Oahu Tuesday: Aquarium and Pho

We had SO MUCH time before our 8 am whale watching, that we kind of dilly dallied. I wanted to hurry OT along, but I didn’t want to ruin the easygoing nature of the holiday by nagging. Our Uber got stuck behind a van loading a million pieces of luggage (I later learned military stationed there are moving their whole world there, hence the insane amounts of luggage). I got a call from the whale watch captain telling us we were running late and they had to set sail. He kindly rescheduled us for the 3 pm whale watch.

We didn’t really know what to do, so we headed for the beach conveniently located just one block away. The sky suddenly opened up and it was pouring. So we took another Uber a few city blocks to the aquarium. I always go to aquariums when I travel, and I’m sorry to say that Waikiki has a crappy aquarium. The octopus and seal exhibits were closed, so maybe that’s part of it, but I am becoming more and more against keeping sea mammals in captivity, so it’s probably for the best. After seeing “My Octopus Teacher” I’m not sure I even want to see octopi in captivity. Still, there were some nice saltwater fish and cool jellies. This fish has arms!

A Georgia O’Keefe coral

We got into an Uber, and the young woman driving decided that the thrift store we wanted to go to was inferior to one she knew of in the opposite direction, so she drove around for a while before deciding that it must have closed down. Then she drove us up into the hills, pointing out a house, “That’s where my dad lived.” It was bizarre and I was relieved when we were dropped off at the correct shop. Oliver said, “She was like a space alien who just got here and is still trying to figure out how things work.”

We went to a thrift store to pick up discount Hawaiian shirts and I was hoping for some tiki stuff, but didn’t find much, then we hit up a nearby mom and pop hole in the wall I had scoped out for Pho. Oliver ordered an interesting roll-your-own summer roll platter. I warned him that the wrappers fall apart easily, and he told me that he makes them for every party they have. The things you learn about people on vacation…

Apparently, we made a mistake by not ordering the crab curry, but sometimes you just have to go with your faithful standbys. Now I have a reason to go back!

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Oahu Tuesday: Leonard’s Malasadas

Malasadas are Portuguese doughnuts that have taken over the island of Oahu. Leonard DoRego, the grandson of Portuguese immigrants who came to Hawaii to work the sugar cane fields, opened Leonard’s bakery in 1952. He then started making malasadas, a Portuguese tradition for Shrove Tuesday, back in 1953. They were such a hit, the bakery started making them year-round, and now the bakery has become synonymous with the fried treat.

Since OT and I were on EST and PST, we were waking up before 5 am. OT was able to stop at Leonard’s Bakery for malasadas when they opened at 5:30 am Tuesday morning and showed up with a box of the outstanding fried dough. they are crisper and a little denser than the jelly donuts they resemble. You can get them rolled in white sugar, cinnamon sugar, or Li Hing, which is a “thing” in Hawaii. Have you ever had those Asian preserved plum snacks? They are sweet and sour and salty, and a bit much for me. You can have your malasadas rolled in that stuff! I had asked for them to be rolled in plain sugar and filled with guava, macadamia nut, and custard. The custard and macadamia nut filled ones were almost identical.

We returned on Wednesday, and also happened upon their truck on Saturday, such luck!

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Oahu Monday: OT and Side Street

Yay!!! OT is here! My husband was so upset that I had accidentally sent the donuts he was craving to Hawaii, that we immediately sent him the above picture.

It was Valentine’s Day, so I wasn’t sure we would be able to get a table anywhere. Luckily, we were told we could get a seat at the bar at Side Street Inn, a heavily recommended Hawaiian place. It’s a family-friendly neighborhood hangout, which has also been visited by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Jonathan Gold. The ambiance is a little 1980s Dennys mixed with a nice Chinese restaurant. The Uber driver dropped us off in an underground parking lot, where we encountered other groups of diners also searching for the restaurant. Finally, we found some stairs and made our way to the bar area.

I started out with a lychee martini, because it was vacation and I’m a sucker for anything lychee. It wasn’t a sweet drink, but the ice-cold top-shelf liquor made it smooth in spite of its strength. The server/bartender was cool and friendly. We loved her and immediately felt at home.

