Posts Tagged With: Sayulita

The Colours of Sayulita

So, this is our fifth visit to Sayulita, and I’ve managed to blog about it pretty much every trip. If not, I’ve taken the liberty to borrow from past treks; call it creative license. Anyway, since I’ve written so much about Sayulita already, I can’t very well stop now, can I?

Given the latter statement, you might be thinking, what on earth can she say about Sayulita that she hasn’t covered before? I feel you, but I’ve got a new angle: this time, it’s about a vibrancy of colour – something that Sayulita has in abundance.

This is the deal: every time I go to Mexico, I am amazed with the range of colours – such a change from the winter greys, browns and greens where I hail from. There’s so much variety, so much liveliness, if you will, that my eyes almost ache with the assault of it. Sayulita is no different. Yes, it has the typical greens and blues, but add to that add the shock of tan/white sand, contrasted by bright pink, purple and orange flowers, frangipani, and terra cotta stone, set off by absurdly-bright colours of nearby casas.

Take our beloved Casa Mariluna, for instance. Of course the azure sky is there to help.

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Then there’s the palm-tree pink at sunset.

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We were up really early one morning – the moon actually woke us up because it was so bright. Here’s a shot from the top floor bathroom turret (pictured above). Yes, that’s the moon… not the sun.

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The blue morning ocean, in soothing shadows.

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And then there’s the we-bought-tag-end-paint-on-sale hotel in Sayulita’s town square.

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And of course, the Golden Hour – twilight, my favourite time. Check out the Rasta pouring out his beer.

Sayulita at twilight.

One morning we decided to go on a hilltop hike to check out an incredible view of Sayulita proper. This here is the colour of sweat (and yes, I’m still learning the art of the selfie). Ok, it was probably 31 degrees celsius at 9:30 am – best I could do under the circumstances.

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Shot of Sayulita’s south end from our high vantage point.

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After admiring the view, we carefully zigged and zagged down through the high neighbourhood streets, full of casas of all colours, shapes and sizes. The classic white framed by pink rhodo-type bush seems to be a popular choice down south.

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And, naturally, yellow – evoking that sunlight-and-goodness feeling pursued with a sort of madness by us Northerners.

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I’ve been asked where I get my creative inspiration from. That’s a hard one. While there’s lots of colourful man-made architecture – which Mexico embraces to no end – there’s nothing that moves me more than seeing the true colours of nature. Maybe because it’s not forced; it’s just there in all its majesty.

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And its beauty is unrivaled.

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– S

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Categories: Beach, Mexico, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Travel Highlights of 2013

It’s the last day of the year and, once again, I find myself apologizing for not writing in an awfully long time. Yeah, I have great excuses: courses, work, and a bit of travel. However, the looming year end has persuaded me to write something – anything. So, it’s time for my travel highlights for 2013. (This is admittedly nothing particularly original on my part – see Best Travel Moments of 2012 for last year’s wrap-up.)

Mexico de Mayo
We kinda lucked out last May – so much so that we dubbed the month Mexico de Mayo. Turns out that months after we booked the first Mexico trip to Sayulita, Cam’s employer awarded him a bonus trip to the other coast of Mexico – the Mayan Riviera. And it happened to take place 10 days after the first trip.

Trip 1: Sayulita
My absolute favourite time of the day anywhere is twilight. And although twilight in Sayulita didn’t actually happen until like 8:00 pm in May, that only meant more sun, more swimming, more time to savour the good life. So when happy hour rolled around, I could usually be found hanging on the edge of the pool, taking in Sayulita’s astounding beauty. (Not to mention it was so damn hot, I didn’t really want to be anywhere else.) You can read more about the trip here.

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Trip 2: Mayan Riviera
Although the Mayan Riviera is undoubtedly beautiful, the area isn’t new to us (we’ve been to Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel). But the Rosewood Mayakoba Resort definitely was a novel experience. Lush and plush, no expense was spared in this gem of a spot right on the beach, with its own private lagoon. I’ll spare you the details, but definitely worth mentioning was our room – more like a mini villa – situated on a strip of sifted-flour sand at the end of the complex, with just palm trees and a resident Mexican coati to keep us company. And let’s not forget our private plunge pool (see below) – that, despite its beckoning on a typical tropical day – was not nearly cool enough for us sweltering Canadians!

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Iguana on the Cliffs of Tulum
Ok, this post is definitely setting a strong pool theme, so let’s move on to a different body of water: the ocean. But not just any ocean; the intoxicating aquamarine beauty of the Caribbean. No one can resist it, really, not even a local iguana striking a pose on the cliffs of the Mayan ruins of Tulum.

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More water: right after this tour, we cooled off with a little cave diving in one of the mere 10,000 systems believed to exist in the Yucatan. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the adventure, but think very underground, very low, very narrow, very dark and very quiet. Off we went in our crocs and snorkel gear.

Salt Spring Island for Canada Day and…
…our 10th wedding anniversary. Back to one of our treasured places in the world – practically in our own backyard. We spent the three-day weekend basking in the sun, driving around in our li’l baby blue, and feasting on jumbo shrimp caught that very afternoon. Bonus start came when our B&B host friend Cap’n Dan happened to be piloting the ferry from Victoria. The moment we parked in our lane, an announcement came over the speaker to the effect of: would Cam & Shari please make their way up to the captain’s deck for an important message? From that point on, our 30-minute ride was from the captain’s quarters, high, high above, with a prominent view of our destination route. Then, upon docking at Salt Spring, our car row got to offload first. It helps to know the right people.

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One of the decorative shelves at our fave B&B.

Another SSI highlight – of the culinary kind this time: tracking down our pottery friends whom we’ve been buying from every summer. Sadly, for practical reasons they packed in the pottery, and instead opened a new bakery called Bite Me. These were the best (and biggest) darn ice-cream sangys we’ve ever had.

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Note the evil grin on the oatmeal one. Bite me, indeed.

Picking up a New Addition to the Family
Post-Canada Day, we took a quick trip across the city to pick up Billie (after Billie Holiday), our beautiful red-headed, green-eyed girl. We got her through an animal shelter, who rescued her and her five kittens from an SPCA in the States. Her kittens had been adopted out, and now it was her turn. We were only too happy to bring her into our home and our hearts. Needless to say, she’s settled in quite nicely. A recent visit to her foster family’s website revealed a strong resemblance of one of her male kittens to his mom. Awwwwwww!!

