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Vacation Journal
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My Isla Trip report – Feb. 14 – Mar 1st, 2010.

By: alaskadenise (View Profile)
Date: 3/30/2010

Note - not sure how this will look, as I have created it as a WORD document and I dont think my smiley faces carried thru - sorry about that.
Hola! Ah, Trip reports . . . lesson to be learned – do them when you first get home, because it gets more difficult to find the time a few weeks later as I have learned.  I do apologize for the delay – I struggle with my writing skills and once I got home, had a hard time finding any spare time. HOWEVER, I so enjoy living vicariously thru others trip reports, so here is my attempt to remember our recent trip to Isla and hopefully share something of value to you readers.
This was our 4th trip to lovely Isla Mujeres. Last year, we brought our teens so decided this year to go sans kids – parents need a break from everything once in a while. I must have watched flights for about 6 months before the prices finally dropped low enough to consider booking a flight. A note – under $1000 pp/rt is a good deal for us! We use our companion fare with Alaska Air, which helps tremendously. I then contacted Gladys to (http://islabudgetrentals.com/home) reserve a place at La Caribella, some nice budget apartments on Juarez (near LaLomita’s) where we would be staying for 15 nights. I do feel slightly guilty about having an apartment with a kitchenette, as it was barely used. The fridge and microwave are handy to have even when you are eating most of your meals out.
We were on the red eye leaving Anchorage . . . had a short layover in Seattle and then the flight went straight to Cancun. We always lose a night on the journey to Isla – we are a tad envious of you folks with that 2 or 3 hour direct flight.  Arrived to a packed airport – was like a busy day at Disney with lines snaking around everywhere. Seemed to take forever, but we chatted with people in line - even met some women who were heading to Isla for a first trip. That was funny as we kept bumping into them later in the week.  (They had left Seattle to come enjoy nice sunny weather, but sadly, I think they mostly got rain.) Once we cleared the airport, we head straight out the doors to the Best Day area – didn’t even have to wait. Hopped right into the van and we were off to the ferry. A short wait for the ferry and even though it was dark, we rode up on top the wind blowing our hair all over the place (well, at least mine!). So nice to watch Isla come into view, all lit up for the evening.

I am not sure what others feel like when they are returning to Isla – it isn’t quite the same as that first trip, not knowing what to expect – but perhaps a similar excitement because you KNOW how good it will be. The past several months had been so hectic, that I was really looking forward to some major relaxation. I only know that I can hardly wait for the ferry to get there!!  We grabbed our luggage and started heading across the medina to find our apartment. Pulled out the new and ever trusty MapChick’s map to discover that my water bottle had leaked on it in my carry on bag . . . and it was now quite damp. I figured we would find it . . . just hoped to save a few minutes.  We soon found the apartment and the hidden key . . . nice to be home! We then called Gladys to let her know that we had arrived and to thank her for our accommodations. We then headed out on to the street in search of dinner – immediately Isla fills your senses – the sounds, the smells, and the activity that all make Isla unique. It is good to be back – what a feeling that is!

Things We Did - Let’s see – what did we do on Isla?? Well, the weather was most unusual compared to what we have previously experienced on our other Isla trips. Now I must admit – I am not one of those travelers whom ask about the weather before going somewhere nor do I check weather channels. It really does not matter to me. We did not even bring raincoats because it has never rained more than a few sprinkles. Well – we had several rainy days – times where it just poured! We learned & remembered quickly where the good eaves are around town. Can you picture us dashing under eaves?? Glad we weren’t the only ones!  It was also very windy . . . so the water was pretty rough – no snorkeling or diving this trip. Because of the wind and weather, several nights were quite cool – this Alaskan was wearing a fleece jacket several evenings, it felt that cool. I didn’t put on jeans, but came close . . . but then a few days would warm up and even with the wind, we could enjoy the beach. So while the weather wasn’t a normal Isla experience, it was still a great vacation! Of course, our LAST day was perfect – that utterly calm beach, sun beating down – ahh the life!

