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Baja California Sur Roadtrip: Part 2- Los Cabos

In follow up to my prior post regarding our Baja California Sur roadtrip, we continued on from Todos Santos to Cabo San Lucas, the most well-known spot for tourists. I will admit to being a bit skeptical of visiting Cabo prior to our arrival… I feared the existence of too many all-inclusive resorts & too many frogs:

Señor Frog, as spotted from afar, surrounded by scantily clad young-uns.

I was also wary of cruise ships & young girls getting their hair done in those horribly-unattractive really tight braids along their scalps by roving beach braiders.

In my nightmare, this cruise ship would suddenly speed to shore, disgorge all of its buffet-laden passengers, and surround me while that guy in the white t-shirt turned his hair-braiding attention on my locks.

As it turned out, I actually really enjoyed our visit!  Friend Heidi will attest that she had to convince me that we should spend two nights there, but as I told her later, it was a great choice. What turned me around on Cabo San Lucas, you may wonder?

1) Finding a sweet lodging deal on www.vrbo.com

I got a little obsessed with the Vacation Rentals By Owner website during our time in Mexico, as there were so many amazing properties at really reasonable prices. We had 5 people in our group in Cabo San Lucas, which was the perfect number for investigating a VRBO alternative to 2 or 3 hotel rooms.

We found Casa de Mario (http://www.vrbo.com/272874) located in Medano Beach, which was my top neighborhood of choice in Cabo. This spot has 3 beds/3.5 baths, is 300 yards from the beach, has a fully-outfitted kitchen, and even has a pool in the backyard. It was the perfect spot for our group as we could abandon our car & walk to everything, come back in the afternoon to refresh with a glass of wine in the air-conditioned living room, and whip up our own breakfast in the morning.  Owner Tim was super helpful & responsive, and even had some great restaurant recommendations to boot.  (See additional pics on his VRBO page above.)

John lauding over the pool at our VRBO house in Cabo San Lucas

FYI if you stay @ Tim's place, this is what the entrance looks like of the place he had us go to check in & get the keys.

2) Co-opting a large hotel’s beach chairs & pool for the day

We determined in advance that the only thing we’d really be missing out on by not staying in a large hotel was the primo beach location.  So on the nice sunny day that we wanted to spend reading on the beach in luxury, we had our best-dressed group member approach the gentleman standing guard around the beach chairs of one of the nicer hotels on Medano Beach. She asked if it would be possible for us to rent five chairs for the day. They quickly arrived at some reasonable agreement (maybe a few hundred pesos or so + our commitment to buy some food/drinks) to allow us free reign of the beach chairs, pool, and restrooms for the day.  Win-win, I say!Also, since we were inside the “velvet ropes” of the hotel property, all the beach vendors were preemptively shooed away from pestering us– bonus.

This is the hotel we ID'd as our target property for beach-sitting.

Cooling off in their gorgeous pool while sipping a cold beer was quite rewarding.

3) Breakfast on the beach at The Office

A quick walk from our door, the food here was solid & the views were great! A little Americanized? Maybe, but they had chilaquiles which gets a thumbs up from me. Sit in a ways from the perimeter of the tables to minimize interaction aforementioned beach vendors. Website is http://theofficeonthebeach.com/.  [Insert requisite joke here about this being the best office I’ve been to, etc.]

4) Great photo opps with cute garbage cans

What's not to love about these guys?

5) Great photo opps with the iconic rock formations off the coast

The girls looking artsy, outside of me in my dumpy Old Navy flatteringly-horizontal-striped t-shirt.

While we were too cheap to take a boat tour to actually see El Arco, it does look pretty sweet & probably merits a trip. :) VRBO owner Tim recommended the following folks that will treat you fairly: “POCHOS, across from the Marina, runs five boats of different sizes (Carlos or Gustavo 877-347-4275).   REDRUM Sportfishing is currently running seven boats, located on the Marina at the Marina Cabo Plaza Hotel.  John Donovan is the contact 617-335-2124.”

6) You’re on a nice beach

The beach! Not overrun with spring breakers!

More beach! This time looking from the other direction!

 7) People-Watching Extraordinaire!

Good diversity of tourists equals good diversity in people watching. We enjoyed this special photo opp happening below with a young boy plus various small dogs staged along a multi-part beach chair.

Is this man a professional photographer? Hard to know what's happening here.

Which one is the statue in traditional dress?

From a food perspective, Cabo San Lucas certainly has no shortage of restaurants. We went to Nicksan for our one fancy dinner, but you have a plethora of options for higher-end dining. The bigger challenge is probably getting recommendations for good, traditional Mexican places to eat! Ask around where you’re staying (but try to clarify you’re interested in where they go to eat, not where the closest Ruth’s Chris is) & follow the crowds of locals.

After our two nights in Cabo San Lucas, we headed out for lunch in San Jose del Cabo & back up the coast to La Paz. More to follow in our next installment!

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

The Fields of Oaxaca

I believe it was a famous photographer who once said, “Some of the best photos this world has seen were taken from small, fogged-up airplane windows while flying over the state of Oaxaca.” Even if that’s not true, I’m still going to subject you to a photo I snapped on our descent into the OAX airport this afternoon– primarily for the viewing enjoyment of the many farmers & recovering farmers in my family. :)

Take a look at these stripey farm fields in Oaxaca state:

This looks like a modern art project, executed in crops.

The colors are a little anemic due to the multi-paned airplane window, but trust me that this flora was much more vibrant in person– particularly since the rainy season has begun in Oaxaca! I found the thin, multi-colored patches quite scenic. (Especially as opposed to my alternative view across the aisle– a man who seemed to be trying to put the moves on his airplane seat mate.)

More farm stripes! You are riveted!

It may not mean as much to those of you who are not Midwesterners & hence did not grow up viewing aerial photos of your Dad’s farm. So, check out this Google Satellite view of the farm land north of Pleasanton, Nebraska to get a sense of what an average US farm looks like. (And if you were wondering, yes, Pleasanton is home to the famous Sandbar restaurant & bar.)

Maybe this struck me today because it reminded me of the beautiful, stripey quilt that my Mom just finished for me & John, to accent our new gray/blue bedroom walls. Here it is on display still in her home:

Can you say talented quilter?? She even whipped up multiple pillows!! Go Marcia!!!

And speaking of beds (smooth transition, eh?), I was welcomed tonight after my arrival into Oaxaca by this message spelled out in leaves in my Camino Real hotel room:

John, don't get your hopes up expecting nightly love notes spelled out in cherry blossoms on our new quilt. ;)

This is how I was meant to live…but realistically I will only be living like this when Mexico Today is picking up the tab. :) Thanks to them for a great evening in Oaxaca!

Zihuatanejo: our last beach trip in Mexico

I sense your sympathy may be limited when I tell you that today is the last day of our LAST Mexican beach vacation, and it’s raining. We’ve truly been spoiled with all the amazing travel opportunities during our 2.25 years here in Mexico, but nonetheless we wanted to jam in one last trip to a beach.  The selection process of “which beach” was helpfully facilitated by the implosion of Mexicana Airlines (which had the only flights out of Benito Juarez Airport to places like Puerto Escondido and Huatulco), and the near infinite number of times I have seen The Shawshank Redemption on TBS while growing up.

For the possibly 5 people who have seen fewer movies than I have, I will try not to unduly spoil the plot by disclosing that at the end of the movie, someone ends up going to Zihuatanejo. Although I now understand that scene was actually filmed in the US Virgin Islands (liars), the seductive call of the name Zihuatanejo was enough to sway us– particularly when combined with a reasonably-priced plane ticket + generally positive reviews on the innerwebs.

Here is my underbelly skin contrasted against a white piece of paper, white fabric, and a white tile floor. Can you tell where my arm ends and the white objects begin??