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More cats – but twice three times as large
Ok, we are definitely moving away from the water theme, with our annual August jaunt to the heart of the Canadian prairies: Brandon, Manitoba. Home to the in-laws, and some of the biggest cats in Canada. Yup, no question – these barnyard beauties are as cuddly as they are huge. Meet Casey (top) and Callie (the calico). Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a mouse or similar rodent to be found on the 66 acres that is their home. Good kitties, they is.

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Cleveland – A little work, a little ball, and a whole lotta of Rock & Roll
September found me at a content marketing conference in none other than Cleveland, Ohio, along with three of my colleagues (the crazy one madly waving his arms is actually my boss). Although we were there technically for work, there were plenty of moments to discover the city of Cleveland itself, which frankly, I hadn’t thought of much before I packed my bags. This pic was by far one of my favourite moments – en route to an Indians game, via lively 5th Street and in 36 degree C heat with not a breeze to be had. Other highlights were an opening bash at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and an 80s party at the House of Blues. Oh, and the best damn stuffed snapper I’ve ever tasted. Practically in the Midwest, no less.

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Decked out in our bowling shoes, ready to hit the lanes.

Maple Ridge Sisterhood
Back to my sister Karen’s place, not only to say goodbye to one of her great friends – note her Death Party in this post – but for a permanent change. Namely, a tattoo. But not just any tattoo, and not just one. We both decided to get a Celtic sisterhood insignia combined with an infinity symbol marked on our skin. And yeah, it hurt – especially on a place with very little skin and a whole lot of nerve endings (that’s my wrist and her ankle). But, it was worth every hot-fire-poker-dragging-across-skin minute. And, Karen didn’t mind me crushing her poor hand, so that’s OK.

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I love you infinity times, Karen.

Bonus Highlight: Snow Love
Technically, this still counts as traveling. It was the morning of my last day at work before the two-week holiday closure. We woke to a dusting of snow – nothing to be alarmed about, but enough to make a few people decide to take an early vacation. This is Victoria, after all. This very cool design was actually done by tire tracks just outside our house.

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‘Tis the season of love.

– S

Categories: Beach, Gulf Islands, Mexico, Pool, Sunset, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

La Dolce Vita in Sayulita

So, I know I haven’t written in… well, ages. Seems I’ve used that line fairly recently, but that’s because I hadn’t really been anywhere.

That confessed, I’m happy to report that after five dreary months in the soggy, freezing climate that is Victoria (the rest of our beloved country has had it much worse, so I will stop complaining), we finally found the sun. It took us only 4,402 kilometres to get to it, but I’m not going to get wrapped up in data. The point is, we found our sun. And it was right here the whole time. In Sayulita.

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OK, that pic is not really the sun (which is doing its duty by scorching us daily – but I’m not complaining). It’s one of the many, many stunning art features of the rather amazing villa we rented in the north end of town – the quiet part of town. Admittedly, it’s a wee big for us, what with three bedrooms and four full bathrooms (including a pool bathroom – genius idea – noted for future palace). We tried our best to get friends to come and stay with us, but no one bit. Crazy people.

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I adore the design of this place: open air, simple and elegant. Did I mention it’s surrounded by water? Two water features, a pool, and the ocean just steps below.

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Enter the turret. It’s actually home of two of the bathrooms. Nothing like showering while peering out from domed windows.

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The pool shot. ‘Nuff said.

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And then…

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The other night we had a local chef come to our villa to cook us a traditional Mexican feast of homemade guacamole, mahi-mahi with a sesame seed crust and mango sauce, sautéed veggies, and fresh fruit garnished with coconut shavings for dessert. A lovely light dinner, perfect for these hot nights.

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Yesterday we went on a jungle walk to one of the many secluded beaches around Sayulita – three miles of sand… and us.

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We walked a little farther and spotted the residence of a former president of Mexico:

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Looking for graveyard quiet?

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Oh, Sayulita – how I missed you. It’s good to be back.

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– S

Categories: Beach, Dining, Glamorous, Mexico, Pool, Sunset, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Best Travel Moments of 2012

2012 challenged me. This year, I ‘let go’.

I left my old job of almost ten years and got a new and exciting placement three months later. Meanwhile, our 15-year-old cat passed away. Thing is: we ‘rented’ a cat shortly thereafter, which turned into a full-on adoption – that is, she adopted us.

And of course, we traveled. It was a bit different this year: we traded our usual summertime island jaunts for a longer stay in Asia, and I also traveled for work, which I hadn’t done for ages. Nonetheless, it was still varied, fun, crazy and challenging. But mostly fun. Of course, when it comes to the way we travel, I would expect nothing less. So here it is: my favourite travel moments from 2012.

February – Celebrating my birthday in Sayulita, Mexico.
Nothing beats the February blues and turning another year older than soaking up the sun on a beach – any beach, really. As long as it’s warm. Here I am sipping a ‘coco loco’ in Sayulita. Moments later, the Candyman appeared with his huge wheelbarrow stacked to the gills with – you guessed it – candy. I even got my very own spectacular sunset. It really was the perfect day.

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April – San Jose to see Coldplay – twice!
We went to see one of our fave bands twice in one of our favourite places – California. Although it was my first time in San Jose, I was pleasantly surprised by all the city had to offer – namely pretty, tree-lined streets, the ridiculously expensive Santana Row, incredible food, and any kind of tequila you can possibly imagine. Oh, and Coldplay was pretty damn awesome, too. First night was up in the stands, but close to the stage; the second night was even closer – four rows out on the floor.

First Night: Chris Martin up-close with bassist Guy Berryman.

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Second night view from fourth row floor. See if you can spot Chris Martin in all that confetti!

