Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Have you seen my Keys?

One of my lifelong passions is live theater. I think about plays all the time, finding new plays for Darrell and me to see, searching for good ones for Clague Playhouse, looking for audition pieces for myself, hoping for my next role. There's a ton of good theater in Cleveland and I will gab about that separately, but I bring up the topic here due to its impact on our winter getaway plans. You see, I had the good fortune to be cast in a play at Dobama Theatre. The play is called Middletown and I played the Librarian. Good for me - really, really good for me, because it was a blast - but not so good for our usual February trip due to those pesky rehearsals. We prefer vacationing in February for its strategic placement between the Christmas/New Years binge and the glory of pond season, aka "Pondemonium." But we sucked it up and started planning for a mid-January trip. It was either go then or just stay put.

Fantastic beach beds in Tulum.
We noodled around the idea of going back to Tulum but decided instead to go to Key West. Neither of us had ever been there. It has that Put-in-Bay-every-day's-a-party bar scene on steroids image that, believe it or not, is a turn-off for me. And I like to drink. Also, it's Flaahrida. How ordinary can you get? (I have absolutely no business asking that question, having just run the vacuum while baking a batch of whole wheat muffins, and wearing sweat pants.) Friends that we trust told us what fun they had there and we did a little research and decided to go for a warm-weather experience that didn't involve those fantastic beach beds in Tulum. A moment of silence, please, for those fantastic beach beds in Tulum.

If we couldn't stay in a cabana on the beach, we were going to search out the coolest bed and breakfast we could find, and find it we did at The Mermaid and The Alligator: http://www.kwmermaid.com/.
Rated super-duper in TripAdvisor, we decided to give it a shot. Our hosts, Dean and Paul, were unable to provide the same room for all five nights of our stay. Rather, they offered two nights in their primo room, Caribbean Queen, one night in Royal Poinciana and two nights in the Papaya Room. They said they'd handle all the lugging of the luggage and we said OK. It turned out great and enabled us to experience their most expensive room which included a private veranda.

Our Caribbean Queen veranda.
Even their least expensive room was very, very nice. Breakfast every morning on the patio was divine and we enjoyed sharing a table and chatting it up with other guests.  The concierge services were top-notch, too. I cannot remember her name, but the concierge lady pointed us to some excellent restaurants and other points of interest.

We enjoyed tapas at Santiago's Bodega and, at the recommendation of a (very drunk) guy whom we befriended at the bar, tried the beef tenderloin. He was right (and very drunk) - it was to die for and it did melt in our mouths. The other noteworthy restaurant was Blue Heaven. Live music, fun atmosphere and delicious scallops.

Imagine the passengers of this behemoth on Duval Street.
So, here's the thing about Key West. The place is full of bars and Duval Street is packed with tourists, t-shirt shops, cigars, drunks and drag queens. Actually, the drag queens were pretty cool. But the other stuff?...meh.

And "Warning! Booze Alert!": if you want to catch a buzz in Key West, do not get a mixed drink. We had a margarita at one place and Darrell, who is not a big drinker, noticed that he didn't feel much of anything and we were cocktailing on empty stomachs! One other night we tried a local rum concoction and the same thing. Where's the booze? Just an observation. Also, the only place to get really good craft beer is a place called The Porch, otherwise the beer pickins are pretty slim.

The Hemingway House
We pretty much avoided a lot of Duval Street doings and spent our time riding bikes, snooping around art galleries, touring the Truman White House and the Hemingway House.                                                                      

Heeere, five-toed kitty kitty kitty.
If you enjoy the smell of cat piss you will LOVE the Hemingway House.  Five-toed feline descendants of Hemingway cats have the run of the place. It was a good stop, 'tho. Highly recommended, albeit a bit fragrant. 

Sample snorkler. Nice suit, Darrell.
                                                                                                     We  took a half-day sailing tour which was very nice.  Danger Tours was the name of the company, which is not a good name in my opinion, but it was a good tour. They offered snorkeling and bird watching and kayaking. Darrell snorkled. I did not snorkel. We both watched birds while paddling around in a kayak. Snorkel is a funny word, right up there with my personal favorite: pickle.

Cranes are very good at hanging out.
The beautiful patio at our B&B.
The rest of the time we hung around the dock area, walked around the parks by the beach and read books patio-side at The Mermaid and The Alligator. We even saw a play: Red. Terrific play about Mark Rothko. Two-person show with only one good actor. Dang. But fun, nonetheless.
We had the best weather, too. It was sunny every day, mid-upper 70s. All in all, we had a very nice stay in Key West.

Getting home was another story. We flew out of the Key West Rinky-Dink Airport. Sort of.  Long story short, our flight was delayed all day for reasons unknown but we're pretty sure it had little or nothing to do with our personal safety. We spent the entire day waiting for a flight to get us to Tampa and from there to Cleveland. Eventually we got out of Key West, but not in time to make our connection. United/Continental put us up at the Tampa Airport Marriott, lost my reservation, found my reservation, pointed the finger at their uncommunicative systems and blahdy-blah-blah-blah. But we made friends at the airport T.G.I. Friday's...where it's always Friday. Always. And the margaritas aren't too shabby.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chili today, hot tamale

Every year as the winter wind whips the cold into a bitter slap in the chops, Darrell and I high-tail it the heck out of Cleveland to destinations that have a high probability of warmth, sunshine, ocean breezes and beautiful beaches, but where we won’t likely be murdered, kidnapped or thrown in prison.

