Stepping Away…

Thank you for stopping by my blog. Monday Musings is currently on hiatus while I tend to other projects. I’ve left links below to some of my more popular topics in case you’d like to browse. I promise most of them include gorgeous photos.

Or you can pop over to my bookshelf or excerpts if you want more information on my books.

I’ll see you all in a few months. Happy reading!

Link to:  My experience with torn and detached retinas

Link to:  Cruising around historic Cuba

Sunday Funday Adventures – Exploring the Okanagan

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Link to:  Beautiful beaches and hiking trails on Vancouver Island

Link to:  Monkeys and more at Sandos Caracol and Riviera Maya

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Link to:  Fun in Palm Desert and San Diego, California

Steamboats on the Old Man River, trolley cars and beignets…Adventures in New Orleans

Icebergs and rowhouses…Exploring Nova Scotia and Newfoundland

Favourite Furry Pets – And a few not so furry ones, too

 

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2015 – The Year of Challenges

2015 was definitely my year for overcoming challenges. Lots of challenges.

January started out incredibly. Hubby and I vacationed at the Sandos Caracol in the Riviera Maya, and it exceeded all my hopes. My blog posts with tons of photos start here. This is just a taste:

Mayan River

1501-1 Mayan River

We met adorable Coatis.

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A troop of spider monkeys live on the resort.

1501-3 Spider monkey

They eat bananas just like we do.

1501-4 Spider Monkey

They also eat them like this.

1501-5 Spider Monkey

Avendia Juarez beach, Playa del Carmen.

1501-6 Avendia Juarez, Playa del Carmen

Tulum is gorgeous.

1501-7 Tulum 1501-8 Tulum

I climbed Grupo Nohoch Mul at Coba. This is a shot from the top.

1501-9 Grupo Nohoch Mul

The resort’s beach.

1501-10 Riviera Maya, Caribbean Sea

Swimming in Cenote Cristalino.

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Somehow, I acquired about six unwanted pounds over Christmas and while on vacation (thanks a lot, Piña Coladas). This gave me the push to begin exercising regularly, although I focused more on improving my cardio than losing weight. I started with a measly ten minutes on the recumbent bike at resistance one, about six days a week, with hopes of increasing both the duration and resistance over time.

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I visited my oldest son (DS1) and his family in February. Luckily, the Alberta winter was mild, and we were able to play outside in the sunshine.

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I watched my six-year-old grandson play hockey and take his turn in net. He thinks he might like playing goal. (Yikes!)

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My dad’s only living sibling turned 100 years old in February, and he’s doing wonderfully.

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My third published book, Dare to Risk All, was released on March 11th. Buy link

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I spent much of March and April researching a trip to Vancouver Island for our June vacation. I’d wanted to go there for years and was quite excited to start planning.

On Easter Sunday, Hubby and I hiked Bear Creek Canyon Trail. Lovely views, a few challenging elevations, with plenty of flatter grades to catch my breath.

1504-1 Bear Creek Canyon Trail 1504-2 Bear Creek Canyon Trail

My old bike was big and heavy, and difficult to handle, so I bought a new one in April. It’s built for a shorty like me. And it’s cute too.

1504-3 New bike

Last Christmas, I gave Hubby theatre tickets, and we eagerly anticipated seeing Addams Family in April. Then, unbelievably, we both totally forgot to go! Thankfully, they let us reschedule. We didn’t forget a second time, and it was an excellent performance.

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My second novel, It’s Complicated, received a glowing 5 star review from InD’Tale Magazine earlier in the year, making it eligible for the 2015 RONE Awards. The public voting round started mid-April, so I spent a stressful week begging family and friends to vote.

That same week, Dare to Risk All’s shipment of paperbacks arrived. I don’t think seeing one of my books in print will ever get old.

1504-5 Dare to Risk All

My bookshelf is still rather skinny, but I’ve added to it every year.

1504-6 My books

By the middle of April, I’d lost four of my extra six pounds, and managed to up my bike riding to half an hour, still at resistance one.

To close the month, BIL bravely drove my mom, two of my sisters, a niece and me to Washington for the weekend. We met up with another niece at the Tulalip Casino. I’m not much on casinos, but it was fun to have an outing with my family.

1504-7 Tulalip 1504-8 Tulalip

At this point, you’re probably saying “Where’s the challenges? Life sounds pretty good.” And that’s because May hadn’t hit yet.

At a pit-stop on our way to see DS1 and his family at the beginning of May, our little Roxy fell off a picnic table and broke her leg. She was such a brave girl, but it was quite the ordeal for both of us.

1505-8 Roxy 1505-9 Roxy

Despite that traumatic aspect of the trip, we had a lovely time with our grandkids. We visited Bowness Park, an old childhood favourite of mine. Nothing like a big pile of rocks to entertain little boys.

1505-2 Bowness Park 1505-3 Bowness Park

I also attended my youngest grandson’s Mother’s Day celebration at his preschool. It was pretty special for both of us and I appreciated DIL1 offering to let me go in her place.

1505-4 preschool

As always, the scenery to and from Alberta was spectacular.

1505-1 1505-7 Canmore

I bought Hubby April Wine tickets for his birthday and we were so excited to go (didn’t forget this one!), but it ended up being a bit of a letdown. I loved April Wine’s music back in the 70’s and 80’s, and eagerly anticipated hearing it live. There were lots of long guitar riffs and several drum solos, but very few songs we recognized from their early days.

1505-9 April Wine

Last year, our youngest son (DS3) directed and produced his own movie in South Africa. Lord Jones is Dead completed post production mid-May, and Hubby and I got a private screening. We were so impressed with its professional quality, and Hubby likened it to Monty Python.

