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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.

Sweet Savannah: Roadtrip Continues

I feel like a broken record with my continual gushing over the gorgeous scenery surrounding my Southern Roadtrip so I’ll try to control my compliments! It’s just extremely difficult to convey what I was seeing and feeling through out the trip without sounding like a tour guide/travel commercial. When I say it was all sunshine and daisies…it was literally sunshine & daisies. You just can’t quite get it across on a computer screen but I’ll try my best!

Savannah GA Historic and Charming City (Stronglikemycoffee.com)

We left off as I finished up my South Carolina adventures at the Magnolia Plantation and continued south. It wouldn’t be a true road trip without spontaneous stops at a fruit stand, and a peachy cider sign begged us to pull over. I sampled the sweet peach cider buuuuuuut you know me, I left with a coffee. Old habits die hard!

Savannah, Georgia is the most historical city we visited. What really gives it the enchanting and charming character are the huge Spanish Moss trees line the streets and drape over the sidewalks.

Savannah GA Forsyth Park Fountain (Stronglikemycoffee.com)Fun Fact: Forrest Gump is one of my all-time favorite movies, I’ve watched it a dozen times. The bus stop scene was actually filmed in Savannah, GA, at Chippewa Square, just half a mile up from our hotel. We walked through Forsyth Park, past this beautiful fountain, searching for the bench. Turns out, the movie prop is now sitting in a museum in the visitor’s center. I didn’t feel like adding a museum trip to my already-busy day so we skipped it. If the worst thing that happened on our trip was failing to sit on Forrest Gump’s bench, I think that’s pretty good.

Savannah sits right along the river just like Wilmington, and all of the buildings sit four floors up from the ground to because of the water and bridges. I got a kick out of all of these signs:

Savannah Historic Steps

Savannah GA Cotton Exchange (Stronglikemycoffee.com)

I love the old classic building style, rather than the typical city skyscrapers we see in Manhattan, San Francisco or LA. We discovered that Savannah looooves their bars, not so much coffee shops. We walked blocks and blocks looking for an afternoon iced coffee pick-me-up with no luck, but passed a couple dozen bars, taverns, breweries and pubs along the way. Priorities, haha!

Savannah Riverwalk (Stronglikemycoffee.com)Don’t you worry though, we eventually re-caffeinated at Vic’s on the River (local coffee shop # 6 if you are keeping track!) and continued exploring the River Ralk, the City Market, the memorial squares, bakeries and antique shops.

Savannah GA Antiques (Stronglikemycoffee.com)Our hotel was so eclectic that we ended up spending a good portion of the afternoon in the pool and in our room getting ready for a fun night out. The Mansion at Forsyth Park by Marriott is one of the 11 Autograph Collection Hotels in the United States, with tons of unique character. Quirky art lined the walls, fresh flowers and curtains lined the elevators, floating flowers sat in a fountain the lobby, and an entire art gallery, bar and restaurant sat inside the hotel. The pool was so refreshing after sweating in the summer humidity. We also had happy hour on the top floor while Savannah decided to throw a temper tantrum with a freak thunder storm just when we were ready for dinner.

Savannah GA Mansion at Forsyth Hotel (Stronglikemycoffee.com)

After one too many glasses of wine, we walked to dinner at The Sentient Bean, our favorite vegan cafe in this city. If you are going to Savannah, GO TO THE SENTIENT BEAN. We ended up eating there 3 times in less than 24 hours: once for an iced coffee & afternoon snack (vegan “power bowl” with grains, veggies and avocado), then dinner (curried tofu tacos) while a local band played in the corner, and breakfast the next day (yogurt & fruit parfait). Everything was so delicious and flavorful, the staff was awesome, and the atmosphere was comfy. A favorite, for sure :)

One of the “Must See”  items on my list for this trip was The Olde Pink House in Savannah. This building from 1700s is now a restaurant with a tavern and piano bar in the basement. It’s upheld its historic decor and requires reservations far in advanced, but the I highly recommend!

Savannah Olde Pink House (Stronglikemycoffee.com)

Savannah The Olde Pink House (Stronglikemycoffee

We started off in the tavern, which was extra crowded on a Friday night. So crowded, in fact, that we were actually seated at the piano! We ordered the skinny cocktail, sweet tea vodka and lemon juice. For dinner, we split an appetizer of “Southern Sushi” which was shrimp and grits wrapped in nori…definitely not something I’d ever seen before. For dinner, we went with a typical southern entree of mashed sweet potatoes, collard greens, and pecan crusted chicken. I am usually pretty good at passing on the bread bowl at restaurants but the mini corn bread muffins and little buttermilk biscuits were irresistible! A totally worth-it splurge :)

Night out in Savannah GA (Stronglikemycoffee.com)

Sweet Tea Vodka in Savannah (Stronglikemycoffee.com)

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Savannah! The road trip is juuuuust about over….but I’ll wrap it up later this week. :) Hope August is off to an amazing start for you! (Which reminds me, I saw this quote and cracked up laughing so I had to share: “Awesome things will happen today if you decided not to be a miserable cow.” Ha! Simple as that. Love it!

California to Carolina

8 days, 3 states, 7 new towns, 8 local coffee shops, 2 alligator sightings, and 1,180 miles later….the Tour de South 2015 is complete :)

Summer Southern Roadtrip

 A couple weeks ago, I flew from California to Charlotte, NC before I rented a little Lancer and drove through thick forests, farmland, beach towns, mountain ranges and historic landmarks.

 Let me tell you, “Southern Charm” is real. I have NEVER experienced the type of culture I did in the southern cities of Charleston and Savannah. The cobblestone streets, 18th century buildings, Civil War memorials, patriotic flags, water towers, lighthouses and friendly people were so drastically different from my usual Southern California lifestyle. The Spanish moss trees lining the streets in Savannah were enchanting and the plantation-style homes in Charleston were straight out of a movie set. Actually I think I was most impressed by what I didn’t see: trash, graffiti, traffic, crowds, or brown/dead land….literally EVERY MILE we covered was lush and green and vibrant. The greenery on the East coast is unbelievable!

Road Trip Southern Style on Stronglikemycoffee.com

 If you’ve been reading Strong Like My Coffee for a while, you know that my home is in California but I have been dying to experience life in the country. Flagstaff was my college town but never felt like home, and my graduation present to myself was a summer roadtrip through the southern states to see if the movies and my imagination matched reality on the opposite coast. (Spoiler Alert: Yes.) Obviously I have hundreds of pictures and dozens of stories to share so I’m breaking up my trip into a few posts to share the highlights from the highway :)

I’ve been going through my pictures to pick out the best of the best and tomorrow I’ll recap my first few day in North Carolina…Charlotte, Wilmington, Wrightsville and Southport Beaches, Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mountains, touring the Biltmore Estate, exploring the Airlie Gardens, hanging out on Dawson’s Creek docks, shopping at The Cotton Exchange, getting caught in a summer thunderstorm and venturing through UNC Wilmington’s campus should grad school be on my horizon ;) See you here tomorrow!

Downtown Wilmington North Carolina

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