Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Longest Day

Trip date: June 2017

Thursday June 21, 2017 was summer solstice, the longest day of the year. I've always been a bit enamored by this day as my birthday typically takes place on the winter solstice and when I was a kid I thought it literally was a shorter day than the others.

I've also long been curious about white nights or midnight sun; regions of the world where it stays light long into the night during summer. Seattle even stays light until almost 10pm on that day (if it's clear out!).

Add to the things I'm currently slightly obsessed with- Scandinavia! So what better plan than to fly on the summer solstice to someplace that has midnight sun and is celebrating a pagan holiday! I was on my way to Sweden!
I took advantage of an IcelandAir sale and bought a Saga Class seat from Seattle to Stockholm. I've flown Saga Class before, it's like Alaska First Class and is quite nice (no lay flat bed but also 1/2 the price!). I had access to the First Class lounge at SeaTac, free wifi, a nice pillow, comforter, cute little tin of Blue Lagoon Spa products, great food from Iceland's Bocuse d'Or winning chef Viktor Orn Andrésson, and a footrest. I have to say, give me a footrest and I'm pretty much happy anywhere!

The flight was gorgeous, so many icebergs! This picture was taken near Greenland.
I had a 2-hour layover in Iceland, landing at 11:30pm, the sun set at 12:30am! I hung out in the Iceland Air lounge and had some champagne marveling at how light it was out. It was cloudy, so it wasn't as dramatic as I'd see in the next few days, but it was so cool!

I had a delicious meal of smoked salmon, pickled herring, shrimp salad, with dark bread and butter on my next flight to Stockholm. I absolutely love Scandinavian food! All went perfectly with the complimentary champagne.
At 1:45am the sun started to rise.

I left Seattle at 9:15am on June 21st and landed in Stockholm at 6am on June 22nd and it was daylight THE ENTIRE TIME!!! I know that not everyone could give one fuck about that but I was thrilled!

Happy Winter friends, June 21st 2018 is on its way!

All Stockholm photos here

Other posts from this trip:
My Midsummer Dream
30,000 Islands & Counting

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Taco a Day

Trip date: November 2017

I really did eat a taco every day in Sayulita. Well, not just tacos! We also conducted our own best margarita review. And of course, I ate other delicious things. Here's the full report...
These fresh fish and shrimp tacos were from our first night and we returned a few nights later to The Real Fish Taco which is on Delfines near the beach. Absolutely delicious with loads of fresh salsa and some incredibly hot sauces served on the table. We also had wonderful guacamole and fresh fried chips both times. The hibiscus margarita, while pretty, was a bit sour for my taste. But you gotta go here for the tacos!

The line was too long at our planned lunch place and another recommendation was closed. I was close to hangry so we sat at Mary's on Revolucion because they were open. We both ordered quesadillas and they were surprisingly great! They were stuffed with cheese, chicken, and a shredded salad of sorts. Excellent!

And it is just across the street from a location of Wakika. You know the paletas (Mexican popsicles) are good when the tiny town has two locations! There were so many beautiful flavors to choose from but I went with my beloved coconut.
So far we hadn't found a margarita in town that we really liked. We stopped next to our Casa at Hotel Amor on our way to dinner and asked for them to be made with a bit of Grand Mariner. Ahhh! Now we had a great cocktail, and the atmosphere wasn't too shabby either!
A friend had suggested Sayulita Cafe which is also known as Casa del Chile Relleno. Hey if the place is named after the dish, I'm ordering it. Yowza! It was fantastic! I could barely eat 1/2 of what was on my plate. Get the fish ceviche too!
Another place everyone talks about is Choco Banana for breakfast, so after working up an appetite during a big beach walk we grabbed a table and I ordered chilaquiles. Disappointing. I wouldn't recommend as there are better places. In fact, I'd take the quick taxi to Maria's as their's are excellent!

Thinking about our plan to spend the day at our private beach we walked over to La Empanaderia on Calle Jose Mariscal. OMG! for something like $1 I bought a huge empanada stuffed with four kinds of cheese still warm from the oven. Even after toting it around in my beach bag it didn't fall apart. The crust was sturdy yet flaky and sooooooo delicious. We made a few more visits and I even bought a blackberry and cream cheese one for the flight home!
The Saturday that we were there was also Election Weekend in which no alcohol is served. Strangely I encountered this same thing many years ago on a trip to Mazatlan! But we were told that Don Pedros had a special license since they were on the beach.
We had been disappointed in our margaritas here the first night but times were tough and we didn't have a lot of options. We asked them to make ours with Grand Mariner; lovely and problem solved!

