Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Amusing Distractions

TRAVEL THERE: KUDOS TO CANCUN PASSION

Waiting for us beside our tour bus after the tour of Chichen Itza were our hosts from Cancun Passion.  Cancun Passion was the actual touring company we’d booked through Shore Trips, which had been recommended to us by Sandra Rubio at CTC Travel.  I can heartily recommend all of those entities to you. 

I love my friends at CTC Travel.  They are like cheerleaders, urging me on in my efforts to see the world.  You will love working with them as you plan your own travels.  Shore Trips is a great way to book excursions, all over the world.  They offer a wide variety of tours wherever you might go and their website is secure, informative and easy to use.  When it came to visiting Chichen Itza from Cancun, Shore Trips curated the very best choices of tours, in my opinion.  But let me tell you about Cancun Passion.

Service with a Smile

From the moment we connected with Cancun Passion, in the lobby of our hotel, we knew we’d made a good choice.  Their representative spoke perfect English, welcomed us with a hearty smile and ushered us into a pristine vehicle, which still had its new-car smell.  I can’t say that the next hour or so of picking up fellow passengers was all that much fun, but what I liked was that they kept us abreast of what was going on, so we weren’t left wondering if we’d actually ever depart the city of Cancun.

At one point, a guide showed up wearing my hat down the aisle of the bus.  I’d left the hat in the first bus we’d climbed onto, when we changed to the larger vehicle.  I don’t have any idea what difficulties they went through to unite me with my hat, but it showed a level of care which I really appreciated.  I’ve left many hats in many vehicles around the world and this is the first that was ever returned to me.

The light breakfast they served on the way to Chichen Itza was more than adequate.  They had generous baskets overflowing with all kinds of pastries from the sweet to the savory.  They served coffee and orange juice.  I drink neither of those on a regular basis, but I know I am in a very small minority and should I have asked, they could have given me water.  The repast was offered with good cheer and second, thirds and fourths were available if you wanted them. 

At every stop we knew exactly why we were there, what opportunities we had for necessities, shopping or entertainment.  We also knew exactly when we were supposed to be back on the bus.  We always had a convenient parking spot and not once did we have to wait for very long, before everyone was on the bus and we were back on our way.

As we got off the bus at Chichen Itza, they gave us a nice bottle of water, not one of those half bottles some folks give you, but a bottle generous enough to provide hydration throughout the visit.  They also had a big basket of small bbq sandwiches to keep hunger at bay as we visited the site.  The meat-filled roll was delicious.  

I particularly appreciated our tour guide.  He was not a pedantic as our Egyptian guide nor silly like some of the other Mayan guides, who had their guests clapping and yelling at the monuments.  He also did not engage in guessing games to present the pertinent information about the site, like the jerk who showed us around Passau and scolded us because we didn’t already know the information we’d hired him to tell us.  Our guide at Chichen Itza was proud of the accomplishments of his ancestors, but also honest about the horrors they committed.

Boarding the Bus at Chichen Itza

So far, our excursion had been almost perfect.  Perhaps a private tour would have been more accommodating to our personal needs and desires, but it would have cost a whole lot more.  For an affordable group tour, they did a great job.  However, even if I had harbored some minor grudge against them, all would have been forgiven as we approached the bus, hot and tired from our tour of the archaeological site.

Waiting for each guest was a cool wet hand cloth to wipe away the dust and heat of Chichen Itza.  Also, from the chilly interior of an ice chest each guest was offered a beverage.  Water, soda and beer was available.  I can’t remember when a Corona had tasted so good.

We have a buffet and a swim coming, but that can wait until next week.  Join me then for more adventures.

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Real Estate Photographry, TRAVEL, WRITING

In the Biz

TRAVEL HERE: PHOTOGRAPHY AS LIVELIHOOD

I would apologize for failing to post last week, except that it is kind of part of the story.  See, I’ve gotten to the part of our photography story where I tell you how Bill and I morphed into Spot On Images.  These first two months of 2019 have been so busy for us professionally, that some of my personal pursuits fell to the wayside, including the Travel Talk blog.  Today, I’m catching up.

How There Came to be a Spot On Images

Like a tree with deep roots, Spot On Images grew out of fertile ground.  When someone asks how Spot On Images got started, I’m tempted to ask which version they want to hear!  Actually there is only one version, but it has several chapters.

