Time to Save Up My Pesos

Not much to say here, just wanted to share some pics.

On our recent weekend in Chabihau, we drove to the edge of town to look at some new houses. Even though it’s a teeny tiny Mexican fishing village, in the past 2 years lots of expats have started to build some nice expensive beach houses in Chabihau.

I shared some other Chabihau house pics here, but here are the new builds we saw last week…

House #1 and its private beach

House #2 (it’s possible that I got distracted  by the flowers on the fence, but you get the idea)

Which one do you like best?

How to Make Mexican Tamales

Sunday afternoon, Jorge and I were hanging out at his Aunt Marbella’s house. We sipped on some Coca Cola while she made tamales, and I asked her if I could take some pictures. She was more than happy to let me document the process for you guys, and she explained the steps to me as she went.

These tamales are called tamales torteados, with chicken and salsa on the inside. Most parts of Mexico wrap their tamales in corn husks, but in the Yucatan they use banana leaves.

To begin, you need masa (dough), salsa roja (red sauce, as spicy as you like it), hojas de plátano (banana leaves), shredded chicken and your tortilladora (tortilla press). Mexico experts like myself will know that you also need a nice, cold glass of Coca Cola to wash it all down.

Sadly we missed the masa and salsa preparation (just look it up online, I guess… sorry), but that’s ok because the fun part is putting the ingredients together and wrapping it all up. Here goes!

Step 1: Place a ball of masa onto the tortilladora, with a sheet of saran wrap on top and bottom

Step 2: Pull up the lever on the tortilladora to flatten the masa into a tortilla shape

(The tortilladora in all its glory)

Step 3: Place the flattened masa onto a piece of saran wrap, then add some shredded chicken to the center of your tamal

Aunt Marbella masterfully making some tamales

Step 4: Spoon some salsa roja over the chicken

Step 5: Fold the sides of the tamal using the saran wrap

More saran-wrap folding action


Step 6: Set the tamal onto a piece of banana leaf. Experts like Marbella will then take the saran wrap to put on top of a new ball of masa to put into the tortilladora, perfect for minimal saran wrap waste when making multiple tamales.

Step 7: Fold the banana leaf around the tamal

Calmly wrapping the banana leaf

Marbella's impressive mountain of folded tamales, ready to cook

Step 8: Place your tamales into the steam pot (with some water in the bottom)

Marbella tells me there's a special way to place the tamales. They need to be staggered in a circle (like bricks) to leave room for the steam to get to every side of every tamal.

Stacked like so

Step 9: Throw some leftover banana leaves onto the top of the post, and "listo"! Now all you have to do is let the pot cook for about 90 minutes

Step 10: Unwrap the banana leaf, spoon on some extra red salsa and enjoy. (Here, Jorge has expertly combined the spicy salsa and the mild salsa. A true Mexican.)

 Have you ever had tamales before?

Bar Hopping in Playa del Carmen

Jorge and I took the ADO bus down to Playa del Carmen last Tuesday night to hang out with our friends Laura and Carlos, who recently moved to Playa from Mexico City. We didn’t have any plans when we got there, but we ended up bar hopping until 2 am. We got to check out 3 bars plus grab some pizza and some tacos… overall a successful night!

The new Portal Maya monument on the beach

Outside Fusion restaurant and bar

The bar swings at Palaplaya, a new bar right behind Mamitas Beach

It's technically illegal to drink in the street in Mexico, but in touristy areas of Playa and Cancun, bars will give you a plastic cup to pour your leftover beer in before you leave.

What’s your favorite city for bar hopping?

Escaping to Chabihau

I’ve talked about cutting the Rosca de Reyes and some culture shock on our way to our destination, but I haven’t gotten around to showing ya’ll the other pictures from our weekend visiting Jorge’s family in the small fishing village of Chabihau, Yucatan. I was still playing around with my new camera so not all the pictures are perfect, but I love them anyway.

Enjoy looking at our little piece of quiet paradise. 🙂

Jorge's cousins

Jorge's cousins

Hurricane Wilma wiped out all of the beachfront houses back in 2005. Here's an abandoned one that used to be set right on the beach.

There were tons of pelicans on the lagoon that weekend

Jorge and his dad

Jorge's uncle is a fisherman and his aunt makes the greatest fresh seafood. Here's friend fish and a bowl of my favorite: spicy chilpachole soup!

I love Chabihau because it’s so unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. The people are friendly, everybody knows everybody, there’s no schedule, ocean breezes are everywhere, all kinds of birds fly around (flamingos, pelicans, seagulls), there’s always freshly caught seafood, we spend 99% of our time outdoors and I can completely forget about work and stress.

Where’s your “happy place”?

Culture Shock at the Bus Station

I’ve written before about my struggles with culture shock when moving to Cancun, but since I’ve reached the final stage I rarely get too frustrated with the Mexican culture. Most things I’ve been able to embrace or simply laugh off.

Saturday morning, however, I went through one of my rare yet enraging Mexico culture shock moments. I’m not sure if it had to do with the fact that I’d just spent 9 days in the luxury of the USA, or maybe the situation really was bad. Dunno.

