Route 1 Road Trip Day Three: from beautiful Big Sur to picturesque Pigeon Point

I continue my road trip up the California coast via Route 1 with my travel buddy Nick, check out Day One and Day Two.

DAY THREE

After our big night out in Cambria, we took the advice of our new local friends and hit up the Redwood Cafe for breakfast. Nick was tickled by the brown leather bar stools, Americana kitch, and bottomless coffee. We ordered California benedict with hash browns (a must!) and Nick’s first order of biscuits and gravy. We were sparing no calories on this trip! The hot sauce bandits struck again.

Displaying the goods. Why yes, I will take another refill, thank you. *

Serious about my biscuits and gravy! To the uninitiated they may look ugly, but they are cheap, tasty, and even better with hot sauce. *

We left town, but not before a celebratory jumping pic in front of the town sign on the side of the highway. Discussions of proper jump-photo variations and techniques ensued… these are the top priorities that our traveler minds are occupied with.

Jumping for love of Cambria!

Our 4 hour route for the day, Cambria to Pigeon Point. Better get moving!

Ten minutes up the road from Cambria is Hearst Castle, the mega-mansion of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. I had seen the little brown signs on the highway and was all about checking it out. Little did I know what I was getting us into: it is an Attraction, with a capital A. I thought we could pull up, see the house, be on our way. But no, it’s a $25 ticket with guided tour and the house is only accessible by tram. Instead of a pit stop, this would be a three hour major detour. So we played in the ridiculous enormous and random gift shop, looked at postcards and calendars to pretend we had actually seen the grounds, and rocked out.

Because what better says I visited (or in our case, didn’t) Hearst Castle than a giant pencil or whale shark toy?
Shortly up the road we stopped to gawk at a beach full of elephant seals chillin’. Question is, do they have a gift shop? Indeed they did, in the form of a volunteer selling elephant seal mugs and stuffed toys at a card table.
Elephant seals taking it easy. Occasionally one would splash itself with sand, or an energetic youngster might hop a few feet. I cheered them on.
The drive up was perfectly picturesque. The sun, the water, the land… all incredibly beautiful. Driving through the neighborhood of Big Sur–with a full tank of gas, mind you–was an utter joy. We stopped at many a lookout point to enjoy the scenery.
Utterly gorgeous coastline. *

Check out that beautiful kelp. If we can gotten our acts together, we would have gone diving in it. *

Me and the ol’ Honda. She’s doing pretty great! *

Stunning views for hours. *

Nick took a turn at the wheel, happily navigating the racetrack-like curves of Route 1 through the oceanside cliffs. I DJed, introducing him to one of my favorite bands of all time: super-mega group 2Ge+her. 2Ge+her is the Monkees of my generation, a made-for-TV parody boy band who had a movie and show on MTV in the late 1990’s. And they are FANTASTIC. If you are unfamiliar, you must improve your life immediately and watch this and this. We grooved to their sweet beats, doubling over laughing more often than not, with most of the lyrics and dance moves coming back to me easily even though I hadn’t listened to many of the songs in years. Then Nick remembered that he lost his driver’s license in Vegas seven months prior. Whoops. Time for a driver change.

Sharing driving responsibilities, briefly.

I love the California coastline hills. *

Big Sur, you are lovely!! *

We pit stopped in Monterey for a late lunch. Out on Old Fisherman’s Warf, we sampled chowder slurps from various restaurants, then had a mediocre chowder and fish and chips lunch with a pithy “VIP” calamari appetizer. Oh well, not brilliant cuisine, but part of the experience I suppose. We watched the gulls, pelicans, and sea lions from our window table. But the far and away highlight of the meal? Nick’s fantastical instruction of his personal strategies and opinions on how to eat an Australian meat pie. From his well-versed description, I came up with my own (perhaps foolhardy) ideas of how to eat my first meat pie down under, stubbornly different than his tried-and-true technique perfected over three-plus decades. He cautioned me on the many obstacles ready to thwart an unsuspecting novice, but I’m ready to take it on… sounds like an adventure to me!

