The First day on the island


I have said before that the way to Ryan’s heart is through his stomach. He woke up on Saturday morning at the hotel, completely ravenous. Sahana and I were still in bed and not ready for breakfast so he niggled and whined that he be allowed to go have the free breakfast that the hotel offered by himself. We said yes, he left and we forgot about him while we watched a little tv, packed up to check out and got ready ourselves for breakfast. After quite a while later, we heard frantic knock on our door. We opened it to see a red faced and evidently relieved Ryan standing outside with a silly grin on his face.

“Finally I found you guys. I was lost!!” He exclaimed.

In his excitement to get food he did not check our room number when he went for breakfast. After a satisfying breakfast of pancakes and eggs, when he tried to make his way back to our room, he realized he did not know the number. So he knocked on a few doors on the side where our room was. He confronted some angry French Canadian boarders. Finally after the third failed attempt at finding his family, he went to the reception desk and admitted he was lost. The ladies were supposedly very nice, they commiserated with him and despite the privacy policy, gave him his parents’ room number because he was little and cute. He declared he was never letting us out of his sight for the rest of the vacation (he did not keep his promise since we only saw him when he needed food and a place to sleep on the island).

We packed up our bags and checked out of the hotel to head towards Casco Bay Ferry in Portland. Since I am extremely intelligent and planned, I suggested to my partner that we drive to the ferry and figure out first how we transport our junk to the island before we shop for groceries for seven days. That plan seemed acceptable to all so that is what we did. While I guarded the car, Sean went to make the necessary inquiries. It turned out we were unduly worried. The wonderful and efficient staff of the ferry sent all our junk on the freight and other regulars to islands showed us how we can buy groceries, put them in crates provided by the freight workers and leave them with the staff. They did all the heavy lifting while we enjoyed the gorgeous scenery on our way to the island with only our handbags full of tank tops and shorts. After bidding goodbye to Sasha, Hexel (our kayaks, remember?), our unnamed bikes, tennis rackets and some other inconsequential bags, we went to the local Whole Foods to get groceries. Grocery shopping, for me, is never fun and this wasn’t either but it got done with two children running to get things that they wanted and Sean and I either acquiescing or saying sternly, “Put that back right away!” We drove the grocery laden minivan back to the dock, procured a cart, sent the groceries on their way with a prayer that the eggs don’t crack and ventured into the difficult task of finding a parking. The most convenient parking, right next to the dock was full. Sean got off the car to ask the attendant how quick the turnover was. Should we wait or should we seek a different parking garage. He was gone for a while. When I was starting to get slightly frustrated I saw him coming back with a huge grin and a thumbs up sign.

“We got parking here!”

“How? It still says full!”

It turns out the parking ticket machine was not working and Sean tinkered with the parking attendant and helped her fix it. She let us in. Hallelujah!

After parking the car, we got out to finally explore the city of Portland, grab some lunch and get donuts from the famous The Holy Donut. Portland is a lovely town, albeit stinky, at least near the waterfront with fish stink. If one walks away from the waterfront, however, it is a quaint seaside town with artsy boutiques and innovative restaurants. We lunched on shwarma, falafel and hummus in Olive Cafe and went to get dessert. As we were walking around we got phone calls from family that they were arriving at the dock with their families and luggage and since we were pros at figuring out how to transport luggage to Cliff island, we jogged back to give them a hand.

After hugs and confusion and bathroom breaks and innumerable ‘where is this child or that’ (there were 6 children in total ranging from 17 to 3 while four more waited for us at the island), we got on the ferry and our relaxing (maybe) break truly started.

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This is a view from the ferry on our way to the island.

It took about 40 minutes with two stops and we were finally there. We were finally away from the mainland, away from schedule, away from political news, away from internet. We were unwired, we were on island time. Sasha, Hexel, unnamed bikes, bags and bags of groceries were all unloaded on the dock. They needed to be carted to the house we rented which was only 4 houses down the dock. It sounded simple but we did not account for the acres of woods and yards between those four houses. While Sean, the kids and other relatives divided up the bags, tennis rackets, bikes, I took it upon myself to push the big crate of groceries up the hill to our house. The only car (a taxi service driven by a very elderly gentleman) stopped by me to ask if I was alright. He may have been concerned by my straining neck muscles and red face. I did it though only to realize I had stolen two banana boxes of groceries that belonged to somebody else. Those boxes hid underneath our scores of grocery bags. My brother-in-law, bless his heart, offered to take the banana boxes full of groceries back to the dock so they could be reunited with their rightful owner. I mumbled a thank you because I was stunned and exhilarated by the scene that greeted me in the living room of our rented house.

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This was going to be our view for the next seven days? Did I just arrive in heaven?

