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Old 02-24-2005   #31 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fnarf999
It IS bewildering, but I found that if you just go with the flow and don't get too worried about things, it'll all come together. The panic is worse than the reality. Just keep going, and DON'T WORRY! The worst thing that can possibly happen is, something will take a little longer than you were counting on. But the worst half hour in Mexico is still a pretty nice time overall....
So true....good to remember on any vacation.

GREAT report....lovin it !!!!!
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Old 02-24-2005   #32 (permalink)
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Day 4 Continued (5? Who can tell? Where's my watch? Did I bring a watch?)
================================================== =====

So, the tour was great. Winding through Playacar was a little scary, as I have a phobia for gigantic All-Inclusives (though if they are your preferred accomodation in paradise I won't begrudge you; I won't begrudge you anything as long as you're not standing on my ear while you're doing it).

We return to Playa, and check into Hotel Posada Freud. Now, I have to tell you, I thought La Tortuga was gorgeous -- I didn't even get around to describing the rooftop jacuzzi or what happens when you jacuzzi au naturelle with a big glass of rum and a bigger cigar. Hmmm, I don't think I will, actually.

But if you stay at La Tortuga, I think I would recommend forgoing the charms of the spa jets and get an interior room; their pool is beautiful, and any room that doesn't open on 10th is going to be a LOT quieter. I was awakened the morning after Stupor Bowl Sunday at 4:01 AM by a crowd of about 50 people right outside the window, howling and banging on the garbage cans. Hmm, that part I didn't like so much.

So when we saw the room at Posada Freud, which hung right over the street, and realized that the kind of annoying blooz-bar we had been trying to avoid was right underneath us, we were trepid. The room was lovely, and that worrisome balcony was huge, with a scrumptious hammock, which I immediately used to erase about two and a half hours, but would it be noisy?

It was. The bar featured a dreadful series of musicians starting with some inept Bob Dylan karaoke and working up to a grand finale of a U2 cover band, not inept but I don't like U2 much, so it was a problem. We were all set to get pissy and annoyed, when we remembered -- hey, we're in Mexico. And what do you know, but at some point -- not THAT late -- they stopped playing and we slept like babes, and in the morning we discovered -- the sunrise! We missed it at La Tortuga, as we faced the wrong direction there (shoulda slept in the jacooze).

At 5:50, Avenida Quinta is absolutely dead quiet, and the sun is just turning into an orange-red fireball, and the whole world is silent and glowing. Wow. At 5:53, a guy shows up at one of the shops in a little truck, and the street starts waking up, but it's still so peaceful and calm; no hint that there were knee-walking tequila gobblers under our window just a few hours before.

I'm starting to realize that no matter how good this gets, it's about to get better right around the corner. And if I go back to Playa, I think I'm staying at the Posada Freud again. Balcony room.

We ate, and lazed around on the balcony, and wandered around the town a little, and started thinking about our next journey. We were torn; rent a car, or take a cab? We decided on a cab, even though it's expensive as hell to get to the hotel strip on the Boca Paila, it's not as psychically expensive as driving on that highway. Eventually, but not today, my friend, not today.

I discovered a magic trick, whereby you can make a cab driver disappear instantly in thin air: go up to a group of them, and say "Tulum?", and as they all start opening doors and nodding their heads yes, yes, I will take you, no I will take you, then add "Boca Paila?". Instant ghost town. Where did everybody go? Our bags, which had already partly been loaded into one cab, were back at our feet, and were left alone with one brave soldier, the only cabbie on Calle 10 willing to haul us down the Boca Paila Road.

Our hotel there was Tierras Del Sol, which is way, way down at the end of the hotel strip in Tulum, almost to the entrance to Sian Ka'an -- kilometer 10. Our cabbie lied and said he knew where it was. I had a map from the hotel website but he wouldn't look at it, nor would he quote a price; he waved the standard rate sheet at me, which said "Tulum 435 pesos", and said something about figuring out the rest when we got there. It's very difficult for a non-Spanish speaker to explain to a non-English speaker that "km 10" means 10 km from the ruins, not 10 km from the highway junction or 10 km from the Tulum road junction with the Boca Paila road. I'm not sure I can even explain it to myself.

But off we set, and got another lesson in 307 driving. Those lane markers are just suggestions, you know. We like to think we in the USA live in the "land of the free" but you haven't tasted ANYTHING of real freedom until you've decided to pull out in the face of an oncoming overloaded semi in order to get around a destroyed 1981 Chrysler Le Baron with no doors, trunk, or hood that's going 18 MPH on the shoulder. And hoping you'll clear the old guy on the bicycle on your way back over, so the huge bus can have the center (i.e., oncoming) lane for a turn.

