Seeing More than Doing, Driving Up the Coast of Texas

After a girls day in Mexico, we were ready to cool off along the South Padre coast. Perfectly along this drive between my friend Jenna’s home and the beach, was a National Park site (almost like we planned it, huh). The Palo Alto Battlefield was about to close, but we made it just in time.

As you probably know by now, I’m not super into the battlefields on my National Park stamp collection journey. But it was interesting to see the big light up map of the different borders of Texas being fought for. This Palo Alto battle was a vital event during the Mexican-American War and helped determine what would be Texas (and America) by the end. The battlefield itself was just a big field.

After this quick little stop we finally headed to the beach! It was getting late in the evening, but the sun was still out and the water felt great. Jenna and I swam for a bit, played in the sand, and had a great time people-watching. We stayed out enjoying the beach (my first to play in since a year ago in Belize!) until the sun started to set.

When it was time to head home, we made one quick stop for my favorite – ice cream! In Port Isabel, just over the bridge, there was a little square full of shops and an ice cream shop called Davy Jones’ Ice Cream Locker. I got the cookies and cream and it was the perfect cold treat after a day in the sun.

We picked up Mexican dinner on the way back to Jenna’s home and tried to find the effort to explore some nightlife. But after a full order of delicious nachos and the busy day in Mexico and the beach, we threw on a dumb Netflix movie and crashed early.

Having a lot of driving ahead of us, we got up early the next morning to get a good start. We drove along the eastern Texas border to the Padre Island National Seashore. After all the sun the day before, the rain surprised us by starting right around when we arrived.

It was a gloomy, cloudy midday at the National Park site, but there was so much natural landscape it was beautiful. The rain kept the crowds away and we got to check out the visitor center with a really cool turtle hatching exhibit. We got some shots of the vast coast around us and then decided we were done being rained on. We got back in the car for even more driving.

Rain is not fun for road trips, but we were driving through the wooded area of Texas. The two-lane roads were mostly empty so even though the weather wasn’t great, it was still a nice drive from the coast to the bayous along the Louisiana border. As usual on some of these trips to National Parks we lost GPS signal a bit, not even realizing we were in the middle of Big Thicket while looking for the entrance.

The Big Thicket National Preserve hosts nine different ecosystems that you can explore by foot and by water. Unfortunately, the rain had been steady all day and kept it up all through our time there. We’d planned for a fun hike on this trip, but the weather denied us some time to stretch our legs. As we’d become accustomed to on this final Texas National Park trip, we headed to the visitor center to learn what we could.

The coolest display was all about the pitcher plant, one of the four carnivorous plants found in Big Thicket. I’d never thought much of these kinds of plants besides the infamous Venus fly trap, but learning how they trapped ants and insects was morbidly cool.

We checked out all the displays on all the differing types of nature in this site, and then headed outside to check out the rocking chairs. To be honest, driving all that way and learning so much interesting stuff had us kind of bummed to be heading home without getting a chance to explore for ourselves. This will definitely be one of the trips I’ll have to make again, next time with clearer skies hopefully!

Another Country in Your Backyard; a Few Hours in Mexico

With only a few more National Park sites left to visit in Texas, it was time for a weekend road trip. All three sites were along the southern east edge of my home state, two being very close to my friend Jenna’s hometown. So it was a perfect time to visit the house where Jenna grew up (in the plains with big homes next to goats!)- and just over her town’s bridge you could walk to Mexico!

We left Thursday right after work and began our drive straight down the lone star state. Even though by this point I’ve driven every direction out from Dallas, it’s still crazy to me how many hours you can spend driving and still be in Texas. We made it to Weslaco after about eight hours, marking my first time in the deep south of Texas!

After what was a pretty leisurely morning sleeping in on our first day of the trip, we got up and got ready to head to another country. Jenna’s mom came with us, so we were ready to have a carefree girl’s day, but excitingly in Mexico (Nuevo Progresso to be specific)! We crossed the bridge over the Rio Grande, paid a fifty cent toll, walked by one security guard and then we were officially traveling internationally.