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Around the middle of May, we realized we needed to cancel our Vancouver Island trip. Even though Roxy doesn’t actually walk when we hike, the rigorous trip would’ve been too much for her with a casted leg. Talk about disappointment! Then a few days later, Hubby was miraculously able to book a rare week off in August. The trip was back on, several days shorter than originally planned, but I wasn’t complaining.

On the May long weekend, our ancient A/C unit decided to permanently retire. Naturally, the weather was unseasonable warm, and we had company. Worse part was, we couldn’t get a new unit installed for six weeks.

I was notified on May 29th that It’s Complicated had garnered enough votes to make it to the judge’s round of the RONE Awards. My family and friends had come through for me yet again!

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Outside commitments kept me extremely busy most of the spring and summer, forcing me too put my writing and many other aspects of my personal life on hold. I was also at the beck and call of my invalid dog, who couldn’t even get herself a drink of water. With our house constantly overheated, I had to come up with ways of keeping her cool, including sharing my popsicles.

1506-4 Roxy

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Hubby and I took a day of R&R at nearby Beaver Lake at the beginning of June. It’s a lovely spot, and we hope to return one day with our kayak.

1506-5 Beaver Lake 1506-6 Beaver Lake

Family and friends came from near and far to honour my mom with a weekend of celebrations for her 90th birthday in June. She’s certainly a well-loved lady.

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Our new A/C unit was installed on July 2nd, and we focused on how cool the house finally was, rather than the expensive bill we had to pay.

The next day, Roxy got her cast off. The vet had concerns about the way the bones had healed and she didn’t put weight on that leg for the longest time, but we did physio with her every day, including some adorable hydro-therapy in the bathtub, and she slowly made a complete recovery.

1507-1 Roxy

The only difference we can see is that the leg keeps getting hairier and hairier (weird, right?) and the healed joint is bigger than it used to be.

1507-1a Roxy

Hubby and I explored the charms of Brandt’s Creek one balmy July afternoon.

1507-2 Brandt's Creek 1507-3 Brandt's Creek

I flew to Alberta at the end of July to celebrate my grandson’s birthday. We played in the Elbow River, an activity I did as a teenager.

1507-56 Elbow River

We spent a very entertaining and informative day in Drumheller at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and viewing the hoodoos.

1507-57 Royal Tyrrell Museum 1507-58 Hoodoos

And we capped the weekend off by attending a Stampeders football game. I hadn’t been to one in over forty years, so it was quite nostalgic for me, and my team won!

1507-59 Calgary Stampeders VS Montreal Allouettes

At the beginning of August, The Wild Rose Press contracted another of my books for publication. It’s titled Visual Effects and I’m guessing (hoping) it’ll be out next spring.

Because of the busyness of my summer, we only got out kayaking once, ambitiously paddling from Sutherland Bay to Paul’s Tomb and back.

1508-1 Paul's Tomb 1508-2 Paul's Tomb

By August, I had lost twelve pounds. I was still riding the bike for half an hour several days a week, but every time I tried going to resistance two, my knee would act up. Wearing a rather cumbersome brace has helped to stabilize the knee.

1508-8 Knee brace

Back in May, I discovered Roxy had a rotten tooth. The vet wouldn’t pull it without a multitude of tests first, so we hoped it’d just fall out on its own. When I had the vet check it again mid-August, it practically fell out in his hand. I told Hubby how it only cost $30, adding that I deserved some good karma for all the hard work I’d been doing. I don’t usually talk that way, and I should’ve kept my mouth shut, because only minutes later, I had a freak accident, which resulted in a severe injury to my foot. So much for good karma!

1508-9 Foot injury

1 Foot injury

Lots of bruising a couple of days later.

1508-11 Foot injury

To make matters worse, this injury happened mere days before our Vancouver Island trip. With serious nerve and tendon damage, I wasn’t supposed to walk on it, but I did anyway, determined not to let it ruin our wonderful trip. I shared many vacation tales and photos here. These are just a few of the highlights.

Schooner Cove Trail

1508-17 Schooner Cove Trail, Pacific Rim Park

Florencia Bay beach

1508-18 Florencia Bay beach, Pacific Rim Park

Lighthouse Loop

1508-19 Lighthouse Loop, Wild Pacific Trail, Ucluelet

Big Beach, Ucluelet

1508-20 Big Beach, Ucluelet

On the last day of August, I received the sad, if not completely unexpected, news that one of my publishers, Secret Cravings, was closing its doors, effectively orphaning two of my books. I immediately started revamping the books to submit somewhere else, and my other publisher also offered to look at them, but to date I’ve made no decisions on what to do.

I was probably the happiest mom on the planet when my brown-eyed boy (DS2) told me in September that he and DIL2 were moving back home after eight long years living in eastern Canada!!

It’s Complicated didn’t place at the RONE Awards ceremony in September. Because the book was no longer for sale, and I’d already won the award for Show No Weakness, I was content to have finaled.

Hubby and I checked out Kuiper’s Peak at the end of September. Although the trail itself was short and uninspiring, the views of Okanagan Lake were exceptional.

1509-4 Kuipers Peak 1509-5 Kuipers Peak 1509-6 Kuipers Peak

We made our annual trek to Alberta for Thanksgiving and once again were blessed with lovely weather. DS1 got us tickets to a Stamps football game, and although my team lost, it was a fine night and we enjoyed ourselves.

1510-1 Stamps VS Eskimos

DIL1 drove us to Bowden where I experienced the fun of a Corn Maze for the first time.

1510-2 Bowden Corn Maze 1510-3 Bowden Corn Maze

We celebrated both DS1 and DIL1’s birthdays while there.