We were warned that the food was served family-style because the helpings were so large. We scoffed, because my nephew has an insatiable appetite, and can eat four times a normal serving. We ordered pork chops, which was their specialty, chicken, and fried rice. The platters that arrived could easily feed a family of five. We would scoff no more.

The dishes were so huge that I even forgot to take a picture of the chicken. I’m losing my edge. They’re going to revoke my Instagramembership. The crispy pork chops were good, and the fried rice, studded with bacon, char siu, and Portuguese sausage, was perfect and filling, but the chicken was awesome. Deep fried and drizzled with a slightly sweet shoyu garlic sauce, it was our favorite dish. Our order was so common, it was called the “Ohana Pack” and was priced at $70. Considering how many people it could feed, it was a great bargain. I was kind of suffering from high expectations, which made a lot of the restaurants on this trip seem not as impressive as I was led to believe.

But…BUT! We were about to have the best thing we ate the entire week. Peanut Butter Crunch! How did I live so long without this in my life? Milk chocolate and peanut butter was combined with crumbled cookie wafers to make a cake, almost a cookie bar, which was topped with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. We started battling over it with our forks, until finally OT whined loudly and hilariously, “You’re RUINING Valentine’s Day!!!

I tried to get the recipe, but the server told me, “She won’t tell anyone!” They had better protect this lady.

As we let our food settle, my nephew mused, “If I came back, I’d order the dessert FIRST, then I’d order the chicken, and then just bring the leftover rice from last time.”

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Oahu Monday: HOMA and Ioloni Palace

I walked over to the Honolulu Museum of Art HOMA. It was closed down to prepare for an art festival, but I was invited to wander the small sculpture garden and check out the single interactive installation that was open.


Fred Roster “Jax Bench.” The sculptor explains that the dogs are a metaphor for human change. I don’t get it either.

There was an indoor installation created with painted umbrellas forming a sort of yurt, with the artist in residence. There were several people sitting around inside, and a variety of objects. He said that it was his mind. We discussed the possible and intended meanings of objects as the little group left. I was focused on some suitcases that may have represented his baggage when he said, “That’s my family.” I looked for the objects representing them, then I realized he literally meant the people who had just left.

The Iolani Palace was just around the corner, Unfortunately, it is still closed due to Covid. But I was able to admire the huge gates and beautiful exterior. The Palace, which is the only official royal palace in the United States, is a registered National Historic Landmark. And for one unfortunate Queen, it was once a prison.

The story of the colonization and theft of Hawaii began as most of these stories do–money. And white men. Always white men. The Committee of Safety, comprised of men with interests in the plantations of Hawaii, were not happy with Queen Liliuokalani’s attempts to strengthen the Hawaiian monarchy. Their goal was annexation by the United States.  They took over the government, and when an attempt was made to reinstate the queen, she was imprisoned in an upstairs bedroom of the palace for almost eight months. I guess it’s better than the five years of hard labor in prison, which was the original sentence.

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Oahu Monday: Fete and Chinatown

The first reservation I made was at Fete in Chinatown, on my brother’s recommendation. I had to ask for a spot inside because there was an unhoused man yelling at us on the patio, and as a result, the table next to mine was saying uncharitable things, which actually bothered me more. The restaurant kindly squeezed me in at the bar, which is fine, because I was alone anyways. There was a couple on the corner of the bar who were super friendly and recommended more great restaurants for me to try. I just found their list on a napkin after returning home. Oops. This is someone else’s drink; it just looked so good.

Everything on the menu looked awesome, but I went with the beef cheek pot pie in spite of the warm day, because I LOVE cheeks. It was rich and delicious, with bits of potato and carrot nestled under a cozy blanket of pate brisee.

As you would expect, this was not your usual pot pie. The grass-fed Kua-aina ranch meat was more intensely flavored than your usual beef, or as Alina joked on her season of Top Chef, “Why is the beef…so…beefy?” The bill was also very reasonable for such an upscale experience.

Anyone from California will find this menu item amusing…if a little blurry

I wandered around Chinatown, which has some cool old buildings with dim sum shops and delis selling lacquered ducks out of tiny shops, like the little Hurricane booths in the French Quarter. The dim sum was tempting, but I was stuffed from that beefy pie!