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September – Maple Ridge.
I know I said in a previous post that I didn’t consider heading to the mainland Vancouver – namely Maple Ridge – as really traveling. What the hell was I thinking? This is as much as traveling as it gets – a 40-minute drive to the ferry, a 1.5 hour ferry ride, followed by a 1.5 hour drive to MR – and this isn’t counting side-trips to Starbucks (one must fuel up for such a journey), or my sis Karen’s fave clothing store Sweet Orange. However arduous the journey, trips to MR always include fun and relaxation in the form of martinis, junk food, wine, hanging with the kids, playing with their cat, watching cheesy movies, and of course more wine. This trip in particular was to celebrate my bro-in-law’s birthday, complete with a cocktail party and some of their best – and wackiest – friends. Simply put, I absolutely loved it – almost as much as I love them.

Me, sister Karen, and her daughter Emma (the awesome Emu).

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October – Las Vegas.
Although Metric at the House of Blues was amazing, probably the biggest highlight of this trip was our hotel room. For more pics and a detailed description, check out my first post on this epic trip. The room was beyond luxurious; by far the best upgrade I’ve ever received. For the first time in our traveling lives, we actually clocked some quality time in the hotel room. Who could blame us?

A shot from our conference room (seriously) looking out to the full-on living room suite. 

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October – NYC.
Less than a week before Hurricane Sandy, I went to NYC on business for a social media conference. Little did I know the place would be almost torn to shreds in a matter of days. Happily oblivious to that fact, I wandered the (very) crowded streets of Manhattan, taking in every smell, sound and funny catcall (at one point I was mistaken for Jennifer Aniston – to my delight the guy yelled it to the passing crowd). Additional favourite moments were spotting Snopp Dogg (twice), hugging Cookie Monster in Times Square, wandering beautiful Bryant Park and swilling double martinis in Hell’s Kitchen. (For the record, the Empire State Building is an absolute rip-off – v. expensive for a so-so experience. I’ve heard a night visit is far better.)

Fall on the streets of New York City.

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Downtown view from Empire State Building.

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November – Bali.
Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m addicted to traveling first class. Especially when going halfway around the world, as we do to Bali. Then there was Ubud, a town up in Bali’s rice fields. This picture was taken at by far my favourite moment – the rain pouring down and me sheltered on the deck with everything I needed: a beer, a good book, and something amazing to gaze out on.

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I couldn’t get enough of Bali’s bright, fragrant flowers and intricate woodwork. Also, I really loved the fact that I never once had to turn the hot water on for an entire three weeks.

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December – back to Maple Ridge.
With yet another few weeks off of work for the holidays (yes, it’s true – please don’t cry), I took the opportunity to spend some quality time at my sis’ again in MR for a few days before the Christmas craziness. It was nothing short of awesome. We did a lot of the aforementioned, with the addition of watching classic Christmas movies, admiring of tree ornaments, and actual buying at Sweet Orange (I acquired a little Xmas present to me – ok, I may have a slight addiction to clothes), plus a few socials, including a “Death Party”. This took place, fittingly, on December 21, which you’ll recall was to be our last day on Earth. It was actually a friend’s birthday, with the added cool twist of a death theme. Dress code was anything black (she wore her wedding dress spray-painted black). Along with a few questionable and amusing characters, there was a humongous tray of THE most amazing mac and cheese, a coffin filled with beer, rented slushy machines – one filled with bellini mix, the other lime and vodka – and a tarot card reader. A party the next day boasted 40 adults and 40 kids, a zillion appys, an open bar and even an official wine tasting. I was in heaven.

Me, my niece Alex, and their cat Tuna. Note the horrified expression on the poor kitty’s face.

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I’m sure 2013’s jaunts around the globe will be nothing short of memorable. Autumn in Italy, anyone?

– S

Categories: Bali, Beach, British Columbia, California, Glamorous, Mexico, Shopping, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Freaky, the Fresh and the Fabulous

From a rustic beach fry shack to fine-dining at the Eiffel Tower (well, in Vegas), I’ve had some pretty varied and unique foodie times. While traveling, Cam and I tend to shy away from all-inclusives (with the exception of one or two no-brainer getaways), instead opting to frappe la rue on our own and explore. To me, not only the cuisine but the actual dining experience is all part of the unknown, the weirdness of travel that often makes a good story. (We have another litnus test of how good the restaurant is by what their bathroom facilities look like. I’ll save that for another post.)

Since I refrained from listing every funny little place I’ve been to in my last post of a similar nature (A Dozen Ovens), here’s the second part of some weird and wonderful foodie scenes. Let’s start with one of my favourites…

1. Ibu Oka  Ubud, Bali
Our driver Made accompanied us to this Ubud, Bali institution in the heart of the mountains, where the specialty is fried Babi Guling (suckling pig). The scene is rustic, the menu basic with a choice of four different combinations: Special Suckling Pig (with rice), Different Suckling Pig (also with rice, not entirely sure what’s ‘different’), Suckling Pig Meat, and just the Pig Skin. Grab some Indonesian fruit tea, have a seat on the floor and get cozy with your neighbours. Personally, I found it the whole meal extremely fatty, so I mostly ate just the meat sans skin, giving the rest to Cam and Made. But it was a must-do and undeniably an unforgettable experience. If you go, don’t forget to collect your shoes from the massive pile on your way out.

2. Tapas Bar in San Sebastian – Spain
The old quarter in San Sebastian was home to my first tapa dining experience. Basically, we tried to do what every good tourist should do: follow the locals. So we walked in pretending like we’d been there a hundred times (we couldn’t have been more green), casually sidled up to the bar (more like carefully picking our way through hoards of leering Spanish men), and helped ourselves to the dizzying array of itsy bitsy bites lining the bar (well, I might have wrinkled up my nose and given some the sniff test). The whole time we wondered how anybody would know how much we ate, or who was keeping track for that matter. Turns out the bartender had a pretty sharp pair of peepers, because by the end he had a tally of everything we touched, even including a few glasses of the local vino (which we ordered via the pointing system). He gave us the bill itemized on the back of an old receipt and we were done. Oh, and food was awesome – everything from fresh prawns to thin proscuitto on crostinis – and the atmosphere crowded, smoky and alive.

