Museums on Milwaukee’s Lakefront

It’s been a while since I’ve lived in Brew Town, almost two decades ago.  The two attractions I’m posting about did not exist, as they stand today, when I made my brief stint in this particular city, as their buildings are rather new additions.  I wish that they had.  They were fun, interesting, and were exhibited in beautiful buildings worth the price of admission.

I’ll start off by saying that, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I’m not a huge art lover.  I could, maybe, rattle off a handful of well known artists.  However, despite that fact, I took one look at an architectural wonder that housed art, both modern and classic, and was sold.  That architectural wonder resides on Milwaukee’s Lakefront.

Along with the art museum stands another venue, focusing on science and technology.  The Discovery World museum, from what I read, sounded somewhat appealing.  As it turned out, as there are a ton of interactive exhibits, I felt it was geared more for children.  Yet, I delighted in areas such as the Reiman Aquarium.

I make my way from an underground parking garage to the admission desk of Discovery world.  I receive a discount, as I am a veteran, and am permitted to examine the exhibits.  Leaving the desk,  I find myself striding a sleek and stylish hall lined with glass panels, overlooking the spider webbed fractures in the Ice of  Lake Michigan.

Entering the aquatic area, I feel a certain sense of appreciation for the individuals that worked on this educational Exhibit.  It’s cool to survey the Great Lakes, replicated to scale, as a model of the watershed lies before me in a giant room.  Along with the Lakes, the cities, such as Milwaukee and Toronto, that benefit from these bodies of water are labeled in their corresponding locations.

I find my way to a staircase and discover a model of schooner when I reach the top.  The vessel appears to be suspended in air, as I venture aboard.  This is Wisconsin’s flagship dubbed the ‘Dennis Sullivan’.  Around the schooner are all sorts of interactive exhibits.  I take notice of a feature on ground water in the city.

Leaving the exhibits behind, a flight of stairs descend into my favorite part of the Museum.  The Reiman Aquarium has various marine life cased in glass.  These fish can be viewed in some fun ways- the setting is immensely enjoyable.  Along with the Aquarium, a model of a submarine allows for some fun educational experiences.

Beyond the Aquatic area lies a second exhibit area.  Here, There is a gamut of interactive displays.  Heavy equipment to robotics exhibits can lend some insight, especially to the group of school children that happen to be visiting this day.

Although there are some great features here, I’m slightly let down.  It seems there could be more to experience.  Like I said, the aquarium was very cool.  Yet, I’m done in less than an hour.  Possibly, if I had brought children the time spent would have been longer.  The museum is adding an addition and I’ll be more than happy to visit once its done.

I drive from one underground parking garage to the next.  This time I find myself under a monumental structure, finished in 2015, designed by Eero Saarinen, David Kahler and Santiago Calatrava. The addition of the building literally changes the impression I have of the lakefront’s landscape, even the parking garage is attractive.

As I enter the enormous lobby, I’m struck by the artistic prowess of the designers.  Not only is the building hip, stylish, artistically breath-taking, and simply mind-blowing, it also houses some pretty cool art.

I’m amused, beginning to stroll the high white walls of the modern art exhibits, as this is exactly how I’ve always envisioned a trendy art museum.  I’m not thrilled nor am I bored.  I don’t find the art mega interesting either.  My state of mind rests somewhere in the middle of these adjectives.  I’m taking in creativity and skill at its pinnacle, as they’re expressed with vessels such as wood, rock, steel and canvas.

Set off from the high white walls, lie darker hued borders encompassing older classic art.  There is much to view from European to Egyptian and Mediterranean  I’ve experienced classic art in a world class venue before, this does not fall far short.

As I’ve admitted, I know very few artists.  Today, I learn new names as I discover some striking pieces, especially those on canvas.  Among those works and names, one is Francisco de Zurbanan.  His portrayal of St. Francis is quite dark.  I’m left imagining dark wizards of non existant realms, not a representative of the Catholic church.

I find myself struck by works as I work my way through the four floors.  There are compelling sculptures, wood carving and brilliant paintings.  When I’m finished I’m refreshed and satisfied.  This is what an art museum should be.

I don’t have the insight of an art critic, or even educated one appreciates such subjects.  However, these pieces register both on an intellectual and emotional level for me.  I experience that emotion one has when someone discovers something pleasing.

These two venues are set in freshly constructed buildings, even if the museums have existed long before.  Its a trendy answer to neighboring Chicago’s Museum campus although their is more to be experienced in the windy city.  One must pay for parking at both lakefront Museums, but compared to Chicago’s Prices the admission is quite reasonable.

