Monday, August 2, 2010

Our trip to Mexico with the Olesons

It always seems to take me forever to update the blog after a trip. This time we came back sick so it's taken even longer ;)

For the past year my sister Virginia and I (well really Joel and Jeff) have been planning our vacation for this summer. A few years ago we discovered how fun it is to travel with cousins, and family that is up for all kinds of exploring and have tried to plan our vacations together when we can.

After leaving for LAX at 5:00am, enduring bad weather, some delays and wondering if we would make our flight to Cancun we were happy to finally arrive at about 6:30pm local time. Our trip to the off sight car rental place got us right into the spirit of Mexico when nobody spoke English. (Luckily between my rembrances of high school Spanish and Jeff's communication ability we were able to get by during the trip OK)

We also were introduced quickly to the slow paced lifestyle of Mexico where nobody is in a hurry...

After we checked into our hotel we drove down to Joel and Virginia's place. Ashley and the rest of us were very excited to finally meet Dean.

Even though it was late and dark by the time we got there Virginia and I took the kids out to her pool while Joel and Jeff went out to Wallmart to get food and supplies.

The pool was nice and warm and thankfully so was the air because the towel service was closed and we couldn't dry off until we got back to their place.

At almost 10:30 local time we got the kids some pizza. It was interesting with sesame seeds on the crust.

The next morning we were able to enjoy the view from our hotel...beautiful

The room was not too bad but I have to say the beds were hard, the chairs were like patio furniture and we were missing soap/shampoo/washclothes and handtowels...maybe not the 4 star rating they advertised but we were only there a couple days and really picked it for location and the pool anyway.

We didn't have a kitchen in our unit so we thought we'd go check out the place that advertised the all you can eat breakfast. It was in the mall....once we practically walked all the way around it and through it we found the place advertised and along with 1 other couple ate some good local breakfast.

I opted for a supposed local favorite that had beans, crisp tortillas, and eggs with a ranchero sauce on top along with peas and ham. Of course some fried plantain on the side. Interesting but not too bad.

The most fun was talking to our waiter...once we brought out the camera he started really hamming it up and brought out Ashley's drink on his head.

After we all got fed we had Joel and Virginia come out to our place to check out our pool and swim.

Of course by the time we all got out there the clouds started rolling in.

You can't tell here but it's pouring rain and windy right here. What are you going to do?? You're going to get wet anyway so might as well swim. Dean didn't mind at all but we had to keep him away from the mud :)

After awhile it cleared up and we went to the beach part.

The water was the perfect temperature and very warm but the waves were almost like home and you couldn't float or relax like you can in Hawaii.

The sand was white and beautiful and of course got caught in all the same places. :)
Ashley is a shell lover but she only found small ones while we were there. I cracked up when she found a small sunbleached shell that started moving and we realized it was a hermit crab!

After swimming for awhile we thought we'd go and check out Isla Mujeres which is an island that isn't too far with a ferry ride. We thought we'de eat dinner out there but since it might take awhile to get dinner we stopped for a late lunch at McDonalds... with it's own Auto Mac (drive through)

We ordered our food (in Spanish) and find that some things get lost in translation...we wanted honey and they kept handing us syrup (I guess they don't have honey). They did have every kind of hot sauce you could imagine though.

Up some really steep circular stairs was an eating area with a great view of the water. Very nice...we got to enjoy it for a loooonnngg time because even the fast food is not fast there.

After McDonalds we made our way to the dock to take the ferry out to Isla Mujeres. Joel had found a cheaper ferry away from the downtown area that was supposed to come and go every 1/2 hour. We decided to make the drive to take this ferry.

We became intimately aquainted with the lack of street signs, got directions more than once, felt like we were offroading in the jungle and finally made it to the dock after about 45 minutes. Definately leaving the "tourist" area behind on our adventure.

We got out to buy our tickets in the pouring rain and wind (again) and debated wether we should go or not because of the weather.

