Friday, February 27, 2009

A LONG Day in Mexico

Did you know that 38 years ago, there was no Cancun? It was just a tiny fishing village on the coast of the Yucatan peninsula, which is actually a very large, very flat coastal lowland. This land was the land of the Mayans. There's quite a bit of history there, so we decided to try and spend part of our trip visiting the ancient Mayan ruins and learning a thing or two about these mysterious people.

The resort we stayed at had a tour agency which booked all kinds of tours, so after talking with them, we decided to pass on the more crowded Chichen Itza ruin which was closer to the hotel district and be a little more adventursome. They had a tour called "Coba and Caves" which visited the Coba ruins - once a thriving Mayan village 18 square kilometers in size. Not only was it huge, but it also had one of the largest excavated temple ruins that you could climb. It also stopped at some caves, one where you could go swimming, so we thought this was a better match for us. It promised to be a long day, but we figured Jonathan could handle it, after all, it was at least 4 hours on the bus back and forth, and he loved the busses. He got to look at the roads and the road signs written in Spanish, and all sorts of neat things like "sideways traffic lights"...ahem. (see future blog post about 4 year olds who are obsessed with all kinds of civil engineering structures...)

ANYWAY. At 7:20 am, a lovely air-conditioned coach bus pulls up in front of our hotel and loaded us up. Along with snacks, towels, camera, binoculars, swimsuits, sunscreen, other words, two backpacks jammed to capacity. There were only about 5 other people on the bus and only the three of us got on at our hotel. We thought it would be a really nice trip with only 8 people. Wrong! We proceeded to stop at hotel after hotel and pick up one or two people here and three or four more there, until 2 hours had passed by and the bus was almost full to capacity! And we still weren't at our first destination! Okay, so the Mexicans stick to their own schedule, fine. But we didn't get to Coba until about 11:00 or later. Whew. Long morning on the bus. One nice thing was that our two tour guides were both Mayan, or of direct Mayan descent. They still lived in little Mayan villages, they knew all the history, they even spoke some of the Mayan dialect. We got quite the education along the way, which, happily, was part of why we wanted to go.

Anyway, fast forward - we're finally at Coba, it's a 2km hike through the jungle to get to the temple ruin and it's hot. Jonathan's doing well, so off we go. We stopped at a few lesser ruins along the way to listen to our tour guide, and then we finally made it to the base of the temple. Wow. It was big. And high. But this is what we came for, so up we went. We had no problem getting up there - 121 "steps" to the top - but some of them were more like a "step and a half". Jonathan and I scampered up, or rather, Jonathan scampered and I wondered how we were going to get back down. We finally reached the top - see the photo above, and notice the death grip I had on Jonathan's was scary! Trust me, you did not want to go tumbling down those steps. We spent a few minutes catching our breath and getting some pictures, then it was time to go back down. I'll spare the details - but thank God they had a rope you could hold onto. You can see it behind me in the second photo - it went all the way down to the ground. THAT'S how I got down, one hand on that, the other hand on Jonathan, taking the steps one at a time on our backsides. Jonathan was fine with it - "let go of my arm, Mommy!" and "Mommy, you're squeezing my arm too tight!" We'll just leave it at that.

Off the temple, then 2km back to the bus in the hottest part of the day - mostly shaded though through the jungle. We dashed back to the bus and arrived with only minutes to spare, hot and sweaty....only to have to wait 20 minutes for the last stragglers - c'mon, if the family with the 4 year old can make it back on time, where were you? Sigh.

Next stop? A Mayan cenote, or sinkhole. Except this sinkhole was in a cave, 60 steps (more steps!) down and about 70 degrees. But wow, was that refreshing. The Mayans say swimming in the cenotes makes you younger. 40 minutes in the water, and I definitely felt younger than I did an hour before! It was very neat - I had my mask and snorkel with me so I got to explore a bit. The waters were crystal clear and along the edges you could see where the cave walls went down and with side chambers - a scuba divers paradise. The guides said that many crystals and precious gems had been found in the formations. I looked, but didn't see anything.

Lunchtime! Finally! It was after 3 by the time we got to the Mayan "restaurant". It was an open-air place, with outdoor furniture for tables and chairs and serapes for tablecloths. They had a buffet-style lunch with authentic Mayan food - don't even know what half of it was, but it was good - a chicken dish, a beef dish and a pork dish, along with tortillas and rice and beans. Fabulous. I think we were all starving.

Back on the road - and our last stop - this time to Aktun Chen cave - a huge cave system with all the fun extras - fruit bats, low-hanging stalactites to crack your head on, more steps, and it's very own wise-cracking guide. They even had a jungle to walk through to get to the mouth of the cave, and the jungle was filled with things like mosquitoes, monkeys and jaguars - luckily we only saw the first two. They also had some "kept" animals - peccaries and deer and some beautiful peacocks.

