Finding A Good Time In Cancún For Cinco De Mayo

In 2019, I hit 5 years at my current job, which unlocked an extra week vacation I could use each year. With this new time and the wanderlust from having just returned from Iceland, I implored Rachel to book another flight with me.

I told her that we could do somewhere inexpensive and easy, like Cancún . It would be for a little R&R.

We booked our stay for the weekend of Cinco De Mayo (which, I have come to learn, is not widely celebrated outside of the Puebla region of Mexico) and started preparing.

Tacos made us happy.

Through poor financial decisions (taking a trip less than two months after another trip, finishing some tattoos, eating out a lot, etc.) I was basically out of money by the time we flew into Cancún International Airport.

When you enter into the country, you’ll be given a tourist card. Hang onto this, as you’ll need it to exit. Rachel didn’t keep hers, which led to standing in line to get a new one, discovering there was a hefty fee to get it, realizing they only took cash, then finding out the ATMs right beside it had astronomical fees. In short, it’s expensive and timely to replace.

We took a shuttle to our AirBNB which was in the Hotel Zone of the city. The place was okay; it had a nice view from the balcony that overlooked the beach. We found the pool was only a 2’ deep wading pool and there was a wall that blocked our view.

Thankfully, our friends Courtney and Tom came down as well. We were texting to meet up and realized they booked a room in the building right beside ours. They had a much nicer pool setup and we were able to get guest wristbands into their area (albeit with some hassle.)

The first stop was food. We strolled down the street in search of a place to eat and found Cerveceria Chapultepec, where everything on the menu was 21 pesos (~$1.) We each ordered a variety of empanadas, cervezas, and we had our first round of mezcal. I immediately became enamored with the spirit and have since put visiting an agave farm towards the top of my future travels.

Cancún sits on beautiful, blue water that you’d love to swim in. However, there was an invasion of sargassum, a brown, stinky seaweed that had ventured up from South America. Today, officials in the Riviera Maya region declare the sargassum season over. The local governments were better equipped with collection vessels and the amount of seaweed that arrived was much lower than expected.

Sargassum on the beach and in the water.

Since we were unable to swim in the gulf (this stuff was everywhere), we explored some other options of entertainment. I pitched Chichen Itza as an option; I had visited the UNESCO World Heritage site a few years prior, but the consensus was to stay a little closer to maximize time. To segue, I also want to dive the Musa dive site when I go back.

We found a local couple that did kayak tours and we signed up. They took us through the Nichupté Lagoon and we traversed our way through a mangrove forest. The guides were experts at pointing out all kinds of animal life, like crabs, starfish, birds, and fish. I highly recommend this if you get the chance.

The food on this trip was great. The Surfin Burrito, targeted towards Americans, was excellent for breakfast. The rest of the trip was comprised of trying various Mexican dishes that were all delicious. Side note: this is a good destination for vegetarian travelers.

I would eat this for every breakfast forever, if I could.

I look forward to going back to Mexico in the near future. If I do venture to the Riviera Maya region again, it may likely be a different town like Tulum, but I will do so with the intentions of having the best time.

7 Ways To Have A GREAT Weekend In Philadelphia

Philadelphia is a fantastic place to enjoy an extended weekend. Known for its raving sports fans and its historical significance to the founding of the United States, Philly can provide so much more and these experiences aren’t hard to find. Here are seven ways I recommend enjoying a short trip to the city of brotherly love:

*Disclaimer: These are all assuming COVID-related restrictions are no longer needed*

1. Chow Down On A Cheesesteak

Let’s get this one out of the way. Whether you order yours “whiz with” or just steak and provolone, be prepared for a salivatingly (this is the word I want to use) delicious mouthful. Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks are famous, can’t miss spots to grab a bite, but I recommend Jim’s South St for the perfect lunch. It’s cash only, so know that before holding up the line.

2. Run Up The Steps At The Philadelphia Museum Of Art

Sometimes you just have to do the touristy things. Put the highlight on your own underdog montage as you climb the 72 steps, turn around, and lift your arms triumphantly overlooking the Benjamin Franklin Parkway a la Rocky Balboa. Stop in the museum while you’re here. Tickets are $25 for adults, but have pay-what-you-want specials on the first Sunday of the month and every Friday night. Make sure to grab a pic with the Rocky statue at the bottom of the steps on your way out.

“Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.”
3. Fascinate Yourself With Medical Anomolies

Originally created as a collection for research, the Mutter Museum houses displays of medical tools and instruments, specimens, wax figures, and over 100 skulls, allowing you to learn the advancements of our medical technologies and how we differ anthropologically. I really liked the preservation of tattooed skin display. No pictures are allowed, but tickets are only $20 and well worth it.

4. Learn American History

Philadelphia was the largest city in colonial America (which boggles my mind, because my small hometown of 40,000 dwarfs pre-Revolution Philly) and thus one of the most vital locations during the American Revolution. The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are both free admission (with limited access during COVID) and offer plenty of information surrounding the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the United States.

5. Take a Picture With The Love Statue

Normally, I’d say skipping a cliché moment like this was the right thing to do, but this shot has become synonymous with the city of Philadelphia. Recently the park has been revamped and reconstructed to allow more green space, leaving it as a fantastic place to grab a selfie or picture with your loved ones.

*Top tip: Check out the “Amor” statue just a short walk away.*

6. Catch A Game

Philly sports fans can get rowdy. Really rowdy. I come from the Baltimore/DC area, so I’ve seen more than my fair share of Philadelphia-involved sports fights, but for the sake of this blog post, we’ll use the word “passionate.” From the Flyers to the Eagles to the 76ers, at least one of the teams are doing well any given season, but don’t miss out on the excitement of college basketball. This city is one of the meccas of collegiate hoops – UPenn, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, Temple, and Villanova all competing for bragging rights as top dog of the city.

I was able to see the US Men’s World Cup send-off game against Turkey back in 2010 and that was a really fun atmosphere.

So many goodies, so little time.
7. Eat more Food at Reading Terminal Market

So you’re having a cheesesteak for either lunch or dinner. What are you doing for your other meal? You’re stopping at Reading Terminal Market, that’s what you’re doing. Walk in and immediately lose yourself in the winding alleys of baked goods, vendors, and bar-service restaurants. The smells are intense and you start to feel guilty about which food you won’t enjoy that day. I highly recommend grabbing some souvlaki and baklava from Olympia Gyro and some bon-bons and macaroons from the Pennsylvania General Store.

Philadelphia is a great city and a wonderful weekend trip for anyone living in the mid-Atlantic.

Have you been to Philly? What are your favorite things to do or places to go?

What Is The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon?

As you know, COVID created a gigantic barrier to travel – borders closed, events cancelled, plans forgotten. Workspaces moved home and meetings went digital. The roads were empty (I really enjoyed the highway on my daily commute to work) and everyone stayed inside. While many people developed new at-home hobbies (I definitely did), others embraced the opportunity to get outside into nature, away from the hustle and bustle of busy cities. Tucked away in northern Pennsylvania, near the New York border is a town called Wellsboro where the 47-mile long Pine Creek Gorge starts. It’s commonly called the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.

It’s accessible from any direction, but we drove up from Maryland (a roughly 4-hour drive) as we passed a whole lot of fields, fields, adult video stores, fields, adult video stores, fields, then finally some forest and we knew we were close.

Griffin and a view of the gorge.

We pulled up to our cabin and unloaded everything before venturing to Leonard Harrison State Park. Here, you can stroll along the 0.5 mile Overlook Trail for an incredible view of the gorge or climb down the 2 mile roundtrip Turkey Path to the water below along some switchbacks. Unfortunately for us, the latter was closed due to heavy rains the couple days prior. Leonard Harrison offers plenty of camping options, as well, for those of you who want to bring a long a camper.

The next day we drove up the road to Pine Creek Outfitters who offer canoes, bikes, and rafting. We opted for renting some bikes and heading over to the old Pine Creek rail trail. We really wanted to get some new bikes of our own, but they were virtually unobtainable in 2020, so fingers crossed for being able to find some this Spring.

