A Sunday Long Run

I slept really late today. Later than I did the entire time I was on vacation. G left early to go ride in the Chilly Hilly. When I finally rolled out of bed at 9, I strapped on my running shoes and headed out for a long run. I ran from our house up to Discovery Park, around the loop trail once and then back home. It took me 80 minutes and is the longest run I’ve done in at least 2 months. Man, did it feel good! I took it at a pretty leisurely pace but it felt nice to be out for so long. It was the first time I’ve used my heart rate monitor on a longer run and it stated I burned over 800 calories. Gotta love that!

My running is feeling really good lately. I’ve only been running two or three times per week but I feel solid. There’s no doubt I’ve gotten slower- it’s a consequence of running and working out less overall. But I have managed to hang on to a perfectly respectable fitness level with only 3 workouts each week.

My latest Runner’s World magazine is touting its new half marathon training plan: you only run 3 days per week. It looks pretty tough, actually as the 3 days are HARD runs. But both G and I are slightly tempted to give it a go. We’ll see…but I’m still determined to break the 1 hr 45 minute time for a half marathon.

Trip report- The Food

I’m sure you’re dying to know what the food was like in Mexico (I would be). G often says the food when he was in Mexico the 1st time was terrible so we didn’t have high hopes. For the most part though, we ate quite well. The standards included fresh seafood (primarily mahi mahi, shrimp, and red snapper), tacos, tortillas, salsa, and guacamole. And everything came with lots of avocado and lime. We quickly gravitated to the fish and asada (beef) tacos as our standby choices. The fresh tortillas varied widely and often ‘made’ the taco. As I mentioned before, our best tacos were at “The Happy Ant” in Puerto Vallarta, though we also frequented a taqueria in San Pancho called “Uno Mas” (one more). I think I probably consumed enough tortillas and guacamole to feed a small army. Certainly enough that I don’t need to eat either for a few months! G and I had several conversations about the relative merits of the avocado- I think they’re wonderful, he’s not a fan.

In San Pancho, there were only a handful of restaurants- several ‘cheap and cheerful’ type places and 3 or 4 more upscale. Since we were there for 6 days, we had occasion to try almost all of them and had several surprisingly good meals. I’ll tell you about the top 3, in no particular order.

The hotel we stayed in had a restaurant called Azucena, which served dinner only on the weekends. We went one evening when they had live music- that was a mistake, the music was terrible! The food, however, was inspired. They served us an amuse bouche of a richly flavored spinach soup. We shared an appetizer of Iberian ham with a tomato bruschetta. I opted for a posole and G went with the Arrachera steak. My posole contained 3 of the absolute biggest shrimp I’ve ever seen (about the size of my hand). The only downer was that G’s steak came with mushrooms. Oops! Otherwise, a delicious meal and pleasant evening, which had the added benefit of being just downstairs from our room.

Café del Mar was just up the hill and had a great setting. It was all open air and terraced with tables on 3 levels. Our table was on the lowest level, underneath a trellis and we could look out over the village. This was definitely the trendiest place we ate and served self-proclaimed ‘fusion’ cuisine. I ordered mahi mahi with grilled Portobello and polenta fries. I thought the polenta fries was a misprint, but it wasn’t and they were delicious, as was the mahi. G ordered red snapper, which came in some kind of hibiscus sauce. It was unique and also yummy, though the accompanying potatoes were very over salted. Chocolate cake was a nice finale and very generously sized. Upstairs was a nice collection of local artwork- we wandered through before heading home.

And finally, the piece de resistance (OK, that might be a bit dramatic): our big blowout meal on the final night in town. We walked about a mile or so to get to Mar Plata, where we had seen the flamenco show earlier in the week. It’s owned by a couple- one Argentinian and the other Dutch. It most closely resembles an Argentine-style steakhouse. The setting is really cool- they’ve taken pieces of old ships and incorporated them into the architecture. There’s a big ship’s steering wheel at the entrance. It’s also FULL of lanterns. G’s got a picture of them here. Anyway, the food: we ate a LOT of it. For an app, we shared a plate of Serrano ham with fresh mozzarella and a divine balsamic vinegar. We both chose steak for entrees, which I worried was too much food. The steaks were 450 grams EACH. That’s a pound of meat. It may have been too much food, but it was some of the best steak I’ve ever eaten. G had the Arrachera again (described as an outside skirt steak) and I had the flank- both served with chimichurra sauce on the side. It was perfect, really. Sides were some excellent frites, garlic almond green beans, and roasted vegetables. After polishing off that heap of food, we moved on to dessert. We shared the chocolate fondue with fresh fruit. G had espresso and we ordered an after-dinner liqueur- anise of some kind. The walk home was definitely much needed and we put ourselves to bed with bulging bellies.

None of these places have their own websites yet, but you can read these articles Cafe del Mar and Mar Plata.

