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Abby Discovers Bouncing Ball

Abby was doing this for about an hour today!

Abby’s First Walk

This video captures Abby’s first long walk which was actually filmed on the 4th of July, 2014.

Family Swimming

Family enjoying pool on a hot, sunny, Saturday afternoon!

Chilean Table Grapes

You ever wonder where table grapes come from?  Well that all depends on the time of the year.  Between June and September most table grapes you can pick up in the grocery store will most likely come from California.  When in season, California produces 99% of commercially grown table grapes for the United States.

When winter settles in and Californian vineyards have been harvested to their limits, Chilean table grapes are well positioned to continue the flow of supply.  As Chile is located in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed.  When we here in the U.S are keeping close to the fireplace to stay warm during the winter, Chile is in the middle of their summer exporting tables grapes all over the world.

Top 3 Countries Importing Table Grapes to the U.S.

  1. Chile: accounts for 68% of imports
  2. Mexico: 29% of imports
  3. Peru: 3% of imports

Below are some photos of my recent trip to the grape vineyards of Chile…

table grapes chile II

table grapes chile III

Chilean Wine Grape Vineyard

Chilean Wine Grape Vineyard

Backyard Aquaponics

I’ve recently been fascinated by aquaponics systems and how they can be utilized for home gardening or large scale commercial applications.  Aquaponics is a beautiful example of how two different ecological systems (aquaculture and hydroponics), can combine forces and create an elegant arrangement that is pretty much self-sufficient.

This is my first rodeo with aquaponics so I decided not to include fish in my elementary design and see how things go for a while.  Basically I have an ebb and flow hydroponics system that continuously cycles water filled with plant nutrients.

If this little science experiment goes well, I might kick-it-up a notch and construct a larger more robust system and get some real fish in the mix and have myself a true aquaponics system.  This set-up should suffice as a good test model where I’ll learn a lot and will be good preparation for the the Piscopo Aquaponics System II.

Colombian Coffee

All Colombian Coffee is 100% mild washed Arabica, thus making Colombia the biggest producer of high quality coffee in the world.

Colombian Coffee is grown by nearly 563,000 proud coffee families in the mountainous  regions of the country. Colombia’s proximity to the equator results in a high level of solar radiation throughout the year allowing coffee growers to produce at altitudes over 6,500 feet above sea level.

The coffee growing region of Colombia is one of the most beautiful areas in the world and the charming little colonial pueblos scattered throughout the mountains and valleys take you back to a time when life was much simpler.

Below are some photos from my recent trip to Colombia’s stunning coffee growing region…

Colombia Coffee Growing Region one

Colombian Coffee Growing Region III

Colombian Coffee Growing Region IV

Coffee Growing Region II

Colombian Coffee Grower

Very proud Colombian coffee grower, Alejandro.

Colombian Coffee Grower II

Another Colombian coffee grower.

Huge Colombian insect that looks like survived the Jurassic Period.

Huge Colombian insect that looks like survived the Jurassic Period.

 

Chihuahua Mexico

Taking up over 12% of the country’s land area, Chihuahua is Mexico’s largest state where you’ll encounter beautiful landscapes consisting of rolling desert hills, mountains, rivers, and some of the biggest canyons in North America. Las Barrancas del Cobre or “Copper Canyon” being the largest and most magnificent.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit the striking natural locations like Copper Canyon during my 4 day visit to Chihuahua last week but I did have the opportunity to travel throughout most of the state in a pickup truck taking in the stunning scenery and getting to know this alluring northern Mexican state.

I am a huge advocate for traveling to Mexico and the majority of the country can be a beautiful, fun, and safe experience for any traveler. However, there are certain regions of Mexico that have become dangerous over the last few years and some areas of Chihuahua definitely harbor a strong criminal element.

I promised my wife that I wouldn’t go into everything that I witnessed during my trip but I will comment on the most shocking display of violence that I encountered.

On the third day of my trip, we came across a kidnapping gone bad leaving 4 dead on the streets of Cuauhtémoc. We arrived about 15 minutes after the killings took place and at first what looked like a standard car accident, turned out to be a pickup truck blown to hell with bullet holes and two dead bodies laying out the side. Click here to see a photo.

Even though I was aware of the crime in places like Chihuahua, I was still pretty shocked to see something of this magnitude occur in broad daylight on a busy industrial part of town. The next day I bought a newspaper and discovered that the bloody scene was the aftermath of an attempt to kidnap the son of a local wealthy business man. The father and his three armed body guards were shot and killed as they try to defend the son against the abduction.