We finally made it back to the hotel at about 9pm. Jonathan was asleep in my arms when I got off the bus and the in-laws were a little concerned - they expected us around 7. So did the tour agency! But all was well. It was a great day, packed with natural wonders and history, and Jonathan loved every minute, which, in the grand scheme of things, made it worth every penny!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Few Pics of Mexico...More Later

For that fun-loving good time in a foreign country, there's always the local tourist-trap restaurant. We found it - or maybe it found us. Pericos in downtown Cancun - translates to "Parrots". They have live entertainment, waitstaff that is constantly entertaining, and after you're done your meal, they drag you off to have your picture taken, see above.
Our particular waiter was fairly charming, always smiling, always fun, that is, until he threw a gigantic plastic cockroach in my lap. Picture this - you're in a restaurant, and all the sudden the crazy woman at the next table over stands up, screaming, throws her napkin and literally runs around the table trying to get away from the ickiest thing ever. Ahem. That would've been me. But it LOOKED real! Plus he had this contraption on a little string, so it was moving and he somehow dragged the string up my arm so it felt like it was running on my arm. Eeeesh. Still gives me willies as I'm writing about it. I guess I could forgive him as he kept bringing us our drinks balanced on his head - even the free round at the end of Pancho Willies? I think that's what they were called. Supposedly with vodka, gin, rum and tequila, but ours were complimentary, so pretty skimpy on the actual alcohol. But tableside (and still on the waiter's head), an assistant lit up a gravy ladle of vodka and poured flaming liquid into each one. FUN TIMES!
And then the picture - we probably wouldn't have bought it except for the cute little "bandito" in the middle....the 4 year old had a blast, and what 4 year old wouldn't have!? Mark, ever the sarcastic one commented that we must've had "TOURIST" stamped across our foreheads, but hey, it made for a pretty fun evening, especially for the kids. The live music was just kicking up when we left, so it was a fun show. One problem, though - the food wasn't all that!! Surprisingly, we kind of expected more authentic food, and I ordered fajitas, thinking I would really get a good, Mexican version of that dish. Sigh. Hate to admit it, I've had much better fajitas at Chevy's Fresh Mex here in the states. Too bad - won't be going there again!!
Anyway - more Mexico pictures later - I'm still trying to sort them out, and really, really disappointed in myself that we never got one of the view of the Caribbean Sea from our balcony! It was so beautiful - such beautiful blue colors! Oh time! :-)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Did I Say 5? Make That 6.

That would be emergency room visits. Seems like I just finished that other blog post - you know, the one about Matthew's nose "falling off." Well, fast forward a few days and we come to ER visit number 6.

For those of you more acquainted with our personal lives, you know that we just got back from Cancun. Hmmmm, maybe THAT's why I haven't posted in awhile! Nonetheless, we just got back yesterday from 6 days in Mexico, plus a few more days tacked on either end to get back and forth from the airport, and to drop Matthew off at Grandma and Poppy's house - he didn't go to Mexico with us - call us crazy, but taking this particular 2 1/2 year old on a plane is, trust me, nobody's idea of a good time.

Anyway, dropped Matthew off, then me, Mark and Jonathan headed down to DC to stay overnight in Crystal City by Reagan National Airport, where our flight left at 3:30pm the next day. That particular night happened to be Valentine's Day, so we took the metro, went out for a nice meal, then got Jonathan back to the hotel and we all got a great night's sleep, woke up ready to hit Cancun. Of course, we had a few hours to kill, first.

Did you know that underneath the hotel/airport district in Crystal City is an underground network of malls, hotel access, parking garages, restaurants and metro access? Well, you do now. And underneath the Marriott you can walk for miles and find just about everything you need, without once seeing the light of day. So that day, we went down there to grab some quick lunch for Jonathan (we were still stuffed from breakfast) and to buy some last minute stuff to cram in our carry-ons. Headed back to the hotel lobby to catch the shuttle to the airport and get there in plenty of time...when the unthinkable happened. Jonathan tripped and fell. Hard. On his head.

I'm still not really sure what happened, but he was a few steps ahead of us, doing his usual hop, skip, jump routine, and he must've gotten his feet tangled up. He managed to break his fall a little with his hands, but that didn't prevent his head coming into full contact with the cement floor. Took us a good 5 minutes to get him to stop screaming hysterically. Next, we saw a huge lump on the side of his forehead. Now when I say huge lump, I'm talking huge. Bigger than any lump I've ever seen on any kids' head, my own included. We're talking sticking out a 1/2 inch. Horrible.

Man. What to do? Get on the plane? What if he had a hairline fracture? What if he had any kind of swelling inside? What about hematoma? What if he started seizing or passed out at 40,000 feet? We were beside ourselves. And by now it was about 12:30. We needed to be at the airport SOON.

Long story short -- eventually, with the encouragement of the hotel staff, we called an ambulance to at least get a professional opinion. Unfortunately, the paramedics felt he should go to the hospital so off we went. I rode with Jonathan in the ambulance, while Mark got our car and followed. On the way, I made my appeal to the ambulance guys: please, oh please, is there any way we can make this really, really fast? Bless their hearts, they called ahead and put us in "expedite", and to make a really, really long story even shorter, we were in and out of there in half an hour.

