Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nutella Stuff Pancakes

Normally Buzzfeed videos are entertaining but don't make me drool.  Today they posted a video showing how to make Nutella stuffed pancakes.  Oh Em Gee, this looks delicious.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ball Courts, Vultures, and Pyramid Climbing at the Coba Ruins in Mexico

The resort where we stay in Mexico is lovely, but it's also great to get out and see the other wonderful sites that Mexico has to offer. The hotel and various travel agents have all kinds of tours and trips available, but this time we thought we'd challenge our comfort zone just a wee tiny bit so we ventured to the ruins of Coba on our own.

Where the Colectivo drops you off in downtown Tulum. There's a taxi stand on the right and the ADO bus station on the left.
We did a bit of research before venturing out and decided to take the Colectivo from the hotel to Tulum and the ADO from Tulum to Coba. First we took the hotel trolley to the Hacienda. We we walked towards the highway to catch the Colectivo we were stopped by a taxi driver offering to take us to Coba himself for around 1400 pesos. That's about $93 with the current peso to dollar exchange rate. We declined then crossed the street to catch the Colectivo in front of the Gran Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an arch.

Colectivo (in the shop) and taxis in Tulum.
Colectivos are white and red vans that run a route along the main highway between Tulum and Cancun. They only accept pesos and are the cheapest, most consistent form of transportation in the region. The locals use them heavily.  To catch a Colectivo, stand or sit at one of the stops (most have small overhangs, like rural bus stops) on the side of the highway going the direction you want to go.  The driver will ask where you're going. Sit down and enjoy the ride. Pay the fare when you arrive at your stop and thank the driver for the ride. If you go South from Gran Bahia Principe, be aware the bus goes through Chemuyil, so it will make a slight course off the highway. No worries, because it will resume the course south. Be aware that Colectivo drivers will not accept any currency other than Mexican pesos.

For 35 pesos, or about $2.33 US, we traveled to Tulum Puebla. Make sure to get off at the second Tulum Puebla stop. The first stop is on on the outskirts of town. The correct stop will be near the ADO bus station.  Unfortunately, when we arrived, we discovered that we missed the ADO bus by about 30 minutes.  Had we been able to catch the bus it would have been 66 pesos, or about $4.40 US) to go to Coba.  So we got some cash from the ATM at the bus station (best rates we saw in the region) and approached the taxi stand.  The rates are posted at the taxi stand, however we negotiated with our driver for a round trip.  For the round trip, with him waiting 2 hours for us at the ruins, we paid around 800 peso, or about $53 US. Insider tip: you get better rates with taxis if you pay in pesos versus dollars.  They do a 1 to 1 conversion for dollars and right now the exchange rate is about 15 to 1. Pay with pesos.

It takes about 45 minutes to get to Coba from Tulum. Along the way you get to see much of the every day life of the locals.

Entrance and where the restrooms are located.

Coba is a sizeable park. We ended up only see a small portion of it.
Once we arrived at Coba, admission to the archaeological park was $8 for non-Mexicans. As soon as you enter, you're approached by tour guides offering their services, as well as services for bikes and trolleys to the sites.  We had limited time and didn't feel it was enough for a tour guide and wanted to walk.  So we did.  The walk and sites were lovely.

Unlike other archaeological sites in Mexico, Coba has trees and shade.

We found some turkey vultures sunning themselves on one of the small pyramids. This one is the closest to the entrance.

There are two Mesoamerican ballcourts at Coba. The first is next to the pyramid shown above, near the entrance. The other is on the way to the large pyramid.

Only a small fraction of the site has been excavated. Much of the other ruins look like this.

I call this picture "Leg Day". Climbing the pyramid is a serious leg workout.

Climbing up. The Lovely Spouse counted 120 steps, ranging in height from 8 to 100 inches. 

This is called the "Diving God".

The view from the top. It appears the the Yucatan is enduring a drought. The jungle doesn't look nearly as green and lush as it should. 

Me at the top. I'm very sensitive to sun and thus cover up.

