A Day at Xcaret: Day 2

Day two of my adventure in the Yucatan Peninsula was devoted to a fun day at a local theme park. For those unfamiliar with Xcaret, it is essentially a park devoted to Mexican culture and the natural wonders of Mexico. It features some small Mayan ruins, buildings created in classic architectural styles, native animal enclosures, water attractions, and cultural shows. Our family felt it would be wise to devote an entire day to exploring, which ended up feeling just about right for us. I think ideally two days might be nice if you have the time, but you can definitely hit the highlights in just one.

Unfortunately, our morning started out looking like we might not get to go to Xcaret as Hurricane Agatha was still causing a fair amount of rain and also strong winds. Though it hadn’t hit the Yucatan directly, there were some lingering effects from it while we were there. Nonetheless our family figured since we’d booked tickets we would head over and at least see if the park was open.

Since our hotel was made up of individual cabins, the “lobby” area was mostly outside, which was where breakfast was being served. Thankfully some of it was covered and the staff even sweetly moved an empty table into the covered area for us so we could eat out of the rain.

Breakfast was delicious! Fresh fruit and yogurt, bread with cheese, beans, ham, and sausage and plenty of coffee.

After we’d finished up eating, we packed up and headed on the road to Xcaret.

Soon enough we arrived and headed inside to claim our tickets. Thankfully the park was open and ready to operate in spite of the bad weather!

On our way in we enjoyed some of the animals as well as the small Mayan ruins.

Our initial plan had been to go up in the sightseeing tower to get some views of the park, but unfortunately it was one of the few things closed due to the weather, so instead we changed into swimsuits and headed to the Mayan river! One of the most fun things in Xcaret are the three “lazy” rivers that run through the park. You get a life jacket and then float down them, enjoying the various sights along the way. There are caverns with bats, some little water falls coming down into the river, and other fun experiences along the way.

I will mention that my mother and brother both had to sign a waiver to go on the river since they are diabetic (type 1). While these Mayan canals are similar to “lazy” rivers you see in some water parks, there is minimal current in some places, so it does take some swimming or pulling on ropes to get to the end which can be strenuous. Just know if you’re looking to relax, this might not be the attraction for you and people with health problems are discouraged from going on the rivers and may need to sign a waiver if they opt to do so.

After floating the river, we decided it was so much fun that we’d go do a second ride on a different one. On our way walking back we enjoyed some of the animal exhibits and also a demonstration of the Danza de los Voladores, a Mesoamerican ceremony done to ensure rain for the harvest. It is really incredible to see. Five men climb to the top of a pole and then four descend tied by ropes, spinning upside down while the fifth plays a flute and drum. Sadly my WordPress account will not allow me to post videos without paying significantly more, but I did post a Youtube clip of one (not Xcaret’s) if you’d like to get an idea.

We settled on the Manatee River as our second choice. This one sadly wasn’t quite as interesting as the Mayan. It also had fewer sections with ropes, so you really did have to mostly swim it. We were all pretty tired by the end. The good thing was that we did get to enjoy seeing one of the manatees while swimming by! We had to kind of climb up the edge to get a good look, but it was still very fun to see one so close.

After finishing with the river, we went ahead and changed out of swimsuits and then headed to check out some of the other animal exhibits.

We started first with the jaguar and puma enclosures. The enclosures themselves were actually incredible. There was a jungle like area for each cat, and in between that and the rest of the park was a huge gorge and waterfalls all through. Visitors could look from the sides or from a rope bridge overlooking the enclosure.

We didn’t see the puma, but the jaguar was out and about, making noise and walking around. As we live in an area with pumas, we were fine with only seeing the jaguar since that isn’t an animal we’d spot in the wild at home.

After admiring the big cats (or at least the one we could see), we headed over to the aviary. Similar to the jaguar enclosure, it was a huge open space, a gigantic room with a spiraling path from the canopy down to the “rainforest” floor. There were so many birds, and we enjoyed getting to explore and see such a great variety of them.

Once we reached the bottom of the enclosure, we exited and did a quick tour of the butterfly pavilion. We’d seen more impressive butterfly exhibits in the past, so didn’t spend much time there, but it was still fun to pass through.

Finally, we were starting to get hungry. We had paid for slightly more expensive passes in order to get lockers included for our things (we felt this would be helpful for the times we wanted to get wet), and the tickets we purchased ended up coming with a meal included. We chose to go with the Mexican restaurant rather than the ones with more international options. The setup was buffet style, allowing us to sample a wide variety of foods. I was excited to get to try cactus for the first time, alongside just enjoying various cuts of meat, grilled vegetables, tamales and other good things. It definitely wasn’t the best food, but it was filling and there was a good variety so it made for a decent dinner without having to leave the park.

Satisfied with a good meal, we opted to stop by some of the aquarium exhibits before heading to the show we wanted to see for the evening. The sea turtles were amazing to get to see up close. They were so much bigger than I had anticipated them being and the babies were adorable too. Though I had seen a couple turtles in Hawaii the year before, this was fun to really get to study them for a little while.

Feeling satisfied with having seen as much as we could for the day, we headed in the direction of the performance we wanted to see.

On our way we stopped by some of the cultural and architectural exhibits. There is also usually a horse show in the evening, but it was cancelled due to the rain, but the riders were at least out and about showing off their horses and costumes.

So our plan had been to head to see a performance called the Mexico Espectacular, which was supposed to be a celebration of Mexican heritage, culture, and history. However, as we were walking over it began to pour down buckets of rain. I think the rain I saw in Mexico might have been the most rain I’ve ever seen in my life (joys of living in a desert climate is I’m not used to much in general, but certainly not anything like this tropical downpour).

We made a run for it and found seats together for the show, though we were now all soaked, but thankfully we forgot all about that soon enough!