Seeing my husband standing next to me enjoying the view and not tackling the two kayaks outside got me into a panic mode.

“Why are you here? Why are you not bringing the kayaks from the dock?” I exclaimed.

“Your children are bringing them!” He gave a complacent smile.

“What?!?!?”

Sure enough, two little figures turned the corner in two kayaks paddling furiously to get them to our private little beach in front of the house. Oh, the joys of having older children!

the first evening was a blur between hugging and kissing family, unpacking and rearranging clothes, eating delicious sausage lasagne prepared by my youngest sister-in-law, laughing at the antics of the children, eleven in total, and then finally retiring to the bedroom and falling into deep slumber. I will post the picture of what I woke up to in the next installment. Stay tuned. 😀

 

 

 

Gift of my Magi


I don’t often think of teleportation (word press is giving me red squiggly line underneath it. Is teleportation not a real word?) till I board a 13 hour flight to go to India or get in the car to go on an 8 hour trip up north to visit family during holiday times. I love to go places yet I dislike the modes of transportation. What is the point of having such smart people in the world if they can not figure out a way to get to places in the blink of an eye, I ask? Come on MIT, Harvard, Yale and other esteemed colleges, discover it already!!

Anyway, I got in the car like a grumpy cat, settled my ooh- so- comfortable blanket on my lap, buckled my seat belt and grunted at my chirpy husband “Let’s go.” We were going up to Boston to visit family for Christmas. Sean and the children were annoyingly chirpy and I looked out of the window to keep my annoyance at their chirpiness at bay. It almost did not work.

As we passed New York after 4 hours of driving, Sean pointed out:

“Look at the city. How lit up it is!!”

I have already mentioned I was grumpy at the beginning of the journey. I decided to turn it up a notch, I turned downright whiny (good thing my children take mostly after their dad)!

“I have lived in this country for over 10 years and I have never seen New York lights during holiday times. I have never seen the tree at the Rockefeller Center! Hmmmmph!”

“Alright, let’s do it. Let us drive into the city!” Sean enthusiastically exclaimed.

“No000, let’s just go up to Boston and be done with this ride!” I answered.

Then everything was quiet for a while except Veggie Tales singing about God being greater than the boogeyman in the car music system. I may have dozed off for a while when I fully woke up to honking. I looked out of the car window to find that we are entering the congested New York City!!

“You are going in the city???? We are going to arrive in Boston so late! Why did you not just drive on!!!!!!!!!!” I said, exasperated.

My husband’s spirit was indomitable.

“Oh, let us just see the lights!” He grinned.

After battling with traffic and being rejected by two garages in the city (they were full), we finally found parking in one garage. My dissatisfaction and grumpiness were giving away to mouth opening awe and excitement at the lights and spirit of the big apple as I tried to take in the crowd, style and of course, the honking and aggressive driving. After Sean parked, he gave a curt command:

“Take your bags out!”

“WHAT??? Why???” Sahana and I, both whipped our heads around. Ryan was oblivious of everything, as usual.

“Hurry up, get your bags out!” The man repeated. And started pulling our bags out himself.

Still stunned and unaware about what exactly was happening, we did as we were asked to do.

We rolled our bags, following Sean who entered a hotel about half a block away. Sahana and I looked at each other as he opened the door for us. Ryan finally asked, “Where are we going? Why aren’t we going to Boston?” I must mention at this point that we discovered as we unloaded our bags and wore our coats that Ryan had forgotten to bring his heavy winter coat on this trip. He had a sweat shirt on and was freezing at this point. Sean had his ratty, old winter coat in addition to his ‘nicer’ newer winter coat, which saved Ryan eventually. Also Boston turned out to be extremely mild this year.

“Reservation for two nights under …..”, he told the staff at front desk.

Sahana looked at me and mouthed, “Did he just say 2 nights???????”

Sean got the key to our room and looked at us triumphantly, grinning from ear to ear like a little boy. His Christmas gift to us. He planned a two night stay in NYC, couple of blocks away from Broadway, a block and a half away from Lincoln Center, en route to Boston. He planned this for a while and I DID NOT HAVE A CLUE.

And then? Then it was magic. Then it was a dream come true. Then it was the best surprise I have ever had in my life.

After cleaning up at the hotel, we went to have dinner at this busy pizza place not too far from Times Square. I had no idea, of course, that we were going to stop at New York. Hence I had no stylish apparel or shoes. I toured NYC in my stylish pink sneakers, ratty jeans and dirty coat. Oh well, little things! 🙂

After a typical NYC pizza and cheese cake dinner, we braved the cold to walk to Times Square and witness the night turned to day. Every one who has been to Times Square will perhaps agree with me when I say it is a sensory overload. It was Ryan’s first time. He had to go in and gawk at the Hershey store, the Toys r US, the M & M store. He had to gawk at the bill boards and the street performers. His mother and sister were not far behind in being mesmerized by all of it. Even Sahana, who reprimands us constantly when we go places as “acting like tourists” forgot to scold us as I clicked pictures.