Trip report- The Adventure Continues

The remainder of our trip was pretty uneventful. We spent Thursday through Monday doing virtually the same thing. We’d get up, either go for a run or not (we averaged every other day), and have breakfast in the hotel. Then we’d make our way to the beach for a few hours, have lunch, read books, play cards, and watch sunset. There was always a late afternoon shower and then we’d head out for dinner. It was really very mellow. Friday we decided to deviate (just slightly) from this routine by going to the next town over, Sayulita. It’s only about 3 or 4 miles and we decided we could walk it. It wasn’t the distance that did us in, but the highway with no shoulder was rather unpleasant. Fortunately, within a mile or so, a VW van took mercy on us and took us the rest of the way to Sayulita.

Much bigger and busier than San Pancho, it lacked all the charm. We were not impressed although the water was calmer and thus you could swim safely. The place we ended up at for lunch was full of Americans. In fact, when a Mexican couple sat down next to us, we overheard the waitress explain to them that she was sorry the menu only comes in English. They assured her that they could read English so it wasn’t a problem. Does anyone else think it’s bizarre that a restaurant in Mexico doesn’t even HAVE a Spanish menu? I sure did.

In any case, one of the primary reasons we went to Sayulita was that we were running mighty low on cash. Our town was so small it lacked a bank or ATM. We knew that in advance so it didn’t come as a shock. What DID come as a shock was that there was no ATM in Sayulita either. We both stared at each other open-mouthed when we gathered this information. In recent years, we’ve taken to relying almost exclusively on ATMs for cash when in foreign countries. The exchange rate is very good and it’s generally no-hassle. Needless to say, this put us in a bit of a bind, exacerbated by the theft earlier in the week.

When we returned to San Pancho we took inventory of all our cash and found ourselves with approximately $100 to last us 3 days. It necessitated some very creative choices for the rest of our stay. It meant, for one thing, that we purchased NO souvenirs for ourselves or anyone else. There was no cash to spare for postcards either, so don’t feel bad that you didn’t get one! We walked around our little town Friday evening and surveyed the restaurants to see which ones took credit cards and then made our dinner choices around that info. It all worked out in the end, although we had a few moments when we weren’t so sure!

Trip report: The Low Point

Wednesday was definitely the low point in the trip. It started off well enough- we rolled out of bed very early and went for a run. We followed the beachside road out of town and ran on the dusty, hilly trail for 20 minutes and then retraced our steps. It was actually a pretty challenging run! We then went back for showers and breakfast at the hotel. After we ate, I double-checked my cash situation. I hadn’t let me purse out of my sight until our run, when I opted to leave it in the room. Upon counting, I realized I was short about $100. G and I spent the next hour or so mentally retracing our steps to see if there was ANY other time I hadn’t had my purse with me. We also wrote down everything we had bought to see if I had spent the $100 without realizing it. Ultimately, we convinced ourselves that the only possibility was that it was stolen from our room. We reported it to the manager, which resulted in a number of conversations and e mails about the situation. A staff member was suspended and that was basically the end of it. It wasn’t the loss of $100 that was a huge issue, but it made us a lot less secure and did, in fact, cause some interesting problems for us later in the week.

With that situation behind us, we headed for the beach. I soon became very aware that something was ‘wrong’ with me. By the end of the day, I was convinced that I had a common traveller’s affliction (which shall remain unnnamed). So the afternoon and evening included 1 trip to the hospital and 2 to the pharmacy. Since no one in ANY of these places spoke English, we struggled to communicate the problem. We ended up spending a few minutes in the nearest Internet café so we could look up the Spanish words for my various symptoms. It was a very amusing set of exchanges and we finally left with over-the-counter antibiotics. They worked well and I had some relief quickly.

Although I felt like going straight to bed, we decided to check out a Flamenco performance instead. I’m so glad we did- it was one of the better one’s we’ve seen, despite the fact that it’s a Spanish (not Mexican) tradition. Amidst theft and illness, the day ended on a decidedly high note.

Trip report: Valentine’s Day in San Pancho

Tuesday morning we headed out right after breakfast (“The Coffee Cup” again). It took us 1 local bus and 1 regional bus to make it to the little town of San Pancho. This time we opted for the public transportation route instead of a cab. We found our hotel easily enough. There’s basically only one main drag with a few side streets so it would have been hard to miss. Our hotel was EXACTLY what I had hoped it would be. Very clean, lots of Mexican artwork and tiles plus another beautiful courtyard. The place had a total of 8 rooms and for the 1st few days, we seemed to be the only guests. If you ever find yourself in the area, I highly recommend Hotel Cielo Rojo.

After checking in, we headed down to the beach. It was nearly deserted, very broad and mostly unswimmable. There’s a strong current and big waves most of the time – very conducive to surfing but not much else. I didn’t get in the water all week. We lazed there for the rest of the day, eating an average lunch on the beach.

