Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Fairbanks or Cabo?

Note: This is going to be a post that I keep updating as we go along. Most of you can safely ignore it or just go look at the pictures.

A few weeks back, we had been trying to think of a suitable trip for our anniversary. Anniversaries that end in 0 or 5 have been deemed noteworthy, and this one was number 35. (For number 30, we spent two weeks in New Zealand.) Since we had already spent a week in Hawaii for the HURT race, we decided to try to keep this trip somewhat more manageable.

Our first plan was a wildly improbable trip to Fairbanks Alaska, in the hopes of seeing the Northern Lights. As we got closer though, it became clear that our chances of seeing them wouldn't be that good during the week we had picked to travel (there are prediction sites for that sort of thing) and that it would be cold. REALLY cold. (Duh.)

Cold. Colder than this.
So a second plan was hatched, and Mrs Notthat made a trip to AAA where she booked us a trip to the Greater Cabo Area, at the tip of the Baja California peninsula. Mrs had been there before, but this was all new to me. The trip was booked through Pleasant Holidays to an all-inclusive hotel on the beach outside of San Jose del Cabo. There are two main towns at the tip of the peninsula - the slightly more famous Cabo San Lucas (which sounds like a natural for me, and the home of Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina) and the quieter San Jose del Cabo, with the Hotel District stretched between them.

Day One - Getting There

We flew on Virgin America/Alaska Airlines from San Francisco to Cabo airport, about three hours in the air.

Goodbye Bay Area! (We later heard that the hills in the area all got snowed on that day! We made a wise escape!)
The Cabo airport was a bit of a madhouse with plucky salespeople trying to hustle you to their great deal on transportation to wherever you were going, but we already had that covered as part of the package. (That transportation had a minor catch in that you had to meet with one of their people at the hotel the next day to pick up your voucher for the return trip, which gave him an opportunity to tell you about all these wonderful excursions and such we should do. I dreaded that bit, but it was actually fine - we fully intended to get out a bit - and I'm sure we could have just picked up our voucher and left with no trouble if we were so inclined.)

Mrs Notthat being all that getting to walk off the plane like a boss!
As an all-inclusive resort, this one is really way more inclusive than I had expected. You wear a wristband and can eat and drink at any of the 15 our so restaurants and bars. A few have dress codes for men (no shorts, sandals, or t-shirts, but jeans and running shoes are fine), but most are pretty open. A few are buffet style, but even they will cook things that you want.

Mrs Notthat apparently warned them that this was our anniversary.  That banner is awesome, but I'm not sure it's ours to keep (it's much nicer than what I would have expected to be used for something like this). It was mildly disappointing that it wasn't in Spanish though.
The biggest surprise is that alcohol is (mostly) included. You have to pay for bottles of wine, but glasses of the house stuff, Tecate beer (and maybe others - I don’t know yet), and mixed drinks are all included.

Nobody died while we were on the beach. 
There are several pools to choose from and, well, the beach. So far, getting into the water at the beach is prohibited due to unsafe conditions (they say “fatal” conditions), but I’m not sure why. The waves are moderately aggressive, but apparently that’s enough. Or maybe there is some other darker reason involving something in the water.

This is looking from the beach area back towards the hotel. Our room is in that back building to the right a bit. We can see the pools and beach.
Regardless, the weather hasn’t really been nice enough for either of us to want to get wet anyway. The highs have been in the low 70s with a cool breeze (no real humidity - this is a desert area), which is fine for hanging out, but maybe not for hanging out while all wet. Nights are in the 60s. The place has fire pits at night that we haven’t tried out yet.

In the evening, looking more or less from our room.
I think we are between seasons or something - the flight was not nearly full, and this place doesn’t feel very full either. Which is fine by me.

Day Two - Exploring the Hotel and Extreme Relaxation

We did not get moving very early. Our room is far more deluxe than we are used to, but it still has some quirks. The lighting is puzzling and the AC system uses wildly cryptic icons that get lost in translation. (We really don't need AC so we just shut it off.)

An action shot of Mrs Notthat kicking the cue ball. This was harder than it looks.
We have scheduled some excursions starting tomorrow (see the above about the transportation). Mrs was unable to get me to go zip lining though.

Tonight we ate at the Asian restaurant, which had a menu with Asian-based food as well as a knife-hurling Benihana-style table, if that's what you were in to.

We avoided the flying knives option.
And that's about it. Reviews for this place often complained about the slow internet that's free (they sell a premium internet package), but it's been easily good enough for us. Again, maybe because the place isn't that full. We walked around the fire pits, but they are one of the few places smoking is allowed, so we passed on them since none were truly empty.

Note: I looked up what the word “cabo” means in English, and the first answer was “stub,” which seemed odd. A bit more looking came up with “cape” which makes more sense. What I should have looked up was Tecate.

Day Three - Hanging with Camels

Before we get down to business with the camel ride, a few notes about our room.