We were soon immersed in a colorful spectacular, starting off with an abbreviated history of Mexico, celebrating the culture of the native peoples, then on to the conquistadors taking over and so on until the modern era. In the second half, the performance focused more on the different dances and music of the various regions of Mexico. This part did start to get a little long in places, but for the most part they kept it moving and always brought out something new and interesting just about the time I was getting bored. All in all it really was a spectacular performance, and I’d highly recommend to anyone who is planning to visit Xcaret!

As the show came to a close, we hustled to get out of the park and on the road to our next hotel. We were staying in Playa del Carmen for the night at a place called Hotel Colibri Beach. All in all it was a comfortable and nice place, right near the beach (though it was much too late to enjoy that). I did rest in the hammock on our porch for a bit that evening, but otherwise it was straight to bed to be ready for more adventures ahead!

Adventure in the Yucatan Peninsula: Day 1

Hello all! So happy to be back with more travel blogging after a year long break. Between work and COVID, it’s definitely been a bit harder to get out in the world, but hopefully there will be even more adventures to write about in the future.

A few disclaimers: firstly this is not a solo trip. While I do a fair amount of solo travel and have several posts on this blog dedicated to that, this trip was one with my family. My parents are also big on travel, so when I have opportunities to join them on world exploration, I often do.

Secondly, I know as of June 13th Mexico has been moved back to a level 3 COVID level by the CDC. When we were traveling Mexico was at a level 2, so much less of a risk. If you are traveling please make sure you are staying up to date on current rates of infection and when in doubt consult with a travel medicine doctor if you can.

Now, why Mexico? And why the Yucatan? While both my parents and I are teachers and can take longer vacations in the summer, my brother has a more limited schedule and was only able to get away for about a week. Therefore, the family felt an international trip needed to be to somewhere not too far away and involving minimal jet lag. As I have always wanted to see some of the Mayan ruins and cenotes (caverns with water in them), I seriously pushed for the Riviera Maya and thankfully the family agreed. So with plans in place, we took off after the school year ended.

Day one was focused mostly on flights and getting to Cancun. Once we arrived we were picked up by our rental car company Yes Rental. They were very helpful and friendly and got us set up in our car so we would be able to explore lots of places in the area.

With the rental car taken care of, we started off driving down the coast to the town where we’d be staying the night, Puerto Morelos. We enjoyed the sights on the drive, particularly this fun crocodile mural (pictured below).

Our hotel for the night was called the Amar Inn, a cute place on the beach with little cabins with palapas style rooves made out of palm leaves.

With no specific plans for the afternoon, we figured a little beach time would be a good way to unwind after all the traveling. However, it wasn’t quite the tropical paradise welcome I was expecting. The sky was gray, and the wind was really blowing, remnants of the hurricane that had rolled through a few days before on the opposite coast. Sadly it just wasn’t quite warm enough to really enjoy the water as much as I’d anticipated. And on top of that there seemed to be a huge amount of seaweed piled up in the surf.

Me–disappointed by the stormy weather rather than the sunshine I expected

I’ve read up a bit on the seaweed problem since our stay out of curiosity. Turns out it’s an algae called Sargassum, which has been a problem along the Riviera Maya on several beaches in recent months. Sadly it means the waters aren’t quite as crystal clear blue as they normally are, and it also does cause some bad smells when decomposing on the beach. We’ll hope this becomes less of a problem for Mexico in the future so the beaches can go back to their usual beautiful conditions.

After the beach disappointment, we headed back and threw clothes back on to head into town for dinner. There were several restaurant options that looked good, however, we settled on trying La Sirena, a Greek inspired restaurant in town.

The restaurant ended up being great, good food and a beautiful top floor deck to enjoy the ocean views even with the wind still blowing like crazy.

I had a lamb dish and a pina colada to celebrate the start of a tropical vacation followed off with an apple tart ( I wanted the baklava but they were out).

After the meal, we walked around the city center a little bit before heading back to the hotel for a swim in the pool. Puerto Morelos definitely is pretty small, but we found it charming in its simplicity. Likewise the pool at the hotel was nothing fancy, but it felt nice after a long day of travel.

It was an amazing start to the vacation! I look forward to posting more about the upcoming days so stay tuned for more.

History, Food, and Waves: Hawaii Day 5

Our final full day in Hawaii was another busy one.

We began with another lovely breakfast on the balcony of our rental. More sea turtles and rays were spotted playing in the waters.

After we finished up breakfast, we headed back inland to head to Hawaii’s Plantation Village, a former sugar cane plantation, now converted into a museum to help preserve the history of the plantations.

We caught the first tour of the day, heading out with our guide, a man who was actually born in the area and had relatives who worked on the plantation. He showed us around the plantation to buildings that had been built to show what typical living quarters of the day might have looked like. The museum wanted to display the variety of different cultures that were represented in the plantation life, so they had houses meant to represent the Japanese, Koreans, Portuguese, Okinawans, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, and so on.

We spent a couple of hours letting our guide show us from house to house, explaining more about the history of the place as well as the melting pot of cultures that formed on the grounds.

After the tour was finished, we decided to go get some food. Feeling in the mood for something a little different, we decided to try a Mexican food place called Cholo’s.

I ordered a piña colada (one of my favorite cocktails) and my mother and brother both had martinis, though my brothers was a tropical one.

For food we had a variety, but I decided some chicken fajitas sounded nice. One of the favorites we tried though were the spinach enchiladas that were very tasty.

After we finished eating, I changed into my suit and we headed off to try to find another snorkeling location. We enjoyed driving around the north shore, seeing the famous waves and the beauty of the ocean.

We looked around a bit and then tried stopping at Kawela Bay Beach Park, but another group was leaving with snorkeling gear and said the water was too choppy to see much. We took a quick look, and had to agree. Not the best for seeing ocean wildlife.