Spot On Images grew out of our real estate experiences in California.  Back then, some brokerages still hadn’t embraced the online version of the MLS.  They still had hard copy MLS books in their offices, but they were the dinosaurs.  Some agents still didn’t know how to input their own listings, but I got it immediately.  At first, we hired professional photographers to shoot our properties, but soon we figured out we had a secret weapon on our team.  Bill could take better pictures than the pros.  Combining his pictures with my prose was a winning ticket.  While many agents settled for a single exterior shot and descriptions that read something like this: 3/2/2 in Grover Beach, partial ocean view, near elementary school; Bill and I were filling every empty slot in the photo carousel (About 11 pictures back then – It’s more like 35 now.) and writing mini-novels as descriptions – and it was working.

The only problem was, neither of us really liked selling real estate.  I was making a killing at it before the bubble, but it didn’t feel as if I was doing what I was made to do.  Long story short, Bill went to Iraq to be an interpreter for the Army and I moved back to Dallas to be near my parents, who were facing health challenges.  In Dallas, I went back to school and the career thing was put on the back burner.  Spot On Images wasn’t even a possibility we had entertained at that point, but whenever we inventoried our skill sets, to see what we might turn into a business, the same things kept coming up:  real estate, marketing, photography, writing, business consulting and the internet. We just couldn’t figure out how that was a business.

Spot On Images also grew out of Bill’s love for photography and real estate.  While somewhat related to the story above, this story begins when Bill was in his twenties and took an interest in photography.  He took lessons, joined photography clubs, read magazines, bought equipment and all that other stuff photobuffs do.  Though he pursued other things professionally, taking photos, learning about taking photos, taking video, learning about taking video and buying equipment was one of his primary preoccupations, along with real estate and making money.

Fast forward to a few years ago.  A friend of ours in the real estate photography business decides to move closer to family for health reasons.  Bill offers to buy the friend’s business, but instead the friend chooses to supplement Bill’s already impressive photography skills with some specific training in the real estate photography business, for free.  Bill buys new photography equipment better suited to real estate and spends several months developing his particular style of real estate photography.  He also buys a drone and gets his commercial drone pilot license.  Along the way, he convinces Jane to quit doing marketing, social media and blogging for someone else and put it to work for the family business.

A Synthesis of Versions.

Of course, neither of those versions cancels out the possibility of the other and there is still another version, which might also have some truth to it.  A neighbor claims Bill was in a conversation where her husband was trying to convince another guy to start a real estate photography business.  Bill says he doesn’t remember being in that conversation, but who knows, maybe he just forgot and it influenced him to offer to buy our friend’s business.

Whatever the case, when Spot On Images started, it was mostly Bill’s thing.  I helped with the website and did some cold-calling for him, but I had other fish to fry.  Then suddenly he got so busy that he needed me to start processing the photos for him and I supplemented our cold calling by attending MLS meetings.  I kept taking on Spot On Images responsibilities and one day I woke up and realized I was working full-time for Spot On Images.  I put in more hours than our photographer does.  How did that happen?

Now Spot On Images is an us thing.  Bill does his things and I do my things.  We’ve got great synergy and amazing clients which make work seem more like fun.  And our skill sets, real estate, marketing, photography, writing, business consulting and the internet – well somehow all of those things play an important role in the work we do for our clients on both the photography side and the marketing side.

So that’s how I got from taking photos with an Instamatic camera and putting the snapshots into adhesive photo albums to being co-owner of a photography and marketing business.  The roads I take never seem to be straight ones, but I seem to like where I end up.  More and more of my work seems to be on social media and it’s a demanding medium, eating up posts almost as fast as I can create them.  So, as has happened in other seasons, I may be a little unreliable over here on my personal travel blog.  For at least for a little while, you can continue to enjoy my trip to Cancun and Chichen Itza, because I have Wednesday posts written through May for that adventure.  And as usual, things will settle down and I’ll find a way to keep the blog going.  so don’t you go anywhere.  Travel talk will continue!

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Where Did the Mayans Go?

TRAVEL TALK: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF A CULTURE

Last week I mentioned the Spanish and their influence on Mexico.  I was horrified by the Mayan culture at its apex, but by the time the Spanish arrived, the jungle had reclaimed Chichen Itza.  All that remained was a pile of stones to loot for building materials.  The magnificence of that society had crumbled.