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Oahu: Prix Fixe Dinner at XO

My nephew wasn’t scheduled to arrive until the next day, so I went out to an indulgent, chef-driven 7-course tasting menu at XO that I thought would be too fussy for him. The ambiance wasn’t fussy at all, with your standard cafeteria chairs and walls that looked like each one had been decorated by a different person altogether. The service was very friendly and personalized.

I ended up here because it had occurred to me that there might be such a thing as a foie gras Loco Moco in Waikiki. Maybe there is and I couldn’t find it, because, seriously. Foie Gras Loco Moco. I did keep seeing Crispy Rice with Foie Gras popping up online, and it was on the tasting menu at XO. It was a $75 tasting menu, with some courses having either an upgrade or addition available for not that much more money. Like $3 to $8. The server discussed their cocktail menu with me, and although it was tempting, we decided that the Ube Lemonade would be way too sweet for me. I believe this is a Lilokai (Passionfruit) Margarita, but I can’t remember exactly. Nonetheless, A+

The first course was deliciously crispy fried chicken skin, an underutilized ingredient in my opinion. It was lacquered with an intense sticky sweet and sour coating that was a bit much for me. It seemed like it belonged on little pork ribs on a pupu platter. But points for a creative fusion of cuisines. B

I added on a second app for $8. They started my meal out strong with an Oxtail Xiang Long Bao, or soup dumpling. There wasn’t any soup (which is made by putting a gelatinized cube of broth in the dumpling), but that didn’t matter, because it was fantastic. As I told my server, you can’t really go wrong with oxtail. A+

The second course was titled “Veg.” Everything in this course was vegan and gluten free. The heavily Instagrammed Beet Lotus with Emulsified Chimichurri was gorgeous. Unfortunately, the timbale of beets beneath the halo of radish was bland and mushy, with more of the texture of sweet potatoes. I was disappointed. C+

The third course, “Starch” offered a dish that didn’t appeal to me–Seaweed Potatoes Gratin. For $5 I subbed it out with the dish I had come for–Crispy Rice and Foie Gras. Although the foie was small, I was able to get three nice, fatty bites, and it paired perfectly with the crispy rice. If I could have ordered this as a full appetizer course size, I would have been ecstatic. It occurs to me now that I might have been able to add on more plates at $8 a pop. I think I missed an opportunity. A+

I was interested in adding the Herb Gnocchi with Arbequina (fancy olives) and a whiskey carrot puree. My server guided me instead toward the Mushroom Tofu Lasagne with Ma po Tomato and Crispy Tempeh. I expected the tofu to be crumbled between the sheets of pasta. I did not expect the tofu to replace the pasta. It looked so dull and gray I didn’t even take a picture, which you know is not like me. And it tasted dull and gray; it was nearly flavorless. The waiter forlornly took away 3/4 of this dish, and I felt our relationship start to crumble. D-

Things started looking up again with the three protein courses. The Scallops were perfectly cooked. I wasn’t fond of the Mussel Sinigang (A Filipino sweet-sour tamarind soup). But that is not their fault, because I am quite unfond of mussels. The Crispy Kale was purely decorative to me, like a parsley sprig. B.

Their signature dish, a 4-hour braised Adobo Fried Chicken, was a boneless chicken breast of good quality, like Mary’s in LA. It was probably Jidori. It was crispy and had a nice seasoning, plus a sauce made with a peppercorn Togarashi (a Japanese pepper, often used to refer to a spice mix containing the pepper). It was a hearty dish, and I was starting to get full, so I didn’t finish it. This caused the waiter some concern, and he wanted to pack it up for me, but I was going back to a hotel. A-

The final protein was a Kalbi Pork Belly Ssam, with a Gochujang Aioli (Korean chile paste). A Ssam is usually something vegetable wrapped, but again we had the timbale. It was dense and hearty. Although it was meant to taste like Korean Kalbi, it still reminded me of Kahlua pork. It was just too much for me to eat, but this time I let the waiter pack it up in order to avoid an incident. A-

In spite of my full belly, their signature dessert, Fluffle of Brown Butter Bunny Butter Mochi, seemed small and not too filling (Wafer thin!). There was a cute little chocolate poop behind the bum. Rabbits actually poop pellets, but why get all pedantic about a rabbit-shaped confection? It was absolute perfection. Brown Butter is such a classic American flavor. Combining it with mochi was the pinnacle of fusion genius. I can see why it is so popular. Again, it occurs to me, I probably could have ordered a second one to take home. I’m just so used to eating whatever the chef gives me on a tasting menu and not making a fuss. A+++

It was definitely a mixed bag. There were a few dishes that would have made for a better meal had they been left off the menu completely. But the highs were very high. The restaurant is relatively new, so maybe they just need to find their legs. Vegans rave about the place, so maybe there was less seasoning on the night I was there. Or maybe vegans prefer less seasoning?