So we headed over to Turtle Bay, which was quite busy in comparison but did seem to have better conditions for snorkeling.

We snorkeled for a little while, though it was a little more choppy than I preferred, but I still saw a couple of interesting fish and such. Sadly no turtles in spite of the name of the beach!

After a time we washed up and headed back towards our apartment. We enjoyed driving along the shore all the way back around to Honolulu and then off towards our place.

By the time we arrived at our vacation rental, I wanted to see if conditions were good enough on our beach to snorkel. Sadly, the last couple mornings it had been too choppy, so we hadn’t had a chance to go again.

I ran to the beach and plunged into the water, but sadly it was again too choppy and also getting close enough to sunset that it was just impossible to really see. Apparently I wouldn’t be doing anymore snorkeling.

Back up at the apartment, we readied ourselves for dinner, deciding again to do a homecooked meal instead of going out. We had some pasta and vegetables, and sat on the deck to watch the sunset.

After dinner, it was time to head down and take another dip in the pool. We had the place to ourselves, which was lovely. Worn out from a busy day, we had a goodnight’s sleep, ready to say goodbye to Hawaii the next day.

I’ll finish off by talking just briefly about the next morning, since most of the day was spent traveling I don’t want to dedicate a whole post to it.

We had our usual balcony breakfast before deciding to go climb Mauna Lahilahi, a small rocky outcrop close to our place.

I didn’t get all the way to the top, as it was pretty steep. However, we did get some pictures to enjoy the view!

Once we were finished climbing, we headed back to pack up and then head to the airport. And with that it was goodbye Hawaii and back to normal life!

It was definitely a really fun trip, especially after a year of holing up in my apartment. For the moment, I have no immediate travel plans until more of the world opens up again since many of my destinations in mind are in other countries, but hopefully in the near future I’ll have more to share with all of you here!

Around the Island: Day 4

Our fourth day on Oahu was one of the busiest. We decided to see several different things on the eastern side of the island, since we were staying on the west.

We started off with breakfast on the balcony of our place. Gorgeous views of the ocean to enjoy as we sipped coffee and had fruit and Costco muffins. To our delight, we also were able to see several rays and sea turtles swimming along the shore. Apparently it was a favorite spot of theirs in the early morning. No clear photos of the rays or turtles sadly, but you can at least get an idea of the view.

After breakfast we took off to head to Nu’uanu Pali Lookout to enjoy some beautiful views. Definitely worth the stop to enjoy seeing so much of the natural beauty that Oahu has to offer. The mountains, the lush green, the water, and so forth. We stayed there only a couple of minutes before heading on our way to our next destination.

Next on the list was the Byodo-In Temple, a replica of an actual ancient temple in Japan that was built in Hawaii in the 60’s. As I have unfortunately not been able to get to Asia yet in my travels, it sounded like a great experience to be able to visit.

It took a little while to get there, as the temple is located right be a cemetery, and with Memorial Day, things were busy. However, soon enough we were parking to head to the temple.

The place was beautiful. A peaceful natural landscape, complete with the tranquil reflection of the temple. We wandered through, enjoying the sites and snapping pictures.

After we felt we’d seen all the temple had to offer, we decided to head to a waterfall hike not too far away. The falls were the Likeke Falls, and the trail was right off of the Pali Golf Course, which is no longer in use. Thankfully that meant plenty of parking.

The walk wasn’t too long, though it was quite humid in the forest. We enjoyed the various sites, a water tower covered in graffiti, mongoose hiding in the foliage, and vines and roots forming patterns through the forest.

The falls themselves were pretty crowded, so we didn’t hang out long. It definitely wasn’t the biggest or most impressive waterfall I’ve seen in my travels, but it was pretty and people were clearly enjoying cooling off a bit in the water.

After we’d seen the falls, we headed back down the trail to and towards the coast to find some lunch. We ended up at a place called Kalapawai Cafe and Deli. The place mostly had sandwiches and other simple lunch food, but it ended up being really tasty and definitely hit the spot after a busy morning!

We had some good food, and then we headed off to go snorkeling. We had decided to try Hanauma Bay, part of a nature park well known for being a good place to see ocean wildlife.

Unfortunately, as we turned to go into the parking lot, we were startled to find they were closed! Turns out the park is not open on Mondays. Only open part of the week actually. Again, I can’t be sure if that’s a regular thing or just part of COVID times, but it did put a bit of a damper in our plans.

Thankfully, while driving we’d noticed some other beaches that appeared to be pretty still, therefore good at least for being able to see well in the water.

We headed back towards some of those beaches, stopping at the Halona Blowhole pullout to have a look. Unfortunately the tide wasn’t high enough to have the blow hole actually working, but it was still a really pretty area and we spotted some sea turtles down in the waves as well!

After our quick stop at the blowhole, we headed a little further down to Kaopo Cove Beach Park. The place was actually not too crowded, in spite of the holiday. Many of the other beaches we’d seen on our drive seemed pretty swamped.

At the beach, we headed out into the water to take a look. As we’d seen from our drive, the waves weren’t too strong, and therefore we were able to see really well and not be too battered around.

Unlike our previous day snorkeling, we didn’t see any sea turtles sadly! But there were lots of pretty tropical fish, a saddled snake eel, lots of urchins, and some sea cucumbers (see the one underwater photo above). We had purchased some underwater bags for phones to try to take some pictures while snorkeling, but unfortunately I found it difficult to see the screen in the water, so most of my photos did not turn out well. But, at the very least it was a fun experience even if I wasn’t able to document with pictures.

After a few hours enjoying the beach, we packed up and headed back towards our place for the evening.