I think almost every day started the same – I would wake up around 7 or so, and head out for a walk . . . usually about an hour. What a great way to start the day! I would start on the Malecon and walk beside the ocean . . . and then head down the island and loop back. I love seeing the day starting – people heading to work or those already going about their business. I enjoyed seeing the many different businesses that I had never really noticed on prior trips – it made me want to go further into the colonias each day. I was usually sweating by the time I came home . . . and Brett was usually awake when I came back. I would shower and then we would head out for breakfast.

When we first arrived on the island, Carnival was still happening, so we got to enjoy many of the dances in the street as well as in the town square. However, some of those events started really late, so we didn’t watch for long . . . had to catch up on our sleep those first few nights. I so love the costumes and the dancing – they are so talented! Music just seems to be so much a part of island and Mexican life – I just love that.

If the weather was good, we headed to the beach. If it wasn’t so good, we would wander around town a bit . . . and then head back to our apartment to hang out until it improved. We got lots of books read! That happens to be one of my favorite past times and is real treat to enjoy. We took siestas almost every day. I usually checked email every day. We had the clothes washed one day (gee, isn’t this an exciting trip report!!) We often watched the basketballs games in the evenings. We got to try lots of restaurants and other eateries. It was a simple vacation – not lots of excitement, but lots of rest and relaxation.

If the day was nice, we headed to Sergio’s to hang for the day. At Sergio’s, up closer to the bar, is fairly out of the wind, so we did spend several of our days hanging out there. I really enjoy the waiters there, but Roger really stood out with excellent service and always good humor. You can’t beat the views and usually we stayed until the sun set. One of my favorite past times is watching the day trippers leave – am I bad?

One day the weather was sort of iffy – sunny, but very windy, so we decided to just walk . . . arrived at Soggy Peso’s, which we had heard about and decided to see what it was like. Nice place . . . food isn’t quite us though. They were serving “Frito Pie” for their daily special – I asked the waiter what that was – he said it was Gringo food. We split it – it was okay, but just not what we prefer to eat while on Isla . . . so we finished our beers and headed further south. Caught a cab and went to the south end – Brett hadn’t walked up into the lighthouse, so we did that. They have done quite a change with all the landscaping and such around that area and it looks very nice. I like walking around the island as much as we can – still much I haven’t explored.

One rainy day we contacted Mary Ann Burns, who graciously came to our apartment, where we both got massages. Very nice!! You can contact Mary Ann at: maryannburns@yahoo.com. This could be arranged for any time during your vacation, but it was a great way to spend a rainy day! She is a very nice person and a good masseuse as well.

We did bump into several people who frequent the board – that is always a joy to put faces with names. You know who you are – glad you brightened our vacation. 

We also had one other interesting “small world” experience. A guy I have only known via the phone (work related) was going to be visiting Isla at the same time as us – also from Alaska. I had shared with him about this great little island in Mexico, and he wanted to share a special trip with his wife for their 20th anniversary. Well, I really didn’t figure I would run into him and I had no idea what he looked like. One day while at Sergio’s, this couple moved near our chairs and I heard him talking to the waiter. I turned to him and said – “we haven’t met, but I know your voice!” That was fun – we ended up taking them to LaLomita’s for dinner and actually flew back on the same plane.