We made it, though, and successfully shouted and gesticulated our desire to turn down the Tulum road, and hit the Boca Paila. As the road got worse and worse, our cabbie was obviously thinking we were idiots, and lost, and his car was going to become a 22nd-century Maya ruin in the jungle. The road crew had been back, destroyed the road even more; it was now bi-level, with the southbound "lane" a good foot higher in elevation than the northbound, and was chopped up into human-head sized chunks besides. If you go slow, this isn't much of a problem, until the yahoos in their jeep convoys heading for the fishing camps or Punta Allen roar past at 40 MPH; we were more than satisfied to be making 15. And all that construction meant of course thick clouds of dust, coating every leaf. If you made the mistake of trying to clear it with the wiper-washer fluid, you made limestone mud on the windshield. That's the same stuff they mortared the Maya pyramids together with, I think -- dust and wiper fluid. Our cabbie was far too polite to swear out loud, but I think he probably had a few thoughts to confess the next time he was in church.

But then, the road got a little better, and we passed some nice-looking places that didn't seem like wilderness at all -- Ana y Jose, Las Ranitas, Amansala -- and then finally, Tierras del Sol. We paid off our cabbie with what I hope was a generous settlement, and made our way into the jungle.

At the top of the rise, a vision appeared, a god, naked but for a pair of swim trunks "Hola, Steven!" It was Carlos, our host. The naked but for etc. part was put there in the name of my wife, who seemed oddly unable to speak properly. I'm a ladies' man myself, but even I could tell that this Carlos fellow was kind of hunky, in a Enrique Eglesias kind of way. While she stood there going "huh huh, huh huh", I grabbed her hand and followed Carlos to our new digs.

The guidebook called the owners of Tierras del Sol "laid-back" which is like calling Yao Ming "fairly tall" or Bill Gates "well-off". This was not going to be like staying at the Four Seasons. Our cabana was right on the beach -- not NEAR the beach, not JUST ACROSS THE ROAD from the beach, not WITHIN VIEW of the beach, but ON the beach; you stepped off the deck onto the sand -- this is a distinction which tends to escape realtors and hotel advertisers in some places I could mention. The first thing we noticed was the door. Not only did it not lock, it didn't latch; there was a good quarter inch clearance there. Carlos says, "I need to fix, or maybe you can put something?" We wedged some cardboard in there, and it was fine. Stayed that way the whole time.

And there are people all over the world staying in places with ultra-secure doors made to ultra-high tolerances who are enjoying themselves one hell of a lot less than we did. Laid back charm. In spades.

The room was cute, and the deck, which looked out to the main strand just feet away, featured a couple of comfy deck chairs, a hammock chair, and the best hammock I've ever touched -- absolutely immense, the size of Minnesota, with a tight weave. I'm pretty sure I spent many hours in the thing but honestly my memory is weak on this point, as I tended to become unconscious just sitting down in the thing.

If that wasn't enough, we could move even closer and sit under one of the palapas provided for that purpose. Which we did, for the entirety of day, er, well, a couple of them. Didn't move the whole day, and why would you want to?

The beach was as nice as Mamita's, but deserted. The room was lovely, completely rustic, with adobe and stick walls, a busted shutter over a glassless window, the aforementioned door, and two dim low-voltage light bulbs that only worked in the evenings through morning.

The only real drawback, if you chose to see it that way, was that we were a fair distance from anything at all. That first night, we were too tired to go off in search of food, so we looked at Carlos with big sad eyes and he made us the best ham sandwiches we've ever had.
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Old 02-24-2005   #33 (permalink)
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Wow it keeps getting better i feel like i am on vacation with you!!! this is fantastic please keep writing!!!
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Old 02-24-2005   #34 (permalink)
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Dude...your report is the bomb!!! Keep it coming man...
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Old 02-24-2005   #35 (permalink)
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Day 6 or thereabouts
================

We woke at dawn again. If we thought it was pretty off the deck of the Freud, it was awe-inspiring off the deck of this place, coming up right out of the sea.

The first day we did a little exploring, up and down the beach, and noticed a couple of enormous falling-down buildings, with caved-in palm roofs, rotting beams, and birds swooping in and out. We discovered that they formerly belonged to Pablo Escobar, the notorious Columbian drug lord who was killed by the CIA a while back, and now belong to the government. We soon discovered that the government was protecting their investment with real live soldiers, Federales suited up for war head to toe, with automatic weapons in their arms (along with their lunches, and on at least one occasion a pretty senorita) as they walked up and down the beach.