Typical NYC quick pizza and cheese cake dinner.
Typical NYC quick pizza and cheese cake dinner.
Times Square
Times Square

The following day, we stood in line to get discounted tickets for a Broadway show and ended up with tickets of Mamma Mia. Sean froze in line at the ticket counter while Sahana, Ryan and I stood in line inside a Starbucks to get him (and us) hot chocolate. Then all four of us froze waiting in line for the ticket counter to open. But there was a certain camaraderie with the other excited tourists waiting with us in the serpentine line. We exchanged jokes, we learned how far people have come from, we stated the obvious about how cold it was and once the ticket counters opened the line moved quickly. We did not have much time before the show and we (me) absolutely had to see the New York Public library before the show started. But we also had to have lunch. Due to popular demand (read children’s) we had to find lunch first. After lunch we barely had time to run back to the theater. The library, I consoled myself, will have to wait till the next visit. The show was amazing. We came out singing, “Dancing queen” and “Don’t go wasting your emotion” along with the other theater goers. After meandering around a bit more, the children declared they were tired and can we please go back to the hotel.

Wait, what? Tired? In New York? But…we don’t have much time to take it all in!!! I was shouting in my head as I headed back glumly towards the hotel with the rest of the crew. As we entered our room, Sean whispered to me:

“What do you think of ditching the kids and going for a spin in the city? Just you and I? Are you up for it?”

Am I up for it???Baby, do you even know me? This is New York!! I am in New York. I leave tomorrow morning. I do not want to waste any time sitting in a hotel room watching tv! I want to make every moment count, I want to take it all back in my heart!

So we got McDonald meal for the children who were happy as a clam slurping on shakes and watching Christmas shows on television while their parents waved sayonara and hit the streets.

We walked among the cute shops in Central park, my arm in the crook of Sean’s elbow. We peeked in the luxurious windows of apartments along the park, richly decorated with Christmas extravaganza, we bought warm, roasted chestnuts and walked the crowded streets of the Fifth street, we walked all the way to the New York Public library (which was closed) and got to see the regal lions guarding the gorgeous building. We laughed and pointed at the elegantly decorated windows of the designer stores on Fifth avenue, we saw brilliantly lit tree in the Rockefeller center and happy people skating underneath it, we felt one with the crowd and I reminisced about the Durga Puja in Kolkata, we felt the heady sensation of being in New York during the holidays where everything glittered and everything looked happy. We held hands and I told Sean that this is the best Christmas gift he gave me. He smiled.

Fifth Avenue
Fifth Avenue
New York Public Library. I have to go in next time.
New York Public Library. I have to go in next time.

I read an article that most Americans, as the recession hit the country, are focusing on collecting experiences over material objects. Experiences do not need maintenance. I have always been that kind of person who preferred experiences over material gifts. While it was wonderful to open gifts of scarves and gloves and other things the family bought for me, the experience of laughing together in New York is something I will often turn to when I need some cheer. The memories of the joy at being together in a city that excites me, the thought of Sean planning the whole thing to surprise us, the touch of his hand as he peeled a chest nut for me, the expression of bewilderment in Ryan’s face as he looked up at the huge bill boards all around Times Square, the excited face of Sahana as we entered the theater to watch Mamma Mia will stay in a special treasure chest in my heart. In difficult times, they keep me sane, they keep me positive and they remind me the truth:

This too shall pass, we are here to see you through.

Off to visit the Mayans – Day 6, Tulum


We slept in on the sixth day. Our vacations are those that you NEED vacation from, but all of us seem to thrive in action, yes even Sahana, if she is not dragged out early.

After yet another chocolate croissant Starbucks breakfast we got in Escargot to drive 40 Km to Tulum. Both the children had enough of ruins at this point but not their ruin loving mother. Tulum was built between the 13th and the 15th century and was an important port for trade, especially obsidian. The ruins, perhaps, do not match in grandeur with the impressive ones at Chichen Itza or Uxmal but the setting of the ruins is indeed spectacular! It stands on a bluff facing the east and the ancient shrine of the Diving God greets the rising sun every day over the breathtakingly beautiful Caribbean sea.

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I am not sure what word would describe the blueness of the ocean. There was not just one blue though, there were different hues and shades of blue. No matter how talented an artist or a painter is, can they ever produce that perfect hue in their canvases or papers? Is that blue an example of what perfection is? Just so? Not a bit more and not a bit less? As I read my journal, I see I wrote down ‘pristine, turquoise, aqua marine – none of these seem to really bring forth the true hue of the color blue.’

