tortilla time travel and other stories

a memento of our travels as a family


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And so to Mérida

Not in the Hernán Cortés sense of course, but rather Mérida is the next stop on our journey through this country that is Mexico.

Greeny was feeling decidedly unwell the day we left Holbox, so from Chiquila, we took a taxi directly to Mérida rather than the return journey (via Cancun) on the Hades Express . As a result we got 4 hours of pure unadulterated, air-conditioned comfort, as opposed to 9 hours of sweaty hell.

We reached the centre of town and after negotiating the street grid system (me that is, not the taxi driver), we arrived at what is to be our home for the next 3 weeks. We dumped our bags in the grand entrance hall and were shown around  by our lovely neighbour (and part-time property manager) Nora. The house is quite something, a sprawling, faded old colonial gem that looks completely nondescript from the outside. It’s bloody huge, with 5 large bedrooms, 4 reception rooms, an inner courtyard complete with (non-working) fountain, 18ft high ceilings throughout and a mahoosive pool.

 

our street calle 66

our street calle 66

our drawing room from the entrance hall

our drawing room from the entrance hall

yes that is a freaky angel

yes that is a freaky angel

the drawing room

the drawing room

belle skateboarding in the sitting room

belle skateboarding in the sitting room

our back yard and pool

our back yard and pool

from our indoor courtyard looking through the dining room to the pool

from our indoor courtyard looking through the dining room to the pool

courtyard

courtyard

bedroom door opens on to the pool

bedroom door opens on to the pool

unidentified flying luca

unidentified flying luca

This faded charm costs the princely sum of £714 for the month.

We fell in love immediately, an unfortunately all too brief affair that lasted only until the next morning when we woke up to realise that we had all been absolutely ravaged by MOSQUITOES. When I say all, I mean everyone apart from Belle. She had slept peacefully and had been left well alone, receiving only 1 or 2 Mozzy love-taps during the night- hardly a mark on her.

Luca and Greeny on the other hand, had been gorged upon Henry the Eighth style, whilst I was somewhere in the middle. Poor Luca came off worse with a face that resembled a heavily acned teenager.

This situation was made worse by the complete lack of mosquito nets at the property- despite the pictures on the website showing them and the welcome pack mentioning them. The delightful American owner was completely unrepentant when we complained. “Well it’s Mexico, what do you expect”, was her initial response. When I explained that we’d been in Mexico for a while now, and these Mosquitoes were something quite different, she retorted “Well I did mention the Mosquitoes in the Welcome Pack” .

I asked her if she expected visitors to her property to bring their own mosquito nets (along with almost everything else I might add, as the house was devoid of any basic provisions at all). Needless to say, she finally got the message and the next night our beds had makeshift nets (thanks to our neighbour) and the problem was lessened although somehow, despite all manner of precautions the little bastards still manage to get you.

our makeshift nets- classy

our makeshift nets- classy

So what of Mérida itself?

Well, we went out to sample the city the very evening we arrived. Within 5 minutes of hitting the streets there was a huge grin on my face, this is the real Mexico (Holbox and to a lesser degree Playa were in truth, parodies), this is what I’ve come to see and experience on this trip.

People, noise, hustle, bustle, lights, the smell of taco stands wafting through the early evening air, music and ice cold air-con blasting out of shops as you walk past.

busy street

busy street

Walking through the streets you feel an electric buzz in the atmosphere, a busy city getting ready for night-time. It’s full on sensory overload and I love it.

our local square san juan, in the evening

our local square san juan, in the evening

We headed towards the Plaza Grande aka El Zocalo in Centro Historico and you immediately get the feeling of being stuck in a time warp. It was just like looking at the pictures my Dad took of his travels in the 60’s. Fifty years on, you get the impression that not much has really changed. The fading concrete facades, shop signs with old-fashioned fonts and designs, little shops catering for specific needs. A bread shop, a model toy shop, a shoe shop with a guy making leather shoes inside , a little restaurant, a shop devoted to knock-off DVDs and music, queues of people buying school uniforms from another.

local shops

local shops

more local shops

more local shops

No rampant modernisation here, no relentless commercialism, or corporatism.

a petrol station selling just petrol

a novel idea- a petrol station selling… just petrol

In the UK that Petrol station would sell a thousand and one other items, trying to squeeze maximum revenue from every square inch. Here it sells petrol and employs people to fill up your tank and clean your screen when they’re done. Want some fags? Go to the shop that sells fags. Want some bread? Great, there’s a bread shop down the road.

You get the sense (on first glance at least)  that there is a different set of values in operation here. It’s not all about having the next/best/newest thing, or maximum profit/ shareholder returns and there’s something to be said for that way of living. It seems like society tries to make room for everyone, at least to have a job to try to make a living.

Which method is best?

Dunno.

The key question I guess is are people happier?

Haven’t a clue about that either, sorry.

The Mexicans are a bit like their houses, the outside gives no clue to what’s going on in the inside. It’s a place of contrasts, a modern day economic powerhouse (it will be firmly in the top 10 world economies by 2050), looking forward, with one foot still in the 3rd world and the other in its rich historical past.

The more commercial aspect of life exists of course, and Mérida has all the modern elements that you’d expect from a city of c.1m people (shopping malls, huge supermarkets, new housing developments) but the Centro Historico and much of the city thankfully, seems to be devoid of that.

Merida was once a Mayan city named T’ho. The Spanish arrived, immediately knocked down the main temple, using the blocks to build a Cathedral (the oldest in Latin America) and renamed the city Mérida.

POW! They didn’t muck about them Conquistadors fellas.

So the Zocalo (main square) has a familiar European feel to it albeit with a Mexican twist.

el zocalo

el zocalo

main square (zocalo)

main square (zocalo)

cathedral

cathedral

Still in Centro Historico, and a few blocks away from the shops and Zocalo are to be found the identikit houses (this is where we are staying). Same facade, same height, same structure-individualised only by colour, small design details, state of dilapidation, and fancy wrought iron window grilles.

At least that’s from the outside, the true character, as with the city itself, lies behind the sterile frontage.

near our house

near our house

Merida is quite a hard place in some ways, most notably with the weather, which at this time of year can be particularly brutal.

