Monday, June 13, 2011

Kayak Photo tips

Sunday morning, calm winds, and cochinita tacos in our tummies from a weekend-only taco spot. If you want the location, you'll have to go on a tour with Emily from Cozumel Chef. We have been sworn to secrecy.

A perfect time to visit the north lagoon with a SOT (sit on top) kayak. I was hoping to chase a couple of crocs, but we didn't see any.

For solitude and easier paddling, we think it's a good idea to go early. The beach on the west side of Isla de Pasion is usually deserted until around noon, when it becomes popular with island families who own boats. Plus, paddling across open water will be lots easier before a stiff breeze comes up.

For photographers, there a few things to remember:

1) Keep the camera in a drybag or Pelican case if it isn't waterproof. With a SOT kayak, drips and splashes are unavoidable. Secure the bag or case to the boat in case of a rollover. Have a small towel to dry your hands before pulling the camera out.

2) Watch your horizon lines when shooting from a boat. Avoid putting the horizon in the middle and try to keep it level. You can always fix it later, but try to compose with the sky or the clouds in thirds.

3) Camera shake in a kayak requires a faster shutter speed. Try to use 1/500th of a second or higher.

4) Including a person in your beach and landscape photos will give a sense of scale to your images.

Just because it is called Sit On Top doesn't mean you can't Stand on Top.

We are going to start posting photo tips, in addition to our travel reviews. Check back often.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ana y Jose Charming Hotel

Among the many comfortable, well-done resorts on the beach in Tulum, one of our favorites is Ana y Jose Charming Hotel & Spa.

The rooms and suites are comfortable, the pool is relaxed and the beach is just about perfect. Some of the rooms and suites come with their own private pool. All rooms and bungalows have balconies or patios.

Palapas with comfortable lounges dot the beach.

We have shot a wedding here, and have stayed here to relax. Both times, the hotel provides top-level service in the rooms, pool and restaurant.

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Basico and Deseo

You're heading to Playa del Carmen for a couple days at the beach and some serious partying at night. You're not looking for a chill casita away from it all, you want great cocktails, beautiful people, hip accommodations and a bar that pumps up the volume all night long.

You are headed for either Deseo, very hip and chic, or Basico, which utilizes recycled materials for one of the more unusual, industrial hotel designs in Mexico. Both are on Quinta, right in the middle of the PdC action.

Deseo doesn't have a restaurant, but Basico makes up for that with terrific breakfasts, fresh fruits, great rellenos.

The rooftop pool at Deseo is next to the terrace bar, which is full of beach beds. Old movies play after dark on the side of a large wall.

Basico's terrace is a bit higher above Quinta and the pools are made from old oil drums. Very recycled. The rooms also have an cool, industrial feel. But, the beds at both places are sooooo comfortable.

Just don't plan on going to sleep before midnight. Or 2:00 am?

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Argentina Wine Country

Although the headlines have barely changed since I first visited Argentina in 2005, Argentina is hot!

Great food!

Lunch at Postales Argentina
Great wine!

Malbec at Finca Adalgisa

Amazing scenery!     Wine Country!

Vineyards around Estancia Colomé

Here are a few ideas for visiting the wine country. It's not just Mendoza, which gets most of the press. There is also Cafayate in the north, which is where a lot of Argentina's popular white wine grape, Torrontes, is grown.

It is also near the home of one of the more amazing wineries and hotels you might ever visit, Bodega and Estancia Colomé. Way off the beaten track and equally off the grid, Colomé is owned by the Hess Group which also owns Hess Collection in Napa and Peter Lehman in Australia. It is a sustainable resort, vineyard and winery, that produces its own power and food and is at the forefront of biodynamic agriculture. The vegetables, rabbit and the pork on the menu are grown on the property or by locals in the small community.

It seems that there are as many places to stay in the Mendoza area as in Buenos Aires. One of our favorites is Finca Adalgisa. A small boutique hotel with a small boutique winery that was started by Italian immigrants.

