Catrinas and Calaveras in Cancun

Mexico is known across the globe for its vibrant and colorful holidays. Here, even death itself takes on a joyful vibe every year on El Dia de los Muertos (“The Day of the Dead”). Held on November 1 and 2, this holiday celebrates loved ones who have passed on with altars to the deceased called ofrendas and an annual visit to grave sites.

Since Day of the Dead falls so close to Halloween, the two holidays are often combined here in Cancun. Children roam neighborhoods trick-or-treating with parents and friends, while the streets fill up with images of La Catrina, an elegant lady skeleton symbolizing Day of the Dead.

One of the many Catrinas I found in Cancun’s Parque Las Palapas tonight

 Tonight was an interesting one for Jorge and me. We had several groups of trick-or-treaters stop by, and we gave them some classic Mexican candies. (Jorge’s enjoying the leftovers as I write this.) Then we took a stroll around Parque Las Palapas, which had lots of family activities, people in costume, and a show with colorful Mexican dances.

My best friend Viri had an ofrenda for her brother and grandfather set up at her home, and her parents were kind enough to let me take some pictures. It has many of the classic ofrenda elements, with incense, marigolds (Flor de Muerto), pan de muerto, candles to guide the way of the deceased, sugar skulls (calaveras) and some of their favorite food and drinks from when they were living.

I always feel like Day of the Dead is a fascinating mix of intimate family memories and vivid social traditions, bringing together families and communities alike. This year in Cancun was no different.

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

Lamest. Hurricane. Ever.

We spent yesterday hanging out with Juan and Viri since I got the day off of work for Hurricane Rina, and she sure was taking her time in getting to Cancun. We went to the mall and had lunch at Pescaditos on Yaxchilan Avenue.

God bless you, Pescaditos.

Then we all went home to prepare for the big hurricane. Since Jorge and I had stashed our outdoor stuff inside already, all that was left was to cuddle up and watch the new episode of X Factor. There was tons of lightning and thunder that caused lots of growling from my dogs (apparently Dolly has learned to meow??) and that’s about it. Our power didn’t go out all night, and neither did our Sky dish service.

I woke up this morning to the sun shining and the birds singing… not a single fallen branch in my neighborhood.

The weather was so nice that I got called back into work today. Fabulous.

Image from Cancun’s Best

Hurricane Rina Approaches. Cancun Panics.

We finally have our first (and hopefully last) hurricane of the 2011 season… Hurricane Rina. Trajectories show her headed straight for Cancun, and she should be hitting Cozumel at 2 pm tomorrow, passing through Cancun in the evening, then out of here by 2 am Friday morning. **Update: this has now changed to 8 pm Thurs to 8 am Friday… NOOOO!!! But they’re saying she’s breaking up and will only be a Category 1 🙂

Update #2: Hurricane Rina should only be a tropical storm by the time it hits Cancun.


She should turn into a Category 3 before hitting the peninsula, then go back down to a 2 as she heads over Cancun.

Long story short: an annoyance, but not nearly as bad as Hurricane Wilma from 2005.

I’m thinking Hurricane Rina won’t be a big deal for 2 reasons. First of all, the sea turtles nested near the ocean in Cancun this year, which indicates that there won’t be any big weather events this hurricane season. Also, I woke up to lots of birds chirping this morning (as usual), and my friend tells me that if the birds are hanging around right before the hurricane, it’s not going to be a big deal. Sounds about right to me!

Cancun woke up sunny and bright this morning. Hurry up, Rina!

I’m hoping she gets here quickly and leaves quickly so I can get my weekend back! I’m going to be live tweeting at the Festival de Vida y Muerte at Xcaret on Sunday night, their annual Day of the Dead celebration. (**update: the festival has been cancelled for the 30 and 31, but is still on for Nov 1 and 2) If Hurricane Rina is out of here by Saturday, I’ll also be going to their parade on 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen. Fingers crossed, people!

Plus our flight for Brazil leaves on Tuesday, so I need the Cancun airport to be operating at 100% by then!

Jorge and I did a bit of hurricane panic shopping last night, a Cancun tradition. We bought a roll of duct tape (keeps shards of glass from flying across the room if the window breaks), 2 small boxes of milk, Fruit Loops, spaghetti sauce and 2 small flashlights.

True story: We were at City Club last night. We saw a woman walk by with arms filled with maybe 25-30 rolls of duct tape… for reals. We asked her where she found the duct tape, and she says, “Over on that table, but hurry up! There are only 2 rolls left!”

Hmmm…



Taste of Playa Returns to the Riviera Maya!

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve already got my calendar marked for November 20. The city of Playa del Carmen will once again be hosting its annual “Taste of Playa” event, where guests can sample the favorite dishes and drinks from the city’s most popular bars and restaurants all in one stunning beachfront location.