Monterey Bay harbor. *

Sampling chowder along Old Fisherman’s Warf. It’s apparently a thing. *
We arrived at Pigeon Point, just north of Santa Cruz, home to a historic lighthouse and cozy hostel. We checked in, were instructed on all of the Hostel International rules (and their lax enforcement), dropped our things off in the dorm, and then went out to the lookout to check out the sunset. As we approached the boardwalk, Nick pointed, “look!”. A grey whale was breaching right off the point in front of us. He continued to frolic until dusk, delighting the many whale watchers on shore. 

Stunning Pigeon Point vista. *
Nick taking in the sunset.

One of the hostel “rules” is no alcohol. We had been given a nudge nudge wink wink on this at check in, so I snuck some beer from the cooler in the trunk and sipped it discretely from a coffee cup throughout the night. It was so relaxing to quietly chill out on our spectacular balcony. When finished, I weighed my options: put beer bottles in the recycling or discretely pack them out. I opted for the former and laughed when I opened the bin; it was filled to the brim with wine and beer bottles. Guess I wasn’t the only one ninja drinking!

Just ninja drinking beer out of a coffee cup at sunset, nbd. *

Pigeon Point was a peaceful retreat. Nick and I criss-crossed periodically throughout the night, but spent most of the evening having individual quiet time, a travel necessity periodically. When our paths did cross, one of us would say out of the blue “Don’t do it! It’s a bad idea!” with a bit of a smirk. We had had enough DNMs throughout the trip that we both knew what the other was thinking without talking anymore. I curled up in a wool Army surplus blanket and talked on the phone out on the porch for over an hour, then actually got into the kitchen and cooked dinner. He found a spot on the couch and caught up on Dexter episodes (you still owe me a bag of chips and a Black Books viewing party, man!). The evening closed with a hot shower and soft bed; it felt wonderful.

Our adventure continues on Day Four when we arrive in San Francisco! Coming soon…

* Photos courtesy of Nicholas Cooper.

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Route 1 Road Trip Day Two: Near Catastrophe, Hot Sauce Banditry, and the Coolest Kids in Cambira

I continue my road trip up the California coast via Route 1 with my travel buddy Nick, check out Day One of the trip.

DAY TWO

I awoke to the sounds of the ocean against the rocks just feet from our tent at Faria Beach. Being the portrait addicts we are, we spent a few minutes taking panorama photos (I needed five tries to perfect the pivot-method) on the beach before quickly breaking camp down and booking it back to the highway.

Nick is so much better at the panorama pivot technique! 

Neither of us were crazy hungry so we decided to forgo an immediate breakfast and drive to Santa Barbara. But you know what, there are *no* backpacker budget spots in fancy-schmancy downtown Santa Barbara! None at least that we could find. After driving around the posh main streets, we cut our losses and drove out of town, sure we could find something on the road north.

So we drove. And drove. But no luck. My gas light came on, but every station we passed was incredibly expensive. $4.50 a gallon?! They’re selling it back in Oregon for $3.65, and you get full service. We kept going. The next town listed on highway signage was Gaviata. If has a sign then it must have a gas station, right? Apparently not when your town has a population of less than 100… we blew through the two buildings that comprised “downtown”. After about a half hour we reached a fork in the highway: Route 1 or Highway 101? This is a Route 1 road trip, is it not? It was just a few miles after we took that fateful fork that I started truly worrying about gas. The next marked town was over 30 miles away and there was nothing but beautiful countryside around us. Gorgeous, but in our case potentially disastrous. I began fuel conservation techniques and coasting downhill. Nick quietly contained his panic in the passenger’s seat. The car jerked when I floored it going uphill. We had a team meeting. There were cars on this highway, scattered houses in the hills; if we needed it we could get help. I have AAA roadside assistance. We had food and shelter with us. Hell, we could live out here for a week if we had to! Still, we both hoped for salvation in the form of the town ahead of us–Lompoc.

