Paris Update – September 10, 2018

It was only about a week ago that Sina and I started toying with the idea of moving to Paris.  Since then, we have organized house sitters, I’ve gotten the green light from work, and we have done a ton of research.  There was a period of about 3 hours where I was trying to convince Sina that perhaps we should choose Lyon or Marseille over Paris, to get a more authentic French experience and not be surrounded by English speakers.  I lived in Paris for about 6 months in 2002 during my Masters program at the Cornell Hotel School.  They had a sister program at IMHI which is part of the ESSEC business school in Cergy Pontoise, about an hour outside of Paris.  But I had landed an internship with Sol Melia Hotels & Resorts and I offered to work for free in exchange for a room in a city center hotel, which gave me the privilege of living in Paris during my time there.  I remember distinctly that when I would make an attempt to speak French to people in Paris, they would get easily frustrated with my lack of proficiency and switch to English, making it quite difficult to practice and learn the language.  I lost the argument with Sina pretty quickly.  Paris, being one of the fashion centers of Europe and its allure of romance has too much going for it to be shadowed by Lyon or Marseille.

This morning, we woke Luka and Taj at around 4am, got them dressed and fed, and sat at the kitchen counter for a 5am Skype Interview with a Montessori school in Paris.  Over a year ago we had a similar interview with a Montessori school in Mallorca when we were considering a potential move there.  We hadn’t prepared the girls, and during the interview they behaved like monkeys.  I can’t really say they behaved badly, they were just being kids… we made the mistake of sitting on the floor and so they were climbing all over us and giggling throughout the interview.  Suddenly, the school didn’t have enough space for them.  This time, we were not going to make the same mistake.  So we prepared the girls and on two separate occasions discussed how they would ‘keep their bodies still’ and speak politely and with confidence.  Well, at least this time they weren’t climbing on our heads, but the interview did last for about 30 minutes and they did start to get silly in the middle of it.  Sometimes I wonder if the person interviewing us is more interested in the children’s behavior, or how we handle it.  Nevertheless, by the end of the interview suddenly the interviewer wasn’t sure if they had 2 spots available and said she would have to check and get back to us.  After we put the girls back to sleep to catch another 2 hours of sleep before going to school, we debated whether we had just experienced yet another rejection based on the girls (or maybe our) performance, or if the interviewer really wasn’t sure if she had the space.

Luckily, we had another option.  Later that morning I called another school, and this time I spoke to them myself.  She asked why we had chosen a Montessori education for our girls.  I explained that my wife and I are a bit eccentric in the sense that we typically don’t fit in.  We are unique individuals and we are proud of that fact.  We wanted our girls to grow up being proud of their differences and to have the confidence to be who they are without feeling the pressure to conform to be part of a group.  Furthermore I strongly believe that everyone should do what they love, and that if you are passionate about something or talented in a certain area you can be successful even if you’re not great at math or science.  The Montessori philosophy focuses on each child’s individual strength even if that is art or creativity.  This is why we love the philosophy.  The discussion was great and it appears that we have now found a school for our two girls.  Check another box on the list!

We still do not have a place to live, and I think this is going to be a challenge.  There are very few options on AirBnB and maybe that’s because we are making such a last minute decision.  It says there are only 1% of listings still available but I really don’t believe that. While there are other sites that have longer term rentals available, the selection is quite limited in the neighborhoods we prefer, and we are worried that nobody is going to get back to us.  I have a feeling we are going to have to just pick something for October that is slightly outside the city and organize an apartment after we arrive.

Luckily, Sina and the girls have European passports so we don’t have any legal issues when it comes to staying there for more than 3 months.  I will be traveling in and out for work so I shouldn’t have any issues either.

We started to look at plane tickets.  I will never understand airline pricing.  If I buy a ticket to Paris leaving October 1st and returning in August 2019, the price is $2,000.  If I leave October 1st and come back in 2 weeks it’s $500??  So I’m better off buying the 2 week ticket and just not using the return trip.  In the end I think we will end up using frequent flyer miles on United.  Sadly they want 60,000 miles per person!  Ouch… But right now I would rather not spend the cash, and we really don’t know when we will come back so we need to have the flexibility to change that return date without paying $800 in change fees for 4 tickets.