We also saw fishermen walk past once or twice a day with their spear guns and strings of fish; we even saw a guy walk up to the surf, put on this mask and snorkel, grab his spear gun from his buddy, and head off swimming to the reef, a good 200 yards or more away. Intrepid!

I discovered that it doesn't matter how much sunscreen you use, it only matters how much you DON'T use in just one moment of forgetfulness. I was doing really well -- my fair skin burns like flash paper -- but on the 6th or 7th day I left it off for just a half hour and roasted like a pig under a broiler. (I'm still itching and peeling as I type this. My cow-orkers are enjoying the sight of me with a network cable wrapped around my back trying to scratch that ONE PLACE I can't quite reach.)

Now, on a beach with no people, one's opportunities to admire that one particularly lovely form of the beauty of nature that gets so much attention here are limited. But while I was despairing of this, and plotting a way to get back up to Mamita's (because I was as yet unaware of closer opportunities), a couple of sweethearts strode up and dragged two lounges directly into my field of view. "Wouldn't it be nice if they", and then they did. Oh, I love humanity, really I do.

WHAP. "I know what you're looking at".

"I'm not looking, honey, really I'm not; I'm just working over in my mind the design for my new patented zoom-lens sunglasses".

Speaking of sunglasses, I recently splurged on a fancy-schmantzy pair of spectacles, because I am incredibly blind and even more incredibly vain, which included a smashing set of clip-on sunglasses, made especially to fit. With a whatchamacallit, a Croakie, to hold my glasses on while swimming in the surf (I mean it, I am really blind without, about 20-500), I thought I was all set. Until I caught a big wave smack in the face (which was actually my objective at the time), and came up sans clipons. Every other thing in the bleedin' ocean washed to shore around us (the nearby beaches that were not swept clean every morning were covered in plastic flotsam, or is it jetsam?), but not my sunglasses. This trip is getting expensive!

And yet, I can't stop grinning. I have photographic proof, from Nancy's camera: I look like a complete idiot, a total subnormal -- but a happy one.
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Old 02-24-2005   #36 (permalink)
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I have no earthly idea what day it is
===========================

We packed about seven different kinds of hand sanitizers and sanitary wipes and toilet seat covers and anti-diarrhea pills and I don't know what all, but so far I wasn't having any problems. The famous "tourista" or Monteczuma's revenge wasn't happening. Usually when I travel, it's the opposite; especially if I don't drink enough water, the concrete just sets right up.

I was even OK after we ate lunch at this place on the beach were I had some kind of stuffed chicken breast, and when I was on my next-to-last bite, I noticed a funny texture, and looked down and realized that I had just eaten a hunk of RAW chicken. I think it was a frozen cutlet that didn't quite stay on the broiler long enough. Gasp -- shock -- horror -- we all know that undercooked chicken is INVARIABLY FATAL and even the cutting board it touches must be boiled in bleach, or something -- I don't follow "Food Nazi News" that closely -- but two days later I was still fine.

But then, more than a week into our trip, I discovered a drawback to relaxation: I wasn't biting my nails. Now, understand, I've bitten my nails all my life; I can honestly say I have NEVER trimmed them with a clipper in my life. They're bitten so far down the quick and beyond that they don't even grow within a half-inch of the ends of my fingers anymore. I've tried the nasty-tasting stuff, and I just chew right through it; hey, it grows on you a little! Nancy realized a long time ago that it didn't matter how often she grunted with disgust or slapped my hands away from my drooling mouth, I was going to continue this perverted practice until I died. But here I was in Mexico, and growing hideous talons.

Now, I wash my hands, and I was using the sanitizer glop, and being as good a boy as I know how (which isn't saying much, but I'm trying), but you know what? I think my fingernails made me sick. I was brushing my teeth with bottled water and squirting lime on everything, but when I broke down and nibbled my new claws, because they were scratching me in places I didn't like being scratched, I think I was ingesting some nasties that were hiding under there. It's just a theory, mind you. But I was sick.

If you have to be sick, though, you might as well be in paradise to do it. And you know, I didn't FEEL bad; I just had to run up to the cabana every so often with a worried look on my face. I even tried a nice cold cerveza, and I can report as a result of this research that a nice cold cerveza on a warm day on the beach is pretty damn therapeutic. As a result of my need to be near a toilet all the time, we were forced to set aside our busy plans for action-packed days of tourism, and just relax under the palapa for another day. This proved not to be a hardship, oddly enough. And once I figured out that we could buy beer and ice at the store, and put them in the big tub that was providently placed next to our deck, I barely even had to get up out of my chair all day, except when I was called to go perform the unmentionable.