1.5 tense hours before breakfast…

Signage appeared: Lompoc, the town of arts and flowers, population 42,434. It has a nickname! If it has a nickname, it’s pretty sure to also have a gas station. And surely all of those people need to eat somewhere! We coasted into town, filled the car with gas first thing, then stopped at the attractively named Budget Cafe for a late breakfast. Hash browns, pancakes, and bad coffee, here we come! The heavyset man in the booth across from us was wearing farmer overalls and marbled rainbow crocks; we probably looked just as odd to him with our traveler singlets and unusual jewelry choices. To each their own. Walking out of the diner, Nick quizzed me on the name of the town. Um, Lanpinc? It’s got an N and C in there somewhere, don’t tell me… turns out he didn’t remember either. It took us days to accurately remember the name of the town that saved our butts.

Relief and refreshment in the form of coffee, pancakes, hash browns, poached eggs, and breakfast meats. *

Perhaps it was our near brush was danger. Perhaps it was the caffeine from cup after cup of diner coffee. Perhaps we just needed a mission. But here a prank elevated to a crime spree. We set a goal: sneak (ok, steal) a bottle of hot sauce from every restaurant we visited along the road, the fuller the bottle the better and no duplicate brands if at all possible. The hot sauce bandit gang was born.

We continued to drive. Less than an hour later, we hit Oceano and the holy grail of Nick’s search for classic American diners appeared: a 1950’s themed rock ‘n roll diner in an old railroad car. It didn’t matter that we had eaten recently. There was no way we were missing this.

Diner in a railroad car? I literally turned the car around. *

One half of the hot sauce bandits, casing the joint… and ordering milkshakes. *

Vanilla malted for me, cherry oreo for Nick.

I bounced on the red and silver vinyl seat to oldies tunes. We got thick milkshakes with the overflow served up in a cold steel mixing container. The hot sauce bandits were almost foiled: there was no hot sauce on the table and asking for hot sauce when ordering only milkshakes might seem suspicious. Still, we exited victorious.

Success! So begins the littering of my car with bottle of open, pilfered (dare I say “hot”?) hot sauce.

We decided to stop driving in the early afternoon so we could siesta and then have a big Monday Night Football pub crawl in some cool small town. Our pick: Cambria. Described in our tourist literature as “Rising from a rocky shoreline into pine-covered hills, the arty village of Cambria has a creative, natural spirit shaped equally by ocean and forrest. In many ways, Cambria is a throwback to simpler times. A lawn bowling pitch occupies a prominent place in the heart of town, and numerous historic buildings survive from Cambria’s early days as a center for whaling, logging, and mining…” Words were thrown around like ‘irresistible’ and ‘perfect base’. We scoped downtown and were satisfied by the number of taverns on the main strip that would likely be showing the game.

We pitched the tent on the windy hills of Washburn camping area in San Simeon State Park with the help of a pretty killer rock, then took a quick nap/journal break. The site was properly Californian with those beautiful dusky browns and scrubby greens that I love, clouds rolling in from the Pacific but never quite reaching us, and just the right mix of sunshine and breeze.

Our pretty and peaceful campsite at Washburn campground.

By the time kick off came around (Steelers vs. Bengals), we were at a great pub called Mozzi’s Saloon with pints in hand, asking what’s the deal with Stonehenge, buying Alcatraz and baseball tickets online, and giving requests of our favorite country music to our new friends with jukebox DJ power. I noticed a crockpot and hot dog buns at the far end of the bar, which can only mean one thing: chili dogs! And for $1.50 too. Love small towns with their reasonable pricing. I learned back in Utila that chili doesn’t exist in Australia–shocking!–but had forgotten until Nick began to question me. (He would later return the cultural-exchange favor with tips on how to eat a meat pie and properly cuddle a koala. I can’t wait to do both!!) I gave him the low down and set him free to pop his chili dog cherry. He did so with gusto. Another round of beer, and we were talking in Southern accents like I, I say, I never ever do! Oh, and I must mention that their selection of hot sauce was phenomenal. 😉

About to dig into my chili dog!

My word, look at all that beautiful hot sauce… *

From there we crawled. Enchilada happy hour where we had another DNM and added to our hot sauce collection again, a steak house that we rejected as too expensive, a pie joint where we made new friends fast, and finally to the Cambria Ale House, the perfect ending point. A cozy yet happening pub all about the beer, I got a great sampler of local brews and Nick had a stellar double chocolate stout. We went home happy after a kick ass night out. Everywhere we had gone the locals were friendly and the beer was cold. Cambria, you are one awesome small town that can rock it on a Monday night. Oh, and I think some football happened too?