Traveling to a Mexican beach in the month of September puts you firmly entrenched in the rainy season. I wasn’t overly worried about this, because God knows it’s not like my skin is destined to spend a lot of time in the sun. (see evidence at right) But I did sell John on the idea of spending a bit more money to stay somewhere nice, since odds were good that we would be spending a lot of time indoors. 😛 We settled on Casa Cuitlateca.

I wasn’t sure if Casa Cuitlateca could possibly live up to all the rave reviews on Trip Advisor, but it did. :) We were especially appreciative given the constant weather forecast of:

...and by "chance of rain", we mean "rain."

We arrived on Friday to a beautiful sunny day, but it poured that evening & has basically continued raining with ~2-3 momentary pauses over the subsequent three days. Casa Cuitlateca gets bonus points because despite only having five rooms, they have a number of open-air common areas so you’re not trapped in your room all the time during the downpours. We lucked out being the only guests during our three nights here, but I think even if the other four rooms were full, there’s enough space that you wouldn’t all be on top of each other.

This place was probably the best-designed B&B that we’ve stayed at, combining innovative design, traditional decor, novel water features, excellent food, great service, and very well thought-out rooms. If you were willing to pay a lot more, I’m sure there are more luxe options available, but for us Casa Cuitlateca struck a good balance with their boutique hotel feel + their off-season pricing ($150/nite + tax for the nicer rooms, apparently a 60% discount off high-season prices). Check out more pics below:

After you arrive via taxi, you're dropped off in the parking lot & get to cross a sweet suspension bridge over the driveway.

As you head up to the main level of the property, you pass this lovely pond (located below the infinity pool). Those stairs take you down to the road below.

A view towards the centro of Zihuatanejo from Casa Cuitlateca's pool. All the greenery you see around the pool-- that area is filled with little fish + a few big orange koi, so you have free entertainment while swimming.

I am a sucker for an infinity pool. One of the employees, Alfredo, told us a great story about how some dude showed up for a drink in the bar one night along with his dog. The guy sat down, and the dog promptly jumped in the pool & began vigorously paddling across. Alfredo tried repeatedly to get the guy's attention but was ignored. The dog, meanwhile, reached the infinity edge and jumped over it, down a ~30-foot drop off. FINALLY the guy takes notice, but by the time he heads down the stairs, the dog is already on his way back up- though now sporting a limp in his front right paw. The guy left his drink & departed in a huff, idiot dog in tow.

Facing the pool on the main level is the bar/breakfast nook when it's raining out. It has a great view and is a good spot to sit & wonder, "How long can it rain for, anyway?" with a drink in your hand.

This area had two strategic fans mounted on the walls, which we found to be great for taking "fan showers" when you returned all sweaty after your hike uphill from the centro. (note glistening body)

On the 2nd floor there's a spacious TV room/dining table...

...along with a computer for checking the intertubes.

I believe we were in the Puebla room, which offered an excellent direct view of the ocean.

It did not have as large of a terraza as the Guerrero room, but it had more indoor seating, which we decided was more valuable due to the everpresent mosquitos waiting to attack.

And if you tire of your room's bed, there is always this cute bed under the palapa by the pool.

Casa Cuitlateca also had a jacuzzi on the 3rd floor that we didn’t test out. They serve a small lunch menu of things like sopes, quesadillas, guac, sandwiches, burgers, etc. at *extremely* reasonable prices (i.e $75 pesos for a cheeseburger, $50 pesos for 4 sopes with the best tinga I have had in Mexico, etc.). Everything we had was excellent. Dinner you have to request in advance, and it is a set menu priced at $65/$75 USD per person, depending on entree (and includes an hour of open bar + a bottle of wine). I have read numerous rave reviews, but we didn’t try it as the pricing seemed a little high to us for a set menu that included several traditional Mexican dishes (that we eat often).

The last two highlights are the breakfast and the staff. For desayuno (which is included), you’re handed a menu listing juices, fruits, eggs, meats, side orders & drinks, and you basically order as much as you want off of it. Our first morning, we had 4 cups of coffee, a glass of fresh OJ, a glass of fresh grapefruit juice, a plate of mixed fruit accompanied by a bowl of yogurt for dipping, huevos rancheros, a ham-n-cheese omelet, and two orders of waffles. Um, yeah. Let’s just say we didn’t go hungry. 😉  Finally, the staff were all extremely friendly, helpful and attentive– we enjoyed chatting with Alfredo & Amador, and Sylvia did a great job in the kitchen. I believe there are 10 employees in total, and they do fantastic work maintaining a property that is certainly no small task!

As for Zihuatanejo in general, it is definitely a very laid-back spot that skews towards smaller hotels and houses vs. the massive, high-rise, chain hotels that are found in Ixtapa. The water/beaches were not the best I’ve seen in Mexico, but I think some of that is a function of rainy season + a really heavy rainstorm on our first night in town. I’m sure the beaches look more like this during the dry season, whereas I would not rush to go swimming in the ocean or walk along the sand barefoot in the rainy season.

Employees of a restaurant along Playa La Ropa work to clean up garbage after a stormy night.

Zihua’s centro is cute, with a good mix of touristy + local restaurant options and plenty of shops to buy all the Mexican artesanias that your little heart desires. Be aware that in the rainy season, the centro definitely has some drainage problems, so no need to wear your fancy high-heels here! Apparently water management has been a consistent problem in Zihua due to small, old pipes & the massive elevated area that is draining into the centro. We saw a number of “storm drains” that were actually functioning as fountains…

This drain may not be that effective... In other news, I didn't know I would be in this photo wearing my all-shades-of-green outfit. John told me the fashion police probably wouldn't be out in Zihua on a rainy Sunday afternoon, but now my fashion faux pas has been exposed to all just to bring you the news of Zihua's crap storm drains. What sacrifices I make for you people...

Many of the fancier restaurants are located along Playa La Madera/Playa La Ropa, mostly in hotels. We visited Kau-Kan Restaurant on Saturday night, and had a fantastic meal. To be fair, it didn’t end up being *that much* less expensive than the dinner pricing I mentioned above, but we had some novel dishes like an Asparagus & Cranberry Tart, Smoked Sailfish Salad, Seared Tuna w/Creamed Spinach & Mushrooms, Sea Bass w/Herbs, and an amazing Passion Fruit Sorbet.  Service was very good; highly recommended.

The other spot that everyone & their pet dog has recommended on Trip Advisor is Lety’s Seafood Restaurant. I will admit to being slightly skeptical as to how good these coconut shrimp could possibly be. FYI: they’re great. Big shrimp, not greasy, filled with a bit of cream cheese & accompanied by a coconut milk dipping sauce.

Yummm. Camarones de coco at Restaurant Lety's in Zihuatanejo.

Notes to self for when we try to make this at home: the shrimp seemed to be butterflied & filled w/some cream cheese. We hypothesized that then they are dipped in egg, then flour, then egg again, then shredded coconut.

Lety’s is located just across a footbridge from the centro, so have a taxi drop you off in the parking lot by the pier. Cross the bridge & turn left, and look for the below sign. Lety’s is on the 2nd floor.

Sign & stairway up to Lety's in Zihuatanejo

In summary, we’ve enjoyed our time here in Zihuatanejo despite being impressed by just how consistently it can rain for for 3 days. :) (We do have rainy season in DF as well, but it tends to consist of sunny mornings & temporarily rainy afternoons/evenings.) If you visit here, I recommend staying somewhere with a pool (as I’ve heard mixed reviews of the cleanliness of the bay). Zihua is a nice, traditional Mexican town/fishing village, vs. vacationing somewhere like the Zona Hotelera in Cancun where you could be on any beach in the world, trapped on a strip of chain hotels. For dining, there are plenty of fancy, high-end options that are priced accordingly, but you can also easily access <$1 USD tacos & traditional Mexican fare. And for drinking, there are numerous liquor stores in the centro if you’re looking for a better bargain than hotel bar prices. (May we recommend the Havana Club Siete Años rum?)