I enjoyed the time spent and will return to these sights

EAA Aviation Museum- mega interesting

Flying a private or military aircraft is a dangerous endeavor, for obvious reasons.  Yet, many are drawn to the open skies and the thrill of harnessing the winds, attempting to conquer Earth’s atmospheric forces.  In Oshkosh, there is a museum that celebrates that passion, as it holds a collection of replicas, past military craft, cool private aircraft and early commercial ventures.  That place is the EAA Aviation Museum.

I just want to say that I’m not an aircraft enthusiast, although I have a short background in aircraft maintenance.  If you include schooling, I have spent about six years in the field, flying only one aircraft in that time-that was with an instructor of course.  That being said, I didn’t share the same love of aviation as my colleagues, some who could identify any craft flying through the sky.  From my point of view, maintaining aircraft was simply a decent paying career.

I do find aircraft interesting, and that’s how the EAA museum left it’s mark on me.  I wasn’t thrilled or awed, but delighted by its aura and some of the original exhibits.  The museum displays thought provoking pieces, including a craft that never took to the air.

I make a start, as I leave the admission desk behind, into the upper level where two aged volunteers are waiting.  A frank gentleman, with a genuine but professional demeanor, spreads a map in front of me.  He points out exhibits and gives me an overview.  I’m impatient to start, but his presentation is so genuine, I doubt any was truly rehearsed.  He inspires a few questions from me and then I’m on my way.

The first thing I discover is purely trivial.  It is a great example of how this museum not only has aircraft, but interesting artifacts one might never have imagined.  I’m drawn to a propeller piece of a crashed aircraft, transformed into a picture frame.  The pilot of the doomed plane, having died in the wreck, was a famed dancer, credited with popularizing and perfecting the Foxtrot along with his wife, who was also his dance partner.  Their lives were dramatized in a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie.

As I move on, I discover a full scale replica of Spaceship One.  It is one of the most, if not the most, significant aircraft of this new century.  Although the original is in Washington DC, I feel that I must include this in my blog.  Spaceship One has opened the door to a new era in space exploration, as government programs are not the only players in this relatively new game.  This century has seen private craft dock with the International Space Station, and many other individual feats, accomplished by private companies.

This replica demonstrates the first privately owned craft to venture beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.  It’s feathering system, entirely changing the configuration of the aircraft, created enough drag to alleviate the extreme high temps of reentry into the atmosphere.

I leave the replica behind and discover my favorite part of the museum- the Eagle Hangar. The military, especially WWII,  is on display here, encompassed in a giant open area that looks and feels like a hangar from the period.  I enjoy the heroic sights of those aircraft that aided in the war effort, listening to songs like ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ and other war time classics.

Here, along with some vintage war birds, nose art is sprinkled around the hangar.  These works of art were a personalized touch, as the aircraft belonged to closely bonded Crewmembers. Although never sanctioned by the military, nose art was not frowned upon, especially during world war II.  The loss of aircraft and crewmembers was staggering at the height of the nose art era. I take it as an expression of attachment and pride, even if many pieces were subject to controversy.

There are many interesting aircraft to be seen in the Eagle Hangar, and I’m going to only name a couple.  There is the Navy’s F-4 Corsair looking bold in its blue lacquer.  Also, a P-51 Mustang known as Paul, named after the EAA’s founder, sits quietly in a corner. I enjoy the authentic cockpit display, something I was once very familiar with, and a turret ball from a bomber.

I leave the Eagle Hangar behind and am off to discover the storied relics lying just beyond its doors.  Like I said, there are many interesting pieces, from a world war I trainer (pictured below)  to mail carriers.  It is compact and, among the many original exhibits, meticulously constructed replicas of the Spirit of St. Louis and the Wright Flyer are here to be investigated.

As I said, the museum pegged my interest meter.  One of the most interesting was an aircraft known as an auto-giro, produced in 1931.  Its appearance  is enough to garner anybody’s attention.  With rotor blades above for lift and a propeller for thrust, this odd looking aircraft was the predecessor to the modern helicopter.

It was known as Miss Champion, providing advertisement for Champion spark plugs, a flying billboard.  Not only was it used in an advertising campaign, it was also instrumental to archeologists in the Yucatan peninsula, investigating Mayan ruins.  With its unique ability to hover, it had an advantage over both aircraft of the time and someone on the ground.

