Chichen Itza – Random Imagery

A menagerie of tourists
wandering herds of pampered human flesh
bright white sneakers, tomato-red faces, tank tops with sunburnt arms dangling

scrawny brown vendors en masse
hogging shady trees,
waving shiny trinkets, “Juan Dolla!”

weary, burnt-out guides
in mirrored sunglasses, white guayaberas washed to the point of transparency
“now look over here, my friends” ad nauseum

wrinkled wizened face
the ancient tiny Mayan lady’s sad eyes
“hankie 10 pesos” her only English

sweaty lineups
crowded bathrooms and overpriced ice cream shops
tourists in heat-exhausted stupors, indifferent employees

“hat my friend, hat my friend”
brown woman ignored by the pale masses
climbing the stairs to their overheated destiny

flocks of silver buses
motors racing, air conditioners on high
parked, waiting for their victims to return, the driver snoring in his undershirt

Wonder of the World
Chichen Itza Disney-fied
and cash cow to the government

Casual Restaurant Critic – Truck Chef

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Here’s a little mini-review from the Casual Restaurant Critic on just one of the many food trucks now sprouting up all over the place; Truck Chef is one of the more popular options.

This food truck features burgers for the most part and they are good; worth hunting down a location which you an do my checking their Facebook page, which also features a lot of really enticing photos that will make your mouth water. Besides burgers there are also some healthier options (pork belly tacos are not only delicious, they are healthy. Aren’t they???) and the whole menu has a rock and roll theme, in case you hadn’t picked up on that.

https://www.facebook.com/TruckChef

Verdict? Good stuff!

 

 

 

The Casual Hotel Critic visits Hyatt Zilara in Cancun, Mexico

The Casual Hotel Critic doesn’t show up as often on this website as the Casual Restaurant Critic, but occasionally he pops in and offers observations on a hotel or two, which might or might not help you with your travel planning.

This time, the Casual Hotel Critic and his lovely Better Half – yes, like the Casual Restaurant Critic – this one also has a Better Half – visited the number three hotel in Cancun on TripAdvisor, as numbers one and two were already booked due to it being Semana Santa aka Easter break. The hotel, formerly called The Royal, is now the Hyatt Zilara and the overall impression is positive.

For the money, this hotel should be perfect. And in many aspects, it is.

A positive, no kids. Nothing against the little critters, but the CHC has been there and done that and occasionally he likes to relax in an adult environment, devoid of screaming, crying and whining by the kids, followed by reprimanding, cajoling and wimpy caving in by exhausted parents.

It’s all inclusive. Normally the Critic eschews this kind of accommodation, but when all one wants to do is vegetate in the sun and eat and drink at will, not having to fish out a wallet or sign a bill is very welcome indeed. And the Hyatt Zilara offers up quality drinks (would that restaurants in Merida understand how to prepare a decent mojito like the one served here) and tasty, quality food, from its silly little billiard room where people are playing Jenga that offers a delicious chili that would do well in the Merida English Library’s Chili Cookoff competition to the Chefs Plate restaurant (more on that later).

Large Asian clientele. You can’t help but notice that you are surrounded by young Asian couples, mostly Japanese and Korean. A waiter informs the CHC that the hotel is a destination for honeymooners from Asia and that all the people one sees are on their honeymoon. This is an advantage because they are not raucous and screaming, although there were some partiers from Quebec at the beach who insisted on screaming their French Canadian jokes across five beach cabañas and would follow up each ‘joke’ with loud nasal cackles not unlike a gaggle of geese discovering a previously unseen dish of corn feed.

Hands on hearts. One is taken aback at first but comes to expect it from even the gardener or the painter who is touching up some railings. Each greeting and question is answered with a slight downward nod of the head and a hand placed over the employees heart. In some cases it works, while in others it seems a little forced and still others forget to put their hands on their hearts when they say ‘hola’ as they pass you by. Apparently this is to convey to you, the honored guest, the sincerity of their commitment to you. Again, sometimes believable, other times not so much.

