A stay in the resort area of Cancun, Mexico is always a treat, but to get further away from the world, a 30 minute boat ride over to the Island of Cozumel is mandatory. Outside of the docking terminal hubbub, things are a bit more tropical and relaxed. There are still upscale hotel accommodations, gourmet meals and azure clear water, but the Island mentality can also happily wash over you.

I stayed at the Hotel B, where written in the zero infinity pool were the words, “Just Be.” It is a fitting philosophy for any vacation. This does not mean that you should just vegetate at your hotel pool or ocean side beach, but to let Cozumel’s attractions infuse your stay. I found the —- a pleasant semi open air motel-like hotel with a staff trying their best to accommodate its guests. Hotel B is a mini resort or boutique, in that the real estate area is small but packed with areas for sunning, dining, swimming in their pool or in a small and exotic ocean side lagoon.
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There’s plenty of history on Cozumel of the early Mayan culture, the influx of Spanish conquers and even tales of Pirates who used the island as their retreat. In your visit to the Mayan archeological site of San Gervasio, you are stepping back into history by visiting the remaining ruins of a civilization. The stone structures are not as complete or as inspiring as better known Mayan sites, but still you can come away with an appreciation of the past civilizations of Cozumel. Some of the temples may have held worship for the goddess Ixchel, whose name is a combination of the Mayan words, female and white faced. You will need to drive there or take a guided tour – both recommended.
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With a car you can circle the island and stop at your own scenic attractions, such as the eco beach park of Punta Sur, with natural mangroves, the Colombia lagoon, the Celarain Lighthouse and its museum. The famous Mayan ruin El Caracol is said to be an ancient lighthouse, too. Or a privately owned beach bar/café, and a beer in a hammock may fit your mood perfectly. The crashing surf and artistically gathered drift wood accentuates Cozumel’s off the beat track nature.
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For a more commercial venue, the Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park, offers, food and beverage service from your acquired beach chair beneath a thatch shade, while observing holiday families with an ocean backdrop. Or for more the active visitor, you may rent scuba or snorkeling gear, take a Mayan steam bath, called a temazcal session. And if time permits you might swim with dolphins or pick up traditional Mayan and Mexican souvenirs or relax in one of the three restaurants. Deep sea sport fishing is also available in Cozumel.
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For an island away from the island, a real treat is an excursion to the private, Passion Island, with its acres of white sand beach and symmetrical placed palm trees. It’s 25 minutes by boat from downtown, or as I was, picked up at your Hotel ocean side, for a day of all inclusive and simple luxury. Passion Island is the perfect place to find your place in the sun or shade or private romantic spot, with food and unlimited beverage service.
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For additional dining options I can recommend the Kondessa Cozumel Restaurant, the historic Hacienda Mission Restaurant, and the Occidental Grand Cozumel grill, at the upscale and expansive Occidental Grand Resort. With the all many activities Cozumel has to offer, you might forget to “JUST BE.”

Before you go check out:

www.kondesacozumel.com www.missioncoz.com www.cozumelparks.com

www.CozumelToday.com www.hotelbcozumel.com www.isla-pasion.com

One good thing about having travel and life experiences is revisiting them later in life. In my college days I visited Cancun, Mexico and marveled at its prime attraction ~ the clear aquamarine waters. Revisiting that stretch of glorious sandy beach recently, I can attest, it is still there and as beautiful and mesmerizing as ever.

I stayed at the Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Hotel, with its own stretch of paradise, and enough amenities you may not want to venture out. With two towers of rooms, with most providing an expansive view of the ocean with stunning sunrises, there are views of several swimming pools and water features, dotted with dining venues. A breakfast indoors or out is an invigorating start to your day at the Vina del Mar. The extensive breakfast buffet includes everything you could desire: pastries, fruits, cereals, juices, hot entrées and made to order eggs. If you are eager to celebrate the day, champagne is available. Lunch can be taken at the Contoy Restaurant, Coral Cafe or pool bars, with restaurants; Isla Contoy, La Joya, or Coral Café, for your evening dining pleasure. The rooms are large and most with a small private balcony lets you enjoy the ocean breeze and stunning vistas, letting you know you have arrived at one of the world’s most desirable locales. If you can, I suggest booking on the executive level where one flight up is a semi private lounge with complementary beverages, snacks and more ocean vistas.
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Housekeeping is efficient and prompt. Every large hotel property may present a brief problem and a hotel’s handling of that bump in your stay, is a test to their customer care. I had an issue and it was generously and quickly resolved. Large fresh bouquets of flowers accentuate the welcome to the hotel and its large lobby atrium. Not to be missed is their extensive Gem Spa and its journey through water therapy. There was little need to explore the touristy shops outside of the property, but if it’s your desire to pick up a souvenir or two, shops are conveniently available. As the populous actively seeks your purchases you may have to give your touristy “No Thank You” reply more than you would like.