We rode along US-6 for about a half mile until we crossed an old bridge and began our ride along the creek. It is a gorgeous ride with plenty of animal sightings (big birds make nests along the ridge on the opposite side of the water) and small waterfalls that act is tributaries to the creek. Rachel and I kept wondering about several houses that popped up along the water, wondering who lived there and how they got stuff to their houses. One house even had a gondola that ran over the water to their entrance! The trail has an ever-so-slight gradient so the ride back might be a little harder.

After a little lunch break back at the cabin, we brought Griffin, our adventure chihuahua, and headed out to the other side of the canyon and entered Colton Point State Park. This is much more ‘parking lot for campers’ style than the first park, which had a large, paved walking area. The sun from our first day dried up a lot of the rain and the Turkey Path on this side (they don’t connect at the bottom of the gorge, unless you wade across the creek which is probably frowned upon by the state.) The path down is beautiful and you pass a few small waterfalls that are pretty tranquil and offer solid photography practice.

There are plenty of small waterfalls.

The miles of biking and hiking we did took a toll on our legs, so we wanted to take it easy the rest of the night. Back at the cabin, we wandered the grounds and relaxed for a bit before heading into the town of Wellsboro for the evening. It’s a quaint little town of 3,000-some with a bit of history for those interested. There’s a main street with an old art deco style theater and some restaurants. We stopped in one for a bottle of wine and some dinner to cap off our night.

He kicked our butts on a lot of trails.

If you’re traveling back south from Wellsboro, there’s two places I recommend checking out – Cherry Springs State Park which is said to have some of the best star-gazing in the area or Little Pine State Park, where we decided to get one more hike in.

Little Pine is a perfect place to enjoy a little picnic and if you pull up a map of the park, you’ll see a trail called Lake Shore Trail, which sounds like a simple stroll along the water right? Nope. It was 5.5 miles of steep inclines and mud. After just a few minutes of walking, you’re up along the ridgeline, nowhere near the calm waters below.

Once you’ve finished trudging through the increasingly muddy paths, you’ll come across a grassy meadow where we found several deer bouncing around. The walk is easy here, just be mindful of the direct sun with no shade, and the tall grass that you’ll be exposed to (check for ticks before getting into the car).

Little Pine State Park

If you live in the mid-Atlantic region and want to remain cautious as it seems like more states and businesses are reopening in 2021, I think a nature trip up to Wellsboro and the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon would be well worth it.

Have you been or do you want to? Let me know in the comments section.

Staying In A Historic Cottage Near D.C.

A brief history

Consistently listed among the most expensive counties in the United States to live in, Montgomery County hugs the west side of Washington, D.C. and is home to many industry leaders, especially in the biotech field. You can find city shopping centers that rival any large metropolitan area and awe-inspiring skyscrapers that don’t just look like pick-and-place rectangles. But for all of the modern conveniences and allure, the area has a lot of misunderstood history ready to be explored.

Public education in America often starts its US history lesson with “the shot heard ’round the world” and ends around the shot from John Wilkes Booth’s gun. Unless we use our own time to research, we miss out on the gritty, labor-heavy endeavors that existed outside of our many wars.

Our home for the weekend.

In an effort to connect the eastern shore with the Ohio River Valley, President George Washington advocated for a canal system to be built around the Potomac River to help boats traverse its several waterfalls. 50 years and several leadership changes later, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C&O) finally opened in 1830. It held on for almost 100 years, finally connecting as far as Georgetown to Cumberland, but due to some bad flooding and the rise in popularity of the automobile, had to close in 1924. Today, an organization seeks to maintain the parkland that the C&O Canal and its towpath exist on. Among the attractions are several lockhouses, where keepers would live to raise and lower the locks at moment’s notice for boats traveling by. We had the chance to stay in one of the houses, Lockhouse 6, for a weekend.