We stopped along the way to see if a restaurant was open on the holiday weekend, and if so if they took reservations or had room. The place was called Beach House by 604, Unfortunately, they failed to answer their phone, so we went to actually see about it. Weirdly enough, the restaurant was on a military base, so without a military ID we had to park outside and walk in. My brother graciously offered to go check on availability.

Unfortunately, the restaurant wasn’t taking reservations and was extremely crowded. Any wait would be probably more than an hour. Feeling hungry, and uncomfortable with salt drying on my skin and sand all over, I asked to please just head back to our place and find somewhere else for dinner. I really needed to wash the salt off my body.

Thankfully, it was agreed we could head back and do another meal on our balcony instead. I washed off and my dad went to grab some frozen pizzas and salad ingredients.

After getting cleaned up and having something to drink, I felt a lot better. After a little bit my father returned with pizzas and salad ingredients. Unfortunately, the oven at our rental place was a bit uncooperative, so it took longer to get pizzas cooked than we’d anticipated. However, eventually they were ready and we were able to again sit on our balcony and enjoy the sunset over a meal.

As with the evening before, we finished things off by a walk on the beach in the dark. We again saw some of the needlefish, which were pretty fun. After that we cooled off in the pool before heading up to get a good night’s sleep. We had one more full day on the island, and were determined to enjoy it to the max!

Hawaiian Waters: Day 3

Our third day on Oahu, we started out the morning with a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, before heading off to walk along Waikiki beach.

For the most part it was a casual stroll, some window shopping, pictures along the beach, and enjoying the morning. The sun was already bright and warm, so we stuck to the shade as much as possible.

After a little while we headed back to the hotel to check out before going back to the airport to grab a rental car. As I mentioned in my first post, rental cars were one of the factors that caused us to pick Oahu rather than other islands, as they had some availability at a more reasonable rate.

Once in our car, we took off to explore more of the island. First stop, Pearl Harbor.

Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions, tours of the USS Arizona Memorial were full up so we were unable to actually visit that. I’m sure they were limiting numbers, and it was Memorial Day Weekend, so perhaps busier than other weeks.

There were at least other parts of the site that we could visit, the museums and other memorials. We wandered around those for a little bit, checking out exhibits and learning more about the details of what happened there. It was interesting to see the place I’d read about so many times in my history classes over the years.

After we were done at Pearl Harbor, it was just about lunch time. My brother insisted we try a Hawaiian chain restaurant called Zippy’s. Apparently he’d heard about it before and was curious. My family actually enjoys trying local chain restaurants, just out of curiosity.

At Zippy’s we enjoyed having a variety of different dishes. However, we really enjoyed getting to try malasadas, a Portuguese fried dough that’s still uncooked in the middle. I wasn’t sure if I loved the texture, but it was at least interesting to try something new.

After our meal, we took off to head to our next place we’d be staying at. We’d rented a small apartment on the water in Makaha through Vrbo.

We arrived at our new place and got settled in. After that we decided to head out and try some snorkeling in the little bay we were situated on.

Down at the beach we found a spot to settle in for the afternoon. We took turns going out with our snorkels. Just as we were getting in, my mom said she thought she saw a sea turtle. I was so excited as I’d never seen one in the wild before! Unfortunately before I could spot it, it disappeared. I was pretty disappointed.

I’m definitely not a snorkeling expert, but I’ve gotten better the more I’ve practiced as with everything. My first time trying was in Mexico when I was a teenager, and I gave up pretty easily. Since then I’d tried again in Colombia, mostly letting my father help lead me around by the wrist in shallow areas, not doing much exploring on my own.

But this time I felt prepared. I’d practiced a bit in my bathtub. As humiliating as that sounds, it did work to get me more adjusted to the feel of my mask and snorkel. I am a person who largely breathes out her nose, so it was good practice to work on not doing that and therefore not fogging up my mask.

The waves were a little stronger than I had faced in previous experiences, but I worked on just staying calm and letting them push me around a little. I was just gaining some confidence when my father started yelling my name.

Not going to lie, I definitely initially thought a shark was headed straight at me or I’d somehow gotten myself in danger.

But when I looked up I saw him waving frantically and swam over to where he was not too far away.

There, sure enough in the water was a sea turtle! Not a big one, but still right up close! I was so excited to get to see this amazing animal in person. Probably my favorite experience from the whole trip.

All in all we had a good time and enjoyed the water and some tropical fish. There were no further turtle sightings, but we felt pretty satisfied as we headed back upstairs to clean up.

Once we were done with that, we though maybe we’d go for a hike at Ka’ena Point State Park nearby. The sun was going down, so it seemed like a nice time to avoid the heat.

Unfortunately, we arrived to find the road blocked off. The park was officially closed just a few minutes before we got there. Are you sensing a pattern? Don’t worry, this is going to happen more than once on the trip! Somehow we just managed to arrive several places outside of operating hours. I’ll admit our family is used to parks that are open dawn to dusk, and as the sun wasn’t down yet it seemed a viable option. Just a good reminder to always check hours before heading somewhere. At least it was close to where we were staying.

Thankfully, on the way back we had fun stopping at Kaneana Cave, a volcanic cave right off the side of the road. It was pretty good sized, so we had fun poking all the way to the back, stopping only when it became apparent any further expedition would involve shimmying on our bellies and probably getting very dirty or possibly stuck.

After we’d had our brief evening adventure, we headed to grab some dinner. As it was the holiday weekend and no one was exceptionally hungry, we opted to just grab fast food and go back to our apartment to dine on the balcony. We picked up McDonalds and were back just in time to watch the sunset.

Definitely not the fanciest dinner, but the view was amazing! After we polished off our food, my dad, my brother, and I decided to go snoop along the ocean in the dark and see what we might find out and about. We figured it would make for a good way to end the day, and then we could finish off with a swim in the pool before heading to bed.

