Argentina beckoned us south from Lima, both because we are following summer and because we needed to be in Buenos Aires for a Norwegian cruise through Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego that is leaving in early January. It helped that we also found an apartment downtown that let us stay put for the whole hectic the holiday travel season.
It was a bit shocking to arrive from Lima. Both cities are massive and still growing but Lima felt chaotic and sprawling awhile Buenos Aires feels calmer and shows off a more distinctly European influence. Main avenues in our neighborhood in B.A. tend toward tree-lined and cafe-dotted. People seem like to take life a little slower, they mosey and chat on the sidewalks. Many buildings look as though they were transplanted from Paris or Rome. Car horns are rare in comparison to Lima.
Our first couple days gave us time to see places high on our list. For me, El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore was a minor pilgrimage site. It lives up to its name; shelves of books, music, and movies run through four floors of a former theatre. Ceiling frescoes and theatre boxes (now reading nooks), as well as the stage (a small cafe), are all preserved. The Argentine and Latin American authors sections are incredible, running through all the names I’ve heard of and so many more I haven’t… if only my Spanish was better.
Catching a sea breeze on the waterfront is the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve. Several miles of trails next to some of the city’s newest development is a welcome escape from the traffic and noise. We saw and heard groups of bright green parrots, herons, and some kind of diving bird catching fish, even as skyscrapers were visible through the trees. The center is a marsh full of reeds. Signs warning against feeding the critters; apparently snakes still make this their home, and it wouldn’t feel out of place to find a caiman. Despite the value of having this so close to downtown, I wonder what percentage of the mosquitoes in our apartment have their beginnings here.
Buenos Aires’s most famous landmark might be their city of the dead, Recoleta Cemetery. Here are the tombs of the most famous Argentinians. Eva Peron, dozens of Presidents (they have a history of going through them quickly), artists, politicians, bankers, and athletes are buried in grand mausoleums. Simply carving names in stone would be too easy; the cemetery is a space for sculptors to show their skills making angels and likenesses of the dead. Some wealthy men have a penchant for statues of beautiful women mourning their passing. Tombs have windows of stained glass, domes, wrought iron gates. Many have lower levels, visible down tiny staircases, that are stacked with coffins. It is eerie and poignant at the same time.
The Catedral Metropolitana of Buenos Aires has a massive Neoclassical facade, and all the interior trappings you’d expect of an important Catholic church. It has received a lot of attention over the last few years since their last Archbishop is now the Pope. I especially like the tile work on the floor that has flowers and crowns of thorns. In altars along the sides, Mary appears in several guises and is dressed in flowing gowns. Toward the back corner, a life-sized Jesus is riding a life-sized donkey. Gold and beautiful carvings are very much in evidence.
Argentina is famous for beef and wine, which naturally attracted our attention. Honestly, the reputation is very well-deserved. The cheapest steaks from the grocery store ($1.50US each) were some of the best we’ve ever eaten. And the Mendoza-area malbecs are fruity and delicious. Patagonia is fast becoming a wine region as well, but their products tend toward more mineral-tasting.
Italian influences are found throughout menus here, meaning pastas, pizzas, and pastries are staples. And also that the food is fairly bland. All the spiciness got left in Peru… There is a drink culture here as well, teas and wines are the main choices, but coffee makes an important appearance as well. Unfortunately, the local coffees are more like candy. Even bags of ground beans in the store come pre-sugared.
The most popular desserts contain dulce de leche, a milky caramel spread, and dulce de batata, a jellied sweet potato reduction. They are decent as dips and toppings for other foods, like cookies and apples, but really don’t have a super-memorable flavor of their own. Despite this, Argentina seems to be obsessed with dulce de leche – at some stores it takes up half an aisle. Pan dulce, the local fruitcake, is everywhere because of the rapid approach of Christmas. We tried the cheapest possible version, which meant they made up for putting in actual fruit with an excess of sugar and flour.