Finally, I’ll leave you with my favorite discovery of the day.  Sometimes its not the aircrafts achievements but the story behind it.  This craft was intended for racing and was built by Ettore Bugatti, the same Bugatti behind the European performance cars of the 20’s and 30’s.  Bugatti’s goal was to break the speed record of the time, his plane was designed to do just that.

WWII interrupted completion of the craft, being stowed in a barn in the European countryside.  Bugatti died in 1947 and the plane was largely forgotten for 30 years.  Finally, after a few change of hands it was brought to the states.  A replica was built and flown twice, crashing the third time.  However, this plane has sat Idle, never achieving its purpose for being built.

Besides the artifacts and planes, there are many other ways to enjoy this museum.  There are aircraft simulators and plane rides.  The rides being offered at Pioneer Airport, across the field from the museum.

I admit, when I decided to go to the museum I wasn’t sure if it would be a waste of time.  My conclusion, even if you’re not really into aviation, there are many interesting planes and artifacts to both entertain and educate oneself.  The atmosphere, especially in the Eagle Hangar, gives a great sensation as you view these exhibits.

Museum hours: Monday-Sunday 10am-5pm

Adults-$12.50  Seniors-10.50  Students-9.50  Children 5 and under-free

Family rate-31.00

The museum is located right off  I-41 in Oshkosh Wi

Chicago’s Field Museum-one of the largest of its kind.

A few things before I start.  First, I hadn’t planned on visiting the Field Museum  before we arrived in Chicago, last-minute decision.  We were debating whether we would see the Art Institute of Chicago, as we were cramped for time on our last go round, or see something else.  So I didn’t get a chance to research at all, I usually get a preview on a subject if I plan to write about it.  I wasn’t sure if I would blog this.

Secondly, we didn’t see everything, only the general admission exhibits. At $22 dollars a head, with an extra $15 to see the ticketed exhibits, the general admission was pricy enough.  I chewed on the Idea of seeing everything but, in the end, we saved $30.

So, I wasn’t prepared, plus I hadn’t seen the entire Museum.  Why write about it?  My answer is, simply, that I was stunned.  I’ve been to Museum Campus plenty of times, usually to visit Shedd’s Aquarium or the Museum of Science and Industry, both great learning and entertainment endeavors.  Yet, I only knew of  the Field simply as the ‘place with the Dinosaur bones’ which, as I’ve been visiting Museum Campus since boyhood, should have been enough motivation.

I am left to simply relive the highlights that, in their own right, are definitely worth the rather high admission rate.  The Field museum has the feeling of scholarly antiquity.  I sense the intelligence and feel the excitement of those leaders of the field, having discovered these pieces.

I am left to wander a hall whose walls hold mildly interesting exhibits.  It is here, in a small room, that I discover something I’ve always fancied viewing in person.  It may seem rather mundane, however, like many of my generation- I love Jurassic Park.  Insects trapped and preserved in amber beg the question, “Could we really reconstruct a prehistoric animal?”  I marvel at an extinct bug, forever giving testimony of its existence, in a crafted piece of jewelry.

After the fascinating start, I find the Ancient Egypt gallery.  With the lights turned low and the aged art, jewelry, pottery and mummies I feel as if I have entered some ancient realm.  I can only imagine what the discovering archeologists thought when they  uncovered hieroglyphs 5,000 years old.  The fact that a culture can speak to us with actual words, albeit in a dead language, is simply mind-blowing.

A replica of a tomb and an actual boat strike a conclusion.  It seems, even if we are far more advanced today, the human mind of ancient Egypt was already well-developed, as was his aptitude for innovation and logical thinking.  The need to preserve bodies and prepare tombs for the coming afterlife cast a shadow.  In their time, so much discovery and understanding of the world, in which they lived, was lacking.   Yet, ingenuity and creativity prevailed in one of the oldest societies on the planet earth.

More ancient cultures lie ahead.  This time the subject matter is the ancient civilizations of the America’s.  When someone mentions the new world’s past, I picture sketchy theories and forgotten worlds.  Although much of Ancient Egypt is a mystery, the American counterparts just don’t have the same kick.  I change my mind after walking through the abundant artifacts and exhibits.

The walls contain everything you could imagine.  From Mayans, Incan’s and Aztecs to Eskimos, Cherokees and Apache.  I marvel at the ancient art of the Mayan’s, Incans and Aztecs.  I’m not only looking at lost pottery recovered in dirt,  but interesting creations, leaving me guessing as to their significance on an ancient society.

