Friday, April 26, 2013

Holbox Island: Your Travel Guide

Here is a link to a bit of the scarce historical information I could find about Holbox, yes there were some pirates back in the day.

General Travel Tips
  • Holbox is pronounced like: hole-bosh (if you want to be super cool drop the 'h' altogether and the second 'o' is not an "ah" sound but an "oh" sound)
  • ATMs are scarce, two functioning ones (maybe 3) on the island but they are unpredictable.  One at the central bank (which is a bit creepy and upstairs from the central lockup or drunk tank) and the other at the Hotel Tortugas (although the receptionist didn't seem super keen on my repeated visits even when thinly disguised as an interest in spa treatments.)
  • The island is 26 miles long and narrow.  On one side it is the beautiful gulf and on the other it is lagoon inlets, so there can be a decent amount of mosquito action.  Only about 6 miles is developed.  A huge portion of it was recently purchased by Coca-Cola...yikes, stay tuned and see the end of this post for some discussion of the politics.
  • You don't have to wear shoes pretty much anywhere.
  • Mostly no one takes credit card
  • The island is visited mostly by Mexicans and Western Europeans and we met an amazing mix of both.
  • Good coffee is scarce if not totally unavailable; at the supermarket the only choice was Nescafe Instant coffee.  So either deal with mediocre coffee or bring your own and do single drip.
  • You do not need to book boat trips ahead of time as far as I could tell

We did not drink the tap water anywhere.  We did eat street food.  There were no GI issues.
  1. Cariocas (not the one on the beach but a few blocks up, little hole in the wall). Truly good Italian food, hella authentic pizza, slightly higher end dining.  Run by Roberta, rad Italian woman with a buzzed head.
  2. Empanadas from a little place with a restaurant above it.  I can't for the life of me remember the name but it's in a bright yellow building and has a white board sign advertising hamburgers too; it's across the street from Luis Ocho's liquor store (one of the few places you can get cases).  There's another empanada place, owned by a local, it's called Empanada Conquista, close to the central square.  I didn't think the empanadas were quite as good but you did have more choices.
  3. Le Jardin, the best french bakery I have every been to.  Stefano, the owner was the sweetest man ever.  We loved chatting with him and hearing about how he built his bakery to be able to attain just the right conditions for authentic french baking.  He also did his baking training in Louisiana!  We tried pretty much all the pastries (brioche, chocolate croissant, roll, banana muffin with nutella) and had a prosciutto pannini, quiche, fresh squeezed oj.
  4. Tortilla shop, locally owned, cheap, delicious tortillas.  It is around the corner from the central bank and has a sign that says Tortilleria.  We would indicate how much we wanted by using our fingers to show the height of the stack.  I think there is another place called Tortilleria but this is different; this one isn't a restaurant, just a one room shop with a window onto the street.
  5. At night next to the central square on the beach side there is a place where many locals and others hang out.  There is a great food truck that sets up tables just outside the square with amazing tacos and more at $1+  There were several other street vendors out at night by the square. Also delish.
  6. I just found this list on Trip Advisor of locally owned businesses on Holbox, it would have been cool to check out more of these places but I have heard that some of them aren't that good.
  7. Tipping: Some places include an automatic 10%.  So I'd say tip at least that if not a little more.  
  • Hostel Ida y Vuelta (Coming and Going) is where we stayed and LOVED it!
    • Run by David(a Swiss) and his partner Sasha (an Italian), Private bungalow with private bathroom for $35/night and we added a little extra to use the A/C cuz it was getting hot.  If you were in one of the cabanas, it is open air (with screened windows) and a lot of breeze so less need for A/C.  David was super helpful.  Told us lots about good food, helped us order cases of beer for our party (delivered on golf cart!), let us throw a party, helped arrange the boat trip with local captains, was just plain chill.
    • It is pretty easy to find upon arrival, even without a taxi (golf cart) ride.  Just start walking down the main road towards the centro and follow the little signs for Ida y Vuelta.
  • While staying at the hostel, which is not on the beach, we had easy quick access to the beach and you could walk down to Tortugas and for the price of a drink have access to all their beach lounging equipment, it's helpful when you want some shade.
  • There are lots (relatively speaking) of hotels to choose from.  Many are very nice and on the beach.  Tortugas, Casa Sandra, El Paraiso, Xaloc, Los Nubes, nice and a little pricey for our budget.  There are not a lot of options as far as nice and locally owned places.  