I actually am a huge fan of night walks, especially to search out wildlife. When I was a little girl, and I went camping, I always loved going down to the water at night and shining a flashlight out to see if we saw any eyes in the darkness. I did a night jungle walk in Costa Rica, and it is to this day one of my favorite travel memories.

This walk was not too exciting, though we did see several ghost crabs along the shore before they’d disappear into the waves, as well as some needlefish that would catch the glint of the flashlight. Definitely a fun little adventure to end our day.

After swimming in the pool for a bit, we headed back upstairs to get some sleep for another busy day ahead. Stay tuned, the next two days were dedicated to seeing as much of the island as possible, so there are plenty more adventures to share.

Exploring Honolulu: Day 2

The second day in Honolulu was filled with even more adventures.

To begin with, we woke early and grabbed breakfast at the hotel. From there, we took an Uber out to Diamond Head State Monument.

We started up the trail in the midmorning. The sun was already up and it was pretty warm, though there were splashes of shade on some parts of the hike.

Up at the top we admired the beautiful views, though some of the lookouts were quite crowded.

After getting some photos we headed back down. We took a break at the bottom, grabbing a pineapple smoothie to cool off and getting a view of some of the mongoose that live in the area.

Once we’d cooled down a bit, we headed back to the hotel by Uber. We swam a bit in the pool, and I enjoyed spotting a lizard that was hanging out by the water.

Once we’d cooled off and cleaned up a bit, we took off to find some lunch. That afternoon, we were scheduled to go to the Bishop Museum at 2 PM. It had sounded like more than enough time to grab some lunch. However, by the time we were leaving the hotel it was already after noon, and then we managed to hit terrible traffic on the interstate in our Uber thanks to an accident.

By the time we got to the area of the Bishop Museum, and a place we’d scoped out for lunch, we were looking at less than an hour. When we asked about the wait time, they said about forty minutes. We asked about another place and they pointed to another one across the street. However, they were also very busy. Feeling a bit nervous about getting to our appointment on time, we decided to look for something fast in the area.

We ended up at a really grubby and unpretentious place with a window for ordering and some outdoor tables in the parking lot. It appeared to serve food at a reasonably fast pace, mostly to go, so we figured it was probably worth a shot. I was definitely a bit nervous, but I ordered a bento box, hoping one of the things in it might be ok.

The food was out a couple of minutes later, nothing fancy but hot and surprisingly tasty! I think almost everyone liked what they ordered. My bento box had some teriyaki beef, spam, fried fish, chicken katsu, and rice. Everything tasted delicious, and we were done pretty quickly.

Done with our food, we headed off to the Bishop Museum to learn more about Hawaiian and Polynesian culture. We made it just in time for our two o’clock reservation. They were actually just finishing up with a cultural festival that had been happening, so we caught the last of that before heading into the old building with most of the exhibits.

They had a wide variety of different artifacts. As I haven’t yet gotten to any other Polynesian Islands, it was some of my first experience with some of this history. I really enjoyed the wide variety the museum had to offer, as well as just the beauty of the old building it was held in.

After seeing the regular museum exhibits, we went to check out a temporary one in another building. It had a bunch of different displays made by street artists. It was fun because there were sections that truly looked like graffitied streets, and then sections that were beautiful murals and interesting different images. It made for a wonderful contrast in what some people might think of when they hear “street art” as opposed to the real talent that some of these creative people have.

After finishing up with that particular exhibit, we decided it might be nice to spend the afternoon at the Foster Botanical Garden. So, we walked in that direction. I was pretty exhausted, so my thoughts were I’d probably just find a shady spot to sit for a little bit. We were planning on having dinner not too far from there, so with a few hours to kill, it sounded like a good option. We enjoyed beautiful flowers along the walk there.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at the garden, we found out they closed at four o’clock and we were too late. We were a bit surprised, but unfortunately none of us had thought to check the hours as most things tend to be open until at least six.

Feeling worn out and overheated, we opted to go walk around China Town and hopefully find a place to get some drinks to wait until dinner time.

We saw some fun buildings along the way, but once we arrived in the actual heart of China Town, we were surprised to see that a lot of businesses were boarded up. The streets were pretty quiet. Definitely nothing like China Towns that I had seen in other cities.

Thankfully, we found a bar that was open, though all of us were so thirsty no one wanted alcohol. It felt a bit strange to get sodas there, but they were pretty much empty so we didn’t feel too bad taking up the space. Everyone refreshed with their drinks for a while before we headed out to find dinner.

We started by trying to hit up The Pig and the Lady, which is supposed to be pretty amazing. Unfortunately they were reserved a month out at the time, and didn’t take walk-ins. So we were out of luck there.

We headed down to a nearby place called The Livestock Tavern. It was just a little before six, but with the holiday weekend we were still a little worried we might not get a table.

Thankfully, on getting there, the staff graciously said they could give us a table as long as we were out before 7:30 for the next guests who had a reservation. This worked just fine for us, so we went ahead and took the table.

We ordered a couple of different dishes to share. A plate of wild game corndogs with interesting dipping sauces, a lobster dip (somehow I didn’t get a picture), two salads, and duck breast.

Everything was delicious, and we enjoyed it very much. We asked our server on the way out if there were any shops actually open in the area, somewhere fun to walk around. He recommended heading down to the Aloha Tower.

Unfortunately, like with China Town it was pretty much dead. In fact it looked like most businesses had been taken over by Hawaii Pacific University offices.

Still, it was at least fun to see the tower, which used to welcome visitors to the port.

We took an Uber back to the hotel and rested for a bit. Then it was suggested, maybe we could go out along Waikiki Beach and look for drinks or dessert at a restaurant along there.