There is so much to think about, not to mention a LOT going on at work so keeping up with both is challenging.  But we are starting to download French music on Spotify and I will soon download Babbel so I can start learning French.  I have forgotten what little I had learned 16 years ago.  I tried Rosetta Stone for German and I got about half way through it.  I have heard good things about Babbel so I will give it a try.

I started researching tax implications today as well.  If I stay in France for 6 months or more, then I have to pay tax in France on my full income for the year!  So we may need to modify our plan and spend July and August somewhere else.  Italy maybe?  Greece?  We shall see.  There is also apparently a tax credit if you are outside the US for a certain period of time but there are plenty of rules around that, so I have written to my accountant to learn more.

As of now I would say there is a 90% chance we are moving to Paris!  There are still some details to work out but right now everything appears to be falling into place quite nicely. The universe appears to be telling us to go.  Who are we to refuse?

Cala des Moro

Cala des Moro View

On the Southeast corner of Mallorca, just South of Santanyí, is a small beach called Cala des Moro.  Word has gotten out that this is one of the most beautiful beaches in Mallorca, so plan to get there early if you want to avoid having to edit out too many people for your Instagram photos.

Walk to Cala des MoroDuring the summer months, the neighborhood where Cala des Moro is located is blocked off to traffic.  You will have to park in a parking lot on Camí de Cala Llombards, and then walk about 1 Km to get to Cala des Moro.  I do not recommend ignoring the warnings that only local residents are allowed to drive through the neighborhood, because there were in fact police officers writing tickets to those who ignored the warnings.

View of Cala des MoroAs you get closer to the beach, there are a few small openings in the trees where you can get some stunning views of Cala des Moro below. We got there quite early and so the reflection of the sun rising on the water took away from the blue color but it was worth it when we got down to the beach and there were very few people.  Follow your GPS to the beach and then on the left there is a wooden swinging door that leads to the path that goes to Cala des Moro.

Cala des Moro pathDuring the summer there was a vendor selling drinks at the top of the path but I doubt they are there year round.  As you get closer to the beach there are a few steep steps to go down in order to reach the beach below, but path is not difficult in general.  The beach is quite small though, and within 1 hour of arrival there was almost no space on the sand for anyone to put down a towel.

Cala des Moro cave

 

Once you climb down to the sand you will see some small caves behind the beach.  It’s a nice place to escape the sun for a few minutes and provides a cool backdrop for some photos.

 

 

Cala des Moro Water

Cala des Moro Pose

Park Natural Mondragó

Playa den BorgitWe spent 3 months during the summer of 2018 exploring the beaches of Mallorca.  We tried not to go to the same beach twice, but there were a few that we loved and just had to go back.  In the Mondragó Natural Park, located on the southeast coast of Mallorca just east of Santanyí, there are 3 beautiful beaches within walking distance of each other.  They are Playa S’amarador, Cala Mondragó, and Cala d’en Borgit.

Mondrago National ParkThere are 2 ways to arrive.  The first is to type S’amarador into Google Maps.  This will lead you to the parking lot located to the west of the 3 beaches.  You will need to walk about 5 minutes from the parking lot to S’amarador beach, the first, and largest of the 3 beaches.  At the time of writing, Google Maps was leading us to a fork in the road where the road on the left was closed to non-residents.  You will also get there by taking the road to the right but the route that Google Maps uses to get to S’amarador is definitely not the most direct route.  The second option is to type Mondragó Natural Park into Google Maps.  This will lead you to another parking lot, and from there you can walk down to Cala Mondragó in about 7 or 8 minutes (pictured above).

Playa SamaradorMondragó Natural Park is about a 1 hour drive from Palma de Mallorca, but it’s worth it. The water is a beautiful blue and is great for taking photos.  There are 3 food outlets on the beach.  At the first beach, S’amarador, there is a small snack bar that sells sandwiches and ice cream.  At Cala Mondragó, the middle beach, there are 2 full service restaurants right on the beach.  The menu is extensive and includes typical Spanish tapas, pastas, pizzas, pork cutlets (chuletas) and much more.  There are also many options for drinks, slushies, and ice cream.  While the prices are slightly higher than what you might pay elsewhere, they really are quite reasonable.