Looming in one of the many halls, totem poles,  created by early inhabitants of the northwest, dwarf awestruck visitors.  The giant timbers decorated with imaginative beasts and, what appear to be, demons send a thrill through me.  Of course there are weapons, tools, musical instruments and clothing on display from the many lost cultures of the conquered Americas.

I leave the galleries with a new perspective on the inappropriate title ‘New World’.  Obviously, civilizations farmed, hunted and traded with one another before Europeans felt the urge to develop new and faster trade routes.  Art, architecture, warefare and much more were being developed by people unaware of the dangerous greed rising across the Atlantic.

We leave the plight of the ancient cultures behind and find a menagerie of animals.  Well, they are not living, but the taxidermy has preserved these beasts so, at least their likeness, could be looked upon.  Headlining the show, the lions Tsavo remind us how dangerous mother nature can be.  They were maneaters, killing at least thirty five men before they were hunted down and killed.

The last and most significant part of the museum, not saying the rest was not compelling, is the Evolving Earth Gallery.  This follows the development of organisms from single cell lives to the thinking minds of man.  There are fossils, skeletons and more in this great exhibition area.

The pinnacles, of course, have to be the remnants of the largest animals that walked the earth, dinosaurs.  Following that, in a close second, the remains of early species of man are on display.  Neanderthal and the like cause me to marvel at the complexity of natural selection.  How did they die out?  Do we want to know?

There is more, from meteorites to DNA labs.  Alas, I’ll allow you to discover these on your own.  Along with all these unique artifacts and fossils lies the Museum’s prized piece, Sue (Pictured as the cover photo) the most complete and largest T-rex to date.

The Field Museum, listed as a museum of natural history, is one of the largest of its kind.  We did not see everything, yet, I feel fulfilled after the visit. We spent over three hours in the museum and, if I wished, it could have been much longer.   It offered insight, education, entertainment and an appreciation of the very diverse and complex world in which we, as man and Americans, were derived.

Final Post South of the Border-Boat Tour on the Pacific

img_0506I’ve experienced the shores of both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, having visited these  bodies of water in warm climates.  I still enjoy them in my dreams while I pleasantly slumber. The combination of Palapas or shade umbrellas protecting me from the sun, scents of the comfortably humid air and whitecaps that thunder towards the sandy beaches inspire and sustain uplifting, peaceful emotions.

For all that I’ve mentioned, one regret remained while thinking of those blissful memories.  I never voyaged the salty waters with any sort of watercraft.  I was sure, as I planned my trip to the Barra de Navidad, that regret would be subdued.  It was.

We saunter through a narrow street of Barra de Navidad, enjoying the pleasant morning temps.  As we do, a polite man approaches us with an engaging smile-he’s selling a boat tour.  This is a common occurrence near the lagoon in Barra, the tours being offered in several locations.  Today we are prepared to take him up on his offer, having delayed this portion of the trip long enough.

The craft isn’t large, probably seating eight people at most.  We’ve decided on the 700 peso tour, choosing to view the rugged landscape just beyond the beach and inlet to the lagoon.  Along with the sightseeing, our guide baits two mammoth fishing poles and tosses the lines in the water.  I’m psyched.img_0583

The breeze, incurred from the speed of the boat, feels great as we skim the lagoon’s calm and shallow waters.  Once we head into the ocean, the boat sways and crashes along the waves, thrilling my companion. Soon, I survey the entire four mile beach, with Barra de Navidad on one end and Melaque poised at the other.

img_0520We head around a mountainous shore and delight at rocks jutting from the oceans simmering surface.  These rocks are of volcanic origins, as the mountains have worn from time.  It seems, as we progress around the tall standing mounds of the shore, that we have entered some worm hole, seeming to be transported to another geographical location.

From Barra, despite a lack of rain, the climate seems that of a tropical region, being palm trees, hibiscus and other such vegetation in and around the town.  Once we find the other side of these mountains, we discover an arid setting.  Cactus and desert shrubs sprout from the earth, high atop the rugged slopes of the volcanic sediment.

As we course through the waters, our guide points out rock formations.  One of these naturally sculpted pieces appears as that of a turtle, another a gorilla.  I’m mildly impressed, more impressed however by simply voyaging the ocean and taking in these sights.

img_0533Along the stone face of one of the mountains lies a shipwreck, a rusty victim of Hurricane Patricia.  The freighter is enormous and we are told the wreck is only two years old.  It seems the salty air has sped the corrosion of this wayward vessel,  observing the twisted barge pinned along the rocks.

