Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Cancun and Cozumel - 2016



Waking up in our room at the Omni at sunrise has its benefits. The hotel grounds are quiet with only the din of the surf to entertain the senses. A cup of coffee and the morning's paper is all that's needed. 

Of all the times we've been here, this was a more relaxing trip with no special outings. We made one trip to downtown Cancun where we purchased school supplies to donate to a Mayan school. We ended our escapade at a lovely restaurant serving a tasty Mexican buffet. 


The following day we took the bag of supplies to the Sandos Hotel, a Spanish company, that helps to distribute the contributions. The staff was very appreciative and extremely welcoming.

For the remainder of the week we read, put in some pool time and beach time, had jacuzzi dips and, for me, some lap swimming.

On check out day, we took the bus to the downtown bus depot and boarded an express bus to Playa del Carmen. After a little over an hour, we were dragging our suitcases through the streets of PdC finding our way to the Cozumel ferry.

                                    Diane at the Playa del Carmen ferry building.

The ferry took thirty minutes to get to Isla Cozumel. It was a catamaran hull type with two decks and comfortable seating.

After getting to Cozumel, we checked into our hotel and took a walk along the waterfront. We found the waterfront to be nicely maintained. It had a lot of white washed walls and some fun sculptures.



You see a lot of families on their motor bikes, particularly on Sunday. I spotted as many as a family of five on one bike.

They seem to have quite a penchant for Isla's name here in Cozumel - it was everywhere you looked.

We rented scooters a couple of times. This was on the day we visited the windward side of the island, a sparsely inhabited side with a rugged and windy shoreline.

The attractive central town square is a bustling place, with hawkers, stores, restaurants and bars. 

We signed up with a dive outfit, Grand Cozumel, for me to go diving and Diane to snorkel. They had a good sized boat that was comfortable. The crew was friendly and professional and they served a big lunch. My two dives were very good - one dive at Palancar Gardens and the other near the marina. Lots of beautiful coral formations, soft coral and lots of fish. Unfortunately for Diane, the snorkeling was a bust because of the wind and current. 


                                 Ready to take the splash into that 80 degree water.

              We spotted a small Ray (Note: this one and the following two photos I didn't take.

                               Although it looked like a snake, this is a spotted eel.

                                     We saw several colorful Moray eels like this one

                                                            Big lunch.

View from our hotel room. Each day one or two cruise ships docked.

When the cruise ships were in town, thousands of tourists came ashore. There is another town a few miles south, that is just for cruise ship passengers. We saw as many as four ships anchored on the same day - that's in addition to the two ships that were near us. Needless to say, it can get too crowded ashore.

The Mexican version of a cargo bike is ubiquitous on the island. Used in deliveries, as a self-contained mini-food bar, used by ice cream vendors and in lots of other inventive ways.

           We had a light lunch in the northern part of the island. This was Playa Azul. 

                        These kids were having a fabulous time jumping in and out of the water.


 We spent some time here enjoying the views. This was the Casa Mexicana Hotel, a sister hotel of where we were staying and had reciprocal privileges. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Northwest Trip 2016

Lava Beds, Klamath Falls, Lassen, Yosemite and home.

After a few days in Portland and the Columbia Gorge, we drove south to Crater Lake. The weather changed as we approached the Crater Lake. We started seeing some snow on the mountain sides. Then, without much warning and only being a few miles from the crater, it began to snow hard. 

We continued on for another mile or so, but just as we were ready to call it quits, we noticed the road ahead had been blocked off. We made a U-turn and starred at the snow. Crater Lake was not going to happen.

We drove onward to Klamath Falls, driving along Klamath Lake for quite a stretch. After checking in to our hotel, we looked for a place to eat and found an obscure pizza joint known as Mia and Pia's Pizzaria and Brewhouse. At first glance, it didn't look promising. But we didn't have any other ideas so went in and ordered. 

It turned out to be surprisingly good - both the pizza and the beer. A light crust with tasty toppings and the beer choices were excellent. 

The following day we continued our southern route, passing through the California agriculture border stop. They asked me if we had any fruit. I told them we had one banana. They motioned us on.