One year we spent Thanksgiving in the Bahamas. Fresh grouper for Thanksgiving dinner was just fine with me. We found a colorful and quirky little resort in Nassau called 
Compass Point. http://www.compasspointbeachresort.com/index.html
I remember our first day there was sunny and bright, but then we were surprised by a chilly turn in the weather, with high winds and rain. Whoosh…Snap!
Just a little Bahamian sunset.
That's me on our porch. See me waving?
Compass Point is where all the groovy people stay. Apparently there’s a recording studio nearby. Rock stars, Starniks, you get the picture. We had a spacious, comfortable oceanfront cabin, our own little covered porch, a fridge, and an unexpected television.
Always good advice.

The view from our porch.
Even under stormy skies, the water was utterly gorgeous – in wavy patterns of turquoise, lapis lazuli and violet. But, stray from the tourist areas and prepare to be flattened by the terrible poverty that is the life of the locals.  Hoo-wee! And not in a good way. The tourism industry is huge in the Bahamas. Oh, really? For the residents to not make a living wage is dreadful. Really. 

Having said that, we weren't quite ready to give up on that neck of the woods, so we ventured one other year to the British Virgin Islands and Jost Van Dyke
Not a real pirate of the Caribbean.
Holy Depp! The pirates of the Caribbean weren’t kidding. 

Stunning views with white sand, blue/green mountains, winding roads and sparkling sea. The Sandcastle Hotel, where we stayed, and its famous Soggy Dollar Bar were nothing to write home about, although the local cocktail, the Painkiller, was aptly named.

Some big BVI sailboat.
Some big BVI sunset.
Tortola, here we come!

Warning: when traveling to the BVI… it takes FOREVER to get there.
Big plane to Miami or was it Tampa. I forget. Then another plane to San Juan.  To get to Tortola requires squeezing into a tiny, tiny, plane made out of rubber bands, tin foil, bailing wire and chewing gum. They make you give your weight and don’t even think about lying about that because it could get you killed. I sat next to the pilot. I kid you not.  She ate sunflower seeds while flying the plane. I ate my guts out while peeing my pants. After we landed (quite safely actually but thank you Jesus anyway) it was a 45-minute cab ride to the other end of the island. Then a ferry. Then a cab to the hotel. We got to Sweden quicker.    

All in all, we enjoyed the BVI. The people were nice, the standard of living was pretty decent and the views were spectacular. If we could move the Compass Point resort there, that would have been nearly perfect.

One other year we drove down to St. Augustine, Florida and stayed at a nice B&B on the beach. The House of Sea and Sun. http://www.houseofseaandsun.com/. The weather was a little cool and a little rainy, but better than Cleveland in February. St. Augustine was nice for a day trip, maybe two days, but not worth it for five. Overall I rate it “meh,” but felt I had to mention it.

We found the best place to experience beautiful beaches with the best guarantee of great weather is in Mexico. I know, I know, the first thing you’re wondering is: what about the getting murdered, kidnapped and imprisoned part? All I can say is, fly into Cancun and go straight to Tulum. You can rent a car or take a cab. It’s a 9 0-minute to two-hour drive, so renting a car worked for us.

Tulum is a direct shot down the highway, just past the Riviera Maya. What the town lacks in charm is made up for by the resort area, which is full of good places to stay – from exclusive and swanky to just the basics.  And the beach is the best. Miles of white sand, clear azure water, peaceful and relaxed. Many vacationers come from Europe, and lots of college students traveling on a shoestring get back to nature in Tulum. It’s a very eclectic collection of people looking for a peaceful, non-aggressive, untouristy oasis.

The nightlife is fun as well. Zamas is a tiny resort with a big restaurant and is where everyone goes for dinner and entertainment. It used to have live entertainment every night - singers, acrobats, salsa dancers – but the last time we were there it was limited to the weekend. But the people-watching there is the BEST. http://www.zamas.com/index.html   

Doesn't look ruined to me. Ha-ha.
The Mayan ruins of Tulum are set against a dramatic rocky coast and are a must-see. Gorgeous. The Tulum ruins are smaller than Chitzen Itza and much less aggressive as far as the local craftspeople trying to sell you stuff, and much less stifling and hot. Can you tell we liked Tulum better?
My feet on the beach at Ana y Jose.

We’ve been to Tulum three times, each time staying in cabanas on the beach. In general the accommodations are nothing fancy, just simple and clean. The area is very eco-conscious; they ask you to not flush toilet paper, and that might not appeal to you. But don’t think it’s not hygienic, because the service and care is topnotch. The last time we went we splurged and stayed at the lovely Ana y Jose resort. Beautiful. http://www.anayjose.com/

Ana y Jose view.

As nice as Ana y Jose was, we still thought Compass Point was the best. So here’s what we’d like to do: Move Compass Point and the BVI mountains to the beach at Tulum. That’s it! Perfection!