Ashley was happy about the wind because it knocked down some coconuts from a roadside tree and as the locals ran to grab them off the ground someone gave one to Ashley. Nice Mom got to carry it around the rest of the day :)

We decided in the end to just go over there anyway so the boys played hand slap games while we were waiting...much to the amusement of the locals.

After about 15 to 20 minutes of waiting we see a big beautiful ferry coming towards us, we get excited until we see it continue one dock over from us. Our hearts sank as we realized we had bought tickets for the wrong ferry!

For the same price as the big beautiful one we bought tickets for the small, run down one the locals use...another adventure bumping along a rickety ferry watching a snowy TV screen as Jeff tells us horror stories of ferry's sinking every time a wave splashes across the windows. Thanks Jeff!

Once we got to Isla Mujeres it was too late to check out the beaches and too rainy as well so we walked along the streets and checked out some of the shops.

Along with all the typical Tijuana fare it was nice to see some new additions. Jared loved these lamps that were made out of coconuts that they called "jelly fish". Before the end of the trip he haggled a shop keeper down to a price he could afford and brought one home for himself.

Pretty much as soon as we got there Jeff had a huge migraine that made him sick and antsy to get back, a couple of kids (including mine) jumped on the band wagon and started asking "How much longer??". The ferry we ended up taking only came every hour so Jeff took whoever wanted to go with him to go back early and left the rest of us to explore some more.

When he got to the dock the line was so long they missed the ferry and he advised us to come join him so we wouldn't miss the next one too. So out of the 2 1/2 to 3 hours we were on the island we spent an hour and half in line waiting for the next ferry to get us back. Here is Ashley trying to keep Dean happy and not falling of the dock.

After we finally got off the ferry it was late and everyone was very ready to eat. It was pretty much close to 11:00 so we were hoping places would still be open. We were happy that outback was open since we had a coupon for a free bloomin onion.

They actually brought us double bloomin onions since it was happy hour...the kids were happy...though they didn't eat their dinner very well later.

It's funny most of the food at Outback was like the outback at home but some things were very different. The mashed potatos, the extremely potent lemony strawberry lemonade and this kid's play area with a closed circuit camera where you could watch your kids on a monitor from the dining room. This came in very handy to keep our children from being destructive to the kiddy toys.

After getting to bed at about midnight it was a little slow going getting us on the way to Chichenitza the next morning.

We decided to take the toll road (the cuota) to Chichenitza even though it was $30.00 each way. The road was well maintained and didn't have any speed bumps on it (which
was probably worth it right there).

Along the way we got to see some of the "real Mexico".

Joel and Virginia were coming from their hotel and miraculously with slow midtown traffic and even a flat tire they were able to catch up with us and arrive within 10 minutes of us!

When we got to Chichenitza it was raining we bought these ponchos for the kids on the way into the place...2 for $5.00. You can see how thrilled they are to wear them.

You can see how we really got our money's worth...the quality was superb. (Notice the split all the way up his back)

Once we got into the complex we didn't care about the rain or anything else. It was amazing.

You couldn't actually go up inside any of the temples, they closed it off 3 years ago but looking at them I could understand why. I could only imagine the damage that might have occured not to mention the liability!

When we were coming to the turn off to get to Chichenitza there was a road side stand with "free" information about getting in. They told us the main parking lot was ONLY for busses and we were rerouted to THEIR parking lot and at the stand we could buy our guide and get free parking.

I was miffed when I realized after they were working for the hotel on site, and the main parking lot was NOT for busses only, was 1/10 the price for parking and was at the main entrance. We were rerouted to the hotel entrance.

It all ended up fine though because we got an excellent English guide that had been working for 30 years at Chichenitza. We were thrilled with him. He was very knowledgable and the experience wouldn't have been nearly as good without him.

Here is the area with only some of the 2,000 columns...

This shows an example of some of the arches they used.

Our guide explained a lot of things about the Mayan culture. Taught us about their intricate calendars (that are the basis for our calendars today) and showed us pitures inside the temples that we could go inside of ourselves. He had books and told us about the history and it was fascinating.

