Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cancun Day 3: Chichen Itza Tour aka "Chicken Pizza"

I booked the Chichen Itza public tour for our third day. We haven't done a "public" tour in a while since the last few were private tours with our family. I forgot how painful and slow big bus tours were. First off, we were picked up very early from our hotel at 7:15 AM, only to be dropped off at a meeting point where we had to wait 45 minutes for other passengers from other hotels. Once the bus came, we boarded. The bus was completely full; thankfully we boarded early so we were able to sit together.

Dan holding the "Mayan" calendar inside our tour bus

Our guide was named Ruben, and he was actually very funny, entertaining, and informative. The journey from Cancun to Chichen Itza took around 2.5 hours. Apparently the ruins were located in a different state from where Cancun was. On our way, we stopped by a cenote which is an underground cave with natural spring pool.

The underground cenote

There are lots of cenotes in the area because the grounds are very phosphorous and do not hold water, so there were no streams of river or lakes in the area. All the water was found underground in these cenotes. The Mayans believe that the cenotes were where you communicate with the underworld. During this stop, we were allowed to swim but Dan and I both chose not to and just dipped our feet. Legend says whoever touches the water makes them 10 years younger!

Dan is now 10 years younger!

After the cenote, we were taken to a small village with a huge souvenir shop for an obligatory stop. We didn't really want to buy anything so it felt long. Then we had buffet lunch at the restaurant in the village.

We then went to Chichen Itza and arrived in the afternoon. We were assigned a local guide named Jose who was excellent. His English was flawless I would have thought he was American. A couple of interesting tidbits about Chichen Itza:

  • Only about 10% of the ruins have been restored. The other 90% are in the area, but they have not been fully discovered or restored.
  • The undiscovered 90% are covered with dirt and trees, from afar looks like hills. But they are not mountains because the land is flat - so underneath the dirt and trees there are ruins to be discovered.
  • The pyramid was used for special occasions where the ruler of Chichen Itza would be on the top speaking to the masses.
  • The engineering of the pyramid was quite impressive because apparently from the top someone can speak in their normal voice, which will then be amplified. The guide showed us by clapping and how the clap echo is amplified.

Overall we were glad we went, but make sure to wear good walking shoes since there's lots of walking involved. Also, if you can, try to either book a small group or private tour. The 40+ bus tour just didn't work for us. There's lots of waiting involved and mandatory stops we didn't care for.

Next Post: Cancun Day 4: Pool Time & the Superbowl

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cancun Day 2: Can Cook in Cancun

For our second day, I booked a half day cooking class called "Can Cook in Cancun." It turned out to be the perfect day to do a cooking class since the weather was a bit cold and gloomy.

We had a quick buffet breakfast at our hotel at the Market cafe. The selection was quite good ranging from the typical pancakes, eggs, and bacon to cold selections such as meats and cheeses, as well as fruits and yogurts.

We were picked up at our hotel around 8:45 am. There were several others already in the van. It was about a 30 minute ride from our hotel to the cooking class.  The class was actually held at the lovely house of the instructor.  The owners were a husband and wife team, Claudia and Lorenzo. Claudia taught, and Lorenzo took care of the administration.

Chef Claudia

There were a total of 12 people, and we all sat down in the porch area. They made fresh churros, hot coffee and Mexican hot chocolate for breakfast. All were very delicious, so freshly made.  Afterwards, Claudia invited us to her home kitchen where she gave a history of the various spices, peppers, and moles used around Mexico.

Churros and Mexican Coffee

The class was more of a cooking demonstration with a little bit of hands-on participation. She showed us how to make fresh salsa, guacamole, cantina soup, tamales, and pork tacos.

Dan making Tamales

We all took turns making our own tamales as well as learning how to roll and press tortillas. Afterwards we all sat together outside to enjoy the food. It was really, really good.

Pressing tortilla

I especially enjoyed the cantina soup and would like to try making it when we get home.

Cantina Soup

As a going away present, Lorenzo presented us each with a cooking apron as well as a CD of all the recipes. All in all, it was a good day and we especially enjoyed the food. The cost was $110 per person.

One of the participants had been coming to the class for years, and she said Claudia changes the menu so it's different every time. On another day, she would highlight cuisine from other parts of the country. For our visit, the cooking theme was central Mexico.

After cooking class we were shuttled back to our hotel and took a quick nap before dinner at Nabiolo, the Italian restaurant on site. The restaurant decor was white and minimalist; it almost made me think that we were in Santorini. We ordered caprese salad, osso bucco for Dan and salmon pizza for me.

Next Post: Cancun Day 3: Chichen Itza Tour

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cancun Day 1: SFO to Cancun

We left bright and early to catch our 8 am flight to Cancun. We booked economy class tickets this time around. Thankfully the plane was not full. We got all 3 seats in our row for the 2 of us, so we were able to space out a bit. I told Dan I had a feeling that they would provide food because it's an international flight. Turns out food cost extra, just like domestic... hehe, I guess I should have known. :)

Flight took around 4.5 hours. Once we landed, the immigration line took forever. It seemed like all flights from the US arrived at the same time. We were in the immigration line for about an hour, then finally picked up our luggage, and went outside for our prearranged shuttle with USA transfer, which came recommended on Trip Advisor.

Our hotel was located in the Cancun hotel zone, which was about a 25 minute ride from the airport. Unfortunately, it was raining that day, so no beach time. :p

Once we got to our resort, we cleaned up a bit and then headed down to grab dinner. We wanted to try the Mexican restaurant, but it wasn't open even though it was already 6 pm. We went to the cafe and ordered a small panini sandwich to share since Dan was starving. Since it was our very first time in an all inclusives we didn't really know how it works - turns out you can just order anything you want and not have to worry about signing anything. How nice!

Afterwards we went to the Asian restaurant called Dragonfly since that was open. The decor of the restaurant was nice although it was very dark inside. The menu was Asian but it was all over the place: Dim sum, pad Thai, teppanyaki, curry, as well as sushi. Being at our first all inclusive resort, it was really nice to be able to order anything, and I noticed that the menu didn't have prices. :) I ordered the miso fish, and Dan ordered the ribeye teppanyaki.

Food was so so, not the greatest, but what can you expect from an all inclusive?

Their dessert was actually pretty good. Dan ordered a lychee coconut soup, and I ordered a vanilla tempura ice cream. I love the tempura ice cream so much I ended up ordering it almost every day! It reminded me of a fried ice cream place we had back home in Indonesia.

After dinner, there was no bill to sign -- that was kind of nice. We then walked around the property a bit before going back to our room to rest.

Next Post: Cancun Day 2: Can Cook in Cancun