The mission of the restaurant group is to provide opportunities for chefs and restaurant workers to be able to collaborate and experiment more, feel supported, have opportunities for training, and better working conditions. Chef/owner Kenny Lee has hopes for “a massive variety of different concepts that are new and unproven.” XO wants to take risks and move Hawaiian food into the future. XO seems to be a step in the right direction.

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Welcome to Oahu!

I promised my nephew that I would use some of my inheritance to take him on a trip. I invited him to Cancun, but he wanted to go to New Orleans. Then he called me out of the blue two weeks ago and invited me to Hawaii! The RT airfare was only $199, so Honolulu it is! The hotel I got was only about $1100 for a week, but then I had to upgrade to get two beds (for obvious reasons), and the add-on “resort fees” are highway robbery, but standard, so the room ended up being 2 grand. But when I got here yesterday–what a room! Worth every penny! The view of Diamond Head is breathtaking, and I even got upgraded to a “partial ocean view,” which is a very flexible term here, but the bit of blue when you look to the right off the balcony is nonetheless wonderful.

It’s a bit like a Holiday Inn that has been hipsterized. The hallways are sprayed with an overly sweet air freshener that smells like the ones they use in ladies’ bathrooms. Otherwise, it’s super clean. No bugs. The workers are incredibly nice. Our room overlooks the bar and pool so it can be a little noisy. but by 10 pm it’s so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

Here’s a little story…I use a shopping service called Shipt. I was using them this week to send stuff to my brother’s care home, and to a friend, and I also checked to see if they deliver in Hawaii so I can save money there. In other words, I was changing the address a lot. So, the other day I placed an order at Target. Bob said get ALL the drinks so I ordered enough for weeks. Then I ordered sooo many snacks for on the plane.

The shopper and Bob were texting back and forth because the guy couldn’t find our house.

Bob says, “You’re on Mariposa Street?”

The guy says, “No, man. I’m on Kapahulu Avenue.”

Bob shouted to me, “You sent our groceries to Hawaii!”

I convinced the front desk at the hotel to hold the SIX 12 packs of diet coke and EIGHT cases of La Croix, along with a big bag of snacks until I arrived, and I told the delivery guy to just take the perishables home.

So we have plenty of drinks. Maybe I will wander the streets handing out Diet Cokes. There will be legends about me.

“…and on a very quiet, moonless night, you can still hear the clanking of her cans…”

I often ask taxi drivers on the way home from the airport to stop at their favorite spot, and I will buy them lunch. My cabbie wanted garlic shrimp, a specialty of the island.

Everyone here is so fuckin’ friendly! They get really excited to learn you just arrived, or that it is your first visit, in spite of the fact they must hear that a million times a day.

I tried an island specialty–shell-on shrimp with a creamy garlic sauce.

I was disappointed to see the “tempura shrimp” looked like fish sticks. I was so wrong. It was so hot you had to hold your mouth open after a bite, and the shrimp was so tender as if barely cooked.

…and the first thing you have to do in Oahu, is get a Dole Whip!

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Cancun Resort Monday: Coati

All week people had told me I would be seeing coatis, little cat-monkey things. Even though I searched them out I didn’t see any. As we were disembarking the tram after the whale shark excursion, I complained. It’s the last day and I still haven’t seen any coati!” I looked down the street, and there was a whole passel of them! They are called a “coatimundi” or “coati” or “tejon” in Spanish. They are related to racoons and have cute long tails. They roll around with each other and are so much fun! It was a great day, animal-wise.

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Cancun Resort Monday: Whale Sharks!!!