On my previous visit to Cancun, an hour’s drive south of the city is the area known as Rivera Maya which was just a thought in designer’s mind on my last visit. Today it hosts several upscale and enticing resorts and attractions. One attraction is the cultural park known as Xcaret. On the extensive grounds is an historic hacienda, craft and music demonstrations amid jungle growth. The impressive historical pageant presented in a grand covered arena is not to be missed. Even without knowing Spanish the pageant visually and musically takes you from the life of the original inhabitants, through colonization. A recreation of the “ball game” played by early Mayans is a highlight and a rare opportunity to see the skill needed to succeed at this hand’s off sport. Also you may take in the Aquarium, a Mayan cemetery, underground rivers, Mayan village and sample archeological reconstructions. A buffet lunch with beverages is included with the admission price.
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For your future enjoyment Cirque du Soleil Riviera is in the process of creating a unique show, called Joya, to tell the story of Mayan life. For the first time the company is creating its own arena/theatre complex with connections to the Grand Mayan resort. While construction is underway, and schedule for a late 2014 opening, you can enjoy the opulence of the Grand Mayan hotel, and its expansive pools and luxurious accommodations with dining at the Grand Mayan Palace Restaurant. Tickets are now on sale in several price ranges, with and without dinner, for the shows which promise to offer more audience interaction than any other Cirque show. This is not a touring production and will only be offered here in the Rivera Maya. With the forethought and the quality reputation of Cirque, this show in Rivera Maya may become a destination unto itself.
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Still in Rivera Maya is the Rosewood Mayakoba resort. If arriving during daylight hours you are greeted with a refreshing beverage as your luggage is delivered to your bungalow, while you are escorted by small private boat through jungle like lagoons to your resort accommodations. Along the way you may spot many varieties of the wild life native to the property. Luncheon might be served in a large palapa like structure next to a sampling of the coastal beach. The buffet dinner I enjoyed was complete with made to order beverages, sushi, pork, side dishes and a selection of sweet deserts. Relaxing on the outside benches, while the sunset was in lingering to dark, and with the accompanying sounds of the surf and salt air, one knows they have sampled a touch of the lux life.
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There are many more resorts in Rivera Maya and you may want to peruse the Moon Palace, and the Hotel El Cid Puerto Morelso. For your trip planning be sure and look at:

http://www.fiestamericanagrand.com/en/mx-cancun/hotel-grand-coral-beach

http://www.xcaret.com ~

http://www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/mayakoba-riviera-maya

http://www.thegrandmayan.com/riviera-maya

http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/joya/default.aspx

When I was first blindfolded, I felt disoriented, out of control, with the added annoying question lurking in the back of my head: I am a travel writer, how am I supposed to take notes? But our Mayan guide propelled me back into the moment by explaining that when our sight -– our main sense in relating to the world around us –- is cut off, the others senses are expanded. And I had better start paying attention.
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Thus began our Sense Adventure Tour, part of a larger eco-oriented nature park and sustainable tourism program at the Hacienda Tres Rios Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico.

So I initially sensed the jungle, rather than saw it.

Nothing can hurt you, we were reassured. Just trust in yourself and follow your senses. Do not talk, please – communicate only with yourself. And become one with the universe. How does one do that?
First came the sounds. Were they cymbals? Triangles? What did they mean? Were they supposed to mean something? But I didn’t have time to ponder before the next sensory assault — this time different textures caressing my feet as we proceeded blindfolded and bare foot, one hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us. From gravel to burlap, wooden slats to smooth slate to soft rug, we moved about our mini-jungle over an hour’s time. Then a baby laughed – or was it crying – followed by a clash of thunder and then the sounds stopped being a focus and just began to wash over me, as did the bucket of pebbles dumped on my head. I felt like I was being buried. Was that it? Were the baby’s cries rebirth? I had no idea.
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The only time the blindfold was removed was within a tent with constellations of stars twinkling overhead — the universe we’re supposed to feel a part of. Blindfold back in place, the avalanche of sensory overload continued – smells, textures, taste, sounds. All the senses were challenged, often in conjunction with one another, sometimes competing, sometimes complimentary – should I pay attention to the Native American chants or focus on the pebbles pored over my body or the cinnamon under my nose or just give in to the swaying of my body being encouraged by the guides.

Periodically, the guides placed our hands on our heart, reminding us to breathe – the theme repeated – listen to your heart beat – this is what keeps us alive. Feel the universe living and moving inside you.

More sounds, this time a beating drum, ever increasing tempo – guides moved various body parts where they wanted them, hands in front one moment to smell a splash of oil, waving about another in time to the rhythm of the beat. Now chanting once again — feel small seeds flowing through my fingers, taste a sliver of chocolate melt upon my tongue, gravel this time beneath my feet. I’m somewhat annoyed with myself for thinking I’m pretty sure I’m going to find a bunch of pebbles in my underwear later that night. Such a plebian thought feels antithetical to the experience. I refocus – hear a semblance of a heartbeat in the background. I’m not sure whether it’s mine or theirs.
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Then I felt the coldness of a small candle holder in one hand and heat generated by it as my other hand passed over it. The transient thought of how do they do that passed through only to be overshadowed by the incongruous reality itself. And shortly thereafter, I was once again moving to the sounds – I lost track of what they were – but I knew I was simulating the flying motions of a bird. Even though I had no idea what ritual I was taking part in, I felt a sense of belonging – that I was somehow connected to something that was important in some past culture.
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I didn’t know how it was done but it was not important – I breathed in – I exhaled – I moved my arms and swayed my body – I was alone yet part of a larger whole – and it all felt right. And again, my hands were placed on my heart. When not floating in air or touching my heart, my hands were on the shoulder of the person in front of me, traversing about our own private world, wondering what tactile surprise lay ahead.