A new restaurant had opened just a few weeks earlier on Delfines called Barracuda so we decided to stop in for lunch and try their shrimp tacos. Very, very good! When we were talking to some of the other folks staying at Casa los Arcos we all decided to meet up for dinner one night and Gail and I suggested going here since our lunch had been so good.
The dinner menu is different and doesn't have tacos!! They did have some lovely shrimp dishes and made very good margaritas, but if you want the fish and/or shrimp tacos you must go for lunch. Which we did. Twice.

A chef in Chicago had told me about El Itacate on Calle Jose Mariscal so I was keen to make it there. The first time we tried to go the wait was too long, the 2nd time some guys started buying us rounds of tequila shots while we were in line and we never ended up ordering, the 3rd time was the charm!

Their specialty is to fry cheese and use it in place of a tortilla. FRIED CHEESE! Gail had the Itacate vegetarian while I opted for a few tacos with fried cheese on them. A fellow diner passed that secret menu option on to me and I'm happy to pay it forward.

You can not go to Sayulita and not have a taco from Taco Ivan, unless you are vegetarian as they only do al pastor. He sets up at night right near the bridge in front of a meat market and it is quite a show watching him slice the meat into the tortilla, nick the pineapple, and fling it towards the taco, catching it deftly. Oh, and it's a damn delicious taco too!
On our last evening, we stopped into El Monchi, just off the square. Excellent margaritas! We had finally found our favorites! We disagreed on the order but Monchi's, Hotel Amor, and the Sunset Bar all did them best!

The worst? At Bubba Gump at the airport. But they did come with a very enthusiastic shake and song!

Sayulita was fantastic! It's beautiful, relaxing, small, easy to get around, and inexpensive. 

We had arranged our airport transfer back to Puerto Vallarta airport and were greeted with complimentary first class upgrades on our Alaska flight! A perfect ending to a great Thanksgiving vacation!

All Sayulita photos here.

Other posts from this trip: 
Sunny Sayulita
Turtle Time!
Sayulita Day Trips

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sayulita Day Trips

Trip date: November 2017

There's plenty to do on the Nayarit Coast but Gail and I really just wanted to relax in the warm sunshine during our Sayulita trip. But we also wanted to go snorkling so we decided to take a 1/2 day trip to the Marieta Islands with Punta Mita Expeditions.

Gail and I grabbed a taxi for 400 pesos to nearby Punta Mita to meet our guides. Our jet boat had a total of 10 guests on it and was very comfortable, not to mention it was an absolutely gorgeous morning on the water. 20 minutes and we were there!

The islands' only inhabitants are birds, mainly the brown and the blue-footed boobie. This is one of the only places outside of the Galapagos Islands where they nest and it was awesome to see them all on the shore!

The island is protected now and you must have one of 600 daily tickets to be in the water space. Additionally if you want to see the popular Hidden Beach you have to have one of only 100 or so tickets, be able to swim from the boat, under the arch, enter the beach area, and return after approx 30 minutes for your swim back to the boat. We just peeked at it from afar.

Our boat captain was such a great driver! He had us close enough to the rocks to spot crabs, birds, and even popped us into a cave. We drove around the islands a bit before going for a swim.

Our tour guide took a Go-Pro and didn't even charge us for any photos we wanted. We had a great time swimming, the water was choppy but clear, and there was a good selection of fish. I spotted a puffer fish and also a trumpet fish which I hadn't seen before.

Because of overuse before the visitation rules changed,  a lot of the coral has died. They are "replanting" it though which is great to see. They also try to regulate that you only apply sunscreen and lotion that is environmentally safe. You're not allowed to apply once at the islands so lotion up before you head out!

Originally the plan was to SUP after snorkeling but seeing how choppy it was, no one was really up for it. We cruised around the islands some more, checking out the awesome rock formations, cliffs, and caves, it was great!

We left in search of whales as it was the very beginning of the season. We hadn't been searching too long when our captain changed course and soon we were watching 2 humpback whales right in front of our boat! There were two males fighting over a female and a curious dolphin splashing amongst them! All very cool!

It was just a beautiful way to spend a morning, I highly recommend the group we went with. When we returned to Punta Mita we originally thought we'd have lunch but the 2 street town (save for the big resorts on the outskirts) had few options so we grabbed a taxi and headed back to Sayulita.

Another day we decided to take a taxi to the tiny town of San Pancho (also called San Francisco), just about 10 minutes north of Sayulita. We arrived in time for breakfast at Maria's which was excellent! The food and the service were both wonderful and we devoured it all!

