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Trip Report, Part VI

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Chicago, Illinois
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Trip Report, Part VI

DAY SEVEN

I’m continuing this Trip Report in a new thread. To start at the beginning of the trip, use this link:

tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g150810-i360-k5762…

It had finally, arrived—our 10th Anniversary, our vacation’s entire raison d’être. Officially, the trip itself is our anniversary gift to each other, and we aren’t “supposed” to do any other gifts, but any husband knows better than to fall into that trap, especially for a significant anniversary like our 10th. So we usually exchange little gifts like a funny t-shirt or a box of candy.

We awoke on Friday morning and made our coffee and tea, as usual. Then I saw Michele sporting that Christmas morning look and knew there would be gifts exchanged over breakfast rather than dinner. I planned to give her a box of Fanny May dark chocolate-covered butter creams, her favorite, saving my “real” gift for later. I don’t know how widely they are available outside of the Chicago area, but they truly are the world’s most perfect candy.

Somehow, she had a gift bag all wrapped and decorated. She’s a former florist and can decorate a gift like nobody else, making her own bows and wild ribbons. Sometimes there are even small “mini-gifts” woven into the ribbons. I opened the bag to find a black t-shirt with the image of Jeff Bridges from “The Big Lebowski” and the words, “The Dude Abides.” To us, this is an Isla-related gift, since we decided when we met Curtis Blogin of Villa La Bella that he reminded us of The Dude if he had been played by Kevin Spacey in a blonde wig. We refer to Curtis as The Dude to this day, but not to his face. We both laughed and I presented her with her candy.

Then she handed me a small box. Several years back, I came home from a dive trip with a shark’s tooth that I had picked up off the ocean floor. She snuck it off my dresser and had it made into an earring, which unfortunately fell out one day and was lost. I loved that I had a piece of jewelry made from an item I had found underwater. Recently, she inherited some jewelry that had belonged to her grandmother, who used to vacation in Hawaii. Included were a few items featuring shark’s teeth, and now she had taken one and had another earring made from it. This one was also special to me because I knew how much it meant to her to have her grandmother’s things and that she had chosen to give one of those to me.

OK, I couldn’t wait. After quitting smoking and then reaching a certain age, Michele’s fingers became a bit larger than they had been when we married and she had to have her wedding rings cut off. My idea was to have these rings remounted or repaired and to present her with the new rings on our 10th anniversary. She now had only one ring that fit her, but unfortunately never took that ring off so I couldn’t gauge her correct size. And just a few weeks before our trip, she had moved the rings and I could no longer find them. Time for Plan B. A few years ago, on our anniversary in Panama, we visited an emerald “museum” (that was really a jewelry store) and I bought her the emerald ring she always wanted. She likes the lighter colored emeralds because they remind her of the color of the Caribbean, especially the lighter color you see while crossing over on the ferry. Good thing, because the lighter colored emeralds are less expensive. Since a necklace did not present any sizing problems, I got her an emerald necklace to match her ring. She was thrilled.

Then I told her about my original plan. She smiled, walked over to her dresser and produced the rings, which she had repaired just before our departure. Once again, our trains of thought were running down parallel tracks. So she got both the gift I had originally planned plus a new necklace to create her emerald ensemble, although she pointed out that the earrings were still missing and that there were only 109 shopping days until Christmas.

Happy with both the gifts we had given and those we had received, we got dressed and strolled down Hidalgo toward breakfast. I had always wanted to try Café Hidalgo so we took a seat as the waitress was just opening their umbrellas over their streetside tables. She was actually the only employee we saw so I imagine she was more than the waitress. I like having an early breakfast on Hidalgo while watching the street come to life for the day.

She started us with a crudité cup and an herbal dressing of some kind for dipping. We wondered whether it was epazote but when we asked she said it was bay leaf. Her English wasn’t the best and we suspected she meant something else because while bay leaf makes a great flavoring agent it isn’t edible. It was good, although I thought it an odd dish with which to start a breakfast.