A fantastic beach. When you come to Cancun you don’t come to experience the noise of the Kukulkan boulevard with its polluting noisy buses racing side by side cutting off little green and white Tsuru taxis with their fist-banging, head-shaking irate drivers. You come for the beach, which is what Cancun was all about back in the day before the spring breakers came and it went from ‘exclusive destination’ to Daytona Beach with chiles. And the Hyatt Zilara still has that beach. The entire front of the hotel is beach and it is carefully tractored and groomed each morning so that people will not find any nasty seaweed as they make their way, like baby turtles, to the waves crashing out front. It’s mostly too rough to swim, but there are lifeguards and one can wade out a little and getting refreshingly battered by the waves that, once, they have reached the shore, come back with equal strength the other way, challenging you to keep your footing and not get sucked out to sea. A lifeguard watches this and will blast a short whistle if you get anywhere near waist-deep.

Good food. It’s always a toss-up as to whether or not one will get decent food at an all-inclusive, but the CHC is happy to say that the CRC would be happy and well, there would be happiness all around. Good food. Not over-the-top unbelievable, but good. There are several restaurants to choose from:

Spice is the go to buffet standby when everything else is booked, closed or too fancy. It’s not Caesars Palace and the Bacchanal Buffet by any remote, way off-in-the-distance stretch of the imagination, but there is a small variety of items that are of acceptable quality.

Asiana has – you guessed it – Asian food and a teppan-yaki ‘show’ that is borderline cheesy but the honeymooners seemed to enjoy it. Sushi is available as an appetizer before the teppan-yaki but this is nothing to send pigeons home about. Mostly rice with a hint of fish, it made the CHC almost cringe in embarrassment for the Asian couples around him and Better Half. What were they thinking? The final product is a lot of food so don’t overdo it on the rice-y sushi.

Pelicanos is the casual all-purpose restaurant on the beach, with a great view and great staff. Very attentive, the food is very good and with that view, it’s a winner. Portions are small so you can order lots if you are hungry and try many different items from the short but varied menu.

Chef’s Plate is the other high end restaurant that, along with Asiana’s teppan yaki show, one needs reservations for. In either case, the CHC and BH just showed up and waited for no-shows which was the case on both nights, so they got in with no difficulty. Ladies, wear dressy sandals at least for the Chef’s Plate as you won’t get in with flip flops. They are trying to maintain a certain decorum here. This restaurant was the best of the bunch. A long table for about 20 people, and a tasting menu featuring fish, duck, salad, dessert and a few more plates. The menu was explained by a talented Porfirio who spoke English, Spanish and Japanese to his guests and, as each dish was served to the diners, he would then explain what the ingredients were and how it was made, again in three languages.

Special shout out to believe it was Jennifer at the front desk who seemed genuinely concerned about everything to do with the CHC and BH’s stay, especially after finding out that the room she had assigned had a ladder in front of it and was obviously being maintained. She later approached BH and offered a spa treatment which was quite nice.

It is a very expensive hotel and so, one notices these little details a bit more. Great stay though if you can swing it or find a good promo.

Website and more info here: http://cancun.zilara.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html

Another Morning in El Mercado – El Chile Pica

El chile pica” warned the waiter, pointing to the blackened chile habanero bits mushed up in the little bowl.

The gringo smiled. He had eaten chiles before. Had even watched a show by Rick Bayless once where Rick explained how to spot a particularly spicy one.

De verdad pica; tenga cuidado” repeated the waiter.

He seemed truly concerned and hovered for another moment at the red plastic table watching the gringo, who nodded and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture.

The waiter turned back to the counter to pick up another order; mondongo para la mesa cuatro, his Mom told him from behind the counter, hands slick with pork fat as she worked the lechon.

He was setting down the spicy soup at table four when he heard a loud cough and the scrape of a plastic chair being violently pushed on concrete; the gringo was standing up waving his hands in the air and his mouth opening and closing like a freshly caught pescado. Comical almost, if it wasn’t for the fact that he looked like he was going to die right there.

Pinche gringo, que bruto; se lo dije” he thought to himself.

People at the other tables smiled bemusedly at the gringo’s predicament and those nearby held out their drinks or some tortillas, all of which the gringo ignored, not out of rudeness of course but because he simply couldn’t see them, his eyes were watering so bad.

Mom was already out from behind the counter, arms around the stumbling gringo and leading him towards the counter where Luisa had some milk in a glass. Mom was also stuffing tortillas in his mouth to soak up the picante.

Little by little, his eyes drying and the coughing subsiding, the gringo came back to this world. He opened his eyes to find himself sitting at a stool by the counter with everyone looking at him. He gave a limp wave with one hand.