Jorge and I don’t own a car, so we always use public transportation. Normally this works just fine because Cancun has excellent and cheap buses and taxis, plus the ADO buses can easily take us to any nearby cities. Things only get difficult when it comes to traveling to a more remote area. Saturday morning, we were traveling to Chabihau, the tiny fishing village in Yucatan where Jorge’s mom grew up. Normally we catch a ride in Jorge’s parents’ car, but they had gone to Chabihau on Thursday. Our only option was to take the air-conditioned ADO bus to Merida, then catch one of the taxi vans to Chabihau.

My personal hell went something like this:

5:15 am: Our ADO bus leaves Cancun.

9:30 am: The bus arrives in Merida (I slept the whole way, miraculously). We immediately grab a taxi to take us to the taxi van station. (Merida has a street block filled with garages offering vans that take you to the smaller towns outside the city.) Jorge quickly finds the garage for the taxi vans to Chabihau, which also take other passengers to towns along the same route.

10:10 am: We’re told (as expected) by a ticket lady sitting at a rickety school desk that the 13-person van would leave at 10:30 am. If it fills up earlier, it will leave earlier. Jorge and I are happy to wait 20 minutes or less.

The garage we wait in is filthy, but we sit on the wobbly wood bench and joke around together for awhile to pass the time. Jorge goes to the neighboring store for a torta while I watch a little bit of one of Mexico’s strange but hilarious talk shows. Not so bad.

10:45 am: We begin to wonder why the van hasn’t left yet. Jorge goes back up to the lady at the tiny ticket desk and calmly asks what the situation is. The lady answers, “The driver went to the corner. He’ll be back in a few minutes.”

I ask Jorge, “What does it mean that he went to ‘the corner’? I don’t think it means the store because there’s a store right here.”

Jorge replies, “In Yucatan, ‘the corner’ could mean a lot of things.”

And that’s when the culture shock hits me.

I want to scream at the lady at the desk that they should have set times for van departures and stick to them. That the driver should know he has a dozen people waiting for him on a very uncomfortable wood bench. That my butt is numb from 5 hours of sitting. That this would never happen in the US. What is “the corner” and how far away is it? For the love of God could somebody please powerwash whatever disgusting substance is covering the walls and ceiling?

But I stay quiet.

10:46 am: I take my book out of my purse because somehow the plot of Game of Thrones is more calming than the thoughts going through my head at the moment.

11:05 am: Jorge steps back over to the lady at the desk for an update. I don’t even look and just keep my nose buried in my book. Breathe.

Jorge returns to my spot on the bench. “She looked at her notepad and said that she misspoke. The van leaves at 11:30, not 10:30.”

I give poor, innocent Jorge the glare of death. I go back to my book.

11:07 am: A group of 10 people makes their way to one of the vans. “Is that us?” I ask excitedly.

Jorge goes to ask if our van was being called, and comes back to tell me it wasn’t our van. Back to the book.

11:09 am: Jorge informs me that it actually IS our van. We’re the last 2 people on, so Jorge takes a front seat and I squeeze into the seatbelt-less back seat between 2 businessmen and a small boy who spends the entirety of the 45 minute van ride talking to an imaginary friend in the van window.

I want a car.

Hot Chocolate and a Plastic Baby Jesus!

Our weekend trip to visit Jorge’s family in the village of Chabihau was just what I needed! Tomorrow I’ll tell ya’ll about my bad Saturday morning of culture shock as we tried to get there via public transportation, but today I want to focus on the Rosca de Reyes tradition.

January 6 is Dia de Reyes (3 Kings Day) in Latin America, where the 3 Wise Men visit children and bring them gifts. However, Mexican adults can also join in on the traditions by cutting the Rosca de Reyes cake. Each of these oval-shaped cakes has 3 tiny plastic baby Jesus figurines baked inside. The people who cut a piece with a baby Jesus have to pay for tamales for everybody on February 2, Dia de la Candelaria, another holiday. It’s like 2 parties in 1!

Here we are with Jorge’s father’s family, cutting our Rosca de Reyes accompanied by some traditional hot chocolate.

Jorge peering in to see a baby Jesus figurine

Jorge's dad got the baby Jesus, too!

It was bad luck for our family because Jorge, his dad and I all got baby Jesuses (sp???) in our pieces of rosca, so we’ll have to chip in for the tamales in February!

The kids had some leftover sparklers from New Years Eve celebrations, so the little girls all headed out to the street after the rosca cutting to play. (I love how in Mexico, 5-year-olds can play with sparklers and fun snaps with little to zero adult supervision.)

Did any of you get a plastic baby Jesus this weekend? Or maybe play with fireworks unsupervised?



How to Speak Like a Mexican: Consultar con la Almohada

In English, we have the popular saying “I’m going to sleep on it”, meaning that you’re going to wait until the next day to make a decision.

Mexico has a saying with the same sentiment, but it translates quite differently. Mexicans say, “Voy a consultar con la almohada”, which translates to, “I’m going to consult with my pillow.”