It is now, when we are set to return to shore, that the guide suggests snorkeling and a longer fishing excursion.  The snorkeling trip is considerably higher in price and, although I was eagerly watching for the poles to bend in reaction to a tropical fish, I’m not prepared to pay the price for several hours on the boat.  I kindly wave a hand and shake my head.  I’m not sure the guide acknowledged my decline.

Instead of taking a return path towards the lagoon, he veers to the left.  I’m puzzled as he heads for Barra de Navidad’s neighboring town, Melaque.  I feel a lump in my throat, the thought of having to be firm with the mild mannered gentleman crossing my mind.  Is he simply Ignoring my refusal?  Then he alarms me more and turns towards the shipwreck, with the lagoon at our backs.  I’m turned from him and am trying to figure out how to be tactfully resolute with this gentleman when he taps my shoulder.

img_0545I follow his pointing finger towards a vertical jet of ocean spray, appearing as a slim ghost against the mountainous backdrop.  “Whales!”  He exclaims with delight.  “I thought I saw them.  Would you like a closer look?”  I blink in disbelief as I fixate towards the area he’s pointing to, sure enough, like a tiny geyser, mist emanates from the rolling ocean.  I nod emphatically.

img_0551He navigates the boat only twenty feet from the whales, which surface quite frequently.  I can hear the hollow drone of air as they breath through their blowholes.  “Babies,”  The guide explains.  Yet, they are the biggest thing I’ve ever set eyes upon in open water.  I take tons of pictures, yet, as they continuously surface, a great still of the moment eludes me.  (as I write this, a concrete live reel plays in my head)

It’s nature.  It all is.  The volcanic rocks and mountains, the rolling ocean, the desert shrubs and cactus, and the lined palm trees point to a natural setting that seems sensational to my Midwestern acclimated soul.  The whales, something that must seem routine to the guide, is a once in a lifetime moment.  I’m ecstatic that I cannot only see them, but hear them as well.

We return with perma-smiles fixed on our sea-fairing faces.  It was enjoyable to the point we repeated the tour the following day, our last of the trip.  On that trip the guide was gracious enough to allow me behind the wheel.  I was reminded of my grandfather at that moment, who allowed me to navigate the swells of Lake Michigan.  It really is no different.

If you’re in Barra and someone offers a boat tour, provided you have the cash and time, take it.  It seems hard to believe that many in the town, being professional fisherman, make their living in such splendid conditions.

Daytrip to la Manzanilla-Crocodiles, great swimming conditions and shrimp tacos on the beach

img_0312I had a nagging fear that plagued me as our trip to Barra de Navidad, a small Mexican town on the pacific coast, approached with 4G speed.  I wasn’t afraid of the cartel, as many seem to be worried about the criminal element.  Nor was I afraid of the  bus ride that ran along a narrow highway, riding the Sierra Madre mountain range.  I wasn’t even burdened by the thought of losing my passport.

My main fear, as the travel to our chosen spot was quite extensive, was that once we arrived, we would become sick of the town after a few days.  I could almost envision my companion muttering under her breath, “we came all this way for this?”

My worries were misplaced-she loved the town.  As an added bonus, we found some fun and interesting ways to pass the time.  One day, we took a day trip to a quaint little beach community known as la Manzanilla.  It was, after all, the Canadian seniors’ and the locals’ top suggestion.

As I step on the bus heading into la Manzanilla, I can’t help noticing its condition.  A cracked windshield, paint rubbed from scrapes with  buildings and cars along its body and  a missing piece of the bumper all add to the charm of this lumbering vehicle.  Locals and a few retirees are sitting next to me, as the one way price is twenty pesos per person -it’s packed.  During the ride, a man sings over a Bluetooth device, topping the unique little trip off with some entertainment.

The bus drops us off right at La Manzanilla’s beach.  I’m stunned as tables, marked with shade umbrellas, dot the beach for as far as the eye can see in both directions.  The sun gradually warms our bodies as the waves gently roar along the beach.   As we are enjoying the peaceful warmth, vendors, selling everything from necklaces to tattoos, approach us.

Among the many restaurants right on the beach, there is Pedro’s, offering the ‘Universe’s best fish tacos’.  Instead of fish tacos, we choose the shrimp tacos, along with Corona’s complete with salt and lime, and are delighted with the flavors greeting our taste buds.  The host is friendly and professional, and we dine right on the sands of the beach.

