Jungle & Beach & Ruins around TULUM!


Hello darlings,

Ian and Lil Dude (who is really not so lil anymore, truth be told-- almost 8!) and I spent the first wonder-filled week of 2015 in the jungles and beaches of Tulum, Mexico.

We've been to this area a few times before-- flights from Denver to Cancun are direct and fairly cheap, and then it's a straightforward  1 and a 1/2 hour rental car drive to Tulum.

Here's the lovely guesthouse we stayed in:

Previously, we'd stayed in cabanas right on the beach, but this time, we stayed in the jungled inland-- at the little La Selva Mariposa bed and breakfast, which was an easy 20-minute drive from the center of Tulum.

The place is in a rural area, on several beautiful acres of forested land, with a few cabanas for guests and an open-air dining area.  There were several private or shared "cenotes" on the property that you could swim in-- we shared ours with our neighbors. The little blue pools were human-made, but very rustic-looking, with waterfalls and stones and gardens. The water came from underground, where there are springs and caves and real cenotes. 
(And we actually did snorkel in real cenotes one day-- three deep caves near Coba... so magical.)

There were pretty trails on the b n b property...

And enchanting  little spaces where you could read on hammocks.  The book I brought along was Jandy Nelson's I'll Give you the Sun.  It was incredible, one of my new favorite YA's.

The temperatures at home in Fort Collins had been sub-zero/single digits/low teens for a while, and we were ecstatic to get away from the bitter cold.  Just being near flowers and leaves made my heart happy.

Winter in Colorado lasts too long (if you're not a skier, and I'm not.)  
By the end of December, I'm ready for sunlit green...

Here's what the inside of our room looked like.  There was a little sleeping nook for Lil Dude.

And look, a temazcal-- a Mesoamerican sauna.  This one was for relaxation, but I've done temazcals in rural Oaxaca as healing practices-- they were part of my Master's fieldwork in anthropology. 

Our last night in Mexico, Ian and Lil Dude and I sat in the temazcal and told each other what we were thankful for.  We try to incorporate this little gratitude ritual into everyday life... 
Lil Dude went first with: "I'm grateful we don't have lice." 
(This one often comes up in our gratitude listing... because no matter how bad things are, they could always be worse. Not that there was anything bad that tropical evening-- it's just our gratitude-reflex now.)
After the lack-of-lice came: swimming with dolphins, snorkeling, Mayan ancestors, loving family, etc....

Our b n b was close to the Mayan ruins of Coba... we went there in the late afternoon/early evening-- the light was gorgeous, and the ruins not terribly crowded at that time.  
I love the jungly nature trails that you walk or bike along to go from building to building-- very peaceful.

I included this picture because Lil Dude's feet are so dang cute I can hardly stand it. 
He lost his fifth tooth right after our trip! He's at that toothless smile stage now, adorable.

So, I have this policy of not posting pics of him (at least not his face), but I have to show you my imitation of his standard photo pose at these ruins: arms spread out wide, as if to say, "Behold!  My ancestors' masterpiece!"  We adopted him from Guatemala, which means he most likely has some Mayan blood-- and he is extremely proud of this ancestry.  He practically takes personal credit for the temples and ball courts...

Usually we try to avoid big theme-parky-places, but we decided to go to Xel-Ha for various reasons, and were glad we did!  
We were pleasantly surprised at how thoroughly... pleasant... the whole experience was. 

 Twas a completely delightful day of snorkeling in natural lagoons and caves, zip-lining, doing an obstacle course, swimming with dolphins, eating at the yummy all-you-can-eat-and-drink traditional Mexican restaurant... it definitely surpassed my expectations.  
And Lil Dude said about fifty times that day that he was in paradise, that this was "a dream come true."

The whole place seemed very efficiently run and eco-friendly.  There were plenty of cool paths through jungle foliage and wildlife like coatimundis, tropical birds, and of course, stunning fish.

We hung out on the Tulum beach for a couple days...

