Bucket List #14: Swim in an Ocean

This bucket list item goes hand-in-hand with my last post on visiting a new country. Also, this isn’t my first time swimming in an ocean, just something I wanted to do one more time before the year ended!

As I blogged all about last week, my husband and I took a little getaway to Mexico at the beginning of November. We stayed at Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya which a beachfront resort. We both brought our own face masks but rented the snorkel and life vest from the dive shop to do some snorkeling right off the hotel property.

The water was so clear over the white sand, that you didn’t even need a snorkel mask to see several schools of fish just a few meters from the shoreline. We swam out as far as we were allowed, where a line of bouys marked the end of the “safe zone.” We saw several schools of fish, including some very colorful Sergeant Major fish, a giant stingray, and a puffer fish. I was amazed at how close to shore they were! Growing up in California, the ocean water was so murky that we couldn’t see our toes just standing in the small waves. Since I could never see below the surface of the water, I never imagined there were actually fish and ocean life right along the beach!

The ocean was a comfortable temperature and I liked just floating out there for a while after snorkeling. The turquoise coastline is a view that just doesn’t get old!

Both mornings after snorkeling, we refreshed ourselves again with a Citrus Punch while reading on the lounges at the beach until lunchtime.

I have tons of video footage from this trip that I want to put into a vlog on my YouTube channel. I’ll include a link here when it’s done!

We returned home from the gorgeous tropical vacation to full-blown winter in Idaho. As I type this, it is 25 degrees F and frost is covering the trees out our windows. Since Brynnley also started crawling this past week, we will be spending this weekend baby-proofing the house before we set up our Christmas tree and decorate. I’m excited to get out all of the holiday decor! I just ordered a dozen Christmas books for Brynnley’s nursery book shelf to swap out for the season and I can’t wait to have some new books to read together over the next several weeks.

Bucket List #13: Visit a New Country

I did not get a passport until September 2020, months before my wedding and honeymoon. My first international travel was last year with my husband on our honeymoon to the gorgeous Caribbean Island of Grenada. It was such a fantastic experience, which is why I added this bucket list item for myself before I end my twenties, and what easier country to visit than Mexico!

We have international travel as a priority with our family in the future (I’ve always been an “experiences-over-things” type person) but for this particular trip, we decided to make it a romantic getaway since our baby has pretty much taken over our lives since the day we got married :D

I have never been to Mexico before, but my husband has been to both coasts – Cabo & Cozumel. I resorted to YouTube for travel advice on best time of year to visit, best cities, and best resorts. Ultimately, I landed on a Secrets resort because of their luxurious reputation for adults-only all-inclusives. It sounded similar to the Sandals resort we stayed at in the Caribbean and had an amazing experience with. Reading through the pros and cons of each location helped me narrow down the decision, because I value large landscaped grounds. To me, the outdoor atmosphere is one of the most important aspects to the accommodations, and I gathered from reviews that Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya had the most lush, dense, tropical, and elaborate grounds and solidified our reservations for just after rainy season – early November.

We dropped Brynnley off for a weekend of being spoiled by my parents, her Gigi & Pop pop. It’s totally different to go on vacation after you have a child, because the excitement of the trip is countered by the guilt of leaving them and the feeling of missing them whereas pre-baby travel is 100% guilt-free with no thought of home responsibilities. This resort would be much better experienced over a full week because of how much they had to offer, but I was only willing to leave Brynnley for a max of three nights so we made the most of the short and sweet time away together.

There aren’t any direct flights into Cancun from Boise, so we had a layover in Denver. Customs in Mexico was a breeze…I would say the length of time between walking off the plane and exiting the airport was about three minutes. We walked right up to a customs agent, handed them our passports for a stamp, and off we were! My second ever passport stamp 😊

We had arranged a private transfer to our hotel ahead of time with a reputable company, Amstar. The drive from Cancun International Airport to our Secrets resort in Akumal (which is just before Tulum along the eastern coast) was about 1 hour 15 minutes. Though we were on a single highway the entire time, there was dense jungle forest on each side that our driver told us was home to monkeys, tucans, and jaguars. There were even signs along the road for “jaguar crossing”!

We arrived at our resort only 20 minutes before sunset, so I felt a sense of urgency to get through check in and getting into our room so that we could see some of the property before it was dark. We were able to walk down to the beach and the turquoise ocean. We would have to wait for the rest of the tour til the next morning with our cup of coffee.

The resort has several full-service restaurants for guests, which do not require reservations. I prefer this format of full restaurants over buffet-style all-inclusive resort options. Obviously to get in the vacation mode, we opted for Mexican food the first night! The restaurant on property is called El Patio, and has several authentic menu items as appetizers, main courses, drinks and desserts. We sampled and shared several different things, starting with their grapefruit margarita with a Tajin rim. The waiter brought out chips, guacamole, pico de gallo and another Mexican sauce that looked like hummus but had pureed zucchini and other spices. I saw another table order a table-side hot chocolate drink which I decided to copy as my dessert for the evening.