3. Pizza Venezia – Sayulita, Mexico
Along a dusty, lone Mexican village road appears what at first seems like a mirage, and then turns into a bright yellow surfboard. On it boasts the menu of Pizza Venezia, a place that is both a feast for the eyes and the stomach. All bright reds and yellows and brick, this fire wood oven, thin-crust pizza joint is home to some gutsy Italian-turned-surfer who landed in Sayulita sometime within the last three years. Apparently he liked it so much he decided to stay a while. Delicious and refreshingly uncomplicated, the pizza pies were cheap (an extra-large pie put you back a mere 90 pesos – about $6 Cdn). Perfect for a late-night snack on the way home, the rest saved for a picnic on the beach the next day.

4. Le Baiser Salé – Paris, France
Le Baiser Sale translates to “The Salty Kiss”. Being avid jazz buffs, Cam and I decided to hit up this place after we attempted to get into another jazz club where the cover charge back in ’04 was 25 euros (about $50 Cdn back then). This was at a time when the Canadian dollar was at an all-time low, mind you, but still – $50 to get in? Each? Even though they were open to negotiation (the price got lower as we began backing out of the club), we decided to move on and stumbled upon Le Baiser Sale. Despite the fact that it was ‘only’ $25 to get in, it turned out to be one of the best jazz clubs we’ve ever been to. I’m including it in this dining post because they did serve food – mostly snacks to accompany your champagne – but I think that counts. Enter via an outdoor patio, sweep past a bar and up a narrow staircase to a small, dark room with a makeshift bar and a stage – and when I say stage, I mean a basic platform of sorts. The sheer intimacy of the place was astounding: as four young guys belted out classic Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson, we were so close we could feel the beat pulsing in our chests; see the spit and the sweat. It was like they were playing just for us.

5. Hu’u Bar & Grill – Seminyak, Bali
Picture a dark and romantic outdoor setting, the tropical breeze tickling your bare shoulders as you stroll along the poolside patio under white canopy and twinkling fairy lights. Now imagine the delish taste of duck crepes as you dine surrounded by mosaic-like decorative busts and low-hung chinese lanterns, with cool hip groove beats filling the air. And, if you want your own private dining experience, there’s always the cozy dining day-beds strewn about the property. The food is pretty decent, but it’s really the ambience that keeps us coming back. Where else do you get to lounge about on huge white pillows while sipping on a lychee nut martini? Who knows: you may just run into Paris Hilton partying it up right next to you.

6. Lobster on Booby Cay Beach – near Negril, Jamaica
Let’s face it: this is no fancy hotel dining, or drinks by a hip poolside bar. It doesn’t get more fresh, and I mean really fresh than having your lunch cooked for you right on a sandy cove in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. I think these lobsters were caught maybe 20 minutes before, and the next thing you know they’re on the grill. Delightfully delish. Have Famous Vincent take you over to the island.

7. Kayu Manis – Sanur, Bali
This funny little place is slightly off the beaten track, some distance from the touristy throngs on Sanur’s beach boardwalk. After reading some decent reviews on Trip Advisor, we had our hotel make us a reservation. Still, it took us a while to find it in the dark, and after wandering around for an hour, we found it tucked just off the street, surrounded by trees and tropical flora. Even at 8 pm, the interior was sweltering hot, and much to our dismay, they didn’t serve any booze aside from the local beer. We forgave them because the food was good; however, when we tried to get the bill, they wouldn’t let us pay, no matter how much we insisted. Suffice to say both parties were very much confused. So, we ended up leaving without paying. For some people this is a dream; for us just felt downright strange and wrong. Totally bewildered, we relayed the story to our hotel hosts, who were just as confused as we were. Then about a week later, the restaurant phoned our hotel to say that someone from the restaurant was coming to pick up the money for our tab. Seriously! Poor Cam had to run about to get cash from the money exchange, put it in an envelope, and have it at the front desk for pick-up. So much for thinking we got it comped because they thought we were movie stars.

8. Eiffel Tower Restaurant – Las Vegas, Nevada
For a special occasion, a completely decadent experience (or if you just can’t get to Paris, France for the weekend), the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Vegas is a must-try. It’s pretty close to the real thing, its authenticity bolstered (pun intended) by makeshift tower beams jutting through the walls, an almost pitch-black interior, and a martini bar to die for. My sister and her husband came with us to Vegas last year for a special birthday of mine (see A Most Un-Glamorous Journey for more on that trip), and although my sister got sick the night of my birthday dinner, we still enjoyed a romantic evening for three. Attended to by at least four tuxedo-clad servers (who all seemed ecstatic to be serving us), this restaurant boasted an incredible view of the main strip, notably the fountain show at the Bellagio. It oozed romance and yes, a bit of a cheese-factor, albeit classy cheese. An appetizer of roasted foie gras for $28? Why not? You may as well really splurge and have the Filet Mignon for $56. It’s totally worth it.

9. Random Restaurant at the top of Mt. Batur – Bali
Although the view to Gunung Batur is clearly incredible, the touristy and crowded buffet-style restaurant perched on a cliff at the side of the road wasn’t. Think exorbitant tourist prices for a measly, fly-ridden selection of fried rice, dried-up satay, and wilty greens. I won’t even get into the state of the washroom. Not to mention it was so windy up there, my bad food practically flew off my plate. (To be fair, that’s not the restaurant’s fault). Anyway, an obvious tourist trap, but what can you do – not a lot of choice way up in the middle-of-nowhere-mountains. The only thing that tasted somewhat okay was the prickly red rambutan fruit – plus it was really cool and exotic-looking.

10. Burrito Revolution – Sayulita, Mexico
A Sayulita institution, Burrito Revolution is a gem of a place, with burritos the size of babies and sauces with different spice levels (hint: watch out for the whitish one – very spicy). Although you can sit inside, it mostly caters to the grab-and-go people. Make sure you get lots of napkins, because within one bite you’ll be wiping the delicious stuff off your mouth and chin. Incredibly fresh, handmade  and hot – think smoked marlin wrapped up with tomatoes, beans and fresh guacamole. Come hungry and prepare to wait a bit – you’ll be glad you did. The last time we were there, the proprietor let us have a taste of the newest thing on the menu: tacos (yummy). And, you gotta love their awesome sense of humour – I just had to take a picture of this sign!

