Mexico: A Love Affair

Mexico: A Love Affair

Frequently, we are asked, “is Mexico safe?”, which is ironic considering…but let’s leave politics for the pundits and facebookers. Mexico is a feast, literally of places to visit. From Los Angeles, Mexico City is a three- and half-hour plane ride costing under $300. Hotels, restaurants, museums abound and are all reasonably priced. The people are extremely friendly. Due to its rich culture and history, Mexico ranks first in the Americas and seventh in the world for number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One of those is Miguel San de Allende, located 170 miles from Mexico City, and a 10-hour drive from the US border. While the outlying areas of the town and municipality have changed over time, the historic center remains much as it was 250 years ago. The layout of the center of the city is mostly a straight grid, as was favored by the Spanish during colonial times. However, due to the terrain, many roads are not straight. There are no parking meters, no traffic signals and no fast food restaurants. And we are thankful for that. There are weddings by the hour—initiated by the callejoneada, a wedding parade that’s customary in San Miguel. The parade has a mariachi band and a donkey with Tequila shots. Welcome to Mexico!

We have travelled to the west side of Mexico where you will find Puerto Vallarta — a resort town on Mexico’s Pacific coast, in Jalisco state. It is known for its beaches, water sports and nightlife scene. Its cobblestone center is home to the ornate Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe church, boutique shops and a range of restaurants and bars. El Malecón is a beachside promenade with contemporary sculptures, as well as bars, lounges and nightclubs.  Made famous by American film director John Huston. Even though John Huston had visited the town when it only had a few thousand souls in 1929, while navigating up the Pacific coast on one of his innumerable trips to his beloved Mexico, plus another time while scouting for locations for Typee (a movie he never shot), not much had changed when he came back in the early 1960s with a new movie project, “The Night of the Iguana”, and a location for the set called Mismaloya, tipped off by a local entrepreneur. The small town flourished with tourists, especially Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who had a house in town where they would fight, drink, make love and make up. This is considered part of the so-called “Mexican Riviera” a term coined by the Princess Cruise Line.

On the other side of the continent is Mayan Rivera. This is a stretch of Caribbean coastline on Mexico’s northeastern Yucatán Peninsula. It’s known for its numerous all-inclusive resorts, such as those in the town of Playa del Carmen, and its long beaches. To the south, Tulum is home to yoga retreats and the preserved ruins of an ancient Mayan port city, perched on an outcrop above a white-sand beach. You could include Cancun, which on the “American side” is about as Las Vegas as a tourist attraction can get. Be warned—you will be dogged and hassled until you relent and enter an establishment. But, if your travel a short distance south, you will come to Playa del Carmen. A party town, this is also where you can get aboard a boat and head to the island of Cozumel. Going further South you will find Tulum—a town that sits on the Carribean Sea. Here, you can experience a cenote — a sinkhole, and there are many. In Tulum, you can experience   the Castillo, or castle, which is perched on the edge of a 12-metre limestone cliff, overlooking the Caribbean coast. Negotiating its steep steps is best done sideways, a fact which will assert itself on the way down. There is something magical about the place, and upon setting foot on the warm white sands of the Carribean, it is hard to not jump into sea. And you will. No matter which coast or inland destination, Mexico provides a unique experience for any traveler.

When we think of Mexico, we think “so much, so close!” Any direction you look, Mexico has offerings like few other countries.

Camp No Counselors:  Redefining the Rules of Camping

Camp No Counselors: Redefining the Rules of Camping

This is not your average campfire!  Welcome to Camp No Counselors, a unique camp experience specifically created for adults who want to have a positive, booze-filled fun fest with a nod to their childhood.  Sound crazy?  That’s because it is… Crazy fun.  I was able to experience Camp No Counselors this past May when they hosted the Los Angeles edition of the camp.  If I could describe the experience in three words, they would have to be adventurous, daring, and exceptional!