Sounds again – fire, thunder, rain, birds, planes and wind – and of course, the repetitive chanting – but with maracas in hand now, I could share in the experience directly. And yes, this was my dance – with that of the others – whoever the others might be – everyone moved to their own rhythm – somehow in concert with each other – and I could feel that even through the blindfold.
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I was given a smooth stone soft to the touch with which I was told to caress my face – supplemented by a more rigid scraggly conch shell which I could easily identify. I couldn’t resist holding it to my ear to try to hear the ocean – but then I realized the sounds were coming from behind me – crashing waves. And now, I felt the rainwater I only heard before – icy cold and down my back. It was the only time I heard collective sounds of first shock and then guffaws from my compatriots.

Thunder abounded – and then the raindrops flowed – followed by a windstorm. Somehow I knew that it was all being manufactured, but I didn’t care – it felt real. Now I was asked to clang the smooth stone and the rugged conch shell together to make some more native music, and yet again, the hands are returned to the heart – of course. I started to welcome the gesture as a way of coming home – feeling grounded.

I followed all the instructions as the guides moved my body, arms and hands in different directions and knew I had the choice – I could resist and ask why – or acquiesce and say why not? I feel both on a personal journey and part of a larger connection, as though I was attuned to some greater Mayan or Native American or whatever other culture I sensed was behind it. I felt connected with the elements, with nature.

“And so nature comes to say to us the earth is my body, the water is my blood, the air is my breath, the fire is my spirit,” so sayeth the guide as we near the end. “In front of you is a mirror. See your reflection and know that somewhere inside you, if you have a question, you will find an answer. All the universe is inside you.”

As I removed my blindfold and gazed upon my reflection in the cenote pool in front of me, I was not sure I felt one with the universe but I certainly felt I had experienced a very unique part of it in a magical hour’s time.

For more information, visit http://www.haciendatresrios.com/riviera-maya/nature-park/nature-park-activities where you will find not only the Sense Adventure, but a number of other unusual activities such as snorkeling and kayaking in a cenote, an Xtreme Adventure tour, Segway rides and Hobie Cat outings, and an introductory tour of the many trend-setting sustainable tourism aspects of the hotel. Hacienda Tres Rios was constructed only on areas of low-environmental value with the least adverse impact, and includes water-saving techniques that don’t sacrifice pressure, rooms that are “intelligently designed” to be both high tech and high comfort but low impact, with 120 varieties of native plants in the park that do not require much in the way of water, fertilizer, or pesticides. It has recently been named to TripAdvisor’s 2014 list of the Top 25 Resorts For Families.

The Mexican Mayan Riviera (South Cancun) is, in short, a public relation dream of a name. First and foremost, let’s get the geography lesson out of the way; Quintana Roo is a state in Southeastern Mexico on the eastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula with a population of 1.3 million. The Caribbean Sea is to the east and the nation of Belize is to the south. If the name Quintana Roo is not familiar, look at some of the cities contained within the state; Cancun (800,000), Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel enhanced further by the Mayan Ruins at Tulum, Oxtankah, Coba and Kohunich among others.

In the late 1960’s the Mexican government built the city of Cancun from a small fishing village to attract more American tourists to the area. In 2012 there were over 1.6 million visitors from the US. The hotel zone spans approximately 16 miles with more than 34,000 rooms in Cancun and 40,000 in the Riviera Maya (the largest number in Mexico). There are condos and resorts facing the Caribbean, plus over 2,000 stores. On the island side is Laguna Nichupte with marinas, restaurants, shopping malls, two golf courses (there are 13 in the Cancun/Riviera Maya area) and a few islands. There is only one road so you can’t get lost. Forty minutes southbound and you are at the airport, which is the second busiest in Mexico (after Mexico City). The “Party Zone” is halfway between the Hotel Zone and downtown and is filled with nightclubs and discos.

Leaving New York City in mid-March for 80-degree weather was a tough choice when I was invited to the 2nd Annual Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival. Founder & CEO David Amar explained the difference between this four-day celebration and other food and wine festivals: “We donate a portion of the receipts to Cancun’s City of Joy which houses, under one roof, children living in extreme poverty, the elderly living alone, a hospice for the terminally ill and women victims of domestic violence.”

