Author Archives: Vicki Barnes

From the scattered notes on scraps of paper

A512C5ED-4DEE-4D60-9CF9-CD25180D59EDTulum:Here, tajin comes in 2 pound containers. In addition to being amazing on fruit, as we know, it is also, we’re told, good in beer, on chocolate and in soups…
Hmmmmm, maybe on ice cream or key lime pie?

FC7E4673-61B2-41D1-BC9C-CF13727BA4B1Bacalar:  if you don’t mind sliding down a really steep incline through the brambles, the locals say, you can avoid paying the fee at the eco resort that controls access to the Cenote Azul. Skitter under or over the fence about 100m before the resort sign.


No matter where you go, there is plenty of fun to be had for free or almost free. You van pay 500 pesos for a boat tour with a comfy seat and an open bar and lunch or you can bring your own cerveza and fruit pay 5 pesos for access to the park and make your own fun.

6BB62F25-62A5-4D8B-9FC7-25F498D0A50C.jpegIf going to an art museum is on your to do list but not in the budget, take a walk. The Yucatan has a great collection of street art. On the main roads or back alley ways, walls are painted with beautiful murals that reflect everything from local history to current ideas. Think of it as an ever-changing exhibit in El Museo de Arte de la Calle.


Hanging around


It seems like no matter where you go in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, you’ll find a hammock.

In most homes, you’ll at least find one outside in the courtyard, but often they are hung for sleeping as they are cooler than a mattress and they can be unhooked and put away, clearing valuable space in a small home.

Occasionally you’ll even see one in a restaurant, presumably for those who have had a little too much to eat.,,or drink.

in some waterfront areas, you can cool off in a hammock that sweeps lightly over the surface of the water.  Balconies are almost always festooned with a hammock or two.

Yucataneans, it has been said, sleep I  hammocks from birth until death.

Hammocks ate, at the very least, one of the most comfortable places to spend a a few hours during the day if you’re able. I am swinging gently in the breeze now.


You might expect that hammocks wete first made hete where the love for them is so deep. In fact,  hammocks were brought to the Yucatan from the Arawak Indians of the Caribbean some 700 years ago.

There are two kinds of hammocks. There are the thick corded ones that look like the macrame ones we remember from the 1960s and 70s and the thinner cord ones that look a little like fishing nets .

Comfort is the key with both styles. You might choose a cotton hammock if you plan on traveling with it. A nylon hammock is better at home. It will stand up to every day use and not fade if you leave it hanging in the sun on your terrace.

Hammocks thst you buy in the Yucatan are are likely not made in a factory. They ate often made at home by women. The techniques are passed down from one generation to the next.

The best place to buy a hammock is probably from a street vendor as you will get a good price and you know you’re helping a family make a better living.

A very good nylon hammock can be had for about $30 currently. You can spend upwards of $150 for a thick cotton one. You can find really inexpensive hammock ($5-$10), but those in the know about such things tell me you get what you pay for with those. They say they are inferior quality and were probably made in a factory in some other country.

When it comes to quality napping or just relaxing, nothing beats swinging in a hammock.



Dominoes: More than just a game in Latin America

dfb1b2ef-a53b-47f0-ad7b-f2969f80e0a1In Latin America and throughout the Caribbean, dominoes is not a slow-moving children’s game where pieces are cautiously matched.

Here, it is a crashing, raucous game…still played mostly by men…punctuated by curses and name calling.

CRASH! The tiles are flipped face down and shuffled around the table until everyone is satisfied. One man takes a swig of his Bilikin beer. He drags seven tiles over, as do the others.

BANG! The first ivory tile clatters on to the wooden table. The four men in this evening’s match had begun their play in the afternoon. The sun is down now and the mosquitoes are beginning to annoy.

“203 to 237,” the older gentleman with the spiral notebook who has been keeping score announces. Grumbling and some cursing ensues. It’s hard to tell what they’re grumbling about. The game is almost done. The first team to teach 250 wins.

For those who don’t know all the rules of this game, it can be difficult to follow the strategy. The movements are fast and furious. There’s a lot of banging and clattering of tiles mixed with excited chatter. It seems random but the concentration is evident on the players’ faces.

The origins of the game are unclear. Dominoes were either invented by the Chinese or the Egyptians, some time in the early part of the 13th century. Some say Christian missionaries brought the game to Europe in the sixteenth century and Europeans left the game wherever they colonized.a67f5b5e-7cf8-4a0b-9c6b-49d30863cec2

Some say the game caught on in the tropics because it’s too humid to shuffle paper playing cards properly. The ivory (more likely heavy plastic these days) doesn’t stick or fold or lose its shape.

”F-ING BASTARD!” one of the players yells out to no one in particular. None of the others look up from the tiles in their hands. Then, as suddenly as the curse, two players crash tiles one after another onto the table.

