't buy here in Belize  (it's true that prohibition does make the heart grow fonder!)  

With apologies to our readers who are here to learn more about Belize, we took a lot of photos and want to share many of them, along with our experiences, with our friends and family as well as record them for ourselves for posterity.  So, please indulge us as we veer away from the Belize-centric focus of this blog for awhile to recount our tales of Mexico.  It's gonna take quite a few posts to cover this one!

So stay tuned for "A Tale of Five Cities" (and some travel in between)!
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Flag of Mexico
 
Yesterday we attended a surprise party here at Grand Caribe for Leisa's birthday.  When we arrived, Melody, who works at the front desk, and Laurie (aka Tacogirl) were busy decorating the gorgeous condo over the Grand Caribe office, where Leisa's parents were staying.  There was a beautiful cake, snack food, and plenty of balloons.  
Here we are waiting for the guest of honor to arrive.  Tacogirl snapped this photo with my camera so is not in it, unfortunately....
Once Leisa and her parents got back from being out on a boat for the day, they all went over to Cowboy Doug and Leisa's condo, and everyone was trying to figure out how to get Leisa up to the party room so that we could yell "Surprise!"  Melody came up with the idea of calling Leisa and telling her that there was a water leak in the unit where her parents were staying and that Leisa was needed to help out.  Melody was very convincing, even when Leisa started asking questions about where housekeeping and maintenance were.  Leisa was sure she was no expert on water leaks and wondered why they needed her, but she wasn't suspicious at all.

Apparently she had been kind of in the dumps that it had been raining so much since her parents arrival on the island, after so much gorgeous, sunny weather prior to that; and this so-called water leak was the final straw.  She sent her parents up to their unit, but Leisa just went out on her veranda to chill before coming up herself.  She really did not want any more problems.  We were all waiting with cake and cameras, ready to yell "SURPRISE", but we had to put everything down and wait since her folks came up, but not Leisa!

Finally Leisa's mother, Sylvia, called her on the phone and asked her to come up to the unit for a glass of wine.  Sylvia told Leisa that the leak had been taken care of, so not to worry.  Finally, after several other guests arrived (causing several more camera/cake false alarms!), we got word from the front desk that Leisa was on her way up to the unit.  We all took our places and shushed each other so she wouldn't hear us giggling.

It seemed to take forever, but Leisa finally got to the door and knocked, and her step-dad Bob yelled "come on in!"  One quick look inside and she knew that she'd been fooled!  She shut the door again so quickly no one had time to snap a photo.  Finally she opened it again, and we were at last able to yell "SURPRISE!" and take photos.  

Leisa did NOT expect a party.  She was carrying insect repellent, two bottles of wine, and still wearing her t-shirt from the boat ride (with bathing suit underneath).  She swore she was going to kill Doug for doing this.  I love the shot I got of her right at the moment she opened the door.  Classic!
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"SURPRISE!"
It was a lot of fun meeting Leisa's parents and chatting with everyone.  Leisa (on the left) still looks a bit shell-shocked in this photo, no?
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Festive party
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Leisa (left) and her mother Sylvia (with the knife) prepare to cut the cake
The chocolate cake was absolutely delicious, right Barry?
Although he was trying to keep it a secret, Leisa outed him:  Barry happens to share the same birthday as Leisa!  And not only that, their mother's are both named Sylvia!  Strange coincidence or cosmic sign...you be the judge!