Amazing things don’t usually happen on Wednesdays… but last Wednesday, something pretty amazing happened to me.
A media friend of mine invited me to a press conference for the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival. Most press conferences are just the event organizers sitting at a table answering press questions and having their picture taken, but this was something else! I showed up to the beautiful Casa Rolandi and was taken to a large table with this view:
And the view from the deck! These are all pictures of the Nichupte Lagoon.
I was soon joined by my friend Kelly (aka Cancun Canuck). Figures the American and the Canadian would be the first to show up. As the rest of the group trickled in, it became clear that this was no ordinary press conference… we had just sat down to a multi-course tasting lunch with the founder and marketing team of the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival!
Along with some other bloggers and “tweeters”, I feasted on course after course while the festival organizers told us all about the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival for 2014. This is the region’s biggest food event, and it’s known for its luxury events, celebrity chefs, wine tastings, and upscale dinners hosted at some of the area’s best hotels and venues. Founder David Amar said, “We strive to showcase the world’s food and wine projects and the stories behind it… Even more than the names, it’s the story behind WHY.”
But back to my lunch! Had I known what I had gotten myself into, I would have brought my trusty Nikon camera. But alas, I’ll have to make due with my cell phone pictures. Here are just a few of the courses we had at Casa Rolandi:
My favorite, the white fish sashimi
Everything you need to make tiny pork tacos
My pork taco creation
Would you believe I have never gotten one of these fancy platters before?
Lamb and sweet potato. Wow.
Just when I thought nothing could beat the sashimi, Casa Rolandi proved me wrong. They brought out the dessert.
I usually go by the rule, “If it’s not chocolate, it’s not worth my time” when it comes to dessert. I was wrong. So wrong. I’m not 100% sure what this is. I believe it’s some kind of large macaroon with a passion fruit or mango ice cream. Either way, it blew my taste buds away.
After that lunch, I felt like a true cuisine connoisseur! It really got me revved up for the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival. The festival’s events will mostly take place in the Cancun area this year (last year they were in the Riviera Maya). It will run March 13 – 16, 2014 with events like celebrity chef cook-offs, wine tastings (as well as mezcal, champagne and whiskey!) with top sommeliers, the Gourmet Tasting Village and a yacht cruise to Isla Mujeres. Their goal is to increase the luxury tourism market in the Cancun – Riviera Maya area with several days of upscale culinary events.
For all the information on the events and guest chefs, stop by the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival website. See you there!
Parque Las Palapas is one of my favorite places in Cancun. It’s not particularly fancy and there’s no ocean view, but the atmosphere is great.
This park (and I use the term loosely because it’s mostly paved) has a food area where you can buy tacos, tortas, etc, along with tons of junk food carts (yum!) and vendors selling tables of used books, traditional clothing, handmade jewelry and more.
Last time I went, it just happened to be the night of the pageant to crown the Junior King and Queen for the upcoming Cancun Carnaval. There was a pretty big crowd gathered around the main stage at Parque Las Palapas. I guessed that the girl in the blue dress was going to win because her dress was the most sparkly. And she won!
After the pageant, my friends and I strolled around the park and just took it all in. Lots of families, kids running around, and a group of guys playing drums for tips. It’s a fun place to just hang out with the people of Cancun.
If you’re ever in downtown Cancun one evening and want to see where all the local families go, stop by Parque Las Palapas and just walk around for a bit. Maybe buy some jewelry. Parque Las Palapas is located near the ADO bus station, just between Avenida Tulum and Avenida Yaxchilan.
I have to admit that my life is pretty cool. I got to spend my Monday morning on a Caribbean beach watching young sea turtles swim in the ocean for the first time.
This photo was taken by my friend Pamela Acosta on Monday morning. God bless GoPro cameras.
Xcaret park in the Riviera Maya invited a bunch of us over for the day to see the first sea turtle release of their 2014 season. Here in the Cancun / Riviera Maya area, mother sea turtles come to our beaches to nest and lay their eggs. Many local volunteers, companies and resorts have baby sea turtle programs where they rope off turtle nests to keep them from harm, then releases the newborns into the sea to make sure they get there safely. (The path from the nest to the ocean can be perilous for them!) Only 1 out of 1,000 of these newborns will reach adulthood.