 Usually Lil Dude is a huge fan of the beach-- he especially loves surfing-- but we didn't spend too much time on the beach this time because the mountains of seaweed freaked him out.  There really wasn't any place to build sand castles because the seaweed had the prime wet-sand real estate.

So nice to eat fish caught that same morning....

One evening, we went to the Tulum ruins, situated right on a cliff overlooking the ocean-- so pretty and picturesque, but not as exciting and interactive as the Coba ruins.

We just resorted to old-fashioned selfies, since Lil Dude's photos often result in missing heads and blurred torsos. Lots of people had those selfie-sticks-- first time I'd seen them.

I tend to make impractical purchases while traveling-- things that are a pain to try to carry back on the plane. These large ball pendant lampshades were a craft specialty of the tiny town where our b n b was located.  I wanted to get a three-foot-diameter one to hang from our back porch roof (which we have yet to build, haha!)  Ian gently helped me realize we'd never get that thing back on the plane, so I settled on a 20-inch one.  We stuffed it with clothes and wrapped it in cardboard and stuffed more clothes on the ends of the duffel bag.... and it survived the trip! 

In the spirit of brutal honesty, I will also share with you the un-fun moments of the trip, too...

1) Despite the cuteness of Lil Dude's sleeping nook, he refused to sleep in it, and insisted on sleeping with me in the full/queen bed, which meant giving Ian the boot... which did not sit well with Ian.
Bedtime conflict, every evening.

2) Lil Dude received his first hand-held electronic gaming device for Christmas, and was naturally inclined to play obsessively... so there was much struggling over Nintendo-boundary-setting.

3)  I had my own little melt-downs, the main one over artificially scented toilet paper.  I hate the stuff.  I hate anything artificially scented, but especially toilet paper.  I'm ridiculously sensitive to smells, and this variety, in particular, drives me crazy.

4) And since we tend to spend money on cool trips rather than vehicles and their maintenance, *neither* of our cars would start the night before the trip (partly because of the cold, and partly because of aging batteries), so we had to do some stressful scrambling to come up with Plan B, which was an inadequately heated airport shuttle at the crack of dawn in sub-zero temps.
 (Everyone's feet were numb by the end of the one and a half hour ride to the airport.)

So, now you know the warts on our trip, too... but overall, it was an abracadabrant getaway.

 I have more travel coming up soon, this time *solo travel*, of the adventurous type... 
and there will be plenty of green involved!  More on that later.

My upcoming travel is related to a new book idea... but as you know, I tend to stay quiet about books-in-progress.  And this Tulum trip, too, was related to a book-in-progress, but one at the revision stage.  That's what I've been busy with since our return.  I hope to be able to tell you more about that one, soon.  I also hope to be able to tell you the new title for The Impossible Caravan and share the cover with you some time in the not-so-distant future!

May you find your own colorful way to make it through winter... 
or maybe you're already in some beautiful green-blue place, in which case... lucky you!

Thanks for coming by!


Sayulita, Mexico!

Hello dear friends and readers!

First, a little warning-- if you're expecting to read about the kind of off-the-tourist-track adventures that you saw in Red Glass, What the Moon Saw, and The Indigo Notebook... read no further!  On the other hand, if you'd like to see a realistic glimpse of what my traveling life has become with 3-year-old and hubbie in tow-- chugging right along the well-worn tourist track, then read on, beloved reader (unless you're scared of a little vomit... er, a lot of vomit. (Am I grossing you out already? Sorry. I'll start with the happy parts...)

We went to Sayulita, Mexico (a small beach town near Puerto Vallarta) for a week with Carrie and Sarah of my writing group and their families... couldn't have asked for better company!

There was much-needed girl time...

 There was surfing. (Doesn't Ian look cute here?  Funny-- I knew him in high school-- and back then he had that exact same pair of swim trunks!  They must be 20 years old!)

It took us a couple days to find the part of the beach where the waves don't beat and batter you. (Poor Carrie and Ian discovered this the hard way...)

