Glutton for Punishment: Mazapan

Mar 31, 2008

Ok- as Ms. Fned and Ms. MarsBattyAngel suggested, I found my way to the food store and picked up a package of Mazapan.

On first inspection I thought, "Mmmmmm cacahuates!" Not only is that one of my favorite words to say in Spanish, but it's also the one that means "Peanut," or "food of the gods," if you will. We can't keep peanut butter in the house because I tend to eat it on everything: celery, carrots, apples, spoons, fingers.

These little, sweet delicacies are made from cacahuates, so you might think they'd be sort of oily, like the center of a Reese's Cup. Nope. When you open them you have to be careful because they can turn into a powder that spills everywhere. I can imagine Mexican parents telling their kids, "Ok, I'll buy you the Mazapan, but you can't eat it in the car!"

The consistency is almost solid, but sort of powdery. The flavor is confectioners sugar with a hint of peanut. They remind me of the interior of one of those Buckeyes- the peanut butter balls they make and dip in chocolate... I think they're from Ohio, the Buckeye state.

I actually thought that the mazapan wasn't that bad. A little sweet, but not bad at all. In fact, if they were coated in chocolate, yummola!

This is fun... of course, now I have to head to the Oxxo for Doraditas now that Mexico Way recommended them! Somehow I see myself gaining weight this week... hmmmm...

Time for some Mazapan!

The Anatomy of a Bubu Lubu

Mar 29, 2008

The other day we were in traffic behind the Bubu Lubu truck and had plenty of time to analyze the Bubu Lubu mascot and speculate on what exactly a Bubu Lubu was. We determined that despite the fact that the truck did not appear to be refrigerated, Bubu Lubus must be some sort of ice cream bar. Why, you might ask? Well, today I was at the Mega and I saw one while I was waiting to check out, so I had to buy it.

Behold, the Bubu Lubu dude.

He's clearly wearing gloves and a scarf. He also appears to be made of snow, right? And his hair do is sort of avalanche-ish? Right? But seriously, he's wearing glove and a scarf!

It's not ice cream, despite the deceptive packaging. It's actually a chocolate bar, or in this case, a pair of chocolate bars.

On the side of the truck it looked like they were vanilla ice cream with a layer of strawberry sauce and then coated in chocolate. Behold the actual Bubu Lubu interior:

If I was a nice blogger I would have gotten out the nice camera with the macro lens so that the Bubu Lubus would be in focus rather than the background, but I'm not nice. Anyway, Bubu Lubus are actually a sickeningly sweet combination of marshmallow and strawberry jam coated with chocolate. Hans and I split one with Chico eating the remaining bite and we had to toss out the second one. They're seriously too sweet for adults.

However, this was the closest I came to even seeing a Peep this Easter. They don't do the commercialized Easter Bunny thing here... refreshing!

Finally a Full Cave Diver!

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I was tied up the first four days of this week completing my IANTD Full Cave Diving class with Steve Bogaerts.

A couple years ago I completed my Cavern Diving and Intro to Cave Diving certifications through the NACD with Michael O'Leary. I did both of those certifications in Florida (another part of the world with lots of water-filled caves underground). I thought the class was interesting and taught me a lot about safety and good diving technique, but I wasn't wild about the caves in Florida. They're smaller, tend to have a decent amount of water actually flowing in them (so it's a little more challenging to swim against), and they were never dry caves, so there aren't any stalactites or stalagmites to see.

The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is one of the best places in the world for cave diving. Some several thousand years ago, when the oceans were lower, the caves here were dry and developed beautiful formations like the ones seen in dry caves today. When the sea level rose, the caves filled with water.

One of the main reasons we moved here was so that Hans could dive in the caves. Luckily, I find the caves here really beautiful and some of them are really large (Florida's caves can be fairly small). Since we've been here I've gone cave diving once or twice a week with Hans and I've started to become a little more comfortable with the procedures for cave diving. We were conservative, following the rules regarding my limitations as an Intro to Cave diver- we used only 1/6 of the air in our tanks, didn't make any navigational decisions and didn't go through any restrictions. After a few months, not being able to dive on 1/3 of my gas and not being able to make any turns or jumps in the caves started to become a pain in the butt. So I signed up for a Full Cave class with Steve Bogaerts (one of the best instructors in the world- in my opinion).