Peeling Back the Jungle

Historians and archaeologists have many speculations on the downfall of the Mayans.  Their glorious city of Chichen Itza was first taken over by the Toltecs and then abandoned for reasons that are still unknown.  How did it happen?  How did such an advanced society merely fade into the jungle?

When you go to Chichen Itza today, you must use your imagination to understand just how astounding it would have been to walk among the monuments in their glory.  The rain and the wind have softened the many carvings on the faces of the buildings and walls.  Mere shadows of pigment hint at the remarkable murals once covering every inch of exposed stone.  How overwhelming it must have been!

Standing in the Plaza

As I stood there trying to imagine the city ripe with the beauty it once displayed and the engineering it had taken to create it, I was distracted by those around me.  Overweight senior citizens from America, sweltering in the sun and wondering why they had ever paid someone to bring them to this overrated steam bath.  Younger and thinner tourists, from around the world, frolicking like they were at a theme park, rather than an archaeological site.  Native Mayans leading tours, some trying to be comedians, while others shared the importance of the site’s history, but all hoping their meager salaries would be supplemented by generous tips from their audience.

And throughout the site, along every pathway, under every tree, were other Mayans.  Their marketplace no longer had a roof, so they huddled, one after another in the shade, to avoid the blasting heat of the sun, selling their wares.  One vendor offered pretty much the same thing as another.  Some focused on wearable souvenirs, while others sold trinkets to decorate your home.  Too many vendors demonstrated a wooden device that made the sound of a jaguar when you blew into it.  We were sick to death of the sound before we left.  More pleasantly, some vendors played melodies on rustic pipes.  Occasionally, you would see a craftsman, carving a beautiful statue with his own hands, while a quick inspection of other souvenirs would reveal a label professing they’d been made by hands in other countries, where the workmen would earn even less than a native craftsman.

How much easier it would have been to join my fellow tourists in their boredom or their freewheeling photography sessions.  I could have spent my time shopping among the tables of the modern day merchants, comparing the prices and workmanship of their offerings.  Why was I mired in gloomy thoughts of horrific bloodletting and an advanced society which was doing almost everything wrong when it came to the good of their citizens?  What was Chichen Izta trying to tell me?

This is not a conundrum I was able to solve in the few hours I walked among its monuments.  Instead I would walk back to the bus with a heavy heart and conflicting thoughts.  My conclusions would have to work themselves out over the coming days.

On to More Amusing Adventures

It was time to board the bus.  A buffet lunch waited for us and then we’d be headed to visit a cenote.  I shook over my pondering and looked forward to a good meal.  The traveler in me made way for the tourist.  Come back next week and we’ll consider lighter subjects.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Just How Civilized Are We?

TRAVEL THERE: MORE IMPRESSIONS OF CHICHEN ITZA

Last week I shared my first impressions of Chichen Itza.  The longer I stayed the darker my thoughts became.  As if in response to the cartwheeling girls in front of the pyramids, I felt the lives of the Mayans deserved to be carefully considered and now, days later, I am still pondering my observations.

Marketplace of the Macabre

As if to emphasize my train of thought, I realized the structure adjacent to the altars was the marketplace.  Beautiful rows of columns raised their heads to the sky, but like the Hypostyle Hall in Karnak, these columns once bore the weight of a heavy roof to protect the items of commerce available in the market.  Like us, Mayan traders traveled to distant lands and brought back beautiful items used for adornment, which were sold next to agricultural products and weapons and cosmetics.  Did the market close during the sacrifices?  I doubt it.  Instead, like a big box store getting ready for Black Friday, they’d hired extra help and filled their shelves with extra merchandise.

After showing us the main plaza and describing the crowds that once filled it during the days of sacrifice, our guide took us to the back of the pyramid where evidence of vandalism was apparent, but the vandalism is not recent.  The Spanish came and disregarded the value of the Mayan ruins by peeling off layers of stone to build their own homes.  The Spanish were not alone in this type of activity.  The beautiful marble which once covered the Egyptian pyramids was used to build later monuments for people who saw little reason to protect the beauty of past engineers.  How is that different from the cartwheeling girls?