As we approached Lava Beds Monument, we first passed by Lake Tule, a refuge with thousands of migratory birds. We even spotted a few Pelicans.  

Lava Beds Monument is a volcanic park that has lots of lava tubes and caves that are accessible - some are easy walks that have metal stairways and others are more rugged. We walked into a few of them that were grouped around a loop near the visitor's center. 

Some of the caves had ice at the bottom. There was a story about how early settlers would enter the caves to ice skate. Unfortunately, the ice has begun to slowly melt. But it was still visible.

After our visit to the Lava Beds Monument, we drove to the small town of River Fall and found an old hotel to spend the night. There weren't many choices but fortunately the hotel was pretty nice, offered us a suite with two bedrooms and a small living room. Dinner at the hotel turned out to be quite good too. 

                                                   We were on the top floor.

The following day we continued our drive south and headed for Lassen National Park. It was a beautiful drive, particularly as we approached the park.

   In the early 1900's, the Lassen volcano erupted. It spewed out boulders such as this one.

         The eruption created a moon-like surface on much that surrounded the volcano.

                      One of a number of small lakes with crystal-clear water.

Although the park has several areas of hot, boiling sulphur-laced water pools, we only stopped at the Sulphur Works, which is quite close to the road. It was gurgling and smelly but fun to watch. There were signs warning visitors to stay on the trails lest they break through the crusty soil and fall into one of the pits.   

After spending the day at Lassen, we continued our drive south and made it as far as Sacramento where we checked into a hotel and later had Pho at a local Vietnamese restaurant by the name of Corriander. 

The following day we headed for Yosemite. We hadn't realized that it was Columbus Day weekend - a big mistake. It took us nearly an hour of being queued up near the entrance gate to finally pass through. Needless to say, the park was a zoo.

We drove in to the valley, hiked in to see the Bridalveil Falls, bought some picnic supplies and headed for Glacier Point. It was momentarily closed due to too many people. We waited for nearly an hour until enough parking spots were deemed available.

But we got there in time for sunset.

We listened to Ranger Rachel as she told stories of how the geological formations we were looking at had formed millions of years ago. And how Galen Clark became the park's first guardian and went on to do that job until he was 80 years old. But he continued to live in Yosemite until his death nearly fifteen years later.

Thus, in spite of the crowds, we enjoyed our brief visit to Yosemite. We drove home that night and were glad to be home again. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

North West Trip 2016


We found Portland to be a vibrant and comfortable city to visit. As far as city driving goes, it wasn't too congested. But trying to find a parking spot often presented a challenge.

Our B&B was in an old neighborhood on the east side of Portland. Our hostess was a tall, 6'3", blond, who had been a former university volleyball coach. The house was an old Victorian style home with several guest rooms but only two bathrooms. Fortunately, we were the only guests and had the run of the house.

Our first day's adventure was to take the drive along the Columbia Gorge on Highway 30. Lots of waterfalls and spectacular panoramic views. 

After several short hikes to waterfalls, we pulled into the Bonneville Dam and fish hatchery. We thought we'd only visit for a few minutes to see the dam and the hatchery. As it turns out, we spent several hours there touring the operation and the hatchery.

The turbines in the plant were originally installed in the 1930's. But in the 1990's they were replaced with newer technology. From where the photo was taken to the other end is 900 yards.

At the dam, they take care to provide steps where salmon can swim through, as they make their way up the river to spawn. As they swim upstream, fish counters at underwater windows count the fish and track size and specie.  

But after spawning, the salmon die. Creeks are littered with fish carcasses - and it smells awful.

            Portland is known for its food trucks. They have a whole area in town with them.


Powells' Books is a giant book store that encompasses an entire city block. On the day we went, crowds were lined around the block to buy their book from The Boss himself - Bruce Springsteen. 

                        The Portland Maritime Museum. Unfortunately it was closed.

                    Nike, based in Beaverton, OR, sponsors these shared bikes.

The Deschutes Brewery is renowned for its beers, ales and good food. They didn't disappoint.  

While walking around our B&B neighborhood, I spotted this majestic Vicorian house that was also a B&B.

After three days in Portland, we packed the van and headed south for Lava Beds National Monument.