It’s incredibly and uncomfortably hot during the day, bar far the hottest place we have visited, and most evenings there is some rain. On more than one occasion this rain has turned into a hardcore storm.

sky before the storm

sky before the storm

A grumbling baritone drum-roll in the distance is your first warning sign, then the wind picks up and the sky begins to darken- the storm is about to begin. Thunderclaps that startle you with their sheer power, lightning that seems to illuminate the entire sky for an instant, and rain, rain that falls so hard you think it will never stop.

hardcore rain

hardcore rain

One such evening the rain decided to pay the inside of the dining room a visit.

indoor pool

indoor pool

Another evening we were stranded in a restaurant when the storm began. The worst one yet as it turned out, at one point it sounded as if the sky was trying to tear a hole in itself right above our heads- we absolutely shat ourselves jumped out of our skin.

it rained hard that night

it rained hard that night

not sure if you can make it out but that's a horse drawn carriage wading through the water

not sure if you can make it out but that’s a horse drawn carriage wading through the water

Maybe thanks to this evening rain the nights are mercifully cool and we’ve found it’s the best time for us to walk around and explore this city.

On our first day we paid a visit to the local market- a huge two storied affair that covers an entire block- to buy some provisions. You can find anything here, all manner of exotic fruits and spices, live animals (pets or lunch- I’m not completely sure which), people selling clothes, jewellery, old vintage cameras and equipment and various stands serving food.

the indoor market

the indoor market

row upon row of spice stalls

row upon row of spice stalls

lady making tacos at the speed of light

lady making fresh tacos quicker than the eye could see

In our younger more adventurous years we would have sat down at one of said food stands and tucked in without a moments thought. Mindful these days, of hygiene and delicate child stomachs, we decided to give these a wide berth. I think that we need to get over this mental obstacle… the food at these places is tasty and cheap, we need to be brave and take the plunge.

EDIT: Since I started writing this we have visited a couple of Taco stands that were quite delicious, exceedingly cheap, with no stomach/ bowel mishaps!

The market was a real eye opener and a window into the everyday life of the people and the city. This is what I like about slower travelling, you get to experience a bit more of the life of a place. Often time constraints render your visit something of a visual tick-box exercise. seen that, done that, been there, right let’s move on.

There is an element of that of course but, by staying put and just living for a bit you get to feel something of the real rhythm of a place.

Another key factor I’ve realised is that comfort is an important element to the whole experience (obvious I know). If home doesn’t feel homely then the experience is in danger of becoming tainted.

After love at first sight, the house actually became a bit of an issue. The Mozzies, suspected bedbugs, constantly being bitten, no hot water, quite a few times no water at all, poor/sporadic internet connection, kids getting an ear infection from the less than 100% clean pool. But, it’s not a holiday for us, it’s about living in these places and experiencing them. That’s why we came, that’s why we are travelling slowly,warts and all, you have to see beyond the niggling issues and just get on with it.

Mérida has a lot to be getting on with too. There is a fantastic market in the Zocalo on Sundays where artisan goods can be found, all are cheap, some are really beautiful and well made.

belle looking at bracelets

belle looking at bracelets

trying on hats

trying on hats

this one?

this one?

or that one?

or that one?

She went for that one! Looks good, no?

Hand made, lovely quality, fits the ‘Jack Pumpkin’ like a glove and cost 70 MNX Pesos- £3.18.

getting in on the hat trying on action. no i didn't buy it

getting in on the hat trying on action and no i didn’t buy it

The local council do a great job with the City. They make it easy to get around and do stuff. WiFi in the parks and public squares is free, almost all museums and galleries are free too.

We went to the Anthropological one and there was a pottery exhibition on.

not a big cat fan but love this vase

not a big cat fan but love this vase

belle pointing out her favourites

belle pointing out her favourites

love this guy, i imagine the tankard is full of cerveza

love this guy, i imagine the over-sized tankard is full of cerveza

There are always musical and theatre events and every night, dotted in different places around the city are free events that showcase and preserve the traditional way of life here, from  Mayan Pelota game re-enactment to traditional singing and dancing.

local traditional music and dance night

local traditional music and dance night

It’s not just some trumped up tourist gimmick to keep ’em coming either. The traditional dance night has been going in the same place since 1965. Although it was rather amusing to see every single one of these dancers, in their traditional garb, upon finishing twirling and whirling, sit down, get their smartphones out and start texting/ whatsapping / surfing the net! (what was I saying earlier about different set of values!?)

The food here is good too and very reasonably priced indeed. We’ve eaten traditional Yucatan fare, food from Oaxaca, Tacos (natch), classic Mexican, Thai, Italian and believe it or not we stumbled upon a really tasty Korean restaurant. Two of the three best food experiences were stumbled upon and were not in any guide or on any review site- get back in your hutch Trip Adviser (Advisor).

Follow your nose, keep your eyes peeled and trust your gut!

The third best experience was a fabulous Taco stand at one of the little local squares dotted around town which we found out about by reading a fabulously acerbic US interior designer’s blog. The lady only opens her stand on a Sunday, bright and early, and she closes when she runs out of food. It was a delicious lunch, and including drinks, came in at £7 for us all.

A bargaino and no mistake.

We leave for Oaxaca on Sunday (24th), so speak soon and take care.

The Tortilla Time Travellers.

 

Random other stuff from our time in Mérida.

Supermarkets

are pretty cool…

I am a big fan of pork scratchings but that's ridiculous

I am a big fan of pork crackling but that’s ridiculous

Hair

correct

correct

I saw this sign and realised that I needed to get mine cut, it was about time.But rather than the fancy place pictured, I went for the cheaper option, just around the corner from our house. A hairdressers-cum-beauty parlour as it turned out.

vidal sassoon it ain't

even vidal sassoon had to start somewhere

I walked in, there were 3 people in the family run ‘salon’. A lady, her hubby and kid. As I gestured to my head and said “cortes” (still working on my Spanish as you can probably tell) the lady looked up, and put here hubby’s bare feet down- she was giving him a pedicure in between clients. Without a moments pause she set to work on my Grade 1 all over.

50 MXN (£2.27) for the haircut, her husband’s foot epidermis was thrown in for free.

Relaxation

We are managing to relax and enjoy ourselves (hard to imagine I know)

you know when your relaxed when you walk back from th efridge with a beer, only to realise that you hadn't finished your other one... oh well

you know that you’re relaxed when you walk back from the fridge with a beer, only to realise that you hadn’t finished your other one… oh well

Piano Bars

Remember the Piano Bars in Holbox?