Bien, estoy bien” he said lifting one hand and looking somewhat chagrined. Everyone smiled and returned to their meals.

He walked slowly, almost carefully, to his table and sat down to finish his tacos.

The waiter stopped by at the table.

Esta bien? Si pica el chile verdad? Se lo dije no? he asked with a not unkind smile.

Oh, si!” said the gringo and gave a feeble laugh. The waiter patted the gringo’s shoulder and moved back to the counter.

Tacos de lechon para la dos. His Mom gave him a wink.

 

Casual Restaurant Critic at the new Miyabi

As of this writing, Miyabi has moved its operation from the commercially doomed plaza on Prolongacion Montejo that features DHL, Carls Jr. (or Burger King – can’t remember which) and Walk To Wok, to a sparkly new location in the new shopping center where Merci is located, somewhere between the San Angelo condominiums and City Center.

The space is gorgeous, and the first thing you will notice when walking in is that the staff has cuadrupled. There are servers and busboys and who knows what else almost outnumbering the potential clients.

On the occasion of this visit, the Casual Restaurant Critic and better half went for a few pieces of nigiri and the always superb ramen soup. Not much to say on that end except that both were excellent.

Service was better than usual but still lacks a real friendly touch.  Many of the waiters are still as sullen as they were at the previous location and the new faces look like they are trying but the Critic suspects they will soon be contaminated with whatever grumpy virus the name carries with it.

Another thing that seemed odd and definitely detracted from the feel of the place is that all the lights were off. This was not a CFE thing as the kitchen was lit as were the little bonsai feng shui garden elements. The dining room was dark and it made for a rather cold feel.

If you are in the mood for ramen, definitely go here. It’s only 95 pesos and is a meal in itself. Sushi is fine, but you will get far more interested service at Hamachi.

Lights out!

Lights out!

Paying it Forward – the Houston InfoDesk Volunteers

PART ONE – I am stuck in Houston, thanks for a mental seniors moment that caused me to miss my flight back to Merida today. A couple of things stand out from today’s experience, which really doesn’t upset me that much as make me feel stupid and will help be a little less relaxed next time I travel.

Having arrived well after the airplane doors would have been closed, I was sent off to the side and after waiting an interminable amount of time in line at the United customer service desk I played it as humbly as I could with the unsmiling lady behind the counter. It’s hard to play the indignant customer when the fault was entirely mine. Having already  checked on line it was no surprise when she told me that tomorrow’s flight was booked solid with the exception of one business class seat at $1300 USD. Now that is pretty steep even if you do love leather and cutlery but I thought, what the hell, and told her to book it. Perhaps I could get some credit for the flight not taken and if not, well so be it.

She stabbed at the keyboard for a while and told me that she had to check with someone to see if in fact that seat was still available. She was put on hold and told me that it would be at least 10-20 minutes. By this time she and I were on good terms and I suggested maybe Cancun would be an option. Cradling her phone between her shoulder and cheek, she hit a few more keys and a morning flight appeared for $500 and then, miracle of miracles, she announced an 11:30 flight that could be had – at no charge at all.

I was so happy I almost jumped over the counter to give her a hug but that would have been inappropriate and so I settled on a hearty and thankful handshake. When I then asked about a hotel recommendation she actually gave me a coupon for a discounted hotel stay, the kind you get when THEY screw up. I was most grateful and again thanked her enthusiastically.

PART TWO – I am at the info desk at terminal E, the United terminal where two elderly folks in red uniforms are helping people with questions related to all manner of things. They wear tags that have their names on them and the fact that they are volunteers. The lady whom I will call Lady helps me with a phone to call the number on the United coupon to set up the hotel, offering to let me use her cell phone in case their courtesy phone didn’t work for what was obviously a non-local number.

Meanwhile the man whom I will call… Man, is dealing with a sloppily-attired individual who demands to know the flight schedule of ANA from Tokyo to Houston. They are obviously flummoxed and can not pull up any information on their computer, which seems to be not working. Mr. ANA is very rude and sarcastic with them, telling them that any Google search would display the information – oblivious to the fact that these are senior citizens and probably not the most tech-savvy people in the world. It is obvious from their expressions that they don’t even know what ANA is. I wonder why he doesn’t check it himself on his own computer or a rental somewhere.