On Day Three we drove the most picturesque part of the trip through the stunning Big Sur coastline. More coming soon…

* Photos courtesy of Nicholas Cooper.

Route 1 Road Trip Day One: Travel Buddy Reunion, Beach Camping, and Sunday Night Football

The next adventure during the fall of my Glorious Return to America was a California road trip months with one of my most favorite travel buddies, Mr. Nick Cooper. We realized we both had the interest and availability in such a trip way back in April, shortly after we met on the road in Guatemala for the second time, and had been brainstorming ever since. Our plan began as a three-week American west National Parks road trip (which still must happen, Nick!) and evolved into a California Route 1/San Francisco trip. We were both super keen and had already tested our travel buddy compatibility in Nicaragua. September was the perfect time; let’s go for a road trip.

The thing about me and Nick is that we get on like gangbusters. We could spend the entire day drinking beer, a mix of talking shit and DNMs (for the non-Aussies, that’s “deep and meaningful”, conversations where Australian men actually open up about their feelings), and laughing our asses off. Actually, we could do that for multiple days and in fact did on this trip. It’s a beautiful thing to find someone who you both adore and travel well with. We’re so on the same page on travel interests and decision-making it’s ridiculous. Yes, my posts about this trip are going to be travel buddy love-fests, so it is the perfectly appropriate time for me to give the following note of caution…

WARNING: This Route 1 series of posts contains a high concentration of super adorable team pics. It may be too much awesome for some people to handle. What can I say, it’s how we roll. 😛

Team Nick and Erin! Kicking things off at the Getty. The first of many rockin’ duo selfie photos. *

DAY ONE

So. I picked Nick up in Burbank, where he was visiting one of his countless friends around the globe met while on another beautiful travel adventure. He jumped into my car and we immediately fell into non-stop talking and laughter. It felt amazing to be in the company of another true traveler again, someone who was THERE in Central America, someone who understands! Someone who rocked up to my car wearing a goddamn Skid Row t-shirt. LOVE! We had much catching up to do since our last parting two months prior in Nicaragua so grabbed pumpkin beer and sandwich fixins from Trader Joe’s and went to the Getty Center for an afternoon picnic.

On the Getty lawn, enjoying capsicum and smuggled in pumpkin beer, the perfect picnic.

First team meeting: discussion of goals for the trip. Nick is from Australia and California was his last stop on a seven-month Central and North America trip. He has a passion for experiencing the epitome of whatever is local wherever he is. On this road trip, the name of the game was classic Americana culture–think bad diner coffee, football, beer, and bar food–and Californian natural beauty.

Progress, day one.

We intended to camp in San Louis Obispo on night one, but spent longer than anticipated having too much fun catching up all afternoon at the Getty. Driving along the coast, we just escaped the greater Los Angeles surrounds at dusk and hunted for anywhere to pitch the tent. We found Faria Beach, five minutes north of Ventura. We quickly pitched my palatial 10’x12′ tent, still dusty from Burning Man, and hit the rocky beach with beer in hand just in time for sunset.

Route 1, here we come! *

Not a bad first night spot. *

After watching the sun set over the Pacific, we drove through Ventura searching for the Yelp-recommended greasy spoon diner Nick had selected. The one we wanted was oddly closed, but as luck would have it right next door was a Red Robin, a Seattle-based burger institution and one of my old high school date-night standards. I am constantly amazed at how many things that I used to do in high school to save money are back in vogue for me personally now that I don’t have an income. Sometimes I feel like such a kid! One of Red Robin’s major thriftiness selling points is their bottomless french fries. As another cheap backpacker, Nick appropriately appreciated the awesomeness. Pro tip: order your burgers, then ask for your first batch of fries as a free appetizer. To top it off, we had some great local beer and the Seahawks annihilated the 49ers. Even though we’re celebrating California this trip, I felt Seattle pride!

First beers at the bar in front of a football game, but far from the last! (I think we did 4 in 8 days.) *

Hello bottomless fries and varied array of condiments. Red Robin, I love you. *

That night, I fell asleep happy to the sound of the ocean crashing against the rocks just outside the tent.