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The landscape on the trip home was alive with glorious fall colours.

1510-5 Three Valley Gap

By mid-October, my foot had healed enough for me to resume my bike riding regime. I had concerns about not having pedaled for two months, but I was able to quickly ramp up to a half hour at resistance two.

DIL2 treated me to a Bare Naked Ladies concert in October. Alan Doyle (formerly of Great Big Sea) was the opening act and, wow, what a great night of music. And such fun to share it with my DIL.

1510-6 Alan Doyle 1510-7 Bare Naked Ladies 1510-8 Bare Naked Ladies

The return of DS2 and DIL2 means Daisy’s back too. Daisy and I kinda love each other, and she certainly hasn’t forgotten me.

1510-22 With Daisy

Remember the bit about the A/C unit breaking down in May? Well, our ten-year-old furnace bit the big one in November. We could’ve had it repaired—if we wanted to wait four to six weeks for the parts. In November? Uh, no. So after ten chilly furnace-less days, we had the latest and greatest (and hugely expensive) one installed. Fingers crossed it lasts longer than its crappy predecessor.

The book cover for my new release, Visual Effects, was finalized mid-November. I’m quite happy with it, and I’ll do a cover reveal as soon as I get my release date.

It was a pleasure to celebrate DIL2’s birthday with her this year.

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We also had the privilege of attending her call ceremony in December. Such an accomplished young lady!

1512-20 Call ceremony

We hung memory ornaments for my dad and MIL at the local cemetery. My MIL loved Christmas, and I believe she’d be pleased.

1512-1 memory ornaments

Like our past several Christmases, this year wasn’t traditional. We spent part of Christmas Eve with lots of little ones at my niece’s beautiful home, where Santa made an appearance, and DS2 and 3 got a visit in with their grandma.

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Christmas day was very quiet, just Hubby and DS3 to open a few presents with. Later, DIL2 hosted a lovely dinner at her parents’ place.

1512-23 1512-99 Christmas dinner

We cooked our turkey dinner on the Sunday after Christmas and had some family over to share it with us.

1512-25 Belated Christmas dinner

Traditional Christmas or not, it meant so much to me to have more than one special present under my tree.

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2015 wasn’t my best year and, while it certainly wasn’t my worst either, I’m glad it’s in the rear-view mirror. I look forward to what 2016 holds.

The Xcalacoco Love Story

This is the tale of forbidden love between a brave conquistador, Bernard, and a beautiful Mayan princess, Lol Ha. The full story is on Sandos Caracols website and I recommend you use this link to read it before you continue on with my photos. Love Story

Even if a person didn’t know the story, the artistry of the dancing, the elaborate Mayan costumes and the profession polish of the performances are worth watching. I only wish I’d been able to capture better quality shots. Unfortunately, my little camera doesn’t perform well with action or in darkness, so the pictures are what they are. Hopefully, they can still convey, at least partially, the excellence of these ceremonies.

The Arrival

The story begins on the beach with the villagers of Xcalacoco awaiting the arrival of the Mayan rowers from Cozumel. It’s a time to celebrate with music and dance, for the travelers will return with food and supplies.

1 The Arrival 2 The Arrival 3 The Arrival

5 The Arrival

When the rowers appear with a nearly drowned stranger, the villagers realize this man is different from them. They’ve never seen anyone with such white skin and unusual clothing, and they become frightened and suspicious.

4 The Arrival  6 The Arrival

The village leader, the Chaman, decides to offer the man as a sacrifice to the goddess Itxel.

7 The Arrival

Feeling a strong connection to the foreigner, the Chaman’s princess daughter, Lol Ha, begs mercy for his life.

8 The Arrival 9 The Arrival

Out of love for his daughter, the Chaman agrees to spare him. As Lol Ha nurses the conquistador back to health, they begin to fall in love.

10 The Arrival

25 Sandos Caracol The Arrival ceremony

The Ceremony by the Sacred Cenote

From that time on, the princess and the conquistador meet in secret every night at the cenote, forging a love so strong it could not be broken.

12 Ceremony by the Sacred Cenote 13 The princess and the conquistador arrive at cenote 13a Ceremony by the Sacred Cenote 14 Ceremony by the Sacred Cenote 15 The princess and the conquistador secretly spend time together

One night, the Chaman sees them together and he orders them captured. His rage is so great, he calls on the gods to put them both to death in an offering to Chaac, the Mayan god of rain. The princess is thrown into the cenote to drown, while the injured conquistador manages to escape to the jungle.

16 The Chaman arrives 17 The princess and the conquistador are confronted by the villagers 18 The Chaman condemns the princess & conquistador to death 19 The Chaman

The messengers to the gods are angry that the Chaman would kill his only daughter and they confront him, condemning him to a lifetime of suffering.

20 The gods are angry with the Chaman 21 The gods are angry with the Chaman 22 Ceremony by the Sacred Cenote 23 Ceremony by the Sacred Cenote

Unbeknownst to the Chaman, the conquistador and the princess are reunited when Bernard returns to the cenote to discover Lol Ha has survived.

24 Ceremony by the Sacred Cenote

The Fire of Life

As time passes, reason returns to the Chaman’s mind, and he grows repentant for having killed his daughter. Grief-stricken, he asks the villagers to help him recreate the Fire of Life ceremony so his soul can find peace.

25 The Fire of Life

26 The Fire of Life ceremony 29 The Fire of Life 28 The Fire of Life ceremony 27 The Fire of Life ceremony 26a The Fire of Life ceremony

As part of the ritual, they burn their own skin in sacrifice to resurrect the Lord of Darkness.