– S

Categories: Bali, Dining, Europe, France, Glamorous, Jamaica, Mexico, Spain, Travel, Unglamorous | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Traveling Critter Diaries

Bonding with creatures in a foreign land – whether it’s on the cliffs of Negril, off Bali’s Indian Ocean or even the Pacific shores of Sayulita – is always an adventure. Mind you, I’m not too disappointed when it doesn’t happen, but it’s always a fun and unique experience when it does. Seeing as both Cam and I love animals and amphibians (I’m somewhat less inclined toward insects or massive hairy arachnids), I thought I’d share a few snapshots of our favourite critters from around the globe.

1. The Yowly Bungalow Kitty – Sanur, Bali
This grumpy little meower was constantly hanging around, lurking by one of the stone statues, creeping up the steps, or hanging off of the roof. Wherever it was, it would always let out a howler (or three) of a greeting, but would never let you get close enough to pet. In any case, Yowly was good – albeit distant – company, and always seemed to take us by pleasant surprise when we were having our late afternoon shower outdoors or sitting on our porch drinking kopi bali. I have a feeling life wasn’t all catnip and lazy mice for this one, though, judging by the not-so-impressed expression on its face.

2. Pups  West End, Negril, Jamaica
Pups (our clever nickname) was the dog of one of the caretakers from a villa property we stayed at on Negril’s dramatic cliffs. Pups immediately won us over with her friendly manner and infectious ‘smile’. She would wait for us by the gate when we came home from a day’s adventure, and then proceed to lounge in a patch of sunshine on the deck while we wound down. Other times she would play with my feet or sniff at Cam’s Red Stripe (that’s a beer, not a laceration). Although young, Pups was an excellent watchdog, knowing instinctively who should be on the property and who shouldn’t. She wasn’t a big fan of the water, though. Every time we decided to hang out at our private cove by the cliff’s edge, she would stand at a safe distance, barking at any wave that dared come too close to the rocks. A bit unusual for an animal who resided so close to the sea, but we accepted her for her loveable quirks nonetheless.

3. The Casa Iguana – Sayulita, Mexico
In Mexico, iguanas are about as common as tortillas, so it was no real surprise to encounter this enigmatic creature who suddenly appeared one late afternoon at our villa. We saw it only a couple of times, usually when we were floating in the pool or quietly reading in the shade. Out it would crawl from some nearby bush, and slowly and carefully inch its way across the warm rocks in its attempt to blend in with nature. It would then become a statue of sorts, soaking up the sun and occasionally eating the blue flowers growing nearby. (If you look closely you can see some petals in its mouth.) I could almost reach out and touch it. Almost. I kinda didn’t want to, though.

4. The Shrine-Wrecker – Seminyak, Bali
We were having a casual dinner at one of our favourite beach bars in Seminyak called Ku De Ta when this mischievous kitty jumped up on a shrine and began foraging for cookies and rice, knocking all of the prayer offerings asunder in its haste. Luckily I had my camera at the ready and managed to capture a genuine “Busted!” expression on its face (see featured photo at the top of this post). It didn’t seem to care much though, as it had obviously hit the late-lunch jackpot.

5. The Neighbourhood Happy Cat – Sayulita, Mexico
This was one of my favourite cat encounters while on holiday. This wide-eyed stunner just appeared at our door one evening and waltzed right into our villa (hard not to do when the climate demands doors be perpetually open). Fortunately it seemed to belong to someone, and so was free to roam around at will instead of having to look for food. Not in the least shy, this kitty would walk right up to you and wrap its little paws (sans claws) around your ankle, wanting to play, play, play. It visited us a few times around the same time every day, and I grew so attached that I missed it when we left.

6. The Whites – Mayfield Falls, Jamaica
Happily wagging away, this trio of strays greeted us outside the falls like old friends, snipping and playing with each other as if they didn’t have a care in the world. They kept a watchful eye as they followed us to the van though, sensing an opportunity for something more. Unfortunately all we had were limes, so they had to settle for a pet (or three).

7. The Cocky Cockatoo – Hamilton Island, Australia
I don’t know what it is with creatures and timing. Even this noisy little bird would appear on the railing of our posh beach club room at the same time every day, chirping and cackling. One time it actually flew into the room. Promptly unnerved by my surprised shrieking, it settled for a casual perch the railing for the rest of our stay, cackling away. Note the people watching from the infinity pool below.

8. Barfs – Sanur, Bali
“Barfs” is what we nicknamed a pathetic little dog that would roam Sanur Beach at twilight, making these heartbreaking gagging sounds, somewhere between a bark and a cough. It would never venture very close to us, mostly keeping to itself and sniffing under chairs for scraps left by beachgoers. We felt so sorry for it that we considered feeding it some of Cam’s boozy birthday cake, made for us by the kind hotel folks. As delish as this cake was the first time, every time we opened our bar fridge thereafter the strong smell of booze would make our stomachs turn (especially at 6 am). When we finally decided to give some to this poor little thing, he disappeared. Sorry, Barfs.

9. The Cutest (and Smartest) Pair of Hustlers – Negril, Jamaica
Anyone who’s traveled to a developing country has experienced the stray-animal-in-the-restaurant scenario, at least to some degree. It almost always involves canine or feline, usually pretty scruffy, with matted hair and an emaciated body. Patiently (or not so patiently), they wait for table scraps either dropped or given to them by hand. Or, you can get two real cuties like these who avoided common nuisance tactics. Instead, they let us know they were there with a couple of soft subtle mews, and then proceeded to watch us from across the patio. Although I admired them for it, it didn’t really matter in the end; they had me at first glance. What – I’d like to see you resist these adorable faces.

10. The Monkey on My Head – Bali
This memorable moment occurred on my first trip to Asia, when I was still a naive tourist (not like now – jaded and suspicious at every turn… just kidding). We were at a monkey forest up in the island’s highlands, getting a tour of the forest and its inhabitants. Of course, we’d been warned that monkeys like to pinch anything of value – wallet, keys, camera. However, no one told me they might end up jumping on your head. One minute we were in the middle of observing a mother cleaning her baby; the next an adult monkey had gotten a hold of my leg and started scrambling and clawing its way up my torso. I hardly had time to react before the crazy thing was holding on tight to my hair, grabbing for some nuts in the guide’s hand, which was of course right over my head. I realized it was all a plotted plan when the guide signalled Cam, who quickly snapped a pic. I’m sure glad we could all work as a team to make it happen.