One shocking thing are the prices in Buenos Aires. We expected a higher cost of living than Lima and Mexico, because of the relative wealth of the area we are staying in and the high inflation rate. Looking at the history of the US dollar – Argentine peso exchange rate, it seemed to be going in our favor. But actually shopping for groceries was a different experience. To our dismay, prices for almost everything are Seattle-level and some things we generally consider staples (bread, pasta, frozen veggies) are actually more expensive here. And stuff – clothes, cookware, Christmas decorations – are almost universally more expensive than at home, especially if they are imported. Turns out many locals travel to Chile, Brazil, (even the U.S.!) to do their big shopping runs.
The steaks and wine are the exceptions to this, probably because these are produced locally and in large quantities. So at least we will still be dining well!
After a little more than a year of travel, I thought I’d add a post about how we live on the road. Of course, this is only our way. We’ve met people living out of hostels, couchsurfing, out of camper vans, off the back of a motorbike, who split their time between their favorite cities and keep apartments in each. It all depends on your travel goals, career, and budget. The amazing thing is that doing it full time for us means that we don’t have the expenses associated keeping with a house or car back home. Unlike a vacation, the cost of this kind of travel is the cost of day-to-day life. We live frugally just like we did in Seattle, only now we do it on a variety of continents.
We use Airbnb almost exclusively. Hotels are too expensive, not private enough, and don’t come with kitchens and in-room washing machines. Most hosts know the local restaurants and transit and tend to be very responsive if something goes wrong. Those good reviews count for a lot. And if we book for four weeks or longer, many rentals are discounted because a longer-term rental saves the host hassle and guarantees that the space is rented out; we saved as much as half on a month rental versus the per-day price.
We spend a fair amount of time researching before booking an Airbnb. We pour over the photos and reviews. We’ll search on Google maps to find the building front just so we get that extra perspective of the neighborhood. Ideally, the kitchen comes with a nice variety of cookware and utensils, there is a washer, fast internet, and comfy furniture or a desk for working. We haven’t stayed in a true studio, though many combine living areas and the kitchen into tight spaces. Preferably previous guests mention that the place is quiet but close to essentials. A grocery store, ATM, pharmacy, and transit stop should all be less than 15 minutes away on foot. In most cities, this isn’t a problem.
Of course, despite extra assessment, not knowing where you are living for a month always comes with surprises and catches. Sure, there is a stove, but only one burner works! Huge screenless windows let in so much light, but also all the mosquitoes! In some places water coming out of the faucet isn’t potable. In others, toilet paper can’t go down the pipes and needs to go in a trash can instead. We’ve had a recurring streak of picking places next to construction zones. Just today, a scaffolding went up on the building right next to our windows, ruining the quiet that we were so proud of finding in the middle of Buenos Aires.
We book airfare and our housing in tandem. A cheap apartment and a cheap way to get there is the winning combination, since our other living costs are small in comparison. Skyscanner is our favorite search tool because it has an “Everywhere” button. It regularly takes us down a rabbit hole of possibilities. The cheapest flights tend toward early morning or late night. We almost always pick the lowest price within reason; we’ll pay a little more to avoid multiple layovers and flying multiple countries out of the way. We’ve arrived in more than one new city at midnight; waking up at 3 a.m. is now a familiar moving-day routine.
Since we need to check bags, we have to factor that into the airfare price. It is a nice surprise when an airline will let bags fly free, as many will do in Europe and on trans-oceanic flights. Of course, the mobs surrounding the baggage carousel on arrival would be better avoided.
If we book a flight on a super-budget airline like RyanAir or WizzAir, we splurge and upgrade our boarding ($5 or so per person) so we don’t have to fight the horde rushing for the gate before it even opens. I’m not large enough to deal with shoving a entire soccer team out of my way so I don’t get separated from Kevin. Yes, I know I’m paying to sit on the plane longer, but I’m also paying to not be trampled. Whatever happened to just getting in a decent line? I thought everyone learned that in kindergarten…
We have great shoes! (Though new insoles would be nice.) Why pay for transit when walking is free? Exploring a new city on foot is more intimate than looking out a window. We find all sorts of shops, street food vendors, and little markets that get missed on a speeding bus. Plus, we get to count it as exercise.