As I complete my hotel booking over the phone, I can hear a lady in the wheelchair behind me loudly ask if there is a time limit on the use of the phone, to which Lady answers ‘no’ which is met with ‘well there should be’ which I choose to ignore since she is already in a wheelchair and I don’t want to further complicate her existence with a smack on the head with the telephone receiver.

The Man has now consulted with the Lady about Mr. ANA and they both are now trying to find some info on the computer and at the same time apologizing to Mr. ANA who remains unfazed and continues his eye-rolling and relentless questioning.

An elderly lady of the oriental persuasion appears and demands attention in that impatient and oh so charming way that some older folks have developed. Lady points her in the direction she needs to be moving.

Throughout all this, both Lady and Man are smiling, patient and while frustrated, they do not take it out on their ‘clients’.

I pull up the FlightTrack app on my iPhone and find the ANA information and tell the guy what he needs to know and finally, to the relief of Lady and Man, he walks away. What possible satisfaction this man gained from knowing that ANA’s flight from Houston landed at 3:55 PM at Narita airport is beyond me.

Wondering what motivates them to be there in the first place, I ask if every day they had difficult people like this guy. Their features relax and they smile a tired smile.

Lady answers first. “Some days, yes.”

But they both shrug it off.

“I just wish that coffee line wasn’t so long” says Man, pointing at the Starbucks outlet in the corner, where a long line of people waiting to order coffee stretched into the terminal, almost blocking the children’s Christmas choir doing their best to sing Jingle Bells in tune.

“I’m going to buy you a coffee” I tell him.

He comes back with an energetic “No, you are not!”

But I go stand in that line anyway, which takes forever as this is the one Starbucks in all of the great state of Texas that has the winner of the Slow-as-Molasses Ass-Dragging Contest working the till. Her companion, whom I will briefly refer to as Scruffy Mexican, looks out at the line with dead fish eyes, bored beyond belief and chewing his gum with a gusto reserved for recently rescued shipwreck survivors when fed their first meal.

I buy a couple of coffees; black – who knows if Lady and Man have milk allergies, high blood sugar or whatever – and a couple of packages of biscotti. I then head back and set them on their counter. “Merry Christmas” I say.

Man makes a move to reach into his back pocket. “How much do I owe you for those?”

“Absolutely nothing. Just want you to know that you are appreciated. Thank you for what you do and the way you do it” I tell them.

I shake their hands, grab my bags and head outside to wait for my hotel shuttle feeling like I have returned a little of the goodwill I received from the United lady earlier.

Casual Restaurant Critic Burger Slapdown: Elevation vs. Angry Angus

Exciting stuff – a burger slapdown.

In this corner, at a trim 57 kilos, Elevation Burger. A big blue-themed restaurant that smacks of fast foodiness but offers a fresh and organic take on the hamburger, according to all the hype and publicity. The Critic has heard people whine on about how expensive the burgers are and this is probably the case, but have you seen the price of organic meat in Costco vs the regular hormone and steroid kind? You are what you eat, and that is another slogan on the wall of Elevation.

The Critic was underwhelmed by the size of the burger – a plain burger accompanied by large fries – and overwhelmed by the fries, which were huge and so tasty that he couldn’t stop eating them in spite of the fact that his arteries were visibly constricting. The burger, while small was very tasty. The meat (one patty) was meaty, not pasty and the tomato, lettuce and pickle were refreshingly cold. Real Cheddar too. It tasted like a burger you would make at home. Satisfying. Cost? $160 pesos fries and burger, no drink.

And in this corner, weighing in at 104 sloppy, smoky kilos, Angry Angus. Not sure about the name but the burgers are all extremely loaded up with extras and the prices are  much lower than our elevated contender. Of course AA doesn’t need to pay a huge franchise fee in USD and probably pays a fraction of the rent. The burgers are huge, absolutely crammed with extras and accompanied by fries that are fresh and hot. On this occasion the Critic had a burger with chistorra, that tasty fatty Argentinian sausage, plus real Cheddar cheese and god knows what else. It was hard to wrap his lips around this thing. Sloppy, messy, tasty, fatty and ultimately satisfying. The cost? 99 pesos. Yup, that’s it.

