Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Mexico - the best EVER

Dear Nanna,

You remember that Facebook message I sent you in Feburary? Where I said I was running away to Mexico, and never coming home – well this is why…
After 2 long flights via Dallas we arrived at our resort in Cozumel, Mexico, at sunset.  I remember driving to the hotel from the airport and seeing this enormous tiki hut looking building in the distance and thinking: “That is amazing! What a resort that must be!”  And guess what! It was where we were staying! Tristan picked this amazing (all you can eat/all you can drink) resort where the tiki hut was the reception area.  On arrival we were met by porters who took our baggage away, and a waiter asking for our drink order. Walking to the other side of Tiki hut, it was elevated to look down on a rainforest in the middle of the hotel.  It was beautiful and you felt your worries melt away in moments. 
Our room was on the 3rd floor and our balcony looked right out into the trees.  While we waited for our baggage to arrive, we quickly ran down to the beach to have a look while there was still a little light.  We had to navigate through the paths in the rainforest, past the pool, go through a tunnel (that actually went under the main road above) and we were stopped dead in our tracks – the water was just there.  There was this tiny man-made beach with six little sunbeds and the water lapping gently against the sand.  Up a few stairs to the left was an infinity pool that looked like it disappeared into the bluest ocean – and of course it had a swim up bar.  To the right of the beach, also up a few stairs was another beach with a volley ball court, buffet, and another pool with another swim up bar, and a spa.  Yep! Awesome!
We went back to our room, roughly unpacked and went to dinner at one of the three restaurants at the resort. Most nights and all breakfasts we ate at the large buffet restaurant.  Each day had a different theme and completely different food.  And there was so much of it!! After eating more than was really good for us, we called it an early night. It had been a long day.
The next day we were woken with birdsong – magical! After a generous breakfast we hired a car and set out on our first adventure.  First we drove to Chankanaab National (Marine) Park for a bit of snorkelling. Walking in the gate we were met by a native character, all dressed in blue paint, feathered wings, and bells on his wrists and ankles (and was so good looking that I actually think I drooled).  After a few photos we walked past a huge dolphin pool area to the beach and snorkelling area.  We set ourselves up and Tristan was gone.  Zac and I sat and played on the golden sand, watching the dolphins play in the tropical blue water.  After about 30 minutes we played tag and Tristan and the baby played while I got wet.  I walked along the boardwalk and down some stairs to get in.  I was immediately met by dozens of tiny colourful fish who I think expected me to feed them…nope…I swam out a little way in search or some of the submerged treasures.  I found a Madonna, a holy cross and many fish and coral.  It was so lovely. So peaceful and beautiful. Tristan hadn’t found the treasures yet so when I told him about them he disappeared quickly to find them – he found more than me, but I didn’t care as Zac and I dried on the beach while eating calamari and chips.
As we wanted to explore more of the island we left not long after, (disappointed!) driving around to the light house on the southern point of the island, and then to another secluded beach where we go to lay in hammocks on the golden sands while Tristan we back out in the waves.  Just watching the wave wash up against the shore, while zac played in the sand and made friends with some of the other tourists, was so therapeutic – I don’t think I could have found anything wrong with the world if I tried!  When Tristan washed back to shore we ate some local cuisine (so fresh and yummy) and drove around to a local tequila factory.  There we met with a funny older man that had so many stories to tell, and all of them made you cry with laughter.  We learnt all about how REAL tequila was distilled, that it came from the blue Agave plant and that tequila with a worm in it was an inferior product! The real tequila was very tasty and came in a range of flavours that I very much enjoyed.  We wasted enough time at the distillery that it was time to drive back to the resort for tea once we were done.  Another night of yummy food!!
They next day we just lazed by the pool all morning! My idea of a holiday!! Feet up, book in hand, and the boys splashing in the water – could there be a better way to spend your time!! Lovely!! That afternoon we left Zac with a baby sitter so Tristan and I could spend some quality time together.  We took a nearby snorkel safari with this guy who could free dive to over 20 metres! Crazy! The water was so clear and there were fish of all sizes, a turtle or two, conch fish, coral – it was amazing.  Not as colourful as Vanuatu, but it had that feel to it. After a post snorkel lay by the pool, we got ready for our first dinner without the baby in memory.  We ate a the fancy (no children allowed) Italian restaurant at the resort.  The food was GOOD! And the company was even better.  We watched the beginning of the show and then headed back to our room to see the small boy that we had missed so much! Another very good day!
The following morning, after another big breakfast, we walked into town.  Our resort was right on the edge, so it was a bit of a hike in high humidity and heat. Not the most pleasant experience – so we stopped at the first stop – Margaritaville! I LOVE that place.  We ate huge nachos, used the internet in for the first time in days, drank fish bowl size dinks and watched all the people play in the outdoor swim play area, complete with giant water trampolines, snorkel area, and other float toys – it looked like so much fun – but we forgot to take our cozzies!! After a couple of hours we dragged ourselves away and went and investigated some of the other tourist traps/shops.  Cozumel is a VERY popular cruise stop so there are lots of shops to accommodate the hordes of tourists.  We got a bunch of items that we didn’t really need – and caught a taxi back to the resort for some more pool time – AHHHH - and dinner at the resort's Mexican restaurant. Yummy!!
The next morning we got up SO early to catch a ferry to the mainland to go see some Aztec ruins.  They were amazing! Considering the huge amount of tourists at the site, the ruins were well maintained – you could even see where an inhabitant from the past had painted a hand print on the side of a building – but he had six fingers as a result of rampant inbreeding! Wacko!! The honey bee was a God like figure that featured on many buildings and the language of the Aztecs was full of onomatopoeic features – pretty cool! We drove past a couple of other tourist sites that looked like so much fun to swim and play at, but it had already been a big day for Zac, so we caught an early ferry back to the resort – and your guessed it – more pool time.
Now to you understand why I want to run away to Cozumel! Not only was it warm and tropical and so relaxing, but we got to spend some lovely family time together without the hub bub of our other get aways.  I loved it!!
After 5 days in the sunny tropics, it was time to go back to snowy Denver  – I was devastated.  Our flight home was via Dallas again, and as we caught the train around to our homeward flight we caught sight of the flying kangaroo, which just bought on a wave of homesickness!
Back in Denver I started to pester Tristan immediately for us to take another holiday back to Mexico before we went back to Oz.  After that holiday it became my #1 must do again trip – it was amazing!! The best way/place  to break up a snowy, cold winter! Best holiday EVER!!!
I love you – but I’m running away to Cozumel every winter forever
Your missing granddaughter