The day finally was here! This is why I came to Cancun, and why I came in sweltering August! The whale sharks come to the waters of Isla Mujeres, about a 2-hour boat ride from Cancun. So, is it a whale or is it a shark? It is a shark, although it filter feeds like a whale. It is the largest known fish on earth. The biggest one ever recorded was 61 feet long and they can live up to 130 years! We had to go without sunscreen, even if it was reef safe because the whale sharks feed on the surface and can ingest the slick of chemicals. So I got a sunburn, but it was the least I could do for these glorious creatures. It was a gorgeous day out on the water.

We had to get up really early to beat the other boats there, but when we got to the harbor the guides spent about an hour and a half drumming up more business to try to fill the boat. So annoying. But I guess ya gotta earn a living. When we got to the spot there was a wide circle of boats, and plenty of whale sharks to go around. They were everywhere! At one point one came right to the boat where a guide and I were sitting, and I swear it was the size of a VW bug! We looked at each other agog, and I assume he has seen a lot.

You need the sound on to hear Bob flirting with the shark

Everyone is paired up, and you get two chances in the water. We were sitting on the edge of the boat, and as soon as a whale shark got close they yelled, “Go! Go! Go!” I didn’t notice at the time, but in the video you can see that the guide pushed me in! As the bubbles cleared I found myself face to face with a whale shark that was probably 5 feet wide. If its mouth was open I might have met Jonah. But I had swam with whale sharks in the Georgia Aquarium and was familiar with their behavior. So I opened my arms and legs wide and let my whole body float on top of the water. As expected, the shark gracefully slid beneath me. I floated there as its entire body glided beneath mine, blotting out the rest of the sea. All I could see was the beautiful gray spotted leviathon, maybe 2 feet away. In that moment I felt that I fully understood the majesty of nature.

The guide yelled, “Swim! Swim!” He wanted me to follow it to get video, which I guess had been impossible with the whale shark completely between us..

The other guide was excited as I was. He said, “When I saw you were going over, I swam beneath him!

I decided that nothing could ever match that experience and immediately got out of the water. As I stepped onto the boat I announced, “I have found my god!!”

Bob was videotaping me, but when the shark swam under me the boat lurched and he missed most of it. You can just see its tail as I float near a fin. The people on the boat were anxious, thinking I had been hit in the face with the fin. But some moments you can’t capture on video, especially religious ecstasy. All the action is in the first 23 seconds of video.

The diver got better video here

They kept wanting me to chase the sharks to get more video, but I kind of felt like they had given me my moment and I was done. We went to the Isla Mujeres and hung out in the harbor with a bunch of other boats. Lots of people were swimming, and the guides made us a ceviche lunch from fish they had just caught. It was one of the best experiences of my life. 

If I ever disappear, you can be pretty sure I will be in a boat off of the Isla Mujeres living this guy’s life

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Cancun Resort Sunday: Snorkeling

We had rescheduled our snorkeling trip, and there were only four of us on the boat…a nice woman and her son, so we kind of lucked out. It was a gorgeous day out on the water. It was such a beautiful pale turquoise. First, we were going to see turtles. There were no turtles. We swam and swam and finally I gave up and went back to the boat. I had thought we were going to Akumel Bay, which is world-famous for turtles. I questioned the tour guy, and he threw his hands in the air, exasperated and said, “Akumel, Akumel, Akumel!” Exactly like the Brady Bunch “Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!” Maybe you need a special license or something to go there that he didn’t have and he was frustrated at his terrible dive area.

She looks angry, but she was just having trouble with her full-face snorkel. They aren’t the best, and have turned out to actually be dangerous.

Next we were going to the reef, but there was just a depressing black-bottom. At one point I saw a giant barracuda and started chasing it, I looked back for the photographer and he was shooting B-roll of ugly dead coral. Later he asked me if I was crazy following the barracuda, I was thinking, “Well, I expected you to take a picture of me with it!” I was also thinking barracuda aren’t really dangerous. We had them in the water at the beach where I grew up. Although one time one did bite my friend on the tit, but it was funnier than it was scary. Anyways, in spite of the photographer’s barracuda fail, he did get this absolutely awesome picture of me.

The final dive was an old shipwreck, but it was a very small boat that sunk in the 80s and you just swim around it. It’s not some big galleon you can swim through. I decided to save my already wobbly legs for the next day’s whale shark excursion. We enjoyed just hanging out in the boat a lot.