On Day Two, the adventure continued–with a near brush with disaster–from Ventura to the super cool small down of Cambria.

* Photos courtesy of Nicholas Cooper.

A week on Isla Mujeres

From Playa del Carmen, we moved north up the coast to Isla Mujeres. I had heard from other travelers that it was a cool, chill place to hang, much better than Cancun. Rich and I went to give it a shot. We took a collectivo to the Cancun bus station (MEX$30/$2.50USD), connecting bus (MEX$8/$0.75USD), climbed aboard the passenger ferry (MEX$70/$5.85USD) and left the mainland behind. En route we suffered through some live entertainment (does anyone really dig pipe flute music?) and arrived on the island in about ten minutes.
Making the crossing from Cancun.

We stayed on the northern tip of the island and hung out at Poc-Na, the local hostel that has a beach party every night and is a great place to meet people. My first impression of downtown was just how tourist-focused every single business was. It didn’t have the same plastic quality as Cancun, but everything on the main walking boulevard of Avenue Hidalgo was designed with the American tourist in mind. Knick knack shops and dinner specials quoted in USD, all with American price tags to match. We did find a few restaurants tucked away that served cheaper food–with tortas priced at a pretty standard MEX$25/$2USD–but most closed down for dinner. The best reasonably priced late night option we found was a taco stand outside the grocery story on the center plaza. Tacos loaded with toppings were MEX$15/$1.25USD, double the price of Tulum but half the price of other restaurants.

The first really special thing that happened on Isla Mujeres was my adventure swimming with whale sharks, detailed in a separate post. Super awesome! If you come to Isla Mujeres during the summer months it is a must-do.

Toes in the sand at Poc-Na.

I was getting a little jaded by the beachy lifestyle, but I would soon get over the slump. Back at Poc-Na we were generously invited to a private house party being thrown by a group of Americans from Georgia. We arrived just in time to watch dusk descend on Cancun just over the water. The house was beautiful, our hosts an awesome group of guys, and the atmosphere a fun change from the hostel beach parties. We all hung out chatting, having a great time. I lamented my lack of skinny dipping on this trip to a very cute Swede and suddenly I had a partner in crime. On the count of three… splash! And skinny dipping is like dominoes; once one falls, it’s not long before you’ve got a pool full of naked people dancing to “Thriller”. Excellent, and you’re welcome. 😉

A beautiful start to an awesome night.

Lovely sunset over the water. What a view!
The next morning, I was super happy after having WAY too much fun the night before. Keeping my excellent mood going, we splurged on breakfast at a restaurant I had been eyeing: Rooster Cafe. Eggs benedict all around please. Um, yeah, it was so fantastic of a breakfast feast that I went there every morning for the next two days. So delish!

Earlier we had linked up with James, Rich’s friend from traveling in Argentina, and Helen, who we convinced to join us on the whale shark excursion. They were excellent friends to hang with throughout the week. We had a delightful surf ‘n turf double date with them on their last night on the island before they headed to Tulum.

We did have one casualty on Isla Mujeres though: Rich’s beard. After not shaving since his thirtieth birthday in Utila, he decided a more clean shaven look would blend in better at the swanky Cancun resort we were headed to. He opted for the 70s porn star moustache for two days before shaving it all off. The in-between look was, let’s say, sketchy at best!

Rockin’ the Mexican mo.
As my plane flight approached, I got the urge to do one last day of diving while I was still able. We did two dives off Isla Mujeres: Gunboat C58 and Punta Sur. Diving the current off Punta Sur was unreal. I had never experienced current like that before. Someone asked me recently if diving feels like flying. In normal conditions I’d say kind of because you can move in all directions, but this current most definitely felt like FLYING! It just took me, swept me away and was incredibly fun.
About to dive the wicked current off Punta Sur.

Rich about to get reg popped by a Hawksbill off Punta Sur. It was the end of turtle mating season, so we saw a bunch!
Making fun of my addiction to selfies.
Alright Isla Mujeres, I was skeptical at first but you got me. Adventures, cool people, and beautiful scenery. You are indeed la isla bonita.