I reckon I’ve found one of the resident entertainers.

ahhh the piano bar

ahhh the piano bar

Wandering around

We were having a wander and came across an old junk shop guarded by this fella…

strangest looking dog i ever did see

strangest looking dog i ever did see

It had a pretty cool sign though.

cool sign

cool sign

continuing my odd mexican vehicle theme

continuing with my odd mexican vehicle theme

 

and another

and another

Cafe Culture

We saw this place, thought it looked great and decided to stop for a drink. It said Cafe/ Bar/ Restaurant.

We ordered an expresso and a beer, they had neither.

great interior but less impressive on some other key elements

great interior but less impressive on some other key elements

Weird scenes

these fellas were wearing some serious kit= looked like darth vader

these fellas were wearing some serious kit= looked like darth vader

Other Stuff

dancing in the zocalo on sunday

dancing in the zocalo on sunday- this was great

a building in the zocalo

casa montejo in the zocalo

i'm not convinced

i’m not convinced

snr jalapeno and taco mama on a bus

snr jalapeno and taco mama on a bus

homeland monument

homeland monument

watching guardians of the galaxy in the vip seats £4 a seat with table service

watching guardians of the galaxy in the vip seats £4 a seat with table service

in the arcade- rollercoaster ride

in the arcade- rollercoaster ride

 

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OMG…………

….. I can’t actually believe that we just swam with a Whale Shark.

Our destination: Isla Holbox, a small island at the north eastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsular. The Whale Shark experience was unequivocally the ‘High’ in 5 days of some good bits and some not so good bits since we left Playa.

More of the Whale Shark later, let’s get the not so good bits out of the way first.

1.The bus ride from Cancun to Chiquila (a tiny one horse town were you get the ferry from the mainland to Isla Holbox)

This was 3.5 hours of pure sweating. The coach ride before this one (from Playa to Cancun) was a dream. A spacious-half-filled-air conditioned- film-showing- coach-of-pure-joy.

The bus from Cancun to Chiquila was the opposite of that.

So much so in fact, that we nicknamed it the ‘Hades Express’. Standing room only (thankfully we’d booked seats), no air-con- hot- as- shit- no- toilet-could- do- with- a- good- clean- smelly-bus that made 3.5 hours seem like 35.

Holbox (pronounced Holbosh)  means Black Hole, and it certainly felt as though during our journey there that we had been sucked into one.

taking their minds off the heat

taking their minds off the heat

Belle trying to do the same

Belle trying to do the same

me, just sweating

me, just sweating

Every cloud and all that… had we not been on said coach we wouldn’t have stopped for a comfort break at a small town in the middle of nowhere and we wouldn’t have seen something that raised the spirits, namely this guy in the check shirt.

music man

music man

Not sure if you can tell from the photo but the table under the canopy is full of CD’s of Mexican Pop Music. In order to entice us weary, sweaty travellers into buying some of his CD’s, this gent decided to adopt a unique and very direct two-pronged marketing strategy:

1. play one of said CD’s at a level which can only be described as ‘ear-splitting’

2. attach glitter balls of various sizes to his makeshift roof in order to create an alluring ambience

The guy just stood there impassively, oblivious to the Mexican Mariachi musical mayhem he had unleashed. Needless to say despite his best efforts the poor sod, there were no takers amongst our weary crew

There was also this cool church across the road that took my eye.

pretty

pretty

2. Our B&B on Holbox

maybe she was once a guest too...

maybe she was once a guest too…

Technically this should actually be just a B&_. There was no hint of any breakfast whatsoever, nor indeed the capacity for them to make us one. It was fairly cheap, £50 a night for a family room and you get what you pay for right. So we can’t moan too much. However, cheap is no excuse when it comes to manners, we were welcomed by a surly receptionist (with a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp off a thistle) who checked us in without once breaking off the conversation she was having on her mobile phone.

To further enhance our ‘welcome’ experience, about half an hour after ‘checking in’, Luca decided to have a go in one of the hammocks that adorned the B&_ garden courtyard. A second after sitting down he was spinning round arms trapped, entwined inside the hammock. He looked like an upside down Babyfoot player. This manoeuvre was accompanied by a large thud as his head connected with the concrete floor. He shrieked and screamed in pain, said receptionist, glanced over to see what the commotion was about and then without moving even an inch, serenely carried on her mobile phone chat-the same conversation since we’d arrived, must have been important.

The bed sheets were made of polyester, the bathroom floor of ice- Luca nearly broke his neck  getting into the shower. To top it all the owner (an effusive Italian called Roberto), decided to charge us £20 because Luca had accidently made a mark on one of said polyester sheets with a pen.

A tad harsh we felt- you certainly wouldn’t get that kind of treatment at the Ritz!

3. The Food

Not very good and pricey by Mexican standards. It’s a small island, so they pretty much have you where they want you and I guess, can charge what they want- you aren’t going anywhere. But that’s no excuse for not caring and producing average food.

probably the best thing i ate- octopus brochette

probably the best thing I ate- octopus brochette

To me that’s just lazy. It’s not like we didn’t try and find any good food either, in fact we tried loads of places. This brings me back to my bugbear with trip adviser/ review sites. Most of the places we ate at enjoyed gushing praise on these sites and not one was better than average.

Poor effort.

Although I did find this cheeky 6.5% IPA.

nice label

nice label too

that all important 1st coffee of the day

that all important 1st coffee of the day

4. The People

A bit of a sweeping generalisation almost certainly, but most people we met who were working there were, rude, uncommunicative and pretty unfriendly. There were a couple of fantastic exceptions to this rule, but in the main the rule held true. From the miserable-as-shit-no i’m not-going-to-help-you-with-your-bags-‘welcome-to-the-island’- taxi-driver, to the aforementioned receptionist through to most restaurant waiting staff, it seemed like they didn’t want you there (maybe it was just us that they didn’t want there).

our welcoming happy happy taxista- trust our luck to get him on the way home too- a fitting symmetry

our welcoming happy happy taxista- trust our luck to get him on the way home too- a fitting symmetry

It’s a small island with jobs almost exclusively in tourism, so I guess there isn’t a huge amount of career options, but if you want a job in the service industry you might fare slightly better in your career path if you AREN’T a miserable rude bastard. Having said that the locals we met in the street were a friendly lot, a very odd dichotomy indeed.