The children decided to jump in the water while Sean and I continued to tour the entire site paying homage to the reigning deity of the area – the descending god. It is a figure with legs splayed upwards and head down diving from the sky to the ocean.

According to Ancient History Encyclopedia:

The Temple of the Descending God, located at Tulum, is an intricately designed structure which is illuminated brightly by the setting sun every April 6th – which is the birthday of The Descending God (so named because he is always depicted with his feet in the air)and is carefully aligned with the planet Venus. While it has long been held that Tulum is the only temple complex to depict the Descending God, his image has been found elsewhere. Attempts to link him to the figure of Jesus Christ have been dismissed by all reputable scholarly authorities.

The camera, as some of you know, is almost surgically attached to my hip. As I walked the ruined walls at the edge of the cliff and looked down at the brilliant emerald sea beneath, I kept stopping to take pictures. And when I looked at them later, I discovered I had taken picture of the same scene again and again – a multitude of times, obsessively. My desire, perhaps, to capture the entire day, along with the blue sky, the wispy clouds, the magnificent ruins, the mass of humanity speaking various languages of the world, the sea, the moments, my family, my feelings of joy and fulfillment, in each shot.

After walking throughout the site, Sean stripped to his swimming trunks and entered the water. I did not bring any change of clothes. Nor did I have swim suit underneath. So, like a true Indian, I followed my husband in the water, fully clothed. And had the best time swaying with the waves.

Finally, when nobody could ignore the pangs of hunger any longer, we made a unanimous decision to bid adieu to the sea, the sand and the ruins to head towards Akumal, north of Tulum, towards Playa Del Carmen. We were on a mission to find the restaurant La Buena Vida in Akumal, as suggested by some fellow travelers from Canada. The nachos there were to ‘die for’ they said. The setting of the restaurant, on a tiny cliff by the sea, was unparalleled, they said. We had no directions, no GPS and Sean refused to ask directions. By sheer instinct he got us there while I grumbled about typical male pride about directions. He parked the car and said, ‘Here you go, we found it!’ smugly as we walked in. There were palapas roofs on picnic tables by the water and we were directed to one of those.

La buena vida – the good life. The name is chosen from one of the cardinal principles of the ancient Mayans, live the present moment fully. Be in the moment. Nothing is more important than being in the moment, living it, doing it justice. The worries can wait.

I live by the important (for me) mantra ‘This too shall pass’. In moments of sorrow, this thought gives me solace and the courage to face my sorrow. In moments of joy, this reminds me that happiness too is transient and I must make the most of it. The memory of the happy times become that jewel that I wear around my being, which embellishes my soul. Hence the photos, hence the journal.

I remember sitting there with my little family looking at the vibrant blue water, the coral reefs afar, the gentle sway of the palm trees, the yellow sand beneath my feet, I thought ‘this moment too shall pass’. But I am so grateful to HAVE this moment, to be able to live it fully. I remember thinking this must be what true happiness feels like…la buena vida.

We drove back to Merida on the seventh day and headed back home on the eighth morning. I brought back happy times, laughter, thoughts, bonding and the realization how different traveling with the children is becoming. I remember hauling luggage and entertaining both of them during long flights to India. This time, however, Sahana navigated the airports, Ryan lugged around our heavy suitcase and a backpack. My offers to help carry luggage were refused with ‘we got this, Mom!’ I ended up carrying only my purse the entire trip. That was sweet, but somehow bittersweet.

This was the last post of the trip. Thank you so much for reading my journey and being a part of it. I appreciate you all greatly.

Off to visit the Mayans – Day 4, Playa Del Carmen


The fourth day was unplanned. We had run ragged since we arrived in Mexico, so we decided to take a day of rest. Fortified with painkillers and antibiotics, I peeked out at the sunshiny day outside from our hotel room and greeted it with a wide smile. The sun did the same.

Sean got roped into listening to a vacation share sales pitch. I grudgingly agreed to it since the deal was they would give us heavily reduced tickets to the eco theme park Xcaret if we gave the sales team our time. We sat through the sales pitch in a beautiful resort while the children played on the beach. We refused to shell out $20,000 to buy two weeks of vacation and came back with four tickets to the eco theme park.

Mexican food is delicious but after four days of tacos (the children disliked the authentic tacos there since the meat was chopped and not ground and the taco sauce was different than what they are used to in the US), pibil, guacamole, nachos we were ready for a change of palate. We craved some soul food – Italian! We lunched in an Italian restaurant on fifth Avenue in Playa Del Carmen where the food was delicious and the price was exorbitant. Sea food fettucine for me, gnocchi for Sahana and Sean, salmon and shrimp pizza for Ryan, which he did not like.