There were feasts...

There were walks by a colorful graveyard on the way to the scenic yoga palapa (!)

There was dancing (to little kids' music, of course... I still can't get the Buzz Buzz Buzz song out of my head....)

There was a disconcerting circus in town...

I say disconcerting because their main promotional tool was this rickety tiny cage of tigers, right on one of the main dirt roads.  As much as I try to be a non-judgmental traveler, I have to say this really, really bothered me.  It was painful to pass by them about ten times a day.  In fact, the only reason I've even included this picture is because oddly enough, in the manuscript I just finished, The Jade Notebook (set in another Mexican beach town), there is a large feline (I won't give away what kind of feline-- don't want to spoil anything...).  During my research, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos of large felines prowling and growling and whatnot, and I wished I could be in proximity to a real one.  And then, my wish was realized... in this disconcerting way... It did motivate me to learn more about a wild animal sanctuary just a 45 min drive from my house that has rescued many large felines in similar situations to these tigers.

Okay, on to prettier things... like *butterflies*...

 ... and luna moths...

There were dips in the pool... (the kiddie pool was so perfect for the three-year-olds-- Lil Dude played in there until he was blue-lipped and shivering like crazy and we had to drag him out...)  (And oh how I wish I could include photos of him here-- sooo cute with his goggles and boogie board).

The house we rented was ideal for three families traveling together, especially families of *writer ladies*... little patios and nooks galore...


Now you're probably wondering about that vomit I mentioned earlier... well, there was LOTS of it.  Lil Dude caught a stomach virus from his preschool buddies, and started feeling sick on the plane on the way there.  Ugh.  Middle and window seats for us-- the poor lady in the aisle seat was getting up and down every few minutes to let us race to the bathroom.  And then, for the next few days (although Lil Dude *did* have a blast playing in the pool and sea and sand), there were countless bathroom trips, including in the middle of the night.  The vomiting stopped after a few days, but his gastrointestinal tract was -- shall we say-- tender-- for the whole week.  And then, then... I caught it.  Ugh.  And then, Ian caught it. Ugh, ugh.

Enough complaining.  Other than that, it was a very lovely trip!  Okay, to get the vomit out of your mind and leave you on a nicer note, here's a goofy pic of me.  Ian really loves these pictures of me that capture how I probably look most of the time-- kind of spacing out and daydreaming... he actually has a collection of these dorky pics of me in a photo cube in his office, hehehe.

I'll leave you on that note!  I have more news to tell you (good stuff!), but it's time for my NIA (dance) class now! Thanks for reading!


Jade Waters...

Happy, happy holidays, everyone! Hope you're feeling excited about the new year, and dreaming of new creative adventures...

In celebration of finishing The Ruby Notebook, and getting over what is hopefully the last in a string of colds, Ian and I took our first romantic vacation since Lil Dude came into our lives two Decembers ago.

Not only was it a heavenly (and *much-needed*) trip, but it also rekindled my passion for writing The Jade Notebook, which is set in a Mexican beach town (although a different town from the one we visited -- we were near Tulum on the Yucatan, and Jade is set in Mazunte in Oaxaca).

There's nothing better than opening your eyes in the morning and seeing this.

Stepping outside into this . . .

There was no electricity in our palapa, so we used candles at night. One night we lay on the beach and watched a stunning meteor shower... dozens of shooting stars leaving trails across the sky. And each time a star zipped across the sky, I gasped in delight.

Inside view of our palapa's roof. We want to make one of these in our back yard...

We ate meals outside on the sand in the jungly foliage... resulting in a ring of bug bites around our ankles-- which still itch-- but it was definitely worth it to be surrounded by transluscent green as we ate papaya and sopa de lima and sweet flan . . .

The first time I snorkeled, years ago, I felt I'd discovered a different world. I wanted to spend hours, days, weeks, months underwater with flashing silvery fish and wavy sea creatures. I still love it, and if I were brave enough, I'd attempt scuba diving... maybe one day.