Taxis have a bad reputation for cheating tourists/new arrivals all over the world. We’ve never taken a taxi from the airport and don’t intend to. We work out a public transit route or arrange for a transfer; sometimes our Airbnb host will even meet us. If we need point-to-point around the city, we prefer Uber. It is more widely available every day. The fact that it comes with pre-set pricing, a driver rating, and the ability to track the trip makes us feel more secure. This is especially important if I’m going somewhere by myself. It frees us from needing to carry money and lets us report any issues. In some places, like Lima, using Uber or local apps like TaxiBeat will get you a regular taxi instead of a completely private vehicle. But it guarantees the cost – something that doesn’t necessarily come with flagging one down streetside.
Public transit is more usually more readily available in cities outside the US, especially in countries where cars are still very much a luxury for the average person. The transit may be publicly funded and very traditional – trams, subways, and buses on set routes. Others are more chaotic – songthaews in Chiang Mai are like group taxis and don’t follow routes. Buses in Lima come in all shapes and sizes and with an assistant hollering the route out the door and convincing riders to board.
Eating out is nice, and in countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Mexico, it is feasible to dine at small restaurants and on street food for less than it costs to make it yourself. However, in most places we eat at home to meet our budget. And since Kevin is an especially good cook, this provides opportunities to try local ingredients and recipes. He’s made spicy soups in Thailand, paprika-laden dishes in Hungary, cuy in Peru, and ratatouilles; we’ve even sampled kangaroo and horse. Especially in European groceries, you sometimes find interesting bargains. We didn’t know to anticipate cheap duck in Hungary, but it was a happy surprise.
Growing up in America conditioned us to expect supermarkets with an incredible selection of items, both in and out of season. In other countries (especially in cities where shops are be crammed in to small spaces) many familiar products are unavailable. Our closest grocery might only be two aisles wide and fit into less square footage than our old apartment. And, in Poland, one of the two aisles might be completely taken over with vodka plus a few other hard alcohols. In Argentina it is more likely to be wine and yerba mate. In Asia, wheat bread and dairy products are luxuries. In Argentina, bagels and maple syrup don’t exist. And peanut butter, especially the creamy kind, is a rarity everywhere (in Croatia, a grainy version lived in the refrigerated section; Argentina’s local crunchy brand is turning out to be passable). Produce might also be more seasonal than we are used to in the US, though staples like apples and bananas are never missing. Local green markets are a great place to learn what local agriculture is like, and, at the right time of year, get some great bargains. I paid approximately 17 cents a pound 🙂 for perfectly fresh Italian plums in Hungary.
Everything that moves with us comes in four backpacks and my small purse. Our two checked bags are Gregory hiking packs, the Deva 60 and Baltoro 70. The bags we carry on (with our most essential items) are an Osprey hiking pack and an Eagle Creek backpack. We carry everything, nothing has wheels. This makes steps, tight elevators in old building, and getting out of the airport easier. It is also harder for an aggressive taxi driver to try to grab luggage away from us in an effort to get us to use their vehicle.
With 16 full moves behind us, we are getting reasonably good at packing. Our clothes are contained in large, airtight storage bags. These keep everything dry in rain and shrinks it down a bit to make it fit in a more arrangeable fashion. All our pointy objects (a chef’s knife, for example) go in checked luggage, which should go without saying. Anything valuable needs to go in the carry on. This usually means our electronics, and an couple changes of clothes in case our checked bags don’t make it.
A reminder for anyone who might be tempted to toss pricey items into checked bags: We had a cell phone (thankfully a spare, 6-year-old, worn-out-batteried, now-irrelevant-and-worthless one) taken out of a checked bag, clearly after an airport employee saw it on an X-ray. Also gone were spare luggage locks, presumably so they could rummage through other bags and then close them back up.