The first day of class was spent reviewing my gear and how I had my harness set up and practicing skills in the open water. We practiced various propulsion techniques (or kicks, if you will) and did various zero visibility exercises (eyes closed, simulating a silt out or total light failure). Steve laid a convoluted course with the reel in the Cenote at Ponderosa (Cenote El Jardin del Eden) and we had to follow along it sharing air and with no visibility. We then took these skills into the cave and did a simple dive at Ponderosa that involved lights out, air sharing on the way back out. At some point along this dive I flooded my Sunto Mosquito dive computer, so that meant that I had to complete the rest of the class with just a bottom timer and watch. (The Mosquito will now cost me about $300 US to replace. ugh)

The second day of class we met at Taj Mahal and went over the theory behind navigation, when to place personal directional markers and personal non-directional markers on the line to help you when you exit. Then we did a couple dives at Taj Mahal that involved making simple navigational decisions. We also had to exit lights out, sharing air and following our navigational decisions.

The third day of class we met at Minatauro, a smaller cave that has lots of restrictions (places that force you to travel single file). I really love Minatauro. It's a seriously beautiful cave. Some caves are so big that your flashlight can't illuminate the edge of the room you're in. Minatauro is the opposite.

Anyway, Minatauro has a circuit, so we went over the theory behind how you do a circuit safely and then we put it into practice. Our first dive we headed to the double line arrows and made a jump to the left and continued on until we reached our time limit and placed a personal non-directional marker (cookie) on the line. This marked how far we got along the line from one direction.

On the second dive we stayed straight at the double line arrows and continued along the line until we ran into our cookie from the first dive. Based on our time and gas consumption limits, we were able to determine that we had enough time and air to continue along the circuit. So we picked up our cookie and followed the line out, taking up our jump reel when we got to the place we had jumped left on the first dive. Very cool.

On the fourth day we went to Sistema Najaron at Cenote Cristal, south of Tulum. The caves south of Tulum are very different from the ones north of Tulum. This particular system is fed by a swampy area, so lots of Tannic Acid (the weak acid that is formed by decaying plant materials) floats in the water and stains all the formations (and even the line in places) black. It is very psychologically challenging compared to white caves. In a white cave the light bounces around off the walls and makes the whole place glow. In Najaron, the black walls just suck the light up. It's VERY dark.

At Najaron we practiced complex navigation with the added element of depth and decompression. The whole system is fairly deep there, so we were able to do shorter dives (which was good because cave water ain't warm). We carried tables with us so we could re-calculate our decompression obligation if our dive plan changed. Luckily for us on both dives it did change, and changed in our favor, so we had to spend less time decompressing at 10 feet than we had planned to in our original dive plan.

On the second dive I had to do a lost line drill. Steve had me close my eyes and shut off my primary light. He then led me off the line and placed my hand on a rock for me to begin the drill. He had given me 15 minutes to find the line again in the darkness, because if I had really lost the line I would be on a time limit as well. I tied off to the rock he had positioned me on with my safety reel and then did a secondary tie off to establish my starting position and I headed off in one direction looking for the line. After a little while I wasn't able to find the line so I headed back to my starting point and picked another direction to head in. This time I did find the line and I clipped my spool to the line in the direction I thought was out and began exiting. Steve patted me on the head to signal the exercise was over and it turns out I was on the line and headed in the right direction, but it had taken me 10 minutes to find the line.

All in all, the class was VERY good. I'm really glad I took it with Steve, too. I had to wait a little longer than I would have if I chose to take it with another instructor (because Steve is really busy) and I paid more, but the instruction was top notch. He manages to give you constructive criticism while also reinforcing what you did right, so you don't leave feeling like you're an idiot or you'll never be able to do whatever he asked you to do. Hans said he also raises the level of the class so it corresponds with your ability level (he took Steve's Side Mount class, too) and only teaches you what you can handle, so since I was already ok with cave diving he focused on technique and smaller details.

I have taken dive classes before with instructors who have a passion for teaching, but not diving and I have determined that it is imperative to learn from someone who has experience diving using the techniques they are teaching. Steve has been living in Mexico for something like 9 years and has been diving since he arrived. He was already a diving instructor before he left the UK, so he picked up teaching cave classes shortly after he arrived. But not only is he a good teacher, he is also a cave explorer and has gone on various surveying expeditions. In fact, the day before class started he had been bushwhacking his way through the jungle looking for new cenotes.

Hans had issues with his primary light to no end, which I'm sure he will document on his blog, but suffice it to say, Dive Right HID lights suck.

Now, with all this new diving under my belt... I'm going to the beach!