My long-time readers may remember that Jorge and I got to go last year, and it was an amazing day filled with beer, cupcakes, shrimp and Caribbean views. (They obviously know exactly how to win over this couple!)

In my excitement to go back, I scored an interview with friend, Playa del Carmen resident and fellow blogger Michele Kinnon from Life’s a Beach, who has helped organize the event ever since its beginnings. I love her insights on PDC cuisine!

Michele, how are you involved in Taste of Playa?

My husband Rob and I are proud to be corporate sponsors for Taste of Playa. This is our third year supporting this community event. As expats and business owners in Playa del Carmen, we are always looking for ways to give back to the community that has given us so much. Taste of Playa is exactly the kind of event we try to ally ourselves with as it truly celebrates the diversity of the region. For the first two incarnations of Taste of Playa I had the role of Marketing Chairperson for the event, a job that I found challenging but rewarding in many ways. I got to work with an amazing group of women, all business owners in Playa del Carmen and all committed to promoting the Riviera Maya as a tourism destination.

How did Taste of Playa begin?

The idea for Taste of Playa was conceived in 2009 by a group of Playa del Carmen businesswomen. We were looking for a way to draw positive attention to all the wonderful things the Riviera Maya had to offer, ultimately increasing tourism to the area. This new culinary event was the culmination of hundreds of hours of planning and preparation volunteered by the Executive Committee and dozens of committed and passionate sub-committee members.

Why do you think this event has become so popular so quickly?

I think the event has been so successful because it appeals to many different people for many different reasons. For locals, it is a fun, affordable festival to enjoy with family and friends. For foodies it is a chance to scope out new restaurants and get some face-time with favorite chefs and restaurant owners. For tourists it is a destination event, one which many people now plan their travel around, that offers the opportunity to try the signature dishes of 40 plus local eateries all in one place, something they would likely not be able to do within the span of the average vacation week. For everyone, the event is a way to try great cuisine at a very accessible price whether you go for the VIP pass or buy individual tasting tickets.

What makes Taste of Playa different from other culinary events throughout the world?

What distinguishes Taste of Playa from many other food festivals and culinary events is its diversity. There is no one cuisine that represents The Riviera Maya. Certainly, we are in Mexico and Mexican and Maya cuisines are well represented here in hundreds of restaurants and eateries. What is different here is that unlike in most cities, which are divided up into neighborhoods such as Chinatown and Little Italy, all of the chefs and restauranteurs who have brought their unique cultures and cuisines to the Riviera Maya are working and living side by side with chefs from the local Mexican community. Walk down La Quinta in Playa del Carmen and you will find an Indian restaurant next door to a sushi joint, next to a taqueria, an Italian pizza place, an Argentinean steak house and so on. It’s like a great big culinary melting pot and Taste of Playa was designed to reflect just that!




What kind of cuisine can we expect to see at Taste of Playa this year?

As the Riviera Maya has a culturally diverse population made up of people from all over the world, we can expect that the cuisines represented at Taste of Playa 2011 will be equally diverse! Expect to see influences from France, Italy, Thailand and Spain mixing it up with traditional and contemporary Mexican cuisine! Many of the participants from years past will be returning but we also have quite a few new restaurants coming on board. I’m excited to see what they will bring to the table!


Thanks, Michele!

All photos courtesy of tasteofplaya.com

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

Riviera Maya Road Revamp

As Cancun and the Riviera Maya continue to grow and flourish, any local following the #traficun hashtag on Twitter knows just how crazy traffic can get.

Highway 307 has especially affected by luxury resorts, new attractions and the discovery of hidden beaches. This coastal road begins in Cancun and continues south through Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Bacalar, all the way through the entire Riviera Maya.

With more and more commuters, weekend warriors, tourists and locals using this coastal highway over the past few years, traffic jams became so common that the stoplights, intersections and slower speed limits in each town along the road were more of a headache than a help.

A bridges and tunnel system was planned for popular traffic jam areas along Highway 307, like southern Cancun, Bonfil, Puerto Morelos and Playa del Carmen. Cancun kicked off this new system with a tunnel and traffic circle combination at the intersection of Avenida Tulum and Avenida Kabah, whose stoplight used to cause ridiculous lines at rush hour.

Avenida Tulum tunnel in southern downtown Cancun

As you drive 5 minutes south of the new tunnel, the Bonfil intersection is also undergoing the tunnel treatment, making a trip from downtown Cancun to the airport a breeze. (I used to drive through this intersection twice a day, and trust me… that stoplight had to go.)

The soon-to-be Bonfil tunnel

As you continue south along Highway 307 and make your way along the coast of the Riviera Maya, you won’t have to stop or even slow down thanks to the new overpass in the small fishing town of Puerto Morelos.