30 The Fire of Life ceremony 31 The Fire of Life ceremony

The Chaman calls, again and again, for the soul of his daughter.

32 The chaman asks forgiveness for killing his daughter 33 The Fire of Life 34 The Fire of Life 35 The Fire of Life ceremony 36 The Fire of Life

Off in the distance, two people, holding hands, walk slowly toward the sacred circle. The princess and her conquistador appear from the darkness, and because the Chaman is happy to have his daughter back, he accepts Bernard into his family. And there is much celebrating.

37 The Fire of Life 38 The chaman finds out his daughter is alive 39 The chaman welcomes the conquistador 40 The Fire of Life ceremony

To read about our Sandos Caracol trip from the beginning, click here.

Saying Goodbye Was So Hard To Do

All good things must come to an end and so too did our vacation at Sandos Caracol. On our last day of vacation, we usually wander around, take pictures and relax until it’s time to head for the airport. We’d already taken (too) many pictures of the resort, so our main objective that last Wednesday was to have as many monkey encounters as possible. We were so lucky to have several.

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There’s obviously a monkey protocol and this little one patiently waited its turn for a banana.

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We also went on our last eco tour, the corn tribute, with Noemi. After ten days at the resort and spending at least a part of most days with Noemi, we’d grown quite attached and it was hard to say goodbye. Not only did she give me a touching farewell note, she also made us banana frond bracelets and a bookmark (I use it every day). Such a sweet gesture!

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This is Noemi and another resort employee, Alex. I would’ve loved to pack the darling girl in my suitcase and take her home with me. But for someone who has never experienced snow before, she likely would’ve rushed right back to her little piece of paradise.

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After the eco tour, we checked out of our room and went off in search of more monkeys. Some of our best encounters of the entire trip happened that afternoon.

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At one point, I was watching the monkeys eating bananas in the trees, when one came right down to me. He grabbed a piece of a banana he’d spotted on the ground in front of me and took off with it. I laughed, telling him I thought he was coming to see me. He glanced back over his shoulder and told me off but good, like why in the world would he want anything to do with me when I have no treats to offer him? So comical, and Hubby caught it all on video too, so I can watch it whenever I need a laugh.

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This is one of the baby monkeys, old enough to be off its mama’s back, but still tiny. While Mom foraged for bananas, it enjoyed some berries.

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Here’s Mom coming down to snag a banana from our fruit offering.

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I’ll leave off with some of my many photos from around the resort.

Fauna first.

The macaws on the way to their daytime perches.

1265 Sandos Caracol 1266 Darwin 1267 Macaw

Hubby loves the friendly grackles.

1268 Grackles 1269 Grackles 1269a Sandos Caracol

Peacock in all his glory.

1270 Peacock

What an expression on this Chachalaca.

1271 Chachalaca

Snowy Egret

1273 Snowy Egret @ Cenote de la Cascade

Iguanas everywhere

1274 Iguana 1275 Iguana

Mayan dog

1276 Mayan dog

Mossy turtle

1277 Turtle in Mayan River

Delicate white-tail deer

1278 White tail deer

Burros play-fighting as brothers do.  It’s all fun and games until the younger one gets kicked in the face.

1279 Burros play-fighting

My very favourite, of course, are the coatis and especially the spider monkeys.

1280 Coatis 1281 1282

Now for some glorious flora.

The grounds are a perfect blend of natural beauty and impeccable grooming.

1283 Sandos Caracol 1284 Sandos Caracol 1285 1286 Sandos Caracol 1287 Orchids @ Sandos Caracol 1288 Sandos Caracol 1289 Sandos Caracol 1290 1291 Sandos Caracol 1292 Sandos Caracol

The trees have such character.

1293 Alamo tree 1294 1295

Cacti hung from this tree in front of our building.

1296 Cactus growing off tree by our building

Statues and stonework are tucked away all over the place.

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Lots of interesting paths to stroll, day or night.

1309 Path by burros 1310 Sandos Caracol 1311

Unique cenotes and Mayan ruins/temples.

1312 Cenote Sacrado 1313 Cenote de la Tortuga 1314 Cenote Select 1315 Cenote de la Tortuga 1316 Cenote Cristalino 1317 Cenote Cristalino 1318 1319 Cenote Cristalino 1320 Cenote Cristalino 1321 Mayan Ruins 1322 Mayan ruin 1323 Temple

Jesus in his Mayan garb

1324 Jesus-Mayan River boat ride 1325 Jesus

More Mayan costumes

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Fun kids’ stuff

1327 1328 Kids Club

Sandos Caracol entrance

1329 Caracol main entrance

Los Lirios Restaurant & Elite Club pool

1330 Los Lirios Restaurant & Elite Club pool

Salvia Vegetarian Restaurant

1331 Salvia Vegetarian Restaurant

El Templo Japanese Restaurant

1332 El Templo Japanese Restaurant

La Toscana Italian Restaurant

1333 La Toscana Italian Restaurant

Beachfront La Riviera Restaurant

1334 La Riviera Restaurant

Brazillian Rodizio Restaurant & Adult pool

1334a Brazillian Rodizio &  Adult pool

La Laguna International Buffet

1335 La Laguna International Buffet 1336 La Laguna International Buffet 1337 La Laguna International Buffet

Las Mascaras Mexican Buffet

1338 Las Mascaras Mexican Buffet 1339 Las Mascaras Mexican Buffet 1340 Las Mascaras Mexican Buffet

El Nido snack bar

1341 El Nido snack bar 1342 Swings @ El Nido snack bar

Info Centre & Sports Bar

1343 Info Centre & Sports Bar

Theatre

1344 Theatre 1345 Theatre

Spa & Gym

1346  Spa & Gym 1347 Spa

Lobby

1348 Lobby Entrance 1349 1350

L’Elefant Lobby Bar

1351 L'Elefant Lobby Bar 1352 L'Elefant Lobby Bar 1353 L'Elefant Lobby Bar

The main pool is long and narrow with larger pools at each end.