– S

Categories: Adventure, Bali, Beach, Jamaica, Mexico, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Journey Before the Journey

Today I’m going to turn things a bit on their head and contemplate where I want to go, rather than where I’ve been.

Since the year’s practically half over, let’s start by taking stock of what’s already on the RADAR. This October will find us in lively Las Vegas. Not only will we be missing Canadian Thanksgiving (no preparing elaborate dinners – now there’s something to be thankful for!), we’re further risking family retaliation to see Metric, a favourite Canuck band of ours. This isn’t an arena show; they’re playing in the intimate, bar-like setting of the House of Blues. It really doesn’t get any better than that for seeing a great band.

Shortly after that, were back on ol’ faithful (AKA Cathay Pacific) bound for Bali, for three weeks this time. In fact, after much searching, we just finished securing the last of our three accommodations. Woot.

But what about 2013? And the year after that? First is deciding where to go – my favourite part. Second is figuring out the how to get to and from said place – my least favourite part. This is where my logistics-obsessed husband comes in. We often joke about that, quoting the Hip’s “Thugs”: “I do the rolling, you do the details.” Anyway, at one point we both agreed that a potential trip back to Europe sounded pretty good, with Paris or London as the initial destination (on the theory that one could get from London to Paris via the Eurostar). We further made the assumption that we’d use our Alaska Airlines miles for such a trip.

With a hopeful mindset, Cam did some digging and was quickly disappointed by the complexity and limited options. This is partly due to the fact that once we got a taste of first and business class on long-haul flights, we made it our mission never to fly economy on such lengthy flights again. Let’s just say it’s hard – really hard – to go back. I know that sounds spoiled and snobby, but there it is. Simple fact. My reasoning is this: for 15+ hour-long flights to, say, Asia and Australia, it’s definitely worth it. Plus living on the West Coast can make getting to Europe a wee bit tricky, with inevitable transfers from Toronto or Montreal or New York. So you might as well make all that time waiting in airports comfortable. VIP lounge, anyone?

But I digress. What Cam discovered was that the main Alaska affiliates for traveling to Europe – namely British Airways, American Airlines, and Air France – either:

  • Have very high fuel surcharges (we’re talking thousands of dollars);
  • Are always teetering on the verge of bankruptcy;
  • Really love to go on strike; or
  • Have reputations for less-than-stellar service (certainly not Cathay Pacific standards).

So this really got me thinking. While I’d love to return to Paris, I’ve been there, done that. It’s a big world, and there are a lot of places on our travel bucket lists, from Bora Bora to Buenos Aires. And, as luck would have it, Alaska Airlines recently partnered with Emirates Airlines, and the plan is to start offering awards travel to Dubai starting late this year – obviously, that opens up a whole new set of choices. Not to mention first class on EA is crazy-luxurious on the A380. We’re talking a martini bar, your private pod made even more private thanks to a pair of sliding closed doors, and – get this – showering facilities (with a five-minute time limit, mind). Decadence, much? All you have to do is watch Sex and the City 2 and you’ll know what I mean (note that I’m not in any way endorsing that movie). This would be almost as fun as the destination itself.

And, as we love our music – and love traveling for music – there’s the whole idea of coordinating a trip with some big concert. U2 in Rio? Coldplay in Abu Dhabi? Sign me up. (We’d probably still go if that didn’t work out, though.)

I guess what I’m saying is I’m sort of itching to do something different, in much the same way as when Cam and I took a bit of a risk going to Sayulita for the first time. Now it’s time to try somewhere else like Zihuatanejo: a definite possibility for next spring. And then there’s the extraordinary adventure of an African safari… something I’ve always dreamed of. But that could probably wait until we’re a lot older because a) we’ll have a lot more time and money (hopefully) and b) we’ll fit right in with all of the other grey-hair oldsters who seem to gravitate to such experiences (meaning guided tours).

Of course, we could always do someplace just sort of nuts Moscow or Uluru. Oh, wait… I’ve already been to that last place. How cool is that.

It’s time to get the atlas out again and start dreaming.

– S

PS. Where in the world do you absolutely love and would recommend?

Categories: Adventure, California, Europe, France, Glamorous, Mexico, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Dozen Ovens

One of my favourite things to do is eat, especially on vacation. There’s something about being away from home, trying different places and styles of cuisine that’s addictive. It can also represent an opportunity for prime people watching. So without further ado, here are some of my most memorable dining experiences in no particular order: the weird, the wonderful, and the quirky…

1. KU DE TA – Seminyak beach, Bali, Indonesia
At some point whenever we’re in Bali, we hit this place – not so much for the food (good but very pricey) as for the atmosphere. The idea is to get there just before sunset, order a chocolate martini (no, really), and get ready to be blown away. Overlooking amazing Seminyak beach, the place seems large enough to be a resort, with lounge chairs on the grass, covered dining areas framing a large pool, and a lounge with long benches and pillowed seats (be prepared to get chummy with your neighbours, who are probably rock stars from, say, Glasgow). For prime sunset-watching, try to score seating on little wooden-type stools that offer a rustic beachy feel. Chill-groove beats abound and the people watching is stellar: you’ll encounter everyone from Aussie trust fund kids to Japanese tourists, surfers and even sheiks and trophy wives. See if you can tear yourself away from the view and the scene to hit the washroom – an experience all its own. (And a great place to cool off, too.) Oh, and don’t forget to look as bored and jaded as possible.

2. The Living Room – Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
Great upscale dining, walkable from KU DE TA. It’s the epitome of how Bali can really dress a place to an exorbitant scale with massive floor-to-ceiling white curtains, chandeliers, white lights, and red velvet settees. True to its name, it did kind of feel like you were in someone’s living room – if that someone happened to be Henry VIII. After an excellent dinner, we headed to the bar to party it up until the wee hours with a couple of Aussie girls we had met at KU DE TA. I swear, if the Balinese weren’t so polite, they would have kicked us out hours earlier.