OK, enough of the moaning, the great bits.

1. The Whale Sharks

This was truly superb. What an unbelievable experience. I have to admit to being a little apprehensive. Nobody in their right mind would call me an animal lover, so jumping into the ocean to swim alongside the biggest fish living in said ocean was a bit daunting for me. And despite their earlier bravado I could sense that the kids were feeling the same. Greeny ‘the Boss’ had no such apprehension and was first in of the 10 people on the boat. Fair play.

a frickin' whale shark dude

a frickin’ whale shark dude

It was a beautiful privilege to share the same space as this gracious and gentle giant. Nothing can quite prepare you for that first glimpse as your eyes adjust to being underwater. We remained transfixed as this huge dark blue, white spotted creature just glided effortless past us.

This experience was quite well executed, only two people were permitted in the water with the Whale Shark and we kept a respectful distance.

one of our boat swimming with the whale shark

one of our boat swimming with the whale shark

Dad and Belle, ready to take the plunge

Dad and Belle, ready to take the plunge

On the way to see the Whale Sharks we saw a school of dolphins, happily going about their day.

a morning stroll dolphin style

a morning stroll dolphin style

On the way back from the Whale Shark we spotted a Manta Ray gracefully meandering along just below the surface.

beautiful

beautiful

2. The Flamingos

This was another incredible experience. We drove as far east as the roads would allow, parked the buggy and then waded out to get a closer look of the weird pink things standing in the sea. We (the kids and I that is) went barefoot and a rather smug Greeny strode out wearing her new pink Adidas all pupose/all mother-f terrain sandal/kick-ass shoe things.

We left the shore to wade out to the Flamingo’s. What looked like sand beneath our feet as we waded out, turned out in fact to be mud. Mud with the properties of quicksand. Mud that sucked your leg in mid-calf. Mud that was grey, slimy and smelly.

Smug Greeny now became wailing-flailing-octpopus-Greeny, all whirling arms, leg and yelps as she tried to escape the clutches of the mud. She managed to do so, but only at the expense of one of said all terrain shoes. As she rob0tically Peter Crouched her way back to the safety of the shore, Muggins here was given the unenviable task of retrieving the missing footwear. Which after several mighty pulls and much gurgling of slimy mud, I just managed to do, thankfully.

looks like innocent sand right? wrong...

looks like innocent sand right? wrong…

Undeterred we chose a different entry point and headed out to see the Flamingos (all without shoes this time). After the mud it was just sand. The sea came up to our knees as we waded out for what seemed like miles.

knee deep as far as the eye can see

knee deep as far as the eye can see

twins and birds

twins and birds

After walking for what seemed like an age the Flamingos came sharper into focus. It was amazing to just see them standing there so close. We didn’t want to get too close for fear of disturbing them in their natural habitat, plus they looked so content and peaceful, chatting away to their mates and dipping their head in the sand every now and then for some grub.

time travellers and flamingos in the background

intrepid time travellers with flamingos in the background

lovely to just observe

lovely to just observe

flamingos everywhere

flamingos everywhere

3. The Island itself

The island is a lovely slice of quaint and charming Caribbean life. A cute Mexican main square,  sand tracks for roads, golf carts instead of cars. A lovely beach, incredibly warm sea….. a place like no other I have been.

local restaurant

local restaurant

walking to the beach

walking to the beach

entry to the beach

entrance to the beach

main square at dusk

main square at dusk

town by night

town by night

4. The Murals

Dotted around the island there are some fabulous wall paintings.

slightly freaky

slightly freaky

surreal

surreal

sad face

great face

viva la revolucion

viva la revolucion

sol

sol

yucatan mermaid

yucatan mermaid

not even sure what to say about this one

vincent van gogh mash-up

my favourite

my favourite

5. The Transportation

No cars, only golf buggies. Great fun. Not sure there are many places in the UK where you wouldn’t even get a second glance when you rocked up trying to hire a vehicle with a can of beer in your hand (it was very hot, I was very thirsty).

vroom vroom

vroom vroom

Not sure they’d be too keen on letting 6 year olds drive round town in the UK either to be honest…

speed merchant

speed merchant

I was controlling the accelerator, Belle, unhappy with this arrangement just put her foot down on my foot…

gary chicane

gary chicane

Luca preferred to weave from side to side, inventing corners where there weren’t any.

as i said, great fun

as i said, great fun

Even Taco Mama got in on the act.

After 4 nights we were ready to leave. Holbox was a lovely holiday type interlude, but now back to slower travel, setting down some roots for a few weeks and getting to know a place a bit more. Next stop Mérida, the largest city and cultural capital of the Yucatán peninsular.

on the boat, mexican mainland on the horizon

on the boat, mexican mainland on the horizon

Take care and speak soon from the Tortilla Time Travellers.

Other interesting stuff in Holbox

I took an early morning stroll to take some pics. I came across 2 of these ‘piano bars’ very close to our B&_’. ‘How quaint’ I thought to myself, maybe Bruce Hornsby and the Range had come to Holbox one time and made a huge impression with the locals.

a piano bar, how quaint

a piano bar, how quaint

a piano bar, how quaint? err no in fact

ooh another a piano bar, how quaint x2…err no in fact

My misconception became clear as we were walking home from dinner that night. As we passed one of these Bars I could hear music emanating from within. With my curiosity getting the better of me, I decided to peak through curtained windows expecting to see some local tinkling the ivories. Instead I saw an empty (of people) room (bizarre), with a bar on one side, velvet sofas adorning the other 3, several glitter balls twinkling in the flashing disco lights, a small round stage in the middle of the room and at it’s centre a silver pole stretching from floor to ceiling. I quickly realised what the Piano Bar was (despite having only read about such establishments), and quickly shooed the kids away before they managed to look through the curtain.

Close call!

the local footie pitch

the local footie pitch

playing babyfoot...again

playing babyfoot…again

taxi!

taxi!

herons

herons

relaxing, waiting to hit the town

relaxing, waiting to hit the town

nice beach view

nice beach view

kids jumping in

kids jumping in

i love these little boxes

i love these little boxes

a bit early in the year for this fella

a bit early in the year for this fella

more flamingo action

more flamingo action

ahhhh the beach

ahhhh the beach again


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Tulum, Gran Cenote and Akumal

We’d been to Tulum before, Greeny and I that is, it was in 2006, pre-kids. It was one of the most memorable places that we have ever visited. Essentially a small sleepy one road town which has the great fortune of possessing Mayan ruins, set against the backdrop of a truly wonderful beach and the dazzlingly azure Caribbean Sea.