Getting there

Our lockhouse sat on the side of the Clara Barton Parkway, which runs one way during parts of the day, and both ways during other parts of the day. This is fine, because it enabled us to arrive later in the evening and avoid rush hour on the Beltway. Siri took us into a turn too early and that caused us to revert all the way back to I-495 before revisiting the map and seeing our stop was only a few minutes past where she originally told us to turn left. This would come back to annoy us once or twice more as the only way to get to that side of the road was to drive fifteen minutes out of the way just to get on the correct side of the barrier. By the end of the weekend, I had started from further down the road and just popped a U-ey in the middle of the street before we got to the barrier.

The cottage sits almost directly on the canal with a lock on one side and a small stream on the other. Back on the opposite side of the Clara Barton Parkway, atop a hill were large, eccentric houses, pretentiously looking down on us common folk (we ended up on top of the hill during one of our drives and passed one of the houses that had an armada of Teslas pouring out of their driveway.) We checked ourselves in with a lockbox and checked out our home for the weekend. It was cozy, clean, and decorated like the 1950s never ended (seriously, there was chinaware with Dwight D. Eisenhower’s face on it.) There was one downside, however; it looked 100% like the set of a movie where a young couple would be killed by a ghost during a weekend getaway. The bathroom was downstairs in the dungeon basement. Other than having to doublecheck behind every door before bed for the lingering spirit of the former lock keeper, it was nice.

I held it all weekend so I didn’t have to find the bathroom down there…
What to do

The area doesn’t have a shortage of things to do, but staying here in the winter and during a COVID-lockdown makes things a bit difficult. With everything within 15 minutes driving, we drove over to Bethesda Row to look for a late night dinner before things were all closed and had to revert to cooking after a day of work, packing, and driving. We grabbed a delicious Mexican meal at Uncle Julio’s, a multi-state chain-restaurant, before retiring back to the cottage to catch up on some reading and grab some Zzz’s for the next day.

The lockhouse sits along the towpath.

The C&O towpath is a great place for an easy nature walk; it is flat and topped with soft dirt. We bundled up (it was about 30°F) and started to trek north, encountering a group of kayakers coming out of the nearby Potomac River. None of them seemed happy or satisfied with their feat. They just had a look on their face like “why did I do that?”

The dirt had frozen over and we shuffled along at a leisurely pace pointing out pairs of ducks and generally taking it easy. After an hour-or-so long walk, we lounged around the lockhouse a bit longer, catching up on more reading and I turned on our 50s-style radio to listen to the Capitals hockey game and some Tony Bennet.

The vibe inside.

We never really got hungry again, but were worried we might, so we headed back into the city to do some mild shopping. The whole area was very COVID-conscious, everyone wore their masks with regard to others and there was plenty of hand sanitizer available at each establishment. I’ve been reading a book about a family’s venture through Japan and its culinary history, so naturally I had a predisposition towards sushi that evening. A quick Google search, and we found a highly-recommended place to make reservations. I waited a little longer than I should have, so our wait time was pushed a little further than expected. No worries, I came across a mezcal bar that we could check out in the mean time.

We took a 15-minute walk over to Gringos and Mariachis. This place had a cool, trendy vibe to it – a mural-coated brick wall, antique liquor cabinets, and rustic wood décor. Our server was super nice and very knowledgeable about their cocktails. We talked briefly about how chartreuse liqueur balances perfectly with a clean mezcal in drinks and understood our ask to adjust the amount of agave syrup in a margarita to make it a little less sweet. I 100% recommend checking out this place if you’re in the area.

Few things better than a nice cocktail.

As our reservation time came closer, we strolled back towards Raku, where we were now getting excited to eat because our bellies were starting to wake up by now. Again, remarkable service and delicious sushi were a perfect nightcap to the evening.

The next morning, before returning home, we stopped by Praline Bakery & Bistro, and picked up a couple danishes and some macaroons with the most perfect shell I’ve ever had.

The drive back wasn’t bad at all. Traffic was pretty fluid and non-troublesome the whole weekend, which made getting home a piece of cake. Or a piece of apricot pistachio danish, if you prefer.

One last selfie to thank her brother for gifting us the reservation.