After lunch we strolled back leisurely to our hotel, nodding to the local shop owners, smiling at fellow tourists. We came back, changed in our swim suits and found our beach by 3:45 pm. While the man and his cubs frolicked in the water, I donned my hat, shades, sarong and went on a long walk along the beach. Beach attracts me for the blue ocean, the faraway horizon where the ocean raises to kiss the cloud filled blue sky, the spectacular sunsets, the salty tang of air, the gritty feel of the sand beneath my feet, the intricate carvings on an abandoned sea shell. It also brings me close to the stillness, the carefree joy, the familial bonding that my fellow humans bring to the beach. Very rarely do I see wo/men bent over their electronic devices. They either rest, play, sunbathe, walk, bond, laugh by the water or in it. This coming together of nature and mankind makes me happy. I am both the observer and the absorber of nature and man.

The evening was dedicated to the beautiful beach city of Playa Del Carmen. Locals lamented the loss of its beauty and simplicity with the booming tourism and development of this area. As Cancun got overcrowded resorts started buying up property and developing Playa. Gone are Playa Del Carmen’s sleepy days. The city now dons a new apparel every night and glitters for the people who come to visit. We dined at a 100 percent natural Mexican restaurant, which the grown ups loved and the children did not care for.

After a satisfying, all natural, healthy meal at Playa Del Carmen.
After a satisfying, all natural, healthy meal at Playa Del Carmen.

Then we walked the entire length of Fifth Avenue as Sahana and Ryan licked their double scoops of ice cream from a glittery Haagen Daaz. There were men on stilts, overpriced artifacts, trinkets, masks, designer stores with that homogenous smell of designer perfumes. There were ferrets, snakes and baby Chow chows to be petted and taken pictures with, if you paid. Local artists painted on the roadsides and sold their paintings. Musicians serenaded diners in open air restaurants. We ended up at Punta Playa (the port of Playa) where we sat with local families and watched street performers performing skits in Spanish. Sean drew me closer and flicked his head up at the sky. I looked up following his gaze to see the splendidly shining moon finally emerging from behind some dark clouds, over the ocean. Sean found my hand and held on. We stood there for a while, my back against my husband as the moon played hide and seek with us and slowly, ever so slowly, disappeared again. How perfect was that moment!

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We were back at the hotel by 10:30 pm and were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. Xcaret tomorrow – snorkeling, floating down secret river, flamingos, dolphins…

Off to visit the Mayans – Day 3, Chichen Itza and Playa Del Carmen


We checked out from our hotel Dolores Alba in Merida by 8:00 am on Tuesday morning and started our journey to see Chichen Itza – arguably the most visited Pyramid built by the ancient Mayans. After an uneventful drive of one hour and twenty seven minutes (Sahana timed it) we arrived at the gate of the ruins. As we parked Escargot and looked around us, we knew this site will not the have peace, quiet and relative silence of Uxmal. There were busloads of tourists with loud guides speaking different languages, people selling their wares everywhere. There were artifacts and trinkets, ice cream and cold drinks, masks and men dressed up as Mayan warriors, there were also little monkeys and a two month old baby lion. One could take pictures with them at a price.

As we made our way inside the site of ruins, the impressive Kukulkan Pyramid, also known as El Castillo stood up against the azure blue sky, just like it always has for centuries before. For a few minutes, I became oblivious of my surroundings as I was transported to the Early Classic period (around 600 AD) when the city of Chichen Itza rose into prominence.

According to Chichenitza.com:

‘Chichen Itza which means “at the mouth of the well of Itza “, is the 2nd most visited archeological site of Mexico today. The Kukulkan Pyramid in Chichen-Itza which known as “El Castillo” (the castle), is one of the new seven wonders of the world elected in 07.07.2007. It is exactly 24 m. high considering the upper platform.’

There are four stairways each with 91 steps ending at a single top step at the temple’s entrance. The number of steps add up to 365 – a step for each day in the Mayan Calendar.

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Columns of Thousand warriors

The ruins of the city of Chichen Itza were majestic and grand and very, very catered to tourists. The presence of hawkers trying to eke out a living from this often visited site took away the essence that I wished to experience. It was too hot, too crowded, too noisy. A part of me tried to justify the tourism based economy but a huge part of me deplored it. There were hawkers everywhere trying to sell knick knacks at exorbitant prices. “Almost free” chant followed us everywhere. Hawkers started to converse with me in Spanish expecting the Mayan looking woman to translate to the gringo with her. The Mayan looking woman, however, smiled sweetly and hastily notified, “No habla Espanol” and the gringo, fluent in Spanish, took over.