The convenient overpass bridge in Puerto Morelos is small, yet beautifully adorned!

The most impressive project of all is the new bridge/overpass system running through Playa del Carmen.Driving through this city used to cut 10-20 minutes off of travel time, but not any more. A set of several impressive bridges, combined with many entry and exit ramps, makes it easy for travelers and Playa del Carmen locals to get where they need to go.

Exit ramp by the Playa del Carmen bridge

 

These bridges are perfect for cutting travel time

So far I’m loving this new system! It’s so much faster and easier to get to the airport and travel through the Riviera Maya. No more stoplights for this gringa aventurera!


Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

 

Day of the Dead Traditions Begin in Cancun

“Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) is one of the biggest holidays in Mexico, falling on November 2. Mixing in with Halloween traditions from its northern neighbor, Mexico’s Day of the Dead traditions offer a surreal combination of vibrant color, sadness, respect, comedy and culture, all in honor of loved ones who have passed away.

Even though many locals accuse the young city of Cancun as devoid of culture, I beg to differ. Even though most of our population comes from all over Mexico and the world, you’ll still find each Mexican family’s own version of a Day of the Dead altar. A few days prior to November 2, Mexican families begin to set up altars in their homes to honor the deceased.

Traditional Day of the Dead altar decor usually includes the following:

  • Marigolds
  • Calaveritas (small decorative skulls made of sugar)
  • Papel picado, colorful sheets of paper with shapes cut out
  • Photos of the deceased
  • Candles
  • Pan de muerto, a traditional loaf of sweet bread used only at this time of year
  • Food and drinks that the deceased enjoyed when they were alive

As the cold weather begins to set in (NOOO!), Cancun will start to make their altar purchases over the next week or so. Hopefully I’ll be able to document some of my friend’s family altars. For now, I’ll leave you with some photos from last year’s Day of the Dead in Cancun:

A Farewell Letter to Some Loyal Friends

Dear New Balances,

Friday was a sad day for us. We left the gym and were welcomed by a vibrant sunset. With a refreshing high off of our energetic workout, we set out to the main road to briskly walk through sidewalks, gravel, dirt and waist-high plants on our usual walk home. Just as we left the parking lot, tragedy struck. I felt myself step on something large under my left foot. I looked down, and your sole had bended backwards and was hanging loosely off.

Sorry, I can't stand up without the dogs immediately gathering around.

Unsure of what to do, I continued walking, lifting my left foot high in the air with every step, hoping it was dark enough that the people in the passing cars wouldn’t notice me half goose-stepping my way down the road. After a difficult 20-minute walk, we made it home. You helped me with one final adventure as I tried to clean the flooded kitchen with a broken squeegee (note to self: buy functioning floor squeegee), then we walked upstairs and I kicked you off my feet one last time.

Ten years. You’ve seen me through high school gym classes, mission trips to Belize and Acapulco, my move to Mexico, and countless trips to the gym. You’ve had your soles super-glued back on, and still managed to look almost new. Sadly, it seems our time has come to an end.

I bought some new shoes yesterday. They’re lovely, but not quite the same. Maybe in time, I’ll feel the same bond and magic as I did with you.

They're Nikes. I hope you're not offended.

We had a nice run. (pun intended)

Love always,

Laura

 

Something to Brag About on Your Resume

If I had any multimedia skills whatsoever, I’d be all over this. Such a cool idea!

CNN Mexico is hosting “ProyectaMexico” (Project Mexico) through its unique iReport program. This project invites people in Mexico to send in their short videos, photos  and audios on their topic of choice, so long as it relates to any of these three categories:

  • The Mexico of Today
  • Sports
  • Entertainment and Culture

Jorge’s school has been big on encouraging its students to compete in the ProyectaMexico program, and many other universities throughout Mexico are doing the same. Contestants will be judged based on things like creativity, originality, narrative, relevance and journalistic development to win an incredible prize that could shape their future.

Budding reporters in Mexico now have the opportunity to show off their skills with one of the biggest news groups in the world, a dream come true for any aspiring journalist. Four talented winners (1 in each category, plus 1 chosen by the public) will get a 3-day trip to CNN in Atlanta in May 2012, and be allowed to participate in a show on CNN Espanol. Now THAT’s something to aspire to!

Contestants have until October 21 to send in their multimedia reports, which will be judged by a panel of CNN Espanol and CNN Mexico reporters. After judging, remaining reports will be up for votes from the public to determine 1 final winner.

This contest is truly the opportunity of a lifetime for the yet-unknown storytellers of Mexico, and a great chance for the world to see sides of Mexico they never knew existed.

Check out some of contest’s latest contestants and their reports on Mexico on the ProyectaMexico home page.

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.