I guess snakes, jaguars and eagles were big in their culture and many of the figures could be seen dressed up like one of these.

Dean did great despite the fact there was an incident when he fell out of his stroller into the mud, and the ground wasn't really conducive to stroller riding he was very patient and happy. What a great world traveler!

This excavation showed the way that they would make layers and then plaster them to collect water to use in the community.

The complex was huge but we found out that only 4% of it is even uncovered. All throughout the Yucatan pennisula there are so many ruins that aren't uncovered, if you see a mound somewhere it is proabably a ruin. Amazing!

This temple has a character on top of it that is laying on his back holding a bowl. He is waiting for the heart of the human sacrifice victims. What!!??

The guide whips out a picture of a painting in this temple and jovially explains what it means. We see a guy stretched on his back across a table "See here is one person holding his arms down, and the other person holding his feet down, and his chest is already cut open so they can rip his heart out to offer it to the Gods! These other guys dancing in the background are warriors waiting to be sacrificed next! They are painted different colors depending on what area of the land they were taken from!"

Taylor stared wide eyed over his shoulder at the picture. I guess as they warred with other nations they would capture the nobles and fierce warriors and offer them as sacrifices thereby weakening their nieghbors.

Fun to see and learn about but we're glad we didn't live here back in the day!

Here is the Observitory.

The Ballcourt was fascinating. They used the games as a prediction of what kind of year the Gods would be sending to the people on earth. The priests would conviene and decide between themselves which team was representing a "good year" from the Gods and which team was representing a "bad year" They wouldn't tell the teams which side they represented and both would play their hardest to win.

There was a point system but basically they had to get a rubber ball to their team captain who would have to get it up into this "hoop" (it was very high!) without using their hands. The preists and referees would determine when the winning team had enough points and stop the game.

Then the teams would be told which side they represented. If the winning team represented a good year all was well...

If the winning team represented a bad year from the Gods the team captain would be beheaded immediately to try and appease the Gods.

Our guide explains "See here is the chopped off head with seven snakes coming out of his neck representing the seven teamates on the ball court!! See the fruits and flowers coming out of his neck, that represents that he is sacrificing himself so that they can have a prosperous year and good harvest!!"

Crazy and superstitous!

This was named the convent when exporers found this site but through further exploration they found out it was actually the King's palace, but "the convent" name stuck.

Here we said goodbye to our guide and went off to try to buy some souvenirs before they closed the place down.

On our way out of town we decided to stop at Valladolid for dinner. Before dinner we checked out this old church

When Joel asked them when the church was build he realized this wasn't what he wanted to see he wanted to see the old convent that the town was famous for. So through all kinds of backroads, asking directions from people on bikes and driving through rivers of flooded streets we found the old convent.

We stop and realize we lost Joel. OK Joel here's a picture for you...and we raced back to the middle of town to eat.

We found a recommended restaurant and had some good food for cheap!

My fajitas were the best I ever had (even though they included mushroom which I don't normally like).

Here is the Cactus Salad that Jeff and I shared...this might have been what gave us the e. never know.

After eating Joel and us parted ways as they drove back to Cancun and we were off to our new hotel in Playa Del Carmen. Unfortunately it was now dark and raining and we couldn't find the way back onto the toll road (lovely signs to blame again).

We asked multiple people over and over (included a cop that waved us over and tried to say we had run a red light in town, but backed down when we insisted that we didn't), and turned around lots of times before we found the toll road entrance again. People kept telling us to just take the "free road" and it would be fine.

We tried it for about 10 minutes and I think I saw my life flash before my eyes 5 times before we decided to take the extra time and expense to drive on the toll road!
The free road was very dark, with no street lights, there were all kinds pot holes, speed bumps, and construction that would squeeze oncoming traffic and us into one lane with no shoulders to speak of. It also seemed to be a truck route and we were surrounded by huge trucks trying to come down this same road in the rain. Picturing driving on this road for 2 hours or more gave me anxiety. No thank you!