Men of Science

At the back of the pyramid, the guide gave us a choice.  We could stay in the plaza to shop and take pictures or visit the observatory.   I was hungry for more, so we followed the guide.  Removed from the plaza, but still in the shadow of the pyramid stood an edifice for tracking the stars.  They performed accurate science in this place, science that measured the routes of the stars and their dance across the sky.  The statistics they calculated have proven to be as accurate as those of our own scientists, with their modern equipment, almost to the second.

The men of science in that day, knew from centuries of observation, the days would get longer, just as surely as they watched them get shorter.  It had always been that way.  Instead of proclaiming proven fact, they used their data to pick the day the sacrifices would be made.  To declare the truth would have reduced their own power, so they ignored what they knew and instead worked hand-in-hand with the politicians, celebrities and leaders to deceive the general public – those standing below the pyramid and those falling lifelessly down the steps.  Does that sound at all familiar to you?  It does to me.

The Pleasure Palace

Just beyond the Observatory, still in sight of the pyramid, is a huge palace, mostly still standing.  You can see intricate lattices of stone decorating the walls of the building, graceful columns in the walled garden and steps winding up to a balcony.  Was the spot chosen for its proximity to the pyramid?  Did they walk to the plaza or watch them from their pleasant garden?  Who were the royals who lived in the shadow of so much death and right next door to a scientific institution that could have used their data to end the grisly performances of religion?

The palace marked the beginning of a residential area.  Their neighbors were priests, other members of royalty, high level political appointees, the families of warriors and of the successful merchants whose businesses filled the market.  Their primitive HOA offered a steam bath and water was delivered daily from the cenote by slaves.  Other slaves brought food from the harvests to feed them.  Their house slaves swept the floors, served their meals, dressed their hair and raised their children.

It was fantastic, this life the powerful had built for themselves.  Certainly, it was also horrific, but did they notice or even care?  What if you had lived in those times, at that place?  Would you have joined the circus that protected your place in society or would you have lived each day in horror, wondering how your lone voice could make a difference against the odds?

If these impressions seem different to you from my usual travelogue, I must agree with you.  They seem different to me, too.  Wherever I travel and whatever I see, I try to put myself in the place of those who lived the life I am observing.  I try to use their experiences to better understand what I observe in my own world. I’ve stood alongside ancient monuments like Stonehenge and the Temple at Karnack.  I’ve visited magnificent cathedrals and breathtaking palaces.  I’ve walked through significant battlegrounds and beautiful gardens.  Never have I been as disturbed by what I saw as I was at Chichen Itza.

I’ve barely touched on the influence of the Spanish in Mexico.  At Chichen Itza all you really see of them is the stones they took away from the pyramid, which is in many ways symbolic of the other things they took away.  What they brought with them was a religion, which would replace the grisly sacrifices of thousands upon thousands with the sacrifice of One, but were they in truth any more benevolent than the murderous priests of Chichen Itza?  Let’s talk about that next week.

TRAVEL

Take Note of This

TRAVEL HERE: HOW I FELL IN LOVE WITH SMARTPHONES

My poor husband!  We could retire if he’d gotten a nickle for every time I complained about the challenges of dealing with my smartphone.  He thought he was doing me the world’s biggest favor and I pined for my flip phone.

The Galaxy NOTE 5

As the end of our old service contract arrived, I began to lobby for the Galaxy NOTE.  Mind you,it was the Galaxy NOTE 4 I was touting and the primary reason I liked it was the stick.  I thought if I could just relieve the problem of my fat fingers on the tiny keyboard at least I might start to text.  I’d also heard the pictures were better.

Bill is great about research.  He has virtually researched every facet of our lives, from which vitamins we should take to which car we might buy next.  So, Bill did intense research on the NOTE and discovered NOTE 5 was supposed to be ever so much better than NOTE 4.

The NOTE 5 had just landed in stores when we strolled into the Rockwall Verizon store and got me one.  I couldn’t wait to play with it.  The nice guy at the store transferred everything from my old phone to my new phone and I was suddenly in business.  I was also suddenly in love.

I’d been ready to use the stick for virtually everything, but the first thing I discovered was the phone was just a tad big bigger than my previous phone and that tad was just enough to render my fingers not quite so fat.  I became a texting fool.

I also filled up my screens with all kinds of apps.  I barely put anything on my old phone which was not related to making calls.  Suddenly I had all my emails, all my social media, all my shopping apps, all my travel apps and a variety of games, right there at the tip of my not so fat fingers.

