Recently our family had the opportunity to spend just under 24 hours outside of Mérida for a little getaway. This past weekend our kids had a few days off of school to make it a 5 day weekend, but between homework, parents' work and church we couldn't really relax until the very end. So what do you do when you live in Mérida? Head to the beach! No, the waters aren't crystal clear like they are near Cancun. But they are just as wet and just as salty and the sand is just as soft. So, after church and a late lunch with the pastor and her family, we drove to Celestún, a fishing city on the gulf coast where flamingos can be found, at times in the thousands. Once there, we checked into a hotel for the night and went straight to the ocean. The kids ran and swam and played in the water as the sun set, making for a very beautiful and relaxing evening. Afterwards, the kids rinsed off under a very powerful spray of water from an outdoor shower. Although they didn't want to come out of the water, our hunger compelled us to find a place to eat along the beach. We found a restaurant that had fresh fried fish - mero - which in English is the fish known as "grouper". Very yummy - I couldn't finish mine, but Dave said that my fish was larger then his was and he helped himself to some of my dish :-)
The following morning we ordered room service. You know, I don't remember EVER getting room service anywhere. Anyway, we were brought coffee, eggs, toast, hotcakes and juice. I'm thinking that, including the tip, we paid about the same (or less) than we would in any American restaurant for breakfast. After that, we had scheduled a boat tour to see the flamingos and a water hole along the coast. Our guide, Don Louis, picked us up at the hotel along the beach and we boarded his boat for a 2 1/2 hour tour. It was an absolutely gorgeous day to be on the ocean and enjoy God's creation. Don Louis took us to a place they call a petrified forest, which is really and area where the trees are preserved because of the salt water. We got out and saw dozens, maybe hundreds of little crabs called "violinists" - because with their larger claw raised (which is actually attracting the female crabs) it looks like an orchestra playing their violins. Rebekah and Joseph picked some up and I captured what I think is a pretty cool picture of a female crab (the female does not have the enlarged claw like the males do) on Rebekah's finger. Later, we went on to see the flamingos and other birds that call this place home during part of the year, at least. This is actually not the "season" but we were blessed to not only see a group of young flamingos, but also to catch them in flight. We heard that, just one day before, all the tourists who came saw only 1 lone flamingo. Can you imagine?
Next on the agenda was visiting a water hole. On the way we maneuvered through "los manglares" (mangroves) and saw huge termite nests in the trees and got the feeling that we were in Costa Rica again during our getaway on the Atlantic coast a few years back. After this short passageway through the trees we arrived at the final stop called an "ojo de agua" which literally translated means "water eye" or "eye of water" - which we had heard was fresh water found along the coast. My guess is that those who called it fresh water did not jump in and try it out because it was definitely salty, although not as salty as the ocean. The water was very clear, like you would find in a cenote or a water hole along a creek, and it was full of fish. The whole family tried it out, but we didn't stay very long since it was deep and not even Dave and I could touch bottom in the majority of the pool. Here is a picture Dave took of us sitting on a fallen log in the water. Then it was time to head back to the hotel. We had to be checked out by 1, but when we returned to check out they said we were free to enjoy the beach and use their area for changing. Bonus! So, we packed up, but returned to enjoy the ocean waves, sun and fresh mango on beach. Of course, our stomachs got the best of us, and we were craving more seafood. Don Louis had been talking about jaiba which is a type of crab and also shrimp that they served along the coast, and he also suggested some restaurants. He did not let us down. I now have a new favorite - jaiba a la mexicana - basically crab meat served Mexican style. Oh, was it delicious! In the picture, that is shrimp that you see closest, of course, then ceviche with mixed seafood (crab, shrimp, fish, and octopus), and on the plate near Dave is the crab meat. Did I say that is my new favorite seafood?
There are always people selling things on the beach, even inside the restaurants, so we had to get some local sweets as well. Dave got an almond cookie, of sorts, picture almonds laid side to side in circle, held together with a caramelized sugar. Rebekah got something similar, but with other ingredients, kind of had a Cracker Jack quality to it. Jonathan picked a coconut treat and Joseph and I went for pure sugar in what is simply meringue (basically egg whites and sugar, slightly baked) - just a baseball size treat that is crispy on the outside and soft in the center. Can you tell who has the sweet tooth in the family?
Well, that, in a nutshell (no pun intended, Sky), was our 24 hour mini-getaway. I couldn't have asked for anything to work out more nicely. I count it a blessing to have experiences like this and a double blessing to be able to share it with family and friends who are far away. We miss all of you.