The criminals were able to grab the 24 year old son only to eventually release him 2 kilometers down the road. I’m sure they realized they had killed the man who would be putting up the ransom money and there was no point following through with the crime.

This incident, along with some other unsettling occurrences during my trip, has brought me to the conclusion that Chihuahua City and some of the surrounding areas, especially Ciudad Juarez, can be dangerous areas to visit and may not be suitable for the leisurely traveler. Chihuahua is a beautiful state and there are lot of great things to see but if you plan on visiting in the near future, be careful, travel with someone familiar with the area, do not travel at night, and make sure you know what areas to stay away from.

Mennonites in Mexico?

You may not know it, but Chihuahua contains a huge population of Mennonites. Apparently most of the families have been in Mexico since the 1920’s whom migrated from Canada, some parts of the U.S. and Germany. Mennonites are scattered all across Chihuahua but the better part of them, around 50,000, live in Cuauhtémoc.

Mennonite Cheese

Most of them are caucasion and they speak german amongst themselves. Technically they are Mexican citizens and they do speak spanish, with an accent, but defenitly have preserved their own heritage and culture and keep to themselves.

The Mennonites and the Mexicans coexist and respect each other and seem to get along well. The Mennonites affectionately refer to the Mexican population as Mexas.

Most Mennonite colonies are focused around agriculture because they are hard workers and love farming corn, cotton, wheat and they produce a really good and savory cheese known as Queso Menonita.

Queso Menonita is well known across northern Mexico and is used on just about anything but tastes really good when prepared with quesadillas, queso fundido, refried beans, and not a bad choice for some nachos either. I brought back with me a few kilos and the family and I have been enjoying this salty mexican cheese daily.

Tulum Tour

During our vacation in Playa Del Carmen, one of the days we were able to remove ourselves from the comforts and relaxation of the RIU Palace Resort and expose ourselves to a little culture.

As I’m sure you already know, the Yucatán Peninsula is peppered with ancient Mayan ruins and the Tulum ruins are some of the most exquisite that Mexico has to offer. The Tulum ruins are about a 45 minute drive south of Playa del Carmen and are situated on a 39 foot tall cliff butted up against the eastern coastline of the Caribbean Sea.

You’ll see breathtaking views of ancient mayan temples exotically positioned in the foreground of the blue turquoise clear water of the Caribbean. I’ve been to Tulum two times already but this historic site is always a must see. Tulum and Chichen Itza are my two favorite Mayan ruin locations located on the Yucatán Peninsula.

What Tulum has that the ruins of Chichen Itza do not, are the incredibly beautiful Tulum beaches. When visiting be sure to wear your swimsuit because these amazing beaches are open to the public and its definitely an attraction hanging out on an awesome beach next to some ancient Mayan ruins.

For about $60 dollars each, my wife and I, and about 7 other people, took a short van ride to the ruins with our own personal tour guide. Our guide was a proud descendent of the ancient Mayans and filled our curiosity with magical stories of ancient wars, mysticism, and compelling theories on the descent of the great Mayan civilization.

Our guide made it quiet clear many times that Zama is the true Mayan name of the site and not Tulum, which is the name given by foreign discoverers. Zama means, City of Dawn, because the site faces the sun as it rises.

Our Tulum tour was a short 3 hour exertion, which is exactly what we were looking for. Beware of some of the tours in this area because you could be setting yourself up for an all day exhausting tourist trap. The tour guides are great and I understand they’re trying to make a living but I always feel like I’m being hustled a little to buy merchandise of “authentic mexican souvenirs”.

If you want to make most of your time when visiting places like Tulum, do your own research on the site in advance, then visit the place on your own. This way you feel free to see and experience everything you want on your own terms without feeling like you’re being marketed.

Mayan Ruins

Esthela Tulum Ruins

Tulum Tour

Tulum

Mayan Ruins Playa del Carmen

Ancient Mayan Ruins

Tulum Beach

Playa del Carmen All Inclusive

Last week my wife and I spent six days in a true Yucatán tropical paradise at a Playa del Carmen all inclusive resort formally known as RIU Palace Playa del Carmen. Playa del Carmen is a beach resort destination community located about an hour south of Cancún Mexico and is a tranquil alternative to the hustle and bustle of one of Mexico’s most highly visited  tourist hot spots.