When it came to the stick, I loved it.  Because the phone was that tad bigger, I didn’t need it for dialing and texting, like I thought I would, but I found other reasons to love it.  Action memos are my friend.  I take down lecture notes, write down things I want to research and all kinds of things.  I particularly like it for drawing maps and illustrations.

Bill forecast that I would lose the pen in the first week and he’s rarely wrong, but here it is almost four years later and I’m still sporting the same stick.

One of the first photos taken with my new NOTE 5

But What About Those Pictures

I got into this discussion of smartphones because we were talking about cameras.  The world was taking great pictures with their smartphones and up until the NOTE 5 arrived in my life, I was excluded from the fun.  Suddenly, I could take great pictures with my phone, too.  These days Bill has a newer phone than me and he disdains taking pictures with mine, but I’m still happy as a clam.

On our trips to the Danube in 2017 and Egypt in 2018 we carried along our Nikon D3100 and got amazing shots with it, but we probably took just as many pictures with our phones.  The photos sit side-by-side in my scrapbooks and you’d be hard pressed to guess which one were taken with which devices.

During 2019, we traveled to Punta Cana and Cancun with only our smartphones for photos.  Our trusty Nikon D3100 had been replaced by another DSLR – but that camera was all business.  So I guess this is where I tell you how we ended up in the real estate photography business!  Come back next week and I will.

TRAVEL

The Marvelous, Malevolent Mayans

TRAVEL THERE: IMPRESSIONS OF CHICHEN ITZA

Is Chichen Itza filled with vendors hawking junk and and tourists taking selfies. Yep, it is, but if you let that stop you from visiting then you aren’t a true traveler. UNESCO has named it one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. My TV friends visit here often – Josh Gates, Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, Don Wildman and more. They come looking for everything from new discoveries beneath the pyramid to evidence of ancient aliens. It is a magnet for the curious and the bored. You must visit.

First Impressions

If you let it, Chichen Itza can turn you off before you’ve seen a single structure. The parking lots are a maze of tour buses. Pouring off of the buses en masse are all your least favorite tourists. You enter the park through the official obligatory shopping experience and for the rest of your visit you are avoiding the offers of the unofficial vendors hawking their wares on all the pathways through the park. It’s distracting and I wish they would go away, but that’s just Mexico.

Our guide led us quickly through the crowds, passed up the pyramid and took us to a shady spot just outside the infamous ball fields. There he began an education related to the rigorous castes of Mayan society. If you were born a noble, you remained a noble, living off the burdensome taxes charged to the rest of society. If you weren’t a noble, you weren’t going to become one, but you might become a human sacrifice or a slave. This is an aspect of Mayan society I had learned of previously, but this reminder colored the rest of my thoughts as I experienced what the Mayans had built.

The Marvelous and Malevolent

You learn quickly that the Mayans built all their wonderful cities without the wheel. What our guide, a Mayan himself, pointed out, was that Mayans knew all about the wheel. The evidence is everywhere from their calendar to the ball hoops, but the wheel was sacred, because it represented life. The wheel was there and could have made life easier, but from reverence they labored without it and their labors are magnificent.

In the famous ball court we learned the traditional game had to be modified to be played in such a huge stadium. They had pads and clubs not usually part of the game, but needed to reach the goals and cover the distances. The entertainment was for nobles only. Unlike the Colosseum in Rome, where everyone was welcome, in Mayan society only the priests and the royals observed the national past time, which would end in human sacrifice.

For the common man, just outside the ball courts were a series of open air altars.  During some ceremonies, thousands upon thousands would be sacrificed to the odd stone man, laying on his back, holding a bowl for the still warm hearts of the sacrificial victims.

From these auxiliary altars, between the ball field and the main plaza, our guide took us to stand before the main pyramid, but my mind was still back on the thousands and thousands of victims who would have their hearts ripped out, not over a century or a decade, not even over a year or a month, but in a matter of days.

The modern keeper of the altar.

I’d always known the Mayans were pretty brutal.  I’ve read about them, seen TV shows about them and even visited some of their other archaeological sites, but this was different.  Somehow, standing there in the shade of a tree, watching an iguana traipse around where once life upon life was snuffed out, it all became very real.  This excursion was not going to be a casual adventure to tick another item off my wish list.  It was going to impact my world view.