Though we count on Airbnbs to contain basic kitchen supplies and items like towels, we carry a few basics we discovered were often lacking. Kitchen items are the biggest luxury-but-really-necessity. It took us a couple months to accumulate our current travel kit of chef’s knife with sheath, knife sharpener, thin cutting board, and clothespins. We purchased tiny salt shakers for spices, but already broke those. And we brought along our own plastic wine glasses (thanks Northwest Cellars!) and a wine bottle opener, which turned out to be very prescient. I picked up a decent sewing kit in Croatia that has a dozen or more colors of thread, perfect to repair a shirt seams and my shoes. Our most used items are the clothespins – for closing snack bags, keeping cords in line, packing – and reusable shopping bags – for packing picnics, returning bottles, and avoiding grocery store bag fees.
Cheap and accessible SIMs spoil us. Just a few years ago getting cell service in another country was a major hassle. Now an unlocked phone will mesh with any network. Cell providers usually have SIMs good for a few days to a few months that are aimed at tourists. Otherwise, there are usually a handful of prepaid plans meant for locals that fit our needs, letting us buy a month’s worth of service all at once or load up with a balance equivalent to the data we need.
Ireland was the exception and charges a premium for short-term contracts that made it as expensive as cell service the US. But in Poland, for example, a SIM loaded with a month’s worth of data and a few minutes of talk time was only US$5. In Romania, for US$9.31/person, we got SIMS and 9 Gigs of data. Since Internet is included in our rentals (sometimes at speeds topping what we had in Seattle), we can get by with small amounts even in places, like Mexico, where prepaid cards are more expensive but allow for a few pesos to be added at a time. Like everything else, we try to only buy the amount we’ll need. Our monthly cell phone bill has averaged less than $15 per line.
All our big vaccinations (hepatitis, measles, tetanus, yellow fever) last more than a year, and so are still up to date. A new flu shot would be nice, but since we are in the southern hemisphere for their summer, we missed flu season and will have a harder time finding the inoculation.
We (thankfully!) haven’t had any major health scares since we left. The minor colds/upset stomachs have all been taken care of with some rest and OTC medication. Of note is that Ibuprofen is much more expensive and harder to get in Europe. If stores sell it, it is usually only available in a 10 or 25 count blister pack, which costs as much as a 200 pill bottle in the US.
In Thailand, I was bitten (lightly) by a dog. We tried the public hospital, but it was late at night and no one on duty spoke English. So instead, we went to the private hospital the next morning. Since they specialized in medical tourism, explanations were easier. I wanted the rabies shots, just in case. The appointments were spaced over three days and I added two more injections to my impressive record for the previous months. Prepping for travel is a good way to learn how to deal with needles.
It may or may not be obvious, but I very much do not want to get pregnant while travelling. (Not least because we’ve been in zika-outbreak areas in the company of some very vicious mosquitoes.) Not to get too much into detail, I take a daily pill. Turns out that in Europe, prescriptions are mostly not necessary, and a pack of pills costs less than $10 almost universally, with some as low as $3. (Why are they $60/month in the US?) Even in countries where you are supposed to have a prescription, you can find usually a sympathetic pharmacist who will sell it anyway, especially if you come in with a wedding band, a used pack, and stating that you do have a doctor in the US. (If all else fails, I keep a story about lost luggage up my sleeve.)
Hahahah. If only… A downside of travelling for an extended amount of time is that we only get to take home pictures and memories. We collect some of the ticket stubs, and randomly have the lid from a pate can because it says Tarczynski on it. Otherwise, the kitchen supplies and toiletries count for a while, at least until they break or get used up. They are at least covered in foreign languages. We’d rather not carry excess stuff with us, and paying to ship it home is no fun either. I’ve decided I’ll just go to Goodwill when we get back to Seattle and see what cheesy things I can find from the places we’ve visited.