Cala Mondrago walk As you approach the first beach (S’amarador) from the parking lot, you can cross the beach and reach a walk way along the rocks to reach Cala Mondragó.  It only takes about 10 minutes to walk from Playa S’amarador to Cala Mondragó but the views of the blue water are stunning and there are many great photo ops along the way.

Cala Mondrago 1This photo to the right was taken on another day as we were walking back along the path from Cala Mondragó toward Playa S’amarador.  While it might be tempting to jump off the rocks into the water, it is prohibited and there are a few people walking around to ensure nobody does it (during the summer months at least). It is quite difficult to judge the depth of the water from above.

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The waves at S’amarador are sometimes a little more rough than the other 2 beaches because they roll in from the sea directly to the beach, versus Cala Mondragó or Cala d’en Borgit where the waves have to make a turn to hit the beach.  In this photo to the left, Playa S’amarador is to the right, and Cala Mondragó is the the left.  At Cala Mondragó, you can rent paddle boats with slides which are fun for kids (and adults!).  They are surprisingly inexpensive.  $15 for 30 minutes or $20 for 60 minutes.

Cala den BorgitOut of the 3 beaches, our favorite is actually Cala d’en Borgit (pictured to the right).  It is the smallest out of the three beaches, but it is the least crowded because you have to walk for about 5 minutes from Cala Mondragó on a path through the woods.  It is not a difficult path at all, but it is not clearly marked and I think many people don’t even realize it’s there.Playa Mondrago

If you try to reach Cala d’en Borgit, there is a sign that indicates the path to get there.  Be aware that there is a long path that takes you along the coast line so that you can take in the views, and a short path that cuts through the woods and goes straight to the beach.  If you pass by all of the picnic tables, you are on the right path (the shorter one).  Also, there is no food available at Cala d’en Borgit, so if you plan to spend the day there, either take some food with you or be prepared to walk back to Cala Mondragó where there are two very good full service restaurants.

There are so many beaches and calas to visit in Mallorca that the number of options can be overwhelming.  But Mondragó Natural Park is definitely worth a visit.  Here is a short 1 minute video below with some views of the beaches.  Enjoy!

Luka & Taj’s Under the Sea Party

 

 

Before we left for Mallorca this summer, we threw a birthday party for Luka and Taj.  In Sina’s typical style, we went all out.  Only she could come up all of these ocean themed costumes, food, and activities.  I am constantly in awe of her imagination and creativity.  If anyone out there is looking for some interesting ideas for a birthday party, I hope this video will give you some inspiration!

Next Stop: Paris?

After spending the summer in Mallorca, coming back to the United States was not easy.  While we missed the comfort of being in our own home and of course we missed all of our pets, we suddenly found ourselves feeling like we no longer belong in Charlottesville.  During a conversation with Sina last week, I mentioned that Peter (the founder of Kognitiv) and Mergim (a friend within my company) are both moving to London and she said “Maybe we should be moving to London too.”  I don’t know how serious she was, but it stuck with me.  Maybe we SHOULD be moving to London.  Why the hell not?

We started to seriously think about the possibility of moving to London.  We looked for Montessori schools and there were a few options.  The first problem was that almost every school had a uniform.  What gives?  Is that just a British thing?  Montessori is all about celebrating individuality.  How can you have a school uniform?  Given our family’s love of fashion, that just wasn’t going to happen.  Neither Sina nor I have ever been excited about the prospect of living in London.  Both of us believe that our happiness has a direct correlation to the amount of sunlight exposure we have, and Sina correctly pointed out that constant rain puts a damper (pardon the pun) on one’s wardrobe options.  Most importantly, as we are focused on exposing Luka and Taj to new cultures and languages, London probably isn’t the best option.  It is a very diverse, multi-cultural city, but the girls would not learn a new language.

Maybe we should go to Paris?  It’s a 2 hour train ride from London, so I could easily go meet with Peter and Mergim… It’s quite central and I can easily get anywhere in Europe for work, we could all learn French, and well, it’s PARIS.  As we started to think more about it, the uneasy feeling that we both had about London quickly disappeared and was replaced with a feeling of excitement.  For the last several days we have been writing to Montessori schools and AirBnB renters to check out our options.