This guy kayaked up to the boat to sell lobsters.

Cheesy tourist pic

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Ich Bin Ein Berliner: Now I Got a Reason

Remember when cabbies used to know their city better than anyone? They could take you to the best steakhouse and knew every shortcut to the airport. They could even get you hookers and blow, or so i have been told. After walking 10 thousand miles yesterday I didn’t want to walk 10 thousand more so i asked the front desk “Callenze taxi?” I can’t remember the vocabulary from my German tapes, but i got a sense of the rhythm. And they humored me.

The cab driver was angry because i didn’t have the exact address to the East Side Gallery, aka the Berlin Wall. Dude, it’s only the most famous goddamned site in the entire city. When I finally brought up The Berlin Wall on my phone and showed him, he said accusingly, “You said gallery!” I also said Berlin Wall but whatever. As he drove angrily through the streets, I thought, “Oh, road rage! I remember this from back home.”

The interwebs tell you not to be disappointed because not much of the wall is there. But it’s a good 2 or 3 city blocks of amazing murals, which is plenty for me. People were taking turns posing in front of “My God, Help Me Survive this Deadly Love,” Dmitri Vrubel’s famous mural of Breshnev kissing Hoeneker on the mouth. It’s from a real photo. The “Triple Breshnev,” as his “fraternal kiss” was known, frequently raised eyebrows.

It’s so cheesy, but I even took a selfie there too. There are just so many things you gotta do, even though they are a cliche, like buying Mickey Mouse ears at Dismeyland or ordering a hurricane at Pat o’ Brien’s. They became a thing because they are rad.

As I wandered along the wall, I started wondering what was on the other side? There was a break in the wall at one point and here it is…raw, non-mural graffiti.

Then I noticed the small section of the second wall. I guess they left it there to show the kill zone between the walls. I realized I was in the kill zone, and immediately started weeping. It’s especially poignant right now with what is happening in America. They are building a similar wall between the US and Mexico.  I considered buying a chunk of the wall and sending it to our dictator in chief. And I kind of wished everyone would do that.

Across the bridge i found the Ramones Museum. The owner was really cool and was playing the Dead Milkman. He declined having his picture taken for this blog though. Whereas Dutch people posed for my camera, German people are not into it. Maybe it comes from a culture steeped in memories of surveillance. The Ramones Museum had a little cafe where they sold coffee drinks, beer and vegan treats. It had a really comfortable sitting area.

There was a lot of cool stuff there, including set lists, lyrics, some clothes and musical equipment. I bought a T shirt there because laundry is so expensive at the hotel, and I had packed light. But everyone wears Ramones shirts now. It’s become so cheeseball. What does a rebel do when everyone gets into their thing? I didn’t notice until later it was actually a museum T-shirt made in the style of the Ramones T-shirts, which once again made it supercool.

Across the street under the railroad tracks is Burgermeister. They are famous for being housed in a former public toilet. When I mentioned it to Jonathan Gold, he scrunched up his nose and said, “Charming.” For some reason, that made me want to go there even more. It was indeed a public toilet, but a damn fine public toilet, with wrought iron embellishments.

It also turned out to be an excellent burger, with a charred patty, crispy bacon, and enough cracked black pepper to be noticeable, but not enough to ruin it. It was like that was their signature taste– something that regulars would miss if they stayed away too long.

Often when I try to plan an outing using google maps, I misjudge the distance between things. But this trio of delights was all within a few blocks of each other. Or less. I highly recommend a day out combining a leisurely stroll along the Eastside Gallery, a coffee or beer (or three) at the Ramones Museum, and a killer lunch at Burgermeister. Depending on how long you linger, it’s a three to four-hour jaunt.

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Cancun Resort Saturday: The Universe had other Plans

I booked two excursions for Saturday–snorkeling the reef during the day and a food crawl in the evening. We had to wake up super early and take two trams to get to the pickup spot for tour buses. The bus was late, and when it finally came there was only room for one of us. They hadn’t counted Bob. So, we decided to reschedule for the next day and went back to hang out at the pool until our evening tour. There were pools all over the place, but we went to the smaller one nearest to our room with less kids than some of the others. There were cement chaise lounges built into the pool, but it was hard to relax in one without sliding down into the water. They needed handles or foot pegs or something. There was a swim-up bar but I wasn’t really in the mood.