Now I am off for our Last Meal on a Beach in Mexico. :) See you back in DF!!

****Quick Update (Sept 7, 2010)****

For those interested in prices for getting from the Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo airport (airport code ZIH) to town, here is a photo of one of the signs listing taxi prices:

This gives you an idea of the taxi prices at the Zihuatanejo airport (aka the Ixtapa airport).

My husband protects me from screaming, naked girls

Today marks the 5th full day of our Yucatan Peninsula vacation, and we’re currently in beautiful Tulum on the east cost of Quintana Roo, Mexico. (Isla Holbox & Valladolid were great; more to come!) We’re staying in a house (Casa de las Olas) on the very south bit of Tulum’s beachfront, literally the last property before the Sian Ka’an bioreserve & right below Rancho San Eric shown on this map.

We have a lovely 2nd floor vista of the beach & ocean, with a balcony whose doors we leave open in hopes of luring any nearby breezes into our non-air-conditioned eco-room. Being good little temporary eco-hippies, we went to bed fairly early last night with hopes of being lulled to sleep by nothing but waves crashing against the beach.

A shot of palm trees, beach and ocean from our balcony at Casa de las Olas

Instead, our attempted slumber was interrupted by screams of increasing volume from the beach. No, it wasn’t what some of you Mexico skeptics out there may be thinking–  these were not screams of narco violence. Rather, these were screams of moron college girls prancing around naked in the surf at midnight.

We both ignored it in silence for a bit. I can understand that when you’re running around in the ocean, drunk and nude, there may be the occasion for a scream every now and then. But it quickly reached the point where I began to wonder if these girls had encountered a new nesting grounds for poisonous jellyfish, or if all of Tulum’s fishermen had suddenly arrived on the scene & had begun to vigorously tickle these twits en masse. Right in front of our window. Ok, I thought silently. That’s enough.

Apparently John sensed my “¿¿en serio??” vibe, as he got up from the bed right about then. “Idiots. They’re probably out there skinny-dipping,” he grumbled.

“Oh, they definitely are,” I informed him. “Didn’t you hear the one shout ‘OMG, are you naked?!?! tee hee hee!'”

John began to glance around the darkened room. “Where’s your camera?” I pointed him towards the camera lying impotently on the side table, with its battery tucked into the charger & rudely suckling away at the house’s limited solar energy reserve…  He reassembled the camera, and headed for the balcony.

“This should take care of things pretty quickly,” he said confidently.

He stood at the edge of our terraza, which as you can sort of see from the photo above, is set back a ways from the actual ocean behind the beach, a few palm trees and the roof of the suite on the 1st floor. Obviously, you’re not going to be able to take a photo of someone in the ocean, much less at night. This much is clear to you and I and John. But for all those girls knew, John was a professional journalist with a telephoto lens. 😉

He began snapping photos with as bright of a flash as our little Canon point-and-shoot could muster. The palm trees lit up brilliantly with each click. It took a couple pictures, but suddenly the girls erupted in a flurry of new screeches of actual concern.

“Someone’s up there taking photos of us!!!!” one yelped. “Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!!” shouted another. Most of their other words of wisdom were conveniently blurred by the sounds of the ocean.

The naked beach party quickly began to shift its location, in so taking with it the high-pitched shrills of tipsy coeds. Who knows where it went, but it was no longer directly in front of our peaceful balcony.

I sat on the bed giggling as John finished his photo shoot and returned to bed. “That was easy. But if they come back, I’m going down to the beach with a camera AND a flashlight.”

“Of course you are honey.”

This was the best photo from "The Night the Drunk Coeds Confused Tulum with Señor Frogs in Cancun"... (and this was only *after* I used Picasa's "I'm Feeling Lucky" photo editing feature, where it magically shows you the photo you meant to take if you were a master of the time-space-camera continuum). :)

John may not having a glowing future as a paparazzi, but if I’ve learned nothing else, it is that he will always be happy to intercede between me and annoying, drunk, naked, screaming girls. :)

Las Pozas: a Jungly Wonderland in Xilitla, Mexico

Concrete "flowers" with more flowers growing out of the top!

Ever since we arrived in Mexico, I’ve heard rumblings about Las Pozas. General commentary included things like “crazy place in the jungle”, “this English guy Edward James’s surrealistic garden”, “wild concrete structures”, and perhaps the most intimidating, “8 hours away on windy mountain roads”.

Lots of gothic-y influences in the creations at Las Pozas

With most weekends booked up between MBA class & visitors, it took until February 2010 to find the perfect combination of 1) an open 3-day weekend, and 2) another friend dying to make the trip, to help pressure/offset my husband’s lack of interest. Emily & I set our expectations low (as any good traveler in Mexico has learned to do– then you can only be pleasantly surprised). John’s expectations were already entrenched in this category. 😛

Emily & I at the base of one of the waterfalls

I began researching up a storm, finding loads of information snippets about Las Pozas, Xilitla (the adjacent town of  ~10,000 people), the Huasteca region, etc. The one thing I could not find, however, was any good-ol biased commentary saying “YES it is totally worth the 7-8 hour death march from Mexico City!!” or “NOoooo you fool! Turn back now!!”

So to cut to the chase, my opinion is: YES! Las Pozas + the beautiful scenery en route is worth the ~7 hour drive north of Mexico City. Let me explain why, as well as add a few caveats for potential visitors. Another post to follow with details on the drive to & from!

Waterfalls and concrete combine with amazing natural rock formations to make the multiple pools after which the site is named

Who built Las Pozas & what is it?

Edward James was born into riches in Edwardian England in 1907, but eschewed uptight British life to travel the world & collect surrealist art. The term “eccentric” might be an understatement to describe this man, who was also a poet. He ended up in Xilitla, Mexico through his quest to get as far away from the UK as possible, finding it the perfect spot for his castle in the jungle & for his beloved orchids . (Or see alternative story about his first visit to Xilitla & butterflies landing all over his naked body in a sign from the heavens here.)

Here I am with the man of the hour, Edward James, accompanied by a tropical bird.

One of James' many flower replicas-- if flowers dying makes you sad, just build your own permanent ones!

My understanding is that a freak freeze/snowfall killed off all of his orchids in 1962 (as well as much of the coffee bean crop that the locals harvested annually). After that incident, James decided to create “permanent” orchids & a garden that would never die. (just makes sense, right?)  He basically employed the entire populace of Xilitla until 1984 (when he died) building amazing concrete structures scattered around the jungle just outside of town. Rumor has it he spent around $5M on the project at the time, selling off most of his art collection to finance the efforts.

In total, he & his trusty lead carpenter (Jose Aguilas) built 36 structures, formed by crafting long, thin pieces of wood into molds for the concrete. You can see the old molds at the “museum” (aka restaurant located in El Castillo); they are amazing pieces in and of themselves. James also shaped the river that passes through his property into 9 pools (after which Las Pozas is named). Entrance to Las Pozas is free for local residents, and one of the guides said the pools are abuzz with local residents during the summer.

Just a few of the handmade, wooden molds used to shape the concrete structures.

In the museum & talking to people in Xilitla, it was hard to get a feel for "What did everyone think of this guy-- bat-shit crazy, amazingly generous and giving, or a pompous englishman?" You don't really see any direct negative commentary, though I did find this photo & caption to be an interesting vignette of the boss/worker relationship... "Don Jose tells that when a log rolled & hit James, he was asked to construct this seat in which the englishman was then transported..."

Where is Las Pozas?