More Coming Soon

Mar 25, 2008

I've been unbelievably busy this week. I'm taking another diving course which has me tied up (you have no idea how literal that is, lol) at the Cenotes from 9-6 everyday from Mon-Thurs, then I've been coming home and working on the big work project I have launching at the end of the week. Then I have to review the dive stuff because there's a test. So, basically, I probably won't be updating this again until Friday or Saturday. Now, I'm off to grab some grub, I'm starving! Ciao.

Dear Gargantuan Mexican Cockroach,

Mar 21, 2008

I understand that you're just trying to do what's best for you: find food and reproduce before your short life is over. That's cool, I can respect that, I mean we're all here doing the best we can. The thing is, could you just try to do your "thing" on the floor? Or better yet, in my neighbor's apartment? See, when you decide that you want to forage (let's hope you weren't looking to reproduce) in my utensils drawer in the kitchen, well, it makes a lot of work for me. When you're in there, it prompts me to wash all the contents of the drawer and the drawer itself. It also makes me want to throw up. I hope we can see eye to eye on this one.


My apologies if your funeral wasn't as ceremonious as you thought it should be.

Point of Priviledge

Mar 18, 2008

I saw this meme at a random blog I ran across while doing a Google search. I liked it, so I'm going to do it and, just because I'm mean like that, I'm going to tag some fellow blogging companions to do it, too!

The premise is that you "bold" all the statements that are true. The more bold lines one has, the more privileged one's formative years were.

Please note: The list is based on an exercise developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. The exercise developers ask that if you participate in this blog game, you acknowledge their copyright.


Father went to college

Father finished college

Mother went to college

Mother finished college

Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor - my mom was a professor, if that counts.

Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers (I think they mean social class)

Had more than 50 books in your childhood home

Had more than 500 books in your childhood home - it's quite possible and we certainly had at least 200. My mom is a full blown book addict with no sign of hitting bottom or seeking recovery ;)

Were read children’s books by a parent

Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18

Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18 - piano, guitar, gymnastics, swimming, tennis

The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively

Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18

Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs

Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs

Went to a private high school

Went to summer camp - I even worked at a summer camp when I was 15 because I liked it so much

Had a private tutor before you turned 18 - uh, how do you think I passed Geometry? For some reason, trig was easy in college, so I guess she worked.

Family vacations involved staying at hotels

Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18 - Much of it was new, but I wore a lot of my big sister's stuff, too.

Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them - they weren't new or luxurious, but they weren't hand-me-downs either.

There was original art in your house when you were a child - We had a couple of my uncle's paintings and lots of artwork made by my sister and I.

Had a phone in your room before you turned 18

You and your family lived in a single family house

Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home

You had your own room as a child

Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course

Had your own TV in your room in High School - No, and my kids will not have TVs in their rooms either.

Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College - that's what paid for my college

Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16 - we went to New York a bunch of times and Utah and Colorado and Mexico...

Went on a cruise with your family - on a small cruise ship to the Great Barrier Reef

Went on more than one cruise with your family

Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up - They still do when I go home to visit!

You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

So that's it! It's sort of a cool meme. I am going to tag 4 bloggers and I suggest they do the same. I'm tagging: Cancun Canuck, Fned, Just Married Chilean Style, andAnna.

New Ride!

I got this awesome new ride on Saturday! Now I can get to the gym in about 10 minutes without being totally drenched in sweat. And, if you're in my way I can ring my bell at you!

We had a nice weekend. On Saturday we ran errands and got the bikes. On Sunday we went diving at Grand Cenote and Carwash Cenote. I totally reworked my harness and changed out my backup lights, so it was an eventful morning of reconfiguring gear.

I have been working like a mad woman on a project for work lately, so I haven't been doing much aside from working, unfortunately. The project should launch at the end of the month and maybe then I can get back to my regularly scheduled sun bathing.

This is Semana Santa for Mexicans, so there are lots of Mexicans here on vacation (adding to the, literally, hoards of Americans that have descended on Playa). It's funny, one of the reasons we chose Playa was because there were more Europeans, so a more international feel (and it's closer to the caves), but right now we're being inundated with Americans! Just going to dinner is an event that can take twice as long as usual as the waiters are all swamped.

We had discussed going to see the show at CocoBongo in Cancun, but apparently this is not the week to do it! My Spanish teacher said that when she was growing up in Cancun she wasn't allowed to go into town during Spring Break because there were people walking naked in the streets (at least according to her mom and I have no intention of heading up there to find out)!