The festival alternates its events between the two areas in their name. Even though I was staying in Cancun at the Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Resort & Spa all the events this year took place in the Riviera Maya area, less than an hour’s drive from Cancun. During the four days there was a delicious array of gourmet foods, interactive wine & spirit seminars, late night parties and entertaining cooking demos.
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The Thursday opening event was a press conference for guests of honor chefs Massimo Bottura & Enrique Olvera. Chef Massimo’s restaurant Osteria Francescam was ranked #5 in the world, has 3 Michelin Stars and is located in Modena, Italy. Chef Olvera’s restaurant Pujol is in Mexico City and was ranked #36. There was a Star Chef Networking luncheon that was by invitation only. Typical dishes of Quintana Roo were prepared and cooked by women chefs. This was followed by a discussion on the future of cuisine. There were afternoon wine tastings on both Thursday and Friday showcasing European and American wines. They took place at the Karima El Dorado Royale Hotel and cost $50 each. That evening at the Paradisus Playa del Carmen Hotel I spent a few hours at the Taste of the New World ($250) where 20 Star Chefs from the Americas exhibited their signature dishes alongside top wines, all in a beachfront location. I ran into New York friends Drew Nieporant (Corton/ Nobu) and Mark Ladner, the executive chef of Del Posto.
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Each day Friday–Sunday in the late morning there were cooking demonstrations ($60 each) at the Karisma El Dorado Royale Hotel. Even as the chefs gave out insider tips and culinary advice I did note a sense of friendly competition amongst them. Saturday & Sunday afternoon at the Grand Coral Riviera Maya Hotel the American Express Gourmet Tasting Village took place. For $100 one could sample tapas and desserts from 20 restaurants located in Cancun & Riviera Maya, along with jazz and wine. Friday evening at Hotel Grand Velas there was a tribute dinner ($350) for Chef Massimo Bottura where three top Italian chefs from the United States and two sous-chefs from Massimo’s own restaurant Osteria La Francescana produced a five-course dinner paired with wines selected by MW/MS Doug Frost. Saturday evening at Restaurant Passion at the Paradisus Playa del Carmen Hotel Chef Martin Berasategui and Master of Wine/Master Sommelier Doug Frost held an invitation only dinner.
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The closing event of the festival took place Sunday evening at Paradisus Playa del Carmen. This beachfront dinner ($150) featured music, fireworks and entertainment as Italy meets Mexico. The ingredients were all Mexican and top chefs from both Mexico and Italy prepared the food.

 

 

Total attendance for the 4-day festival was about 5,000 for the 25 events. Next year the event switches back to Cancun.
For More Information-
www.crmfest.com
www.cancun.travel

A recent visit to Puebla, Mexico, an hour plus drive outside of Mexico City, is like a box of chocolates: sweet and surprising. This World Heritage City has enumerable churches that are historic and awe-inspiring. Many have plaques in English near their entrance to explain their history and architecture. This is vital to the non-Spanish speaking Americans, who are many that make the tour pilgrimage to the most elaborate structures. Many churches banish interior photography (even no flash) for the threat of theft. I was told that some of its artifacts are valuable to collectors who get photos of what’s available and then employ thieves to harvest the antiques. I wonder how this is possible as there are so many plain clothes security guards, which leads one to believe such theft is an inside job.5501ac800
None the less the interior décor can be over the top in baroque opulence where the mixing of Spanish and Mexican iconography is over powering. This is exemplified in the Santa Maria Tonantzintla Temple, where the indigenous pre Hispanic “Tonanzin” ( or Our Dear Mother) gets adapted into the veneration of the Virgin Mary. It’s a common religious practice to adapt local indigenous peoples already established religion into the converted Catholic beliefs, making the transition easier. The baroque talavera tile work of the Temple of San Francisco Acatepec is a favorite among tourists, as the exterior façade is designed to mimic a grand altar piece.
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While you can occasionally find crafts people working near a tourist site, as I did with a man who makes pictures from colored hay, a downtown bizarre has many touristy items, not all made in Mexico however. Upon exiting the Moorish style bizarre on my impromptu stroll, I found a most reverent and unassuming ancient church on a quiet street. Inside were bouquets of cut white gladiolas and the fragrance was a pleasant breath in a congested city. It’s almost as if you can’t help but stumble over all the churches of Puebla.
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Walking in to the Library with its thousands of vintage collections, again where photography is not allowed, you might think it only an academic visit. The surprise is waking through the buildings central courtyard on your way to the second floor collection, we found a community exhibition of Tahitian dancers. You never know what you are going to get on a walking tour.
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At a reception in the courtyard of the upscale Intercontinental Hotel, we were privilege to an exhibition of classic Mexican wresters where the show is not unnecessarily in their acrobatic exploits but more for the show of costumes and masks. Another example of the surprises held in Puebla is the upscale and elegant restaurant at La Purificadora, where sections of an old convent are incorporated into the renovated and sleek architecture. An elegant cocktail venue and modern hotel with an entrance on a quite street, near a congested intersection is an unexpected and another pleasing Puebla venue.
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The local La Quinta Inn is an appropriate and convenient business oasis. Besides
its convenience to a major thoroughfare and restaurant, bar and swimming pool it has a lovely high rise view of one of Puebla’s embracing volcanoes, as seen in this articles title photography. Puebla is full of surprises, which might include a demonstration of native folk dances at the Cultural Center.
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John M. Edwards invades Islas Mujeres in search of copper-skinned beachcombers who shake like Shakira. A male intruder on the Island of Women, just off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula at Playa del Carmen, he tries to pick up a dream dolphin instead!
Out the plane window, listening to the throb and hum of the supersonic jet-fuel-propulsioned twin engines, I descried a long strip of white sand dotted like a Monopoly board with boxy luxury resort hotels. Upon landing with a skid, a bump, and a halt, the step ladder was attached, and then we exited the plane while a dude resembling Bruce Chatwin, blond hair tucked under a fancy Panama Hat, said “Sorry” and gave me the thumbs-up.