After tacos, we ask about the Crocodile Estuary, a sanctuary  for over 300 American Crocodiles.  The cost to enter the sanctuary is thirty pesos, fairly cheap, considering I spent over 200 pesos for lunch.  The mangrove is a short walk, possibly only three minutes from the beach, not to worry there is a fence to keep the crocodiles from escaping.

As I walk on the elevated walk, held in place by wood poles anchored in the mud of the mangrove, I judge the condition of the walkway to be good, despite its rickety and weathered appearance.  As I gape at large crocodiles, just basking in the sunlight,  practically right under our path, I feel a delightful sense of awe overcome me.  I’ve never been through a tropical mangrove before, definitely not one where crocodiles are so visible and plentiful.

The weathered wood path weaves its way through the brush of the mangrove, where the trees sometimes serve as an emerald canopy.  Beneath us the murky water holds danger, as we know the Crocs lie in wait for their next meal. When we reach a rickety tower and climb, surveying the landscape of the saltwater growth, we watch the reptiles  operate in their natural habitat.

img_0341-2Stealthily, they approach pelicans fishing along the shore.  Sensing the danger, the white birds simply fly from their station, tauntingly flapping over the Croc’s head.  It’s like the National Geographic channel in 3D.img_0391-1

We follow signs for the Museo (I can only assume that translates to Museum).  In this small little venue, there are skeletons of crocodiles, eggs and other interesting tidbits.  Unfortunately, one must be fluent in spanish to garner knowledge offered in this tiny Museum.  I, myself, know enough to order food and haggle with vendors, that’s my limit.

img_0331As we venture across more of the mangrove, we find ourselves on a small, rickety suspension bridge.  My sense of adventure is now at it’s peak as a boyhood fantasy is fulfilled.  Crocodiles?  Suspension bridges?  Has anyone seen ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?’  No, I didn’t cut the bridge down at the midway point, nor was I chased by a crazed cult leader, but the excitement and pulse pounding was still present.

img_0362When we reach the end of the aged walk way and discover solid ground, we find crocodiles in captivity.  I have to say, although I delight in holding a young croc, I feel rather let down to see these animals kept captive in such tight quarters.  The sense of adventure is gone, so is the delight in seeing these creatures in their natural habitat.  This portion doesn’t even feel like a zoo, more like an inhumane prison quarters.

img_0313We leave the mangrove and its inhabitants behind, although we return once more before the day is done.  However, now we are headed to the beach and the relatively calm waters of  Tenacatita Bay.  Here, besides the great dining experience, there is typical fun on the beach.  The only thing interrupting the relaxing feeling of lounging on a beach chair, casually soaking up the direct sunlight, listening to the rolling waves lap the sands and breathing in the salty moisture is the occasional vendor that you have to ward off.

img_0319-1We both swim in the water, as locals catch crabs and seashells.  The atmosphere of the beach lends a festive feeling.  The shrieks of thrilled children, the laughter of their parents and the taste of a Corona once I reach shore impact my senses with a positive vibe.

img_0371La Manzanilla was a home run.  Sun, fun, a great dining experience, swimming in a peaceful bay of the Pacific, an adventurous excursion in a tropical habitat and walking the peaceful Oceanside town have incurred memories to sustain a lifetime.

Barra de Navidad-A classic Mexican town on the ocean

img_0436-1My last post recalled my travels to a small town in Mexico, maybe you’ve heard of it before I posted the blog.  From what I can tell, many Canadians have. This place serves as the equivalent of Florida or Arizona to those seniors north of the US, being a cheaper investment versus those retirement communities in the states.  I have to commend them on their taste.

img_0601The town is known as Barra de Navidad, as the translation from Spanish to English means ‘Christmas Sandbar’.  Having a history that dates back to the 16th century, the town was once a repair station for Spanish vessels headed to the Philippines.   Today, it is part of the Costalegre and plays home to fishermen, shop owners, tourists, retirees, and a small menagerie of wandering livestock.

As I meander through the streets towards the town from the Cabo Blanco Hotel, I see all different manner of structures. From fenced in grassy ruins to beautiful stucco houses with the classic terra-cotta tile roofs, there is an authentic feel to this town.  On our way, as we stride down a well-kept sidewalk beside a narrow cobblestone street, a horse and donkey munch on some grass, blocking our passage.  Both animals pose no threat and respond casually to our approach, nonchalantly moving from the sidewalk.

20170107_165144179_iOSThey are not the only animals that stir this morn.  In the distance, I can hear a chorus of roosters, as they are spread throughout the town and barrio.  Dogs, who mainly keep to themselves, travel through the town unimpeded.