Normally, we don’t make a big deal of Valentine’s Day. This year was no exception, but we did have to eat somewhere. We set out from the hotel in the early evening to explore and found almost nothing open! Many things were closed due to it being a Tuesday but there were also 2 separate ‘events’ in town, which effectively closed a number of places. We finally found ONE place open on the beach. The good: we sat under a beautiful starry sky with candles littered across our table. The bad: the food! Yuk. It was a good thing we could barely see it or we might not have eaten it. I’m sure both plates were swimming in grease. Oh well, we were relaxed and sleepy and stumbled home on the empty streets.

Random Musings

Have you ever noticed how other countries seem to pick up on the absolute worst American (or Western) pop music? I can remember hearing BackStreet Boys and Tom Jones in Italy, Elton John in Thailand, and so on. What, might you ask, did we hear repeatedly in Mexico? Among other horrendous things, there was a lot of Celine Dion. Sadly, the curse of Celine seems to have followed me home. I went into two stores in Seattle at different times in the day on Tuesday. What were they playing? You guessed it! More Celine Dion!

Trip report- Puerto Vallarta

We left here at 4 am Sunday morning. After 2 relatively painless flights, we landed in Puerto Vallarta around 2:30 pm. We then had the choice of taking a local bus (about $.90) or a cab ($22) to get to our hotel. G made the right call and suggested the cab- it meant we were at our hotel within a half hour.

We rode into town past palm trees and high-rise resorts. There was a Walmart, Outback Steakhouse and Baskin Robbins. We scoffed at the presence of American chains. The cab took us past the Malecon, or boardwalk, and into the Zona Romantica to the Hotel Posada de Roger. I knew we were staying in a bit of a budget place, but our room was a bit worse than we anticipated. We counted our blessings that it was just for 2 nights. Although it was clean, the place was VERY dingy with lumpy pillows and a grey, stained ceiling. It did have a couple positives- a beautiful courtyard with lots of lush foliage and a rooftop pool. We dropped our bags and walked straight to the beach, about 3 blocks down.

Quickly assessing the scene, we joined the crowds by ordering beers and skewers of fish and shrimp at a beachside ‘restaurant’. Later, we strolled the length of the boardwalk and saw a sunset performance of Mexican pole flying (?). I don’t know how else to describe it so I may just have to send you to G’s photo of it. Dinner was at a local joint where we feasted on whole red snapper in garlic. After a long day of travel, we crashed early and slept soundly despite the uncomfortable beds and late night partying around us.

Monday morning we rose fairly early and set out right away for a run. We ran an out and back route- the length of the Boardwalk and beyond and then straight back. About 40 minutes total and boy was I glad we went so early! We were both red-faced and dripping sweat. We took advantage of the pool and cooled ourselves off before showering and getting ready for the beach.

We stopped at a café called “The Coffee Cup” for coffee and breakfast. This place could have been in Seattle or San Francisco- perfect espresso drinks (we were both impressed), pastries, and wonderful original artwork. They even charged American prices! We noted that coffee is definitely one of our weaknesses. Although we wouldn’t have been caught dead going to Office Depot or Outback Steakhouse, we made a beeline for the first American-style espresso shop we could find come the morning.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully on the beach. We read, dozed, broke for lunch, and then repeated the whole process. Later, after showering again, we went for a stroll along the river and then explored the hillside behind the town’s main church. There we stumbled across a little tapas restaurant. The food wasn’t that great but we had a couple snacks and some tasty sangria. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a taco stand for the best tacos of the trip. It was called “The Happy Ant”- a little husband and wife enterprise. We watched them effortlessly form the handmade tortillas, chop and cook meat, spoon salsa and toppings on each serving, etc. G tried the chorizo tacos and I went for the asada. I ate A LOT of tacos in Mexico but these were far and away the best- it was the tortillas that did it.

Another early night (I won’t lead you on, we went to bed early EVERY night we were away) so we could prepare to travel again on Tuesday. The bed was noticeably uncomfortable the 2nd night and we were both relieved to say goodbye to it. San Pancho was a short bus ride away, but a world of difference from the touristy, noisy streets of Puerto Vallarta.

To be continued…

Aaaaahhhhhh……

That’s the sound of me lying on a beach for 8 days. That’s about the extent of my activities! Mexico was truly lovely. The weather was perfect, our lodgings were charming, and we both utterly relaxed for days on end. It was just what I needed. Of course, arriving at 11 pm last night and going in to work this morning was slightly jarring to my system. But I’m still feeling mellow from all that down time.

I hope to be able to blog in more detail about the trip at a certain point. We actually had several great meals, saw a great dance performance, had cash flow problems, and a few other adventures. Stay tuned for more…

Planet Danika on Vacation

It’s official! I’m on vacation. Our flight leaves tomorrow morning for Puerto Vallarta. We’re heading to this little fishing village which has no bank or ATM. I plan to do nothing. I don’t even want to think. I most certainly will not be checking e mail, writing blogs, using my cell phone, reading the news or anything else along those lines. That’s right, I will be DISCONNECTED. Planet Danika will return sometime after the 20th of February. Mexico, here I come!