As luck would have it, the house sitters that took care of our house and pets over the summer while we were in Mallorca fell in love with Charlottesville and decided to move there!  They do not have a place to live yet, and after speaking with them it appears they would be more than happy to stay in our house for a year.

This week in Toronto I ran the idea by Peter and one or two others to ensure there were no objections, and it appears I have the green light from work.  So all of the pieces now appear to be falling into place.  The only concern that remains now is a financial one.  We really cannot afford to pay our mortgage in Charlottesville and rent an apartment in Paris at the same time.  Not to mention, it is a given that we will spend more money, on clothes, food, traveling, etc.  Plus, we would lose 40% of the tuition on the girls’ current school.  It’s going to add up fast.

But the girls are not getting any younger and it has always been our dream to take them and live in different countries, and learn new languages.  If we put it off, it will never happen.  After selling my company 2 years ago, it feels like it’s time to start achieving more of our personal goals.  Best of all, we can do that while still making significant contributions to the company and growing professionally.  As of now, I think it’s a gamble worth taking.  Sina and I are going to discuss it this weekend and hopefully we will have a decision by Monday.

The Story of Ashwin and Sina

Nerd marries model

6th grade.jpgSinaAswhin001Here I am sometime back in middle school.  I had a mustache, played the flute, and was terrible at sports.  You can see my totally fake smile trying to hide the depression because girls had zero interest in me.  If I only knew back then that this amazingly beautiful woman would one day be my wife, man things would have gone a LOT differently.  Here’s how it happened.

In June 2003, I was graduated from the Cornell University MMH program (Masters of Management in Hospitality).  I had landed a job as the Director of E-commerce with Meliá Hotels & Resorts (Click here for that story).  At Meliá, I had the greatest boss ever.  Mr. Ron Roy, an extremely friendly and jolly guy from Scotland with the greatest sense of humor and a deeper wealth of knowledge on history and random facts than anyone I’ve ever met.  One of the first things he told me to do was to get on a plane and visit the company’s portfolio of resorts in Mexico (twist my arm…).  So off I went, starting with Los Cabos, then Cancun, Cozumel, and before heading to Ixtapa I visited Meliá Puerto Vallarta.  Yes, it was the job that everyone dreams of.

I was greeted by the General Manager, the late Mr. Tom Tollius, another great figure from the good old days at Meliá.  We chatted in his office for a while and he offered to introduce me to his Director of Sales.  A few minutes later, in walked the most stunningly beautiful woman I had ever seen.  Sina Schreiber was from Austria, had big blue eyes and blond hair.  I felt like the personification of all of my boyhood and teenage dreams had just walked through the door.  Even now at the age of 42, the presence of a beautiful woman makes me nervous.  Back then when I was 27 years old, it was much worse.  My level of confidence has increased significantly since then, when I used to look like this…  thanks to Sina’s guidance on fashion, but I still feel like I’m acting like a complete nerd when a beautiful woman is talking to me.

Tom suggested that we go get lunch at the restaurant by the pool and off we went.  Have you ever had a conversation with someone and you just completely click?  We just seemed to think completely alike and now looking back on it, there was clearly a mutual interest.  Back then I would have refused to believe that she was actually interested in me.  In my mind though, I was already planning the wedding.  My nerdy overzealousness was very quickly crushed though when Sina mentioned that she has a very serious boyfriend and that she was planning on marrying him.  The adrenaline rushing through my veins quickly changed to cold ice.  You know, if you pay attention, you can almost feel your brain injecting different chemicals into your body depending on what’s going on.

Anyway, I went back to our offices in Miami and couldn’t stop talking about (or thinking about) Sina.  Now, my assistant in Miami happened to be a very attractive, voluptuous Colombian girl named Katherine.  My boss, Ron, often commented that she was the prettiest girl in the whole company.  Katherine had apparently taken an interest in me, even though I had absolutely no idea.  A few months later, Katherine and I became a couple.  That was the start of a four year, very turbulent relationship (for that story, click here).  At some point during these four years, Sina’s boyfriend somehow decided to break up with her.  This had to be one of the most difficult years of my life.  My heart wasn’t in my relationship with Katherine and I knew it.  So did she, but she didn’t want to let me go and I couldn’t bring myself to break up with her simply because the woman that I really wanted to be with was suddenly available.  That just didn’t seem right.  Katherine was a beautiful, loving, and caring woman, and I thought that breaking up with her to be with Sina would just be a typical jerk ‘guy’ move.  Growing up with mostly female friends, I had promised myself I wouldn’t be one of those.  Looking back, staying with Katherine under those circumstances was even worse.