Las Pozas is located in Xilitla, a small town of ~10,000 in the gorgeous Huasteca region of southern San Luis Potosi state. As alluded to above, it is a solid 7-8 hour drive from Mexico City. Tampico is the closest airport (in Veracruz state), but that’s still a 3-4 hour drive.
View Larger Map

Our Visit to Xilitla and Las Pozas:

Xilitla map (click to enlarge)

We arrived into Xilitla around 5:30PM on a Saturday in February, after taking our time stopping at a few spots en route in the Sierra Gorda region of Queretaro. The town doesn’t have a lot to keep one busy, so I wouldn’t allot an excess of time for exploring Xilitla itself.  That said, you can tell a few enterprising folk are trying to cater towards the tourist crowd with a few cute restaurants/bars/lodging options that veer from standard small-town Mexico.

Las Pozas:

Here's a pic of my Las Pozas map-- but please support them by buying one there!

Las Pozas is located downhill outside of town. While you could certainly walk there, I think it would take a solid 45 minutes down a rocky dirt road, so I might suggest driving/bus/taxi depending on how much energy you want to save for the running about the site. (There’s plenty of car parking near the entrance.) The site opens around 9AM, and I would suggest arriving early to beat any other tourists/rain/fog. You can buy a map at the Refresqueria/gift shop just inside the entrance for ~$15 pesos. The map is good for identifying the names of the structures, but really unnecessary for actually getting around– once inside, you’ll find yourself trying to cover every path that you see regardless of where it goes! Also– don’t be tricked into using the sketchy bathroom at this spot. There are much nicer bathrooms farther inside Las Pozas or just past the main restaurant on the other side of the road.

We wandered along the river first, marveling at all the stairs & formations and trying to imagine what things looked like in their prime, ala 1984. If I was less of a wuss, swimming in these cold-water pools would have been fantastic. :) It was fascinating to see how James’ additions blended in with the natural rock formations– amazing, giant slabs of rock that bordered the river, slanting downwards at a 45-degree angle. Then we backtracked along the path & began the exploration of the concrete jungle, starting with the most iconic Columna Gigante.

John & I perch along the edge of the formations along the river

John is the first to test the structural integrity of these floating stairs... (success!!)

While I am sure there are stories that accompany each of the structures in Las Pozas, the photos say it better than I can– though they are a weak substitute for actually being there, let me assure you!!  A few more highlights below, and  I will get more added to the Photo Gallery shortly so as to not make this post *too* crazy-long.

We offered a prayer to Virgin of Guadalupe in hopes of me not falling & ripping holes in my pants, as I am wont to do.

Here we are on the middle level of the Columna Gigante

Emily tried to figure out how to pilot this concerningly-heavy plane

Loved the concrete snakes with the exposed rebar doubling as a spiky tongue

Here I am in one of my favorite structures, the Palacio del Bambu (I think).

Meanwhile, Emily did some yoga in this hub of zen.

Can you see the stairs zig-zagging up this hillside? We took these on our way up to the treehouse lookout point.

In total, we spent about 3 hours running around Las Pozas and then another hour or so for lunch. I recommend wearing athletic clothing, as the air is plenty humid & you’ll find yourself doing lots of scrambling around– not an ideal combo for a tight pair of jeans + heels. 😉 I will admit to dripping with sweat as we trotted up to the treehouse look-out point atop one of the hills. (I’ve gotten soft here in the uber-dry climate of Mexico City!)

We came across this maze on the way out of Las Pozas, which we ran through like morons until discovering that it was actually pretty hard. I was super excited until I literally ran into a big puddle of standing water in one of the dead-ends.

For those interested in more of the details of Edwards James and how Las Pozas came to be, there are a number of excellent resources online. A few include…

Lodging in Xilitla:

John heads up the stairs between levels at Hostal del Cafe in Xilitla

The “de-facto” place to stay in Xilitla is El Castillo (built by James’s architect, Plutarco Gastelum), but it was already full our first nite in town, so we had a reservation at Hotel Hostal del Cafe instead. Hostal del Cafe is located on the highway (I use that term loosely) that runs through town, and consists of several levels built into the hillside. The rooms are all quite different, each nestled in dense, jungley vegetation. We got a bit frustrated during our check-in process while trying to explain that no, Emily would not be staying in the room that didn’t lock. Interactions improved when we met the owner Alejandro & his wife later that evening, who were very helpful and friendly. Our rooms were $500 pesos each, plus an additional $70 pesos if you want breakfast. It was pretty chilly there at nite, which was perfect for me– ensconced in a comfy bed with loads of blankets. It was also very quiet for being so close to the main highway.

Our tasty breakfast at Hostal del Cafe, accompanied by several hummingbirds dining just above John's head.

The breakfast was quite nice with fresh orange or passion fruit juice, good coffee, and part of a zacahuil, “a huge tamal made with corn dough, filled with pork or chicken, soaked in a red chile sauce, wrapped in banana leaves, and baked in a wood-fired oven.” (BTW, check out this sweet zacahuil-making video here!) We were also accompanied by several hummingbirds in the morning while we dined. :) Overall, Hostal del Cafe was a solid budget lodging option in Xilitla– not super-glamorous but no major complaints.

The iconic footprints at the entrance to El Castillo

For our second nite, we moved to El Castillo (old website here). Rates range from $60USD to $130USD on their website. We stayed in the Vista and Don Eduardo rooms for $1100 pesos each; I think Don Eduardo is the way to go because of the gorgeous mountain views out your window. (FYI, there is a bit more road noise due to El Castillo’s in-town location, but if you are a light sleeper traveling in Mexico, you should have ear plugs with you anyway!) We enjoyed wandering around the El Castillo property (which had a lovely pool) & the rooms were cutely decorated. They did have in-room heaters for which you could pay an extra fee to fill them w/propane. Breakfast cost an additional $100 pesos, if I recall correctly; you could certainly get a cheaper equivalent elsewhere, but the food was decent. Overall, I would say it’s worth staying there for at least one night for the full “all-things-Edward-James” experience & scenic views, but I wouldn’t say that it is necessarily 2x as nice as other options in Xilitla that are 1/2 the price.

A shot inside our room at El Castillo, with the cool windows looking out towards the mountains

Specifically, a thumb mountain! Apparently Mount Thumb (as I like to call it) is a fan-favorite landmark in Xilitla

One other spot that looked decent (but we didn’t stay at) was Puerta del Cielo, Hotel & Suites. You won’t miss the massive, bright pink-n-yellow structure just off the main road through town. Prices range from $660 pesos to $1350 for the master suite & they also have a pool.

Last but not least, we spotted these cabins that are located just a few meters outside the entrance of Las Pozas. They are very small (i.e. no more than 2 people, I'd say), but have a bathroom/shower & a loft bed (with a very thin "mattress", more like a sleeping pad, to warn you). But they were very cute & conveniently located. No website that we saw, but you can call 045.489.100.3152 or 045.489.104.3224 to ask about pricing/availability

Food/Drink:

For visitors to Mexico who haven’t OD’d on traditional Mexican food, the world is your oyster. For Mexican residents looking for something slightly different, we sussed out four options.

1) The restaurant at El Castillo: the menu skews Italian with several pasta options & amazing garlic bread that accompanies your meal. We enjoyed the food, and it’s located in the museum, so you can check out some of the wooden molds used in the creation of Las Pozas for free!

2) Restaurante Ambar, on Hidalgo: cute spot with a nice covered terrazza that also offers lovely mountain views. Good spot for a snack, as they offer things like meat and cheese platters. We’d been given a recommendation for their pizzas, which were good enough but improved when washed down by bargain-priced red wine.

Having a snack on the terrace at Restaurante Ambar

3) Casa Vieja cafe, corner of Hidalgo & Ocampo: we only had drinks here, but the atmosphere is great & offers good people-watching since it’s right off the main square. Food menu looked promising though, AND the bar had stools made of horse saddles, so it is a must-visit.