Finca Adalgisa

Another wonderful place, set in the vineyards with the Andes looming to the west is Postales Argentina. I realize that we have put up two pool shots, but it was 104 degrees F when we were there. Hope you understand.

Postales Argentina

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Going to Argentina?

I realize that most of us in the Northern Hemisphere plan a trip to South America during our winter and their summer. But, for those of you who like to avoid the crowds, or who are planning to ski the Andes, we wanted to throw a couple of hotel choices your way.

Maybe winter would be a good time to visit Buenos Aires for those tango lessons you promised yourself?

In this amazing city, you have so many places in all budget ranges. Then, you have to make the hard choice of neighborhoods: San Telmo, Puerto Madero, Recoleta, Palermo, Palermo Hollywood, Palermo Viejo, Palermo . . . . . . OK, that's enough of the hip Palermo sub-neighborhood choices.

But, one of our favorites was in Palermo Hollywood. You'll truly feel at home at The Home Hotel. A little bit hip, a little bit retro, but all class.

The rooms are stylish, to be sure, and you can have basic, or you can go waaaaaaayyyyy upscale. Like a two-floor suite, with your own private sundeck for tanning your naughty bits and a private pool that is one roll and a bounce away from your bed.

There are great restaurants in the neighborhood, but you'll be happy with the included breakfast and might find it hard to leave at all, since the restaurant and bar do everything well.

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Asian food at the Mercado

One day a year ago, Jennifer and I were headed to the mercado for lunch at one of the loncherias. We were walking by one of the small places and it was filled with Asian guys, with tables loaded with food served family style. It was obvious that they were happy with their food.

Of course, this is one of several places on Cozumel that cater to the cruise ship crews. There was a hand written menu on the wall above the kitchen, and I didn't recognize a single item on the menu except fried rice.

We took the only vacant table and were approached by a young man who asked if we were familiar with the menu items? "No". Do we like seafood? "Oh, Yes"

He then explained they cooked Malaysian and Indonesian which are a balance of sweet, spicy and savory, and Filipino, which was mostly sweet and sour.

We went for an Indonesian dish called bakwan udang. It turned out to be one of the best shrimp dishes I have ever had. Wonderful fried shrimp and vegetable cakes served with an amazing sambal sauce that had us licking the spoon.

bakwan udang & sambal

The sambal sauce is a spicy hot, sweet sauce that has a unique flavor. It burns your mouth, then cools it with the sweetness. Totally addicting.

Fast forward to today's mercado, where the loncherias have been rebuilt and a parking lot installed. On our last visit the restaurant has no menu or name on the exterior. It is the place that is the closest to Rosado Salas.

It's best to go with a small crowd, since the portions are large. Four of us ordered a whole fish in a curry sauce, fried rice and the required bakwan udang. Bring your own beer or settle for refrescos. Definitely bring your appetite.

Open for lunch Monday - Saturday

Tamarindo Cozumel

My first visits to Cozumel in the mid 90s found me looking for interesting, small places that I considered bargains. Hotel Pepita, Hotel Aguilar and Tamarindo B&B were a few of the places where I stayed.

My favorite was Tamarindo B&B, with it's smooth edges and perfect blending of architectural details and design. This is definitely not your normal place with rectangular rooms and concrete floors.

Tamarindo B&B was unique then, and it still feels that way today. The design and atmosphere are a little bit Mexican and a little bit Greek Islands. That combination is flavored with a healthy dose of European style. Eliane Godement, originally from France,  has created a place that exudes charm, and is very fairly priced.

She serves an amazing B&B style breakfast on the terrace at her Calle 4 norte location.

There are a couple of rooms, a very cool thatch-roof bungalow and four apartments with kitchenettes.

Her second location, on Calle 19 sur one block east of Melgar, features a bungalow, two apartments and a pool.

We enjoyed photographing such an interesting property with distinctive rooms for her new web site.