I’ve stayed in a lot of motel/hotel rooms in my past, but this is my first to have these two things:

  • A bathroom scale: Maybe they know that people will come here and worry about eating too much and putting on alarming bonus weight. Putting a scale into the room seems pretty counter-intuitive though. Unless… unless it has been doctored to show you a few pounds lighter than you really are. (I weighed myself and was surprised to see I haven’t gained anything. I really doubt that though. But just in case, a second dessert can’t hurt.)
  • Two pair of earplugs: There is no way this isn’t ominous. If it’s to save each other from each other’s snoring, maybe that’s pretty noble. But given that they have had two fairly loud poolside parties the last two nights, I’m thinking that maybe that’s what they had in mind. We don’t seem to hear much from neighboring rooms, so I don’t think that was the reason for supplying those. (Note that the poolside parties so far have been ending before 10PM, so you would have to be someone that really wanted to go to bed early to be affected too much.)

Our first excursion was to the Cactus ATV Tours place over on the Pacific Ocean side of the peninsula. We weren’t interested in an ATV tour though, but wanted to ride a camel. There are several places around here where you can ride a camel, and this one didn’t have a weight limit that I couldn’t beat, so we picked it.

So many birds!
The first thing we did when we got there was to go into their small bird aviary. The coolest thing was that it had a number of fairly large iguanas, which really made me miss Weird Haired Mom’s iguana from years ago. The bird thing was really just a photo op (but not with your own camera) - you stood behind an iguana, they poured some birdseed in your hands, and you were immediately engulfed in birds. LOTS of birds. It was a little startling, but pretty cool feeling their feet digging into your hands while they peck at the food (all painless - just not something that feels normal).

The second thing was a slow ride in the back of a truck out to where the camels are kept (presumably to put some distance between them and the ATVs). Along the way, we stopped for a short desert nature walk where our guide, Alan (no relation), explained the many benefits of the various, otherwise scrubby looking plants.

Alan reminding me of that old Euell Gibbons commercial: "Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible." Except this involved a small cactus that made a pine tree look like a fine entree.
At the camel pen, we had to turn in our cameras/phones and get suited up, which involved a bicycle helmet covered in a flowing white head covering of sorts.

Trying hard not to blow away. Rosco secretly wanted to be a doorstop.

The actual camel ride was fun for a bit, but the novelty quickly wore off. I’m not a horse riding expert, but camels seem harder to ride in that they are further off the ground and they walk in a swaying motion that feels like you could get swayed off if you don’t hold on.

Our main camel jockey (who really liked my Trail Hog shirt). It was a bit surreal to be riding a camel on a beach.
It was unnaturally windy which didn’t help anything - several of the head coverings ended up getting blown off during the 30 minute or so stroll.

Such a great shot!
The camels seemed nicely docile, although the one behind us made a lot of humorous snorting type noises when we started.

After the ride was over, we got a glamour shot with Monica.
The picture guy ended up getting a lot of great shots of us, so we bought the USB drive with all the shots of us (which is what you are seeing here).

And that was about it. We were driven back to the hotel where we rested a bit then had dinner at the French restaurant. There is a party still going on for some Purina sales group that showed up today. Hopefully they will shut down in an hour or so - we have a relatively early wake up call for tomorrow’s excursion. Camel-free!

Note: I looked up the translation of “tecate” and it seems to be “secret or hidden place”. Since it’s the name of a small city in Mexico, I guess that makes sense, although I was disappointed it didn't mean "put fruit in your beer."

Day Four - in which Glass Figures Heavily

Before I get into the day four activities, I forgot to mention a funny hotel room thing. In addition to the Happy Anniversary sash on our door, there was a bottle of champaign on ice and a plate with Happy Anniversary written in chocolate, along with a piece of cake. (I finally drank some of the champaign last night. The ice had long since melted though.)

The next night, we came in to find another plate and bottle of champagne, except this one said Happy Honeymoon. This is not our honeymoon - not by a long shot! Mrs Notthat called to let them know this had been delivered to our room by mistake, but they said to enjoy it, and that maybe we'll get one every night! (I ate the cake, the bottle is still sitting unopened.) Sadly, our run of plates and bottles randomly winding up in our room has ended, although there is one more night.

Our excursion for the day involved learning about Cabo San Lucas and San Jose de Cabo, the two primary towns at the end of the Baja peninsula. We started with a short boat tour of the rocks that jut up out of the water to mark the boundary of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean.

Looking through the glass bit of the glass bottomed boat.
The boat was a "glass bottomed" boat. And no, it was not at all like you are likely thinking. There was an ice chest sized glass-covered hole through which you could look down into the water. You could see fish, but you could also see fish if you just looked over the edge of the boat.

"Heeeeeere fishy fishy fishy!" (It didn't work. A loaf of bread did though.)
Having been born in Kansas, I don't have a boating gene in me, so I was a bit nervous about how this would go. Thankfully it was fine, but mostly because it was pretty short.

Arch rock and other random rocks.
The amazing thing was how much this area had been changed by hurricane Odile in 2014. You used to be able to walk on a sandy beach under that arch rock - the hurricane removed all the sand though, greatly reducing the available beaches out around these rocks.