We did have one special day off island – our grand adventure! I have been wanting for a few years to take a Mexican cooking class, especially one that focused on the food in the Yucatan. I had found one in Merida, but couldn’t persuade my other half to travel there but thanks to someone’s helpful post on the Q&A page; I found a school in Puerto Morelos, which was something we could do as a day trip. We had not done any bus trips, so this was a new experience for us. I felt well informed (thanks Laura and Wanda!) but was delighted and amazed at how very smoothly it went. I think we got on the 6:30 ferry, taxi to bus station, bus to Puerto Morelos and taxi into town. (Okay – I gotta ask . . . does any one else hear in their head Herb Alpert and the Tijuana brass playing “Tijuana Taxi” as you are zipping along in these taxis??) I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time incase something didn’t work out well with all the various modes of transport. We actually arrived too early, but it was good to know where the school was . . . we walked around town some and had breakfast at Mama’s Bakery and then walked back to the school. Cat – one of the ladies running the school asked Brett what he was going to be doing for the day . . . and then gave him the name of a terrific beach bar. He had a good day as well. I had a fabulous day – the chef Claudia was very down to earth and made the class so much fun. While it wasn’t lots of hands on cooking, we got to see everything demonstrated and sat down later in the afternoon to a veritable feast! You can check out the school here:
http://www.thelittlemexicancookingschool.com/welcome.html
After the class, Brett wanted to show me the beach and the bar where he spent his day – and of course, part take in another tequila shot before hitting the road. There is a long lovely stretch of beach – very nice and not crowded at all. We then headed to the main part of town, grabbed a taxi and we were once again back on Isla for dinner! 

Olympics – While I am not a huge sports fan, it was fun to watch the Olympics when we had the chance. The most watched was the Canadian & USA hockey games – several places had specials. Two different nights we were at a packed LaLuna’s watching the games. What a fun time that was – no matter what team you were cheering for!! Though it only took a goal to figure out who was who – ha-ha!

People – I really think this is what continually draws me back to Isla – the lovely people there. Yes, the beaches and water are amazingly lovely and the food incredible, but I prefer the scenery of Kauai.. But Isla’s people are so captivating!! Yes, we met some other wonderful travelers, but it is the locals that have me hooked. It makes me ache that I don’t know Spanish beyond my 2 yr old vocabulary level. “It is really nice to be living in a neighborhood” as my other apartment neighbor Jan (of Jan & Bruce fame) shared – you see some people several times a day . . . they become a part of your vacation and your life. The man I walk by every morning having his cup of coffee on the step, the shop keepers sweeping their sidewalk, the families sitting by their door way every evening – always a polite greeting and a smile. 
What amazes is me is how so many of them remember you from year to year. I was sharing that with Brett, but he said – “well, that is how they make their living – off us tourists.” But so do many Alaskans – the area we live in is one of the major destinations for travelers coming to Alaska and yet I don’t know many people that remember you from day to day, let alone year to year. Same way with Hawaii – I once visited a particular shave ice stand almost daily during a 2 week stay – never once did I hear – oh, you are back!
I ponder this quite a bit – is it just the Islenos? Is it Mexican’s in general? Are they just more personable and better at communication/people skills? I do wonder! I realize not every Isleno does this – you know how that daily stroll down Hidalgo is . . . some people recognize you with in a day or two of your arrival and change their sales slogans/tactics – and a few never realize you aren’t new to the island. But I would tend to say that is more the exception. Most remember you very well and I find that extremely touching.
On Juarez – just before you get to LaLomita’s, a woman sells flan in a glass case almost nightly. One night, I finally stopped and asked about it (and of course bought some!) – she introduced herself and I told her my name as well – after that, every time she saw me, it was Hola Denise! Or the fish shop also on Juarez – where an old woman once chatted away to me after I had told her Buenos Dias – she only spoke Spanish and though I did tell her “no habla Espanola” she just kept smiling and talking away. Or Marcy (near the back markets), the lady I bought several necklaces & other things from who hugged me on my last shopping day . . . and of course, how many of us American women love being greeting by these handsome Mexican men with a kiss on the cheeks?? 
Some especially captivating moments – I was walking down Hidalgo one day . . . and this little girl who was about 4 or 5 called me into her shop, using one of the familiar phrases – “come check it out” or something to that effect. She was so cute and so delightful – it just had me laughing. The shop keeper next to us was laughing as well. I turned to him and said – Man you start training them young! I asked her if she had any specials today and she said no – this she was very firm on. 
Or as I was carrying my luggage down Juarez, having left our apartment and heading to the ferry. The waiter from LaLomita’s popped his head out, as I was waving – he started blowing me kisses – I wanted to just cry. These people have my heart I tell you.