Cute decor inside the Casa Vieja Cafe

4) Los Peristilos de James, restaurant at Las Pozas: we assumed that the restaurant located AT the tourist site would be crap. However, the food was actually surprisingly good & I regretted not being more adventurous in my ordering. They had a number of fancy-sounding entrees, but I went with a hamburger. The burger was actually homemade and tasted fantastic, as did the two different kinds of tacos that John & Emily ordered. This place is also a brilliant stop for a michelada after trotting around the grounds for 3 hours. Sidenote: The sign near the restaurant also says “Scottish Pub”, which I was all excited about. We were unable to determine the location of said Scottish Pub, so don’t get your hopes up. Mexican beers only, people!!

A view of the Las Pozas restaurant from overhead!

Caveats regarding your potential trip to Las Pozas:

  • If you get carsick easily, I would not recommend making this drive (or at least not without heavy medication). The two different routes we took (via Queretaro State going & via Hidalgo returning) both had a solid 3-4 hour portion of twisty mountain roads. I was actually surprised by how well the roads were maintained, especially in Queretaro (no potholes & even protective guardrails in place!). But that doesn’t change the twisty-turnsy nature of the road that snakes along the mountainsides. Perhaps coming from the north (i.e. from Ciudad Valles) would be less tummy-angering, but I can’t say.  Luckily the three of us had no issues, but if you have *any* remote tendency towards motion sickness, stock up on the dramamine.

Let's just say, this might not be a good drive to make if you are hungover. (Luckily, we were not!)

  • Weather can strongly impact this trip, in 2 ways.
    • At Las Pozas: I recommend allowing a “backup day” to visit Las Pozas in case it is raining heavily on the day you planned. We had a beautiful, sunny morning to explore the site, but the next day it was chilly & pouring rain (and this was in the “dry” season!). You could certainly still explore Las Pozas in the rain, but I think it wouldn’t be as fun & it would probably limit some of the hiking-up-the-trails that you could do.
    • The drive through the mountains: We found the scenery in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in Queretaro State to be absolutely beautiful. Fog/mist put a slight damper on some of our views, but overall our trip to Xilitla was dry & gorgeous. On the way back through Hidalgo on Hwy 85, however, we could just vaguely tell how amazing the scenery was that we could NOT see due to heavy fog & rain. We spent between 3-4 hours driving through varying degrees of fog & rain on twisty mountain roads. Not only did we miss the views, but driving 40mph on curves in fog for a few hours sucks. Obviously this is out of your control, but I would at least attempt to check weather forecasts for whichever route you’re planning to take back.
  • If you’re injured, not very sure-footed, or otherwise frail/delicate, you can still see a fair portion of Las Pozas from the flat, stone walkways that wind through the bulk of the site. However, you will miss out on a large part of the fun, i.e. climbing around like a billy goat on the multi-level sculptures & hiking up the hillside to the treehouse lookout. Those with bad knees may want to bring a hiking stick if you want to venture off the standard paths, as we found the trails to be leaf-covered & muddy, resulting in some slick spots if you’re not careful. (Though the hiking stick would just be an annoyance when climbing around the sculptures.) Regardless, I would recommend wearing good, traction-y tennis shoes or even hiking boots if you plant to climb up the trails in the hillside; athletic sandals would probably suffice for the remainder, esp if you want to wade into the river.
  • If you take Hwy 85 south through Hidalgo going from or coming to Xilitla, be sure to take advantage of any Pemex’s/bathrooms you see en route. We filled up at the Pemex located right outside Xilitla where Hwy 120 hits Hwy 85, and I recall it being the last we saw for many moons. To that end, you may also wish to moderate your coffee/OJ intake at breakfast. At the risk of sharing too much information, I will admit that this drive was the first time I was forced to pee on the side of the a Mexican highway. Let’s just say, I wasn’t cursing the fog then.

Emily & I return from our visit to the "facilities" in Hidalgo State, which left something to be desired.

Despite those caveats, I am really glad we made the trip to Las Pozas and would certainly recommend it (and possibly even do it again, given a longer timeframe to be able explore more en route & around the Huasteca region of San Luis Potosi). More details to come on the scenic drive there and back! Has anyone else out there made it to Xilitla?? Anything we missed?? :)

A Las Pozas preview…

If these images don’t at least pique your interest regarding a trip to Las Pozas in middle-of-nowhere, Mexico (a.k.a. Xilitla in southern San Luis Potosi state), then I don’t know what will. :)  More details to follow of our amazing weekend trip, a mere 7 hours north of Mexico City!!

Emily & I cautiously made our way up the crazy stairs...

Here I am, dominating one of the many crazy structures at Las Pozas

Weekend escape to magical Hacienda Las Trancas

The Las Trancas fountain in the open courtyard on a gorgeous sunny day in central Mexico.

The Las Trancas fountain in the open courtyard on a gorgeous sunny day in central Mexico.

After living in Mexico for a year, I’ve been a bit delinquent in checking “spend lazy weekend in gorgeous centuries-old hacienda” off my to-do list. When friend Emily alerted me to her discovery of just such a place north of San Miguel, I jumped at the chance to experience all that a remote countryside hacienda has to offer. This particular spot seems to be best known as an amazing destination wedding venue for many lucky couples from the US & beyond, but they welcome groups of all sizes for whatever timeframe you can spare! Below is an account of our lovely weekend escape, which will hopefully inspire the rest of you to consider Las Trancas for your future lounging-about needs…

A view of half of the landscaped courtyard that's surrounded by the suites (as seen from the roof of the hacienda).

A view of half of the landscaped courtyard that's surrounded by the suites (as seen from the roof of the hacienda).

One of the beautiful flowers scattered around the property.

One of the beautiful flowers scattered around the property.

We departed DF for Hacienda San Joaquin de las Trancas at about 12:45PM on Friday afternoon, with an eye towards avoiding traffic heading north out of the city later in the day. Despite the ongoing construction of a crazy new elevated viaduct along the Pereferico Norte & some additional construction near San Miguel de Allende, we had virtually no problems getting to the hacienda in <4 hours. It’s located just north of Dolores Hidalgo in Guanajuato State (here’s a rough map to clarify). While ~4 hours may sound like a ways, the bulk of it is on toll roads where you can coast along at 80mph (while passersby blow your doors off at 90mph+). Also, you would be amazed how fast the time goes when you have a new friend in your car & have placed upon her the enormous social pressure of creating the road trip soundtrack on the fly with her Ipod, while your husband sits in the back seat shouting “Next song!” every 30-45 seconds. 😉

 

Anyway, the written directions from the hacienda’s website were quite clear & the roads largely well-signed (a rarity for these parts!). Once you turn off at the sign for Trancas (key note: look for it at km marker 100), you’ll start down a lovely well-paved road but then you may become suspicious as to whether you’ve made the right turn when the pavement stops & turns into dirt. Just keep going!!

John pauses shortly after our arrival for a wee rest in one of the many hammocks scattered around the smaller courtyard.

John pauses shortly after our arrival for a wee rest in one of the many hammocks scattered around the smaller courtyard.

We extracted ourselves from the car & entered the lush grounds of Las Trancas. As soon as we were spotted, Gerardo instantly offered us margaritas, chips and guacamole (yum). Kathleen also kindly welcomed us and encouraged us to begin our exploration of the grounds. We scampered off to tour each of the 11 rooms, all tastefully decorated with unique handicrafts, stunning wood furniture, vaulted ceilings, & the majority of which are enormous suites. The four of us in the first carload were quickly seduced by the novelty of the separate-level bathrooms, which I think 3 of the rooms have…. Stairs lead down from the bedroom to a bathroom the size of your average New York City apartment. This is how I was meant to live.

The dining room prepared for our arrival to dinner. Note the cupboards to the right stocked with plenty of wine & margarita glasses.

The dining room prepared for our arrival to dinner. Note the cupboards to the right stocked with plenty of wine & margarita glasses.