In the center of the photo is the first pyramid, that had the vultures on it.

The way down is somewhat scary. The rocks are slick from lots of feet traversing them over the years. 

Ice cold drinks at the base of the pyramid.
Mayan limos along the path to the pyramid.
After climbing the pyramid, we conceded that it was hot and time was limited so we hired "Mayan limo" as the cyclist called it and returned to the park's entrance.

The lake outside of the archaeological park. 
Then it was time to return to our taxi for the ride back to Tulum, and then the Colectivo back to the resort. In all our excursion took about half a day and was a lot of fun. If you go, look up the ADO times before leaving.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Gran Bahia Principe: Alux and Maiko

Alux is located in the middle of the resort and stars in the pictures used for marketing. 
There are a number of benefits to staying at the Sian Ka'an section of Gran Bahia Principe.  Among them are unlimited ala carte dinners (eating at the resort restaurants as opposed to the buffets) and access to two of the nicest restaurants at the resort: Alux and Maiko.

The first of these two restaurants we tried was Alux, pronounced Al-loosh. The cuisine is fine dining of the type that is commonly found in the US and Europe. We selected an appetizer, soup, and entree.  However if you have a larger appetite you may chooser more.  Or you may choose to skip a course. It's all good. 

An amuse bouche of salmon and goat cheese.

An appetizers salad of tuna tartare with avocado salad.

Seared foie gras with a small salad

A savory mushroom soup.

Perfectly cooked tuna over peas and carrots. Absolutely divine.

Hard to tell from the picture but this is a perfectly cooked steak.The Lovely Spouse said it was among the best he's ever had.

A white chocolate cake. It was alright. If you come here for dessert, purchase a bottle of wine to get the special one.
Everything was absolutely divine. And we found out there's a bit of a secret menu.  If you purchase a bottle of wine (costs vary and are extra beyond the cost of your stay - billed to your room and payable at check out) you will be offered a cheese cart for a cheese course and a special dessert that's not on the menu: strawberries en flambe served over ice cream. The special dessert is absolutely delicious and I recommend it if a bottle of wine sounds appetizing to you. 

Lovely ambiance located just off from the lobby at Sian Ka'an.
The other fine dining restaurant at Sian Ka'an is called Maiko.  This one serves mixed Asian fusion with fine dining preparation and service. I took my camera with us on 2 separate occasions.

Amuse bouche #1. A lovely bite of a tempora roll.

Amuse bouche #2. A small bite of tuna sashimi. 
Appetizer for 2. A nice mix of rolled sushi and tempora.The sauces are a sesame sauce, soy sauce,and a siracha cream sauce. All were delicious. 

Appetizer of standard nigiri for one. Much better than the sushi I tried at the resort in 2011.

A fried roll.  Good mixture of umami and other flavors.

Miso soup. 
The duck served on one night.  Fabulous and perfect preparation.  The sauce was citrus and rich.

The duck on another night.  Slightly different presentation. I really like the tempora tree made from noodles.
Stuffed chicken only sounds boring. This was had a lovely combination of flavors and veggies.

Fried bananas with coconut ice cream. Delicious on their own, amazing with the chocolate sauce from the other dessert.

Tempora fried ice cream. I actually used the sauce on the bananas above and it was divine.
Lychee sorbet with tapioca pudding. I love lychees so this was a wonderful dessert for me.

The special dessert if you purchase a bottle of wine. This was coconut ice cream served with the liquor of The Lovely Spouse's choice.  In this case Bailey's Irish Cream. Topped with toasted coconut and a chocolate triangle. Delicious.
If you stay at Gran Bahia Principe at either the Sian Ka'an or Akumal sections (both Don Pablo Collection), I recommend dining at Alux and Mikado. The food was fantastic and the service was wonderful. Booking was easy with the Bahia app, with reservations made after we arrived. 

Disclaimer: none of the above represents or should be interpreted as endorsement of Gran Bahia Principe or the Pinero Group. We had a lovely time on our vacation and I'm just writing about it. We receive no compensation for this blog.