Akumal – Off Resort Adventure to Bacalar

As I mentioned in my last post, Bacalar was our big off resort trip this year. I still can’t believe how amazing it was!

The van picked us up around 8:00am (about a half hour late due to traffic). We then picked up another couple in Tulum – which I might add was the first time we had been there unrelated to a ruins visit. We were truly surprised by how much there was around and how big it is. First stop after that was Muyil. I knew these ruins existed but I knew little about them and after a short visit here we decided we will have to go back. We really didn’t have enough time to fully appreciate the site.  The architecture here is similar to what you find at Tikal in Guatemala. They only began restoration of the site in 1998 so it is still fairly new.

A good half day trip would be grab a cab to Muyil and then spend a few hours shopping, eating and exploring Tulum. On the agenda for a future trip!

From there we went on the long drive to Bacalar. So many cool sites along the way. We stopped for ‘organic’ fruit and fruit juice snacks, which was really just a stand on the side of the road.

Bacalar is home to the Lagoon of Seven Colours and there truly are seven. It’s also home to sulfur mud which is used to exfoliate the skin. That was so much fun! All of the sun burns disappeared after playing in the mud.

We also stopped for lunch at what my husband called a ‘Harry Potter’ restaurant. From the outside it looked small and you really wouldn’t have noticed it, but you walk in and it grows as you walk from room to room until you finally arrive at an outdoor restaurant in the back. Just like the tents in the Harry Potter movies. Pretty neat!

We investigated the town a bit and were lucky enough to have the group guide take us on a personal tour of San Joaquin Church. The church was the site of a brutal massacre during the Caste War. It was very eerie but peaceful in there.

Being Canadian we watch a lot of sports, so we are used to the group gatherings where everyone cheers for their favourite team. The bars in Bacalar all have outdoor patios and there were loads of people so we ventured over to see what was going on. Everyone was watching soccer and cheering away. It was pretty neat, just like at home when Team Canada plays.

Bacalar was one of those experiences where you know you have to return. Honestly, you need to do a overnight trip here to have time to fully appreciate everything it has to offer.

We returned to the resort around 8:30 that night so it was a very long day, but absolutely worth it. I would return in a heart beat.

Next up – new friends, great memories and til’ we meet again!

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Akumal – Off Resort Adventures

As fun as being on the resort is, you really miss out if you don’t take the time to investigate the area you are visiting. You really can’t say you’ve experienced a destination if all you’ve ever seen is resort properties.

Resorts provide us with a utopic view of a destination, not the reality.  Part of the draw of Akumal is that there is so much within walking or cabbing distance.  You really don’t need guided tours, which is fantastic. The walk to town is less than 10 minutes and Tulum the town is only a 10 minute cab ride away.  You can also walk the non-resort area’s of the beach for very long stretches.

We walk to Akumal most days and after discovering the golf cart rental last year, that has also become something we look to do.  It allows you to see and experience that much more of the area. After trying a few golf carts this year we ended up with the pink hot rod they use for advertising.

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This cost 800 peso’s for four hours with a 400 peso deposit, returned to you when you bring the cart back. Well worth it. It’s a great way to explore the area.

 

 

After last year’s visit we knew we wanted to go to La Buena Vida and try the food. It didn’t disappoint. My husband said his burrito was the best he’s ever had anywhere.

 

For the rest of our time we just drove around checking out places we saw last year.  Great way to do a self guided mini-tour! The walk back is always great too.

 

We didn’t stay up too late that day as we left for Bacalar early the next morning. We’ve seen a lot of things as we’ve traveled Canada, the US and Mexico but Bacalar was incredible. I can’t believe we hadn’t heard of it until two days before we went.

Our first morning at the resort we visited our tour rep from Air Canada to let him know we had our own transportation to the airport. He asked what we were thinking of doing and we mentioned that we wanted to do something off the beaten path. We really aren’t interested in the whole tourist park thing – you can do that anywhere, we want a more authentic experience. He mentioned Bacalar so we did an internet search and yup, it looked nice. We headed off the to resorts tour desk to get their thoughts and you could just tell by the way they talked, it was special. Originally we had thought of going to Holbox but Juan really thought, based on what we were looking for, we would love this.  He was right.

I was going to do my off resort post as one but I think Bacalar deserves it own.  It was special.

From what our guide told us it is the educational and artistic hub of the Riviera Maya. It wasn’t hard to see that everywhere you went. It is a city with lots of buzz.

