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.

Previously: Sunny Sayulita!

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.

Next up:  Turtle Time!

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Meet Up in Melbourne

Trip date: February 2017

My lovely Sydney hosts Rachel and Olivia took me to the airport for my flight to Melbourne on Sunday morning. I was so shocked when I went through security; no boarding pass needed! Liquids were allowed (any size!)! No lines! It was just like the states in the 90’s!

When I landed in Melbourne my friend Claudette was there waiting at my gate! Because boarding passes are only needed to board a plane! Brilliant!

We drove to her, David, and Scarlett’s house in MacLeod, which is a really nice suburb of Melbourne. They were hosting me for the next three days and I was looking forward to catching up as I hadn’t seen them much since they moved from Seattle years ago.

David made us gin and tonics and Claudette showed me around their gorgeous home. The backyard butts up to a wildlife preserve so I was on the lookout for kangaroos!

We had a lovely lunch which included champagne before I took a quick nap and got ready for the evening. Claudette and I took the train into the city and she played tour-guide walking me around and showing me some of the really beautiful buildings. Melbourne is gorgeous!

We then grabbed an Uber and headed to the Fitzroy area to have cocktails at Black Pearl. This bar and their bartenders were absolutely great! And it wasn’t open but there is an attic bar upstairs that they showed me which is super pretty. Highly recommend cocktails here if you are in Melbourne, and since they are #22 on the 50 Best Bar list it’s safe to say that others agree.

We took an Uber back to the Riverwalk area where we met Claudette’s sister Roberta and brother-in-law Oscar, as well as David for dinner at Rosetta.

Rosetta is one of Chef Neil Perry’s restaurants and it is beautiful with very high-end service. We had a hell of a good time and the food was delicious.

There is a big casino right on the river here and after dinner we walked through it to find a bar for nightcaps. A few rounds of cognac and then we grabbed an Uber ride home, which included a bit of drama as we were involved in a fender bender. Luckily no one was hurt!

Claudette’s parents were Scarlett-sitting and when we got home her mom decided she wanted a nightcap too so David broke out the cognac. It was so nice to get a chance to meet them. The entire family evening had been incredibly fun!

We stayed home the next night (after we spent the day tasting wine in the Yarra Valley!) with Claudette making a delicious dinner and David opening some lovely champagne and wine from his cellar, including one from Oscar's winery. During dinner we saw a group of kangaroos in the reserve! They see them quite often but this time two of them were boxing which they said was pretty rare!

After dinner we watched Game of Thrones in their theater room and then Claudette and I made cookies for Scarlett to take to school for Valentine's day. I'd say that was a pretty nice day!

The next morning I spent some time working and then Claudette and I went on a walk through the reserve. We came right up on the mob of kangaroos hanging out in the grass! So very cool and a great last memory of the area.

At the airport I had a sausage roll and an Australian Sauvignon Blanc, as you do, before boarding my flight to the Gold Coast.

My time in Melbourne was over way too quick; I can’t wait to go back and see more and do some road trips!

Melbourne photos here

Other posts from this trip: 
The Longest Way to Oz
An American Down Under
Yarra Valley Wine Tasting

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

An American Down Under

Trip date: February 2017

I was 1 ½ days late but I was finally in Sydney! And I was staying at Dave and Rachel's beautiful home in Mosman with stunning views of Balmoral Bay. Very, very lovely.

After picking me up from the airport Dave had some errands to run so I took a very refreshing swim in their pool, unpacked, and relaxed.

That evening Rachel and I took the incredibly cute Mosman ferry across Sydney Harbor and into the city. Sydney is obviously well known for its iconic skyline and for good reason, it is beautiful!

We were going to a movie at the St. George OpenAir Cinema and had a bit of time to wander around the waterfront and stop for a drink at the Opera House outdoor bar first.

Then we made our way around the park to the theater grounds. Rachel had gotten us special tickets so we were able to have dinner and wine in the outdoor lounge before seeing the show, the premiere of the documentary Whiteley.

It was an absolutely gorgeous night, the film was super interesting, and the 30-foot screen which rose from the harbor was a bit surreal. I barely noticed my jet lag! If you get a chance to get tickets to a film here it is really a special experience and I'd absolutely recommend it!

The next morning, after a few hours of work, I walked down to Balmoral Beach and had some sun, sand, and sea time. The beach was almost mine to myself; unheard of! I also had to walk back up the fairly steep hill so I had some exercise too!

Dave took me to The Boathouse for lunch. It sits right on the pier and is super cute and casual. And my fish and chips were delicious! Great spot if you are in Balmoral.

It was Rachel's birthday and that evening they were having some people over for drinks and a casual dinner, so after our lunch, Dave and I ran around the neighborhood picking up things from the deli, florist, bakery, etc. The area is filled with cute shops!

The night was filled with lots of champagne, wine, sausage sizzles, and celebrating! It was great to be there for Rachel's birthday and so fun to catch up with friends!

It had been really hot since I landed and the next day was a record scorcher at 102F! Rachel and I took her youngest daughter to ballet and then did a short walk along the cliffs of Georges Heights, it was much too hot to do one of the longer cliff hikes; there were actual warnings to keep kids and pets inside.