I think that is about it for a trip report – the details of daily life run together but as you know it is everything – the colors, the sounds, the smells and the people that make Isla such a wonderful place to visit. It is always difficult to leave and this time, I really felt a bit of culture shock coming back home – everyone seemed in such a hurry and lives so extravagant (if you have been to Alaska, you know this isn’t so!) compared to the Mexicans that I found it very disturbing and distasteful. I can’t imagine how you folks adjust after spending months on Isla. Someday, I would like to try that! 

Thanks for your patience in reading this long report – maybe someday I will actually pick up a camera and record what I see. You’ll see me on the board and would love to meet you if you ever decide to vacation in Alaska.
Adios!
Denise 

And if you are interested, here is the run down on the food we enjoyed!

FOOD: I did keep a daily log of where & what we ate for the most part . . . no food photos though – sorry! We had no bad meals, one or two average meals and for the most part, amazingly delicious food – eating out is such a joy on Isla. The food is fantastic, and for us Alaskans, very inexpensive! 

2/14 Dinner at Sancocho’s. I had the garlic fish fillet, Brett had the tuna steak. The past few trips, Sancocho’s has become one our favorite restaurants to visit over and over. Their food is good, very inexpensive and their wait staff is just delightful! 

2/15 Breakfast at French Bistro – always good, no matter what you eat.
Lunch – grabbed a rotisserie chicken, bought a big Sol at the place across from our apartment (w/the promise to return the empty)
Dinner at Fredy’s – I always get the baked shrimp – I love that dish. I don’t remember what Brett had, but he was happy. We always enjoy visiting with Fredy. 

2/16 Breakfast at the Chicago Deli/pancake house – okay, nothing special here.
All day at Sergio’s
Dinner at Brisas Grill – I had the grouper with a cilantro sauce, Brett had the tuna steak. I think they have fabulous salads too – their meals have been consistently excellent.
Dessert at Café Hildalgo

2/17 – Breakfast at Rene & Renee – I had the Mexican eggs which were delicious, and Brett had the ranchero eggs.
Another day at Sergio’s – chicken nachos
Dinner at Bucanero’s – I had a salad and fish tacos, Brett had shrimp fajitas. Good but for some reason, it doesn’t draw me a back over and over again like a few other places.
Watched some of the Olympics at Jax’s and had a few drinks.

2/18 – Breakfast at Element of the Island – very good, especially enjoyed their homemade bread and jam.
Lunch – leftover chicken at the apartment
Dinner at Mama Rose’s – ah, here was a story! We were doing the dinner stroll and wanted to eat at Sancocho’s, but their grill was already closed, so then we wandered down Hidalgo. Angelo’s had someone standing right out there, and said that they were still serving and we could be seated right away – had not eaten there before, so I was kind of excited. Well, we decided on the menu right away and waited and waited – at least 3 different waiters walked by us, but no one even looked our way. Sometimes I think we are invisible, but I refuse to be rude and demand service. So we got up and left, wandered further down Hidalgo. Mama Rose’s greeted us, seated us right away and brought us bread next – things were looking up. We had a very good dinner and excellent service.
Gelato for that after dinner strolling.

2/19 - Breakfast at the new Rooster. We thought we would try this cute new place. Our food was good, and the coffee was good, but our service was not. Brett thought the portions small, so after we finally got the bill and paid, he then went and had another breakfast at the French Bistro. I think I had a fruit plate – always happy at the French Bistro.
I had a late lunch at La Lomita’s – their fabulous, every bite is delicious black bean soup/Brett had a burger at Jax.
Dinner at Rolandi’s – I do enjoy their Margharita pizza – rather plan, but nice. I like the bread they bring out after you order as well. Good salads here too.
Marquesitas for dessert – nutella with caramel – yum!!

2/20 – breakfast at Café Cito – can’t remember specifics, but I loved their pineapple jelly – yum!
Chips & pico at Sergio’s
Dinner at Sancocho’s – stuffed avocado & fish tacos, Brett had pollo mole. Very good.