It was then the amusement park atmosphere of the main plaza began to grate on my nerves.  Scantily clad young women with piercings and tattoos performed acrobatic moves, like cartwheels and splits.  Young men performed their own antics to get the attention of the girls.  People took selfies of themselves, kissing before the altar, where bodies once stacked up during sacrificial ceremonies.  Guides were making jokes.  The activity was incongruous to the site.

A part of me listened attentively to what the guide was saying, but in my mind I was an ancient Mayan.  What would I have felt about the horrors I watched.  Would I have been sickened or entertained?  Did the Mayans behave as the tourists were behaving.  Then unwillingly I thought of our modern day killing sprees and realized we weren’t all that different than the Mayans.  My thoughts grew darker and darker.

I’ve used up all my words for today and I wish I could tell you next week would be more fun, but just as I share the good meals as well as the bad meals, I will tell you what it was like for me at Chichen Itza.  Please come back then to visit the rest of the site with me.

ART, Photography, TRAVEL

Neophyte Smartphone Operator

Worst Glasses Ever!

TRAVEL HERE: RESISTANCE TO CHANGE

OK, I admit it. When it comes to technology, I’m resistant to change.  My husband would tell you I am inflexible – period – but I tend to be more generous with myself.  I actually love new things and changes of scenery, but I want you to leave my technology alone.  Usually, the “improvements” and updates to my technology just deliver more woes than solutions.  You know what I’m talking about and you know I’m right!

I Can’t See This!

Vision has been one of my problems since 4th grade.  Before school began I was 20/20.  Before the school year was over, I’d been sent home with a note.  This child cannot see!  Get her some glasses. My life has never been the same!

My first glasses were the ugliest pair of cat-eye frames you’ve ever seen and my parents made me wear them until I was 16!  Finally, I got contacts.  They made it easier for me to see, but what a hassle.  If I thought that was bad, Mother Nature had another surprise for me as I aged.  My eyes got too dry to tolerate contacts, so I had to go back to glasses.  My pink cat-eye wire frames were a lot cuter than my original glasses, but I began a series of losing and breaking glasses that keeps me in hot water until today.  Lasix gave me a brief respite from glasses, but while my long range vision is still decent, I soon required glasses for reading.

When I gave up my flip-phone, the vision problem came into play.  I could read my flip phone fine without my glasses, which vanity demanded I go without as often as possible.  That darned smart phone keypad was my Waterloo.  To answer my flip phone, all I had to do was open it.  The smart phone wasn’t that smart.  I had to squint my eyes and find the right icon to answer.  In fact, I had to squint my eyes for everything.  While the rest of the world was loving all the smart things a smartphone could do, I mainly used it as a phone.  I couldn’t see anything else.

Besides, the picture quality, while better wasn’t all that great.  What’s more, it had that viewfinder screen and I’m still partial to the other kind.  I was in limbo.  I wasn’t in love with my smartphone – primarily because I couldn’t see.

My Fingers Won’t Do This!

I had another challenge when it came to smartphones.  I not only had a hard time seeing it, my fingers were too fat for it.  I abhorred texting with the darned thing, because typing was an exercise in frustration.  My fingers just could not hit the right letter.

To boot, I have arthritis in my thumbs.  All those Millennials who look so cute speed typing with their thumbs?  I’d like to see them thumb-type with mine.  They’d have a Go-Fund-Me page for the cure of arthritis in a New York minute.

Nothing Smart About a Smartphone To Me!

So big whoopee!  I had a smartphone, but all I used it for was calls and the only people I wanted to call were those for whom who I had programmed a speed dial button.  I didn’t use it to text.  I couldn’t see it well enough to figure out the other features and I sure as heck wasn’t going to use it for photos.  The pictures still weren’t all that good and I still hated the viewfinder display.  (Perhaps because I couldn’t see it?)

My first brush with smartphones did not loosen my grip on my DSLR camera one bit and you’re not going to find any pictures from it in my scrapbooks.  All that was about to change.  I just didn’t realize it yet.  Come back next week and see what turned me into a smartphone addict.

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

Visiting Chichen Itza

The Famous Pyramid of Chichen Itza

TRAVEL THERE: A VERY LONG DAY

Our visit to Chichen Itza was a very long day and there is no way I can cover all of it in one post, so I’ll start with the logistics of the day and we’ll work from there.