Our breakfast appetizer:

…photobucket.com/albums/j395/DMartin216/Isla…

We each started with either a mango shake or a “fruit water shake” (35 pesos) which sounds somewhat medicinal but was, in fact, a mixed fruit smoothie that was both beautiful and delicious. Michele ordered what we jokingly refer to as “revolting eggs” (45 pesos) because in Spanish, scrambled eggs are “huevos revueltos.” They didn’t look very good to me because they weren’t at all fluffy but Michele said they tasted fine. I had a very good ham and cheese crepe (50 pesos). My dad stayed with his usual omelet (50 pesos), which he said was a bit dry, and my mom had some eggs sunny-side up with ham (45 pesos), a request we had to once again rely on our Charades skills to communicate. We were asked whether we wanted something on the side that sounded suspiciously to me as she walked away like we had just ordered salads. Since we had all just nodded in response, I asked whether anyone had any idea what we had just agreed to. It was good to see I wasn’t alone.

Fruit water shake:

…photobucket.com/albums/j395/DMartin216/Isla…

Huevos revueltos:

…photobucket.com/albums/j395/DMartin216/Isla…

Ham and cheese crepe:

…photobucket.com/albums/j395/DMartin216/Isla…

Omelet:

…photobucket.com/albums/j395/DMartin216/Isla…

Eggs with ham:

…photobucket.com/albums/j395/DMartin216/Isla…

It turns out we had all asked for vegetables on the side, including green beans, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes and avocado. All very good, but once again a bit strange (to me) for breakfast. In all the breakfasts I’ve eaten over my lifetime, I don’t ever once recall thinking, “These eggs are good, but I wish I had some green beans.” Our breakfast was good but nothing about it that has us dying to return. The bill for four was 360 pesos, or about $27 US.

Turns out I had to “work” today because I had vowed to get around to as many dive shops as I could to confirm contact information, services offered, pricing, etc. Our golf cart was due back at Ciro’s soon (those three days passed by with greater speed than our golf cart was able to muster) so we needed to run down to a dive shop outside of town, Casa del Buceo, while we still had the cart. Michele went with me but we found that the owner was out with a dive group, leaving two guys to mind the store who, unfortunately, spoke very little English and seemed to have little information about the shop. I left an email address and heard back from the owner that night.

After returning the cart we walked down to Casa Sirena, half a block south of the basketball courts near the zocalo, to ask Steve for the tour he promised. From the outside, the building has a hip, modern look. Inside, what a classically beautiful place! While remodeling the building Steve had come across some very old furniture, such as handmade armoires, that he had refurnished. With all the antiques, it was like stepping into a colonial home such as you’d expect to find in Merida. The entire building was surprisingly cool, even on a hot day. Steve proudly showed off the view from the rooftop deck—a view which includes both the bay and Caribbean sides of the island, which at that location is only a few blocks wide. We were surprised to see how close we were to the ferry. There was a very quiet, peaceful feeling to the B&B, which belied the wild happy hours they are also known for. Steve was the ideal host and we thanked him for his time.

View of ferry from Casa Sirena:

…photobucket.com/albums/j395/DMartin216/Isla…

The rest of the dive shops we needed to visit were in town, so we could walk around to each. I apologized to Michele for spending our anniversary on such a mundane task but she insisted she could think of no better way to spend our anniversary than walking around Isla Mujeres with me. And as a diver, she was just as interested in learning about all the dive shops. While I interviewed the owners, she took pictures. Each shop seemed to have something to offer—there were none that made me think that I wouldn’t want to dive with these people. I always recommend that divers wait until they arrive and then go to the dive shops in person. You need to be very comfortable with your dive shop and the best way to gauge your comfort level is face to face.