Playa, this is your last chance

Oh, Playa del Carmen. My first “bad” stop on my trip. Why am I returning to you? The optimist in me hopes desperately you redeem yourself. Playa doesn’t feel so awful this time, but I am more struck by how utterly expensive everything is. You want *how much* for a taco? Oi. The people here are still not my people–American or South American families, retirees, or partiers on holiday. Why are backpackers so hard to find in this town? Are they just wearing a different uniform?
In the back of the collectivo en route to Playa. Come on, Playa, show me what you got!

There was fun to be had though. I actually did some of the classic Playa things! One night we went out to the main late night scene at 12th Ave and 1st St. The clubs were pumping, aggressive recruiters passed out free drink tickets and wristbands to everyone, and men in polos and women in skintight leopard spandex drinking tequila out of litro cups. Each song reminded me on someplace else, another time, another memory. Still not my crowd.

We spent a day at the beach chillaxing. I found a copy of Kitchen Confidential, which threw me back to first reading it in Southeast Asia, so all my classics reading went out the window in favor of Anthony Bourdain being a smart ass. The water is so beautifully blue, sand so smooth and white, and ocean so warm it’s possible to forgive all the Jersey Shore-lookalike travelers all around.

A typical tienda shelf.
Enjoying the beach.
Shallots, the secret is shallots.

Another day we visited nearby Akumal to swim with the sea turtles, just a short collectivo ride south. It was insanely resorty there; charging $15 for a snorkel set?! And you are required to wear a goofy lifevest? Madness. I have seen enough turtles on this trip thankyouverymuch. We spent the money on tacos, beer, and ice cream instead.

Akamal!
It’s hard to be upset around water this blue.
Excellent fish and shrimp tacos for lunch at Lucy’s. Half off for happy hour too!

But more often than not we stayed in, cooking something fabulous, and watching stand-up comedians online. Although our hostel had a very low-key social scene, the facilities were great, especially the kitchen. We took advantage and bought a whole mess of fresh groceries–including spinach, which is quite elusive in Latin America–and returned to cooking. I hadn’t cooked in earnest since Utila, unless fruit and rum liquados count. In Playa we cooked virtually every meal, and it was goooood:

Rich making his magic.

Ready to do this.
Eggs florentine with hollandaise. Yeah, because we’re the awesome kind of backpackers.
Peanut butter banana pancakes and fruit and spicy steak and vegetable curry. YUM.

Spending so much time and energy in the kitchen with Richard actually made me very happy, even though much of Playa still wasn’t for me. But off to the next beach, Isla Mujeres, in search of a chiller vibe, more likeminded travelers, and whale sharks!

A week on Long Caye with Huracan Diving

Back in April, I was lucky enough to meet the lovely staff of Huracan Diving when they were all vacationing in Caye Caulker. They had a warm familial spirit and welcomed me into their group immediately, adopting me for an evening. As my travels continued in Central America, I stayed in touch with my new friends and when the road led me back up to Belize in June I came by their island paradise on Long Caye out in the Lighthouse Reef for a visit.
Hellooooo Long Caye! *

Most visitors who come to Long Caye have one primary activity in mind: diving. And Huracan is a prime place for a Belizian diving holiday (check out their stellar reviews on TripAdvisor). Run by Ruth Devacht (be sure to take her up on one of her signature coconut caprianhas!), it’s a place that perfectly mixes excellent personalized service with homeyness. She thinks of everything when considering how to make guests’ experiences great. Consider the condiments at breakfast: spreads like Nutella and Vegemite to give travelers around the world a taste of home. It is not a five-star luxury resort, but this four bedroom guest house is a beautiful and relaxing home away from home.

Huracan lodge. Home sweet home. *

Being a diver myself, I was stoked to check out what I had been told was the best diving in Belize. I was not disappointed; the diving around Long Caye, Hat Caye, and Half Moon Caye is indeed all pretty fantastic. I dove eight times in six days, with one day off to go kiteboarding (more on this below!). The gear, service, boats, and staff were all top-notch. No need to take my word for it: the head guide and dive instructor Jerome just won Belize’s tour guide of the year award.