Finally Chichen Itza

Though Chichen Itza has always been at the top of my Yucatan Wish List, I didn’t make it either of the other two times we visited the area.  Both of our previous visits have been via cruise ship to the port of Progresso and Chichen Itza is significantly inland from there, so we chose more accessible Mayan sites.

The first time we visited the ruins at Dzibilchaltan and it was a particularly enjoyable shore excursion, complete with lunch and a rodeo.  The archaeological site was interesting and there was a wonderful museum.  Last time we went to Xcampo.  It was a smaller site, but still interesting.  So, we’re getting pretty knowledgeable about the Mayans, but nothing can prepare you for Chichen ItzaIt is both marvelous and horrid.

Up Early  & Out Late

The first thing the guidebook I bought warned me about Chichen Itza was to avoid excursions from Cancun, because so much time is spent in transit.  Well, I appreciated the advice and understood the reasoning, but this was it.  If I didn’t go this time, chances are I might never again get the opportunity.

As we shopped excursions I saw two versions of the trip over and over.  Either you had to be on a bus by 4 AM or you left between 7 and 8.  The problem I discovered however, was that when you took later tours, you were in Chichen Itza during the hottest part of the afternoon, because all the tours stopped for lunch before going to the site.

Then Sandra Rubio, my travel agent at CTC Travel turned me on to ShoreTrips.com and they had a package called the Chichen Itza Plus.  This version of the trip would pick us up between 7 and 8, but we’d go to the site before lunch.  SOLD!

Since we were among the first to be picked up, we had to be in the lobby at 7:10.  When we got there after a quick visit to the breakfast buffet, they were waiting for us.  It was quite the ordeal to get out of town though.  The bus they picked us up in was bigger than the airport transport vans, but not as big as the full-sized tour buses.  We stopped at several hotels in the smaller bus and then traded to the big bus, but even then we had many more stops to make.

All that driving took a long time, but it was interesting to drive around and see other parts of Cancun.  I’d say it was about nine when we finally headed to Cancun.  They served a small breakfast – pastries, coffee and orange juice.  We were glad we’d hit the resort’s buffet.

The drive to Chichen Itza was about an hour and a half.  They stopped off at a shopping opportunity to use the restroom.  I was focused on sightseeing, not shopping, so they didn’t get to sell me anything.  Another short drive took us to the archaeological site – which I’ll go into in detail later.

After a couple of hours at the site, we went back to the shopping opportunity to have a very nice buffet lunch.  In my opinion, they would have gotten a lot more shopping out of me if they’d have let me use the restroom at Chichen Itza and given me shopping time after lunch.

Then, after lunch we made another short drive to Ik Kil Cenote.  I’ll also tell you more about that in a later blog, but it was a great way to end the day.  Well, the day wasn’t quite over.  We still had to drive back to Cancun, which seemed to take forever in the dark.

As we neared Cancun, the lights inside the bus switched on, a recorded version of “Tequila” was played on the loudspeaker and one of our guides had donned a wild get-up that I supposed was intended to be Mayan.  They served shots of tequila to anyone who wanted one, but right then it didn’t even sound good to me.  I was whupped.

It seemed like midnight when we got to the hotel, but I think it was only about 8:30.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about our time in Chichen Itza.

Photography, TRAVEL

Digital Camera Nirvana

White River Falls Oregon
Oregon’s Beautiful White River Falls

So, after losing all the digital pictures we took on our cruise to the Yucatan, I was pretty disgusted with digital photography.  However, 35mm film was becoming harder to find and more expensive when we found it.  We stayed in photography limbo for awhile, but then we found the inspiration to embrace DSLR.

Coming Over to the Digital Side

In 2012 we planned a trip to the Pacific Northwest and we knew one thing: we were going to need a new camera.  I had two requirements.  The new digital camera had to have a traditional viewfinder and I wanted it to be fast.  If you’re wondering why we didn’t just use our phones, then you’ve forgotten that in 2012 most of the world was still using flip-phones.  While the flip phones took pictures, they didn’t take good pictures.

We bit the bullet and spent more money than we’d ever spent on a camera, but oh what a camera we found.  Before Bill bought the DSLR, he insisted that I attend photography classes with him on how to properly use the new camera.  Since the new one had a viewfinder and I could click one photo after another, without having to wait, a few photography classes seemed like a small sacrifice.