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Ho Ho Ho and a Happy New Year

Dear Zac,

Christmas 2012 was very special for our family – it was your first Christmas home from hospital, and the second for our family in the US. 
We all awoke on a snowy day, at the very reasonable hour of 8am, with smiles on our faces – although you knew not why.  We went down stairs and while you were curious about the big tree in the lounge room, it was more because of the sparkling baubles than because of the gifts.  We ate some breakfast and opened gifts at homes – Mama opened your gifts that year.  You seemed a little disinterested in the whole processes, but you watched attentively playing briefly with your new toys before setting them aside.

Later in the day we went to Aunty Beck’s house for Christmas dinner – there were lots of Aussies there. And there was lots of food! We found a spot and ate all the spoils with laughter and happiness.  You received another truck load of toys (all noisy) from the Mckees, and you seemed much more interested in those toys!! After food, Daddy had to work, so we spent some more time playing with our surrogate family in America. But as you got sleepy, we decided to go home and watch cartoon in front of the fire place.
That night, all tucked up in Mama and Daddy’s bed, we all fell asleep with the safe knowledge of many more family Christmas’, but only one more white one.

The next day Jolly arrived with Nini – and I’m not sure who was more excited, you or Jolly.  I think Jolly spent the next week sitting on the floor playing with you.  It was very difficult to pull the two of you apart.  As such, we didn’t do too much out of the ordinary, it was just business as usual, with extra (extra extra) Jolly play time. The love between you two was so obvious! It filled the room as you walked in, and stayed with you all day.  It was the most heart filling feeling you can imagine.
We did pry you apart one day. All the grown-ups went up to the mountains for some skiing lessons.  It was very entertaining to see us all dressed up in our snow gear, looking more like pork roasts than sexy ski bunnies. Daddy went off and played with his mates while Jolly, Nini and I fell down a lot and tried really hard to roll down the hill gracefully – we all failed miserably, though your Jolly failed the least. One of your Dad's mates hurt himself on the mountain so we called it an early day. Turns out he broke his collar bone in several places...snow boarding is not a safe sport!

We left you with Jolly alone one night so your Daddy and I could go to an NFL game. I hear you didn’t care in the slightest that we had gone.  Daddy and I rugged up tight as it was FREEZING outside.  It was -2 when we got to the stadium and started to drop rapidly.  We had seats high up in the grandstand so we had a great view when the F5s from Daddy’s base did a low fly over.  It felt like if you would have put your arms up you would have been able to touch them.  I can’t tell you much about the game – I was too cold.  I stopped watching the temperature once it hit -12… I can tell you that NFL is not as animated and entertaining as the baseball (although I have the same amount of attention for both).  But it was an experience that we wont forget!
The next day Jolly and Nini had to go home, and it was New Years Eve. As you were so little, and Daddy had to work, we did absolutely nothing to celebrate the incoming year.  And I mean nothing!  We were all tucked up in bed and asleep by 10pm. We did wake up briefly at midnight to some fireworks in the neighbourhood, but it held such little interest that we were all back asleep before they had stopped. 