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After four very hot hours in Chichen Itza, the children took an ice cream break. All four of us were hot, flushed and ready to move on. We slowly made our way out to Escargot, in quiet contemplation of the Kukulkan Pyramid in its heyday. We poured some cold water on ourselves and headed towards south. Our next destination for the four days was Playa Del Carmen, just 42 miles south of the more famous Cancun. A fine moment of ‘I told you so’ arrived when my husband disregarded my suggestion of filling up the car in the city of Vallodolid before entering the Cancun Cuota (highway), thinking he will fill it up on the way. Well, he thought wrong! As we kept going on the almost empty highway and the gas indicator kept dipping dangerously, we discovered the next gas station was 93 kilometers away! I kept one eye on the indicator and other out for salida (exits)! We finally arrived at a toll booth where Sean pointed to the gas gauge and asked if there was a gas station nearby where he could fill up! Fortunately we were not the only clueless tourists who found themselves in similar predicament on that particular highway. The lady at the toll booth assured us they could sell us a couple of liters of gas that will take us to the gas station situated at the outskirts of Cancun. We bought the gas – at a steep price, of course! And off we went.

The Cancun cuota, as the name suggests, takes us straight down to the beach city of Cancun from Chichen Itza. It is a pleasant drive, a pretty drive – if the gas tank in your car is full, stomach is full and your bladder empty. They were no exits to get off and buy food or use restrooms.

We eventually made it to a gas station with the little gas we bought at the toll booth. Finally with a full tank of gas, a relieved heart (mine) and empty bladder we started on our Cancun adventure, except we had no clue where to go. Sean kept saying, ‘Keep looking guys! Tell me if you see something interesting and we will stop!’ But by the time we said, ‘Hey, that looks like a fun place! Let us stop there’, he had driven away. At that point we were all cranky with hunger and were snapping at each other like a herd of crocodiles! We could not find places to park, we could not figure out the lay of the land and we kept driving away from abodes of the food god. It was an utter mess! Finally we saw a very generic looking mall as a last resort before we killed and ate each other. And surprisingly enough a lovely restaurant was found by the bayside, right next to Hooters.

After dunch (lunch and dinner, since it was 5:30 pm by that point) we decided to abandon our initial plan of exploring Cancun and headed towards our final destination for the day – Playa Del Carmen.

Playa was easy enough to find, but the grid system of the roads was a bit more challenging to figure out, at least in my brain. My wizard of the path finder husband sorted out th grid system quickly enough and we found our temporary shelter Adventure Experience Hotel without much trouble. The hotel was half a block from the famous fifth avenue of Playa Del Carmen and a five minutes walk to the beach. I can only recommend the hotel for it’s location but unfortunately, for nothing else. Since we decided to spend our days touring different areas around Playa, the hotel was adequate for us.

At this point, my sore finger needs to be mentioned. As the days passed, I looked at it with increasing anxiety and a morbid awe. I had been popping painkillers to manage the constant pain and throbbing, since without the painkillers the pain was intense enough to wake me up from an exhausted sleep. The finger had swollen up like a sausage and the pus around the site had assumed a sickening yellowish green under the tender skin. I knew I was in trouble but I was also determined to get through the vacation without any sort of intervention. I figured I will have it taken care of once I went home.

Once we settled into our hotel, showered, changed and went out to stretch our legs, Sean insisted we go to a pharmacy and get my finger examined. The pharmacist looked at my finger, shook his head and rattled off in Spanish. All I got out of that conversation was ‘un medico’! We walked a block to a different pharmacy where a doctor had an office but unfortunately the doctor’s office was closed. Sean still dragged me to talk to the pharmacist and explained my situation and showed my finger. While all the talk in Spanish was going on I lost focus on my surroundings and looked at my angry finger, finally admitting to myself I needed antibiotics and my finger was badly infected. I was vaguely aware of two very young women in tank tops and a young man standing in that pharmacy next to us. While I stood there feeling sorry for myself, one of the young women came over to me, took my hand and started probing and prodding the wound. I was first stunned at this breach of personal space and then when electric shocks of pain registered in my brain I snatched my hand away from her and said, semi-politely, ‘My finger hurts, I need doctor!’ The woman smiled sweetly and pointed to herself, ‘Doctor!’ She WAS the doctor who had just finished her office hours and was on her way home when we waylaid her with my infected finger. She examined my wound, wrote a prescription for antibiotics and advised me to be strong since Sean will have to poke a hole and drain the finger. I gulped. When Sean offered to pay for her consultation, she refused payment, smiled again and wished us good luck.

Armed with syringes, hydrogen peroxide, gauze, iodine, bandaids, antibiotic tablets and antiseptic cream we returned to our hotel room. After washing his hands twice my valiant husband started ominously fiddling with the syringes in a poorly lit hotel bathroom – in Mexico! All of a sudden I chuckled. This is what memories are made of, I suppose! The good, bad and the ugly!