It’s picture postcard stuff.

wow

wow

wow 2

wow 2

wow

wow 3

Today took me whizzing back in time as it was pretty much how I remembered; awesome.

If you are being a bit of a Mayan ruin pedant, the archaeological site here isn’t as impressive as others in Mexico however, the others ain’t got that backdrop.

It’s a 60km drive from Playa and we arrived in good time, around 10. We made our way to the site, paid and went in.

this fella kept an eye on all visitors

this fella kept an eye on all visitors

Eschewing the pricey Guided Tour option we bought a little book about the site instead (so Greeny could give us the low-down as we walked) and planned to do what we normally do, earwig on other groups guides as we wander.

ready for some ruins action

ready for some ruins action

lots of these fellas around

lots of these fellas around

The site was pretty busy, even this early in the morning, a lot busier than when we were here last.

a bit busy

morning Mayan ruin rush hour

Thankfully we entered right next to the best bits of the site because after learning about 3 of the buildings, we were in complete ruins ourselves.

It was so, so hot. It was like walking around in a giant open air oven, we were all dripping with sweat. So much so, we decided to cut short our tour and head for the beach instead.

trying to cool our bodies down

trying to cool our bodies down before deciding it was a losing battle

We hadn’t done the ruins justice in any way, so rather guiltily, we trudged our way back to our gloriously air-con’d taxi. Had we stayed a moment longer I’m sure I would have melted, it was that hot. And as I mentioned, there are better sites to visit in Mexico and we plan to do just that- keeping our Mayan ruin powder dry as it were, at least that’s what I kept telling myself.

Just before getting back in the Taxi, we stood transfixed as we watched a spectacle that seemed to be the love child of two hitherto commercially unconnected art-forms. Namely, Cirque de Soleil and Morris Dancing (Mexican style, natch). The performers climbed a very tall Maypole thingey (see below) and then once they had collected enough money from us onlookers, proceed to chuck themselves from the top, twirling round to some Pied Piper vs Pan Pipes type music mash-up.

Bizarre!

No idea if it was authentic in any way, or as is no doubt more likely, some kind of tourist gimmick, in any case, it was plain bizarre.

(Post-edit note: Greeny says it was much more impressive than I am making out as they were only attached by rope to their waist, it was very high indeed and she’d like to see me do it- fair enough).

the Mexican maypole

the Mexican maypole

just before they chuck themselves off

just before they chuck themselves off

I did it a bit of a disservice earlier, Tulum is more than a one-street town. It is in fact a two-street town. The second street being a road that runs parallel to the coastline. Situated along this you will find hotels, restaurants and bars. It’s very tastefully done as far as tourism goes (not built up, nor overcrowded), there is a real beatnik, hippy vibe and you get the feeling that it’s ‘undiscovered’.

It’s not of course, but it does a good job of giving you that impression. If Playa is a lesson in how to grow a tourist town on steroids, Tulum is the opposite of that.

I prefer the latter.

We stopped at Posada Margarita, simply because I recognised the sign (from my ‘where to eat in Tulum’ google research) as we were driving along the road. We were planning on going somewhere else for lunch, but it wasn’t open yet, it was 11:30. So Posada Margarita it was, and boy were we all very glad of that.

wow 4

wow 4

What a fantastic place. It’s a hotel and restaurant. all shabby chic with distressed wood everywhere. It is right on the beach, with a view to die for.

lunch with a view

lunch with a view

We plonked ourselves on some comfy couches overlooking the ocean and just smiled. Who knew a view could make you so content with life?

We had an inkling that this much designed ‘anti-design’ wouldn’t come cheap but we didn’t care. We could have stayed in those seats for ever.

We had an ok lunch here (nice but disappointingly nothing special-apart from the fabulous homemade focaccia bread) and then headed for the rustic but lovely and comfy cabanas on offer. We spend the next hour alternately lying down in the shade and making brief but extremely pleasurable trips to the sea. We did some wave jumping and the kids and I had a brief stab at Bodyboarding!

I’m sorry there are no more photos, I was too mesmerised and enjoying the moment to actually remember to take any! Google images will do the trick if you’re interested.

Reluctantly we peeled ourselves up off the sun loungers, paid our bill and got into our waiting taxi. Miguel whisked us off to our next stop, Gran Cenote.

With my head still very firmly back on the beach in Tulum, we seemed to arrive almost immediately at Gran Cenote. Not a trick of the mind as it turns out, Gran Cenote is less than 5mins away. Still in a daze we paid, got our swimmers back on and headed for the Cenote. Cenotes are natural underground water-filled sink holes and there is a whole connected system of them stretching more than 230km throughout the Yucatan peninsular. Gran Cenote is pretty much smack bang in the middle of the map below.

map of Sistema Sac Actun

map of Sistema Sac Actun

The Mayans used them for fresh water supplies and cities were built close by. Hence no doubt, the proximity to Tulum.

The water is fresh and completely crystal clear (it is essentially rain water that has been filtered through the earth) and it is FR-FR-FR-FREEZING. I gingerly entered the water and immediately my mind was focused on the job in hand, the sun-kissed beach in Tulum, now a distant memory.  My attention was now solely focussed on how I was going to survive this water temperature. Greeny had already taken the plunge, while I was a tad more circumspect, the kids needed a bit more cajoling, but once in, loved every second.

crystal clear water

crystal clear water

little turtles in the cenote

little turtles in the cenote

As it turns out, it was amazing. After a few minutes of swimming around the water feels amazingly fresh. It’s cold, don’t get me wrong, but it’s wonderfully refreshing.

getting used to the cold

getting used to the cold water

I didn’t think that Tulum could be topped but, particularly on a day like today i.e. sweltering, the Cenote did it’s level best to do so.