1354 Main pool

La Tortuga pool

1355 La Tortuga pool

Last, but certainly not least, the beach.

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I’ll try to do justice to the incredible Xcalacoco ceremonies on my final Sandos Caracol post next week. Click here for that post. To start with the first post of the trip click here.

I Can Still Tread Water With The Best Of Them

Our second Monday at Sandos Caracol started much the same as most mornings, with a coati encounter on the way to breakfast. 942 Coati 944 Coati The burros always seemed eager for attention, but if we tried to pet them, they were all, “How dare you touch me!” Because we had no treats to offer, the fickle things wanted no part of us. 945 Burro Monday’s eco tour was the Earth Tribute. I planted a red mangrove seedling. 949 Planting my red Mangrove seedling The Chechen tree is the skinny tree with the light-coloured trunk and the visible black sap pictured below. The Chacah tree is the red-barked tree right beside it. Whenever you see one of these trees, the other won’t be far away. The sap of the Chechen, which runs freely down the trunk, is nasty and can cause serious, painful rashes. The antidote for this rash is found in the sap of the Chacah tree, which must be cut to release its sap. 950 Chaca & Chechen Noemi, our darling guide, shared this Mayan legend explaining the appearance of these trees and why they are found together. There once were two brothers, warrior princes, and like many brothers they occasionally squabbled and got jealous of each other. The younger brother was kind and well-loved, while the older brother was cruel and cold. Unfortunately, the two brothers fell in love with the same beautiful princess, and they fought each other to see who would win her love. A great battle ensued, with both brothers being killed. In the afterlife, they begged the gods for forgiveness, asking to return to earth. The gods granted their wish, and the older brother was reborn as the Chechen tree, which seeps black poison, burning whoever touches it. The younger brother was reborn as the Chacah tree, with a nectar that neutralizes the Chechen’s toxin. Wherever the evil Chechen tree grows, so does the pure Chacah, to protect and heal Chechen’s victims. Like the roots of the two trees, the brothers’ souls remain forever entwined together.

These stunning blue and black birds are Yucatán jays. Immature jays have yellow bills and eye rings. 955 Juvenile Yucatan Jays Mature jays (over four years) keep their yellow legs, but no longer have a yellow beak or orbital ring. 956 Mature Yucatan Jays After lunch, we strolled the beach. The day was much calmer and sunnier than the previous time. 957 958 Riviera Maya, Caribbean Sea The skies were so clear, some buildings on Cozumel and the approaching ferry were visible. 959 Riviera Maya, Caribbean Sea White sand and lots of seaweed. 962 Riviera Maya, Caribbean Sea 960 Riviera Maya, Caribbean Sea 961 I saw pelicans for the first (and only) time. 976 Pelican @ beach 977 Pelicans 978 Riviera Maya, Caribbean Sea The elegant Snowy Egret 1012 Snowy Egret We cooled off afterwards at the Tortuga pool. Hubby took a refreshing swim, while I was content with a wade and a drink. 1029 La Tortuga pool 1028 La Tortuga pool No new towel art that day, but we still had a nice family of them to enjoy. 1030 Towel art family Because we’d gone on Tuesday’s eco tour the previous week, we explored the grounds by ourselves that morning. Something on the ear of this little elephant statue caught my eye. 1063 Sandos Caracol 1066 Teeny gecko I think it was a gecko. About the size of my pinky finger, it was teeny-tiny and very adorable. 1064 Teeny gecko 1065 Teeny gecko Banana trees look so cool. 1076 Banana tree Inside the deer enclosure. 1080 White-tail deer enclosure The deer with the small horns is the only male in amongst his harem of females. 1081 White-tail deer Turtle in the Cenote de la Cascade 1089 Cenote de la Cascade Snowy Egret at the Cenote de la Cascade 1092 Snowy Egret @ Cenote de la Cascade 1093 Snowy Egret @ Cenote de la Cascade On one of our tours, Noemi had pointed out a ‘crack’ in the ground by the Cenote de la Cascade, a possible start to a new cenote. Wanting to see it for myself, I ventured inside. 1096 The crack Hubby chose not to join me. 1098 The crack Besides an abundance of spider webs (I’m sure I walked through every single one), there wasn’t much to see down there. 1097 The crack A mermaid to join our growing family! 1099 Towel art The old-fashioned TV came in handy to hold our various glasses. We really do use them all! 1100 So many glasses After lunch we went for our long-anticipated swim in the Cenote Cristalino. 1106 Cenote Cristalino 1107 Swimming @ Cenote Cristalino Hubby ventured right out, eager to peer into its crystal clear depths. 1108 Swimming @ Cenote Cristalino 1109 Swimming @ Cenote Cristalino (2) I sat on the steps for some time, psyching myself up to jump in. As much as I love water, I prefer being near it or on it, rather than in it. 1110 Swimming @ Cenote Cristalino Eventually I just got over myself and took the plunge. I expected the water to be uncomfortably cool, but it was quite pleasant. Not much of a swimmer, I doggy-paddled over to hang on to Hubby. 1111 Swimming @ Cenote Cristalino Lots of fish, all on the bottom. 1112 Swimming @ Cenote Cristalino 1113c Swimming @ Cenote Cristalino When Hubby got out, I asked him to take pictures of me, not knowing when or if I’d ever be in a cenote again. I envisioned something like this one of him, showing where we were. 1114 Swimming @ Cenote Cristalino I got this. Oh well, he tried. 1125 Swimming @ Cenote Cristalino 1130 Swimming @ Cenote Cristalino There are currents in the cenote. A natural one from the underground river and a pumped flow to help keep the cenote healthy. Naturally, I got stuck in one. Did I mention I can’t really swim? So I paddled and I paddled and eventually made it to the steps on my own steam. Despite being tuckered out, I didn’t want to get out of that beautiful oasis. It was that glorious. Maybe the iguana lifeguard could’ve saved me. 1135 Iguana @ Cenote Cristalino As we enjoyed drinks afterward, Hubby said, “A large snake just went under your chair.” I didn’t blink an eye because I’m used to his jokes, plus I rather like snakes. I peeked under my chair in time to see a skinny black three-foot long snake slither into the nearby shrubs. Pretty funny. 1153 L'Elefant Lobby Bar Bike riding in a dress, after downing a Piña Colada in the hot sun, was great fun. I’m sure I only flashed a little bit. 1155 Bike Park 1156 Sandos Caracol 1157 Sandos Caracol Some of the jungle trail is rugged(ish). 1158 Sandos Caracol 1159 Sandos Caracol Some places are wide enough to ride side-by-side. 1160c Sandos Caracol 1161 Sandos Caracol And some paths skirt the resort. 1162 Sandos Caracol 1163 Sandos Caracol Hubby’s plate of ‘salad’ at La Toscana Italian Restaurant. 1181 La Toscana Italian Restaurant Unlike the few shy raccoons we’d seen so far, these cheeky buggers knew exactly what the garbage cans were for. 1184 1185 The Xcalacoco ceremony that evening was The Arrival, the first in the series of three. We got to the beach early and found good seats on a front row lounger. Turns out, the seats weren’t so great. The rope placed around the ‘stage’ to keep spectators back just happened to be at eye level. Then, as the show started, a group of people sat on the sand in front of us. Right in front of us! And the performers, themselves, often stood on the perimeter of the ‘stage’ blocking our view. Still a great show, but not as enjoyable as the previous two because of the difficulty we had watching it. 1192 The Arrival Xcalacoco Ceremony 1210 The Arrival Xcalacoco Ceremony Click here for my post on our final day at the resort. Start from the trip’s beginning here.