 

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Akumal 2019 – First Few Days

Travel is a funny thing. We used to say never return to the same place twice, yet this year we found ourselves returning to the same place for a third time. Originally we had planned to go to Aruba. Had a resort picked, going to spend a few nights in Toronto, maybe catch a hockey game and really live it up as this was my ‘go out with a bang’ retirement trip. Then, as luck would have it, we spied a good deal on Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort (ABBWR) from Air Canada Vacations. When push came to shove and we looked at everything as a whole, we just couldn’t not book it. It was meant to be. So Aruba will have to wait for now.

Airport arrival was as chaotic as ever.  Thankfully we had a pre-booked private transfer so we were out of there in a flash with cold beer in hand and at the resort within an hour.

One of the things that draws us to ABBWR is the staff. They are so great and how they remember you from all the many faces they see throughout the year is unbelievable. When your face is new to them they are quick to introduce themselves and ask your name, which they will use every time they see you during your stay. These are just a few of the friendly faces that greeted us this year. I missed getting a picture of my buddy Luis, but his smile is always in my memory.

One thing I have learned over the last few years is that I am not willing to settle when I travel anymore. I worked hard to be able to afford this once a year adventure south and I don’t want to be just another number. Among other things I’ve learned I want a nice ocean front/view room, I don’ think I could ever go back to anything else. People say the room doesn’t matter, but when you wake up everyday make your coffee and watch a view like this, you realize it does matter. There is no better way I can think to start the day.

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To have a space where you can kick back after a long day and just enjoy the moment is absolutely essential to the overall vacation experience. We did a 12 hour tour this year, it was nice to be able to order room service, open some wine/spirits and just enjoy the evening on the balcony in the tub listening to the ocean when we returned. Your room does matter.

Our first few days this year we didn’t do too much. Walking, swimming and appreciating that we were able to be in Akumal.  On arrival, our first stop was to try the new brick oven pizza, yummy! We had been waiting for that since we saw them post it on Facebook.  It was worth the wait! Later he tried a burger at the snack bar – which he loved – then drinks, more drinks up at Lol Ha and so on :).

The next morning we got to try the new smoothie bar, made to order and it was fabulous, and then headed out for a walk to check out the Jungle Fish Beach Club just down from the resort on the beach.  You also get a great view of the whole resort walking in this direction!

We got our annual fix of the wonderful tunes played by Abel the Orchestra Man on the beach.

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We visited the town of Akumal and Lucy’s for Ice Cream!  So good!

We also had one my most favourite meals of the week at the Gourmet restaurant. I looked forward to the desert for an entire year…so good!  Then off for drinks and entertainment with the live band, which we did most nights. It’s fun to watch people dancing to the different bands, especially the entertainment crew.  They can dance!

Most importantly in those first few days, while walking up the beach we see this woman coming towards us arms outstretched calling my husbands name.  Would you believe it was his cousin from Edmonton who we hadn’t seen in 25 years! She, her husband and their travelling companions had rented a palapa just up from our resort!  Just lucky that we were both walking on the beach at the same time and saw each other.

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We did rent a golf cart again this year and we booked a trip to Bacalar, which was by far one of the most amazing spots I have ever seen. More on those in future posts!

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DNA Update

We’ve been pretty quiet since the Fall, which is typical once the weather gets cold. Among other things, we’ve spent a lot of time working with our travel agent looking for my perfect retirement celebration trip. It took a few months, but we did find it. That post will be coming in the next few weeks. I can’t wait to escape winter and celebrate what will be one of the most exciting events for me in 2019.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I did a My Heritage DNA test. I can’t tell you what a fascinating journey that has continued to be. It truly is an all-consuming adventure when you get into it. I initially didn’t tell too many people in my family as I wasn’t sure how they would react, specifically my mother. While I don’t remember a time we didn’t know she was adopted and it was always something that she was very open about I wasn’t really sure what she would think or how she would feel. Honestly, I’m not sure why it surprised me so much when she was so curious about my result and said she wanted to do one. Of course when she said that, I was all over it like a wet blanket.

To ensure we got the best matches possible I also had my son and daughter do one. The more of my mother’s direct descendants that do a DNA test the easier it will be for me to weed out the matches we are looking for.

Being adopted in Nova Scotia is a very frustrating circumstance. You are allowed little to no access to your birth information/adoption records which not only affects you but all of your descendants. What you do get is vague and typically non-identifying. I don’t know how much the agencies or government considers the long term impact of not knowing. It doesn’t just impact the adoptee, but all of their descendants. There has to be a better way.

My mother has since sent another request to the province for information pertaining to her adoption and much to our surprise they are sending new documents. It takes months and we have no idea what we will see, but at least it is something. I would suspect that it is happening because her birth mother is now dead, so there is no risk of unwanted contact between birth parent and adoptee. Too bad for the birth mother and her family, they missed out on knowing some pretty spectacular people.