Service at Elevation was fast-food style although they did make an (inconsistent) effort to have someone open the door for arriving or departing guests.  Ambience again was fast food-y and instead of orange and white, the colors were blue and white. The kitchen is open and clean.

Service at Angry Angus was amazingly good, considering you are really out on the street. Ambience is, well, out on the street. There is a TV, of course, and you can see the giant grill off to one side where a host of burger people are busily cranking out the wares.

The winner of this smackdown? Based on taste, service and price, the clear winner is Angry Angus. Go tonight, the place opens at 7 PM.

Links and more info:

Elevation Burger: https://www.facebook.com/ElevationBurgerMX

Angry Angus: https://www.facebook.com/angryangus.lasmejoreshamburguesasangus/

 

Outraged at Tree Removal

IMG_0441 I would hardly consider myself a tree-hugger, but I do love me some trees. And to see a huge, healthy and obviously old tree reduced to firewood in a day, in order to comply with “Mover a Mexico” the federal government’s plan to build more highways and infrastructure, was so saddening.IMG_0437

Apparently we need yet another bridge/overpass on Merida’s periférico ring road and the tree was in the way of this progress and the planners strategic objective of converting Merida into another automobile-centric Distrito Federal or worse, Los Angeles.  Of course these big contracts mean big payouts and payoffs to those approving and participating in these large infrastructure projects that are so necessary to make certain segments of society feel like they are ‘modern’ and ‘progressing’.

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How much media play as a forward thinking, environmentally aware administration do you think the city could have gotten out of building a on ramp or overpass or whatever around this tree? Is it really that difficult for planners and engineers to think outside their square box? Do we even need another overpass when there is one just 300 meters away?

And before you misguided Yucatecans (there are a few out there) jump all over me and tell me to go back to where I came from, let me assure you that I am speaking as someone who loves the city and the state and can not fathom the need to emulate the ugly urban sprawl that is so prevalent in the rest of the country, instead of planning something better for our children and grand children and using the talented people we have here to come up with a friendlier, greener and healthier city.

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Looking for that elusive great television series

FearWalkingDead

Just so my seventeen faithful readers aren’t under the impression that the only thing on my radar is anything Yucatan-related, I hereby remind them that I can go off at length in other areas as well.

This week I downloaded the first episodes of Fear the Walking Dead, in response to David Bianculli recommending the series as worth a look, on NPR’s Fresh Air recently.

While the show, a prequel to the highly successful Walking Dead drama which I enjoyed until it became too much like a never-ending and splatter-y graphic catalog of how to kill a zombie , tries to muster up some tension and suspense from the outset, I found myself completely distracted by both the dialogue which was heavy and not particularly natural and the grossly distracting (to me, the neurotic observer) details in the finished production, particularly the sound.

For example, the woman who is the main character, is told by her boyfriend/husband that the strange story told by her drug addict son makes some sense as he (boyfriend/husband) had gone to the site where the event took place and she tells him no “Oh you went there, what did you see?” but “Really? I don’t think you should validate his outrageous stories by pretending they are based on real events.” To me this implies that she certainly does not take her boyfriend/husband very seriously indeed and is hardly believable if they are in an adult relationship. He of course, like a good TV husband/boyfriend, just stands there with no expression, waiting for her next line.

Other distractions:

  • Misunderstood overachiever white daughter is sitting with black boyfriend on bleachers at school (edgy) and he begins to draw on her arm, because he is a graffiti artist and that’s what they do: they draw on you. Camera is back to their faces, earnestly expressing some lovey-dovey mush and when the camera comes back to the arm and he asks her if she likes his creation, you can’t help but notice that what is there has nothing to do with what he started drawing previously
  • Family drives a 2006 Toyota Camry – as I do – and every time they lock or unlock the door and I hear the chirp of the alarm, I am thinking “THAT IS NOT THE SOUND THAT CAR MAKES”
  • Aforementioned daughter is visiting empty house where missing boyfriend lives. She is walking on concrete, then a wooden floor and the sound of her shoes is important to the plot here as it is supposed to be a very suspenseful buildup to something. The distraction is that her shoes are sneakers aka running shoes and they would never sound like a solid heeled shoe like that.

And so, I made it to the end of episode 2, but doubt that I will continue as these and other distractions will make it impossible for me to take the series very seriously.  Sorry David.