I’ll be presenting the details in another format, but overall I was impressed that Buzo’s has large, comfortable boats, accommodations above the shop and is even planning on starting a live-aboard that could take divers out to a newly discovered reef 35 miles offshore, although I wondered whether they might be over-investing in a location that isn’t known for diving. The manager at Carey Dive Center was very professional, businesslike and serious, good qualities in a dive operator. The owners at Seahawk were very earnest, looking me in the eye and discussing the dive situation on Isla very candidly. I’d like very much to dive with them. Later that evening we met Jim, the new owner of Aqua Adventures, who seems a little on the A-personality type to be living on Isla. A few months on Isla time should do the trick. We also met their instructor, Stephie, who has received nothing but rave reviews on TripAdvisor. Good to see she is still on staff. Aqua Adventures seems well on their way to a new era.

In between visits to dive shops, we decided to grab a chicken from La Mexican to tide us over until dinner. This time we visited during their business hours. A chicken with rice and beans, tortillas and onions was just $8. The chicken was a bit dry; it had been sitting for a while under the heat, but had a great flavor. The beans were completely watery, more like a bean sauce. Still, when $8 can feed four people we can’t complain at all.

Our $8 meal that fed four:

…photobucket.com/albums/j395/DMartin216/Isla…

I went to Seahawk and Monaca on my own while Michele was taking a shower and getting ready for dinner. I spent more time than I had planned, because the owner at Mundaca seemed a little suspicious of me when we first started talking but then realized I wasn’t trying to sell him anything and opened up. After that I was worried that I would never get out of there. By the time I did the sunset had already begun. In fact, after the aforementioned trip to Aqua Adventures it was completely dark before we set out for Da Luisa to enjoy our anniversary dinner.

We enjoyed an anniversary meal at Da Luisa in 2010, back when it was still a Caribbean restaurant known as Casa Louise Ixchel. Everything from the lobster quesadilla appetizers to the Caesar salad to the entrees and dessert was delicious, creative and artistically presented. We gave Casa Louise Ixchel one of our few five-star reviews and concluded, “We will definitely return every time we are on Isla--this is a DO NOT MISS restaurant!” That was definitely a fine dining experience.

Nothing in the paragraph above could be said about this meal. Our first clue was when the cocktails arrived served not in the tall, elegant glasses that were used before but in mugs. The only place an artistic presentation was even attempted was when the waiter poured some oil and balsamic vinegar on our bread plates in a “smiley face” pattern. Michele’s “Caesar salad” (75 pesos) was really just a house salad, complete with red peppers. The dressing had never even met an anchovy. I ordered the Sopa de Lima (90 pesos) but wondered whether they forgot to add the lime juice. As chicken soup it was pretty good. Michele and my mom each ordered lobster ravioli (255 pesos). Michele’s two favorite things in the world are pasta and lobster, so when after only two bites of her entrée she offers to trade with me, something was amiss. I gladly traded, giving her my completely undercooked penne with shrimp (199 pesos) but receiving her watery, mushy ravioli instead. My dad ordered linguine al cartoccio (149 pesos), a combination of pasta calamari, shrimp and mussels. Inexplicably, somebody thought that serving this dish on a bed of aluminum foil would make a nice presentation. Perhaps Clarence Birdseye is working in their kitchen. There was some issue with every dish that was served, and we unanimously decided that this was the worst meal of the trip, and one of the worst we have ever had on Isla. It was also the most expensive at 1,488 pesos (about $113 US). We apologized to my parents for bringing them here. Yes, this meal was half the cost of the old Casa Louise Ixchel, but we won’t be back.

Michele's "Caesar" salad:

…photobucket.com/albums/j395/DMartin216/Isla…

My Lime Soup:

…photobucket.com/albums/j395/DMartin216/Isla…

Penne with shrimp:

…photobucket.com/albums/j395/DMartin216/Isla…

Linguine al cartoccio:

…photobucket.com/albums/j395/DMartin216/Isla…

(Michele was too disappointed to photograph her ravioli).