Swimming in these caves is a fantastic experience, your mind is alive, watching the little  birds flying in and out of their nests in the cave roof, the stalactites hanging from the ceiling and the fish and the Turtles swimming about.

disappearing into the cave

Dad and Belle disappearing into the cave

One equation I’ve managed to work out thus far:

kids+water+swimming = very happy fun time for all

Refreshed we headed for our final destination, Akumal. The intention was to swim with some Sea Turtles, but by the time we arrived we were pooped. Swimming in the Cenote water, for some reason, seems to be a lot more tiring than ‘normal’ water.

So we didn’t fancy swimming out the kilometer for the sea turtles and we’d already spent our ‘extras’ budget for the month, so hiring a boat was out of the question. So we had a couple of swims in the lovely warm and calm pond-like sea instead.

A drink and an ice-cream later we headed for home, knackered (hence why no photos).

Another fabulous day out!

Not long left in Playa del Carmen now, we’ll all be very sad to leave. We’ve really enjoyed it here and would recommend it to anyone.

It has everything, weather, beach, lovely Caribbean sea, great restaurant choices, loads of places to visit, infrastructure, cheap transport, and friendly people….. what’s not to like!

Next stop Isla Holbox.

Take care, Dom, Greeny y Gemelos


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This is the best day of my life, ever…

… and I have to admit, I’m not far off in agreeing with her. The reason for the proclamation from Belle? We’d just been zip-lining our asses off (technical term) at Xplor. An Adventure park just a 10 minute drive south of Playa del Carmen. It wasn’t a cheap day out by any means, $375 USD  for the 4 of us (plus another $Hunge for the official photos), but it was worth every red cent.

wpid-20140723_163413.jpg

We used to watch videos of Xplor over breakfast during the 4 months we were living in the flat back in London. They used to serve as motivation as we waited for our trip to happen, so you can imagine that we were extremely excited to actually get there. We decided to arrive nice and early, we hurriedly ate our breakfast, and then got into a taxi outside our apartment at 08:30, consequently we were among the first to arrive at the Park.

Bring it on...

Bring it on…Xplor

raring to get going

raring to get going

The early start was a good call as it turns out. We crammed our stuff in the lockers and headed straight for the zip-lines and there were hardly any queues to speak of, unlike later in the day when there was a big old wait.

even time for a brief history lesson

even time for a brief history lesson

It was only when we were actually clipped onto the zip-line wire itself that it actually dawned on me… I’m about to chuck myself (and my slightly worried but going along with it anyway 6 year old daughter) off an 80m high platform, and ‘zip’ for 500m. Greeny had Luca and I’m sure they both felt the same (they didn’t apparently-proof-read edit). Thankfully the utterly professional, helpful, bi-lingual guides had little time for niceties (or nervous parents) and a heartbeat later we were flying across the jungle canopy at 30kph. Wow!

It wasn’t too long before the kids were zip-lining solo, which was mightily impressive. It’s pretty daunting stuff for an adult let alone a 6 year old, hurling yourself off an 8om high platform at considerable speed, with nowt but a thin cable between you and jungle, but they absolutely loved every picosecond, and so did we.

i'm lovin' it

i’m lovin’ it

i think i'm lovin' it

i think i’m lovin’ it

brave girl... 1st time on her own

brave girl… 1st time on her own

brave boy... 1st time on his own

brave boy… 1st time on his own

3 hours and countless zip-lines, tower climbs, water splashes and water slides later, we exhaustedly fell into the restaurant. We were ravenous, elated and totally wet through.

“This is the best day of my life ever…” said Belle and we all were inclined to agree.

graceful entry

graceful entry

less graceful entry

less graceful entry

Greeny certainly got the hang of the zip-lining, she even started calling herself ‘the Boss’.

Grace and poise

Grace and poise

like a pro

like a pro

Whereas I was more of a slow-starter, shall we say.

err... how do you face the right way again?

err… how do you face the right way again?

The kids soon got the hang of it though.

trying to get maximum velocity

trying to get maximum velocity

Splash landing here I come...

splash landing here I come…

delicate splash

delicate splash

Whereas I was still struggling for style marks.

not so delicate a splash

not so delicate a splash- no 6.0’s for me

Replete with a very generous and tasty buffet lunch, we headed off for more Xplor action. The kids wanted to zip-line again, and so did we, but we also wanted to see whet else Xplor had to offer and technically they only allow you to do each activity in the park once.

So, next up was the amphibious vehicle.

Let's Offroad

let’s off road- the dark cave lit up by the camera flash

The vehicles were great fun, driving through the jungle and through dark underground caves, but in truth, they weren’t a patch on the zip-line. Luca, ever keen to get involved in any capacity (he wanted to drive, but was a licence and 11 years short) took it upon himself to be in charge of the vehicle lights, which were needed in the dark caves. As a surprise experiment, he decided to turn the lights out in one of said underground caves. As you can see there ain’t much room and so after much screaming and panic from passengers and driver alike, he turned them back on. Thankfully we were still on the track and not impaled on some huge stalactite – the ones that hang from the cave ceiling, stalagmites emerge from the floor- (you’re welcome).

Just before the lights went out

just before the lights went out

Next up were the two-man canoes….

Concentration face

Concentration face

Concentrate face part 2

Concentration face part 2

Say 'Queso'. Deliberate pose...this is NOT my padling face

say ‘Queso’- deliberate pose…this is NOT my paddling face

Lastly we hit the lazy river. No photos here I’m afraid, and lazy it was not. I’ve been on a lazy river before and was expecting much the same here, a nice warm water current gently moving you along, lovely scenery…. errr think again. Water so cold my nuts were of raisin dimensions and non-moving water. Effing hardcore active (on our behalf) river more like, that ended in 2 huge waterfalls that you had to swim through in order to escape, with water pounding down so hard you couldn’t even hear yourself panic! Jesus, what a finale….

Wow

wow-impressive stalactites

Exhausted we headed for the changing rooms and after a freshen up, we posed for one final photo and then headed for home…

All Xplor'd out...

all Xplor’d out…

To a man, we all did our best Rip Van Winkle impressions that night.

We’ve had a bit of an ‘Action Jackson’ week in fact. Last Wednesday we went fishing. Greeny and I have fished once before, a very civilised afternoon fishing for trout on the River Liffey. A thoroughly tranquil and peaceful experience. Our Mexican version consisted of us getting in a little boat with our guides Angel and Elias and braving the choppy waves to locate a suitable spot just off the Playa del Carmen shoreline.