Cute phrase, right?

Suki "consultando con la almohada" ... in this case, my purses.


The First Cancun Beach Day of 2013

I was lucky enough to have January 1 off from work, so I begged Jorge to go to the Hotel Zone with me. After our trip to Virginia for Christmas, warm weather was sounding pretty good!

I brought along my brand new camera (a Nikon 1 J1, Christmas present from Jorge) to experiment. It’s been difficult getting used to the angles because of the wider frame, but by the end of the afternoon the photos were improving.

Forum Beach: I guess everyone else in the city had the day off because this beach was packed!

Chac Mool Beach: This lesser-known beach was a lot quieter. The photos were taken around sunset, so they’re not as bright but still beautiful. I didn’t even stage the footprint photos… everything was already there. 🙂 Perfect.

I’m loving the lighting and colors on this new camera. Everything I see with my eye is exactly what shows up on the camera without needing to do any manual adjustments. (My previous camera had a hard time with bright sunlight and evening light, so this was a welcome change.)

I’d been wanting a more professional camera for awhile and was lusting after some of the larger cameras with the changeable lenses. However, I went on a tour with other bloggers recently and saw everyone else carrying around a big camera bag, which made me realize I DIDN’T want that. I looked around online for more portable options and found the Nikon 1, which has the lenses I want but it’s still about the same size as my point-and-shoot. Perfect for taking more “fancy” pictures while still being small enough to just throw it in my purse!

I got the sexy red one.

I feel like a real blogger now.

Grapes, Cider and Family on NYE

We didn’t do anything crazy for New Years Eve 2012/2013. Most of my friends went down to party in Playa del Carmen, but we opted for dinner with my in-laws since we hadn’t seen them much over the holidays.

Jorge’s family is Catholic, so of course we went to the NYE mass at 10 pm. They had set up a very pretty nativity scene, and it was fun to see everyone so dressed up at church.

Many Spanish-speaking countries (Mexico included) have a tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Years Eve to represent 1 resolution for each month of the year. As you can imagine, grape prices can skyrocket on December 31! My suegra was fully prepared with a bowl full of grapes for us, along with cider (sidra) to wash it down.

My suegro and brother-in-law

My suegra and me

My friend Penny joined us just in time for grapes at the stroke of midnight, and we spent the rest of the night talking, having dinner and drinking Baileys. I turned in at 5:30 am, but the rest of the family stayed up well past dawn. I can’t compete with the Mexicans when it comes to staying up late.

What did you do for NYE? Were there grapes involved?

I’m Back and I Have Christmas Pictures!

Jorge and I just got back from a 9-day stay in Richmond to visit family for Christmas. My sisters came up from North Carolina and a bunch of cousins were there, so it was a great time! The first few days (including Christmas), we stayed at my grandparents’ house, then moved to my parents’ new loft apartment in downtown Richmond for the rest of the trip.

I didn’t take too many pictures because we were mostly busy just hanging out, so I tried to tone down my blogger habit of documenting every little thing. Here are some of the pictures I did get… (Please forgive the below-par photo quality. I got a new camera and it’s amazing, but I’m still having a hard time getting the angles right.)

Grandma Brown directing Jorge in the kitchen

Gang of wild turkeys on the golf course outside my grandparents' house

On Christmas Eve, almost all the girls my age from my church showed up. With everyone all over the place, it's rare to see us all together. I've known all these girls since I was born 🙂

A lot of the townhouses in downtown Richmond had these wild, thrown-around lights. I kinda love it.

My sisters and I have a tradition where we take pics walking down the stairs on Christmas morning. I'm sure my mom has some better ones on her camera.

My cousin's son Christian riding his new scooter

My mom with my cousins Aubrie and Lynnsie

Cousin Lynnsie with her son Christian

My cousins Aubrie, Meghan and Lynnsie

My photographer sister Sarah giving my mom a quick photography lesson

Noelle, Grandpa and Jorge playing with Christian's new toy (I like to call this one "How many engineers does it take to work a tape measure?")

Jorge helping Christian with his new video game (Jorge's area of expertise)

My mom, my sister Noelle and my dad helping out in the kitchen

I miss the malls in the States!!

Another pretty mall pic

Jorge and I walking around Carytown, a fun shopping street in downtown Richmond. I loved the vintage clothing stores, while Jorge spent some money at the used video game shop.

The train tracks and overpasses in Shockoe Bottom, downtown Richmond

My favorite building, the old train station in Richmond

Gotta love my "winter" clothes... mixing a summer skirt with a jacket, boots and tights. You do what you can when you have no winter clothes haha

My family: Noelle, Daddy, Mommy, me and Sarah

The whole family (minus brother-in-law Michael): Noelle, Mommy, Daddy, me, Jorge, Sarah and brother-in-law-to-be Jared

While I was there, I was tempted to consider moving back to the States. Amazing shopping, great restaurants, my family, drinking water straight from the tap… who could say no? Still, I’m more in love with Cancun. Jorge and I talked about it and decided that we’ll just try to visit the US more often.

I hope everyone else had an amazing Christmas!