“Cancun! Cancun! Cancun!” the unsavory taxi drivers unisoned until a portly pair of a man named Esteban, wearing a white undershirt singlet and sweating profusely beneath the Mayan-inflected sunshine, manhandled my Luggage (also the nickname of my galpal) like Cantinflas from Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.

Arriving at the jetty near world-famous Playa del Carmen, we stepped into a pleasure craft and zoomed across the light waves. No Cozumel for us. Instead we landed at Mexico’s discreet “Islas Mujeres” (Island of Women), which sure did live up to its name.
Dumped outside a sleeping estab resembling a stuccoed Grateful Dead hotel, I noticed that the statuesque desk sergeant, tanned even in winter, was just a little bit of a knockout herself.
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We then slipped into our swimming cozzies and loaded our beach gear into our Jansport daypacks and meandered over to the beach almost at our doorstep—one of the nicest sandtraps in the Caribbean, with blue-green waters as clear as a sloe-gin fizz.

Here all the sunbathers were topless (including the lifeguardy beefcakes). Also, I swear I saw good travel writers Rolf Potts and Tony Horowitz (who resemble each other) lasciviously layering expensively imported Hawaiian Tropic ™ suncream on the backs of their harmless slags.
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I mentioned to a Hungarian backpacker, who resembled my high-school German friend Klaus Zieler, a mean soccer-ball kicker, that I vaguely knew Sarah Driver, who was the main squeeze of Magyar-American film director Jim Jarmusch (“Stranger Than Paradise”). He showed me an ancient dice game to improve my mathematical skills. Much later, expatriated in the Zocalo and under the shadow of a cathedral clock and clippety-cloppity burros loaded down with Mexican Indian blankets and tourist knickknacks, we tried authentic fried empanadas, which here are more like fluffy omellettes than flattened tortillas. Also herewith we met a strangely odd Canadian couple, one of whom resembled a Playboy model with plastic surgery; the other, a shrimpy “Tim” with a vaguely doofy smile like that of unfinished-novellette-writer David Van Vactor or world-famous novelist Ian McKewan.

Also much later in the day we peeled ourselves off of our sarongs and ambled over to the beach-front café, where we ordered egregiously bad Instant Nescafé ™, which along with Pringles, Bosco, and Instant Reincarnation Breakfast, is available in any Mexican bodega (family groc).
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No Mayan ruins here, except for an unimpressive few resembling worn-out dinosaur dentures, but this was surely a stronghold of Native American magic and supernatural delights. One night, for example, I was talking to the friendly Canuck, an expat “Import-Export” artist who showed me a neat alienesque trick. Maybe it was the Tequila talking or even the Mezcal refusing to wear off, but I imagined a delusion that the Canadian’s arm jumped out of its socket in an explosion of Silly String ™. Was this AmerIndian Mojo at work?

Idling again like sitting somnambulists at the beachside café, “Luggage” almost threw up when she drank a tepid glass full of Nescafé ™ swimming with coffee grinds. She jumped up to complain to the manager and get all of our money back. I got up to prevent her from causing an international incident, involving taking me into a back room for a life-threatening drubbing, all because boyfriends usually bear the brunt of disputes over la quenta.

Anyway, according to Skindiver (a mag I’ve never seen), the beach here was top ten. And I could see why, with all the beautiful copper-colored buttocks moving with desire under the spiked Mexican sun. Little Sally Rides ready to drop out of the Nasa Space Program and put out.
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Out the plane window, listening to the throb and hum of the supersonic jet-fuel-propulsioned twin engines, I said “Hasta Luega” to the strip of white blow-like sand cut by an Amex Centurion Card ™.

With my too-tan flaky portrait pokerfaced into a birdy grimace in the reflecting opaque window, I felt a little like a downward-dog impostor and grinning sun god–one mugging for the invisible cameras hidden in the reading lights, with a copy of Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan (1843), by John Lloyd Stephans, cracked open on my lapster. . . .

Of course, the highlight of my trip was the clandestine daytrip to see the molten “Little Astronaut,” discreetly hidden in one of the Mayan ziggurats and curled into foetal position in fear of crashlanding.