With the very 1st cast we had a bite (well Greeny did to be precise), many lusty heaves of the hand line later and…

1st of the day

1st of the day

… a banana fish- who even knew there was such a thing. Well there is and they ‘make good bait’, apparently.

And true enough, they do.  Next up were several Trigger fish.

Trigger fish

Trigger fish

keep your finger away from the teeth son...

keep your finger away from the teeth son…

Angel with a Trigger

Angel with a Trigger

a Trigger on his way to Trigger Heaven

a Trigger on his way to Trigger Heaven

looking for prey

looking for prey

After 90 mins or so of fishing action the two male landlubbers started to feel a bit peaky and so we decided to head for shore. Once on solid ground the colour slowly started to return to our cheeks.

Greeny (upon proof-reading this), has also asked me to point out that she caught almost all the fish and that I came away empty-handed- not strictly true as I did half catch one with Luca.

She also wanted me to re-iterate that she was ‘the Boss’ at zip-lining.

peaky pair

peaky pair- hamming it up

A cold beer and jugo de pina later we were as right as rain and ready to tackle the rest of the day.

Next up is a trip to Tulum and a Cenote (natural fresh water sinkhole), about which in our next post.

Take care,

Dom, Greeny, Belle and Luca.

Some random stuff we have been doing…

love the colour of this tree

love the colour of this tree- on our way to fish

action jackson climbing twins

action jacksons- the climbing twins

more babyfoot

more babyfoot

more lovely food

more lovely food

love this art, in the toilet of babyfoot restaurant

love this art, in the toilet of babyfoot restaurant

don't get too many of these crossing the road in  London

don’t get too many of these crossing the road in London

unusual seat n greet at a restaurant

not sure how long she’s been waiting for a table

part 2

nor this dude


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Playa del Carmen

Two weeks in and we are having a great time. Playa is a pretty cool place. We have rented an apartment in a nice quiet residential area situated about 4 blocks from the beach and about 2 blocks from Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), towards which all tourist life gravitates.

Portal Maya

Portal Maya

We chose Playa for a number of reasons:

  • it’s warm, on the Caribbean, and we wanted a nice holiday to help us to relax into our adventure.
  • flights to Cancun from the UK are cheap.
  • it’s not Cancun- it is smaller and has a more laid back feel to it (apparently).
  • we’d been to Mexico before in 2006 and loved it, so wanted to spend more time here.
  • it’s quite big and has loads of stuff to do, we felt that going from busy London life to somewhere off the grid would probably be a psychological step too far, we wanted to mentally wind-down gradually.

We were expecting this once sleepy fishing village to be quite ‘touristy’, but after a few days of wandering around, we were actually beginning to question this assumption  (had our infamously detailed research been inaccurate?). We’d been on 5th Avenue several times and it seemed pretty chilled to us. And then one evening we walked down 5th beyond where we thought it ended. How wrong we were, it had actually only just begun. We walked for an age past a seemingly endless sequence of bar, restaurant, pizza joint, tourist tat shops , silver jewellery shops, tourist ‘information’ kiosks, people hiring their pet Spider Monkey (cute)/ Iguana (weird) for photos, massage places (legit not ‘happy finish’) and money exchange bureaux.

5th during the day... quite calm

5th during the day… the calm before the storm

It seems that Playa is split into two, the chilled bit, where we are (luckily) and the tourist trap, where the madness is. We can heartily recommend the chilled bit and it’s nice to dip into ‘crazyland’ if just for a while, as you might pop down to Oxford St for an afternoon, safe in the knowledge that you will return home at the end of the day.

Our local shop

Our local shop

Our local shop assistant

Our unusual local shop assistant- Picito

Just about to hit the town (5th)

Just about to hit the town (5th)

The infamous Coco Bongo, very firmly situated in the 'madness'

The infamous Coco Bongo, very firmly situated in the ‘madness’

We are settling into our own little rhythm, which basically consists of time in our pool, punctuated by (in no particular order) deciding where to eat, eating, shopping for food, work, deciding where to go next, and school work for the kids. It is incredibly hot here 34 degrees centigrade (93 in old money) during the day and 24 (75) at night. Time in the pool here is a very welcome necessity.

Enjoying the pool

Enjoying the pool

Our communal pool is quite something, we are in a block of about 24 apartments and there only ever seems to be us in it. It is a perfect temperature and is shallow enough so that the kids can learn to swim with confidence.

Walking over our pool

Walking over our pool

It’s the rainy season here, so far we’ve had mostly sunshine, but on the odd occasion it has rained……. it has rained hard!!

Taking refuge in a shopping mall during the rain

Taking refuge in a shopping mall during the rain

Life here in Playa moves at quite a pace and things never stay still for long. This is most noticeable it seems with restaurants. Even if you stayed here for 12 months, ate out 3x a day and at a different place each time, you’d be hard pushed to eat at the same place twice. Also when you look at restaurant review sites, it seems that some  restaurants recommended as recently as last year are no longer here, replaced by another, different restaurant. We eat well here and have found the best places mostly are perhaps unsurprisingly not on 5th. We have eaten on 5th several times and the food was average to decent, but price-wise often it’s only marginally cheaper than the UK. Our best food experiences without doubt have been to eat where the locals eat.

Salsa picante for

Salsa Picante for breakfast! The evil-looking dark on the right was simply eye-watering even for a hardened chili fan

Breakfast omelette

Breakfast omelette

Our favourite places are fortuitously right near our apartment. Our number 1 place is Los Aquachiles which does an amazingly fresh and tasty fish ceviche lettuce taco for less than £2. Three of these bad boys washed down with a couple of cold Dos Equis ‘ comes in at less than £7.50.

