Tulum: Land of Sun and Iguanas

IMG_9577Over spring break I made like your average college student and escaping the gray cold of New York, went to Mexico. However, since I do like to entertain the thought that I’m ‘slightly’ different from the pack, we decided to go to Tulum, about 2 hours from Cancun, that paragon of dubious, non-stop college partying.

If you’ve been on social media even once in the past two years, you will notice a subtle yet steady surge of posts and pictures singing Tulum’s praises. Eco-friendly, relaxing, all-natural, NOT Cancun, these are all the reasons you should go. Plus the freshwater cenotes and the multitude of ruins everywhere give everyone something to do besides lie on the beach (which is amazing, but as I’ve never been able to relax properly, not for me).Xamach Dos collageWe stayed at an super secluded eco-resort in the Sian Ka’an bio reserve – that 32 km drive on the Boca Paila from Tulum proper to our reserve took about an hour of bumping along an unpaved road, evading huge potholes filled with water from last week’s storm. But Xamach Dos was so worth it – pristine, secluded beach, cabanas almost right on the water, decorated by the proprietor, Dan. Our cabana had no windows, just a lot of mosquito netting and was guarded by a thicket of palm trees, but by the end of our stay my hair had that textured, unruly, beach-y feel sans Bumble and bumble’s surf spray. We were also lulled to sleep every night by the breeze passing through our mosquito netting and the gentle crash of the waves.IMG_9478.krIMG_9489.krIMG_9569.krDay 1 was spent bumping along the aforementioned Boca Paila, which was usually thickets of palm trees and scuttling iguanas, but could suddenly fall away to reveal a large stretch of beach and a dried up coral reef. If you continue past our resort, you would wind up in Punta Allen, where there’s great snorkeling trips and good food, like everywhere else in the Yucatan.IMG_9460.krDay 2 began with us getting up before dawn to watch the sunrise over the water. All the beaches in Yucatan face east, but you could also get lucky and find a curved beach where you can glimpse the sunset before it slips behind the palm trees.Tulum ruinsIMG_9528.krIMG_9514.krIMG_9532.krWe then dutifully headed out to the ruins at Tulum, although we were told the ones at Coba are better, since you actually get to get close and touch them. You can pay extra for a tour but it was too hot and we were too impatient. All the ruins in Tulum are roped off, but the beach is gorgeous and open to everyone. It was a wonderful way to cool off after hours in the heat. In the same vein, as we had exhausted our water supply, Jake and I grabbed a fresh coconut from a vendor right outside the ruins. To be honest, it’s an acquired taste but very hydrating and half the fun comes from the container.

We then headed off to the Mayan Clay Spa, something that was on literally every itinerary of Tulum and got a massage and Mayan Clay facial. It’s a beautiful space, the stuff you see in movies, with palm fronds and earthy tones everywhere and the owner and staff are very friendly. I looked absolutely funky once the treatment was over, but there’s a shower to wash it all off and my skin was super smooth afterwards.IMG_9542.2.krI promised myself Day 3 would be reserved for relaxing, but we set off to town once more, riding past open air stores and restaurants and colorful resorts. One of the staff at Xamach Dos recommended La Eufemia for “The best fucking tacos” (that’s their advertisement) and it did not disappoint. After a long walk through another hotel we got to the little shack on the beach with the open kitchen and mattresses on the sand. We got every kind and you could choose from a variety of sauces at the sauce bar to spice up your meal. The margaritas were also to-die for – in a burst of wild abandon I ordered a passion fruit margarita with chili salt and it did not disappoint. You can sit on the beach or inside the little shack and then wander around the entire length of the beach. Here it’s a little crowded, unlike our secluded hideaway in the Sian Ka’an.Coqui CoquiA few steps from La Eufemia is Coqui Coqui Tulum, a beautiful boutique hotel that is always booked, but also has an amazing range of fragrances and body oils all made from local Yucatan ingredients. I came away with my own gold embossed bottle of Rosas Secas, although Tobacco was a close second.IMG_9580.krWe bumped back home on what was now a familiar road and made it just in time to see this sunset over the bridge where locals come to fish every evening, despite the “No fishing” signs. We came home and spent our last night in Tulum digging into a delicious dinner and chatting with the other guests, two of whom where a couple from Cancun that came to Tulum to escape the crowds!

I could go on and on about Tulum, the perfect weather and the impossibly azure water, the slow, relaxed pace as people bike and roam everywhere and eat the delicious and fresh (and cheap!) food. When I think back on it, it still fills my heart with warmth and I will definitely go back and go through my entire bucket list or maybe just relax…(not likely).

TO STAY

Xamach Dos was a very secluded, small resort, but the beach was private and not a soul to be seen, unlike the long stretch of beach closer to Tulum. However, it is quite a drive and the food is great, but mildly overpriced compared to the equally great food closer to Tulum.

Coqui Coqui Tulum just got a face lift and having been inside, at least for their boutique, I can say it’s beautiful, with an on-site spa as well.

There are so many more hotels or boutique hotels or resorts to stay in, so you can definitely shop around for the perfect experience. For a more independent experience, I say go for Airbnb.