And when huge pelicans are flying ten feet over your head, who cares about a little tummy upset?
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Old 02-24-2005   #37 (permalink)
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This has to be the best yet!!!!!

Everything we all have wanted to say but didn't have a clue how put it into words like this..
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Old 02-24-2005   #38 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fnarf999
Days 2-3
=======

The other best thing I ate was the famous shrimp taco at El Oasis. The rest of my meal was good, but that shrimp taco was like a trumpet blast and a ten-minute fiesta in my mouth. And that was only the second or third best thing at El Oasis; you've read about the tamarindo sauce, but for me the green sauce is the one I wanted to take home. I had heard stories of even Mexicans laying on some of this devil's milk and being shocked, but it was still a surprise. One drop -- POW. Two drops -- WOW. OK, we'll go to five drops on a chip -- oh lordie, the tears were running down my face. There is NOTHING on this earth as wonderful as the smoky sweet taste of habanero pepper, and when you taste it coming on you know that the blowtorch is about to touch the flame. WHOOSH. .

If you're wondering, I discovered a few temporary cures for head colds here: one is a big snortful of salt water (decongests for a half hour), and the other is a repeated mild overdose of El Oasis's green sauce.

Thank you, habanero peppers.

.
You are bringin' back wonderful memories here! My fortune for just a few more drops of that green sauce! Fun report...thanks!
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Old 02-24-2005   #39 (permalink)
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fnarf you really are a dork but a very funny one.

This has to be one of my favorite lines ever...
Quote:
"I'm not looking, honey, really I'm not; I'm just working over in my mind the design for my new patented zoom-lens sunglasses".
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Old 02-24-2005   #40 (permalink)
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Gotta say, your trip report is my fave EVER!!! Thanks a bunch.
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Old 02-24-2005   #41 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fnarf999
Day 6 or thereabouts
================
Now, on a beach with no people, one's opportunities to admire that one particularly lovely form of the beauty of nature that gets so much attention here are limited. But while I was despairing of this, and plotting a way to get back up to Mamita's (because I was as yet unaware of closer opportunities), a couple of sweethearts strode up and dragged two lounges directly into my field of view. "Wouldn't it be nice if they", and then they did. Oh, I love humanity, really I do.

WHAP. "I know what you're looking at".

"I'm not looking, honey, really I'm not; I'm just working over in my mind the design for my new patented zoom-lens sunglasses".

.
A great BOTB response when you need one in a hurry!
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Old 02-24-2005   #42 (permalink)
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Great trip report ---- enjoying your humor!!!
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Old 02-24-2005   #43 (permalink)
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Old 02-24-2005   #44 (permalink)
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Too too funny!!! Thanks for a great read!
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Old 02-24-2005   #45 (permalink)
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Day Sump-teen
============

I'm settling in. When I pick up the Miami Herald (or "a Miami" as the girl at the Stop and Go calls it) I no longer recognize what they're talking about. Bush, what's this about a bush? Pope? I dunno. Canada? Never heard of it. Buncha guys in suits shaking hands, I don't understand at all. Hockey season cancelled? There's a hockey season? I'm starting to get interested in the Copa Libertadores, and I don't even know what that IS.

We got tired of walking miles up the beach to get to a restaurant, so we rented a car at Ana y Jose. Cute little "Chevy" 1.6; not a Chevrolet, a Chevy -- I couldn't find the word Chevrolet anywhere on it. I was hoping for an Atos, which is signed "by Dodge" here but is made by Hyundai. They look like they could drive through your average doorway into your house, they're so small. And cute. Even Nancy agrees, THESE little cars can be cute. Someday maybe they'll be legal in the States. The Smart Car (saw just one of these in Playa) has passed the emissions and crash test in the US and starting to become available (actually outperformed a lot of huge cars and trucks in the crash test).

But the Chevy is cool enough, and lo and behold I DO remember how to drive a manual. And Nancy is actually IMPRESSED. My chest is puffed out so far I'm practically honking the horn here. Hmm, better pay attention to the feet, the pedals are so close together my sandal is getting hooked under the brake. Not good. Yes, there was a little swearing, but all in all we're traveling.

First destination: supermarket. We always check out the foreign supermarkets. A couple of strange things we notice: all the coffee is instant, and all the milk is, well, actually there doesn't appear to be any milk. Wait, here's some little cans. And, hey, that's a lot of different kinds of detergent, isn't it? And over here, the beer. And the Cuban rum, mmm. I've never been one for tequila, personally; don't much care for the taste, and to be perfectly honest every time I drink it I end up setting something on fire. Remember, Nancy's impressed because you can drive a stick, now don't blow it!