Conquering Grupo Nohoch Mul

Because there’s so much to do on-site at Sandos Caracol, we only booked one excursion during our ten-day stay. The Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba. It was an early start to the day and not even the burros wanted to be up yet. Just look at this sleepy guy leaning on the shed. 1 Burro, early in the morning needing a lean Tulum is the oldest Mayan city located on the coast. Built in the late thirteenth century, the site had been abandoned by the end of the sixteenth century. 3 Tulum 3a Tulum It’s surrounded on three sides by a limestone wall, sixteen feet high and twenty-six feet thick, with thirty-nine foot cliffs guarding the sea side. Some historians believe the wall was used as protection for the city. Others contend only the upper castes, such as priests and scholars, were welcome in Tulum, so the walls were needed to keep out lower caste citizens. 4 Tulum exit gate I wish we’d gone to Tulum before we experienced the grandeur of Chichen Itza. Not only because it’s much smaller in scope, but also Tulum’s ruins are roped off now and having to view them from a distance was a considerable letdown. I understand both the liability issues and the need to preserve the ruins, but perhaps a compromise could allow visitors to get a little closer. 5 El Castillo The Cenote house, built over the underground water source. 6 Cenote House The Gods of Winds temple and offertory. 7 Templo Dios del Viento (Gods of Wind) Our tour guide pointed out how this rock formation resembles an iguana, with its head in the water, the cliff as its body, and other rocks as its limbs. My photo doesn’t show how remarkable the resemblance really was. The structure on the cliff is the Temple of the Descending God. The beach below is protected for nesting sea turtles and no one is allowed on it. 8 Iguana-shaped rocks This structure is known by the romantic name of Palace 25. 9 Palace 25 10 Palace 25 11 Palace 25 Temple of the Descending God. The Descending God motif is still visible above the doorway. 12 Temple of the Descending God I would’ve loved to have gotten a closer look at El Castillo, the largest building on the site. 13 El Castillo 14 El Castillo A walkway runs behind the castle and has spectacular sea views. The white line of waves is the barrier reef that runs along the Riviera Maya from Cancun to Guatemala. 15 Tulum 16 Tulum 17 Tulum Not sure how successful this young man would be in rescuing anyone who might fall thirty-nine feet to the sea below. 18 Tulum A view of the protected sea turtle beach from the other side, with the Gods of Winds Temple to the right. 19 Gods of Wind Temple 20 Templo Dios del Viento (God's of Wind) This dramatic photo of the Gods of Winds Temple that Hubby took is one of my trip favourites. 21 Templo Dios del Viento (God's of Wind) Usually visitors can venture down to the beach to view the ruins from below. Access was disappointedly restricted that day because of high winds on the water. 22 Tulum This structure is simply called Temple 54. 23 Temple 54 One of the better preserved structures is the Temple of Frescos. There’s lots of interesting detail on the outside and a mural still exists inside, although we weren’t able to see it. 27 Frescos Temple 28 Frescos Temple 29 Frescos Temple Sculptured columns running along the length of the Great Palace’s main wall. 30 Grand palace 31 Grand Palace Great Palace with Palace 25 in background. 32 Palace 25 & Grand Palace Great Palace with Temple of the Descending God in background. 33 Temple of the Descending God Cute little coati. 34 Coati @ Tulum 35 Coati @ Tulum Iguanas were everywhere. 24 Tulum 24a Iguana by Tulum 25 Tulum 26 Great Palace One of these small structures is the Watch Tower Temple. 36 Tulum 37 Watch Tower Temple As we boarded the bus to leave Tutum, the skies opened. During our vacation we’d experienced occasional brisk winds and sometimes the sky briefly clouded over. But not a drop of rain fell until that day. (Coincidently, it also rained when we went to Chichen Itza, five years ago) The rain continued to fall as we arrived at the Mayan village and cenote. 782 Pouring rain A Mayan Chaman did a cleansing ceremony for us. 783 Chaman's hut @ Mayan village 783a Cleaning ceremony The Mayan religion has crosses similar to Christian ones, but a Mayan cross is distinguished by its traditional white Mayan dress. 