TO EAT

I did not have the patience to wait in line JUST to place a reservation at Hartwood, but the open air kitchen and restaurant are reported to be amazing, all food sourced locally and cooked right in front of you.

La Eufemia for tacos, sauces and amazing margaritas.

Posada Margherita, where I have not yet gone, is supposed to be great for their juices and healthy meals.

Le Nave in Tulum proper is located on main street and has amazing juices and the best seafood platter.

In general, explore, because I doubt you can go wrong in Tulum or Yucatan in general.

TO DO

Cenotes, freshwater pits that dot the Yucatan and were the main source of freshwater for the Mayans, are a great way to explore the beauty of the region and an alternative to the beach for swimming. If you grab a map you can pick and choose where to go, or join a tour group.

Mayan Clay Spa for a variety of facials, full-body massages and other offerings. They also sell the peculiar local yellow clay to take home.

Ruins in Tulum, Coba and Sian Ka’an. The ones in Sian Ka’an are impossible to find without a guide, but are lesser known and so much more fun that way. Due to our short stay we didn’t have the time to explore those, but apparently there was one right beside Xamach Dos.

TO PACK

For most of peak season, you should bring the lightest, airiest, most comfortable clothes. I walked around in linen and my panama hat and so so much sunscreen and bug spray (we went during the Zika outbreak, but were thankfully fine). Although I did have to pack a cashmere sweater and jeans for the flight back to winter wonderland.

So I tried something new with this post, what do you think?

Glowing Goodbyes

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At last I rear my errant head here, on my last week in the City.  At least I am a more frequent Instagrammer. Went here with Jake on the last weekend in February, fulfilling my dream to go see the Brooklyn (and Manhattan!) Bridge at sunset. I am waxing poetic now that I’m leaving, but in truth New York is crowded and busy and overpriced and sometimes when walking in Midtown or Uptown I feel swallowed up by concrete. Which I guess is why finding wonderful, peaceful spots like this one (or coffee shops with room to sit) is such a pleasure. Looking at it from afar, New York is really so impressive, so concentrated and beautiful in its bid to touch the sky. The city has taught me so much about sangria and food and life in general and I’m glad I’ll get to explore it more when I return in the summer, but for now I want to stop feeling rushed and go home to the relative emptiness of Maine and New Hampshire.

Hope you all had a lovely weekend!

Red Bricks and Churning Seas

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Events have begun to converge again, so that I am torn apart by all the possibilities. In my 20 year experience of life on this planet, little as though it may be, it always seems to me that life unfolds like an accordion, sending out forever-oscillating ripples. Periods of hard work and no play and bleak prospects followed by everything happening all at once, all the doors flung open and so much luck and joy it feels unreal. Not that I won the Powerball or anything, but I feel things shifting and gears groaning forward, reacting slowly to the backbreaking work it took to push them into motion again. Maybe it’s the start of spring and the beginning of a very interesting season for me, full of so many decisions whose ripples I cannot foresee. When I’m 70 I shall maybe write a book about it all because maybe everyone will think I lived through a crazy time and will want to know what went on in the minds of the strange people that were alive back then. And who knows, maybe I will have.

This past Sunday I had to get out of the house so I took Jake to walk around lower Manhattan and stumbled upon Little Italy, which was only a block away from my office. It was great to see a familiar part of town in a different light and the Instagram has been blowing up ever since.

Castle in the Sky

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The casinos in Atlantic City look like a mini Manhattan from this beach on the eastern side of the island.

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The docks on the western side of the island form a beautiful backdrop to the sunset

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Sitting at home with a pounding headache and a fever has been a mixed blessing, as I get to sleep all I want and conjure up new content.

Last weekend Jake and I went to visit his grandmother who lives in Brigantine, New Jersey, across the bridge from Atlantic City (about two hours by bus from New York) and that mini Manhattan-esque skyline of casinos. Apparently everyone flocks there from the city in the summer and it is a gorgeous place to spend a weekend, but in the winter it was peaceful and the sunsets no less stunning. So look forward to a summer update of this place when we return to the city, a proper travel guide of one of those places where you don’t have to see it all because aside from good food that you can order out and amazing beaches 5 minutes in every direction, there’s not much to do. And after weeks in the city, that’s wonderful for busybodies like me.

It’s almost Friday!

NYC Survival Guide: 5 Tips for the Winter

It’s cold and the winds are vicious, but there’s rarely any snow (unless it’s a freak storm, hello Winter Storm Jonas) so your average expat from other regions is hard pressed to find the justification for suffering in the city. So here’s how I, a Siberian who goes to school in New Hampshire but was raised in the South, am dealing with a New York Winter:

1. Power Through the Reading List

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I know you have one. I have one, separated into: Books I should read but never do (to be an educated intellectual equipped for cocktail parties, pictured above…ok I read some), books I want to read, and magazines. Now that I’m off campus working in New York, I have all this free time to read and I sometimes use it to my advantage (still poring over Suitcase Magazine and Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels). Reading is my lazy person’s excuse for being lazy because…ahem…technically I’m being mentally productive.