Like I said, there is quite a difference between buildings in this community.  Along the canals and some streets on the outskirts of town, architecturally stylish homes shelter retirees and vacationers.  Humbler structures, pleasing my eyes with their old-world charm, house natives and serve as businesses, some of these in the town’s heart are meager hotels. Yet,  across the lagoon lies a hotel, classically designed with Spanish architectural roots, that blows the doors off of any hotel I’ve seen in my life.  It seems like a page stolen from a novel I was forced to read as an adolescent- ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, as the humblest and most extravagant are meshed together in a mural that represents all sides of the human condition.img_0297

Even though it is past the first of January, many of these businesses and homes are decorated with classic Christmas lights.  Resting at the malecón, an artificial Christmas tree that is illuminated at night is perched on the stony pier. I don’t know how to feel – when I think of Christmas time, I think of log cabins nestled in a snowy Midwestern forest or field, not rope lights around the trunk of a palm tree.img_0438-1

The streets are narrow, surfaced with bricks that remind me of landscape pavers.  As I approach the passages nearest the ocean and lagoon, Palms line the streets at points.  Other times, shops spill onto the walks impeding travelers by foot, showcasing anything from hand painted ceramics to weaved purses and clothing.img_0586

Along with the shops, many restaurants offer a wide array of Mexican and seafood dishes.  Some restaurants require boat taxis, being on the other side of the lagoon, as was the case with Mary’s, our favorite seafood place.  We discover that all one has to do to find a good restaurant, as in many cases the tables are set right on the walks or streets, is just go where there are many people seated.  Otherwise, the locals and Canadian retirees, both of which are incredibly friendly and hospitable, are gracious enough to give many tips.

I am reminded of a man who we met at Reconcita’s, a place featuring baked potatoes  topped with anything you choose.  Paul, hailing from Alaska and earning money as a drummer in a classic rock band, pointed out many great places to eat.  Not only that, he told us of busses running to other towns and about the music scene.  You may have guessed, many of the musicians cater to those retirees, playing blues and classic rock.  Paul admitted to being lucky, “I’m playing music with great musicians in the middle of paradise, what more can a man ask for?” -I’m jealous.

img_0425As for music, it seems you can’t wander too far before stumbling across a musician trying to earn a peso.  From bongos and guitar to singers and saxophone players, live music seems to be everywhere.  Even on a bus traveling to another town,(that’s coming in a later blog) a man sang over instrumentals on a Bluetooth device.

img_0419This morning, it’s early.  Yet, we know later we will sit atop the roof of the Alondra Hotel, drinking beer and watching the sunset.  It has become a routine.  Every day the sun drops into the ocean so quickly you can actually see the fiery ball move, as it disappears  from view.  After the sun is gone the horizon glows like a long blade of fired Iron.

img_0486Before the sunsets, we may catch surfers, however we really don’t dare walk the beach in Barra.  We tried, as it ended disastrously.  Here the beach is slanted like the pitch of a church roof, sloping down towards the ocean.  As the surf crashes into the sands it can knock you over twice.  Once, when the waves are coming in and second, when the water retreats back to the ocean, creating an undertow.  My companion was knocked over and struggled a great deal to escape the cycle- I had to come to her aid.

img_0426-1Besides the quaint charm, the old world feel and small town atmosphere, the outstanding characteristic of this destination would be that many Mexican tourists flock to this area.  I realize, as I journey through Barra de Navidad this morning, that although I see many people out this morning, this town isn’t at its busiest till sunset. Being cooler in mornings and after sundown, the lively streets are fun to experience as street venders sell food and snacks.

img_0464The allure of this community set along the pacific coast comes in many different forms.  From food to culture and water sports to relaxation there is more than enough in and around Barra to keep the vacationer busy.  Boat tours offer everything from deep sea fishing and shipwrecks to snorkeling.  The only downfall, at least from my perspective, is the fact that there are no Aztec or Mayan ruins nearby.  If your into fun and relaxation Barra de Navidad may be right for you!img_0534


My next blog will include our day trip to la Manzanilla and the boat tours.







Travel to Barra de Navidad and the Cabo Blanco Hotel.

img_0225-1In an all inclusive resort, residing in an overcrowded Mexican city,  there is little exposure to authentic Mexican culture.  Maybe that’s how you prefer it, that’s ok, I won’t judge.  I mean, after all, many want to avoid the language barrier or being subject to situations that may be perceived as dangerous.  I understand, an all inclusive is a utopian world, what better place to spend a vacation.