I saw Sina maybe twice per year through various industry events or company meetings, and every single time that spark was still there.  We would normally end up talking for hours.  Nothing ever happened between us, but my God I wanted it to.  I’ll never forget there was one night when we were at Meliá’s party at Tianguis (a large travel industry tradeshow that happens every April in Mexico).  Years ago it was in Acapulco every year, but now they change the location each year due to safety issues in Acapulco.  Meliá used to rent out a big house with a pool where they held an extravagant party every year.  Sina and I were talking with a group of people while we scarfed down hors d’oeuvres and a few drinks under the starry night sky and Sina said that she wanted to go dancing.  My instincts kicked in and I immediately said “I’ll go!”.  So we made our way to the entrance of the house and started walking toward her rented iconic pink jeep from Las Brisas, the hotel where we were staying.  With each step we took toward the car, my heart began to sink and a feeling of guilt came over me.  I knew that if we went dancing by ourselves there was no way I was not going to kiss her that night.  My pace started to slow as Sina walked on and I stopped and said, “Sina…”.  She turned around to look at me and I said “I’m so sorry but I can’t go.  I think I’m going to go back to the house.”  I’m not sure if she knew what was going through my head but she said ok, and we went back.

Eventually, in the fall of 2008, Katherine and I broke up.  It was like a giant weight was lifted off of my shoulders.  By now I hadn’t been working with Melia for a year and I hadn’t been in touch with Sina since.  But I reached out to her right away to find out where she was and what she was up to, and she answered right away.  After leaving Meliá, she went to Rome for a few months to learn Italian.  She sold tours at The Vatican, and was a live-in babysitter.  After that, she went to Ghana to teach underprivileged children at a school about 3 hours away from the main city of Accra, in a village where there was no running water.  If I wasn’t already in love with her before, that kind of sealed it for me.  So I asked if she was seeing anyone, and she said no.  I asked if I could come visit her, and she said yes!  “But… aren’t you married by now?” she asked.  I explained that Katherine and I had broken up and that I would explain everything when I saw her.  I immediately bought a plane ticket, got my vaccines and three weeks later I was off to Ghana.

How was I going to explain to my family that I was running off to Africa during Thanksgiving?  I had just gotten out of a roller-coaster 4 year relationship.  I certainly was not going to tell them that I was flying half way across the world to see if Sina was still interested in me, especially because I knew there was a chance I would come back disappointed.  So I made up the most logical lie I could think of.  I had decided to go to Africa to ‘volunteer’ at a school.  This became a big joke when they learned the truth.

I arrived in Accra, made my way through immigration and just outside the airport, there she was dressed in fabric with local colors and patterns.  She hadn’t changed a bit.  But she wasn’t alone.  With her was a really cute four year old boy named Emmanuel, from Aflao, the village where Sina was teaching.  The three of us got into a car with a driver and began our three hour journey back to Aflao, avoiding giant gaping potholes almost the entire way.  Sina was living with a local woman named Alice.  Before I had arrived Sina said “I hope you don’t mind, but I had to tell Alice that we were married, otherwise she won’t let you stay in the house.”  I can’t explain the feeling of excitement when she said that.

We spent about a week in Aflao, bathing in the outdoor ‘shower’ with buckets of cold water that we had to fetch each day from the well.  I tend to take a long time to shower and get ready as it is… now if I have to do it with 2 buckets of cold water, it’s going to take even longer.  Sina jokes from time to time that she should have known right away what she was dealing with.  There was a small kitchen in this house, sort of like an outhouse, and I had brought stuff from the USA to cook dinner for Sina and her roommate.  They hadn’t eaten a familiar home cooked meal in months so I won some major points there.  I also brought a bottle of Sarah Jessica Parker’s perfume at Sina’s request, and I also brought a brand new Ipod with all my favorite music loaded onto it with the inscription “Para mi querida Sina” on the back.