Every summer during the rainy season in the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, southern Mexico, both tourists and Oaxacan residents alike gather for a weekend of food, hiking, discovery and related activities with an emphasis on ecotourism. Their common goal is to hunt for, celebrate and learn more about wild mushrooms (hongos silvestres) in a magical setting – the pristine, ecologically protected forests of tall conifers, brilliant wildflowers and majestic agave in and around the town of Cuahimoloyas.
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The 11th annual Feria Regional de Hongos Silvestres (regional wild mushroom fair) was held August 6th & 7th, 2011, in San Antonio Cuajimoloyas. The festival, organized by the municipality with support from a Oaxacan ecotourism agency and mycological groups, has always had four interrelated foci within the context of attaining its broad objective – ensuring the highest level of enjoyment and satisfaction for all participants:
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Food: Activity from dawn to dusk indulges in every shape, size and color of edible hongo silvestre, prepared using a multitude of cooking techniques, focused upon discovering new recipes centering on how to best incorporate a variety of distinct wild and cultivated mushrooms into Mexican cuisine with an emphasis on Oaxacan culinary tradition – hongos in traditional moles, empanadas and quesadillas–foil wrapped with other succulent fresh ingredients, herbs and spices; stir fried with potatoes and chorizo; marinated as a preserve.

· Scientific Inquiry: Brief seminars by local and invited experts, mycologists teaching cultivation, identify and distinguish edible, poisonous, and of course hallucinogenic mushrooms of the species imbibed by both Alice and the followers of Mexico’s famed María Sabina. Fact, lore, and artistic representations of hongos silvestres dating to pre – Hispanic times are explored.

· Ecotourism: Participants can also take part in hiking through the cloud forests of Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte with a guide trained in identifying scores of different varieties of mushroom, the object being to gather the broadest diversity and rarest specimens; staying overnight in log cabins, each equipped with hot water, comfy beds and a firewood fueled hearth can also be experienced.
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Financial Support for the Local Economy: The event is organized so that reasonably priced weekend and day passes guarantee healthy attendance and thus a significant economic boon for the municipality as well as a Sunday marketplace providing villagers with an opportunity to sell their local handicrafts, organic produce, prepared foods and freshly cooked full meals of which mushrooms naturally steal the spotlight across the board.

The weekend exalted the mushroom to a Mexican foodstuff worthy of celebrity status, while at the same time supported Oaxaca’s growing Sierra Norte ecotourism industry. Pomp and ceremony combined with uncharacteristic (for Oaxaca) organization.

Participants arrived in Cuahimoloyas from Oaxaca by bus (two hours) and car (one hour) Saturday morning. The center of activity was the municipal offices and large courtyard for registration and ticket purchase, in the case of those who had not already done so in Oaxaca.

Groups of ten visitors plus a guide headed out for the mushroom hunt. Those with greater stamina elected the most arduous trek. That involved more hiking and climbing than walking to outlying areas with a greater abundance and variety of hongos. Wild mushrooms ranging from pinhead to almost watermelon size were sought out and gingerly picked from under and alongside beds of pine needles, fallen tree branches, agave leaves and cow dung.

By late afternoon the groups of hunters, each with their wicker baskets bountifully filled with mushrooms, gathered back at a makeshift outdoor mess hall, the scene reminiscent of that in a western movie with ranchers returning to camp at the end of a cattle drive. First, a well-earned comida of choice mushroom dishes as well as more typical Oaxacan fixins such as refried beans, grilled meats, steamed tamales and of course tortillas and tlayudas took place.
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Each team then displayed the fruits of its labor on long picnic benches, some arranging their mushrooms according to species, others electing a more artistic arrangement. The toadstool judges tallied the numbers. The winning team had collected 254 different types of wild mushroom. Another team took away the prize for best hongo silvestre. While a spectacular specimen of renowned red, white flecked Amanita muscaria competed, there were no second or third places of honor. Its picker nevertheless paraded it around the compound with motherly pride.

Drivers caravanned each mushroom enthusiast in open backed diesel trucks back to the starting area where once again everyone was divided up: those who would be returning to Oaxaca and overnighters heading for cabins. Some cabins were in Cuahimoloyas a short walk away, while others were in nearby villages such as La Nevería and Benito Juárez or out in the woods further removed from the Sierra Norte towns.
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For those staying on, dusk had arrived, so the evening was spent first getting settled, with warming fireplace ablaze, then relaxing in the cabins recounting the day; some quietly partied with snacks and wine, beer or mezcal, others turning in early.

Arriving back at fair headquarters next morning, stalls were being set up with produce and crafts as well as eateries for a mushroom breakfast. Sunday morning was reminiscent of a typical weekend day at a rural Canadian or American farmers’ market. The afternoon consisted of a series of optional seminars lead by the mycologists. Interspersed between the seminars participants indulged in snacking, examining the large indoor display of recently retrieved then labeled regional mushrooms, and all this was followed by more food – another full comida highlighted by mushroom dishes.

Most of those who had come from Oaxaca for only the final day’s activities had arrived by noon, in time for lunch. The comida was once again self serve, everyone seated along large tables extending the length of a nondescript building, chatting with friends as well as with strangers. After all, hiking and hunting for hongos silvestres in Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte, indulging in down home Mexican food as never experienced before, and supporting regional ecotourism were more than sufficient a tie to bind.