This is why Long Caye kicks everyone else’s butt for diving Lighthouse Reef.

Because dive sites are so close, there is either three one-tank dives per day or two in the morning and one in the afternoon, at 8am, 11am, and 3pm. Of course, one of the major attractions in Lighthouse Caye is the Blue Hole, which was a blast. You can read the story of my Blue Hole Day here. The diving staff includes multiple divemasters–Jerome, Ruth, Ryan, and Jhoanna–who are all awesome, listen to the kind of places and diving activities you like, and plan dives according to your interests. The reef is absolutely stunning, with so much healthy sea life and gorgeous scenery.

Heading out to the boat.

Our chariot.
Divemaster and swim-through queen Ruth giving a briefing.
Diving the reef. *
Diver diver, are you okay? Most definitely!

I put together a quick video with a mash-up of some of my favorite moments from my dives. While we did see big stuff like reef sharks, spotted eagle rays, and turtles, I really like normal reefy creatures so that is what I put in my video. My very favorite is the sharpnose pufferfish (the hummingbird of the sea)! As you’ll see, I also adore barrel sponges. Yes, I’m a little weird.

My favorite: sharpnose pufferfish! *

Surface intervals are also a special daily occasion at Huracan. When diving out at Hat Caye or Half Moon Caye you can take your fruit or candy bar snack and go ashore to explore the islands. When diving just off Long Caye, the boat returns home to freshly baked treats waiting at the lodge.

A gorgeous arrival on Half Moon Caye.
The red-footed booby in his natural–and only–habitat on Half Moon Caye.
The old Half Moon Caye lighthouse, slowly being claimed by the sea.

The remote location and “go slow” island rhythm of life can easily lead to a pattern: eat, sleep, dive. But I didn’t stop there. There are a bunch of other things to do! Ryan was my ready willing and able tour guide and fun partner. We kayaked, snorkeled, biked, and last but not least he taught me the basics of kiteboarding–his specialty. Check out the video below for some of the highlights. Included is a sequence I like to call “Erin the Christmas tree worm TERRORIZER!”. 😛

Biking the boardwalk over the mangroves that make up the majority of the island.

Fishermen off the west dock on a calm evening.

Ryan is the instructor at Huracan Kiteboarding and there was no way I was leaving the island without a lesson. Ryan was clear, kind, and patient as he walked me through the gear set up, safety, and kite control technique. We launched the kite and he demonstrated some basic kite movement and control, which explaining the theory behind where the kite should be positioned in the air, how I should steer by moving the bar left and right, and adjust power/control by moving the bar up and down. He handed the bar over to me, hooking in my chicken loop, and I tried my hand at flying. It was really cool! The kite is powerful if you want it to be, but quickly you get a feel for comfortably keeping it under control. I graduated to body dragging, using the kite to pull me through the water. Wheee! Super fun. I had more trouble doing this with only one hand, but crashing meant he got to teach me about water launches. 😛 On day one, I didn’t quite make it up on a board, but I was pretty tickled by playing with the massive kite. Totally a blast. Needless to say, I did not make it through nearly as many books as I planned.

Gear check!

Getting ready for a water launch!
Flying the kite–booyah. So much fun!
When I did manage to sneak away with a book, the adirondacks at the end of the dock were my favorite reading spot.
Kickin’ back for an afternoon read.

Huracan works on an all-inclusive basis: your package includes diving, accommodation, meals, snacks, and some beverages. The main house has four guest rooms, so accommodates eight guests maximum. When I was there, there were two other guests plus the staff. That’s it. Virtually a private vacation. The house feels warm and comfortable. Everyone has their private space, but eats and chills out together often in the sunny dining room.

Our eating and hang out space. *
One of the four guest rooms. *
En suite bathroom. *
The entry way and center of the lodge. *
Just a normal island clothes line. Wish I could wear candy-colored bikinis every day!

Their new chef Shannon did an awesome job of keeping us all happy and well-fed, cooking a variety of tasty things with that good home-cooked feel. We were spoiled by a beautiful breakfast spread every morning, the meals throughout the day were delicious and hearty, and there were frequent snacks timed perfectly with our diving schedule. Food is life to me and one of my very favorite things, and I felt very taken care of.