Taking A Road Trip To Toronto – Pt. 2

Continued from Pt. 1

Despite dorming with seven other guys, it was pretty easy to get access to the bathroom. I took a shower, got dressed, and set off for some breakfast. The first thing I got excited about (I was a little too visibly happy about this) was all of the black squirrels running around. In the mid-Atlantic, where I’m from, all of our squirrels are brownish grey. It was cool, okay…

Now, I’m one of those people that will walk a million miles to get somewhere. “It’s not that far.” Sorry to those of whom I’ve traveled with. Mapquest has a really neat feature where you can put in the addresses of a bunch of places you want to go and it’ll route you the most efficient path. So I plugged in a bunch of landmarks I was interested in and got a little map to use. Two of the places – the Art Gallery of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum were a little out of the way, so they were going to be “if there’s enough time afterwards” places to check out.

Strolled by this fountain in Berczy Park on my way to the CN Tower.

I headed towards CN Tower to see about doing the Edgewalk around the top of the building, but at around $200, it was out of my budget. Nonetheless, it was a cool and there were banners around celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. Nearby were the Rogers Centre and Air Canada Centre (since renamed to Scotiabank Arena,) home to the Blue Jays, Raptors, and Maple Leafs sports teams. Just around the corner was my next stop, the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Entry was $20 plus the program I got with it. I don’t remember how much extra that was and I’ve since lost it, so we’re going to pretend like that just didn’t happen. This place is a must for any hardcore hockey fan and still really fun for the casual fan too. Between the displays of equipment through the ages, memorabilia from the Olympics and Miracle on Ice, and of course a few Wayne Gretzsky shrines, there was plenty of stories and stats to get lost in. My favorite section was the temporary exhibit of goalie masks even if they didn’t have a display for Olaf Kölzig, the Washington Capitals goalie I grew up watching. Towards the end, you come into a room that displays the trophies won by the best defenseman, best goal scorer, and the coveted Stanley Cup.

By the time I left, it was the afternoon, which means a socially acceptable time to have a drink. Outside of Steam Whistle Brewing is a pretty neat train display and a lot of people wandering around. A middle-aged gentlemen with a walker asked me to help him get across the train tracks that were running through the sidewalk. I gave him a quick assist while I listened to him speak in the most stereotypical Canadian accent I have ever heard. He was incredibly polite and spouted out a few “eh” and “aboot”s during our brief walk together. We wished each other a good day and I headed inside the brewery for a tall pilsner. Despite it being a Saturday, most of the people in there looked like they were coming right after work, dressed up a little and chatting like colleagues more than friends.

They made the grey/green aesthetic work.

After my mid-day cap, I continued on to check out Old City Hall and (new) City Hall to get a picture of the Toronto sign. I passed through St. James Park where I saw a bunch of people walking their dogs around with little boots on their feet. I somehow managed to arrive at the Toronto sign and snap some pictures just moments before two tour buses rolled up and a few dozen people poured out to take over the area. Somewhere in the mix of things I had strolled into St. Lawrence Market. I didn’t get anything to eat, but I did enjoy a lot of people watching and the sights and smells of the market. Just observing is one of my favorite things to do when traveling.

Around dusk, I took a walk along the waterfront and stopped for dinner at The Goodman Pub. It was pretty empty so I sat at the bar and I had a much better experience than the reviews for the place suggested. The only weird thing was a woman at the end of the bar ordered a beer with ice cubes (since going to Thailand, I’ve learned that it’s not completely uncommon.)

My late night exploring took me through the shopping district, back around the CN Tower, which was lit up with various colors, and back towards my hostel. I had put some mileage on my pedometer so going to bed was welcomed. Remember my normal looking bunk mate from last night, well now it’s a short, chubby, older guy that has decided to get ready for bed wearing nothing but a very revealing set of briefs. Please don’t have nightmares about that image…

I was able to snap a few pictures before the tour buses unloaded.

When I woke up, I checked out and grabbed a chai latte and muffin from Starbucks. Carlton was written on the cup. I chuckled. When I got to my car, my GPS wouldn’t turn on after a few minutes of trying. No big deal, I had just arrived two days prior so I just used memory to get back to Queen Elizabeth Way – a straight shot back to Niagara Falls.