Happily, nobody felt there was any reason why he shouldn't get on a plane, there was no fracture and it was only classed as a minor head injury. By now, though, it was 1:45. I dragged Jonathan through the ER doors, hopped in the car, got LOST on the way back to the hotel, but somehow got righted again, parked the car, threw ourselves into the airport shuttle, and made it through bag check and security with time to spare.

So to the staff at the Marriott Crystal City, the ambulance folks, and the staff at the Arlington Medical Center, thank you. Your hard work and diligence and respect of our time and schedules allowed us to make our plane and enjoy a wonderful vacation, worry-free. And Jonathan is fine - still pretty bruised even 8 days later, but no worse for wear. And if anything, the whole ordeal made me more cautious for the whole trip, which was probably a silver lining. And maybe, just maybe, Mr. Jonathan will learn a lesson or two about hopping around so much!!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

You Learn Something New Everyday...

Happens a lot at our or Mark will be sitting on the computer in the kitchen doing whatever, the kids are at the table either eating, playing with cars or drawing. So one day a few weeks ago, Jonathan had some paper and crayons, and announces he was going to draw a picture of a "dracula". A WHAT? I ask. A "dracula", Mommy, he says, you know, the largest vegetable in the world. I'm like HUH? And I said "What's a dracula?" Then he sighs, turns around with barely hidden disdain, and says very slowly: "Mommy, I said a JACK FRUIT." Okay, hmmmm, that cleared THAT up! What the heck is a jack fruit anyway? I decided to ask him, while simultaneously asking Wikipedia.

Well knock me over with a feather, the kid was right! Well, almost right. Technically, it's a fruit, not a vegetable, but I do think it is classed as the largest fruit in the world. Grows in Caribbean locales. I happen to glance at what Jonathan is drawing (from whatever memory he has) and it is strangely looking exactly like the picture on the computer which he hasn't seen. By now, I'm more than curious. "Jonathan. Did you learn about Jack fruit in school?" More disdain. "Nooooooo, idiot Mommy. I learned about jack fruit on Toot and Puddle."

AHA. Finally. Well, at least the television is good for something, right? And for those of you who are uninformed, Toot and Puddle is a show on Noggin that not even I knew about until just after Christmas. Maybe it's new, maybe it comes on during dinner hour when the tv is most definitely off. Or maybe it just slipped through my radar. The things you learn. Whether you want to or not!!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Here we have Matthew. Lovely, huh? Sigh. Short story...I was cleaning up the kitchen. I heard THUMP....WAAAHHHHHH! That's all I know. Jonathan was no where near him, niether was the dog. Blood was everywhere. Called the pediatrician, explained what it looked like, and got the ever-so-helpful "we don't even look at facial injuries, you have to take him to the ER". Heavier sigh. Okay, I get the part about how the lowly pediatrician doesn't want to make a call on whether a facial injury will need stitches, etc..., but can they at least LOOK at it? I asked the nurse that. She says - "Well, does it LOOK like it needs stitches?" What I wanted to say was "HOW SHOULD I KNOW, I'M NOT A DOCTOR, MORON!!" Isn't that why I called in the first place? So off to the ER we go.
Fortunately, the ER was practically empty at 2pm on a Wednesday. Unfortunately, the one other person who was there, and who was directly ahead of us was puking her guts out. Great. I got out the wipes. Meanwhile, Jonathan is talking non-stop, and Matthew, despite blood still trickling is running wild. After an hour and a half of waiting, seeing triage, waiting, going to registration, waiting some more, wipes still out, getting put into a room, waiting, more wipes, boys rolling on the floor, more wipes, more wipes, more wipes, we finally see a doctor.
No stitches necessary, he says. But that "flap" of skin will probably turn black and fall off. Yummy. Home we go, with some antibiotic ointment to keep germs out. Yeah, right.
Once we're home, Jonathan is acting strange. First, he sets up a barrier between him and Matthew at the dinner table, telling us he doesn't want to look at Matthew. Next, he refuses to get into the tub with him. Meanwhile, he is absurdly curious about how his wound is progressing, checking it every once in awhile to see how it's doing. A little odd. It was a week before I found out why.
Eventually, Matthew's wound scabbed over and although it never really turned black and fell off, he did lose the scab, so I guess that sort of counts. And he has a little scar, but it it well camoflaged next to his nose, so it could've been a lot worse. Apparently. Jonathan tells me one day that the "doctor was wrong, Mommy." I'm like, "What doctor?" He tells me "Matthew's doctor. Matthew's doctor said his nose was going to turn black and fall off."
Ahhhhh, like puzzle pieces falling into place - THAT'S why he didn't want to look at Matthew or get into the tub with him - I guess I wouldn't have wanted to either if I thought his nose was going to turn black and fall off!!! Poor kid. Next time, I leave Jonathan with his daddy or a friend when I take Matthew to the ER.....because I know there'll be a next time. Despite being really careful with these guys, this was our fifth ER visit with the boys. May it always be so minor....
And happily, we didn't wind up getting whatever puking-woman had. Thank you, wipe manufacturers. I owe you one.