We ordered shrimp tacos poolside and I found a little cove with those white canopied beds you see in all the Instagrams. No one was around, so I had some time to just relax by myself and enjoy the mild breeze.

We got ready and made our way back to the bus pickup. We waited for the bus. And waited. And waited. I had texted with the people earlier in the day, but now my texts went unanswered. We finally returned to the room and ordered room service. This is the only trip in my entire life where I stayed ensconced in a resort and never made it into the actual city. I always believed that line about being a “traveler, not a tourist,” and seeing the REAL country and the REAL culture. But I guess when Covid is still raging and you are exhausted and stressed out, there are worse things than eating ceviche and lounging by the pool at a resort all day. The resort had a “Mexican Village” down by the water. It turned out to be like Knott’s Berry Farm’s “Old West” town. There was something so sad and ironic about little pretend shops and restaurants in the safety of an enclosed resort, that was honestly pretty hard to leave even when you are really trying. At least they had ice cream. And Churros.

They even had Gouda cheese ice cream.

It was too surreal for us though, so we didn’t eat dinner there. We probably should have. We went to the Italian restaurant, which was terrible. I started out with burrata, which I guess was OK, but there was a burned kind of balsamic. They had a nice harpist. But the risotto was like glue. I can see why so many contestants go home on Top Chef or get yelled at by Gordon Ramsay due to risotto. It can go really bad. They had the same crazy ass bread basket as the Cirque du Soleil.

We went and checked out the alligators before turning in early.

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Cancun Resort Friday: Ceviche and Surrealism

We had been ordering room service breakfast, because honestly, it took at least a half-hour to get to anywhere that had food. This was the mediocre to bad cafeteria-conference meeting fare I had been expecting. I guess the breakfast comes from a different restaurant than the dinners. but then we hit the pool and the nearby restaurant, Limon y Sal, which specializes in Ceviche. It was awesome. probably the best meal of the entire trip.

We had the Mixed Yellow Ceviche with scallops, octopus, grouper, salmon, yellow Peruvian chili pepper in a citrus sauce and fish tacos.

We wandered along the beach, then took a tram to the resort’s Cirque du Soleil show, JOYA. There were a few bars to hang out in while we waited we ordered a couple of very strong drinks and enjoyed the moonlight.

A 3-course meal of trippy food was included and served before the show while we listened to an awesome jazz band. Everything was really creative, with a lot of molecular gastronomy and food that was disguised as other things. But the flavor wasn’t there. You could eat the menu, and we were given huge appetizer plates with crazy concoctions.

Our main dishes arrived in big gold nuggets.

My braised short ribs in Mayan spices were pretty standard, but Bob was not into his salmon dish. Although he had a cool molecular gastronomy “pearl”

Our desserts arrived in a giant book.

After dinner, things got really weird.

“Prepare for a fantastic adventure that will take you through the jungle, under the sea, and across the pages of history. Each night, acrobats perform dizzying flips and leaps, contortionists bend impossibly, puppeteers make dinosaurs dash and cockroaches dance, musicians fill the world with song, and the very stage comes alive to lead you on a journey that dazzles the senses.”

The design and effects that made it seem like we were all under the sea were awesome, with the acrobats moving as if they were swimming.

At one point skeleton pirates came out on a giant ship. Then they suddenly slid down from the ceiling into the audience on ropes. One was right behind me and freaked me out.

I have a roach phobia, so the singing cockroach puppets also freaked me out. Luckily they were far away.

I don’t know if our tram driver was in a rush to get back and pick up more people, or he was just having fun, but he drove back like a bat out of hell. I didn;t know those things could go that fast, and I was certain we were going to flip over as we took some of the corners. The wind was in my hair and it was awesome.

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Cancun Resort Thursday: Dinner at GONG

Vidante Resort had an assortment of international restaurants that I viewed with a jaundiced eye, but you can’t eat tacos 24/7 (or CAN you?). We called for reservations, since some restaurants were only open on certain nights, and some had closed due to Covid. We ended up with GONG, an Asian-themed spot. A large part of this vacation is tram-riding and walking and trying to figure out where you are.