A typical breakfast spread with everything to make the start of anyone’s day kick-ass.
Yum!!
Lunch: Chef’s salad, while filling up the ol’ log book after a morning dive.

My favorite: stew chicken, rice ‘n beans, fried plantain, and potato salad.

Shrimp fettuchini alfredo. I spiked mine with Marie Sharp’s habanero sauce. 🙂
Lobster night!
Our awesome chef Shannon, hard at work.
Very important shipment from the mainland!

But what makes a real difference is the people. Especially on a small island, it is important to have good company with positive energy. Ruth and her crew have that in spades. They are a welcoming bunch who treat each other like family and welcome you in as one of them too. After spending a day diving, exploring, chilling, and generally having fun, we kicked back in the living room together most evenings before hitting the hay. Hey, we’ve got to get up and go diving tomorrow morning! One of my favorites was a new game Ryan taught me: Rummikub. He whooped my butt for two days straight before I got a win off him!

Learned how to play Rummikub–super fun! Ryan executing his trademarked rearranging strategy.
Silly face photo contest with my new little friend.
Hostess with the mostest joining in!

All in all, I had a lovely visit exploring Lighthouse Reef and spending time with everyone at Huracan Diving, a homey little oasis. So much fun in so many different ways. It’s a special place and visiting was a treat and a joy. Thank you all for having me and for a wonderful week!

Send off party.

Thank you for such a lovely visit!


* Photos from http://www.huracandiving.com

Return to the Yucatan, starting with Tulum

I’m a completely different traveler than I was five months ago. Way back when, I was just starting off, still getting my travel legs, and recovering from splitting up with Ben. I was more tentative. I did a lot of standard touristy things (which was fine, and I would do most again) and stayed close to home in the hostels. I was just getting used to making friends on the road. Now I’m just a few weeks from returning to the states, am beginning to think about endings and life after Central America, am not traveling solo anymore, and do the more serious adventure travel stuff like cavern diving.

Tulum was one of my favorite places when I first passed through Mexico. In fact, it was the first place I “got stuck”. Tulum around two has struck me in a completely different way. I’ve definitely enjoyed it but it has been so different. This time around, the focus was cenote diving. This was the reason I returned and what I meant to do with my time and money. I linked back up with the now thoroughly-bearded Richard (whose new look reminds me of Joaquin Phoenix during his lost year, especially when he wears my douche bans) after parting in Utila over a month ago. He arrived a few days before me so I hung out with friends he had made in the hostel and checked out Tulum from my seasoned-traveler perspective. Then the magic happened: three days diving cenotes, which was such a special experience that I will write more about soon in detail. Cenotes, my first water love, I am so thrilled to be reuinited with you!
You really should consider traveling with a bearded man.
Revisiting Calavera cenote. Woot!! ❤

Back the first time round, I had a pack full of clothes I hated because I didn’t want to bring anything I might loose; I picked up my first bikini in Tulum round one and now have a wardrobe of dresses with me. I know better where the cheap tacos are, how to find the good ice cream and public places to hang, that you need to go around the corner to rent the cheap bikes, and how to negotiate the entrance fee down at a cenote.

Rich’s favorite taco stand, where they cost 7 pesos ($0.55) and have heaps of excellent toppings.
Mayan calendar sculpture in Tulum Parque Central. How did I miss this the first time??
Decisions, decisions.
Street food in Parque Central.
Manquesitas: crispy crepes with cheese and a sweet. I chose dulce de leche.

50 peso beachrider bikes from Casa del Sol, cenote bound with a muy bueno stick.
Restaurant dinner of garlic grilled fish and ceviche. Tasty, but bang for the buck tacos are the way to go!!
My last night out in Tulum we went out for drinks with some fellow divers who had guided us in the cenotes. After talking about life and travel with these other wanderers, we said goodnight as they were headed home and we stuck around to listen to a Spanish ska cover band (who were totally awesome btw!). When giving hugs goodbye, I had advice whispered in my ear from someone who hasn’t been “home” in a long time: just keep traveling. As my Central America leg winds down, this is just the kind of encouragement I like to hear…