3. Kinta Mexican Bistro – Cozumel, Mexico
This is an off-the-beaten-track gem of a place on an island that otherwise caters to cruise shippers on day trip mini-benders. You’ll be charmed as soon as you step through the front door and into the funky interior, with its low-lighting and chic art, dazzling bar, and inventive menu (strawberry starfruit martini anyone?). Step along the lit walkway through the garden patio with its hushed privacy amidst mini-palms, where we dined the first (and second) time we graced this little eatery. It’s no Señor Frog’s, and that’s the whole point.

4. Balcony Bar & Restaurant – Byron Bay, Australia
This restaurant’s tagline is, “Be seen on it, not from it.” Step onto a red-carpeted winding staircase and make your way up and through a curtain to the main dining area. Fortunately, that’s where the cheese-factor ends. You are then transported into a wicker-abundant, beachy-type scene. If you’re fortunate to sit outside, prepare to drink in one of the highest views of funky downtown seaside Byron Bay (which, BTW, is reminiscent of BC’s Saltspring Island. Except on more acid). It was here that we feasted on the most unforgettable Moroccan chicken wings while listening to three drunk Aussie girls complain about their dating woes.

5. Chandi – Seminyak, Bali
Located on the main strip in fashionable and gastronomically-diverse Seminyak, this restaurant quickly became one of our regular haunts, with its heavenly combo of Indonesian and Australian cuisine. We initially stumbled upon it while looking for a place to take refuge from shopping in the interminable heat (which, to say the least, doesn’t make Cam a very happy camper). Chandi exudes calm and cool, which instantly put us at ease (that and the fact we weren’t shopping anymore). We settled in lounge chairs surrounded by glass walls, overlooking the street where we could gaze at the poor saps still shopping. Must-tries: watermelon gazpacho soup, crab dumplings and Balinese crispy duck.

6. “Ghost Restaurant” – Sayulita, Mexico
Since this place actually deserves its own blog post, I’ll just give you a snippet of our experience. We were wandering around looking for a break from chile relleno and taco chips when this tiny Italian reso popped up out of nowhere. Desperately needing something to mask my acute back pain (namely red wine), we decided to give it a shot, and it turned into one of the best evenings in Sayulita (what back pain?). However, despite returning there several times, this enigma of an eatery remained closed for the remainder of our trip. We pressed our noses to the windows several nights and saw only upturned napkins and abandoned wine glasses that never moved or got washed. Eventually we concluded our night there obviously never happened at all, but that it would have been a great time, and we were glad we didn’t experience it together. As you can tell, the place messed with our minds.

7. Restaurant Perraudin – Paris, France
Steeped in old-world charm, this French reso in Paris’ Latin Quarter will make you feel like you just stepped into Madame’s own kitchen. It’s quaint and cozy, with red-and-white checked tablecloths, and popular with both students and professors (needless to say, we stood out a little). It’s so homey that the menu is written on the mirror with a white wax pencil. Naturally it’s all in French, so while there, we furtively cracked open our language book to translate, all the while keenly aware of the patrons squeezed in at both sides of our elbows. Boudin noir sounded intriguing until I realized it was blood sausage. After much deliberation, we eventually dug into a rich lunch of beef bourguignon, potatoes gratin, and a hefty bordeaux. We topped off that feast with creme brûlée. I basically didn’t need to eat for 10 hours after that meal. (And I think when I did, it was back to this place.)

8. Jimmy Watson’s Wine Bar – Melbourne, Australia
Hands-down, Melbourne has some of the best eateries in all of Australia. Mind you, I haven’t been to every inch of the place, but this city sure hits the mark when it comes to cuisine variety, affordability, and quality. What I love about Oz is the abundance of wine bars – and Melbourne does not fall short of these. Enter Jimmy Watson’s Wine Bar. I think we tasted pretty much everything on the bar menu, and not because we were flush at the time (far from it), but because the proprietor kept bringing us samples to try (at no charge – how great is that?). Specialty wines, dessert wines, honey wines … oh the honey wines. After a solid while of debauchery, we figured it would be a good idea to actually eat something, and so appeared the tiniest chicken (it was actually a quail) on a plate before us. The poor thing looked so comical, so, well… dead that I had a hard time lifting even a waif-like morsel to my mouth. More honey wine?

9. Unidentified Grotto Restaurant – Saint-Émilion, France
Due to a long time lapse, I can’t recall the name of this particular establishment, but it’s either Le Tertre or La Cote Braisee. In any case, picture a dark, stormy night in a tiny medieval village in the heart of France’s wine country. A torrent of rain, heels slick against the cobblestones running for shelter into an underground wine cellar carved out of solid rock. Once inside, this grotto was strangely welcoming with its candlelight and out-of-this-world smells. And so ensued a storm-filled evening complete with what it seemed like endless amounts of foie gras: on toasts, in salads, stuffed in roast duck (thankfully not in my tarte). Then there was the odd choice of Celine Dion on the stereo. One or two songs, I can deal with. But a whole album? Let’s just say by the time it started round three, we were gone. (If you had a similar experience, please let me know what the restaurant was actually called.)

10. Cafe Batu Jimbar – Sanur, Bali
This is one of my best-loved restaurants in Bali. Located on Sanur’s main drag, this friendly establishment is within walking distance from the lovely beachfront Tandjung Sari hotel and boasts Indonesian and Australian specialties. Although there is seating in the more casual cafe inside, the real treat (sans air conditioning) is the outdoor patio, a great spot for people watching amidst white fairy light-bedecked palm trees. Live music accompanies the scene, from classic jazz numbers to salsa to rock & roll. There’s also a store next door featuring specialty foods, wine, even greeting cards. The best part is you can buy a bottle of wine here and have it uncorked at the restaurant, only paying a corkage fee instead of restaurant bottle prices. Try the gourmet ice cream.

11. Brasserie L’école – Victoria, BC, Canada
Located in (gasp, yes!) my actual hometown, this classic French restaurant remains one of my favourites anywhere. It doesn’t take reservations (bless them, they don’t want to be the type of place that’s booked solid for 3 months), so it’s best to show up early, put your name on the waiting list and then head to one of the many other selections across town for a drink (try the bar at Fiamo). Chances are you will get a table within the next hour or so, and it’s so worth the wait. Once there, cozy up and sink your teeth into the endive salad with bacon, apple, hazelnuts and mustard wine dressing. Pair it with the Albacore tuna. Or sirloin steak with Roquefort butter and frites – ask for the “fancy” version – fries cooked in truffle oil. (I knew someone who once just ordered a side of the fancy frites to go, and then ate the whole lot of them before she got home. It’s that good.)