784 Chaman's hut @ Mayan village We explored the small hut while waiting for the rain to ease. Which it didn’t. 783b Chaman's hut @ Mayan village 783c Chaman's hut @ Mayan village After experiencing torrential rainfall in Cancun, Hubby and I always travel with rain ponchos. For the first time in five years, we needed them that day. Definitely not the height of fashion, but at our age comfort is foremost, and we were happy not to have to spend the rest of the day in soggy clothes. 785 Pouring rain @ Cenote The cenote water was beautiful, even in the rain. 818 Cenote 824 Cenote This unusual cenote had an island in the middle. Presumably the island was formed when the ceiling of the cenote collapsed in. 814 Cenote The rain had stopped by time we had lunch at the Ki-Hanal Restaurant just outside the Coba gates. This charming little gal tried her best to make friends with Hubby. 846 Ki-Hanal Restaurant 848 Ki-Hanal Restaurant I spotted this gorgeous Bougainvillea from the restaurant window and went down for a closer look. Too bad we can’t grow it at home. 840 Bougainvilleas 841 Bougainvilleas 842 Bougainvilleas 843 Bougainvilleas 844 Bougainvilleas I’d eagerly anticipated our visit to Coba for months and my only disappointment was not being able to stay longer. Coba was occupied in the first century, with the population growing to about 50,000 inhabitants between 600 and 900 AD. The site was abandoned around 1550. It is approximately thirty square miles in size and largely unexcavated. It’s believed there’s up to 6000 structures, but only three small settlements can be visited. 859 Coba Dense jungle covers most of Coba, slowly and surely reducing the ruins to rubble. We saw many instances of this insidious encroachment. 880 Coba 881 Grupo Coba 882 Coba Visitors can no longer climb Grupo Coba. 860 Grupo Coba The first of two Juego de Pelota courts is located near Grupo Coba. These ball courts differ vastly from the large one at Chichen Itza, with the playing walls being much closer together. Despite the design difference, the results were similar – The captain of the winning team was sacrificed by having his head chopped off. 862 1st Juego de Pelota court 863 1st Juego de Pelota court There were lots of these low tunnels throughout the site. 864 Coba There’s three options to get to the next settlement two kilometres away. Walk, rent a bike, or hire a bike taxi. We walked, hoping to see more that way. 892 Coba This is an invasive African beehive. 893 African beehive This is a Mayan beehive. 924a Mayan Beehive I got an incredible close-up of the wee bees. (They don’t sting.) 926 Mayan Beehive This hieroglyphic slab is called a Stela and there are many on-site, protected under thatch roofs. 901 'Stela' Coba The second ball court, located near Grupo Nohoch Mul. 902 2nd Juego de Pelota court Grupo Nohoch Mul is the highest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan. It’s approximately 140 feet tall with 120 steep, narrow steps. I could barely contain my excitement at the thought of climbing it. 906 Grupo Nohoch Mul Hubby’s a machine and he motored up far faster than I did. 907 Grupo Nohoch Mul I leisurely enjoyed every moment, stopping to take selfies, and had no problem making it to the dizzying view on top. 912 View from Grupo Nohoch Mul 914 On top of Grupo Nohoch Mul With my vertigo on high alert, I had concerns about the trip down. Some young show-offs literally ran up and down, while others scootched on their butts, gripping the rope. I chose something in between, taking one step at a time, focusing downward as I moved. And it was a breeze. (Check out my climbing buddy!) 921 Grupo Nohoch Mul It might not seem like much of an accomplishment, but it certainly was an exhilarating one for me, and I’m proud to say I conquered Grupo Nohoch Mul! 923 Grupo Nohoch Mul Coba Lagoon 931 Coba lagoon Dinosaur towel art back at the resort 936 Towel art Instead of traditional Mexican dancing, that Sunday’s evening show was about Xcalacoco. 940 Xcalacoco Show 942 Xcalacoco Show Remember the leaning burro from the morning? Here’s his brother sound asleep that night. You’d think he’d climbed a pyramid that day. 948 Sleeping burro

Jump to my next post here. Start from the trip’s beginning here.