However, Xcaret goes a step further to increase their odds of survival in the wild by caring for the turtles until they reach 15 months. So, throughout February and March 2014, Xcaret will be releasing a few of their 15-month old sea turtles every day at noon on their amazing beach!
The water was STUNNING. Oh my gosh. The water. Wow.
And the turtles had a paparazzi-like crowd to make them feel like celebrities.
They let the kids form a group for each turtle, then release them one at a time. It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen!
What a great way to start the week. Thanks Xcaret!
After months of rain, rain, rain, my tan is finally starting to make a comeback!
Last week was my best friend Viri’s birthday, and a bunch of us headed down to Akumal for the weekend to celebrate. (With stops in Playa del Carmen for food on the way there and back, of course.) We booked the 3-bedroom condo at Vista del Mar on Half Moon Bay for a night, and it was huge! I didn’t take pictures of the condo, but you can see pictures of their condos here.
HALF MOON BAY PICTURES
Most of the weekend was spent relaxing on the hotel’s beach. Half Moon Bay is much different from Akumal Bay. It is filled with rocks and fossilized coral, which is perfect for taking beautiful pictures, but difficult to walk on. If you’re ever on Half Moon Bay for the week, I’d recommend a camera and water shoes.
The only part of our condo that I did manage to snap some pictures of was the balcony. It was big and facing the beach! We spent a lot of time on the balcony eating and hanging out.
AKUMAL BAY PICTURES
While the guys had ceviche at Lol-Ha restaurant, us girls went to hang out on the beach and play in the water of Akumal Bay. This beach has zero rocks and zero waves! This time, there were even schools of fish nibbling on my legs. It was cute 95% of the time, but there were a few fish that liked to bite my knees pretty hard.
Akumal is located in the Riviera Maya, about an hour and a half south of Cancun. (Halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum) We loved Vista del Mar hotel because of the spacious condos, amazing views and great location just a quick walk from La Buena Vida bar.
Jorge and I have been buying our fruits and veggies at the supermarket for years, but I was intrigued when he filled me in on a small street market that comes to his parents’ neighborhood once a week. I went for the first time this week.
It was just a small family with a few tables set up on a side street, but the selection was just as good as the produce section at our favorite supermarket! And let’s face it, a little more charming.
The vegetables were the best part! HUGE stalks of lettuce and spinach, big cucumbers, lots of chiles to choose from (dried and regular), and tomatoes that were twice the size of the ones we get at the supermarket.
The fruit was great as well, and I even spotted a few fruits that I hadn’t seen at the supermarket in a few months, like red mangoes and pears. The yellow mangoes weren’t looking so hot, but everything else was beautiful.
Jorge told me that they’ve been around since he was a kid and they set up in different neighborhoods on different days of the week. I asked the owner more about the place while she was weighing our purchases, and she told me that they get most of their vegetables from her brother’s farm in the state of Puebla. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Cancun area, the Yucatan Peninsula is mostly limestone, meaning the ground is not good for agriculture. Almost all fruit, veggies, and dairy products have to be shipped in from central Mexico.)
This little market runs from 7am – 2pm (more or less… hey, it’s Mexico), and here’s their weekly schedule:
- Sunday: At the big tianguis near Avenida Lopez Portillo (no idea where, but you’ll find plenty of produce vendors there)
- Monday: In Unidad Morelos, just off of Avenida Kinik
- Tuesday: On Avenida Kabah, across from the Ombligo Verde
- Wednesday: In Puerto Morelos
- Friday: On Avenida Kohunlich
Here’s what Jorge and I made off with this week (minus the grapefruits the owner was weighing while I took the picture):
I’ve never bought farm fresh produce before, and I can already see that it looks bigger and healthier than the store-bought stuff we usually get. I’m curious to see how long it stays fresh; I’ve heard from some that it lasts a few days longer than supermarket produce, while others tell me it lasts less time because it has less preservatives. So far, everything still looks great 2 days later, except for the bananas that have started to turn, but that happens to our supermarket bananas as well. We’ll see!
What are your experiences buying organic and/or farm fresh produce? How does it hold up to supermarket produce?