Immediately we were engulfed in the crowd with sidewalk shops on either side. There were a ton of booths with souvenirs, brightly colored embroidered tops, and freshly roasted nuts and candies. Even though I had just been in Mexico a couple weeks before, the vendors were different in their eagerness. Luckily, we moved fast to our first destination: getting a good, cheap piña colada.

After that, it was time to head across the packed street for pedicures. We were doing this girls day perfectly! And of course after fruity alcohol, freshly painted toenails, the last thing missing was a bit of shopping! I found some really cute and colorful woven shoes and then while Jenna’s mom was looking at festive embroidered shirts, Jenna and I bought some fun flower crowns, because why not?

We all grabbed lunch on the side of the street, next to a big outdoor grill; I had a papa asada, which is a baked potato filled with cheese – did they read my childhood diary on what I’ve always been searching for?? By this time, I was pretty hot and sweaty, so we decided it was the perfect time to head back over the border and to the nearby coast to cool off!

Crossing back into America was a bit nerve racking because, believe it or not, I hadn’t taken my passport and the guard gave me a bit of a (teasingly?) rough time. Jenna had assured me she’d never had a passport doing this bridge walk, but I had meant to bring mine just in case. It all turned out alright, and soon I was on my way to the beach in South Padre!

Almost Left in Mexico (Because of a Backpack)

If you’ve ever flown Spirit Airlines you know they charge for every little thing, including a carry-on. Because my trip to Mexico would only be 48 hours, I was sure I could fit everything I needed into a little backpack approved by the airlines as a “personal item.” What made this idea even better was that I already had a little day hike bag on order that would perfectly fit the dimensions allowed.

Of course, this bag that would be perfect for both my California and Tulum trip (back-to-back weekends) showed up exactly one day after my flight had me due back home. In a last minute scramble for a small backpack that wouldn’t be a total waste, I went for a cute cheap one that cost me only eleven bucks.

I was so proud of fitting an additional day’s swimwear and outfit in this little bag! I’m pretty good at packing light, mostly because I can plan what I will wear for every thing planned in my itinerary. Knowing what I will need and be wearing makes it a whole lot easier to pack. Then with any leftover room, I’ll throw in an “option” outfit. Plus, I’ve been doing the “army roll” packing technique since I was twelve.

Unfortunately, even though I’d planned outfits perfectly, my cheapness would come back to haunt me (doesn’t it always?) and my zipper would be giving me trouble the first hour after landing. It just wouldn’t work right with everything I’d crammed in! So after less than twenty-four hours of struggling (even though I’d perfected the departure flight), my backpack was broke and I was traveling around Mexico holding my bag flaps together.

I spent a lot of my last night in Playa del Carmen scouring souvenir shops for a bag that would fit the Spirit requirements, wasn’t too expensive (like the gorgeous embroidered leather backpacks I kept seeing but knew I was too poor for), and would be something I could keep using even after returning home. Finally, I found a cute cotton tote that would be perfect for my light grocery shopping when I made it back home. I cleaned out my bag, only had to lose one swimsuit cover-up that just wouldn’t fit, and thought all would be well on the flight back.

Unfortunately, it would be this clean-out and not the new bag that would cause me to almost be left in Mexico. Ai yi yi.

Tracy and I, both being Type A, had gotten to the airport three hours early after dropping off the rental car. We wanted no stress of rushing through the airport, dealing with any customs stuff, and finding our yet unnamed gate. Even after the unnecessary line at the “one” Spirit ticket kiosk, we still had time to explore the airport shops and have a sit-down meal at the airport Margaritaville. We were living a very relaxed airport life. Then it was time to board and right as they were asking for my boarding pass it was mentioned that I also needed the customs form that hadn’t been needed since landing in Mexico two days earlier. Even as I dumped my new bag out, I clearly remembered disposing (carefully, I might add) of that little slip of paper that hadn’t seemed at all important at the time.