Seriously good lunch

Better than a sandwich from Pret

How do you find decent places to eat on holiday? So far our starting point is Trip Adviser. The problem with Trip Adviser (for anything) is you have no idea who the reviewer is and whether or not they share the same taste as you. I had to laugh at this one for example…. a review for a Burrito restaurant: We had been struggling with the Mexican food over the last couple weeks & after looking at the reviews we took the plunge to try this place after vowing to eat no more Mexican on the trip. They tasted just like home! Why come here in the first place you idiot????? The reviewer goes on to award 4 out of 5 stars: The only reason I didn’t rate 5 stars is because it is lacking ambience, just needs a freshen up with some nice Mexican art, new seats, music or something to make it POP. But people will continue to come back for the food anyway I’m sure! No doubt the owner was high-tailing it down to the local art gallery to stock up and is eternally grateful for the free and rather poignant advice. The next place we look at foodie blogs and ‘best mexican restaurants in PDC’ type internet searches. From the assimilated info you can pretty much whittle down a good selection of places. However, the next best place we have eaten at is called Metrogusto. We stumbled across it one evening because it’s around the corner from our apartment. It’s #301 out of 732 restaurants rated on Trip Adviser, so we would never have eaten there had it not been for geographical happenstance! They do fantastic Burgers and a Bife de Chorizo as thick as your wrist for £10, washed down with a really nice Argentinian Malbec, £2.50 for a glass of generous proportion. Oh and it also has a Babyfoot table so Luca is a very happy bunny!

One very happy boy!!!

One very happy boy!!!

We have found a couple of places like this now, so best practice thus far seems to be, stay local, follow your nose and eat where there are plenty of locals tucking in too. How did people ever manage before the internet? Well, I’ll tell you. My Dad spent 4 years travelling the world in the mid 60’s. He often regaled us with food horror stories, my favourite being him and his fellow travellers eating sheep testes on the Turkish Iranian border. No doubt there was a 10 course Persian molecular gourmet tasting menu with his name on it at some nearby San Pellegrino Top 50 restaurant …. but without Google, them’s the breaks. Our next favourite way to pass the time (after pool and sampling the food) is the beach. The closest beach to us is fantastic, powdery white sand and the uniquely crazily blue Caribbean sea.

Caribbean sea

Caribbean sea

Mama y Belle

Mama y Belle

Bodyboarding... or at least trying to

Bodyboarding… or at least trying to. Belle really got the hang of it and was flying across the waves…

More Bodyboarding

More Bodyboarding action

I’ll upload another post soon, in the meantime here are some photos from our wanderings about the place… An interesting snap from a side alley just off 5th.

God IS a DJ

God IS a DJ

The Town Hall

The Town Hall

Town Hall mural

Town Hall mural

The kids are now attending School de Dom and Greeny…

New school uniforms

Trying out our new school uniforms

Some cool transportation… mexican style

Stylish van...

Stylish van…

Religious Monster Truck

Religious Monster Truck

When you do go, go out in style.

Coolest Hearse in the world

Coolest Hearse in the world

 


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Bienvenidos a México

Our trip proper started on Sunday the 29th of June at the Bloc Hotel in Gatwick South Terminal. Great design and great location, so it’s vee handy for check-in. The only drawback is the size of the room. Our family room was barely big enough to swing a cat in, let alone twins. We hardly cared though as we were very excited and the small dimensions seemed to add to our growing sense of anticipation. Also we are hardly the tallest family in the world…

We were flying out early Monday morning so we checked our suitcases in that night with a few other lucky souls. The next morning we could enjoy a leisurely shower and stroll the short distance to family departure lounge avoiding the usual harried check-in experience completely. Our hand luggage (and everyone else’s it seemed) was randomly checked for potential explosives testing. Satisfied that we weren’t carrying bombs, we were waved through security and then we sat down for a nice breakfast. 

Several family farewell phone calls later we wandered to the gate, only to discover that we had been upgraded, winner! So, with a spring in our step as we boarded the plane, we turned left instead of right and sat down in our spacious seats, feeling that lady luck was indeed looking down on us. Rather inconsiderately, she must have slept the remainder of the flight. The one and only film available for adults during the 10h40 flight was the wrist slitting ‘The Book Thief’. The kids fared slightly better, gorging themselves on a whopping selection of 2 films- Lego the Movie (excellent) and Frozen (ok). The food was passable, but the portions were tiny, completely incommensurate with the big beaming shiny moon-face of celebrity Thomas Cook in-flight food endorser, James Martin, which was liberally plastered all over the food tray. I’ll never watch Saturday Morning Kitchen in the same light again, the t**t.

At least the flight was cheap and we were so excited that nothing could dampen our spirits. Not even, it turns out, the now seemingly obligatory 3000 people deep Immigration queue. I’m at a loss to understand why airports do this, but they all seem to have about ten flights land at precisely the same time. Luca inadvertently exacted his own revenge by excitedly jumping on a faux marble table which inevitably toppled to the floor with an almighty crash, we sheepishly made a futile attempt to re-build it only to be only to shooed away by a stony-faced security guard.

Undeterred and with 3000 pairs of eyes trained on us, we carried on waiting in line hoping we’d get the nice young lady immigration official rather than the stern looking older dude who’d given us his best death glare when the faux marble went down. Thankfully we got the nice young lady, we sidled up to the desk somewhat apprehensively (not just because of faux marble gate), we had bought only a one way ticket to Mexico and had no onward flight booked. Most tourists arriving in Cancun depart a few weeks later and we were unsure what sort of reception we’d get at immigration.

She asked a few searching questions like, how long we were staying? (no idea) and how we intending on leaving Mexico? (no idea either). “We have a hotel booked in Guatemala in November” I offered and this seemed to do the trick. You can stay for upto 180 days on a Tourist Visa in Mexico and so a few stamps in our passports later, we emerged in to the bright sunshine and wonderfully welcoming heat of Mexico proper, well Cancun.

A taxi whisked us away to Playa del Carmen, our new temporary home for the month of July.

About more of which in our next post.

 

 

 


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Finally…

…after what has seemed like an interminable delay, we are booked. The 30th of June is D-day. Mexico is to be our beachhead- Cancun to be precise, well that’s where the plane lands at least. Our final first destination is to be Playa del Carmen. We are staying in a 2 bed apartment for a month and we intend to do the sum total of bugger all for at least 2 weeks.This year has been particularly stressful to say the least and a holiday/ rest is exactly what we need. Why Mexico? Why Playa del Carmen? Well, we spent 3 weeks in Mexico over Xmas in 2006 and we absolutely loved it, so hopefully we can ease ourselves into the great unknown of our travels with a slight sense of the familiar. Our original destination (had we left in March) was Buenos Aires, but they are smack bang in the middle of their winter now, so it made little sense to go there. Playa del Carmen is supposedly pretty cool. Parts are touristy of course but there is a lot to do and see beyond the main drag. We intend to have a holiday and then slowly shift gear into travel mode. There are a load of interesting things to see and do in and around the town and we intend to do just that.