At about midnight we pulled in to our new hotel. We were so relieved and loved the new rooms, the room service (that we took advantage of even though it was so late) and the fact that we could ask the front desk questions without being hit up for a time share sales pitch.

The next morning we enjoyed the all you can eat buffet.

Explored the pretty grounds.

And too a walk out to the dock on the beach. The only downside to our resort was that it looked like piles of brown topsoil was washed up on the beach and the water was brown. I guess it was a newer resort and they were still working on cleaning up the we never went in the ocean here.

Ashley getting aquainted with the large insects that live down here. Gross!!

After recovering from the day before Joel and Virginia met us at the pool.

We were loving the pool service, with all kinds of snacks, pizza, drinks, grilled shrimp and all included in our all inclusive price.... loved it!

The kids loved the swimming.

After some swimming and lunch we headed over to the main city of Playa Del Carmen to check it out.

We bought some T-shirts and experimented with the souvenirs.

While we were walking down the street we passed by an open air bar with what sounded like a 2 year old plinking on the piano. It was one of the workers...Taylor couldn't help himself he asked if he could play the piano.

They cautiosly let him...and they loved it.

Tourists stopped to listen, he got pictures from oriental people and the workers all have him an ovation and asked him to play more.

He even got a tip...never mind that it was from uncle was still a tip :)

We liked this painted up Mayan guy...

and another Mayan ruin right off the main street. They were everywhere.

We finally made it to the beach. It was beautiful and more bars had seating on it to relax and have drinks on the beach but it was getting late. Again we arrived too late to actually enjoy the beach.

Here's a picture of the light house as we walked back to the cars to try and eat dinner at the resort and make it back for the fire show.

We raced back because they advertised this great fire show at our hotel. After 10 minutes of a guy dancing around an inflated ball the kids declared it lame and were ready to go. "There isn't even any fire!"

So then the real fire show started and we were all impressed. There was LOTS of entertaining, very dangerous looking fire dancing. Worth the wait.

After the Oleson's went home Ashley and Jacob wanted to get milk shakes from room service. Once we got them we realized they didn't taste anything like the milkshakes from back home. They were basically chocolate milk put in a blender with ice. The ice was still chunky throughout...and they had no flavor. Blah!

The next day we went to Xcaret, which is like a nature/water preserve/Disneyland of Playa del Carmen.

There wasn't any rides but there was a lot to do and see. Here is the lagoon...

you can tell how much fun Taylor was having here. The water was great and there were even a few fish to see but too many people to see many fish.

Just as soon as we were relaxing Jeff thought to ask about the dolfin experiences. He wanted to let the boys swim with dolfins since you could do things with the dolfins that you can't do in the states.

Joel was up with going with the boys and Jeff did too an luckily there were spots for all 6 of them to swim for an hour with the dolfins.

Here they are getting ready... and being trained on what to do and not to do.

They got to experience the dolfins swimming around them as they pet them, they created tidal waves around them...

They kissed them on the cheek...

they acted like a trainer and instructed the dolfins to do things like swim in circles, sing, they jumped over them and for the finale they all lay flat and had the dolfins do a foot push which pushed them out of the water! (I got video of it I'll try and show later)

After it was all said and done the place wanted to charge us $300+ for the pictures so our own photos will have to do.

Ashley and Dean (not to mention Virginia and I) tried to keep cool and patient as we took pictures of the boys while dripping with sweat and starving for lunch.

While it was the most exciting hour for the boys it's was the longest for us.
(We finally discovered the showers meant for the dolfin swimmers and used them to cool off some).

After the dolfin experience we tried to make our way back to where lunch was. One thing that we discovered at this park was that nothing was close together and nothing was easy to find.

The paths wound this way and that were surrounded by so many trees and plants you couldn't see where you were going. There were even full grown trees right in the middle of the paths! (Mexico would NOT be wheelchair accessible)

While trying to find food we found more ruins to explore.

(These ones they could cimb on)

Are we there yet???!!!