       The island is running into the classic problem of poor but beautiful places.  People from all over the world have discovered its beauty and laid back culture/vibe.  It's mostly a fishing community and of course being an island, making a living can be tough.  So when people from around the world want to live there and maybe have a small business, they offer locals good money to buy land so they can build a little place.  Locals may have been offering modest rooms in their houses or built a modest rooming house but the new people often have been attracting more visitors.  This is also an island community that gets hit by hurricanes (Wilma) and survives on modest trades (fishing), these struggles lend them to exploitation or at least susceptibility to shady business deals.  For example:
     A bigger issue often develops when HUGE companies like Coca-Cola come and offer people large sums of money to give up rights to their ancestral land (which often contributes to a further breaking down of ancient culture).  Here's a great write up in the LA Times about the current dispute that could result in an approval of "three boutique-style hotels with up to 195 rooms, and as many as 872 residential units, including villas and condominiums."  This article is from October 2012, I'm not sure what is happening right now.  Things to consider.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Highlights of Our Mexican Vacation

Kogen (my husband is generally going by his dharma name) and I just returned from 11 days in Mexico.  I don't think I have take a trip for the sake of just vacation-ing since the honeymoon.  The trip started as attendance to my brother Vince's wedding in Cancun just a few days ago.  We figured if we're going all the way to Mexico we should definitely go for longer than 3 days.  On the 'google' we stumbled across an island off the Yucatan peninsula call Holbox Island (the Yucatan having Mayan roots, 'x' is usually pronounced 'sh').  At first glance it seemed to be exactly what we were looking for: small, quiet, not much to do, fishing village.  We went for it!

We stayed at Holbox Hostel Ida y Vuelta.  A hostel that offered private rooms too.  At first I didn't think I was wanting the "hostel" experience of meeting lots of people, etc. but quickly I realized there were amazing people I couldn't help but fall in love with.  Before we knew it, over lunch in la cocina with Diana and Steven (2 Dutch 30-somethings) we got to talking about the environment and politics and global culture and spirituality and living simple and we just clicked.  They finished up their work for the day and we took a bucket of beers to the beach, watched the sunset, the power outage, the pelicans, listened to a variety of world music, and talked more about life and dreams. We went for tacos and found a local party in the square celebrating one of the saints.  I learned about the drink "Palomita" or Paloma, tequila with Fresca (grapefruit) soda and we danced to crazy music.  Walked home happy and tired.

Another highlight, the cast of friends quickly grew wide: Esli and Alan (2 young Mexican brothers), Julie and Pol (couple, she french, him spanish), Elena and Jeremy (her Mexican, him French), Yentz and Mahali (quiet and cute German couple).  Kogen and I arranged a rager of a party and they helped us celebrate our 2 year wedding anniversary.  We grilled 6 pounds of beautiful pork, made guac and pico, got a huge stack of fresh tortillas and made bomb-ass tacos.  We also had a bottle of tequila and a lot of beers.  (I must sadly confess I pooped out way too early and missed so much fun!) Drinking games, dancing (yes there's a video) and a visit from a mapache (raccoon)!  As an anniversary gift Diana and Steven arranged a boat trip for our group of 16.  We fished (yes some Buddhists fish, I did quite well as a fisherwoman), took the boat to the mainland where we swam in a cenote (deep natural sinkhole resulting from the collapse of rock that exposes groundwater underneath) and while we swam, the boat captains made the best ceviche I have ever had (did you know that the fish in ceviche is not cooked but the lime juice that is used sorta "cooks" it?)  One more teaching opportunity.  Given that many people partied 'til the break of dawn, the open waters were a bit rough on the system and a few friends ended up a little green in the face.  The lovely Diana suggested that getting into the water may help and it did!  
My little brother! The boy who used to
say "I don't know how to smile!"

Onto Cancun the next day.  I was sad to leave all my new adventuring friends.  But I was on the way to see family.  HUGE change of pace from quiet island to the hustle of "Hotel Zone" Cancun.  We were to join up with the wedding festivities at Sandos Resort an all-inclusive package deal.  We walked in and were immediately offered beverages and a red rose.  Somehow we lucked out and we shared a suite with little brother Brian and his girlfriend Gabrielle.   Slowly the party just gathered and grew at the pool (heated to bathwater temp).  My cousin Jenny and her husband John soon joined us and the 6 of us were something of a Dito-force.  Maybe out of excitement everyone got REALLY rowdy the first night.  Voices got louder, discussions were prone to passion (go figure, politics and the environment had to come up), then moved from dinner to the dance floor.  The energy was irresistible even to those who thought they were tired.  At one point Brian and Vince traded shorts (in the bar) and they 'teen wolfed' beers, luckily they had the sense to do it outside.  We finished the night ordering room service (4 cheeseburgers).  This fun continued and we all overate and overdrank and figured "when in Cancun."  The wedding on the beach was sweet and we danced until our feet carried us to bed.

We left the Mexican vacation for a return to the cool forest, early mornings and the sound of bells.  "Weaving the ancient brocade," as they say in Zen.  All these different strands of life and people and experiences, none of them better than the other, they just are what they are as they present themselves.  What a delight.