I wanted to spend some time on the Canadian side of the Falls, so I found some parking and started walking around. This side was much better than the American side. There were tons of restaurants, bars, arcades, things to do, and people venturing around. Was it because it’s a weekend day or is this all the time? Let me know in the comments if you’ve had the same experience. The Canadian side also affords you a visit of the horseshoe falls, the most famous of the falls here. I got a few pictures in and stood in awe at the amount of water that dumped over the falls, it’s incredible.

My phone still wasn’t working, so I stopped in a café to pull up their Wi-Fi and try to map my way home. I put together a plan to get me back one city at a time, using Wi-Fi at the different stops. This plan was going to add 2-3 hours to my former plan, but there was no way I’d get back through countryside New York and Pennsylvania without Apple Maps. As I approached the border guard, he asked me the standard questions and after I answered them all, he told me to turn off the car and pop the trunk. I complied and this guy took a solid few minutes to rip apart my trunk. It was empty, save for a few tools, a blanket, and my spare tire. He let me go without much of a courtesy. Eventually, when I got near the NY/PA border, my service came back. Turns out, the phone bill was past due so once I got that situated, everything went back to normal.

I was a little grumpy because of the phone situation and border guard leaving my trunk a mess, otherwise I would have spent some more time on the Canadian side of the falls and probably more time in Toronto before leaving. I’ll be back sometime, hopefully sooner than later.

Taking A Road Trip To Toronto – Pt. 1

Having just returned from two multi-week trips to Europe, I was in full-on wanderlust mode and ready for more. I was binging some travel channels on YouTube one day when I stumbled across a few solo travel videos. I had never traveled alone before, mostly because of my innate introverted personality. Looking back at this trip, I have to say that solo trips are some of the most important ones you can take.

I took off a Friday at the end of September and already had the weekend off. Living in Maryland, I had a few places in mind to travel to but I wanted to make it an international trip, so Canada was the only realistic option (read as: cheaper). I woke up at the crack of dawn, around 6:45, got ready and set off. My GPS took me the length of the Maryland pan handle until I turned north towards Pittsburgh and beyond. I was about an hour into my trip when I realized I was still tired. Like really tired. My eyes got to the point where they were so heavy I started fighting to keep them open so I pulled off the highway into a lot where contractors met in the morning before going off to a job site. I tilted my seat back and nodded off to get some more sleep before I continued the drive.

The drive through Pennsylvania was tough. I was signed into a friend’s Spotify account at the time, but it could only be used by one device at a time and they were using it all day. I was left with radio music, which in western PA is country music, bible talk, or static. Static it is.

The views are ridiculously beautiful

Eventually, I made it to Niagara Falls and stopped on the American side. It was Friday around 5pm and the place was dead. I had parked in a little mall lot, found the nearest restroom, and walked down to the falls. They are epic! The power is awesome and the views are great. I recently purchased an external lens from Olloclip for my iPhone and found it made a decent improvement in my photos of the falls. One restaurant was prepping for live music later and provided a good burger. Across the street on the way back to the car was a little alley way covered in really cool graffiti art. Onward to Canada.

Graffiti walls in Niagara Falls

As I approached the border, the traffic looked busy, but it was incredibly efficient. I was asked the standard “What are you doing?” “Why are you here?” “How long are you staying?” questions in fourteen different ways before getting the nod of approval. As soon as I got out of the traffic, there was a sign welcoming you to Ontario. I had just driven to a different country by myself. This was exciting.

You’re going to spend the next hour and a half finishing the drive to Toronto on one road – the Queen Elizabeth Way. It’s not a bad drive, and you pass a bunch of signs for wineries that might peak your interest. But it’s the evening at this point and I just want to be done driving.

My GPS navigates the streets easily and an email exchange with my hostel (the Hi Hostel Toronto) shared an easy to find, nearby parking garage. I walk up the block to where I’m staying, check in and lay down to settle down. I’m in an 8-person all guys dorm room and I’m top bunk on the bed at the end of the room. Shortly after I gather my things and lay down, my bunk mate walks in – slightly taller, my age, red hair, normal looking. We exchange acknowledgments and I fall asleep pretty quickly.

Continued in Pt. 2.