We arrived on a Friday and would leave Monday early afternoon, so we really only had two full days to make the absolute most of our time there. The resort has three major pools plus the beach area with covered lounge chairs, 7 bars, and 8 restaurants plus unlimited room service. We started our Saturday morning with a couple of coffees from Coco Café and then a walk around the entire property which was still hard to remember the layout even after all four days. It was quite spread out with so many thoughtful touches, tropical gardens, hidden oasis’, and beautiful views. Next we stationed ourselves on the beach under a palapas palm umbrella with our books. We tried some snorkeling in the turquoise water but didn’t see anything major. We returned to the beach, ordered a cocktail and read our books until noon when I decided to order a little snack – grilled steak with fresh guacamole and pico de gallo. I am reading the book Verity by Colleen Hoover which is equally addicting and disturbing. Zeb is reading an autobiography of David Attenborough, our favorite National Geographic narrator of the Planet Earth series.

We told our waitress that we liked citrus and not-too-sweet flavors, and asked for a drink recommendation. She brought us a Citrus Punch, which is fresh lemon slices, lime slices, grapefruit slices, and pineapple muddled with Absolut Citron and club soda. So crisp, light and refreshing! We loved this drink and it ended up being one of our favorites from the trip. Since everything is all-inclusive, we try not to be wasteful but we do like to try many different things that we normally wouldn’t order and we don’t feel pressure to finish anything that we don’t love. I wanted to try my first espresso martini, mudslide, and mini beer shot. Mini beers were something we saw on a YouTube travel video I watched from the channel Memories and Mojitos, and it was delicious! It doesn’t taste anything like beer, which is good because I don’t like beer. It’s named for looking like a golden liquid on bottom with a frothy top. The bottom is Liquid 43 and the top is blended Baileys. Its very yummy and we enjoyed one together at the swim-up bar in the pool in the afternoon!

I could fill pages talking about everything we ate each of the amazing restaurants but I’ll just mention some highlights instead. Many of the restaurants have in indoor/outdoor atmosphere which is very beautiful. My favorite is Oceana. I was plenty hungry after walking around, swimming, snorkeling, and sitting in the sunshine all day and I was more than ready to take advantage of their full menu! We were brought a basket of fresh warm bread and compound butter, but I wanted to try some of the more exotic appetizers. We split mussels in manzano pepper, sailfish pinchos, and smoked marlin pescadillas.

Our waiter also brought us out the chef’s amuse-bouche (a single bite-sized appetizer), a small chunk of octopus with some sauce and garnish which I definitely would not have ordered but felt obligated to try since it is a common flavor in this region. The mental aspect of eating tentacles was too icky for me, and I joked to Zeb that they suction-cupped themselves to my tongue :D

I’d been waiting to order fresh coconut shrimp for MONTHS! It was the main dish I had fantasized about ordering when I looked forward to our vacation. It lived up to my hype and had so much intense and crispy flavor on a bed of cous cous.

The weather was sunny with blue skies and a few white clouds each day, always between 70-90 degrees. We were good about sunscreen because the sun was intense even at 10am, but I also tried to get a littttle bit of color again before I just concede to my paleness for the Idaho winter.

The second day, we decided to try snorkeling again in a different area and had a lot better luck with seeing some ocean life. However, I’ll save this for my separate post on the bucket list item “Swim in an Ocean.” After lunch, we scoped out some chairs along the infinity pool infront of the ocean. This pool has a large swim-up bar, covered by a huge palapas and surrounded by underwater barstools. This pool has several games going on throughout the day. An ice cream cart came by in the afternoon and we indulged in some pistachio ice cream cones. We cleaned up for dinner for our last night there, FaceTiming with my parents and Brynnley.

The final night we opted for the hibachi-style restaurant, mostly for the atmosphere and interaction rather than the menu. We can get hibachi anywhere in the states, but it is fun to get seated with other guests and go through the experience together and perhaps make some new friends to chat with during parts of your vacation. This happened to us on our very first night in Grenada and we clicked so well with our hibachi table neighbors that we ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the trip! We didn’t have quite the same luck this time but we did really enjoy our tablemates and our conversation with other couples from Quebec and North Carolina. The food was phenomenal as well, but by this point I was feeling pretty full and only really sampled everything they put on my plate.

We took advantage of all of the different nighttime entertainment – a burlesque show, a Voice-themed musical show, some outdoor casino games, karaoke, and live music performances every day.

Another highlight was an intimate tequila tasting. This was a free activity for guests but only limited to the first 12 people to arrive. It was set up in a very secluded tropical garden that was surrounded by giant green lush trees and plants. They even hung ceiling fans from the large tree branches. We were seated at a banquet table with waters, chips and guacamole. The tasting was led by a tequila Sommelier who first gave us an introduction to the production of tequila and the differences between blanco/silver tequila, gold, reposado, anejo, and ultra anejo. Then we tasted three different types – blanco, reposado, and anejo. He finished with a dessert drink, a 1921 crème de tequila which is comparable to a Kahlua. I saw a giant iguana sunbathing on a rock in this garden area as well. We saw about a dozen iguana through out the trip.