We had a great week.  I visited the school with Sina and helped teach some classes.  It was truly an amazing experience.  These kids have nothing more than a chalk board and chalk to learn with.  I decided to teach them how to play Pictionary, but even this was a challenge because their span of knowledge was so limited.  I would whisper in a child’s ear to draw an elephant, and they would look at me completely confused.  They didn’t know what an elephant was or what it looked like.  That might surprise you since we were in Africa, but there is really no wildlife to speak of in Ghana.  That’s on the other side of Africa in Kenya, Botswana, etc.  I met the other volunteers and we all went to visit a waterfall.  The other volunteers wanted to hike up to the top of the waterfall and I thought “Hey I can do that since I did it in Australia (you can read about that here).  Except back then I was 25 and in much better shape than at 32.  I was never really an athletic person but I thought I could handle this.  Sina didn’t want to go but I remember thinking “Let me show her that I don’t want to crowd her.  I don’t always need to be by her side and I can go do this with the others.”  After about 15 minutes, I was so out of breath that I told the others to just go on without me.  Now I would have to go back down to Sina with my tail between my legs and admit that I just couldn’t keep up.  She just laughed.  We spent the rest of the time taking pictures by the waterfall with Emannuel.

Throughout this entire week, neither of us brought up anything about us getting together.  I wanted to so badly but the timing had to be right.  After the first week we only had a few days left and we decided to go travel a bit through the south of Ghana, just the two of us.  We headed west in a ‘tro tro’ which is basically a small bus full of people.  As we drove along the road and the sun began to set, Sina was sitting next to me at the window.  I gathered up as much courage as I could and took her hand in mine.  She grasped my hand back and smiled at me.  That was when I knew for sure that those feelings that had grown between us for the last 5 years were still there.  The first stop was a place I had read about where you could see giant leatherback turtles laying their eggs on the beach.  We were in the middle of nowhere but I remember we had CNN International, and we watched as the terrorist attack unfolded at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai.  I immediately checked with my oldest brother Sanjay to make sure they were all ok, since they were living there at the time.  Later that night we went out with a guide and saw these magnificent animals coming up onto the beach and laying their eggs.  We continued west through Accra and onward to Cape Coast.  We checked into the Mighty Victory Hotel and next day we visited the famous fort where slaves had been shipped off to the Americas.  We also visited the Kakum National Park, and then headed back to Accra for the last night where I figured I would splurge for the ‘nicest’ place in town.

That evening at the beach, Sina asked me what happened with Katherine and I told her the whole story.  It was a bit uncomfortable but she needed to know everything.  That night at dinner, I asked Sina “So what do I have to do for us to be together?”   Sina had about a month left in Ghana and then her plan was to go back to Austria to be with her family for Christmas.  We planned for her to come to Miami after Christmas and just before New Year’s so we could spend a few weeks together.  In my mind, this was it.  We were getting married and that was all there was to it.

Just before New Year’s Eve, Sina arrived and came to stay at my house in Miami.  Everything felt so normal and natural that to me, it was just obvious that she was staying.  Sina bought a ticket to Rome so that she could go pick up some stuff that she had left with the family she was living with, so after a few weeks she left for Rome for 2 weeks.  I was going completely out of my mind without her.  So in my typical impulsive romantic fashion, I went online and bought a plane ticket to Rome for the weekend.  I asked Sina for the address where she was staying so I could ‘send her a card’.  I remember my friends in my office telling me that this was a really bad idea.  “Give her some time and some space to think!”  Nope, I’m going to Rome.

I left on Thursday evening and arrived by Friday morning.  I checked into my hotel and waited until it was about 1pm so that it would be 7am EST which is when Sina and I would normally skype each other before I headed to work.  In order to surprise her I skyped her as if everything was normal and I was back home.  Then I made my way over to the apartment.  Luckily the husband of the family happened to be leaving just at the moment I arrived and he knew right away who I was.  He snuck me into the apartment and I just appeared in Sina’s doorway.  She looked up and she was completely shocked.  For a moment she was really confused and couldn’t figure out where she was, or why I was there.  We spent an amazing weekend together in Rome and thankfully, she was thrilled that I had come.  I knew this was the woman for me.  It’s a good thing I went too because she sent me back with several really really heavy bags, and there is no way she could have brought all that back by herself!