 

Our room, Hidalgo, at night. Stairs leading to the bathroom on the left; small patios out the doors to the right overlooked a lovely garden.

Our room, Hidalgo, at night. Stairs leading to the bathroom on the left; small patios outside doors to the right overlooked a lovely garden. There was also a massive desk at the other end of this room, and then a living room with couches/TV/fireplace just through a doorway on the left.

The bathroom hiding downstairs from our bedroom... This extended towards the right to have enough space for 5 people to do yoga on that rug, a huge closet, + 2 chairs as part of the, uh, viewing gallery?

The bathroom hiding downstairs from our bedroom... This extended towards the right to have enough space for 5 people to do yoga on that rug, a huge closet, + 2 chairs as part of the, uh, viewing gallery?

A shot of the horses socializing on Sunday morning. (photo courtesy Alla K.)

A shot of the horses socializing on Sunday morning. (photo courtesy Alla K.)

Wandering into the back half of the building, we discovered a beautiful fountain and open courtyard surrounded by some of the many horse stables onsite (they have 10 horses & 2 burros, and guided rides are included in the price!). We headed off to the right, winding our way back towards the garden where a pool and jacuzzi awaited discovery amongst the fruit trees and flowers. The garden revealed the source of the squash flowers (flores de calabaza) that we would later dine on, filled with potatoes and lightly fried. There seemed to be a vineyard in the works, but it was tough to tell how successful it is just yet.  Circling back around, we stopped to chat with the pretty ponies (and braying burros), and promptly returned for further debate over whether we’d each made the correct room choice. :)

The pool located behind the main hacienda building; jacuzzi is just to the right.

The pool located behind the main hacienda building; jacuzzi is just to the right.

A view over the up-and-coming vineyard out to the mountains in the distance. Some neighbor kids frolic nearby.

A view over the up-and-coming vineyard out to the mountains in the distance. Some neighbor kids frolic nearby.

Here's the wall at the rear of the hacienda that is riddled with bullets. They've not redone/built around this area out of respect to what happened here many moons ago...

Here's the aforementioned bullet-filled wall. They've not redone/built around this area out of respect to what happened here many moons ago...

From a historical perspective, there were plenty of interesting tidbits to be had. Construction on Las Trancas began back in 1567, but it didn’t receive the official “hacienda” moniker until 1709. (Centuries-old? Check.) As elaborated upon on the website, it housed notable visitors during Mexico’s turbulent fight for independence like Father Miguel Hidalgo, whose fav room John & I stayed in. One of John’s top pics from the trip shows a wall on the back side of the property that is riddled with bullet holes, perhaps at the expense of the group of renegade soldiers who hijacked a caravan of silver passing by & were rounded up to be “dealt with”.  There are also some unexcavated tunnels leading out from beneath the hacienda, used by a prior owner for as a secret escape route as needed.

Since we were only there from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, we didn’t personally make any escapes out of the village area. However, I could see this being a great spot for a week-long stay due to the proximity of Dolores Hidalgo, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, etc. (hello, Talavera pottery shopping, anyone??) The hacienda offers several activities to keep you entertained at no extra charge (i.e. a surprisingly nice gym, the aforementioned pool/jacuzzi, horserides, mountain biking, and near-constant eating), and there’s also a spa onsite. We took advantage of a horse ride through the cactus-laden terrain– good times had by all.

Bill & Nicole prepare themselves for the horse ride. We later discovered that Bill's horse was even a bigger fan of eating than MY horse, and also like to slowly waddle along until realizing how far back he was from his buddies. Then, a short sprint would ensue. Nicole's horse, on the other hand, would engage in any mean necessary to prevent my horse from passing him in line. VERY possessive of 2nd place, that one...

Bill & Nicole prepare themselves for the horse ride. We later discovered that Bill's horse was even a bigger fan of eating than MY horse, and also like to slowly waddle along until realizing how far back he was from his buddies. Then, a short sprint would ensue. Nicole's horse, on the other hand, would engage in any mean necessary to prevent my horse from passing him in line. VERY possessive of 2nd place, that one...

Here we are fording the river during our ride, . It was almost like we were on the Oregon Trail, except we weren't pulling a wagon & no one had diptheria.

Here we are fording the river during our ride, . It was almost like we were on the Oregon Trail, except we weren't pulling a wagon & no one had diptheria.

Here's me bonding with my hungry horse. I didn't catch his name, but we'll go with Señor Hambre, since he stopped to eat roughly every 2 minutes. Some may say I "didn't have control over my horse"; I will blame the fact I was not given any spurs...

Here's me bonding with my hungry horse. I didn't catch his name, but we'll go with Señor Hambre, since he stopped to eat roughly every 2 minutes. Some may say I "didn't have control over my horse"; I will blame the fact I was not given any spurs...

A couple of our companions also discovered a secret cactus farm/shop just down the hill from the hacienda, where a family sells some of the most amazing cacti (cactuses?) that I’ve ever seen. We bought six of them– this from a girl who’s longest prior flora relationship was with a basil plant purchased at the grocery store & raised in a pint glass for months until it was time for a big batch of pesto. (Wish me luck on this new engagement…)

Here are two of the cactus wreaths sold at the cactus farm/store down the hill from the hacienda. These were absolutely stunning, but need a fair amount of sun so I decided to pass on them...

Here are two of the cactus wreaths sold at the cactus farm/store down the hill from the hacienda. These were absolutely stunning, but need a fair amount of sun so I decided to pass on them...

...and instead purchased these little friends, who have yet to find a home outside of their plastic houses. I love the Mickey-ears cactus. BTW, I will accept wages on how long it will take me to kill one of these.

...and instead purchased these little friends, who have yet to find a home outside of their plastic houses. I love the Mickey-ears cactus. BTW, I will accept wagers on how long it will take me to kill one of these.

One of the tasty salads we had during our meals at Las Trancas. It was actually possible to eat reasonably healthy there, which is saying something for Mexican food. :)

One of the tasty salads we had during our meals at Las Trancas. It was actually possible to eat reasonably healthy there, which is saying something for Mexican food. :)

From a food perspective, I would say the food we had was very good & well-prepared. I wouldn’t say it’s fancy-pants/gourmet, but rather very well executed classical Mexican dishes. We didn’t make any specific meal requests in advance, but I got the impression they would be happy to accomodate any Mexican dishes that you’re hoping to sample. (P.S. Ask for the coconut ice cream. Mmmm.) They also have a wide selection of wines & liquors; we didn’t take advantage too much, since being cheap midwesterners, several of us came prepared with our own wine. However, I did appreciate their super-reasonable prices starting at $7 USD/bottle (and the fact they weren’t annoyed by all the $80 peso crap we carted in). :)

A couple other notable highlights of Las Trancas include:

  1. John prepares for his first spa treatment of the day. He seems to have taken quite well to this pampered life.

    John prepares for his first spa treatment of the day. He seems to have taken quite well to this pampered life.

    The Spa. The hacienda owners have worked with the surrounding village to create/train a coop of women who provide all the spa services onsite. The prices are highly compelling, with options ranging from a 90-minute hot stone massage or facial for a mere $35 USD, and a 60-minute total-body or reflexology massage for $20 USD. You’d be hard pressed to find those treatments in the US for less than triple any of those rates, which almost offsets the cost of lodging if you look at it from that perspective! This spoke to John’s bargain instinct, resulting in this spa virgin having THREE treatments over the course of 2 days (including a facial). All met with his approval. I tried both the hot stone & total-body massages, and found them to be quite effective in relaxing me– most notably when I heard myself almost start snoring during one of them. :)

     

     

     

     

     

  2. The owners are good people. Hacienda Las Trancas opened in its current incarnation just a few years ago under the watchful eyes of Kelley and Stephen, two gringos who entered a more active early retirement than they ever bargained for! Their interest in & efforts to give back to the Las Trancas community is obvious, starting with the 18 people they keep employed full-time year-round. 50% of the income from renting out the hacienda gets put back into the community, via “Proyecto Pueblito” to improve infrastructure & create jobs. The rest goes to back into the hacienda, which I’m sure requires plenty of maintenance to keep it looking so immaculate. So while staying at the hacienda may not be the cheapest weekend outing in Mexico, it certainly helps to know that your money is actually helping local residents instead of lining the pockets of some rich hotel baron!