Suddenly, we were in digital photography heaven.  Even before the trip, Bill and I would go on photo safaris around town.  Photography was no longer a touchy subject where Bill resented the cost of film and I refused to use a digital camera.  Our time in Oregon was a photographer’s dream.  Bill took hundreds and hundreds of pictures.  The resulting scrapbook album was inches and inches wide.

The Photographic Bliss Continues…for awhile

After the Oregon trip we became photography fanatics.  It seemed as if every trip we got better at it.  We took cruises in the Caribbean and on the Danube.  We visited glorious gardens in California.  During this photographic period we also went to Egypt for a family wedding.  Oh what amazing, beautiful images we captured on these trips.

While we were wallowing in this photographic bliss, something else was going on.  Suddenly, phones had great cameras in them and the world was taking pictures of things they’d never noticed before.  Remember how odd it was the first time you saw someone take a picture of their food in a restaurant.  I remember looking at them like they were crazy.  Now I do it, too.  We all do it.

I will confess that it was with great reluctance that I gave up my flip phone.   We’d found me an industrial strength flip phone that didn’t mind falling and the new phones had huge screens that seemed to crack when you looked at them.  As with many technical innovations, I ran into some difficulties.  The first problem was not my fault.  Bill proudly presented me an LG smartphone that wasn’t all that smart.  It didn’t ring.  We still don’t know why and the problem wasn’t on any of the customer service scripts.  Their computers told them it was ringing, but it wasn’t.  He’d ordered it online, but we had to go to a big box store to prove to them that it was, in fact, not ringing – regardless of what the computer said.  I moved on to Samsung.

If it had rung, the LG would have been great, but it didn’t and in spite of what other marvelous features it had, one thing a phone needs to do is ring.  So, how did I do in photography with my new Samsung.  Well, come back next week and I’ll tell you about it.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Late Night at the SeaDust

TRAVEL THERE: AFTER DINNER ACTIVITIES

Dinner at the Maison de Michelle had been a little disappointing.  We were still a tad bit hungry and one more glass of wine seemed like just the ticket.  We were able to take care of both those problems.

Wine and Cheese Delight

Right outside Michelle’s was a bar and voila, they had a buffet with cheese and baguettes.  While I chose an assortment of cheeses to top off the meal, Bill ordered another round of drinks.  Yes, they served Savignon Blanc and Merlot in champagne flutes, but who are we to complain?

While we weren’t thrilled with everything we were experiencing, we weren’t suffering too much either.  At this point of the trip we chose to giggle about the chunks of duck and made plans to try another restaurant the following evening.  They had eleven after all!

Like our stroll on the beach and the poolside sunset, our after dinner drinks with cheese were very enjoyable.  We really only had one concern.  When we’d gone upstairs to change clothes, we discovered our balcony was lit up like Alcatraz.  The huge balcony had a big hot tub and we were hoping to enjoy it, but who wanted to relax under such a bright light and none of the switches in the room turned off the exterior lights.

Bill had stopped by the guest services desk to ask about the lights and they assured us the lights would be automatically turned off sometime between 10 and 11.  We also asked what time they were turned back on.  That was something no one knew.  We decided we were tired and even though it wasn’t 11 yet, we were going to go back to the room.

Hitting the Hot Tub

Our absolute favorite thing at the Seadust was the balcony.  When we first arrived, the curtains were closed, which was a mistake on their part.  They were hiding the best part!

The Cancun Hotel Zone is on a thin strip of land just east of Cancun proper.  From our room, we had a great view.  We could see the adult pool area (which we hadn’t figured out how to get to, yet) the main road connecting all the hotels, a golf course, the body of water which separated the hotel strip from the mainland and yes, the city of Cancun.  Yep, it was a pretty marvelous view.

When we got to the room after dinner, the balcony lights were still bright.  I suggested I get our things stowed away, while he filled the hot tub.  When we finished our chores the lights were still bright, but Bill was eager for a little hot tub action.  So, he rigged up a wall with some towels and assured me that since the hot tub was in the corner we’d have plenty of privacy.  Thankfully, that’s just about when the lights decided to go out, so we were able to fully enjoy our time in the hot tub.

Thoroughly relaxed, we drained the hot tub and headed to bed.  We had to be on our way to Chichen Itza just after seven the next morning.  Please come back next week and join us.