In other non-news, I started taking Yoga classes with Ellen DeJong. Holy crap, that lady kicks your ass in that class (but I love it)! I've been really digging going for a run on the treadmill followed by a kick ass yoga class that makes you sweat like you're in a sauna! Ahhh, the spiritual bliss of being stretchy...

And finally, Hans started a blog to chronicle his diving adventures.

Update on my Quest for Fluency

Mar 12, 2008

A few days ago I got supremely frustrated about my Spanish level. I have to confess that I had this expectation that I would arrive on Mexican soil and within a couple months I would be speaking like a native. This is in part because I have been studying it since I was 7 and had attained an intermediate/advanced level before leaving but also because I had several Spanish teachers and tutors tell me that I only needed a few weeks of immersion and I'd be speaking fluently.

Notice I said "immersion." Well, after two months I find that I still have to pause and think about what I want to say sometimes, or I have to actively think about verb tense and conjugation, when to use subjunctive, etc.

It all sort of came crashing down on me the other night when I realized that things weren't going to go as I had "planned." See, I speak in English all day with my hubby, work in English, often hang out with friends in English, etc. I'm not immersed, but my expectation was still there. When I have to switch to Spanish sometimes my mind just can't make the switch.

So, as any healthy person would, I decided to share how I was feeling with a friend.

Last night I spent two hours talking about how I was feeling about my Spanish level and various other things (as well as listening) in Spanish. I have to say that I'm starting to feel a little better about it. I was being really hard on myself- I've been here 2 months- I mean, lighten up! Plus, I think sometimes it just takes me a few minutes to "warm up" to where I can speak at speed and with reasonable accuracy, although I still second guess myself.

Sometimes I second guess myself when I am actually saying it right all along and it can be sort of silly. For instance, last night I was telling my friend she had to tell this guy she's dating how she's feeling and I said something like, "If you haven't told him, he can't know" then I second guessed my grammar and repeated "You haven't told him, no?" as a question. She answered "No, I haven't told him." LOL. She didn't know I was checking my grammar.

I also bought a copy of Paulo Cohelo's The Alchemist in Spanish so I can at least spend my spare time practicing. I'll get there...

Fun with Clippers!

Mar 10, 2008

Cancun: No Country for Sissies!

Mar 8, 2008

Yesterday I made a quick trip to Cancun with my pal Sofia because her computer was at the service center and we both needed a little retail therapy. We hopped on the ADO bus in Playa and a very air conditioned hour later we were in Cancun at the ADO station near Plaza las Americas.

If you have an Apple computer and something goes wrong with it you have three choices in Playa: 1. You can make the 4 hour (or whatever it is) trip to the Apple Store in Merida, 2. You can fly home and deal with it in the states, or 3. you can go up to Cancun to Manzanita del Caribe, an authorized Apple Service Center. Sofia chose #3, so we had to go up there to pick up her lap top.

Manzanita del Caribe is on Labna road right across from Plaza las Americas, one of the big malls in Cancun, so we decided to hit the stores for a little shopping. I swear, I just want to go to Old Navy and Target and get some knit pants and tank tops, but of course they don't exist here, so instead it's Bershka and Zara (which they also happen to have in Playa, but hey...)

So to get to the mall we had to cross the road like 4 times. Let me tell you, after living in Playa and getting used to the speed of things here, Cancun is crazy! We had to take our lives into our own hands and run across the street at full speed and nobody was slowing down. Add to it that when you get to the other side it's not like there's going to be a sidewalk or anything.

I had heard that Cancun was a car city, but I didn't realize how true that was! I mean, Charlotte is a car city, too, but mainly just because everything is so spread out. If you wanted to walk to something near you in Charlotte, though, they'd have sidewalks!

Anyway, we managed to make it to the mall alive and I got a couple nice tank tops. The next big mall I'm going to will be La Isla there in Cancun. I've heard it's really nice. I'm going there with my Spanish tutor, so we'll kill two birds with one stone.

Of course when I told my French neighbor I was going shopping in Cancun she laughed and said "Don't bother!" I'll admit that Cancun probably isn't some great fashion mecca, but seriously, I was just looking for tank tops!

Finally, we went to see "Sin Lugar Para los Debiles" or "No Country for Old Men" the other night. What a weird and violent movie. It was well done, but freaky. Also, the English that they were using was very regional and they didn't say exactly what they meant, necessarily. We went with some friends, he's Austrian and she's Russian. They said they understood about 70% of what they were saying in English and had to resort to reading the Spanish subtitles to really get what the meaning was. Crazy.