To be very clear, my grandparents, aunt and uncle could never be replaced. They are our one and only true maternal family. I can’t even say there was ever a desire to engage with the birth family. We really just wanted to know who they were, what did/do they look like (do any of us look like them) and was there anything important we should know. Knowing one side of your family history doesn’t give you a true picture of yourself or your history – what makes you ‘You’. Maybe at some point there would have been a ‘why’ or a desire to engage but that time has long since passed.

Anyway, with the identification of my mother’s birth mother and the retrieval of her obituary from a local newspaper’s archives I was able to identify and find records for numerous other birth relatives. These include her birth grand-parents, her birth sister, many birth step-siblings, an aunt and recently deceased uncle along with many nieces, nephews and cousins. Along with all the usual search tools the Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics site has been one of the best resources I found. While we don’t have a complete medical history I was able to find patterns using death certificate information. I also found, and visited, the cemetery where many of them are buried. That was an oddly emotional experience. It was also really strange as it was part of the province I had never really been to or even knew of.

Now, while we wait for whatever paperwork is coming, I am on a mission to find out what I can for her birth father. We know that at the time of her adoption she had an older sister born in 1947 and we believe her mother was not married to her father – but that is just a guess at this point. We think he may be Greek/Italian or something of that nature due to the DNA location results for each of us and some of our physical features. He is proving to be a challenge but one I am happily taking on! I have emailed a resource I found on a Facebook DNA group for help, as I think this search is going to be more of a challenge and may be out of my league. We had enough information on the maternal side to have a good starting point, we have nothing on the paternal side.

Time to get my detective hat on!

The other really interesting thing about my DNA journey, unrelated to the adoption stuff,  has been finding out about my father’s mothers side. I never knew her very well and have few memories. My grandfather died when I was two years old, he was 52 and my father had a heart attack and stroke around the same time, he was 26.  She wasn’t really part of our lives due to the impacts these events had on her. My father and I did reconnect with her some 20 years later and were a part of her life until she died two years later.

We have always identified as Acadian, which we are, but much to my surprise we are also Scottish on her side. I don’t know if I was told or just assumed because of where she was from that she was of German descent. Her side wasn’t just Scottish, they were very Scottish – names like ‘William Wallace Spears’ and ‘Robert Bruce Spears’ appear many times over in her tree.

Armed with this new information I have decided that mapping out the known path of both my father and mothers ancestors is the next logical step in my journey. Someday I hope to walk on the same roads my ancestors did.  Scotland is on my bucket list for sure!

Deciding to do the DNA test has led me on a journey I never could have anticipated. It has been everything I wanted it to be and so much more. I know more about myself than I ever have and I have discovered a passion that will carry into my retirement when I am able to focus more time on it.

I have recently done a second DNA test with Ancestry to see if their database will bring up any results that open my search up better. The DNA companies don’t share their data. GEDMatch and companies like My Heritage and FTDNA, do allow you to upload from outside sources but people actually have to take the time to do that. I would guess those that aren’t actively working on family histories aren’t doing that.

While this journey hasn’t physically taken me away, it has mentally and emotionally. It has been exciting and rewarding. It has me dreaming of new destinations and adventures. It has brought true meaning to the saying ‘Life is a journey; you never really know the destination.’

If anyone reading this has any tips, please feel free to share them with me.

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Ottawa 2018 – Days 3 and 4

Days 1 and 2 were very busy.  Day 3 was a little more laid back and I even let hubby make a decision.  FYI – that was my first mistake.  Lol!

We got up early headed to the Byward Market for breakfast and then off to see Notre Dame.  I love these old buildings, so historic and regal.  The architecture is amazing!

From there we headed towards the Museum of Nature, stopping at some sights along the way.  Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems and we got lost.  Google failed us so we stopped at a local watering hole to collect ourselves and get directions.  That was our first unplanned adventure of the day.  The Museum was great, expensive though.

We headed back to the hotel to give our feet a rest and well, one of us went through two pairs of good quality flip flops in two days so a little shoe shopping was required.  I can’t even begin to tell you how fortunate it was that I picked up a new pair of Sketchers flipflops that afternoon.

Hubby had a nap and then decided we should take the water taxi to Gatineau and have supper over there.  He found what looked to be a good spot online and off we went. The taxi ride was great, beautiful views.