‘Are you ready?’ He asked.

‘As ready as I will ever be! Let’s do this!’

I called Sahana, who showed a very gleeful interest in the whole process, to hold down my hand. As I looked away, I helped my husband by saying ‘Don’t put an air bubble in my vein. That will kill me!’ (He was, of course, nowhere near a vein. I am just evil like that:) ).

And then he plunged the syringe into the skin. And then the pain…

Off to visit the Mayans….with a sore finger!


My eyes opened at 3:48 am and my brain registered the acute pain – the reason for my sudden wakefulness. We were about to leave the house to catch our flight to Yucatan, Mexico in a couple of hours and my right ring finger was throbbing with intense pain. Intense enough to wake me up from deep, exhausted-from-packing-and-organizing slumber. I knew I was in trouble. After weeks of planning where to go for spring break, what made sense financially, whether the children will be happy with our choice, we had decided upon the ancient Mayans. The Yucatan peninsula – the land of the Mayans, soft yellow sandy beaches, turquoise blue water and waving palm trees. The ruin-addict in me wanted my fill of ruins and my water loving family wanted beach fun.

My knowledge of Mayan civilization is sketchy at the best and garnered primarily from travel books and internet. But I knew that the Mayans were the most sophisticated culture of ancient America with their astounding knowledge of astronomy, science and a complete writing system. Their culture survived the ages and there is a thriving community of Mayans in the Yucatan peninsula. I was often mistaken for a Mayan woman and when told I hail from India, there were confusion and surprise on the face of the person who started a friendly chat with me in Spanish, thinking I was local.

According to the book ‘Yucatan and Mayan Mexico’ one of the most remarkable things about the Maya is that our image about them is not some fixed, established text, but has been transformed over the last 40 years, and is still developing.’ The Mayan civilization is fascinating, intricate, enigmatic, brutal. The sites and ruins made me wonder about their fascination with death,  their thoughts of afterlife. One of the cardinal points in Mayan philosophy is to live the present moment – live it fully. I hoped to bring home that wisdom and incorporate in our lives.

Early morning did not see anyone in good spirits. Sahana and Ryan were tired, I was in pain and slightly worried about my finger, which, by the way, was caused by my foolishness. I tore away at an annoying cuticle on my ring finger with my teeth since there were no nail clippers to be found. And somehow, the finger got infected.

We finally reached the airport. Few bickerings were squashed with cliches like ‘it is more important to be kind than to be right’ etc. My expert husband, who travels around the world thirty percent of his time, got us to the gate in no time at all and even got one seat upgraded, much to the joy of Ryan (he always wanted to travel first class). There was not much question who was going to avail the upgrade 🙂 ! Sahana said she was going to listen to her six hour worth of music on her iTouch, she was oblivious of her surrounding and she did not truly care where she sat on the plane.

As I sat there guarding the luggage, while the family went in search of breakfast, I looked through the glass wall of the airport to take in a young, nascent, blood red sun getting ready to kiss each corner of the earth and make it blush crimson red. And just like that I was happy. A break from the usual, a few days of searching for the unusual. A few days of looking at the sun set and moon rise, a few days of eating ice cream for dinner, if we so wanted, a few days of trying something new perhaps. And for me, a few days of freedom from the wire. I had no phone, no tablet, no computer. I had my camera attached to my hip, my black and white composition book and a whole lot of pens. A few days of going wireless.

My elation lasted for a few hours till the finger started letting me know I had made a huge mistake over that cuticle. As the hours passed on the plane and in airports, I sadly kept looking at my ring finger, which started swelling up and changing color. After two painkillers, I could pick up a pen. ‘Tomorrow morning the swelling will be memory’ I thought to myself, staying positive.

We arrived in Merida and rented a little Matisse, which we named Escargot for it’s shape, and yes, speed too. As we were focussed on trying to find our Hotel Dolores Alba on Calle (street) 63, we did not see much of Merida. We had traveled the whole day and wanted two things – a shower and most importantly, BED! We found our hotel and were delighted as we stepped into the beautiful courtyard adorned with copies of Frieda Kahlo’s artwork and gorgeous mosaic floor. Very comfortable, clean rooms. Lovely showers with hot water, happy, smiling staff.

image

My eyes were closing as I jotted down my thoughts. Uxmal calling tomorrow….

Amor! Some call her Roma! Day 6 and homeward bound.