Of course, extended travel isn’t for everyone. The distance from family and friends is hard. Living for months in places where the default language isn’t ours can be draining. Familiar things can be difficult to find and the abundance of new experience can be overwhelming. We wear the same clothes. A lot. Our apartments almost never have dryers (except for one with a combination washer-dryer that seemed more like a fire hazard than an appliance) or hair dryers. It would be nice to have our own place and things again. But I’m thrilled we made it a year on the road and have plans to keep going.
If you want extra information or inspiration for planning your own trip/world tour, feel free to contact me. I don’t mind sharing budgets or answering questions (to the best of my and the internet’s ability).
We spent a noisy, hectic, enjoyable week in Lima, Peru as a stopover to line up cheap airfares from Cancun, Mexico to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The weather reminded us of Seattle even though the landscape was almost the opposite. Arid brown and gray foothills lead up to the Andes, but each morning a light layer of Pacific fog rolled a few miles inland and enveloped Miraflores and the days usually had a cool, salt-smelling sea breeze near the water.
A main attraction was the food, which seems to be revered all around Latin America. In Lima, the local speciality is seafood ceviche. We had several kinds, but our favorite contained seabass. The raw fish is cooked in lime juice; corn, hot! peppers, onions, and sometimes potatoes and plantain chips are added to the mix. Locals also use seafood in other creative ways, including chupe de camarones, a shrimp soup with corn, potatoes, and a fried egg on top. We bought some species of local trout at a supermarket, and it rivaled the salmon we miss so much.
Outside of seafood, the aji de gallina is a perfect lunch on a cooler day. Chicken is shredded (so finely it took me a while to realize it was actually in the dish) into a yellow pepper sauce and served with rice. Anticuchos, marinated beef hearts, are a surprisingly tasty appetizer. Alpaca makes the menu as well, and wasn’t as gamey as we were led to believe; in fact, it was quite tender. And of course, cuy an infamous Peruvian dish. It is more of a mountain-region fare, so in Lima it is served mainly in expensive, tourist-oriented restaurants. But we didn’t let that deter us and baked one at home. Equally adorable and delicious, it does take a lot of effort for a small meal.
To go with the food, Inca Kola is often the drink of choice. It tastes like bubble gum with an undertone of cream soda; it’s a good thing I wasn’t exposed to this as a child – I might actually drink soda. It is so popular that Peru is one of the few places in the world where Coca-Cola is outsold (though they have since bought the company that produces Inca Kola). If not that, the second national drink is the pisco sour. I usually don’t like cocktails, but this one goes well with the local cuisine. Artisanal beer is a growing industry; we tried some at Nuevo Mundo after we saw it advertised on their delivery van and then accidentally found their bar.
Everyone we met asked if we were going to Machu Picchu. Sadly, that will have to be future adventure, but we still wanted to see some of the pre-Incan and Incan treasures that are the national heritage. The Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History was our starting point. Their collection is the smaller of the two museums we visited, but it also covers colonization, the fight for independence, and the era of the republic.
The Larco Museum displayed the larger collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts (it was also the more expensive admission). The majority of both collections is pottery, which survives well and didn’t tempt conquistadors to melt it down and ship it out of the country. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it is fantastic. There is pottery with alpacas that look like corgi puppies, guys relaxing on their boat with a drink (yes, really), people with animals, animals that look like people, erotic scenes, human sacrifices, maize plants, and plenty of other creatures and human faces in various states of stylization. My personal favorite is the man lying on the top of a pot with the mouth of the vessel coming out of his back, like he was bothering the potter at work and got stuck in the clay.
There are also fabrics, preserved by the dry climate; even cloaks and shirts made of tiny feathers have lasted. Colors look as though they were dyed yesterday and feature patterns that seem modern. Many pieces are from burials; the afterlife was just as important in this corner of the world as it was in ancient Egypt. Mummy bundles were a common way of interring bodies, the individual wrapped in layer upon layer of cloth and with items they would need after death.