Day Two concluded with a traditional Oaxacan Guelaguetza with all its glory, pageantry and giving. Some visitors stayed to its conclusion and continued sampling foods, buying mushrooms and chatting; others, mostly those who had already seen many a Guelaguetza, left mid – performance to return home to Oaxaca; while many supporters of Oaxaca’s ecotourism industry, mainly tourists, stayed in Cuahimoloyas for a day or two longer – more hiking and hunting, mushroom indulging and soaking up Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte. It’s hard to bid farewell to a weekend of exceptional Oaxacan food, entertainment and hospitality, especially after experiencing its Feria Regional de Hongos Silvestres.

Kids. Whether you have them, have one on the way, or are simply young at heart, you’ll go loco for Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa. Squeals of delight pervade the family-friendly property, a sprawling all-inclusive resort with a private beach hugging the Caribbean Sea.

This wasn’t our first trip to the strikingly beautiful – and incredibly friendly – Riviera Maya. But what set this visit apart was the discovery that this area is not only a romantic retreat and a party haven for singles and couples alike, but it also provides an ideal setting for families, especially when your vantage point is Dreams Tulum.
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The resort offers a wealth of luxury accommodations set amid manicured gardens, sensuous spa services, seven international restaurants serving gourmet fare, six lounges offering unlimited premium brand beverages, and a lively events calendar with more than enough varied activities to fill your days, nights and memories. With impeccable quality and services, it’s no wonder that Dreams Tulum earned the Elite Recognition Award by Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.
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Here’s what’s not immediately clear….of its 431 rooms, the resort boasts 180 that connect. A huge convenience for parents traveling with kids. More obvious is the Mayan-themed Explorer’s Club, as much a treat for grownups as for their children, ages 3 – 12.

Parents can truly relax during spa treatments and other adult activities, knowing their kids are safely ensconced in a wonderful world of tribal adventure, enjoying supervised activities based around nature, science, exploration and creative arts. There’s a playground, splash fountain, climbing wall, game room, big screen movies under the stars, a weekly camp-out and more.
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One of the resort’s key features is its proximity to the area’s renowned archaeological sites and natural wonders. Tulum held a mystical power over the ancient Mayan civilization, which built its world famous pyramids here. Hire a guide for insights into the culture. You’ll witness first-hand the remains of mansions and temples and glean why they go hand-in-hand. Our guide explained, “The higher you are in society, the closer you are to the temple and therefore the closer you are to God.” You’ll also learn about how and why human sacrifices occurred: morbid, perhaps, by American standards, but sacred to the people of this land. Be on the lookout for animals great and small: monkeys, deer, raccoons, and the ubiquitous iguana, sure to steal your creature-loving heart.

 

 

A River Runs Through It

A most extraordinary natural occurrence here is the cenotes (pronounced Say-NOTE-Ayes), refreshingly cool underground rivers. These wells, found in the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula, are filled with turquoise and green crystalline waters that attract snorkelers and divers from around the world. Adventure-seekers will thrill to ziplining through the jungles with a jolting cenote-dunk finale.
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At Xcaret (pronounced Esh-Car-ET), you can get up close and personal with colorful native birds, butterflies, jaguars, monkeys, bulls, and curious animals whose Mexican name has no American counterpart. Don’t miss the horse show, which, according to the narrator, “…demonstrates the cheerfulness and risky temperament of our people.” Shows are non-stop at this magical eco-park, but the most magnificent in all of Mexico is Xcaret’s “Mexico Espectacular” – a larger-than-life extravaganza with fire-throwing, flying men, music and pageantry in a heart-pounding, emotional portrayal of the traditions, history, diversity and mysticism of Mexico.

As a consequence of the innovative thinking of Kurt Schwitters, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg and others, the 20th century bore witness to the concept of found object as visual art becoming a mainstream European and American medium of artistic expression. In the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, itself known for quality, cutting edge art, found object has received attention over the past 20 years. Take for example the masterful works of Damien Flores, the collages produced by Rodolfo Morales during the final years of his life, and young Mixteco artist Manuel Reyes’ use of archaeological pieces as well as local sands and soils as aids in expressing the strong sense of indigeneity he seeks to impart through his art.

Oaxaca’s 16 native cultures, the diversity of its landscapes and climatic regions, and its rich human history beginning with pre-Hispanic times, continuing through the era of the Conquest, to ongoing 21st century human struggles, provide a diverse, ultra – rich proving ground. Within it, visiting and resident artists, tourists with a bent towards antiques and collectibles, and both expat and native born Oaxacans who are inclined to think out-of-the-box, can readily encounter found objects to incorporate into their aesthetic lives.
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Contemporary Manifestations of Found Object as Visual Art

A found object within the context of visual art may be defined as the artistic use of an object, man – made or otherwise, which has not been created for a predominantly artistic purpose. It can be a toaster, a shoe, a car part, a beaded jacket, a newspaper, a simple tool or a farm implement, a leaf or stone, a wrestler’s mask, a clump of clay, or a Coke bottle – empty or full. One can designate three broad categories of found objecst which are then transformed into the realm of art:

An object encountered by chance or sought out by design, for the purpose of using it essentially “as found,” to enhance the aesthetic environment of a home, an office, a store or other workplace environment, or a landscape. Of course it can be a featured artwork in an exposition (i.e. Duchamp’s seminal display of a ceramic urinal in 1917) which eventually finds its way into one of the three foregoing contextual environments or as a permanent gallery exhibit.