To make matters worse, when we got back to our hotel we had the unenviable task of packing for the trip home. In the morning, we checked out and trudged back up Hidalgo, stopping at Barlito for a cinnamon roll. We had gotten an early enough start that we could eat there before catching the 9 AM ferry. The cinnamon rolls were warm and delicious, and we were ending our stay on Isla the way it had begun, sitting at a table at Barlito, visiting with two of our favorite people on the island. Our time had finally come, and like the condemned trudging off to the gallows, we made the ferry and began the trip home. There were no issues on our return trip, and we arrived at O’Hare to temperatures in the 60s, with a mild rain. We couldn’t be more depressed.

How do you say goodbye to this view?

…photobucket.com/albums/j395/DMartin216/Isla…

I’ll have a summary chapter as well. You didn’t think I was done, did you?

Chicago, Illinois
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1. Re: Trip Report, Part VI

Forgot to mention in this Trip Report, perhaps because I had posted this previously, but Friday night there was a loud party at Chimbo's. While they eventually turned the bass down, the music continued well after we had gone to bed. If you had a unit near the party, however, such as an oceanfront unit in Phase 1, it would have been impossible to sleep.

Morton, IL
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2. Re: Trip Report, Part VI

How sad to read about the anniversary dinner flop. :-( You'll just have to make it up to Michele on the next trip! So no pics of the anniversary present?? Please?

Tell Michele if she's looking for a job to come see my florist hubby...lol. He's always looking for talented help!

Canada
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3. Re: Trip Report, Part VI

As a diver, i'm most interested in the info you gathered on diveshops. I used Carey's in the past and would be curious to see how they compare. Will you be sharing the info on the forum?

Chicago, Illinois
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4. Re: Trip Report, Part VI

Gatine:

I'll post something somewhat permanent like a Traveler Article but I'll do a forum post as well, with links to the full article. Was very impressed with Carey as well as Seahawk and Buzo's, and Jim has Aqua Adventures back on the right track as well. But again, whomever you are most comfortable with is what's most important, and some people may get a better vibe from a different shop. That's fine and to be expected.

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5. Re: Trip Report, Part VI

Thanks DMartin, looking forward to it!

Cornwall, Canada
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6. Re: Trip Report, Part VI

How disappointing for your anniversary meal. Da Luisa had been getting some great reviews lately. I wonder if the regular chef wasn't working that night? And what was with the tin foil?

new york
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7. Re: Trip Report, Part VI

Yes, I agree, really disappointing that your anniversary dinner was such a let down, especially since it was so great the first time. The tin foil was an odd touch for sure. Your comments on Cafe Hidalgo are a perfect illustration of how subjective food is; it's my all time favorite place to have breakfast and I love the different veggies and the parsley dipping sauce. After a while the ubiquitous steamed or boiled broccoli-cauliflower-carrot mix they all seem to serve on Isla gets old, and to me it's no more odd to have veggies as a side to eggs than rice and black beans or peas.

A travel article for all the dive shops would be great!

Looking forward to the final installment. Next time you have to go for a month :)

Chicago, Illinois
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8. Re: Trip Report, Part VI

TNY, the veggies were actually very good; it was just bit surprising.

new york
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9. Re: Trip Report, Part VI

Oh, I know. I'm just saying that to me it was equally odd seeing rice and refried beans with my eggs the first few times. Or peas with the motulenos :)

Phoenix, Arizona
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10. Re: Trip Report, Part VI

At Cafe Hidalgo, we always eat lunch, so the crudites are a treat. And we always stick to the crepes and baguettes, which are wonderful. We often split a baguette because it's big! We eat breakfast sometimes at Da Luisa because it's a few doors away from where we often stay. The breakfasts, especially the omelettes, have been very good, but I have to admit I have not had good luck with dinner. I ordered a Cobb salad last year to carryout and discovered it was inedible when I got home. The salad dressing was already on it and tasted horrible. The entire salad went in the trash. If I'd been eating in the restaurant, I would have sent it back. So my experience was similar to yours. Carey and Seahawk are the dive shops recommended to us by locals we trust. My husband's been very pleased with Gilberto at Carey.