A wonderful thing about the Larco is that they display the most interesting pieces in the museum proper, but you can also look at most of the rest of the collection as well; it is one of the very few museums in the world that let you wander around their storerooms. There are scores of floor-to-ceiling glass cases filled with objects. Each item is grouped by what it depicts. Two cases were entirely devoted to owls, others more to ducks, some to fish; full walls of pottery featured human faces, or polka dots.
A 40-minute ride from Miraflores is the Basilica of San Francisco, a beautiful church in the Lima District. No pictures are permitted inside its monastery or museum, a tour of which also goes through the catacombs below (where 25,000 bodies are buried). But inside the church photography is allowed, and its design certainly welcomes artists. The church’s interior features gorgeous wooden altars along the sides that reach high enough to bend with the domes above. Many are dedicated to Mary and Latin American saints. The ceiling of the church is unique among those we’ve seen – stark red and white patterning that is reminiscent of the surrounding landscape and ancient pottery.
If you do not like insane traffic, Lima may not be for you. We caught a local bus outside the airport and spent over 90 minutes making our way to Miraflores. We arrived at rush hour, so traffic was at its peak, but that stops exactly zero people from driving as though they are participating in a vehicular game of chicken. Our driver wedged the bus between lanes, in spaces meant for motorbikes, and in front of mobs of other cars to make stops. Approximately 60 near-collisions later, we jumped off in our neighborhood. Honestly, it was one of the better free entertainment experiences we’ve had. The taxi back to the airport was the same way, though his habits leaned toward running red lights.
Overall, though, Lima is a city of millions and feels like it. Stores are open til all hours of the night, the city center is crowded around the clock. Poverty and wealth are shockingly close to each other – shantytowns rise up hillsides visible from new condominiums built for the rich. Food, art, work, and neighborhoods all blend and mix together. It is overwhelming and engrossing all at once.
A year ago we were just arriving at our first home abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We haven’t set foot in the US since, just waved at the east coast from 37,000 feet while en route from Frankfurt to Cancun. We’ve been on four continents and on the shores of three oceans. Every few weeks is a new country, new language, new currency, new culture, new foods. We are incredibly lucky to have the chance to experience so much of the world. It feels like hardly any time has passed at all, despite all we’ve seen.
In many ways, it is still easier than we thought to keep up this lifestyle. Airbnb, Skyscanner, and cost of living websites make it simple to figure out where we can afford. The internet naturally provides plenty of photographic inspiration and easy ways to keep in touch with family and friends. Connecting with locals and other digital nomads through Meetup or Facebook is easy, even if we are only in a place long enough to attend an event or two. I thought our destination list would be getting shorter, but each month we hear about other places to see, so that’s been trending in the wrong direction.
I have both more and less faith in humanity than when we started. Less in humanity en masse because of where the world seems headed at the moment. We’ve had to explain US electoral politics too many times to count and it only gets more difficult post-election. Arriving in Ireland the day of the Brexit vote, we witnessed streaks of nationalism present in other countries that also threatened to diminish the world we live in. Many people we meet – granted, usually in our generation and often fellow nomads – are likewise disappointed and worried about what the future may hold.
To counter it, at least this trip has give me more faith in individuals. Most people are kind and helpful and polite in person. The rare few that aren’t stand out glaringly as exceptions. Someone is always willing to point us to the right bus, randomly ask if we are lost (maybe, or maybe just catching a Pokemon), or try to answer questions through a language barrier. Uber and taxi drivers offer up advice about the best local dishes and are happy to find you love their city. We haven’t felt unsafe in any place we’ve visited. (Arguably, I feel more insecure in a movie theatre in the US than I have in any city we’ve been to outside of it. Is some of that rose-colored glasses? Absolutely. But much is basic statistics.)