Now the path led us through the aquarium. Nice but we were too hungry and tired to enjoy it much...

Finally we get to the lunch line and it's crazy long!

Jeff and I decided to get the package deal that they were offering in our admission price to the place that included a locker, lunch, towel and snorkle rental and water bottles. We ended up thinking it was not such a good deal because we had to lug the snorkel gear and towels all over the park and we had to use "special" lockers that had huge lines to use them (Joel got one and was done in nothing flat while he had to wait forever for us) and now for lunch we had to wait forever and a day to go to our buffet lunch.

You can tell how thrilled the kids were.

The best part of the food was the lemonade they gave us as we got to the front of the line. The food was not good and cold and Joel and Virginia got their lunch at the snack bar on the beach. I guess they got tons of food for not much money and it was more than they could eat...I think Joel and Virginia made out pretty good with the choice not to buy the "package deal" :)

Oh there were zook like enclosures there too and we got to see some cool native animals like these monkeys.

All of us agreed that other than the dolfins (for those who got to swim with them) our favorite attractions was the underground river.

The water was refreshing at about 75 degrees. We all had to don life jackets and then we free floated down an underground river that was mostly natural and partially man manipulated to widen it and create holes to let in light and air. It took over a 1/2 hour to float down it. Very cool!

What was crazy in the caves and in all the rocks around the place you could see fossils of shells, corals and sea creature. I thought it was man made at first but then we realized later it wasn't! All over in the floor tiles and wall rocks in this part of Mexico you would see the same thing. They used the limestone that must have been covered over by the ocean at one time and now you could see the evidence of it whereever you looked!

We did this twice but the first time they gave Ashley a baby size life jacket that fit her well but didn't keep her head above water. Jeff and I had to take turns trying to hold her up. Scary! The next time I got her a bigger on and cinched it up good and we all were able to relax more.

Right after we did the river for the second time it was time to go to the night show.

This show came free with our admission to the park and it was spectacular.

Jeff paid extra for us to be able to eat dinner while we watched the show. Now this was a good buy. The food was excellent and we had guaranteed seats and didn't have to fight and squish for seats in the stands (it looked like a zoo over there)

We really liked watching them reinact one of the Mayan ball games, hitting a hard rubber ball with only their bodies to get it through the hole. Fun to watch.

There second favorite was the fire hockey game. They had a ball of wood that they set on fire and then would hit it with hockey looking sticks hoping the sticks wouldn't disintegrate!

We liked that all the music was live.

That night after we got home Jeff started to not feel good. He got a fever and seemed like he was plagued with Montezuma's revenge. Not good.

We were on the schedule to listen to a manditory time share speal in the morning (everyone and their dog is trying to sell time shares) otherwise they would charge us an extra $400.00 so he dragged himself out of bed to go to it with me.

Our guy was nice but sorry buddy, you were doomed to fail 1. because we weren't interested 2. it was way overpriced 3. Jeff felt horrible and didn't care what kind of deal you were offering.

After about 2 1/2 hours of trying to get out of there, passing through 3 people trying to close some kind of deal (it was very annoying) we got on the road to meet Joel and Virginia and drive and hour away to Tulum.

This was the last day we were spending with Joel and Virginia as they were driving down through Belize to Guatamala without us. They were staying longer than us so we encouraged them to go without us. So on their way out of town we thought we see some more archeological sites!

Here was a monkey on Ashley's head that was in the middle of all the shops trying to get you to buy stuff on your way into Tulum.

I had to pay for my toilet paper for the bathrooms. Nice...especially since they didn't even have toilet seats.

As we were entering the place to get tickets to Tulum we met up with Mosiah who was the brother of Helaman which was a Mormon guide that was recommended to us by a friend. I guess there are a number of Mormon guides that like to tell the story of the Mayan ruins through the eyes of the Book of Mormon.

We hired him and we rode the train to the entrance.

Inside we saw tons of iguana everywhere. (We saw them the whole trip) We had fun feeding them crackers at the end of our tour.