We were going to visit Jacques Cartier Park however it was only opened for another hour and they were going to charge full price so we skipped it and got ourselves on to the ‘Red Line’ or Culture Trail that promised food places in 10 minutes.  We followed and followed it until finally we reach a small group of packed eating establishments. No luck there so we looked up with spot he had found earlier and headed there using Google Maps.  After an insane amount of time and in excess of 10km we figured Google had led us astray and failed us for the second time in one day.  We found a gas station bought beer, downed it in the parking lot and called a cab to the Casino.  The other meal we had eaten there was so good, probably the best wings I have ever had.  This second one didn’t disappoint either.  I would go back there just for the food anytime!

By the time we made it back to the hotel we had walked over 22km that day.  My brand new flipflops looked five years old but I am so thankful I had them!  The other ones would have had nothing left to them.   All in all we had fun and the little things, like getting lost or chugging a beer is a gas station parking lot, are what make the fun memories!  We even won a little at the casino that night.

Our last day we hadn’t planned on doing too much.  We had a late flight but fortunately had made plans with my cousin to visit and then head to the Keg for supper together before we left.  We did manage to see a few more places that morning before we left for Kanata.

Before we left, there was one final first for us.  We were sitting at the Keg when all the phones went off and there it was, our first Tornado Warning.  Let’s just say that was a little freaky!

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We had a fantastic trip!  Ottawa is such a great city and there’s just so much to see and do I know we will be back soon. ..maybe this winter to see a hockey game and skate the Rideau???  Who knows…I do know this, we won’t be relying on Google Maps again! But I do love my new flipflops 🙂

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Ottawa 2018 – Day 1 and 2

We last visited Ottawa with our children in 2004.  It was impressive then and we knew we had to return one day.  I don’t think we ever thought that return would take 14 years to happen, but honestly it was so worth the wait.

Ottawa is the capital city of Canada.  It is full of history, art, entertainment, culture, food – basically it has everything.  In size and population it reminds us very much of Halifax, which is close to where we live in Nova Scotia and is where I grew up.  We have both said it is probably the only other city in Canada we would consider living in.

We prepared for this trip more than we have for any other.  There are so many things to see and do.  We crammed as much into 4 days as we could but at the end decided that we will have to return as we just couldn’t fit everything in.  From start to finish it was a fantastic trip!

We flew from Halifax to Ottawa with Porter.  Porter uses prop planes.  I am petrified of prop planes.  I was having anxiety attacks for days before we left.  I have to say though, compared to my last experience on this type of plane Porter was great.

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We arrived early in the morning, fortunately our room was ready.  Our room was on the 21st floor of the Westin Ottawa  The view was spectacular!

On the first day we visited the Byward Market, Rideau Centre and re-connected with some very important folks.  Later in the evening we checked out the Lac-Leamy Casino in Gatineau.  We knew we had a big day ahead the next day so we didn’t stay out too late.

We were up early the next day to make sure we didn’t miss seeing the Changing of the Guard. We also wanted to visit the War Memorial, Sparks Street and we had a private tour of Parliament set up.  We were hoping to get all this in before supper time so we could do the canal cruise in the evening and than take in the Northern Lights Show after that.  Surprisingly we did get it all in!

By now we were pretty exhausted and knew we had another busy day ahead on Tuesday.  With the Notre Dame Basilica and the Museum of Nature on tap, we had a lot of walking to do!  If only we had known how much!

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Summer 2018 – Road Trips

Where we had a trip to Ottawa already planned and are saving for a big trip to celebrate my retirement in 2019, we decided that we would stick to Nova Scotia for the rest of our vacation.  Nova Scotia is beautiful in the summer.  With so many places to explore you can do a different road trip every weekend.

Peggy’s Cove is always a must visit.

As is Mahone Bay.

Drives to the Valley for us are mainly to get fresh produce, you can’t get better strawberries anywhere, but the views are pretty nice too.   Oh and I discovered the many Vinyard’s so well, now there are more reasons to go!

Lunenburg is busy this time of year but definitely worth a visit.

We visited Truro’s Victoria Park for the first, but definitely not the last, time this summer.  Absolutely loved it and could not believe we hadn’t know about it until quite recently.

We also visited Nova Scotia’s longest beach, Martinique for the first time.  It was a very foggy day but still easy to see how nice it was.  Lots of surfers and body boarders.

Finally, we grabbed our granddaughter and headed to Halls Harbour on the Bay of Fundy.  The Bay of Fundy is home to the highest tides in the world.  Walking on the ocean floor and then a few hours later watching it fill in is always amazing.

That’s it for day trips.  I hope you enjoyed my little Nova Scotia tour.  Our next few weeks are super busy so we probably won’t get any more in until mid-September.  By then the weather should be starting to change and the colours of fall will slowly arrive.

Next up though, our fantastic trip to Ottawa!

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