We just had a 3-day weekend here in Mexico! Many people in Cancun who work at hotels had to work on Monday, but Jorge and I are blessed with jobs that gave us the day off on Monday. It was also our 7-year anniversary of becoming a couple and the weather was PERFECT, so we knew we had to go to the beach. But which one? We woke up Monday morning and I asked Jorge where he wanted to go, and he said Isla Mujeres. (He almost always chooses Isla Mujeres), an island located just off the coast of Cancun.
Around noon, we headed to Puerto Juarez to catch the ferry. We had lunch, walked around town, bought some ice cream, then headed over to Playa Norte / North Beach. I’d mentioned to Jorge that the part of North Beach where we usually go had been crowded the past few times, so we decided to go to the northern end of North Beach for the first time. It was just as crowded, but we still liked it better! This end didn’t have the big black sand bags that the other part of North Beach has, plus it has no hotels, which means less loungers and umbrellas for rent. We felt like we fit in better at this part of North Beach because it was overall a younger crowd (20s and 30s mostly) and everyone just spread their blankets on the sand like we did, instead of having the view blocked by hotel loungers like usual. Some people were even smart enough to bring their hammocks. It felt like a beach camp!
The water was calm and peaceful, just like the rest of North Beach, but it was even shallower! Instead of being waist-deep, it was only knee-deep or calf-deep.
The knee-deep water meant that Jorge and I spent most of the afternoon doing this:
There was a little silver fish that decided we were tasty and spent quite awhile exfoliating / nibbling at our feet, just like at the fancy spas! But for free
When I took my camera into the ocean, Jorge kept telling me not to get it so close to the water. But I couldn’t resist! And the pictures were worth it.
After awhile in the water, we went back to our shady spot under a palm tree and napped for an hour. When we woke up, the view looked like this:
After the beach, we had a pretty amazing dinner and saw a side of Isla Mujeres we’d never seen before… but that’s a story for another blog post.
Our New Years 2014 trip to the fishing village of Chabihau was downright depressing.
I talk about our trips to Chabihau a lot. We have land there now and it’s just the perfect little place to relax and leave everything behind. However, those of you who follow the Gringation Facebook page and all my amigos here in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula know that the past 7 months or so have been filled with mind-blowing amounts of rain, flooding, discomfort and general dreariness. As bad luck would have it, the rain followed us to Chabihau a few weeks ago. We spent 5 days there, most of which I spent stuck inside Jorge’s parents’ Chabihau house (which right now is just a concrete cube with a few walls, a bed and a bathroom) working at least 8 hours a day and trying to get out of bed as little as possible because our room was partially flooded. It was the first time in 7 years that I even realized there’s no TV there. I really could have used some TV that week.
Sunday was the only nice day we had during that trip, and it was just so lovely. The sun came out a little, so I made Jorge go on an afternoon walk with me around Chabihau. Not much to say here, so here come the pictures I took:
At the end of the walk, we stopped by the beach. Sadly, the beach has been largely swept away by hurricanes. I am told it used to be amazing and the water was crystal clear a number of years ago. The first row of homes was even taken out by a hurricane, so the homes you see on the beach now used to be almost a block from the ocean! Mother Nature isn’t always kind, I guess.
And last but not least, my favorite picture of the day! I dunno why… I think it’s the combination of the path, the scenery and the sheep.
Woohoo! I made my first GIF!
Here, my buddy Mike and I demonstrate the stages of a tequila shot:
3. Tequila face.
4. Lime face.
This was at the open tequila bar on last week’s press tour of Xoximilco… more on that later!
Fun fact: Mike used to be my boss! Until we both left our jobs to work in blogging and social media. If you speak Spanish (or even if you don’t), head on over to Mike’s new blog!
The past few months, Cancun has been beaten up by ridiculous amounts of rain. We managed to escape a hurricane yet again in 2013, but we had to deal with several weeks worth of significant street flooding. Now that I’m working from home, I don’t get out nearly as much as I’d like to because it’s just not worth it to leave the house most days. Today, however, was different.
After being stuck indoors Sunday through Tuesday, I smiled when I woke up to a bright blue sky this morning. Jorge and I decided it would be the perfect chance to go out and explore the Hotel Zone on my lunch break. And it was.