2. Stay (Become?) Active

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I know I just had a whole blog speech about reading, but quite naturally we all want to hibernate in the winter and eat wonderful, warm, bread-y things (I wear over-sized sweaters and parkas…no one can tell until spring). I am also monumentally lazy, but last winter, when I had to go to the gym daily to practice for fencing (winter is the official fencing season…we wear so many layers we might as well compete in the cold) I felt energized and not as sluggish as during most of my winters. Depending on where you are, there’s a gym or a yoga studio on every street corner so you don’t even have to freeze to death before you get there. If you push yourself to go a few times, set up a routine, it’ll get that much easier to go. (Also I’m going to Mexico in March…and the thought of wearing a bikini terrifies me into a proper gym routine.)

3. Parks & Rec

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Not the TV show, although that’s another great way to never go outside unless absolutely necessary. New York has so many wonderful parks – Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Washington Square, the Highline, the list goes on – that it would be a shame not to grab a moment’s peace. Which btw, looking at the color green has been scientifically proven to help alleviate eye pain and even improve vision (after hours of staring at computer screens) and going outside to get even 5 minutes of (clouded) sunshine helps alleviate SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – so you can come right back to hiding in your apartment, staying warm.

4. Coffee (Surprise!)

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…or a warm drink of choice. As an anemic with low blood pressure, I have to have coffee to kick start my circulation and get myself up in the morning, but it’s also been proven to lower the risk for stroke, depression, Alzheimer’s, liver cancer and other illnesses. Grab a drink and walk around a park until it’s all gone and you’re cold again (or just stay inside the cafe…you can congratulate yourself on the fact that you made it out today). Plus, imagine the Instagram opportunities – but choose wisely, not all latte art is created equal. I recommend Birch Coffee (they got my name right!) and Cafe Integral (friendly staff and inside an amazing boutique, American Two Shot)

5. Get Away

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Because sometimes surviving a winter in New York means leaving for a place with more snow (jokes, Winter Storm Jonas), a beach, or at least some change of scenery (Jersey? Mass? Upstate NY? The possibilities are endless). On MLK-day weekend I took off to visit family in Maine and it was a restful break. Sometimes I need the space and the greenery that NY cannot provide…but we love it anyway.

Then there’s a whole slew of tips on homemade wellness for the winter, complete with Theraflu and Ricola and long underwear, but that doesn’t make for great pictures!

Enjoy the winter!

Stormpocalypse

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(P.S I really sympathized with these pigeons, a love affair carried over from my time in Paris and Siena, they were just trying to stay warm, like me)

Winter Storm Jonas swept through yesterday, inspiring hashtags and snowy artsy pictures as New Yorkers rediscover, with some horror and cleaning-out of the supermarkets, what a real winter is like. Even getting around Manhattan was difficult, but I had spent all of yesterday locked up inside so I was determined to squeeze out whatever minimal Vitamin D I could find.

We started at the High Line, train station turned urban park, running down part of the west side of the island. We ended up in Chelsea and then just wandered over to the iconic Flatiron, with a pit stop at Birch. New York’s charm is heightened by the snow, even if half the time you’re dodging icicles and up to your knees in slush. And it was great to explore other parts of the island besides SoHo.

I feel a winter survival guide coming on sometime later, as a bit of fun experimentation.

Quote of the Day: And New York is a…

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“Cities have sexes: London is a man, Paris a woman, and New York a well-adjusted transsexual.” ~ Angela Carter

Have not been to London to test that part of the affirmation, but the rest holds up! Spent yesterday at the Met reliving my Egyptologist childhood at the numerous burial sites they have set up inside (complete with 19th century graffiti left by rich kids on European trips…oh how little things have changed) and now am cleaning the apartment because I’m still on a good streak after my New Year’s resolution.

Have a wonderful (rest of your) weekend!

Different Shades of Light

IMG_8721.krIMG_8737.krIMG_8712.krIMG_8723.krNYCCandle CollageIMG_8739.krFinally settling into our Brooklyn apartment and a life of 9-to-5. It’s not all that bad, especially since I’m spending the winter in New York, with a break to go skiing with the family up in Maine! I never got to have candles – mom is sensitive to the smell and college dorms fear them like the plague (can totally see why, no grudges), but in my own little airbnb rental I can do as I please, especially since it’s a yummy herbal concoction from a TN candle maker (all my homes, past and present, are coming together). And obviously as soon as it was lit I had to experiment with lighting. The light-filled pictures are from my Sunday stroll in Central Park after brunch with my friend, also pictured above.

Burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles

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Happy almost-Thanksgiving! It’s been almost two months since I posted, and I apologize for being so MIA, BUT I have amazing news to share now! I have an internship for the winter and an apartment in New York, so expect more urban updates from now on!

These were all taken in October, before the leaves fell out. Some we took on our scenic drive up to Portland to visit my parents for their anniversary and some are from Quechee Gorge in Vermont, so beautiful at any time of year. It’s all smears of sky and leaves, makes me want to take up oil painting again. It seems the fall is always a time of changes for me – last year at this time I was in Paris, preparing to return to Nashville and move to Portland. This year too, the end of the year grasps at me with infinite possibilities.

Have a great Thanksgiving!