We also swam in cenotes-- freshwater underground rivers in caves, which, if you've read my books, you can guess is right up my alley. I love the magical shades of deep blue in the shadows... And I love how, when you least expect it, you swim around a corner and you're met with glimmery columns of sunlight that take your breath away.

Pelicans and sea gulls and the sound of the ocean rushing and the wind through palm fronds...

A tiny tiled pool overlooked the ocean, just in front of our palapa.

After our outings to the cenotes or open sea, these funny elephant creatures greeted us on our bed inside the mosquito net.

One evening we made a sculpture with debris from a spot down the beach... his hair is made of seaweed, and he's wearing a jaunty plastic purple bowl hat.

This little guy enjoyed the sea view, too.

I'm so, so grateful to you for reading my books and this blog, and encouraging me in all kinds of wonderful ways! Here's to an extraordinary new year!


Back from Mazunte!

view from my cabana balcony

Hola everyone!

I just got back from a five day trip to Mazunte-- a little beach town on the Oaxacan coast. I'm planning on setting the third book of the Notebooks series there, so I went to do some research (very grueling, of course...)

This is a beach I sometimes vacationed at while I was living and working in the mountainous Mixtec region of Oaxaca, much further inland. Even back then, I felt I wanted to set a book in Mazunte someday-- it's so sweaty and sunny and salty and sandy and jungly and flowery and mango-ey and hammock-ey-- I knew I wanted to dwell in that space in my mind for a long time... which is what I'll be doing with this book-- The Jade Notebook.

the cabana where I stayed

So, my husband was supposed to come with me (Toddler was in the company of his doting grandparents), but alas, the day before the flight, I noticed his passport had expired. So.... it was a solo trip! (Don't tell him, but it was actually kinda nice traveling alone-- I love it-- no schedule, no compromising, easier to meet people, etc... but, shhhh.)

view from my window

My days were like this: I went to bed early and woke up late-- nothing's better than sleeping under a mosquito net with wave sounds and insect songs lulling you into a blissful state...

view from my bed through the mosquito net

When I finally got out of bed, I swung on the hammock for a long time and watched the ocean and listened to the waves some more.

I had cafe con leche and fruit and yogurt (including papaya! yum!) and granola on the balcony overlooking the water.

Then I wrote more of Cerise Notebook (the second of the series, set in France) for a while-- (I didn't go online once for the whole trip-- it felt great!)

Then I swung in the hammock some more and went for a swim in the ocean.

Then I had quesadillas for lunch, talked with some nice people, and swung on the hammock some more.

I had afternoon tea and chocolate and wrote some more of Cerise.

Then I walked along the beach, hung out with locals playing volleyball and skim boarding and fishing and playing tug of war-- a really lovely family atmosphere in the evenings. Then I walked to the tip of Punta Cometa-- Comet point-- and watched the sunset and wrote in my notebook. Ahhh...

At nights, I had fresh fish on the balcony and talked with more nice people.

To come back home, I walked along a dirt road for a long time with my giant backpack and caught a colectivo-- a tiny car crammed with four people in the back, two in the passenger seat (I was one of them) and the driver-- cumbia music blasting, the driver's collection of little stuffed turtles dangling around the rearview mirror, along with the ever-present Virgen of Juquila-- Oaxaca's Virgin. In Pochutla, I took another colectivo to the airport in Huatulco, bought a bunch of cinnamon-almond-chocolate with my extra pesos, and caught the flight home.

And now I'm home, and thankfully, I've managed to hold onto that rhythm of waves and insect songs and a swinging hammock and that delicious feeling of melting right into the hot, humid air.

If it sounds to you like I did nothing but swing in my hammock, eat, sleep, write, and swim, you're mostly right. I did do a little interviewing-- that's where the oh-so-grueling research part came in-- but that's all top secret information. I don't want to spoil the book for you... Okay, I'm going to make some of that hot chocolate now.

Gracias for reading!