While You Were Out

Mar 7, 2008

Allie: Hi Chico, did you miss me? Of course you did! What did you do while I was gone? Nothing? You didn't get on the couch did you?

Chico: Nope, wasn't on the couch.

Allie: You mean you stayed off that couch? That one there? The one that was nice and neat when I left?

Chico: Oh, that one. Um...

Hairy Situation

Mar 4, 2008

Ok. You win. I give up, Mexican water and humidity, what is the secret to getting my hair to behave?

Ever since we moved here I have had trouble figuring out what the heck it is about the water or the air or what that makes having "normal" hair impossible for me! Since I've been here my (previously nice and straight) hair has been frizzy (thanks humidity), wavy (wha...? why!?!) and hard. Yes, hard.

This is what I have determined so far, to the best of my ability:

1. The water here is really hard. There's tons of calcium in it and who knows what else (I mean you can't drink it, right, so...)

2. There's lots of humidity in the air, so blowing my hair dry straight is a lost cause. Not only will it be frizzy from the sweating that I'm doing while using the friggin' dryer, it will be frizzy the minute I walk out the door anyway.

3. Hard? Is it the lime dust that's in the air from all the construction? We had a friend who went to the doctor here and the doc said that lots of kids have asthma who live here from all the construction... could it be the asthma* lime that's making my hair feel dry and hard?

Anyway, I had been wearing my hair up since I got here and I just got sick of it finally. Yesterday I went to a salon and got a hair cut. The hairdresser guy was a Canadian (I swear, they make it hard on you to practice your Spanish here...) so we were able to discuss in our first languages what was going on. He cut between 2 inches and 4 inches off my hair and layered it. He also blew it out straight with about 4 products in it.

It was definitely straight, but it felt sort of hard and sticky and there was no way I was going to be able to fling it around as it was moving more like a helmet than hair after all those products. BUT- it was straight and didn't frizz. I even ran on the treadmill and it didn't frizz, so I'm thinking that this was one serious product. Anyway, he had to blow it out and iron it and I'm thinking I'm not going through that every day.

So today I let it dry wavy (wtf, hair, why can't you just be curly if you want to be curly?). I wish I was Mayan with stick straight, long, black hair. Life must be so easy (hair-wise, anyway).

So what's the secret ex-pat ladies? Do I need to add something to my water? Do I need some special Gringa tried and tested potion to make it act normal? *sigh*

I am waving the white flag. Please. Mercy!

* I had to edit that, but it was pretty funny as it was... but, no, I don't think it's the asthma that's making my hair hard!

Punta Allen: The End of the World

Mar 3, 2008

While Maggie was in town we decided to drive out to Punta Allen. As my friend, Rupert, would say, "Punta Allen isn't the end of the world, but you can see it from there."

It's at the end of a little peninsula and is part of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere.

So we headed out with our trusty cameras and, of course, our dog. Later we learned that dogs are not allowed on the beaches in Sian Ka'an. One of our friends had said they were, so we were armed with faulty intelligence (can you tell we've now watched almost 4 seasons of 24?).

It took us maybe an hour and a half from Tulum to get to Punta Allen. None of us were sure what we were expecting, but it wasn't what we were expecting... It's a sandy little town with not too much going on. Really the perfect place for someone who REALLY wants to get away.

Here's a few photos from our little trip.

Everything's Better with Monkeys!

Mar 2, 2008

While Hans' mom was in town we decided to check out this Spider Monkey Sanctuary that my Spanish tutor had recommended. They had found it one time on a lark while looking for a cenote, so we just followed their directions and stumbled upon The Jungle Place.

Out in the middle of the jungle (ok, really only about 1KM from the highway on a dusty road) lies The Jungle Place. It's an idyllic and tranquil place nestled back into the jungle with it's own small cenote and several beautifully constructed cabanas for guests.

The owners have dedicated their lives to rescuing and rehabilitating Spider Monkeys. For a small fee to cover their costs for keeping the monkeys you can go and interact the with monkeys in their cages- that is- you can go inside the cage and interact with them.

Their cages span almost the entire jungle lot and the monkeys swing to and fro and can make large traverses across the property. They monkeys seem truly, deeply happy and the whole place is just awesome.

Anyway, without further ado, here are some photos from our monkey experience:

They REALLY liked Maggie's shoes. They provided minutes of entertainment. Uh, does "Monkey Reserve" count as "Farm" on that US Customs form?

I got a good once over to see if I had brought any "Treats."

The girl monkeys really liked Hans, like, REALLY liked him.