Sacred Ceremonies, Michael Jackson and Monkeys

Friday morning, our 5th day at Sandos Caracol, was photo safari day. First I took the time to say hello to my coati friends. 368 Coati After breakfast, I spotted this little critter back in the trees. I didn’t get a good shot because it was quite shy, but I’m told it’s called an agouti. 369 Agouti The photo safari started with the macaws by the snack bar. Noemi, our lovely safari guide, explained how Sandos Caracol provides refuge for rescue or surrender birds, as well as many other animals needing a safe haven. 376 Macaw We visited the burros next. These two are brothers, born on the same day, different years. Their parents and younger sibling live at Caracols’ sister resort, Sandos Playacar. 376a Burros I was happy to see the Mayan dogs back in their enclosure, after needing isolation to recover from a serious junk food-induced illness. (People – just don’t feed the animals!) 377 Mayan dogs In two nearby trees live an iguana couple. I could barely see their little heads peeking out of their tree houses. 381 Iguana 382 Iguana The macaws overnight in an enclosure across from the dogs. Peacocks are also kept there. The female peacocks wander freely during the day, returning on their own at dusk. Once the male peacock, having only recently been surrendered, gets used to his surroundings he’ll also be allowed to wander at will. 383 Peacocks We spotted these turtles in the Mayan river. The big mossy one is the female. The smaller, pesky one (unsurprisingly) is the male. 384x Turtles in Mayan River The resort also has Mayan beehives. Mayan bees, which do not sting, make their hives in tree trunks. Their honey, made with sap as well as pollen, is not sweet like regular honey. It’s greenish in color and is mostly used for medicinal purposes. 413 Mayan bees 413a Mayan bees As already mentioned, white-tailed deer live in a dead cenote on the property. These deer are smaller than their northern cousins and they’ve been hunted to near extinction. To help propagate the species, Sandos Caracol breeds the deer, which are then released in select locations. 414 White tail deer 415 White tail deer The safari ended with a visit from the troop of spider monkeys. It’s hilarious how they can eat upside down hanging by their tails. 390 Spider Monkey 391 Spider Monkey Lots of monkey cuteness 392 Spider Monkey 393 Spider Monkey 405 Spider Monkey 409 Spider Monkey 410 Spider Monkey This is my only shot of the youngest baby monkey. Babies ride on their mama’s backs for about a month, so this wee tyke was probably just a few weeks old and so adorable. 412 Spider Monkey baby The sidewalks were usually lined with sunning geckos. 417 This cheeky little fellow puffed itself out to challenge me. 416 I had to do a double-take to make sure this was a real iguana and not another statue. 418 Iguana More cute towel art 419 Towel art Friday’s eco tour was the Sun Tribute and we once again had the pleasure of Noemi’s company. Here she is explaining about termite’s nests. 421 Noemi talking about termite nests A dead termite nest is pitted and dried out. 422 Dead termite nest A live termite nest is smooth and moist-looking. 423 Live termite nest In an earlier post I mentioned how we’d happened across a cement hut near the Cenote Sacrado and we didn’t know its purpose. Noemi explained it’s called a Temazcal Hut (sweat lodge) and is used in a cleansing type of spiritual ceremony. 424 Noemi @ Temazcal Lava rocks are heated in the outdoor oven, then placed in the Temazcal hut, along with medicinal herbs. 425 Temazcal oven 426 Inside Tamazcal hut After working up a cleansing sweat in the hut, participants take a dip in the Cenote Sacrado. 427 Cenote Sacrado 428 Cenote Sacrado We ate at El Templo Japanese Restaurant that evening. The food was just okay but the presentation was quite entertaining. 453 El Templo Japanese Restaurant 458 El Templo Japanese Restaurant The Freddie Jackson Show that night was incredible. I love Michael Jackson’s music, so am probably biased, but Hubby and I really enjoyed the dancing, costumes and production as well. 470 Freddie Jackson show 477 Freddie Jackson show 485 Freddie Jackson show 490 Freddie Jackson show Not only were we greeted by the usual little coatis Saturday morning, an inquisitive raccoon also made a rare appearance. 518 Coati 520 Coati 551 Raccoon Saturday’s eco tour was the Fire Tribute. Among other things, we learned about the Sacred Ceiba (say-bah) Tree (or Xa’axche in Maya). The trunk of a juvenile Ceiba tree is spiny, but as it matures these spines disappear. 554 Kapok tree 555 Kapok tree The mature Ceiba tree takes on the shape of a woman’s body. 559 Sacred Kapok Tree (Ceiba) The Mayans believed the Sacred Ceiba tree represents the connection between the heavens and the underworld. The branches go to heaven where the Gods are, the trunk is where people live, and the roots go down into Xibalba, the underworld, where the spirits dwell. 558 Noemi @ Sacred Ceiba tree (kapok) The Ceiba tree also had many practical uses. The trunk is naturally buoyant, so was used for canoes and rafts. The fruit, called kapot, has a fibre used for pillows and mattresses, and even the seed oil was used for cooking and lamp fuel. Noemi took us to the nearby Plaza del Sol (sun plaza) to talk about that evening’s Fire of Life ceremony.

64 Plaza del Sol

Iguanas gravitate to the stone benches circling the plaza, to sun themselves and make their homes. How many iguanas are in this picture? 556a Iguanas After lunch, we explored the beach. The wind was a tad stronger than brisk and we found the walk invigorating. 571 Riviera Maya, Caribbean Sea 574 Riviera Maya, Caribbean Sea I prefer to walk at the water’s edge and at times the waves almost whisked me off to Cozumel.  577 North of the resort After his impressive weight loss, Hubby’s now healthy and looking good. 599 Sandos Caracol Elite beach This dog was having such fun fetching a coconut. 592 Dog playing with coconut Compared to the wildness of the Caribbean Sea, the Cenote Cristalino was an idyllic oasis of calm. 604 Cenote Cristalino Saturday towel art 605 Room towel art That evening, we returned to the Plaza del Sol early to secure our seats for the Fire of Life ceremony. I found it amusing to wonder what the unsuspecting guests would think if they realized they were sitting on benches that housed dozens of iguanas. The show was spectacular and Hubby and I were left in awe. I’ll go into more detail at a later date. 614 The Fire of Life ceremony 618 The Fire of Life ceremony Please come back next week to see whether I successfully conquer the mighty Grupo Nohoch Mul. Jump to that post here. Go to my first post here.