After breakfast we took a walk through town which took all of about 20 minutes. It is very small! We zigzagged up and down the mainly dirt and brick streets, stopping into a few shops, and admiring the pretty houses. On one sidewalk we came upon two baby chickens who had escaped their fence. One found his way back but the other was a bit frantic, not being able to find the gap. I finally opened it up and saved the day! That chicken will be much tastier when it's bigger! :)

At the main square there was a little tourist market going on with local crafts but even that was quiet. We finished up our walk at the beach, grabbed a table with an umbrella at the only restaurant on the sand and ordered a few beers. Unlike the beach in Sayulita, this one didn't have loud music playing. It was quiet and peaceful, with few surfers or swimmers as the red flag was posted.

We had the restaurant call us a taxi since we didn't see any kind of obvious queue, and for 150 pesos he returned us to the now seemingly bustling Sayulita.

I thought this little town was wonderful. We only came across one boutique hotel and I read there are only about 3000 people who live there year around. I suspect it is what Sayulita use to be like. Go visit before they build a Four Seasons!

All Sayulita photos here.

Other posts from this trip: 
Sunny Sayulita
Turtle Time!
A Taco a Day

Monday, December 11, 2017

Turtle Time!

Trip date: November 2017

There's a man named Erick in Sayulita who runs a Turtle Camp on the beach. Each day during egg laying season (June to February) he and his team of volunteers scout the beach for turtle nests. They collect the eggs and relocate them to the farm where they are protected until they hatch. Eggs left on the beach are frequently poached by humans, dug up and eaten by birds, or are destroyed by horseback or quad riding on the sand (please keep that in mind when you are choosing your beach activities in areas that have turtles).

Each day there is a sign posted out front letting people know if there were hatchlings that day, then at 6pm the baby turtles are released into the ocean just hours or sometimes minutes after being born! They are adorable! The volunteers mark each nest with date and number of eggs found so they can track the approximate date of hatching. The release is free to anyone who wants to help, you just show up and they give you a plastic bowl with turtles in it! We went twice!

The first time we went we got there a bit late so we missed the part where they tell you not to handle the turtles. It's a precaution against lotions/germs/etc. harming them. So we both held a turtle, but I am now educated and would tell you not to.
They rope off a section of the beach and the turtles are released, making their way into the ocean. By doing it at sunset they avoid a lot of bid activity; the birds love to snack on baby turtles. Only 1% of turtles survive to return to lay eggs each year and if they hatch on their own very few even make it to the water. Erick's Turtle Camp raises the odds for the hatchlings as 100% make it into the sea.
Besides helping to release them you can adopt a nest for about $26USD. We did this on our 2nd visit, they only have room for 5 sponsors a night. This gives money right to the camp and for your donation, you are invited to arrive early to learn about the turtles, explore the camp exhibits, and then take your hatchlings to a more private area of the beach to release them.
Erick has a margarita bar on the beach and he makes a damn fine drink! He also serves shots of racilla. So you can talk turtles, drink agave, and do something good.
This was one of the most special things I have had the chance to do! I hope that if you visit Sayulita you'll visit the camp, help some little turtles make it to the sea, consider adopting a nest, and enjoy the sunset at Erick's bar. Follow them on Instagram here!

All Sayulita photos here.

Other posts from this trip: 
Sunny Sayulita
Sayulita Day Trips
A Taco a Day

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Sunny Sayulita

Trip date: November 2017

I just spent a week in the sun, sand, and sea in Sayulita, Mexico. It was my first visit to the charming yoga/surfer town and it was exactly what I had imagined. I'd wanted to go for years, many of my Seattle friends hop down during the winter to grab a little vitamin D, so my friend Gail and I decided to use one of my Alaska companion fares and flew down on Thanksgiving for a week.

She found us this amazing Airbnb, Casa los Arcos, that has 4 units and shares a common pool. Ours was the penthouse; 2 bedrooms/2 baths with a big kitchen, living room, and patio that looked out over the bay. It was fantastic!

We had arranged a car service through our Airbnb also so when we landed our driver was waiting for us. We grabbed some cash from the airport ATM (there are ATMs in town but no banks) while the driver loaded our bags. Then he gave us icy cold Coronitas which we enjoyed on our 45-minute drive north from the Puerto Vajarta airport.
It was dark when we arrived, the house manager Antonio was waiting and took our bags up to our apartment. When I asked if the road we drove down, 5 minutes from the town center, was the best way to walk in for dinner he replied that it was the only road! Perfect!

Our first night we started at Don Juan's which is right on the beach and was recommended to us by a few folks. We sat with our feet in the sand and ordered our first margaritas while looking at the menu. It was all pasta and pizza. Ugh. Not what I came to a small fishing village for. We were one and done on the drink (which wasn't very good) and found The Real Fish Taco on the next street over. Here we were given hibiscus (which is a thing down here) margaritas, some delicious guacamole, very serious hot sauce, and delicious shrimp and fish tacos. That's what I came here for!
We hung out on our patio after dinner, enjoying the warm night, gorgeous views of the stars, and some nice wine we had brought from home!