Walking, walking, walking…

Where are we???

We were told the restaurant was above the boutique, so we got in the elevator and pushed the button for the second floor. It was just a bunch of offices and their call center, with operators busily working in windowed rooms. There was no third floor. So we took the stairs down, and there it was! It was on the 1 1/2th floor maybe?

GONG is superfancy and decorated with a lot of Buddhas. We had a lovely table in the corner watching the kitchen, and I got to sit on the banquette. I was excited about the dim sum, so we decided to order a bunch of appetizers and see if we were still hungry. Then this guy appeared in his leather apron and leather gloves.

I said, “Bob, this man has come to kill us.”

Bob assured me, “I think he is here to make cocktails.” not wanting to cross this man, I ordered a lychee margarita.

It packed a wallop, and even only drinking about a third of it between the two of us, I had a pretty good buzz going. The food arrived and it was awesome. These dumplings were filled with short ribs and a little hoisin sauce. The combo of richness and sweetness was inspired and made one dumpling perfectly delicious and gorgeous, but you couldn’t eat too many of them.

This was not true of the shrimp and pork pot stickers, with a kiss of ginger and garlic in a paper thin wrapper that was almost like a crepe. I could have eaten them all night, and in fact, I ordered some to go for the perfect midnight snack.

Bob loved his hand roll, and we rounded out the menu with tempura shrimp and Vietnamese Spring Rolls. We definitely didn’t need to order main dishes.

We did decide to continue with our prudent consumption of alcohol and sugar by splitting an irresistible-sounding cacao and ginger mousse/creameux with macadamia nuts. It was served with vanilla and ginger ice cream. A lovely finish.

The pools looked dreamy and inviting with the soft lighting and without the crowd.

Too inviting for me to resist. I had foolishly ignored someone’s advice to always wear a bathing suit, but that never stopped me before. Especially after a lychee margarita.

At this point, I was about ready to sign up for a time share.


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Cancun Resort Thursday: The Vidanta Riviera Maya

I had booked a couples massage for us, and we woke up less than an hour before the appointment. We had to rush and then take two trams and walk a ways, so we were a little late. They nevertheless accommodated us and gave us the full treatment. Starting off, they blessed us with elements of Earth, Fire, Air and Water. For fire, they used flameless candles, which I found hilarious, but it’s the thought that counts, right? It was a long and thorough massage, and then they gave us macarons. When I was booking the treatment in my terrible Spanish, I couldn’t understand what “macaron” was. Some exotic body treatment? Then I realized, “You mean cookies???”

I had wanted to lunch at Havana Moon, the resort’s Cuban restaurant on the beach, but they were closing up as we arrived. The beach was beautiful, but due to a buttload of a seaweed-like algae called Sargassum, it wasn’t really swimmable.

De rigeur feet on the beach shot

There had been a lot of pictures online of a hut at the end of a dock, taken from the other end of the dock. I went looking for the dock, for the ‘Gram, but it wasn’t going to happen.

We ended up at Balche, the poolside cafe. Even though it was open-air, they run a lot of fans and keep it cool and comfortable. They also have a very convenient box of outlets to charge your phone, and cute little birds flying through. Although when one flew right at my face full speed it was a little startling. I avoided a Fabio incident though, just by a beak. I ordered the ribeye tacos, and Bob had a shrimp burrito. Once again, every single thing, down to the french fries, was delicious. If this place were near my home I would definitely eat there again.

Then we walked, we walked and we walked. We passed a big swimming pool full of revelers. Not as many kids as drunks, especially some howler monkey guys near the swim-up bar. I told Bob, “That’s somebody’s vacation, but it’s not mine.”

We took two trams back. You always have to go to a central station and then you can take a tram to wherever you’re going. Riding through the jungle, it’s kind of like being at Disneyland. In fact, if the tram is your favorite thing at Disneyland, and you think, “Like Disneyland, but every. single. ride. is a tram,” this is YOUR place. Numerous iguana sightings made it more fun.

In fact, they also had coatls, a relative of the racoon that look like monkey cats, that everyone kept insisting I would see, a crocodile pit, a “flamingorium,” Cirque du Soleil, a water park, and trees randomly dropping coconuts. I even saw an employee board a tram with a falcon on his arm.

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