Sean had the final day off. We were about to experience Rome for the day, together. After our usual breakfast of croissants, coffee, cereal in huge quantity (Sean) served by a sweet, smiling Italian lady at the hotel, we walked from our hotel to a vibrant, open air market place in Campo dei Fiori. Fruit and vegetable vendors lay their produce in an attractive array. The entire place looked lively and colorful with bright red tomatoes, shiny cherries, green leafy vegetables. Pasta sellers spread out their pastas in a colorful display. Trinket sellers had their earrings, necklaces, murano glass jewellery out attractively to lure customers to their stalls. And lure they certainly did, I couldn’t resist their charm, broke down and bought a charm bracelet. I wore it right away and looked at it admiringly from time to time as we walked towards the Basilica of St. Peter’s.

Sean is not the kind of guy to stand in line. For him, Rome is special for its ambiance – the narrow cobble-stoned alleys, the little quaint shops, the ancient feel of the city, the Jewish quarter, the mysterious stairways leading to gorgeous doors, ancient ruins dotted all over the city, the walks along river Tiber, the food and the romance in the air. He would rather walk indeterminately enjoying the sights and sounds of Rome than stand in line to enter the Colosseum, the Vatican or the Roman Forum (the line to get tickets to enter the forum can be pretty long). Since this was his only day off, I gave him the freedom to choose our destination. I was just happy to be with him! If he was writing the blog, however, he would strongly disagree to the ‘freedom to choose’ bit. I desperately wanted to see the Castel Sant’ Angel, so I couldn’t help interject such lines from time to time ‘You know, we should see the inside of Castel Sant’ Angel sometime, I haven’t been inside the castle yet!’ But then quickly qualified the statement with ‘I am not telling you what to do, it was just a suggestion!’

After a while, Sean played along with “So, what should I plan to do again? Should I plan to go see the inside of Castel Sant’ Angel?” You guessed it, we ended up in the Castle of Angels!

This was built on Tiber river by King Hadrian and then converted into a military fortress. It is named after the archangel Michael at the entrance to the museum.

Archangel Michael
At the top of the Castle.
A view of the Basilica from the terrace of the Castle.

In the evening, we decided to truly get lost in the interconnected narrow, mysterious, ancient looking alleyways of beautiful Rome. We walked the streets aimlessly, without a clue or purpose. We saw some treasures hidden in these little lanes, some unknown yet ornately decorated churches, back of a beaten up dilapidated house made beautiful by fragrant, bright flowers, old arch bridges, moss-covered steps leading to gorgeous doorways, little cafes and gelatarios.

At the cost of never getting an advertisement offer from McDonald’s for my blog site, I must admit that I shuddered at the sight of these golden arches in Rome. For me it was akin to blasphemy, the presence of the fast food chain in the land of leisurely dining and delicious cuisine. But soon, due to the dearth of public restrooms in Rome, my feeling changed from horror to reassurance at sighting of McDonald’s. It did wonders for my peace of mind. Enough of bathroom talk, moving on.

We bought some gifts at a souvenir shop for my parents and the children who were becoming very real to me with every passing minute. I was missing them. I was ready to go home. We went back to Trastevere area for a dinner of spaghetti alla amatriciana (spaghetti with bacon and tomato sauce) and ended the evening with canoli with chocolate chips. Our last gelato for a while.

I want to mention that I probably ate bacon almost every day during my stay in Rome, either in my pizza or my pasta. I don’t eat much bacon back home. The health freak in me makes me buy the leanest bacon possible. I find it tasteless. The bacon, in Rome, was the real deal with fat dripping off them on my shirt and probably clogging my artery as I write this journal! But I didn’t care. That was the joy of being on vacation. I knew this was short-term, I could afford to be indulgent, I could afford to eat fatty bacon, I could afford to eat dessert every day (one day even twice). That feeling made this Roman Holiday memorable, dream like.

Last night, I went to bed truly content. Amidst all the happy moments I have had in my life, my time in Rome just got included in the list. I had a happy time, carefree, stress free, free from the shackles of schedule. But I was ready to go back and take charge again. On the flight back home, between watching four movies back to back, I pondered a little bit about the ‘connected’ life I led. I honestly felt, I need to disconnect a bit to connect more with the people who matter to me the most. Between the schedules and running around, focusing on one particular thing was becoming rarer for me. While I read with Ryan, my mind was already planning where I had to be the next day and when. While listening to Sahana’s middle school woes, part of my focus was on the half filled milk jar and whether that would last till breakfast. Whatever little time I had in between, I spent it on the net chatting with friends so my mind didn’t wander on the mundane chores. The net, for the lack of better words, had become my escape from my busy, schedule filled life. I wanted to change that.

My Roman Holiday ended. But the feel of it stayed with me. I wrote these blogs so when the memory starts to fade and I need some sustenance and a breath of fresh air, I can come back to these and relive the days. Thank you all for reading and being a part of my holiday. Signing off!