Mud Season Escapes: Where Ski Towns Go After The Snow

sayulitaThe countdown has begun; most ski resorts will be closing in roughly three to four weeks, and then they’ll temporarily become ghost towns. Welcome to mud season, the bi-annual, post-season time when businesses shutter and residents escape to hotter climes – usually (die-hards head to South America to chase the snow).

Be they lift op or millionaire, most locals have their favorite vacation spots – most of them affordable and south of the border. I’ve lived in my share of ski towns (and thus enjoyed mud season exodus), and there’s just no avoiding the fact that certain destinations are southerly extensions of the mountains. What can I say? Ski bums have great taste.

The following are some of the most popular places locals flock to for mud season. The good news is, you don’t need to live in a ski town, or even be a skier, to appreciate them. Book your tickets!

Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico
Also known as “Telluride South.” There’s just no escaping your neighbors, clients and customers, but this sleepy fishing village has managed to retain its charm, despite being less than 30 miles from Puerto Vallarta. Main activities: slurping ice cream, scarfing fish tacos, reading on the beach and watching the sunset.

Costa Rica
Crested Butte loves it some CR, especially a specific treehouse community (started by former locals) called Finca Bellavista. Tamarindo, Jacó and Mal Pais are also popular beach getaways for the off-season ski crowd. What better place for winter thrill-seekers to transition to warm weather pursuits such as whitewater rafting, surfing and volcano bagging?sea turtle
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Formerly known as the jumping off point for the ferry to Cozumel, Playa has become a bona fide resort, popular with families, couples and singles who desire a bit of luxury minus the crowds and squalor of Cancun.

Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Located close to Playa, this buzzy village is better known as the home of some of Mexico’s most spectacular Mayan ruins. Popular with the backpacker crowd thanks to beachfront bungalow and palapa accommodations (alas, camping isn’t as prevalent or permissible as it used to be); Tulum is now a target destination for food lovers making a pilgrimage to Hartwood Restaurant, a solar-run operation that specializes in locally-sourced, contemporized regional cuisine (note it’s closed March 18-April 3 for annual maintenance). Also, don’t miss the cenotes, or sinkholes, that dot the countryside; you can swim in their crystalline waters, or even explore them via scuba.

Caye Caulker, Belize
Both diving and hammock enthusiasts are drawn to this laid-back island in the Caribbean Sea. Lobster at 9,000 feet can’t compare to freshly-caught.

Hawaii
A popular destination for trade wind-craving ski town refugees, especially Oahu, Maui and Kauai, depending upon budget and inclination. The diversity of outdoor adventure and relative ease of getting there is the draw.

[Photo credits: Sayulita, Flickr user waywuei; sea turtle, Flickr user -NINETIMES-]

A Taste Of Mayan Cuisine In Playa Del Carmen

mayan cuisine


On Playa del Carmen‘s main drag, you have a world of cuisines at your feet. Falafel? You’ve got it. Bagels? Right around the corner. Cuban bars, French patisseries, Italian pizzerias … the tourist districts of Mexico‘s Mayan Riviera certainly don’t lack for international options.

But authentic Mexican food? Well, that’s a different story.

I arrived in Playa after a multi-hour journey filled with layovers and bus transfers. My body was tired and my stomach was empty. I was hungry, but not just for food; I craved the tastes of Mexico, preferably paired with radish, lime and an ice cold Dos Equis.

Instead, I found Subway and Starbucks. About 20 minutes into the food hunt, I was about to throw in the towel and settle for a slice of pizza. But then, my nose caught a whiff of warmth and spice. There, on the corner of Avenida 5 and Calle 22, was exactly what I’d been looking for – Yaxche, a small but sophisticated spot promising a “journey into Mayan flavors.”

Before the Spaniards introduced their preferences, the people of the Yucatan peninsula subsisted on a staple diet of maize, squash, beans and chili peppers. Today, it’s rare to find traditional Mayan dishes in the over-touristed resort towns of the peninsula. But a culinary revival is afoot, with Yaxche at the forefront of efforts to rescue and preserve ancient Mayan cuisine.