The experience overall was unlike any camping trip I’ve been on, noted, most of my camp experiences were limited to childhood, church-based field trips.  This was the complete opposite. The CNC team really put in the effort to create an atmosphere that gives campers the opportunity to tap into a fun childhood memory, but as adults.  Imagine, rope courses, themed-parties, relay races, sports, and camp activities, all mixed with a completely open bar included in your reservation.  The result is nothing short of a grand old party in the woods that lasts for three days.

I attended with a completely open mind, willing to experience something new and meet all kinds of new people.  The beginning of camp starts with a happy hour mixer and fire-side party as a means to break the ice and to get everyone excited to have a stress-free, good time.  My highlight moment was the “Color Wars”, which divided the entire camp into four teams, each representing a different color.  Throughout the various activities, your team participates in a number of challenges leading up to an ultimate relay race that crowns your team the camp champions upon completion.  I was on the green team, and we were seen as the underdogs in the beginning, but in the end were victorious when we beat out everyone in the collective drinking game, flip-cup, where each member of our team had to slide down a water slide and successfully drink a cup of beer and flip the cup right-side up from the edge of a table.

Additionally, the camp-grounds offered three deliciously prepared meals everyday paired with a mimosa bar for breakfast, endless beer at lunch, and full bar complete with an added selections of wines at dinner.  To note, the camp grounds are typically secluded away from metropolitan areas of the designated city, in turn offering limited to almost no cell-phone service while camping.  At first, I was concerned about not being able to have service to check emails and messages, but in turn, I ended up loving the notion of completely disconnecting from my everyday world and truly submerging myself into the camping experience.  Camp No Counselors proved to be something not only completely positive but an event that was almost therapeutic in its own right.

  

The camp is continuing its tour throughout the summer, but is returning to Los Angeles for three dates in the Fall, including the introduction to their first LGBTQ geared camp in October.  To signup, click on the dates below.  Also, make sure to follow Camp No Counselors on all social media channels.

IG:  @campnocounselors

Twitter: @CampNoCounselor

Facebook:  Camp No Counselors

Mexico’s Blue Lagoon

Mexico’s Blue Lagoon

 

By Zuke Oshiro

The Mexican Rivera, which lies to the far west and dips into the majestic blue seas of the Caribbean is a famous tourist destination for Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel and many smaller islands that dot the landscape. We can soon add the quieter destination of Holbox (pronounced Hol-bosh) to that list as the dusty little seaside town starts to get noticed.
A mere three-hour bus drive from the hustle of touristy Cancun, this is a ride through the countryside of Mexico replete with small food stands, school children and people commuting from town to town. If you are not on the express bus, it can seem like a long journey, but once deposited in Chiquila, the short boat ride to Holbox is worth the wait.
This is the northern tip of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, far removed from the large tourist ships and a journey back to a time when tourism hadn’t consumed the population with Starbucks and McDonald’s. They are not here, yet. And hopefully, it will take a long while  for the tourist trade to discover this gem. What you will find is an island with few cars, the main transportation is a golf cart, rusted by years of sea salt exposure, and a driver, with some English experience—it is of no consequence, the island is so small there is little hope of getting lost.
The main attraction to Hotbox is its lagoon—which seems to go miles into the sunset and is walkable and is rich with flamingoes, pelicans, and other birdlife.
Once in town, which is a series of dirt roads that all meet in the center. This is a 26 square mile island (same size as New York City!) so the ocean is never far off. For the adventurous traveler, there are so many walkable treks that lead to sudden lagoons, singular piers that stretch to the sunset and of course, there is always the seashore. But let’s get back to the bars. There is the Bar Arena Isla Hotbox which is a rooftop bar complete with a hot tub. The new kid on the block Básico is an open shell bar with a mixologist who conjures up spices and liquors, and if so inclined the occasional grasshopper delicacy is to be found here.
Side streets offer some great eating experiences, in particular, Milpa. Which a family run vanguard restaurant with Mexico-City-born-and-trained chef, Adrian Barajas. Reservations are converted into name tags as you come to the restaurant and the entire affair is treated as an experience, which it is. The menu offers such interesting dishes as Drunk Octopus Roaming Valladolid, which translates to roasted Octopus with bacon bits, bell p[pepper caviar, cacahuazintle corn and courgette filled with beer salsa with Valladolid chorizo.
By day, the beach, tourist cruises to see fish, whales, and lounge in the many hotels with their beachside bars and restaurants. Casa Las Tortugas, situated on the shoreline is stunning at night. Amber lights and reveal walkways and bridges. The hotel offers twenty-four romantic rooms and suites with a variety of views.