Next stop: downtown Tulum. Tulum is, frankly, a bit of a shithole. Kind of a truck stop, a wide place in the road. But they've fancied up the main street, with a clever kind of main strip for the highway with a parking and lurking roadway on either side. We came armed with the knowledge that if you really want to see Mexico you have to get away from the tourists on the beach, at least as far as Vallodolid, preferably Merida, but we're not going to get that far this trip. Tulum it is. I bought a hammock. We ate a nice lunch in a divey spot -- again the "crummier the restaurant the better the food" rule.

I wouldn't want to stay at the Weary Traveler hostel, but it's a great place for information. You can book Sian Ka'an tours there, which we did, and check your email for almost nothing (the linux machines are only 5 pesos per hour), or sit around and watch the hippies watch action flicks on HBO. Excellent English is spoken and everyone is very friendly. While Nancy is checking her email, I amuse myself by reading a guidebook for Playa from 1989 -- Tulum isn't even mentioned (aside from the ruins) and Playa is a sleepy little town with only the Blue Parrot recognizable amongst the establishments. No Senor Frogs! No Senor Frogs Official Stores! ¿Cómo vivieron?

Tulum is quite a bit hotter than the beach zone, due to the lack of breeze, and everyone in town is moving very slowly. We immediately recognize the wisdom of Mitch's advice -- don't walk on the sunny side of the street! If it's midday and both sides are sunny, find a hamaca and doze a while, or sit inside and watch Benicio Del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones cut each other up with machetes. Or something.

We had a panic attack in Tulum one evening. We had eaten a pizza in town, and walked around, and came back out to our car -- and someone was parked behind us! Two tiny little cars in a space for one, and we're totally boxed in! There's another car idling behind that, and a bunch of what Joe Pesci calls "yoots" hanging around looking suspicious, but no drivers to be seen. Nancy is plainly a little terrified, but, I, being the fearless male of the species, am putting up an utterly transparently bogus front of unconcern. Well, we'll just have to drive up over the curb, I say, as a guy comes over and panhandles us: "pesos, comidas" is all I can make out but it's enough. He's not happy with the few pesos I hand over, but that's all I got, man. I bend down to see just how badly driving over the curb is going to destroy this Chevy -- initial estimates say "completely" -- when a giggling girl comes skipping over and laughs and says a bunch of things in melodious Spanish and backs out of my way. Total elapsed time of crisis: twelve minutes. As we drive back to the hotel strip, it occurs to me: I love Mexico!

The next day, I think it is, we drive out to the ruins at Coba. This is a bit different, as the highway isn't a federal one but a state, which means no shoulder, and frequently no lane markings. The huge trucks and buses are just as plentiful, though, which makes passing even more of an adventure. After a while, I don't even notice the sound of the rapid intake of air coming from the passenger seat anymore. I'm a pro; I'm whizzing in and out, left turn signal blazing, fingertip control, I'm in total -- GAAAAAHH. OK, both hands. Yes, dear, you're right. Could you wipe my brow, please?

On the road to Coba you pass over 2,183 topes in the two small towns along the way, plus Coba itself. The campaign banners are flying -- this is hard-core PDR country; The PRI won the recent elections in the state but out here in the sticks the poor people vote left. "Felix" banners are scarce, while "Chacho" (I think that's his name) is everywhere.

At Coba, we hire a guide -- no organized trip this time -- who turns out to be very good. The place is absolutely mobbed, though; we got there right after five huge buses of Italians. Now, I'm a proud and fervent internationalist, and I think Italy is terrific -- but you talk about your ugly Americans, these Italians, especially the old ladies. Oh my lord. They talk continuously, at the top of their lungs. They even carry on conversations with people who have climbed to the top of the big pyramid, Nohoch Mul (the largest in Mexico, and the second-highest Maya structure anywhere). From the bottom, shouting, waving. It's unbelievable.

And then they're gone. We left our guide, and spent the rest of the day just wandering the site. Once the buses left, we practically had the place to ourselves, it was wonderful. Coba is much larger than Tulum, and was a huge thriving city, not just a little temple zone. There are amazing stelae and two awesome ball courts and traces of sac-be, and the lagoons. Wonderful. We had been warned about bugs but didn't really get any. And then I ate the best thing I ate in Mexico, the pok chuk at the joint with the red chairs. Tourist trap, but what the heck, the achiote spice is fantastic.
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