The restaurant menu looked foreign, and not just because my Spanish was rusty. The majority of dishes are indigenous to the region, with names unfamiliar to my Western eyes and unpronounceable by my Western lips. I was intrigued by a section titled “Grandma’s Favorites,” as grandmothers tend to know their stuff.

I settled on a sampler of her suggestions, which promised a “journey into Mayan flavors.” There was Tsotolbilchay, a Mayan-style tamale filled with a spinach-like green called chaya, boiled eggs and pumpkin seeds, wrapped in a plantain leaf and covered in tomato sauce; Pibxcatic, an eye-wateringly spicy dish of grilled Xcatic peppers filled with slow-roasted pork; Papadzul, a type of egg taco covered with pumpkin seed sauce and epazote spice; Shrimp Panucho, another taco contraption, this time with refried black beans, shredded turkey, avocado, onions and perfectly grilled shrimp; and Tsic, a ceviche variation of shrimp and fish marinated in sour orange juice, Xcatic pepper and coriander.

“Mmmmmhh!!” read the menu after the Tsic description. “Mmmmmhh!!” was right. Each mouthful unlocked new, exotic tastes: the burning spice of the Xcatic pepper, the slight bitterness of the chaya leaf, the smoky sweetness of the pumpkin seeds. Yaxche wasn’t the 10-peso fish taco stand I had pictured, but it certainly served my craving for a taste of authenticity in an otherwise manufactured corner of Mexico.

Yaxche is located at the corner of Avenida 5 and Calle 22 in downtown Playa del Carmen. The “Moloch” sampler costs 205 Mexican Pesos (about US$15).

Visit Playa Del Carmen in Mexico

Renewed Mexico travel warning threatens spring break travel plans

MexicoThe U.S. State Department has issued a new Mexico travel warning, superseding last April’s warning. Apparently, cartel violence stemming from drug trafficking, specifically violent struggles among the criminal organizations for control of trafficking routes, has resulted in a rising number of carjackings, kidnappings and gun battles throughout Mexico.

“U.S. travelers should be aware that the Mexican government has been engaged in an extensive effort to counter TCOs (Transnational Criminal Organizations) which engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico, says the State Department in the new warning posted on their website today.

Detailing the problem, the State Department says “The TCOs themselves are engaged in a violent struggle to control drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity. As a result, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country and can occur anywhere. U.S. citizens have fallen victim to TCO activity, including homicide, gun battles, kidnapping, carjacking and highway robbery.”

Mexico government figures indicate that 47,515 people were killed in narcotics-related violence between December 1, 2006 and September 30, 2011, the warning states. Most of those killed were members of the criminal organizations.

The big problem: State Department numbers indicate that 120 U.S. citizens were murdered in Mexico in 2011, up from 35 in 2007, according to the warning.

Bad news for college students, the government says spring break destination Rocky Point is a key area in the international drug and human trafficking trades and can be extremely dangerous.

Arizona college student Juan Pantoja told KVOA.com, “I was there two or three months ago. I go down there often and go to Rocky Point. I have never thought twice about it. It’s always a good time.” University of Arizona student Chase Tsui added, “I would love to go visit my boyfriend’s family, but the problem is getting there. My mom still has this thing about going to Mexico, so she still doesn’t want me to go.”

The updated warning advises against nonessential travel to areas within 16 Mexican states, including Veracruz and the border areas of Aguacalientes and Zacatecas, and Colima and Michoacan says TravelWeekly but notes that no advisories are in effect for the state of Quintana Roo (Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya and Tulum), the Riviera Nayarit, Mexico City, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara and Guanajuato (San Miguel de Allende and Leon).

Travelers are advised to stay within the tourist areas of Acapulco, Ixtapa, Mazatlan, Monterrey and Zihuantanejo.


Severed Heads Left at Mexican School

Flickr photo by scazon