I would not be allowed on the plane without it and there was only twenty or so people left to board before take off. I was freaking out. I got instructions from the flight attendant twice on where I had to go to get a replacement. Tracy handed me two 20 dollar bills quickly – because of course they would only take cash – and then I began to run through the airport. My destination was outside of security and by now it was midday so those lines were long, very long. I ran to the side where it looked to be a handicap access area and said, “I’m getting a new customs form. I’m coming right back through here.”

Without waiting for approval, I ran out to the main entrance of the Cancun Airport. I got a new customs form (thankfully I’d brought along my passport with my wallet – my bag was with Tracy back at the boarding line). And then ran back to the security checkpoint. The lines were so long it looked like it would take me at least half an hour to get through – but no, I ran back to the side line and rushed back under the handicap sign. I nodded to the woman who I’d spoken to without waiting for confirmation, threw my stuff on the conveyor belt, and ran back through the duty-free shops. At the gate, it was just Tracy and the flight attendant left, the later giving me a surprised, “Oh, you made it.” So some people don’t make it?!

After wasting more time by checking all my stuff, dangerous chemical test swabs and a pat down, they finally let me on the plane. Tracy was a trooper for waiting; I would’ve hated if she got stuck in Mexico because of me! We could somewhat laugh about it after taking our seats, but mostly my heart was still pumping and I couldn’t yet appreciate crossing a new experience off my bucket list – running through an airport.

Pamper VS Play in Playa del Carmen

Yet again, checking into our next Airbnb in Mexico would turn out to be rough. Tracy and I had moved on to Playa del Carmen for our last night, wanting to be closer to Cancun where we would fly out in the morning. Even though it was a pain to find, once we did we realized we found our second paradise! Not only did it come with a “hot tub” and a freaking rope swing(!), we got beach access passes as well.

With less than two hours to head to the beach, we quickly changed and walked over to the Martina Beach Club. It was pretty dead for a Saturday, but because of this off-season lull, we got our passes upgraded to full access to the pool area. The ocean had a lot of seaweed washing up, so after ordering a fun drink we mosied on over to the pool to cool off.

To be honest, this private beach club access wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The pool music was so loud and no one was swimming (lots of kissing and picture taking instead) and the beach area was full of basically naked butts sunbathing. Still, I did have a fruity drink with some star fruit!

After a bit of drying off and a quick outfit change, we headed out to explore some of the night life of Playa del Carmen. We were pretty close to one of the main strips, which was several blocks full of trendy restaurants and souvenir shops. Since we were nearing the end of our weekend, we were rationing out our remaining Pesos, trying to strategically plan it so we didn’t have any remaining.

After a bit of souvenir shopping where Tracy scored a cute blanket and I got a new bag (more on that next time), we had enough to try some local brews. After finding a little bar with local drafts on tap, Tracy got a beer recommended by a friendly fellow and I opted for a La Paloma instead. We were both very pleased with our choices – and especially loved finding the cute trendy bar!

We were having such a chill last night, we even ended up hoping one spot over to grab dinner. They had massive margaritas and great food. It was nice to just sit out on the patio and watch the other tourists walk down the busy street. It was such an easy-going, relaxing time, we decided since we had spent basically all of our money (with just enough leftover to buy a coffee in the morning) we would just head back to our Airbnb and continue taking it easy.

We inspected the “hot tub,” which was really just a free standing bath tub that didn’t even really run hot (haha). Luckily, we’d spent the whole weekend being hot so having a lukewarm foot soak was still fine by us! Tracy had brought a couple of face masks and we had just enough tequila for one last drink. It was truly a perfect night of pampering!

I usually never do this kind of relaxation – a lot of my time is spent go, go, go – especially when I’m traveling. But I’d been treating this Mexico trip as a true vacation and it had been so different. There was little to no stress, I did whatever I wanted without a time crunch, and I was just able to enjoy my time catching up with Tracy. It was such a good time!

Seeking that “Number One Tourist Trap” in Tulum

After a night of just drinking and exploring the souvenir shops, it was time to get up early and hit the tourist spots. The main attraction in Tulum is the Tulum ruins, which is the site of old Mayan temples and buildings. As you may know, I’m not super into ruins, but these ranked number one on almost every Tulum tourism list.