I was exhausted, but I didn’t want to be left out so I went along. Definitely a mistake. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned on my blog before that I suffer from an anxiety disorder. It sounds kind of funny that a girl who’s brave enough to travel the world over on her own, can have panic attacks about random seemingly harmless things. But it’s true. I do. And unfortunately, between the fatigue and jet lag I was already in a vulnerable place.

On top of that, the beach and the restaurants we visited were crowded. Now, I’ve never liked crowds much before now, but after a year of pretty much being agoraphobic and staying in my house to avoid getting sick, it was too much. I found myself panicking and had to get out of there.

I went to sit on the beach while others had drinks. I thankfully managed to calm down, but it took a while, and even then I knew I just needed to get back to the hotel and get some sleep.

Needless to say, I’m still adjusting to being back in busy places. It will probably take some time. Definitely am thankful I got to go on this amazing trip, but it sure was a shock to the system after so long in isolation. I’m hoping by the next time I go traveling, I’ll be more adjusted and can enjoy everything new places have to offer.

Stay tuned for the next couple days. More adventures around the island of Oahu to come!

Off to Oahu

Well, after a year off from traveling, the world is finally starting to open back up. And thanks to that I have something to blog about again. Even if it was a more minor trip than some of my past ones.

As I took a teaching position this last year, I had the good fortune of finally having a summer off! Which meant as soon as school was out, it sounded like fun to go somewhere. If you’ve read my past posts you’ll know my family and I are fairly close and still sometimes travel together. So when they suggested a quick trip once school was done, I had to agree.

So why Oahu? A couple of reasons:

  1. Limited time- The family knew we had obligations in early June and only had a couple of days. Meaning best choices were ones in the US or close by.
  2. COVID Restrictions- likewise many countries still weren’t opened up. Even some states we thought about visiting really were asking for no unessential travel.
  3. Something different- We’ve visited quite a few places in the US so were looking for something more unique. My brother and I both had not been to Hawaii before, my mom had stopped by as a very young child in route to the Philippines when her dad was stationed there with the navy, and my dad had been a couple of times but was willing to go back.
  4. Rental cars- At the moment rental cars are facing shortages. Oahu was one of the only islands that actually had cars that weren’t listed at a totally unreasonable rate.

And so, with those factors we settled on Oahu for our vacation, and with that decision made we set off on our destination.

Well, sort of. There are still COVID restrictions on travel in Hawaii (or there were when we went). Meaning we all had to be tested less than 72 hours before flying out. My poor parents and brother accidentally tested just a few hours too early (72 hours before the LAST leg of the journey), and had to do it twice! But I was lucky and only had to do one test which was pretty easy. Just a quick drive through visit to Walgreens and my results were in an hour later. Negative thank goodness!

Alright, let’s actually get to the travel part.

Our first day had a lot of bumps in the road. And I mean just getting out the door to go to the airport.

Our flight was scheduled to leave very early from our home town, so I’d slept at my parent’s place to avoid having to drive over at 4 in the morning. We’ve done this in the past for travel and usually just called an Uber to take us to the airport to avoid the exorbitant parking rates.

But when my brother pulled up the Uber app he was startled to see that no cars were available.

Keeping calm, he quickly dialed a cab company. And was informed that no one was available. He called a second, but they were too busy talking to someone else in the office to let him know how long a wait it would be for a taxi. We were all glancing at the clock, knowing we had only a few minutes to make a decision before it would be too late. And so with a sigh, we decided to drive to the airport and just deal with parking rates.

At the airport itself, we all tried to relax and laugh it off. However, going through security, my dad, my brother, and myself all got through the first checkpoint with no problems. But when my mother presented her ID and ticket, she was held back. As I moved further through the security line, I kept looking back at her and watching as she became more and more uneasy with every minute she was held back. Stuck in line, I had no way to go back and reassure her, so I resorted to shouting at her to “take deep breaths”.

Through the rest of security, my dad and I waited impatiently. My brother joined us a few minutes later, and we all stared back, hoping they’d finally let her through.

Thankfully, a few minutes later my poor mother appeared, still looking shaken. Apparently there was something wrong with her ticket, and the TSA had initially told her to go get it fixed again before coming through security. But thankfully one of the other agents decided it was alright and let her through.

Turns out, my dad had put HIS birthday on the ticket instead of my moms. So when looking at her driver’s license the dates didn’t match. Whoops. Problems with booking four tickets at the same time.

Thankfully, at the gate it didn’t cause any further problems. We boarded the plane and settled in for a short ride to Seattle.

Our layover was just about the perfect length, long enough to grab some breakfast without feeling rushed, but not so long as to get antsy waiting.

From there was the flight to Hawaii. And good news, I was able to sit at the window and enjoy some of the views as we landed on the island.

After landing, we enjoyed the beauty of Hawaii from the airport while we stood in line to have our COVID tests checked. There’s a beautiful open air pavilion in the center of the airport with trees and greenery, and birds flying through.

After getting the okay on our COVID tests, we caught an Uber to head into the city to our hotel.

We stayed at the Aqua Oasis, close to the beach, but not right on it. All in all we had a great experience there, and didn’t feel we were missing anything not being oceanfront.

After leaving our bags, we went to grab some lunch. Our Uber driver had mentioned a dim sum place he liked in the Royal Hawaiian Plaza (a shopping center in downtown).

It was a bit of a wait, but we decided to go ahead and do it. We walked around the other shops for a bit before heading back to get our table. Once there we ordered a variety of different dishes, and enjoyed almost all of them.

After a delicious lunch we headed down to Waikiki beach and enjoyed the beautiful water, the views of Diamond Head, and the other beauties the island had to offer. We took some photos. I especially enjoyed the ones I got of my mom being surprised by a wave.