2/21 – Breakfast at Penguino’s – I love the view from here – very nice way to start a morning.
Guacamole at Briasas Grill and some more Olympic watching
LaLuna’s for dinner – I had this enormous salad/Brett had the nachos. They had a limited menu as it wasn’t a night they were normally open – they were open for the Olympic hockey game btw Canada and the US. It was our first dinner here and I was impressed – delicious!

2/22 – breakfast at Rene & Renee’s again. I had the Mexican eggs again – just delicious! I think this is the day that when I ordered tea, I specified that I wanted black tea. The owner/waiter brought out tea, obviously not black tea. He smiled and told me that it was chamomile and it was good for me. How you can you resist such charm?? I love eating here! 
Lunch at Sergio’s
Dinner at Asian Bistro - I must add that I normally don’t eat ethnic food that I can get back home. We are fortunate that we have lots of good Thai restaurants in the Fairbanks area, SO I never wanted to try this place. But one night after already eating dinner, the owner was giving out samples and told us about their fresh fish as well, so we decided to try it this night. Excellent food! Very fresh veggies. I think this night I had their Bangkok fish and Brett had their pork tenderloins. They have excellent regular and Thai iced tea as well – we didn’t have room to try their desserts.

2/23 – Very good breakfast at Mama’s Bakery in Puerto Morelos. I had fruit and a side of link sausage, Brett had some egg burrito thing that was good.
Brett spent the day at the beach bar and looked very happy
I had a fabulous meal at the Little Mexican Cooking School
Dinner with Jan and Bruce at the Cuban Restaurant on Hidalgo. First time I have had Cuban food but the real fun was sharing it with Jan and Bruce. 

2/24 – breakfast at Manama - Probably the only thing I don’t like here is going to the counter – I do being enjoy being waited on. They have excellent bread here, though I wish they didn’t serve frozen potatoes.
Snack at Café Hidalgo – Brett had a ham & cheese crepe, I had a croissant with Nutella. They have some of the best tea on the island. It was a lovely spot to enjoy on yet another rainy day.
Dinner at Asia Caribe – Brett had the sticky ribs; I had their version of Tix & chix – very good!

2/25 – walk to the Blue Iguana, where we had fresh caramel rolls – coffee/tea
Lunch at Sergio’s – shrimp for me and cheese burger for Brett
Dinner at La Lomita’s – bean soup & chicken mole. I can’t go here without having bean soup – it is just a given. But I had heard things on Holly Eats website about the mole here, so I had to try it. It was so delicious! So glad I gave that a try.

2/26 – breakfast at Café Mogagua – huervos divorciados – the best!!
Lunch at Sancocho’s
Dinner at La Luna’s – scallops appetizer, we split their dinner salad. Brett had tuna steak and I had the stuffed chicken – it was delicious!
Lime sorbet @ the Italian gelato on Hidalgo

2/27 – Breakfast at Café Mogagua – I kept getting the huervos divorciados – so very tasty!
Lunch at the Soggy Peso – unremarkable
Dinner at Sancocho’s – always good!

2/28 – breakfast at the French Bistro
Chips and pico at Sancocho’s
Dinner at Brisas Grill – mixed salad, Tequila shrimp and tuna steak – it was fabulous!
Pizza at Rolandis’ – for some reason, Brett was still hungry and ordered a small pizza here.
Gelato

3/1 – breakfast at Café Mogagua – our last meal on the island . . . it gave me much joy to eat, but sad to know this was it for awhile.

I finally got to try Pepitos from Maria – that was a yummy treat! I have been waiting for years to have her walk by me while I am at the beach.  Sometimes I wonder if some of these locals realize how “famous” they are to some Isla travelers as I have read about her and seen her photos for several years. 

I also want to add that I did take the time to review on Trip Advisor many of the restaurants that we ate at. Many new travelers read those reviews and some of those local Isla businesses could really use the support, so if you have some time, go post a review of your favorite restaurants on Trip Advisor – I am sure the local businesses would appreciate it. You can also review your accommodations as well.


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