12. And, of course, Le Resto Ming – Sanur, Bali

– S

PS. This is just a smattering of memorable global dining experiences (it was extremely hard to narrow it down). So keep an eye out for a part two of this series.

Categories: Australia, Bali, Beach, Dining, Europe, France, Mexico, Sunset, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

13 Quirky and Cool Things about Sayulita

Shar in front of a Sayulita institution

Okay, I just have to write about Sayulita again because, well… we’re here. And, there are so many funny and lovable things about this place that it just has to be done.

1. What Time is it, Sayulita?
One thing you must know when going to Sayulita is that you will most likely never really know what time it is. Due to many confusing time changes, and of course DST, some residents here have adopted the same time as Puerto Vallarta; however, some cling to the previous (Mountain) time zone, which is an hour behind PV. In any case, when you ask a local for the time, you can’t seem to get a straight answer. You can’t even trust the clocks, if you happen to stumble across one. My advice? Forget it and have another sip from your impossibly huge margarita.

2. Snorkeling in the Marietas
We did this on our first trip to Sayulita, and let’s just say the experience deserves its own blog post. For the moment, I’ll only mention that the journey came with its own brand of weirdness. If you’ve ever seen that movie “Captain Ron”, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

3. Blue-footed Boobys
We saw these rare birds on our Marietas sailing/snorkeling trip, as we were heading back to the boat after touring some caves. Seeing as the Galapagos Islands is the only other place where these creatures reside, we felt quite fortunate to experience this. I don’t have access to my own pics, but here’s the Booby in all its blue-footedness.

4. Food Service in the Sand
Along the main beach in Sayulita, you can get anything you want to eat without stepping foot anywhere. Just sit back on the beach and let the vendors come to you. You can get empanadas of all flavours (amazing), shrimp on a stick, macaroons (heavenly), sushi (hmmm), watermelon, oysters, coconut drinks, even cotton candy. As I write this, we just polished off a massive sugar doughnut that rivals the best bakeries back home for about $1. Trust me, you’ll never go hungry.

5. The Candyman

The Candyman displaying his wares

This one is my favourite. The first time we saw an old guy trundling along the beach pushing this enormous wheelbarrow filled to the brim with a colourful array of candy, we were charmed. Sugar-coated almonds, pecans, chocolate, spicy peanuts, pistachios, unidentified soft Mexican things – heck, even gummy bears were on display. It doesn’t hurt that the Candyman is generous with the samples. We didn’t see him at first this time around, and were afraid he maybe retired to Berlin or something. But then I spied a younger man at the wheel from a distance and almost jumped up to flag him down. Must be son of the original Candyman, come to save us from our confectionary crisis.

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

6. Store Hours
There are no regular store hours in Sayulita (or at least, we haven’t been able to crack the code of irregular regularity). This also goes for restaurants: some are open on Sunday; some don’t open until 4; some are closed during siesta; and, most are closed on Monday. Or, open – I give. Case in point this jewelery store which sells stuff that I absolutely covet. When we asked the clerk if the store was going to be open that evening, she enigmatically answered with, “It depends on the traffic.” Basically, I’ve learned (after much frustration) that when you see it open, that’s when you should shop, because you never know when you’ll get the opportunity again. Also, keep your eye on the traffic.

7. Restaurant Names
There’s this bar/restaurant we like to frequent that has a distinct Asian feel that reminds us of Bali. The funny thing about this place is not so much the atmosphere or food, or the great view of the ocean, but its name: Buddha Mar. Your first instinct is to call it Buddha Bar, and that’s basically what everyone does, including the locals. It’s definitely a much better roll on the tongue. I do love the play on words, though, with Mar being the Spanish word for sea. (By the way, there’s some sort of semi-secret algorithm about when this place opens as well. It apparently has something to do with whether the next-door Don Pedro’s restaurant is having Salsa Night. Might also have to do with whether Mars is in retrograde. If you know the formula, please pass it along.)

8. Unspoiled, Secluded Beaches
Sayulita is the place for these. You seriously can walk 1,000 meters along a pristine, expansive beach and be almost completely alone. Or, take a stroll through mountainous jungle and stumble upon a secluded cove with a soft, white-sand deserted beach (not just for the Yucatan!). You may even run into the tropical paradise of a governor or important dignitary perched on the top of a cliff. I’m not kidding.

9. That Real “Family Feel”
We recently stumbled upon a quirky little reso called Aaleyah’s Nachos & Wings, a real gem of a place just off the main square. This definitely deserves its own post. An outdoorish affair, with room for maybe 15 people, you could say this is a cozy place. Think: baked barbecue chicken wings the size of a squirrel and amazingly fresh fresa margaritas, all served by a precocious 11-year-old (whom the place is named after). Seriously, she provides some of the best service I’ve ever had, even compared to fancy places back in Canada. Apparently many people agree, as it’s currently rated the number one restaurant in Sayulita, and it’s only been open for three months.

10. Surfing

Twilight surfing

This I don’t do, but will watch for hours. Much as I’ve entertained the thought, I’m not too keen on spending one day surfing (or being beaten to a pulp by the ocean more like) and then the rest of the vacation with a badly-bruised ribcage. Definitely some great wave action for those who know what they’re doing. Makes for cheap entertainment while you’re nursing that mojito at one of the many beach bars.

11. The Cake Lady
Located in the town’s main square, the Cake Lady is your answer to “What’s for Dessert?” after a superbly satisfying Mexican feast. For as little as $1.50, you can get a humongous slice of your choice of banana, chocolate, black forest, carrot, creme brulee… hungry yet? It is, simply put, divine.

12. Sunsets
Ridiculously beautiful, otherworldly sunsets are on offer almost every evening. Click picture to enlarge – need I say more?

Does this even need a caption?

13. And, of course, other unexpected delights like the Drunk Cowboy.

– S

Categories: Mexico, Travel | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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