To that end, you may be wondering how much does all this magical hacienda-ness cost & how can you make a reservation. As I mentioned previously, Las Trancas seems to have gotten a lot of business from destination weddings, family reunions, & other week-long type bookings like those. But much like all of Mexico’s tourism has suffered at the hands of swine flu & narco concerns, so has business at the hacienda. They welcome guests for any length of time you are able to escape, but I would say you’d have the best luck making a weekend-only booking for a couple or small group within a 2-months-in-advance window (since most weddings would be booked prior to then). In that scenario, I would expect to pay something in the neighborhood of $185/person/nite, which is inclusive of all meals, a welcome margarita/guacamole, the activities I mentioned earlier, and a chocolate on your bed each night. 😉

Mmmm..chocolate teddy bears....

Mmmm..chocolate teddy bears....

 

Here I am with Amanda, brave friend who joined us on the trip despite barely knowing a soul! Check her out at http://culturvista.wordpress.com. (Photo courtesy Adam B.)

Here I am with Amanda, brave friend who joined us on the trip despite barely knowing a soul! Check her out at http://culturvista.wordpress.com. (Photo courtesy Adam B.)

I would say the ideal scenario is getting at least 10 folks together, at which point you can reserve the hacienda fully for your group & probably negotiate a better rate. For instance, we brought 15 folks in total & paid $125/pp/nite pre-tax (but they have capacity for up to 35 w/extra beds, etc.). Obviously all of this will vary by season/circumstances/etc., so I would encourage you to email Kelley directly for a quote. One bonus about the layout/size of the hacienda is that it’s very easy to find your own space/not all be on top of each other, so you don’t have to worry much about whether your group is all BFFs or whether you might get maxed out on interacting with Crazy Uncle Dave. Despite us being there with a total of 15 people, we often came out of our room & didn’t see/hear anyone else.

 

A view of the hacienda from across the lake/up a hill during our horsey ride. What narcotrafficante could possibly be bothered to drag weapons over such uneven terrain?

A view of the hacienda from across the river/up a hill during our horsey ride. What narcotrafficante could possibly be bothered to drag weapons over such uneven terrain?

I want to add a few final comments to address any safety concerns that potential visitors may have coming from the US, where the news regularly paints Mexico in an “unflattering” light at best. I can’t think of many places less at risk from narco violence than this random hacienda in the middle of nowhere, Mexico. The countryside is beautiful, with mountains, rivers, plus a huge variety of cacti (cactuses?) and other scrubby plants that don’t make the land conducive to drug traffickers easily scampering around. Also, the nearby gringo-filled community of San Miguel de Allende should serve as further evidence, with large numbers of Americans living calmly without the threat of drug violence.

Like I said, who can guarantee this kind of excitement at Señor Frogs? Note Amanda in the background tying to pretend she doesn't see what's happening.

Like I said, who can guarantee this kind of excitement at Señor Frogs? Note Amanda in the background trying to pretend she doesn't see what's happening.

So maybe this year, consider an alternative to your annual trip Señor Frog’s bar on the beach & your stay in a 20-floor high-rise hotel with 4,000 other foreigners. I promise that a hacienda can have dance parties that are *almost* as wild as what you will find at those beach bars. Feel free to peruse a few more pics below to help seal the deal on your impending trip to Hacienda Las Trancas. Tell them Emily & Julie sent you, and we look forward to hearing how many cactuses you bought. :)

We took a self-guided tour of the hacienda roof, and captured this lovely shot of the sun streaming down with the mountains in the background.

We took a self-guided tour of the hacienda roof, and captured this lovely shot of the sun streaming down with the mountains in the background.

Here's a shot of the Rosa bedroom; the wrought-iron railing leads down to another secret bathroom

Here's a shot of the Rosa bedroom; the wrought-iron railing leads down to another secret bathroom

This lamp was one of the many pieces of furniture I wanted to steal from Las Trancas. Must find special multi-pronged star light hanger dealie & purchase ASAP.

This lamp was one of the many pieces of furniture I wanted to steal from Las Trancas. Must find special multi-pronged star light hanger dealie & purchase ASAP.

Still life, swing and carriage in the open courtyard. Tell me this doesn't reek of "wedding photo backdrop"??? ;)

Still life, swing and carriage in the open courtyard. Tell me this doesn't reek of "wedding photo backdrop"??? ;)

The Sala bedroom was another one of my favorites, with the elegant (and functional!) mosquito netting & gorgeous arched ceiling

The Sala bedroom was another one of my favorites, with the elegant (and functional!) mosquito netting & gorgeous arched ceiling

The other end of the Sala bedroom contained this amazing stained glass window.

The other end of the Sala bedroom contained this amazing stained glass window.

I loved this huge blue/white Talavera sink also found in the Sala bedroom.

I loved this huge blue/white Talavera sink also found in the Sala bedroom.

Speaking of Talavera, here are some of the many types you can buy en route to the hacienda!

Speaking of Talavera, here are some of the many types you can buy en route to the hacienda!

One of the suites is named Capilla (chapel), and is where they hold some of the smaller wedding ceremonies. I thought the room was gorgeous; others were weirded out by the idea of having an altar near-ish their bed...

One of the suites is named Capilla (chapel), and is where they hold some of the smaller wedding ceremonies. I thought the room was gorgeous; others were weirded out by the idea of having an altar near-ish their bed...

I belive this flower is called "Bird of Paradise", or in more advanced circles, "Strelitzia"

I belive this flower is called "Bird of Paradise", or in more advanced circles, "Strelitzia"

I had hot plans for going to the impressively-equipped gym, but all I managed to do was take a photo of it instead...

I had hot plans for going to the impressively-equipped gym, but all I managed to do was take a photo of it instead...

Here's where all the good stuff happens-- the kitchen-- under the careful supervision of Yolanda, Amada, Marta, and Concha. Many pots hard at work heating up tasty goodness.

Here's where all the good stuff happens-- the kitchen-- under the careful supervision of Yolanda, Amada, Marta, and Concha. Many pots hard at work heating up tasty goodness.

I was excited about sighting some random pigs hanging out just outside the hacienda grounds. Rest assured that we carefully examined them for signs of the flu; they have a clean bill of health.

I was excited about sighting some random pigs hanging out just outside the hacienda grounds. Rest assured that we carefully examined them for signs of the flu; they have a clean bill of health.

Me trying to be artsy with wrought-iron hearts.

Me trying to be artsy with wrought-iron hearts.

Emily & I savor our final minutes at Las Trancas, maintaining our pearly-white skin color

Emily & I savor our final minutes at Las Trancas, maintaining our pearly-white skin color

Yaxchilan in photos

If you read the previous post, you know that we’ve finally arrived at the Maya archeological site of Yaxchilan on the banks of the Usamacinta river.  There are more than 120 structures in the central area, distributed in three complexes at different elevations.  Yaxchilan shares similar characteristics with other regional sites, including roof combs, stelae, carved lintels, alters and murals, among others.  As I noted in the previous Palenque post, much of the ornamention was done by painting the layer of stucco covered the exterior of many buildings.  Very little remains, but what does is breath-taking; it must have been simply amazing.  Make sure to bring your flashlight!  We were the only group there for the majority of our three-hour visit and I was by myself much of the time.  It was pretty awe-inspiring to wander around alone and imagine what life must have been like over a thousand years ago.  Let’s start the photo essay, shall we?