When she got back we started the adoption process to bring Emannuel to live with us.  Sadly, that never worked out.  You can read that story here.  We had our wedding at the Acqualina Resort & Spa, right on the beach in Sunny Isles, Florida and it was beautiful.  We invited a small group of our closest friends, co-workers and family, and just after the ceremony a giant rainbow appeared just beyond us out in the ocean.  I’m not kidding!  You can’t make this stuff up.

So here we are, nine years later.  Of course it hasn’t all been perfect.  Every marriage has its challenges and I might discuss some of that here in my blog as long as it won’t cause my wife to divorce me.  But we are happy and we have two incredible girls.  Hope you’ve enjoyed our story.

Yucatan Peninsula – Summer 2017

In the summer of 2017, our goal was to swim with the whale sharks in Holbox.  So we decided to make a 2 week trip out of it and explore the Yucatan Peninsula.

We started out trip in Playa del Carmen.  We chose the Be Playa hotel which was perfect. Service was excellent and the atmosphere had a chic vibe but was still kid-friendly.  Perfect for us.  We had an excellent breakfast every morning that we looked forward to, and the Quinta Avenida was only a block away.  We weren’t thrilled with the beach in Playa del Carmen.  It was quite crowded and didn’t feel relaxing at all.  If you like Frida Khalo, don’t miss the new museum in downtown Playa del Carmen.

From Playa del Carmen we moved to Alaya Tulum.  Again, excellent service and beautiful hotel.  We chose a room that was not directly on the beach but was very close.  We were lucky to have chosen a time of year when the turtles were laying their eggs on the beach.  At night one can go out and sit on the beach and if you’re lucky you will see turtles coming up out of the ocean onto the beach, digging a giant hole and laying their eggs.  The process takes hours but just to see these magnificent creatures crawling on the beach is quite a spectacle.  Thankfully there are many local volunteers that patrol the beaches at night to ensure that the tourists don’t get too close or disturb the turtles in any way.  If you visit during the summer months please do not use flashlights on the beaches at night, as this confuses the turtles.  We liked Tulum, but we didn’t love it.  That’s because outside of the hotel there are little shops and plenty of restaurants to explore, but walking on the narrow street in Tulum with the traffic is a bit stressful, especially if you have kids.  I wish there was some way they could make it more pedestrian friendly.  Maybe close off the street to traffic and taxis and only have a local tram that takes people up and down Tulum.  Also, while the beach is beautiful, the surf was quite rough, at least while we were there.  So it wasn’t that enjoyable to bathe in the ocean.

From Tulum we hit the road and drove to Valladolid.  We stayed at Hotel El Mesón del Marqués and loved it!  Now, keep in mind this is not a luxurious hotel.  The rooms were Days Inn quality at best, but if you can get past that, I highly recommend choosing this property.  The website doesn’t do it justice.  First of all it is located right on the main plaza of Valladolid, which we were ecstatic about since there was a festival going on in the square during our visit which meant a street market, music, ice cream and more.  If you enter the hotel from the square, you would be entering through the restaurant which has an authentic hacienda feel to it.  In fact the entire property feels like a traditional authentic Mexican property.  If they would upgrade their rooms they could charge 3 times the price but they have a lot of rooms so I would imagine that would be a challenge, and I don’t know how many tourists visit Valladolid, although they should!  We used Valladolid as a base to visit several cenotes around the area as well as Rio Lagartos and Los Colorados where the pink lakes are.  Many of the cenotes are quite touristy and commercialized.  We found one that was incredible and there was hardly anyone there.  It’s a bit off the beaten path but completely worth it.  It’s called Cenote Oxman.  It’s located within a Hacienda (Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman), and you have to drive down a dirt road to get there.  The owners were there enjoying the pool with their family and were extremely nice.  The cenote there is pristine and it’s the one you can see in the video with the rope swing.

The tour in Rio Lagartos was ok.  We got to see a few flamingos and it was a nice boat ride and all, but what made the trip worthwhile was to see the pink lakes in Los Colorados.  From what was explained to us, the water is pink because of the salt mines.  The company adds an agent to the water which allows them to produce more salt and it turns the water pink.  You are not supposed to go in the water and there are people patrolling the lake to tell people to get out.  So don’t be fooled by the Instagram pictures that make it look like you can leisurely swim and float in the lake.  However, it is pretty cool and worth a visit.