However those looking to dance the night away at a discoteca or antro, 5th Street downtown Playa del Carmen’s vibrant night life can provide enough music and drinks to satisfy any animal spirit.

The RIU Playa del Carmen group offer vacationers a beach front community containing a collection of 6 five-star all inclusive resort hotels surrounded by shopping centers, a golf course, restaurants, condos, homes, jungle, and of course some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

RIU Palace Playa del Carmen Beach

Many Europeans vacation Playa del Carmen so prepare to see a lot of speedos and the occasional topless sun bather. (Unfortunately more speedos than topless).

We stayed at the RIU Palace Rivera Maya, but you have access to hangout, wine and dine at the other hotels which looked just as nice and are listed as follows…

RIU Palace Beach Palm

Relax on the beach under a palm tree dozing off to the leaves rustling in the wind.

Being my first time lodging at an all inclusive resort hotel, I had my doubts as to how “all inclusive” was actually defined. Well there was nothing to doubt because once those hotel bracelets were securely strapped on our wrists, we were able to eat, drink, lounge, and relax to our hearts content.

Of course you can lay out on the beach all day drinking beer or colorful tropical drinks like we did, but there are a variety of other activities offered like snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, parasailing, jet skiing, and fishing just to name a few.

However these activities are not included in the package and will cost extra at fairly reasonable prices. Expect to be solicited to partake in these recreations but don’t worry, their sales tactics are not aggressive and you won’t feel bothered.

RIU Palace Pool Area

Shot of the pool area

The food was plentiful, varied, and excellent. I was expecting more of a mass prepared food taste like that of cafeteria food, but everything was fresh, prepared on location, varied, and delicious. I was amazed by the range of food that was offered. From lobster tail and gourmet pastas all the way to pizza (made and baked on location), french fries, and fried mozzarella sticks. Hats off to the chefs, servers, and food department!

RIU Palace Courtyard

Courtyard Fountain

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served as buffets daily but RIU Palace Rivera Maya also hosts five different restaurants that are only open for dinner. You have to make a reservation for these a few hours before but the service is great and the food just as exceptional. You’ll have your choice of Mexican, Japanese, or a French-style restaurant. There is also a Brazilian steak house and another regular steak house down by the beach to choose from as well.

Drinks is where they may appear to be saving a few bucks but you can drink as much as you want and the selection is pretty good. When ordering vodka, tequila, or whiskey, be sure to tell them to use the top shelve alcohol or else they’ll serve you up some of the cheaper brands.

I hope you like Dos Equis beer because that’s all they have. Both the lager and the ambar. And you will “stay thirsty my friends” because they serve it to you, including all the other drinks, in small plastic cups that don’t last long and don’t keep your beverage cold long either.

Don’t worry, you can always ask for more than one drink (as much as you want I guess) or you can bring your own cup of any size, avoiding frequent trips to the bar. However if you’re hanging out around the pool anyway, the pool bar is not a bad place to throw back a few.

RIU Palace Rivera Maya Pool Bar

RIU Palace Rivera Maya Pool Bar

RIU Playa del Carmen is a great place to vacation and for the more adventurous, the area offers much more to do than lounging around the beach eating, drinking, and relaxing. That’s what we came for and six nights of tropical Caribbean beach views lounging, eating, drinking, and relaxing, the $1,713 we paid for the both of us was well worth every penny.

Esthela taking in the sun.

Crystal clear blue water in background.

Michelada Mix

Tecate beer is pretty good but Tecate beer poured into a Antídoto Michelada Mix is delicious. These prepared styrofoam cups are available at most OXXO convenient stores across northern Mexico and contain a colorful mix of tangy, spicy chile powder, lime, and a plump saladito at the bottom.

Micheladas are a popular beer drink across Mexico and there are many variations of the drink but if you’re looking for an instant Michelada, these Antídoto Mix drinks are pretty tasty.

The world of prepared beers in Mexico can be a splendid journey and if you’ve never drunk a beer with chiles, lime and spices, I urge you to do so immediately.

There are many occasions when a michelada beer is appropriate and I personally prepare myself one of these zesty beverages once or twice a week. Drinking micheladas leisurely can be fun but a highly appropriate time to knock back this fusion of beer and spice is the next day after a hard night of boozing. This spicy concoction can make one hell of a hangover killer and get you back on track in no time.

WARNING: Drinking Tecate with Antídoto Mix is delicious and a pleasurable experience. Michelada beers are consumed at a much faster rate than a beer by itself and you may not want to stop!