Over all, I would love to return to this gorgeous destination and any other Secrets resorts. We would have loved more days to explore Mexico, but were anxious to snuggle our sweet baby girl! I had a fantastic experience and appreciate getting to see a new country. We also talked a lot about the similarities and slight differences between Sandals and Secrets resorts, which I plan to do a separate blog post on in the future.

Bucket List Item #12: Hike a New Idaho Trail

This October has been glorious! Nearly every day has been blue sky and 70s, with bright orange, golden, and auburn trees covering the valley. I have fully embraced the turning of the seasons with as many cozy activities and recipes as I can. It’s nearing the end of decent hiking weather, so I felt a sense of urgency to get this bucket list item crossed off before temperatures get too low to make this enjoyable. We picked a perfect weekend and made it a long girls morning!

My husband was gone all weekend working and elk hunting, so I asked a friend of mine to join Brynnley and me on a morning coffee date and a hike into some Boise foothills that I hadn’t done before. I used the All Trails app on my phone to find a hike that would be between 3-5 miles because I wasn’t sure how much longer Brynnley would tolerate in her backpack carrier. If I didn’t have Brynnley with me, I’d happily hike into the double digit mileage. But I wanted to include her and this little 7 month old can only go so long without a feeding, diaper change, and nap. I also wanted a trail within 45 minutes of my house so we weren’t spending more time driving than we were hiking. I found a good-looking trail called the Eagle Ridge Foothills Loop that was listed as 4.9 miles long.

We met at a fun local coffee shop that used to be an old church in downtown Eagle, Idaho called Rembrandts. Brynnley was in the best mood, showing off her brand new tooth with big grins to anybody else in the room that would look her way. The hike trailhead was 5 miles up the road from the coffee shop, and the properties we drove past were so dreamy. Large rolling hills with giant mature shade trees, and some even had their own vineyards and fluffy sheep grazing in their yards.

Initially I put Brynnley’s car seat into our Bob stroller, hoping she would be able to nap on our loop. The trail was absolutely NOT meant for a stroller though; it was covered in rivets and Brynnley was bouncing so much as we took turns struggling to push the stroller at about a 30-minute-per-mile pace. It was comical. We were laughing so hard at how difficult it was to keep the stroller pointed straight ahead and how many times she would veer off into the weeds. All of our efforts were completely wasted because there was no way this babe was napping through the wild ride; we turned around after about half a mile and moved her into my Osprey backpack carrier instead. The trail system has many forks that stem from the regular path, so we picked a different two-mile loop instead because I didn’t know how long Brynnley would be in good spirits before finally melting down in need of a good nap. Alanna carried Brynnley up and down the steep trail along the ridge line and we had so much great conversation on our beautiful fall morning hike.

Afterwards, I lit a delicious fall candle and baked a batch of snickerdoodle cookies. I added pumpkin spice to the cinnamon mixture, and I also folded in white chocolate chips because they are my husband’s favorite. I packaged some up to give to my parents, and the rest for Zeb to take hunting and share with his family.

Do you think Pumpkin Spice bagged salad is too far? I was intrigued, but it’s not something I would buy again. It had maple roasted pepitas, cornbread croutons and pumpkin spice vinaigrette.

I went to the back of my coffee mug cupboard and pulled out one from my “leaf peeping” vacation with my mom in 2019. Leaf peeping is the term used for travelling/road tripping around New England in fall to admire the foliage. It’s unlike anything we have in the west. Many of the tiny towns of Vermont and New Hampshire have adorable bed & breakfasts and inns, and it was such a fun girl’s trip.

As I drank my decaf pumpkin spice coffee from my souvenir mug, I texted my mom asking if we needed to plan a leaf peeping sequel for 2023. She gave me the green light to go ahead and start researching, which is half the fun to me! I LOVE watching other people’s travel vlogs on YouTube and looking up travel guides on bed & breakfast recommendations. We did a ton of research prior to our 9-day roadtrip in 2019, and I had nearly every meal and coffee shop listed out in an itinerary I typed up for us. That vacation was the definition of “cozy” and I think I could still write a travel recap post for this blog (much like my San Juan Island recap). But in the meantime, I do have a YouTube vlog to showcase the beauty of this part of the country: Leaf Peeping 2019.

My hike with Alanna last weekend was so fun, I repeated it again this morning. When the weather is this PERFECT, it almost feels mandatory to go outside and embrace it as much as we can. This time, we hiked a nearby trail called Spring Creek in Avimor with my mom and a few of her friends. Brynnley joined in her Osprey carrier for all 5.5 miles. She has always been difficult to get to sleep and nap, so I was completely floored when she actually fell asleep in her upright position for the last mile. I could stare at my sleeping baby all day, it is one of the sweetest little views.

Since this has turned into an Autumn Appreciation post, I’ll finish off with the little holiday touches I added to Brynnley’s nursery over the weekend. Halloween isn’t my favorite holiday, but now that I have a daughter I want to make it fun for her. When I saw these cute PINK Halloween decor pieces at Walmart, I had to snag them for Brynnley.

Enjoy the rest of your October weekend!

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