BANG! BANG! BANG! And, then, one throws his hands in the air. He’s put all his tiles on the table. The round is over.

A few more sips of beer while the scorekeeper tallies the round. No winner yet.

A full game can last anywhere from 45 minutes to over an hour. It’s a very serious matter to some players. It’s like chess and poker rolled into one.

”They are not joking around,” the scorekeeper whispered as one player made a reference to another’s parentage.

BANG! Another round begins…

Getting around

feaf5e08-6ccc-4e22-939c-6cffd07ff588If you don’t rent a car on a trip to México…and having seen the way you might be taking your life in your hands on crowded city streets and open highways when you are behind the wheel, I wouldn’t recommend it…you are probably going to have to take a bus.

There are somewhere between 15 and 20 bus companies operating in México these days. They range in quality from the top-notch ADO (Autobuses de Oriente) to cramped vans (collectivos) to vintage buses that might have been upscale in the 1970s.

If it gets us to our destination without breaking down, we don’t much care what amenities it has. We’re just as happy  crammed into an un-air conditioned jalopey as the first class number with frigid air and bad movies on the TV.

In México, the bus company you use is determined by where you are going and where you are coming from. It is all pretty confusing at first.

If you are just traveling between major cities, you can probably assume the ADO bus will get you there. By the way, they have a great app…it’s only in Spanish, but even if you only have a basic knowledge of the language, you can navigate through it easily.

It takes some knowledge of Spanish to figure out the other lines. There’s no app to tell you which line goes where, but usually there’s a second class station near the ADO station and you can start there. Usually, you’ll find an employee – or a fellow backpacker – who speaks English and can help you sort things out.

A lesson we learned the hard way on one of our first trips was that boarding calls are often a series of destinations rattled off like the call of an auctioneer. Cities, bus bay numbers and times spill off the announcer’s tongue so fast that I’m sure even those fluent in Spanish can’t possibly understand every word.

Do not be afraid to approach the gate and ask the security guard if yours was among the ones called. Even if you don’t speak a single word, hold out your ticket. If your bus is not loading, you will understand “No”!

As I mentioned before, the roads are wild. Like everyone else on the road, buses will tailgate the vehicle in front of them. All 43 feet and 45,000 pounds of that bus will stay just inches from the back of a tiny motor bike. It’s almost too much to watch.

So far…we’ve been here about a week, the buses have served us well.

I prefer the good old fashioned chicken buses we rode in Costa Rica and Nicaragua where you’re jammed in tightly with the locals who tell you whatever you want to know about their country and make you feel at home. But the Mexican buses are reliable, they run on a predictable schedule and they even have an app.


A Quick Peek

Every day on our Instagram account and, hopefully now here, I try to publish a collage of photos from my morning walk…

Here are a few from our past few days since we arrived  in México.

The first was from our brief morning in Cancun, the others from Mérida and a day trip to the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza:



Don’t blow your budget before you leave

You have to arrive at the airport a couple of hours early to ensure enough time for check in, security check and boarding. If you are on a tight budget, you can not afford unnecessary expenses, and – believe yme – most of the money people spend in airports is unnecessary.

imageBetween your tasks at the airport, you will be inundated with opportunities to spend money on everything from food to newspapers to plush animals wearing t-shirts advertising the city you are in. There are jewelers, art dealers and even high end clothing stores in the terminals. Continue reading

Doing shots

Photo (57)By Vicki Barnes

Depending on where you are traveling, immunizations can mean the difference between life and death.

Seriously. Get your shots before you go.

Vaccines are the most important tool you can have against getting sick – perhaps with a life-threatening illness – when you travel abroad.

Every country is different. Some countries require certain vaccinations prior to entry, others merely suggest the ones you should have. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a feature on their website that allows you to plug in the name of the country you will be visiting and information about the kind of traveler you are (traveling with children, mission or volunteer work, etc.) and with the click of the mouse, find out what is required or suggested for your destination. Continue reading

Don’t put THAT in your bag…

By Vicki Barnes

Don’t pack a hand grenade in your suitcase (or your carry on) when you head to the airport.image

OK, so maybe that one seems obvious, but there are things the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will not let you bring on a plane that you might not have considered.

The TSA website has a long list of things that are banned on planes. Check it out before you go so the contents of your bags doesn’t make you a target for more screening. Continue reading

Casado means “Married Man”…so why is it on the menu?

By Vicki Barnes

There is a great variety of food in Costa Rica. Most of the locals (Ticos and Ticas) stick to the basics. At home or in the small, inexpensive restautants along any road (sodas), they stick with the typical dish.casado

Pretty much anywhere you go in Costa Rica, the lunch or dinner menu is casado.

Casado with chicken. Casado with pork. Casado with fish. Casado with steak. Even casado with vegetables (see photo – beans and rice with veggies and a salad with a side of veggies!). At one of the roadside restaurants you can find a heaping plate for $4 or less.  Continue reading