The next morning I was heading to Melbourne (I'd be back in Sydney in about 1 ½ weeks) so that night Dave, Rachel, and I headed out on the Mosman ferry again and into the city.

First up were cocktails at the newly opened PS40 that Dave had just heard about. We had really delicious drinks here and the service was super nice! They were still in the process of building their full program which I'm sure is completely running now. I'd check it out if you're in the Central Business District (CBD) area.

Round two was the much-lauded Baxter Inn which is hidden in an alley and down a set of grimy stairs. I was excited to try this cocktail bar as it has been on the World's 50 Best Bars for the last couple of years, this year coming in at 45. But for me, it was too loud, too American, too old west, too theme-y. The drinks were very good and their Scotch list is ridiculous so YMMV.

We had a really delicious dinner at Mr. Wong also in the CBD. The space here is uber cool, and the menu was fun. Not to mention my top-notch tour guides!
I still hadn't eaten kangaroo, Pavlova, or an Aussie meat pie but I had had a small taste of this beautiful city and I was looking forward to coming back after traveling around a bit, and trying more!

Sydney photos here

Other posts from this trip: 
The Longest Way to Oz
Meet Up in Melbourne
Yarra Valley Wine Tasting

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Longest Way to Oz

Trip date: February 2017

Sometimes I feel like I haven't been to the "normal" places that people travel to, such as the case with Australia. But I knew I'd go, especially as a small group of friends who I met when they lived in Seattle has been moving back to their homeland over the last years. And with one of them having a birthday approaching I announced my plans to finally travel down under!

With a 15 hour flight from the west coast, crossing the international dateline, and a 17 hour time difference I decided to splurge and purchased a Business Class ticket on Qantas (which I had never flown before.) I was excited!

The Monday morning I was to fly SEA to SFO to SYD I woke up to snow! Anyone who's ever been in Seattle when there is snow knows that everyone freaks out and the city pretty much closes down. I sat in the Alaska Air 1st class lounge for 2 hours before they announced my flight was going to be delayed 5 hours and I most likely would not make my connection in SFO. Ugh.

A friend of mine drove down to the airport and met me for wine and dinner which helped to break up the time. Finally the flight took off and as we landed in SFO we were told that the Quantas flight had been delayed and was still at the gate! Great news! But after 2 more hours of sitting in the (crap) Business Lounge, they announced that due to mechanical issues the flight was canceled and we'd have to stay overnight.

Instead of queuing up to have the airline shuttle me to some random hotel, I used the Hotel Tonight app and booked my own within the guidelines of the reimbursement amounts.

I checked into the Sheraton 4 Points near SFO and was finally in bed at 2:30am. So far it had been 10 hours and I'd made it from Seattle to San Fran.

Tuesday I woke up, had some breakfast in the restaurant, did some work from my room, and tried desperately to get a hold of anyone at Quantas who could tell me the status of my flight and also where my luggage was.

Finally an agent on the phone suggested that I rebook as she felt that the rescheduled flight was going to be canceled again, still due to mechanical issues. If I wanted to stay Business Class I'd need to fly SFO to LAX to Brisbane to Sydney. Jesus.

I had negotiated a 4pm checkout and at that time I took the hotel shuttle to the airport where my first task was to track down my bag. Since no one from Quantas was at the airport (they had indeed canceled the only flight out) I went to the Alaska Air office and talked them into finding my bag. Success!

Next to the American Air check-in counter where I checked my bag, got my boarding passes to LA and then on to Brisbane, and then talked my way into a pass at the American Admiral Club. I had 2+ hours to wait and I was focused on the guacamole bar and drinking for free during my wait!

7:45pm I flew to LAX. I had another 2 hours before my flight to Australia which I passed in the very nice Qantas Lounge.

11:30pm Tuesday night, time to board my 747 to Oz. My Business Class seat was very cushy. I was handed a Kate Spade toiletries bag and also a pair of cotton pajamas. PAJAMAS!!! And after my multi-course dinner, wine, and cognac the flight attendant set up my lay-flat chair with a mattress!!!

32 hours after leaving my house in Seattle I was finally on my 14-hour flight to Brisbane. It was a very comfortable flight, most of it spent asleep in my Qantas pajamas on my lay-flat mattress.

I landed in BNE on Thursday and even though they have an automated customs process which is super quick, I had to recheck my bag and get to a different terminal for my domestic flight and it was too close of a connection. So the flight was missed but luckily they run flights hourly.

I had some breakfast and coffee in the Business Lounge before my last 2-hour flight of the journey and finally landed in Sydney. 1 ½ DAYS LATE!

My friend Dave met me at baggage with a luggage cart, a bottle of champagne, and a bouquet of flowers. And somehow that made the 2 canceled flights, 2 delayed flights, 1 missed flight, 4 actually flown flights, 1 hotel, and 5 airports not really matter much. I was in Australia for pretty much the month of February and couldn't wait to catch up with my friends and see their country!

Sydney photos here

Other posts from this trip: 
An American Down Under
Meet Up in Melbourne
Yarra Valley Wine Tasting