We went to Chili’s at Plaza Forum… not the most creative choice, but Surfin’ Burrito was closed for the day and Chili’s is one of the only Cancun restaurants with an ocean view. This was the view from my seat:
After lunch, we couldn’t resist stepping onto the sand to sit down, relax and take a few pictures! These are all from between Forum Beach and Chac Mool Beach in the Cancun Hotel Zone (just outside Plaza Forum and Salvia condos).
Sometimes during a particularly bad rainy season, it’s hard to remember that I live in a really cool city. It’s impossible to make weekend plans because most of the time they will be cancelled. Even if it’s sunny when you step out to go to lunch, the streets might be too flooded to make it back home by the time you’re done eating.
Today was perfect, though.
For Day of the Dead, Mexicans set up altars in their homes so their deceased loved ones can come by to eat and drink. In the state of Yucatan, they make a special dish known as “mucbipollo”, “pibipollo” or simply “pib”, some of which is set on the Day of the Dead altars and some of which is set aside for the living family to eat.
I got to see the process up close this time when Jorge and I traveled to Yucatan to celebrate the holiday with his family. Jorge’s grandmother (known by the entire family as “Mami”) showed me the process of making pib at her home, and I even got to make some myself!
The whole process began in Mami’s backyard, where she has her stove set up to cook the tomato sauce for the pib.
Mami had hired a local woman to help her with some of the harder tasks. I chatted with her while she was kneading the dough for the pib, asking her how she spends her time. She told me that she works doing odd jobs for whoever needs help around town. That morning she had helped a neighbor kill some chickens, and in the afternoon helping Jorge’s grandmother make pib.
She even added a popular Yucatan ingredient called “axiote”, telling me it was used to add a little flavor and a lot of color to the pib dough. There was quite a bit of axiote, and it had to be folded into the dough starting in the middle to keep it from getting all over the table.
Jorge’s grandmother thought we could use even more axiote…
Once the dough, chicken and tomato sauce were ready, we went from the backyard into the kitchen where my mother-in-law showed me how to put the pibs together. Jorge’s aunt and uncle were on chicken-shredding duty while the rest of us made the shell for the pibs and layered in all the ingredients.
Mami and her assistant had separated the the dough into balls. The bigger one on the bottom is to make the bowl of the pib, and the smaller one on top is to create the lid. As you can see, we had quite a few pibs to make!
The first step is to lay out the strips of banana leaves. My mother-in-law was showing me her method, when HER mother-in-law stepped in to make it just right. I guess you never stop learning from your mother-in-law!
My mother-in-law showed me her technique for shaping the bowl of the pib, using the knuckles to get just the right shape.
Once the bowl was made, I put in all the ingredients. Jorge kept telling me to add more chicken, while I was trying to get as much tomato sauce in there as possible. There was also a family debate over what to do with the chicken bones. My mother-in-law told me to just put in strips of meat and no bones, while Uncle Tony insisted every pib needs a bone or two inside to chew on later. When the sauce and chicken are almost to the top, it’s time to put in a few leaves of cilanto, tomato slices, onion slices and a sliced egg.
Next, you flatten the smaller ball of dough and use a banana leaf to cover the top of the bowl as a lid. Then (my favorite part because I like to get messy), you slather some more tomato sauce all over the outside of the pib.
Finally, wrap the pib in strips of banana leaves then tie the whole thing up to get it ready to bake.
Tah-dah! My masterpiece!
Here are all of our pibs wrapped up and ready to go to the town baker. Traditionally, pibs are cooked by digging a hole in the ground to make an underground oven, but since Jorge’s grandmother gets tired doing all that extra work, she decided to have them taken to the town baker.
And who better to take the pibs to the baker than Uncle Tony in his tricycle taxi! A popular form of public transportation in Yucatan towns.
The bakery was not what I was expecting! Here’s the outside (complete with birds cages, a Virgin Mary and some kids at play):
But the actual oven was in a small shack behind the bakery. The town baker had his hands full with trays and trays of pibs from many local families. He never wrote anything down, so I have no idea how he kept track of which pibs belonged to which family, but he did. The oven itself had kind of an igloo-shape and enough room for many trays of pib! Like a giant pizza oven.
Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the finished product when we got the pibs back in the evening, so here’s a photo taken from online:
While we were eating our pibs in the kitchen that night, the blender suddenly turned on for 5 seconds, then back off. Jorge’s grandmother said, “Oh look, los muertos came to eat pib with us!”