And that my small boy, was how you spent your first Christmas and New Year home for the holidays.
We love you so much

Mama and Daddy

Sailing the Caribbean

Loved ones,

Like so many of our adventures, our holiday to Miami and our cruise started with a stupid early morning.  After a long flight we arrived in Miami, collected our car and navigated the interstates to Miami Beach and our hotel.  As it was our 4th wedding anniversary, we walked down to a little Italian restaurant for tea.  Sometime during dinner it started to rain – now it doesn’t actually rain all that often in Denver so this was a serious event for us.  Zac spent the entire run back to the hotel between bemused and completely confused at what this cold wet stuff was falling from the sky! How sheltered we had kept our small boy.

The next day we drove to Everglades National Park and caught a trolley around a small patch of the park.  We were taken to a lovely watch tower where you could see for miles.  Along the way we saw the swamplands, birds and more alligators than I thought possible to live in such a small area.  It was a little intimidating how close we got to those monsters! We learnt the Burmese pythons we a pest in the Everglades as they ate the small animals that the alligators also need to survive.  There is actually a bounty if you catch/kill them! It was an educational tour. 
For Zac’s first birthday we drove to Key West, the most southern point of mainland USA.  It was one of the most amazing drives we have EVER done:  100 miles with 27 interconnecting bridges (some which were just so long) and the most spectacular views you can imagine. It made us terribly homesick for the beach, while making us wish we had skipped Miami completely and just spent some quality time in a small beachside village, fishing and walking in the sand.  We stopped at one little village to feed this enormous fish at the end of a wharf – it was at least twice the size of Zac and would jump out of the water to grab at the bait in your hand.  It was pretty cool, despite the baby being scared silly.  We ate fish and chips for lunch and Daddy sampled some of the famous Key Lime Pie.  Our final destination was Key West itself – such a quaint little town where driving a golf buggy or cycling was much easier than actually driving!  Key West is actually closer to Cuba than the nearest Walmart… bizarre! We drove home late that night, regretting that we didn’t have more time to spend in this beautiful part of the world.
Our final day in Miami was spent walking the boardwalk. There is such a difference between a beach in Oz and a beach over here.  Here the beaches are all manicured, with drags over the sand to make it all uniform (and I guess to weed out any nasties that might be hidden in the sand).  There are little beach shacks scattered along the way where you can rent a beach chair and umbrella – because you would never sit on the sand! A person will come along to your chair and you can order table service lunch and drinks – high end food and cocktails (no BBQ chook sandwiches’ here!).  In this part of the world, going to the beach was an opportunity to be seen, not an opportunity to play in the waves with your loves ones… I’m glad this is one Americanism that had not made it to our sandy shores.
The next day we packed all our gear and set out for our cruise.  The boat was impressive! There were 3 pools, at least 5 ‘hot tubs’, food, food and more food, bars, casino and duty free shops to satisfy all your shopping needs.  At night we ate at a lovely restaurant at the back of the boat where the wait staff knew our names before we even turned up.  They were from Indonesia and Thailand, so it was nice to talk to people who actually knew foods we would appreciate.   We saw some live shows, a comedian (and Mama even popped her head in and saw some of the drag show on board – it was the best show she saw by far!!).  While there was plenty to do, it wasn’t the most baby appropriate environment, so we tended to spend a lot of time in our room, or sitting inside watching the sea slip by. Which was nice, but not really what you go on a cruise for… While it was a great, unique experience that enabled us to see many of the tourist sights of the eastern Caribbean, it’s not one we would be rushing back to do again, primarily because we just didn’t get to spend enough time at each port (6-8 hours).
However, the little time we did spend at each port was enough to make us hungry to visit each location again for a much longer time.  
Bahamas was the first stop.  Nassau has a grand nautical and colonial history – and you can see and feel it everywhere.  It was truly beautiful. The blue of the water was an indescribable coral blue and so crystal clear you could see the bottom at over 20 feet.  We took a ‘submarine’ ride to see some of the local sea life on a reef. Zac seemed to really enjoy it.  The fish didn’t seem as colourful as their pacific cousins, but there were turtles which were wonderful. We got to sail past all the celebrity homes (including Tom Cruise’s and Oprah’s two), and the Atlantis resort which looked incredible – a place on Mama’s bucket list! This adventure was followed by a city tour (and some crazy traffic) to a look out at the highest peak of the city. There were some cute little shops at the top near an old fort that we perused while the locals fell in love with the blond hair, blue eye little boy who smiled at them.  It was pretty adorable. Before we knew it, it was time to get back on the boat and sail for our next exotic locale.
St Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, is perhaps one of the most beautiful places in the world.  The lush green island, surrounded by the most beautiful blue ocean, is just awe inspiring.  When you think island paradise – THIS IS IT!!  We took a full island tour that included a crazy bus ride up to a lookout.  While the traffic was enough to make you chew your finger nails off (there were 8 boats in St Thomas that day) the view of the harbour left you lost for words.  We drove back down to Meagan’s Bay, rated as one of the top ten beaches in the world (they have obviously never been to the South Coast) and the best in the Carribean.  And it was lovely – beautiful tropical warm water, lapping waves, the blue (oh so blue) bay and palm trees dropping along the way – sigh. It was paradise.  Zac played on his very first beach, and ate sand as he should, while Mama and Daddy took turns in the water – baby was not a fan of the water!
Our tour of paradise continued after this short stop to Black Beard’s castle – which is now a rum factory.  Daddy liked it.  We learnt all about the real pirates of the Caribbean (I was so disappointed as Jonny Deep wasn’t there), and walked down 100s of stairs, through little shops, past restored colonial homes of yore, to the town.  We did a little window shopping and caught a pirate ship back across the harbour to our cruise boat and our time was all up!  It was a glimpse into a world that seemingly lived harmoniously between its colonial roots, native landscape (of paradise) and modern living (in paradise). It’s a place you can see yourself spending a month at and still wanting more time. We adored it!
Puerto Rico was our next stop.  Before we arrived, we presumed Old San Juan wouldn’t be a trip highlight, so we just booked ourselves on foodies tour.  That way we could at least enjoy some nice food.  Instead, it was a place that ended up being high on our ‘if we have time – we’ll be back’ list. The tour started with a historical walking tour of the old city.  We saw these huge, thick, fort walls that have become a part of the fabric of the island, giving it character and sense living history, fountains and plazas that gave it an old world sensibility, houses of every colour and hue cramped against one another without seeming to crowd out the sun or the sense of tropical laughter, grand churches that have stood the test of time (and war and uprising).  Beside all this history (we really didn’t realise the amount of history this tiny city had!), was a modern city that was this unique blend of African American, Hispanic, Caribbean and American cultures.  And everyone was happy – people were smiling and laughing everywhere.  It was amazing and just made you delighted that you were there. 
Our tour visited a rum factory (when in Rome, right?), a bunch of little shops that sold local foods (sauces and spicy jams seemed popular) and culminated at a local restaurant where we were given a refreshing local beverage (Mojito!! Yum yum) and were taught how to make a local traditional dish (tasted like feet – but it was fun).  After this we rushed up to one of two major forts in the city to explore.  This was a holiday highlight for Tristan – he got super snap happy.  We slowly meandered back down to the boat to go to our final port of call – but we really wish we had more time here.  There was so much more to see and experience – we barely scratched the surface!
Our final stop on the cruse was just as fabulous as the three previous.  While Grand Turk was still just a little island, not yet developed in the sense that the other islands had been, it had this sense of being completely unspoiled and ready for exploring.  It was a low island – I would be surprise if a single part of it rose more than 10m above sea level. It still had dirt roads and locals carrying their catches (dinner) walking along them, with our cabbie stopping as we drove to chat to his mates and find out what was biting.  We spent the day at the most glorious beach we have ever seen or been to.  It was part of a dive resort that may have had 10 other people sharing this lovely long beach of white sand and pine trees (odd right?). We ate the freshest and most delicious seafood lunch of our lives, and then Zac and I retired  to lay on the beach while Tristan took a deep sea snorkelling tour.  Tristan tells me it was a cool trip. The drop off was specular, but was missing the coral and colour that you would expect.  Zac and my day was fabulous as I drank my fill of tropical drinks, napped in the shade, and played in the sand.  I don’t think we could have asked for a more relaxing day! Before we knew it we were herded back to the boat and it was the end of our holiday.
Overall, while Miami was an experience, I think we would have valued the four days along the Florida Keys a lot more.  And the cruise, while we are glad we did it, and we got to spend a little time in four of the most wondrous places we could have imagined (and most that we could not have), I’m not sure it is our type of holiday.  Too much no-time between islands and not enough time to explore.  We definitely prefer to fly and experience more.  But no regrets – because if we didn’t do it this way we would never have had an opportunity to get a taste of the Caribbean paradises that we saw!
Love and wishes that you too get to experience paradise