"Are you sure I can't wear two life vests?"
 I survived the boat trip and we headed in to a mall for a tequila tasting (even the camel place had tequila tasting) and shopping (even the camel place had shopping).

Mrs Notthat with Marcos the guide. "Which tequila tastes purple?"
We then headed to what was the highlight for me, The Glass Factory, where skilled artists make amazing things out of glass.

Teamwork was involved as bits and pieces were added to this glass elephant.
It was astonishing to see this guy create a wonderful glass elephant while we watched - it maybe took about 15 minutes.

The final product! At this point it was still hot enough to light paper on fire, and it still needs to be tempered, but wow - so cool!
From there we had lunch in San Jose de Cabo then visited an old church that really isn't all that old since it has been rebuilt several times. (Theoretically, this last time it was rebuilt sturdier than ever!)

Note the twin steeples - apparently that is very unique.
And that's about it for that excursion.

An interesting (to me) note: On the camel ride, there were ten of us, and Mrs Notthat and I were the only non-Spanish speakers! That was so unique - you quickly get used to assuming that everyone here speaks English since the vast majority of tourists are from the US. It was really cool to see that so many Mexican residents were doing the tourist thing with the camels! Today's excursion though was dominated by Canadians and a couple of Minnesotans. They were raving about the warmth while we continued to wonder why it was so cool.

Day five, our last full day here, is a rest day with nothing scheduled. It also promises to be the nicest, weather-wise, day. (The beach is still rated as fatal, but maybe tomorrow will change that.)

Oh, there was one other small thing - we played that soccer ball pool thing again, and while we were playing, a group of about twenty young Asian women, who had just checked in, all stopped to watch us play, cheering and laughing and making us a bit self-conscious. But it was really funny how they seemed to enjoy watching us fumble around out there!

Day Five - Nice Weather!

For our last full day here, the weather gave us a break and it was perfect - no clouds, small breeze, and not too hot. We spent the day just relaxing.

Beautiful, largely deserted beach.
I decided to try to run a bit on the beach on the wet sand. It was fun, but the sand was still pretty loose and the camber was not great. Still, it was great to get out like this.

Double black flags.
You still aren't supposed to swim (if you go a bit in either direction though, the beach is red flagged which is not as severe as black, but still not good).

Tempting fate.
I took a HUGE risk and dipped my feet in the water for a bit. (I paid for this with the tops of my feet getting sunburned.)

Done beach running.
Not nearly done soaking up the sun.
So many sequins! At the end of the show you could have your picture taken with the dancers.
We finished the day with a 70s/80s musical thing. It was pretty fun - the choreography was really impressive but the music was all put to a dance beat, so it was often hard to work out what the song was.

And that was our day. Lots of food (Mrs Notthat had four piƱa coladas throughout the day, which I think is a record) and lots of relaxing. Tomorrow we pack up and fly back home to a cold, wet Bay Area.

Hotel Note: They don't give you straws. None. And that's on purpose, since straws are actually a pretty big waste problem. (There are also very few disposable cups and such used here. Most trash cans have a compost can next to them. This is really impressive for a resort like this!)

Day Six - Heading Home

And the trip is a wrap! Our checkout time was noon, so we slept in a bit, ate a nice breakfast (again), packed, and said goodbye. We had an hour to kill between checkout and getting picked up, and the hotel people told us to go get lunch and a last beach drink. 

Bye bye Cabo and the Sea of Cortez!
The Hyatt Ziva was really pretty great - much better than I had anticipated. The food was consistently good, the free adult drinks were all good enough that I wasn't tempted to pay for better ones, and the whole staff was so friendly and helpful. 

The only whiny thing I can think of were those loud evening party things, but they always ended by 9 PM. A minor challenge was tipping - since you never saw prices for anything, doing the standard 20% was not really possible. I did some research on the internets and worked out that small tips were a big deal, so we gave out lots of $2 tips for small things and $5 for bigger things. (Most people at these types of inclusive resorts don't tip at all, feeling like it being all-inclusive means no tipping needed. I don't think that's even vaguely true, and we probably should have given more, but again, there was no guidance at all, which would have been nice to get.)

Fun clouds while coming in to the Bay Area - we timed it right to miss this storm!
I'm not the biggest fan of traveling, and Mexico isn't really my favorite place to go, but this trip was mostly pretty fun. When you were on the resort property, it was easy to forget that you were in a foreign country where you didn't speak the language - when we would go on the excursions, you would be reminded, but even then, language was not an issue. We never exchanged dollars for pesos (next time I will try to bring a lot more $1 and $5 bills for the tipping, although later in the day you could trade in a $20 for a wad of smaller bills from just about any of the staff people). 

I suspect that, in the summer, this area can be pretty hot. There didn't seem to be a lot of historical artifacts and such around - the excursions were mostly about riding ATVs, snorkeling, camel riding, deep sea fishing, and golf.   

Until next time, hasta la vista Mexico!

That's it - move along!

PS: The one thing the resort didn't have that I really ended up craving, was a nice burger. So that was my first food when we got home.

PPS: Remember that "Happy Anniversary" banner on our door? Mrs Notthat brought it home. I have no idea what she's got planned for it.