Mosiah was wearing a necklace with this picture on it. He told us how it represented the tree of life and was found in one of the Mayan ruins. It was pretty interesting how he explained it.

He offered us a necklace to match his at the end of the tour. At $20.00 I passed so this picture will have to do.

I guess Tulum means walled city so it was surrounded by a wall that ran all the way to the ocean.

The beautiful grounds...

Cool Taylor...

Ashley enjoying the grounds...

Our guide Mosiah explaining to us how the Mayan had flat heads because they would put boards on their baby's head to make them flat because it was easier to carry loads on their head as an adult. They also carved into their teeth and studded them with the jade they traded.

He also told us the things that he felt demonstrated that the Mayans believed in Christ and that this city was a holy city.

This temple did look like the one that was painted as Christ visiting the Lamanites, but of course that was an artist's rendition.

I appreciated a different point of view that showed a alternate way of looking at the architecture but in the end it's different people's theories and we won't probably know the truth of all of it until we meet the one who built this city in the afterlife :)

You could even still see the paintings that were painted on these buildings! They had to stop letting people going inside of them though because of the problems with grafitti! I couldn't imagine. What a shame!

It was neat to see these buildings right on the water.

Jeff didn't go on the tour with us, he stayed sleeping under this tree.

As soon as we got to Tulum it was hot so we thought we'd hit Dairy Queen to get the kids something.

While I was buying it Jeff got sick and passed out right there on the ground and wouldn't wake up. We were all surrounding him and every kind of thought went through my mind as his eyes were rolling back in his head and his mouth was twitching. I pondered calling an ambulance and worse.

After about 30 seconds he came to and got up saying he was fine. He wasn't fine. We think he was deydrated and doing too much instead of staying in bed letting himself recover.

So we got him to where we were and let him relax while we walked around.

As soon as we were done with the tour we drove back to the hotel and said goodbye to Joel and Virginia. That was a hairy, scary ride home but Jeff insisted he was fine. I had to keep him awake and alert and focused the whole time.

I was very glad that we made it back to the room OK.

I let Jeff sleep all that day and through the night and then I started getting a fever too...this was our view for the next couple of days as we all took turns getting sick to varying degrees. We cancelled the kayak tour of the property (we never did get to see the rivers and cenotes that the hotel boasted of) We cancelled the lobster dinner we were promised...

For the next 2 days this was our view...

Our all inclusive food consited of requests of Sprite and Water bottles and we were very glad at this point to have two rooms so between all of us we had two bathrooms available. Jeff and I got it the worst.

Our last day was spent laying in bed watching movies and sleeping off and on. I was popping Motrin and Tylenol all day and I would get about 1 to 1 1/2 hours of feeling a little bit alive while the medicine was working.

Feeling sorry for Ashley who was cooped up and feeling the best out of all of us I let her swim in the jacuzzi tub that Jeff and I never got to enjoy.

Then I got really brave and took her to the pool. I was in for 5 minutes until I started getting chills. I let her play for a few more minutes before I took her over to play in the sand while I lay on one of the beds they had on the beach for the guests. It was actually nice to feel the breeze and let her play as I drifted in and out.

The next day we had to pull ourselves together to get ourselves home. Unfortunately this was my worst day. Luckily Jeff was doing better and could take charge of luggage, returning the rental car and helping with Ashley on the plane.

That was the longest, most uncomfortable trip home the drive to the airport, through two flights, a layover and a drive home from LAX. I was soo glad to be home and grateful that I made it with my dignity still intact (though I had a lot of trips to every bathroom available)

The day I got home I got checked out by the doctor and he said definately E. Coli and gave me antibiotics and told me to send Jeff in as well.

So I've experienced my own E. Coli cleanse compliments of Mexico.

Nice little souvenier....Seriously though I don't know who in their right mind would do a cleanse on purpose!!

We were supposed to leave for Arizona the day after we got back to attend a convention for Jeff's work. We didn't go. We were ready to just stay home :)

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