After our fun in the water, we headed back to check into our hotel rooms. We relaxed a bit, and I enjoyed the views from our balcony before settling back to relax in the air conditioning.

Views from the balcony

After some relaxing time, we took an Uber over to a restaurant called Moku Kitchen in a shopping complex called SALT. The area had lots of cute shops and restaurants and a fun artsy type scene. Again we ran into a pretty long wait, though that was okay since there were plenty of things to look at while we waited, and some people watching to enjoy.

Art near our restaurant for the evening.

Finally they told us our table was ready. Funnily enough, rather than having us go sit and order, they wanted us to go to the bar and place our order before taking our seats. It put a little pressure on us to decide quickly. I went ahead and chose the Hawaiian pizza with kalua pork, pineapple, and jalapenos. And yes I know some people think pineapple on pizza is an abomination, but I’m one of those who LOVES it. Especially good fresh delicious pineapple rather than canned.

Other dishes ordered at our table were the fish tacos, the Saimin, fish and chips, and a Mai Tai. All in all we found the food delicious.

After a delicious meal, we walked back to the hotel. It was almost three miles, but it was fun to see more of the city at night. I especially enjoyed seeing some of the Black Crowned Night Herons out by the canals.

At last we arrived back at the hotel, and settled in to get some sleep. After a four hour time change, an early wake up, and a lot of walking, we were definitely ready for some rest.

Stay tuned for more about the trip to Hawaii in the next couple blog posts! It’s such a pleasure to be back on here writing about travel again after a year off.

Adios Cartagena: Colombian Adventure Day 12

*Disclaimer: Though written during the COVID-19 crisis, this trip took place in the middle of 2019 and therefore did not violate any travel restrictions. Stay safe and enjoy some virtual travel until things are back to normal.

We woke up and had breakfast at our hotel outside in the already warming sun. Fresh fruit and various other delicious foods.

After finishing our breakfast we took off into the heat. We had opted to do a walking tour to start off our time in Cartagena and get an overview of the city.

Our guide led us through the old town, showing us various features of beautiful Cartagena. We saw some of the traditional dancers, and lovely historic buildings. Our family was particularly taken with the unique door knockers, which were used to symbolize people’s status and position, for example sea creatures to show off members of the navy. The whole city was so colorful and vibrant.

It was very warm though, and extremely humid. Our guide thankfully stuck to the shade as much as possible. We had some fresh lime juice midway through and that helped greatly.

Once done with the tour we were still hot and tired, so we opted to go grab some lunch. My brother had actually done the restaurant research and so we ended up at a tapas place called Caffe Lunatico.

We had a variety of different foods as well as a pitcher of delicious sangria.

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We left feeling much more refreshed, though we did opt to head back to the hotel and get a swim in since it was getting to be the warmest part of the day.

After a swim and some relaxing, we headed back to the city walls to try to catch the sunset. Our tour guide had recommended a certain place on the walls to catch a good view.

Sadly the sunset wasn’t great that evening with too many clouds, but we still enjoyed people watching while we waited.

After that we wandered a bit more, waiting to get some dinner. We particularly loved the views of one of the churches in the evening light.


At a small local park we took a seat on a bench, and to our surprise a dance performance started up. We enjoyed watching the dancers perform for a while.


We also made a quick stop for my brother to pickup a local delicacy he’d been wanting to try: Ants.

I’d been brave a few times during the trip, but I drew the line at eating bugs. So sadly I didn’t get to experience it. But I really loved being the photographer so I suppose it wasn’t a total loss. My dad tried them as well. He made some funny faces, but in all seriousness thought they weren’t too bad.

Finally, it was time to go grab some dinner. We went to a restaurant called Don Juan. I had a shrimp risotto which was amazing, and then shared several different desserts, which were delicious.

From there it was back to the hotel.

Now, technically… there was a day 13 to our trip. But I’m not going to write a post about it.

I’d mentioned in earlier posts that my immune system is terrible. As a result I had been given some anti-malaria medicine by my local travel medicine clinic. I’d started taking it as we headed down from the mountains into lower elevations, where malaria is more common. However, no one bothered to warn me that the medication can have some nasty side-effects.

I spent all of day 13 in bed with stomach trouble and fatigue. Sad to say I missed out on my last day in Cartagena. My family climbed up to the fort overlooking the city and also went to the Museum of the Inquisition. Here are a few photos of their last day

All in all my trip to Colombia was pretty amazing. Being sick definitely was pretty terrible, especially having to spend my last day in bed the whole time, but other than that it was a great experience.

I actually would love to go back some day, especially to maybe do a hiking trip to the lost city, or maybe to see the beautiful Caño Cristales, the river of five colors when algae blooms and creates a rainbow within the waters.

But for now I’m just going to be hanging out at home, dreaming of my next big adventure.

Hope you’ll consider subscribing to catch any future posts when I can actually go back out and explore the world once more, or maybe review some older trips.

Read the other posts about this adventure here:

A Colombian Adventure: Bogotá Day 1

Out of the City: Bogotá to Ibagué Day 2

Journey Through the Andes: Salento Day 3

Powering Through: Popayán Day 4

Along Ancient and Wild Roads: San Agustín Day 5

On the Road Again: Colombian Adventure Day 6-8

Immersed in Nature: Colombian Adventure Day 9

Birds and Waterfalls: Colombian Adventure Day 10

Into the Volcano: Colombian Adventure Day 11

Into the Volcano: Colombian Adventure Day 11

*Disclaimer: Though written during the COVID-19 crisis, this trip took place in the middle of 2019. Please stick to local guidelines in regards to the virus, but enjoy traveling virtually with this post.

We’re drawing to the end of our adventure. My family had a leisurely morning at our hotel on the beach, enjoying breakfast and then strolling along the water.