We were so excited the next morning to wake up and see what everything looked like in broad daylight! And we were not disappointed! Our penthouse had even better views than we imagined. Both our bedrooms looked out back onto the private beach and the patio was a dream!
Gail led us in a yoga practice right there, and then we made an easy breakfast. The house manager had arranged groceries to be delivered before we arrived. This was great for basics (coffee, milk, oj, cava, eggs, avocado, bread) but we had also ordered some chips, salsa, etc that went to waste as there were much better options in town.

We spent every day either at our pool, at our private beach, at one of Sayulita's public beaches, or a combo of them!
Our pool was awesome, with gorgeous views of the bay and a good number of lounge chairs. We shared this space with the other renters and had a good time meeting a couple from Oregon and a musician from Wyoming. As with many hot weather locations, the pool wasn't heated but it was super refreshing!

Behind Casa los Arcos there is a private beach with two little coves. We accessed it through a locked gate and then descended about 2 levels of stairs. It was beautiful! There were some locals who we'd see fishing on the large rocks and sometimes bathers from nearby Playa los Muertos would scamper over the rocks to explore it, but mostly it was just tranquil and perfect.
A less than 5-minute walk behind our house was the popular Playa los Muertos. This beach is accessed by walking through the town cemetery which has some very large and brightly colored tombs.
The entrance to the beach itself is a bit dirty but once you get down to the sand it is excellent. And the swimming is the best in the area (besides in the pool)!
The public beach in Sayulita is quite long and divided into a few areas. We walked the entire beach one morning, ending right before the most northeastern edge, it was about 2 or 3 miles. It's pretty, with great sand and little to no pollution that we saw.
We spent a couple of days at the beach, the main area is shared by surfers, swimmers, and lots of beach vendors. The most popular vendor seemed to be a man carrying a large tray of donuts! Just what you want while you're in your bikini!

There are chairs, tables, umbrellas, and loungers available. You either rent the ones close to the surf from individual folks and then the restaurants come down and serve you, or you can choose a restaurant that has loungers and you'll only be expected to order throughout the day.
We did both and I'd say the later is the way to go. We had a great time hanging out at Cocos Locos and had possibly the best waiter ever. He was forever sweeping sand from our towels, adjusting our umbrella, and even sprayed sunscreen on my back for me! A bucket of beer, a few magazines, swimming in the warm Pacific, snacking on some fish ceviche & guacamole; ahhhhhhh... vacation!!!

All Sayulita photos here.

Other posts from this trip: 
Turtle Time!
Sayulita Day Trips
A Taco a Day

Friday, November 17, 2017

Yarra Valley Wine Tasting

Trip date: February 2017

After our night on the town, Claudette and I both spent the morning working. As I wrapped for the day I got a text from her in the other room asking if I was up for going wine tasting. Do people actually say no that question?

We drove just 40-minutes from their home, through beautiful countryside and vineyards, to the famous Yarra Valley. I've been to many many wine regions, but I can honestly say I've never seen a vineyard with a mob of kangaroos hopping through it until then!

Our first stop was Mandala Wines. We had some excellent Pinot Noir here and also some great sparkling blanc de blanc. I'd absolutely recommend this stop!

From here we made our way to Chandon, not for a tasting but to have a lovely lunch in their restaurant which looks out onto the vineyards. The food here was excellent; we had a great charcuterie board and a goat cheese, asparagus, quinoa salad. They were promoting a new product called Chandon S, which is sparkling blended with orange bitters; very nice and refreshing with our meal. 

At Coldstream Hills we tasted some really refined single vineyard Pinot Noirs. Another big thumbs up.  

Our last taste of the day was at Punt Road. I can't say exactly why but I just loved this place! Absolutely delicious Pinot Noir (we tasted through various varietals also) at a great price! I even bought a bottle to bring home which I had said I wasn't going to do. And I just opened that bottle last week for some friends and we all loved it!

So there are just four lovely stops for the next time you are in the Yarra Valley. I've got a map now with about 20 more for my next visit!

Big thanks to my driver and wine guide Claudette!

Melbourne photos here

Other posts from this trip: 
The Longest Way to Oz
An American Down Under
Meet Up in Melbourne
48-Hours Gold Coast
Welcome to Fantasy Island

Weekend in Boise

Trip date: July 2023 My friend Aaron has been to almost every state in the US, he's only missing a few and Idaho was one. So last July, ...

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