Originally, I had dreams of biking here, but it was hot and Tracy and I were definitely a bit hungover, so driving it would be. We got there early to try and beat the heat (it only helped a little) and got in without a tour guide. I’d been told we’d want a tour guide for this excursion, but getting in and speed walking around on our own was so much better. The buildings were still very in tact, so I could see the appeal, but mostly they were cool because of the nature landscape around them. These ruins were right up next to the ocean!

From there, it was time to chase my dream Tulum experience. After doing so much research through other travel bloggers there were two things I wanted. The first was breakfast at Nomade, where I could get pancakes made in front of me on a private stovetop. I’d seen a picture of this and was so excited for the experience of an individual hot plate with great looking decor.

We found Nomade and got in, but it turned out the breakfast looked to be for guests only. So after walking the eating area awkwardly, we led ourselves right back out the way we came. Tracy and I were so hungry at this point anything sounded good, so we went to a nearby restaurant called Canopia. We each ordered a delicious, brightly colored smoothie and awaited our meals. Tracy wasn’t super into her meal, but I was about to have the best breakfast ever. Sure, it wasn’t pancakes cooked in front of me, but little goat cheese toasts with a fried egg satisfied me way more.

The second “dream” of Tulum was having a drink on a rope walkway overlooking the “jungle” of Tulum. After our breakfast, I was excited knowing this was number one on my own list and essentially was what I came to Tulum for. We found the hotel Azulik, which housed this spectacular bar, only to find it wouldn’t open for another five hours! Complete fail. I was pretty disappointed of course. After so many travel fails in the previous year due to when a place opens and closes, this was the one that cemented the lesson for me. Places all over have weird business hours – look them up, Alicia!

However, I didn’t want this to get me down. I started processing the logistics and to make this bar work, we’d would’ve had to have gone the night before. Which would mean giving up the amazing night we had. And that would’ve been a gamble I don’t think I’d make, even if it meant getting to lay on suspended ropes over the jungle drinking a margarita. Because exploring our own little piece of Tulum was so much better! Walking the couple of blocks within our Airbnb and discovering hidden gems on our own was such a blast! You don’t always win by following someone else’s travel plan, doing the typical tourist thing, and sticking to what others recommend. You never know what will end up being our own personal “number one” on a trip.

Let me also say that the tourist tips do get a thing right now and again; at the top of several lists was the Grand Cenote. A cenote (because yes, I also had to google the word) is a pit or sinkhole that exposes the natural water underneath. Basically, these holes lead to long underground tunnels of freshwater that is perfect for swimming and exploring. In my research, I didn’t realize how fun it would be! This would be our last stop in Tulum and I’m glad we went for it.

Neither Tracy nor me had it high on the must-see list, but after checking it out, I wish we’d had time to go to the other ones! It was the perfect treat to get out of the heat. Also, being able to swim with little fishes, near turtles, and under bats in the cave above was incredible! After our swim, we dried off in a relaxing hammock. It was the perfect goodbye to the juxtaposition of excitement and relaxation Tulum had been for us.

Tequila + Tulum = No Worries

Since last minute getting my passport last year, I made it my goal to travel outside of the US at least once a year. I started getting nervous because I didn’t have an international trip planned and I think this realization spurred my sudden obsession with going to Tulum. I’d read a blog about some great places in Tulum and the more research I did, the more I saw how affordable a weekend getaway to Mexico would be!

I started asking a couple of my best friends who’d be interested in randomly heading to Mexico. Tracy, who like me usually prefers a structured plan, was down! So one Friday on a bit of a whim, we booked our round trip flight. It was the first time I’d booked flights without a real plan – it was so exciting! And then pretty much immediately terrifying. I decided this kind of trip was just what I needed. Something a little scary, a little unstructured, and a lot of fun!

By the time we were thousands of feet in the air with drinks in our hand (we had to splurge a little), we pretty much had a rental car, two nifty Airbnbs booked, and a lackadaisical list of stuff we’d like to try. For me, this weekend was all about the somewhat scary excitement for international travel but also having an easy good time.