An object or objects encountered by chance or sought out by design and incorporated into a traditional piece of art such as an oil or watercolor for the purpose of enhancing its overall aesthetics, or the imagery its author seeks to impart, or both (i.e. Manuel Reyes’ use of potsherds). Objects are usually sought out by design for the purpose of employing them to create a specific art form, which may or may not include a utilitarian function (i.e. rusted horse shoes made into a wine rack or polished old metal car parts fashioned into a twirling ballerina).
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Found Objects in Oaxaca for the Expat Resident and Tourist Alike

Artists resident in Oaxaca should have no difficulty advancing the breadth and quality of their works within the realm of the last two categories noted above. They already have a trained eye and a mind yearning to continually grow in different directions with a view to keeping the art fresh, both on a personal level and for their benefit of public consumption. It’s the availability of the broadest selection of Oaxacan material culture, objects which can be used “as found,” which should attract the attention of non – artist expat residents and tourists alike. The case can be made within the following parameters:

1. Middle and upper classes have an eye for a different and often broader continuum of objects which they deem aesthetically pleasing, than working and lower classes.
2. There is a much larger per capita middle and upper class in the United States and Canada, than in Oaxaca, of which a significant segment of the former is inclined to visit Oaxaca.
3. It’s relatively difficult for members of those same two classes in Oaxaca, having grown up surrounded by and conditioned to ignore much of their day – to – day material culture (indigenous or otherwise), to appreciate its aesthetic value; they are accordingly less interested in its acquisition.
4. Based on the foregoing, relative to the American and Canadian phenomenon over the past 50+ years, found objects in Oaxaca have only to a minor extent become deemed collectibles.
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The Transformation from Found Object to Collectible

When an object becomes a collectible, its acquisition price tends to increase exponentially. The first time an American saw a discarded or stored away pine foundry form, he probably picked it up for free or at a nominal charge (perhaps its value as firewood). After he took it home and then cleaned and oiled it and put it on the wall in his den, he began using the found object as art; a piece of wood used to fabricate industrial metal, now adorning an upscale contemporary household.

Foundry forms became collectibles, offered for sale in antique stores and interior design galleries. Much in the same vein, old working wooden duck decoys have been transformed from utilitarian hunting paraphernalia into thousand dollar (and indeed much more) adornments of fireplace mantels; and wooden tongue and groove Canadian Butter and Southern Comfort boxes initially used to transport product from manufacturer to market have become aesthetically pleasing receptacles to store kindling for those fireplaces.

These days one rarely picks up a foundry form, a decoy or an old wooden advertising box “for a song” because each has been transformed into a class of collectible. In Canada and the United States, and it is suggested throughout most of the Western World, a solitary found object as visual art is virtually non – existent outside of the context of being offered for sale as art, folk art or otherwise for interior design purposes. On the other hand, objects found for the purpose of either incorporating them into a traditional art form (newspaper comic clippings, potsherds, shoe laces) or fabricating a piece of art using only that class
of object (the car part ballerina), will be easily encountered for generations to come, bought outright based on non – aesthetic value, scrounged on the street, or found in a junk yard and purchased by the pound.
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Found Objects in Oaxaca Still in Abundance for Aficionados of Art & Aesthetics

Insofar as Oaxaca remains a developing state, with a middle / upper class contingent as previously described (small, generally unconditioned to appreciate a certain level of aesthetics), its realm of collectibles has not reached the level one encounters in the Western World or even within the Mexico City environs. This provides interesting buying opportunities for visitors to Oaxaca.

Although in each of the three or four downtown Oaxaca antique stores one does encounter found objects, these particular objets d’art have been transformed into collectibles over the past few decades and in some cases merely years (stone metates or grinding stones, well worn ritual masks, pine votive candle holders, chango mezcalero clay painted mezcal bottles, etc.). However, by getting out of the city and knocking on villagers’ doors and even simply walking along dusty roads, visitors can still stumble upon a treasure trove of found objects which when brought home to be givien proper placement and juxtaposition are easily transformed into visual art.
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Of course residents of Oaxaca are not restricted in the size or weight of what they choose to transform, nor by customs and immigration rules. Hence, one might find in their homes, now as art, an old rusted iron plough adorning a well landscaped garden or a pine mule saddle, riddled with tiny holes evidencing a period of insect infestation, now gracing an interior wall of a new home, draped with colored twine and worn leather parts, all as originally found in a farmer’s shed.

Indeed the traveler on a brief visit to Oaxaca can also return home with a bounty of found object art. The big old rusty plough and the well worn wooden saddle are found objects which today complement the aesthetics of this writer’s Oaxacan home.

Opportunities abound to find smaller found objects, manageable for export, to transform into art, simply by exploring villages in the state’s central valleys. Examples? Just keep a keen eye and remember to think out-of-the-box.