We entered the site at the rear of a temple which had a bunch of underground tunnels.  You can see the base of the roof comb above my head.

We entered the site at the rear of a temple which had a bunch of underground tunnels. You can see the base of the roof comb above my head.

Descent into creepy darkness, anyone?

Descent into creepy darkness, anyone?

Checking out the tunnels.  Note the classic Maya arch.

Checking out the tunnels. Note the classic Maya arch.

In addition to bats, the tunnels had some awesome spiders.  Check out those jaws!

In addition to bats, the tunnels had some awesome spiders. Check out those jaws!

The main courtyard is about 50 yards wide, 400 yards long, and is flanked with buildings.

The main courtyard is about 50 yards wide, 400 yards long, and is flanked with buildings.

One of the lintel carvings

One of the lintel carvings

This Maya writing is on the underside of one of the lintels.  A good reason for tall people to duck and look up!

This Maya writing is on the underside of one of the lintels. A good reason for tall people to duck and look up!

A close-up of one of the stelae carvings.

A close-up of one of the stelae carvings.

Another fantastically detailed stelae close-up!

Another fantastically detailed stelae close-up!

Check out the staircase leading up from the main plaza to the Great Temple.

Check out the staircase leading up from the main plaza to the Great Temple.

The Great Temple, which still has a fair amount of the roof comb intact.

The Great Temple, which still has a fair amount of the roof comb intact.

The Maya in Yaxchilan supposedly believed their world would end if the head of this warrior, in the Great Temple, were replaced.

The Maya in Yaxchilan supposedly believed their world would end if the head of this warrior, in the Great Temple, were replaced.

Three temples sit perched a few hundred feet above the river and the main site.

Three temples sit perched a few hundred feet above the river and the main site.

A cross-section of a building shows just how big a fan the Maya were of this arch (sorry, I'm obsessed).

A cross-section of a building shows just how big a fan the Maya were of this arch (sorry, I'm obsessed).

Our Wedding Mascots: Furry Coos

Packing for exciting trip to Huatulco tomorrow has taken precendence over a lengthy, super-riveting post about the day before our wedding last year in Glasgow. So as an interim step, please see below some pics of my favorite animal in Scotland, the furry coo. (perhaps more officially known as “Highland Cattle“) FYI, it is only the cutest cow ever. All these pics were taken at Pollock County Park, an amazing park south of the river that holds the esteemed Burrell Collection (one man’s collection of 9000+ pieces of art from all over the world), Pollock House (a gorgeous 18th century mansion), and some of the most amazing gardens I’ve seen in a while. But they can’t hold a candle to wet, matted cattle!

The majestic furry coo surveys his surroundings...

The majestic furry coo surveys his surroundings...

 

My brother Tim took a pic of the sign describing their names & pedigrees.

My brother Tim took a pic of the sign describing their names & pedigrees.

Here's one of the black puffballs + a few babies...

Here's one of the black puffballs + a few babies...

...and an overhead closeup of one taking a nap. :)

...and an overhead closeup of one taking a nap. :)

I tried to bond with one of the furry coos, in hopes that he would send his furry luck our way for the wedding.

I tried to bond with one of the furry coos, in hopes that he would send his furry luck our way for the wedding.

Flashback to Wedding Week in Scotland, Part 2

We tried to reenact the scene from Titanic as the boat pulled out of the harbor on Loch Lomond...
We tried to reenact the scene from Titanic as the boat pulled out of the harbor on Loch Lomond…

Let us continue on our Mexico detour begun yesterday with our ambitious bus trip into the Scottish countryside! As part of of dragging our family & friends over to Glasgow for our wedding, we wanted to make sure they saw a sufficient smattering of the things that make Scotland so amazing. Obviously that list could get pretty long, but we pared it down to lochs, whiskey, and castles. In a truly fingers-crossed moment that Tuesday morning one year ago, John & I both heaved a sigh of relief as the bus we’d hired blindly from the US rolled up in front of our hotel right on time. We had a tight agenda planned & no time to waste!!

The Carmann crew pre-boat cruise and pre-Herickhoff addition. ;)

The Carmann crew pre-boat cruise and pre-Herickhoff addition. ;)

First it was off to lovely Loch Lomond for an hour-long boat cruise on the Astina. We were there early enough to secure basically the whole front of the boat’s open upper deck for ourselves, and we proceeded to bask in the sunlight while circling around the loch. (Check out the song immortalizing this Bonnie Loch here on YouTube.)

All our schoolkids eating their cold lunches on the grounds of Glengoyne distillery!

All our schoolkids eating their cold lunches on the grounds of Glengoyne distillery!

Next stop: Glengoyne, Scotland’s “Most Beautiful Distillery”! Clearly no trip to Scotland would be complete without a whisky tour!! We took advantage of the beautiful scenery and ate our bagged lunch on the grounds around the distillery buildings. Cheers to Seb’s Cafe in Glasgow for packing us AMAZING mediterranean lunches to go, with freshly-baked bread & tasty spinach/feta pastries. Sooo tasty.

 

Several happy whisky-tasters assessing Glengoyne's finest!

Several happy whisky-tasters assessing Glengoyne's finest!

After our lunch break, we headed in to meet the Glengoyne folks & kick things off with a whisky tasting! (Well, at least everyone who had fully recovered from the night before…) This was followed by a brief tour of the whisky-making process, where we were amused several times at the lack of overly-anal safety precautions that one might expect in the US (i.e. go ahead & touch the 500-degree copper cauldron if you’re stupid; be our guest!). Eventually we dragged everyone out of the overly-alluring gift shop…

Tanya tried to hang back to sneak a taste straight from the copper stills...

Tanya tried to hang back to sneak a taste straight from the copper stills...

Posing with a few sacrificial barrels outside the distillery

Posing with a few sacrificial barrels outside the distillery.

Our first view of Stirling Castle towering over the countryside!

Our first view of Stirling Castle towering over the countryside!

And the final stop on our bus tour: the imposing Stirling Castle, located about an hour north of Glasgow in Stirling. As per the website, “It towers over some of the most important battlefields of Scotland’s past including Stirling Bridge, the site of William Wallace’s victory over the English in 1297, and Bannockburn where Robert the Bruce defeated the same foe in the summer of 1314.” Quite a storied past!! I think good times were had by all wandering around the amazing stone buildings & taking photos of each other looking quite majestic. :)

The happy couple inside the Castle

The happy couple inside the Castle

One of the many amazing views from atop the Castle

One of the many amazing views from atop the Castle

We even briefly got to be King & Queen inside the Great Hall...

We even briefly got to be King & Queen inside the Great Hall...

The Scottish appeared to have chosen a sufficiently-rugged spot to build a castle on...

The Scottish appeared to have chosen a sufficiently-rugged spot to build a castle on...

EVERYTHING in Scotland is sooo green, with purple heather scattered about.

EVERYTHING in Scotland is sooo green, with purple heather scattered about.

Here's me trying not to fall down as bus driver Andy whipped around the curvy roads of Scotland, while sharing riveting comments with the first 4 rows that could hear me

Here's me trying not to fall down as bus driver Andy whipped around the curvy roads of Scotland, while sharing riveting comments with the first 4 rows that could hear me

The bus tour turned out to be a wild success, with all our visits running smoothly & offering much more relaxation than driving a rented car on the wrong side of the road! We returned to Glasgow for dinner in Merchant Square, a fun pseudo-courtyard that once held Glasgow’s Fruit Market and now is home to a number of bars & restaurants. A few ambitious folks finished up the night at Blackfriars, an excellent pub offering numerous beers on tap + cask ales as well as live music. More to follow soon! (And thanks to Marcia/Larry/Heidi/Scott for some of the above pics!)

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