We landed, picked up our rental car, and then it was time to drive down a Mexican highway to Tulum. After my obsessive look into different aspects of Tulum, it was hard to believe I was finally doing it! The whole time Tracy and I couldn’t believe we’d booked this random trip for a quick weekend getaway in the middle of our regularly scheduled lives.

After reaching Tulum with no hiccups, we stopped at a grocery store to pick up some tequila. We searched for a long time looking for salsa (of all things to be hard to find) and then were ready for drinks and snacks back at our home for the night. Our next task would be to find it.

There’s no real addresses in Mexico, so our Airbnb gave us a nearby intersection and one picture of the outside door. Not going to lie, it took a lot of circling around on one-way streets until finally we found it. Once there though, it was awesome! A little hidden bungalow loft in the middle of downtown Tulum nightlife.

After a drink (maybe two) we headed out to explore. We grabbed dinner and made a furry friend. Stray dogs were pretty common and very low key, just coming up and plopping nearby to where people sat. We had one sit near us while ordering drinks and having quesadillas. (In Mexico, these were actually just a small flour tortilla with some melted cheese – haha!)

We spent some time walking around, ordering more drinks, shopping the souvenir stores along the main strip, and ended up finding another restaurant with actual swings along the bar! It was so relaxing. Not having a real plan, we went back to our Airbnb, cooled down and made ourselves another drink. After hanging for a bit, wondering if we should settle in for the night we realized we could see some of the bars from our balcony and decided – heck, why not? – and headed back out for more drinks.

It was so easy-going! It was such a fun time to just walk around, try new things, listen to the live music, and chat. We ended up at a pretty cool dance bar, hoping the drinks would be enough to give us some liquid courage, but by that point we were too hot and tired. If it sounds like all we did that first night was walk around and drink – you’re exactly right.

Our first night was the perfect start to a stress-free weekend getaway!

Blogiversary: Two Sides of the Gemini

This blog is one year old today!! So I don’t truly believe in horoscopes, but sometimes it’s fun to look at them after the day has passed. I officially started this blog on this date, exactly a year ago. Before taking time to think about how far I’ve come (a lot!), I wanted to share my horoscope of that -this- day, 2017.

“A critical turning point arrives in your life today via the full moon in Pisces, dear Gemini. You need to find a better balance between your personal and your public lives.”

How funny, as a pretty private person, that day would be the one I would start sharing my journey on the internet. So why did I start a blog? Mainly because I love writing, always have. Secondly because I was excited to be actively pursuing adventure instead of just dreaming about it.

Once I started traveling and having new experiences, I realized how easy it is to do! If you make it a priority, if you chase your interests, it’ll happen. So now not only do I hold myself accountable by blogging twice weekly, I try to encourage readers to get out and and explore also! Sometimes it seems we’re just afraid to take that first step.

I’ve started my mission to collect all of the National Parks stamps – I’ll even be done with the entire Southwest Region by the end of this year!

I made it my mission to travel internationally at least once a year – after booking impromptu trips this and the previous summer to Belize and Tulum, respectively.

I made it a goal to be a tourist in my hometown, Dallas, so I could experience all the hot spots as well as find new local things to do.

I’ve prioritized hiking, by trying to make it to every trail and park in my area. I wanted to prove to myself I could find amazing nature in the backyard of a big city.

And finally, I’ve strived to say yes more and more. When a friend invites me to a sage-making class, when my dad invites me to learn a new sport – I go!

So yeah, I’ve shared a lot with all of you. On my Instagram, I try to post daily to keep myself active in adventure. But I’m still pretty private, and that’s good. I’m very protective of my relationship, I try not to be too obnoxious with picture-taking, and I totally understand when a friend doesn’t want to be mentioned in a blog.

I’ve learned a lot about balancing! For me that mainly means pursuing what makes me happy and being so, so grateful for everyone in my life. It would’ve been much harder on this journey alone (i.e. impossible). So thanks everyone for a fantastic, unimaginable first year!