At long last we packed up and headed off on the road towards Cartagena, where we would be spending the last few days of our trip.

However, we did have one last little stop to make on the way there.

We had to go to El Totumo, the volcano.

Okay, well admittedly it’s not a real volcano. Not even close. I’ve seen a few real ones in my life, most dormant of course, and this is actually probably a man-made structure, though there are of course all kinds of legends surrounding it.

However, Totumo is in fact a large “mud volcano”, a huge mound of earth with stairs up to the top, and inside is this thick gooey black mud that they claim is good for the skin.

Now, I have plenty of people tell me I’m brave, but I’ll admit I can be kind of a coward in some situations. I initially was determined NOT to do the volcano. It sounded way too out of my comfort zone.

However, as we got closer, I began to realize that if I didn’t do it, I’d probably end up regretting it. And the last thing I wanted was to look back on the trip and have regrets. I didn’t know if I’d ever be back to Colombia. This was probably my only chance.

We pulled up and parked and headed towards El Totumo. We got changed into bathing suits before starting up the stairs towards the top. My mom waited at the bottom to take pictures.


I watched as my dad climbed down a rickety ladder into this huge pool of dark mud. There was already a couple in there, along with a local man who was rubbing mud all over them.

I took a deep breath and headed down into the mud.

It was surreal, like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.

I flailed at first, freaking out a little when my feet didn’t connect with anything solid, worried I’d begin to sink, but when my dad told me to let go of the ladder and relax, I realized that I in fact floated. I felt somewhat weightless.

We stayed in the mud for just a short while, all enjoying the strange sensations. The man rubbing mud on the other people tried to convince us to hang out so he could massage us as well, but I HATE having strangers touch me, so I insisted on leaving, and my dad and brother were willing to go with me.

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The scariest part of all was going back down the steep steps. We had tried to scrape some of the excess mud off, but unfortunately it still clung to us and made the path very slippery. We hung onto the rails as we hobbled back down to the ground.

After getting safely down we headed over to a nearby lagoon to try to wash off. A large group of school children were playing in the water having come from the volcano. After dodging some local women who wanted to help wash the mud off of me, I headed deeper into the lagoon, sinking into the mucky water. To my surprise, the children soon were swarming us, practicing a bit of English and marveling at my brother especially who is 6’4″ (193 cm) and very pale (our family is pretty much entirely of northern European descent).


I just wanted to wash the mud off, and was not pleased with the attention, so I slunk off to the side and let my dad and brother get the most of it. My dad chatted a bit in Spanish, and my brother just laughed at all the kids gathered around him.

The water was shallow, dirty, and filled with reeds. It didn’t make for much of a bath, but we did our best.

Thankfully we soon managed to get a good amount of the dirt off and were able to head back to the car in our wet suits. We then took off for Cartagena.

We arrived in the late afternoon. I was still feeling pretty filthy and felt a little embarrassed as we turned up at a lovely little hotel housed in an old colonial house just outside of the old town called Casa Bustamante.

Thankfully the owners were very gracious and told us we should just jump into the pool to clean off.

We all headed to the back garden area and into the small pool. It felt very refreshing after the mud bath and the ride in the warm and humid car.


After some swimming we all cleaned up and then we headed into the old town to explore some and look for dinner.

We had some time to just enjoy the beauty of Cartagena since the restaurant we wanted to eat at wasn’t open just yet.

We enjoyed the historic buildings, the walls, and of course more fun street art.

At last the restaurant we wanted to eat at opened up, and we headed in to get something to eat. It was called La Cocina de Pepina and offered a number of local foods. I enjoyed some beef in a rich and flavorful sauce.


The food was delicious and we all enjoyed trying bites of one another’s plates.

After a bit more wandering we headed back to our hotel for the night. We were all excited to get some good sleep to be ready to explore more of beautiful Cartagena in the morning.

Birds and Waterfalls: Colombian Adventure Day 10

*Disclaimer: Though this post is written in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the travel was done earlier in 2019. Please follow the advice of your local government and health organizations and stay safe!

We woke early the next morning because we had decided to go on a birding tour. We did one in Costa Rica and really loved it, so it seemed like a good thing to try.

After a long drive up into the nearby mountains, we ended up in a small town called Minca where we met up at Jungle Joe’s a place that did local tours.

Our guide met us and a few other people and we headed up a steep and muddy hill.


Our guide tried to help us spot a number of different birds. We did see a toucan and got to see another bird perform a courtship dance down in the brush.

Halfway along our tour we stopped at the top of the hill and enjoyed some coffee from a local school. We also got to see these beautiful nests hanging from a nearby tree.


We headed back down the hill and over a makeshift bridge and back around to where we’d begun the tour.

After we were finished with our tour we decided to a place called Marinca where there was a waterfall pool where you could swim. It was another wild drive along a bumpy dirt road. We were all a little worried after the last time nearly getting stuck on a rough hill. Thankfully we made it to the parking area with very little trouble.

We walked a ways and soon were at the beautiful waterfall. There was a second one higher up as well which my brother and dad went to see, but my mom and I were too exhausted and opted to stay and soak instead.

It was very cold, but felt refreshing after so much walking in the heat during the day.

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After we had done enough swimming, we finally headed back down to our hotel.

We spent the rest of the afternoon just enjoying the pool and the beach and our lovely hotel. We had some more delicious fruit juice and just enjoyed being in such an amazing place.

After a while of lounging, we finally cleaned up and headed into the nearby town of Santa Marta to grab some dinner.

We ended up at a place called: El Balcón de Ouzo. I think I had lamb with some pita bread, but I can’t quite remember and failed to write it down. My mom had the empanadas which were really good and we split some yummy appetizers.


We walked around just a little before heading back to our hotel. It had been another long and tiring day and we were ready for a good night’s rest.