I love to discover things and be slightly daring, don’t get me wrong -I’m not thinking of climbing Everest or anything like that.  That being said, I often make things a tad more difficult.  Sometimes its worth the trouble, other times I’m left with regret.  I like different experiences and exposing myself to a different way of living, that’s why I like Barra de Navidad.img_0590

The closest airport to this small tourist/fishing town is a thirty minute taxi ride away, set in a another coastal city by the name of Monzanillo.  Even if you did fly into that very small airport, tickets are twice what you would pay if you were to  fly into Puerto Vallerta.

Hence, I decided to fly into Puerto Vallerta from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.  Puerto Vallerta is a four hour bus ride to Barra, I know, pretty long.  However, the plane tickets were around three hundred per person, round trip.  Add the fact that the bus for two people into Melaque, the town that shares the four mile beach with Barra, are only 35 American dollars, it’s rather economical.

I wake at 3:15 am in a Days Inn, struggling mightily against a lack of sleep and slight hang over.  The afternoon/evening in Chicago was fun, but now I need to catch the 4:00 am shuttle to O’Hare.  We clean up a bit, having showered upon arriving to the hotel, and make our way downstairs.  It is lightly snowing this morning, as I tell myself this long day will end in weather suitable for shorts.

Our plane boards at 5:30, plenty of time to get through security.  We decided to get our boarding passes the night before, to lessen the stress.  Everything goes without a hitch and we meet our departure time of 6:05.

We only brought carry on luggage, fearing the prospect of the airline losing our luggage since we’re catching a connecting flight in Houston.  That’s where the trouble begins.  After eating breakfast in a cool little sit down restaurant, where you order and purchase your food with a touchscreen, we board the plane.  The attendant at the gate insists we check my companions luggage.  After we board the plane, I’m a bit ticked, the bag would have easily fit into the compartment.

Adding to the stress, there is an hour delay on the taxi way.  As we’re taking off, I assure her we’ll be able to find her bags reasonably easily, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  After Immigration in Puerto Vallerta’s airport, customs and the baggage pick up was a cluster, an absolute mess!  The line into customs really had no rhyme or reason and the baggage claim, despite seeming organized, really wasn’t.

We get separated and I’m severely worried, being in a foreign country’s airport and desperately searching for my companion.  The line for customs serpentines into the baggage claim area.  I have no idea whether my companion found her bag.  Finally I spot her, after about ten minutes.  At this time she is still looking for her bag, she finds it about five minutes later.

We catch a taxi to the bus station.  For reference, upon leaving the airport, we walk across the skyway and pay about a 140 pesos less than if we had accepted a ride from the first driver who approached us.  The rest of the trip goes with out a hitch.  When we arrive in Melaque, using the Primera Plus bus line, it is about 8:45 and we catch another cab.  The driver barrels through the streets, nearly colliding with bicycles and other cars on the way.

img_0593-1As we arrive in Cabo Blanco, the stress melts away.  I pay the taxi driver 80 pesos and  an elderly man takes our luggage.  There is no problem checking in, actually, they’ve been expecting us.  The hotel is $59 a night, it is quite worth it.

The desk rests at the mouth of a well-groomed courtyard, accented with a beautiful pool.  The grounds, itself,  is located at the end of a small and narrow canal.   As the hotel is placed at the edge of the barrio between residences and the town, a small marina is also set at the end of the canal.  For this reason, you can take a boat-taxi across the lagoon for no charge.  Tonight, however, we are tired.img_0594-1

When we wake the next morning, I am refreshed.  We wander into an ocean view restaurant for breakfast, which was amazing.  The name of the establishment is known as Bananas, being a feature of Hotel Barra de Navidad.

We return to Cabo Blanco and relax at the pool bar, shaded by a palapa.  Later on, a band plays some classic rock favorites, reggae is infused into many of the familiar songs.  It’s a fun vibrant atmosphere, as many retirees from Canada enjoy the pool and music as much, or maybe more, than we do.

The hotel is really quite nice and they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner at a poolside restaurant. The rooms are slightly above average with a fairly decent size TV(Who wants to watch TV when your on an exciting vacation?).   Equipped with air conditioning and a large ceiling fan, the room is quite comfortable.  My only complaint would be the fact that there is no curtain for the shower, water finds itself everywhere.  Free WiFi is included with the room, as it is with many businesses in the town.img_0592-1

So far our trip has been fun and relaxing-catch another post for more on this wonderful trip.