From Valladolid we drove to Holbox, the highlight of the trip.  We stayed at Casa de Las Tortugas which again, we absolutely loved and would definitely stay there again.  We stayed in the Frida Khalo room and since Sina is crazy about Frida, this was a big hit.  Holbox has suffered lately from over tourism and we could feel that while we were there.  The electricity would go out sometimes during the day and it was quite crowded in the streets.  We spoke with some locals who had lived there from the time when there was nothing and they voiced their discontent with the uncontrolled influx of tourists.  If I had lived there I would probably feel the same way and completely understood their feelings of frustration.  We arrived on one of the last ferries and there were no taxies waiting at the terminal, so we had to walk to the hotel.  Normally this wouldn’t be a problem because it’s really not that far, but… we don’t travel light, and so we had to drag a few large bags through the dirt roads of Holbox.  But it was worth it.  Swimming with the whale sharks was an experience that none of us will ever forget.  It takes a good 2 hours by boat to get to the place where they swim.  We spotted one and got to swim with it for a bit but then she went down deep into the water and we couldn’t see her anymore.  The water tends to be a bit cloudy because of all the plankton, which is why they are there in the first place.  We convinced our tour guide to let us find another one, and this time we spent quite a lot of time with her.  She let us swim right along side for quite a while before we just couldn’t keep up anymore.  These sharks are completely harmless and are beautiful, docile creatures.  Swimming with whale sharks is something that you should definitely add to your bucket list.

Swimming with Wild Dolphins in Bimini, Bahamas – Summer 2016

We traveled to Bimini specifically because we wanted to swim with wild dolphins.  Sina and I do not believe that animals should be held in captivity, especially for entertainment.  We booked a trip with Captain Neal Watson and had such an unbelievable experience that we immediately booked an encore tour for the next day, but this time without the kids!

You need to have patience and just enjoy the beautiful views of the blue water as Neal and his crew search for pods of dolphin.  It’s so exciting though when they are spotted.  Dolphins are very fast swimmers so if they don’t want to be with you they will just take off.  The first few times we tried getting in the water, that’s exactly what happened.  Having our 2 girls with us didn’t help either because by the time we got them geared up and in the water, the dolphins were long gone.

The next day, however, was a different story.  We found groups of 20 dolphin and after we got into the water, they literally just hung around and played with us.  It made us wish that we didn’t have to breathe because it was such a joy to be underwater with them.  If we swam down into the water and twirled around, they would do the same.  One can see that these are extremely intelligent and curious creatures.

If you are interested in swimming with wild dolphins, I highly recommend a trip to Bimini.

Corazón Oaxaqueño Review

Location: Boulevard Cumbres Mz 310 Lt 4 Lc 1, Cumbres, Cancún, Q.R.

I am here in Cancun for 2 days on business, staying at the Hampton Inn Cumbres.  Not the most exciting place to stay in Cancun, I know… but if you are going to Cancun for business and you’re on a budget, it’s a great choice.

I was on my own for lunch today so I decided to cross the street to eat at Corazón Oaxaqueño and I am really glad I did!  The place had a really nice atmosphere and service was great.  This restaurant is excellent for families, as they have dedicated a very large space in the back of the restaurant to provide an amazing play area for kids.  I know if my 2 girls were there, we wouldn’t have seen them for the entire meal and probably would have had to drag them out of there.

Guacamole Appetizer

I went around 1pm and I was the only person in there which surprised me, but more people started to straggle in between 2pm and 3pm.  First, I ordered the Guacamole appetizer.  It came beautifully presented and I was impressed that the tortilla that it was served in was fresh and crunchy.  I made sure not to eat all of it though because I knew I would want to save some of it for the main course I had ordered.

 

 

Arrachera Steak

I can’t imagine a visit to Mexico without eating Arrachera at least once.  This has to be one of the best ones I’ve ever had.  Normally I love the Arrachera because of the way it is normally marinated, but this was served with a sweet citrus sauce which I was not expecting at all, but it was truly delicious and I would definitely go back for more.