We are privileged to speak English, which means we can communicate with people all over the world. We learn the most important words in the language of the country we are in – please, thank you, sorry, and basic numbers go a long way. The fact that I could state – in poorly accented Croatian – the cost of fish I bought from a Ribanica in Dubrovnik thrilled the woman who behind the counter. So many tourists never made the effort and she was used to handing over the receipt to provide the total. My fumbling confirmation of the amount of money I handed over was an amusing treat.
Spanish is the first language we are making an effort to learn to the level of actual communication ability, since we plan on being in Latin America for at least 6 months. Of course, we still do a lot of signing and smiling over parts we don’t understand, but any effort on our part to speak like a local is always met with appreciation.
I haven’t been acutely homesick, but I’m becoming nostalgic for Pacific Northwest hiking. Most of what I miss are small things. My books, currently locked in a storage unit outside of Seattle, are presumably lonely and sad at my absence. My other cravings lean toward junk food: Strawberry Poptarts, Cool Ranch Doritos, pershings from Sentry, and peanut butter (I now believe pb is the most American food – and is now what I recommend anyone headed to the States try).
We set out a budget in advance, and were pleasantly surprised to find out that, for this first year, we came in under it. 🙂 It is still mind-blowing to be traveling full time and live on a smaller amount of money than we would in Seattle.
That all comes together to mean that for now, we’ll be keeping this up. The world will hopefully continue to get smaller and more interconnected, but there is always more to discover.
Let it be known right away: Cancun is not my favorite spot. Kevin cares much more about beaches and ocean than I do and neither of us are fans of resorts. We spent a couple of days closer to the tourist enclaves, but enjoyed the local life away from the beach a little more. (Bonus: The more distance between you and the shoreline, the cheaper everything is.)
I will say that Isla Mujeres was worth a day-trip on the ferry from Puerto Juarez. The great thing about the island is that you can do everything in half a day, then relax. The southern-most point, where small cliffs drop into gorgeous turquoise waters, has a sculpture park. But since it costs to enter, we admired the metal art from a bit further down the shore.
Ten minutes away by golf cart from the tiny cliffs is the Tortugranja, a conservation effort. It costs just a few pesos to enter but has a dozen tanks turtles and other sea creatures. Outside in a protected sand pit are small wire enclosures protecting different sets of eggs that are soon to be hatched. Once the little turtles pop to the surface, they are taken inside to pools where it is safe for them to grow. A couple different species are kept in the building and in larger tanks outside. You can feed them, or, if you are outside, you can try to feed the turtles and see how much the greedy gulls get instead.
Other than those two things, the island and Cancun both offer beaches. And they are NICE beaches; the Hotel Zone has miles of sand. In some spots there are small shells and barefoot walking is a little pokey, but in other areas the sand is smooth sugar. Meandering along in front of the hotels isn’t quite peaceful though. Every three hundred meters down the beach is an identical stand selling parasailing and jet ski time. It felt like we passed the same day-drinkers, beach volley ball games, and people buried in the sand every few minutes.
The best part of Cancun is the local street food, normally only available in neighborhoods well away from the water. We had amazing pork and cabeza del rey tacos for only a couple of US dollars, the meat super tender and smothered in spicy sauces and lime. And at XB Burgers, the hamburgers and lamb burgers were juicy and cooked just right. Other carts on the sidewalks sell sweets, snacks, and sometimes things like marquesitas (crunchy crepes filled with chocolate and vanilla creams).
Unlike Merida, there isn’t a deep cultural history. Our hosts reminded us that Cancun has really only been a city for the last 40 years or so. Most of it is concrete apartment buildings and industry supporting tourists in large resorts. I prefer places with a little more variety. But to get a break from doing anything for a while, Cancun is perfect.
And it was the first time we rented a single room in a house rather than an entire place on Airbnb. Our hosts were a wonderful couple with adult children (hence the extra rooms). They made us breakfast each morning and had great stores about the city growing. It was a perfect opportunity to practice our Spanish a little more before moving on to South America.