As we all know, the world is becoming fabulous—every distant corner is suddenly recognized as social media, the camera-phone and other recording devices take note of the splendor and beauty of places we have rarely visited. Holbox is such a destination: not quite touched by commercial hotels, restaurants or tourist attractions and yet accesible, compelling and a perfect place to experience Mexico in a new and different way.

Carmel by the Sea

Carmel by the Sea

Beautiful CarmelVisiting Carmel is like stepping into a fairytale land. This quaint village is neatly tucked on a wooded hillside overlooking the ocean, and populated with adorable hobbit-like cottages. Accordingly, the town center is comprised of curlicue-roofed shops and stone-paved alleyways that open into surprise courtyards. With outdoor malls, family-owned boutiques, coffee shops galore and wine tasting everywhere, give yourself ample time, because shopping in Carmel is a delight.

For those with eclectic taste, the “Heart Beat Boutique” (Ocean & Monte Verde), carries Bohemian apparel along with a bit of everything, from skulls to disco balls. Once you meet the owner, Teresa Bradford, the unconventional store makes perfect sense. Teresa is a little bit of everything herself – dabbling in photography, jewelry design and curating her store with items from people she feels a connection to. Heart Beat is the place to go treasure hunting – you never know what you’ll find.

For designer furs and luxury leathers, try Augustina’s. Priding themselves as a one-stop-shopping place, store owner Tracy Delaney Odle claims: “If you lost your suitcase we could replace everything for you; we custom design to fit anyone.” Augustina’s has designed for many celebrities, including Barbra Streisand, and they’re the only boutique in the USA that carries Paula Lishman hand knitted beaver fur. Boasting world-renowned artisans, Augustina’s is also the only certified dealer in CA that specializes in making belt buckles for the stars. They’ve made buckles for Roy Rogers, Clint Eastwood, and Gene Autry, to name a few.

Burns Cowboy ShopIf country western is your style, stop in at “Burns Cowboy Shop”, a family owned business since 1876. This store has all things cowboy: boots, rhinestones, tassels, leather jackets, Stetsons, and surprisingly pink shirts – who knew Cowboys wore pink? The Wild West experience is complete with country music. playing and animal hides decorating the walls.

Meander down the alley alongside Pat Areias Jewelers, and tucked behind you’ll find the Thomas Kinkade Garden Studio that resembles an actual Thomas Kinkade portrait. Around the corner is the Galante Vineyard wine tasting studio – stop in for a quick sip. Then peruse the art gallery of George Rodrigue. Here you’ll find paintings of the famous blue dog (whose real name was Tiffany). A large painting of this abstract pop art (which is based on a Cajun legend) sells for a whopping $220k.
Need a festive raincoat? Try Fashion Street Boutique. Want Frida Kala socks? Try the Sock Shop (they also have magic socks that need to be dipped in water to “grow” to full size).

For food lovers, step into Kurtz Culinary to sample award-winning gourmet foods, including farm-fresh jams, artisanal tapenades, wine jellies, and other specialty foods. And for those with children, try “Starchild” – a nicely displayed high-end store for kids ages 0 to 14.

Of course, Carmel also offers the fashion staples of Coach, J. Crew, Anthropologie, Tommy Bahama, Tiffany & Co, and plenty of luxurious shops and gourmet dining. Plus, romantic places to stay.

Mission RanchThe Mission Ranch comes highly recommended. An 1800’s ranch preserved and restored by former Carmel Mayor (and longtime Carmel resident), Clint Eastwood. Eastwood rescued this landmark resort from condo developers, and renovated the entire property to provide a unique resort experience. The historic Mission Ranch sits on 22 acres with spectacular views and sheep grazing in the fields – it’s like being a painting.

Photos by Peter Novak

 

 

 

 

 

 

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