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Cuba’s Dive Sites

For years we have been hearing about the amazing, pristine diving in Cuba. No pollution and not many divers should mean coral reefs that rank More »

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Fascinating Havana, Cuba

What can anyone say about La Habana that has not already been said? How many more adjectives can be attached to this city? More »

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Colonial City of Cienfuegos, Cuba

After one day of diving at Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs), we decided to visit the beautiful city of Cienfuegos before returning to Havana. More »

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Viñales, Cuba

EDITORS NOTE: Our friends and colleagues, Mexican photographers Miguel and Juanita recently spent 10 days in Cuba traveling with their good friend, Juan Blanco Arroz. We More »

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Best of Caye Caulker, Belize

Caye Caulker, Belize will fit the image that most people have of a tropical island: warm water, sandy beaches, cold beer, pretty girls and boys, More »

Hartwood in Tulum

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On a recent trip to Tulum we celebrated Jennifer’s birthday at one of the most popular restaurants in the area, Hartwood. Traveling for M&J Photography, means we get to take advantage of local restaurants. Usually, we try something we can’t get at home. Hartwood is no exception. Pretty safe to say there is no place like it on Cozumel.mandjfoto.02

We had tried to visit a year earlier with our friends, Pawel and Emily, but we were there on a night when they were closed. We also had heard about how popular the restaurant had become and followed the advice of getting there before opening at 6:00 to snag a table. At 5:50 there was a line of about 14 people for the 20 – 30 seat restaurant.

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Chef Eric Werner and his wife opened this very cool space a couple of years ago after paying dues in NYC restaurants. Like many hotels and restaurants along this stretch of Tulum’s beach road, the only source of electricity is solar, all of the cooking is done over a wood-fired grill or in a wood-burning oven. The seafood, meat and produce are all sourced locally. Consequently, the menu changes daily.

The food was terrific. We had a whole roasted hogfish (boquinete) stuffed with spinach and roasted radishes, a grouper filet with jalapeños, lime and white beans and a side dish of roasted beets with an avocado sauce. If there had been a chocolate item for dessert, Jennifer would have ordered it, but we passed on the different flavored ice creams.

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The young couple from Mexico City at the table next to us ordered the ribs which they raved about. The grilled meats looked pretty darn good, too. The low lighting and the open air dining contributed to a friendly, backyard atmosphere, the service was attentive and the wine by the glass reasonable. Since it was early November and we were on the jungle side of the road, employees came by a couple of times swinginging a smoking pot on a chain (think Greek Orthodox Church) to chase off the mosquitos. An extra measure of caution, which we didn’t need (we sprayed ourselves before arriving).

It’s a bit of a splurge ($80 usd for two), but it was one of the best meals we have had in Mexico.

Returning to our room that night on the outskirts of Tulum was the beginning of a peaceful two-night stay. Posada Yum Kin is one of those places that has been added onto for the last ten years, each addition adding a little more style and class. This ten-room inn is built around trees, and features wonderful gardens, comfortable rooms, a nice pool and great breakfast.

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New Mexico & Colorado

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Both Colorado and New Mexico were once part of Mexico. The latin culture is still particularly strong in New Mexico, Southern Colorado and Denver. From the festivals, to the cuisine, to the towns with names like Salida, Buena Vista and San Luis, Colorado (spanish for red) still can feel very latino.

Jennifer and I met in the small, former silver mining town of Creede near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. We were there during the Labor Day balloon festival.

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Driving upriver, we saw where some of last summer’s wildfires scorched beetle-killed pines below the Rio Grande Reservoir. The vegetation was already starting to come back from the fire. The area above the reservoir was not touched by the fires and remains as beautiful as ever.

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In the small town of Corrales, NM we stayed in one of the original adobe homes, built near the historic Church of San Ysidro, less than a mile from the river. Both the church and the house were built around 1868, but destroyed in a massive flood of the Rio Grande that same year. The house and church were rebuilt after the flood with adobe bricks made of clay, straw and sand. The walls are three feet thick, providing stability and insulation against the elements.

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While we love our home in Mexico, we love returning to our US base in August and the fall months. To us, it’s one of the finest places in the US.

Hope you enjoy the photos.

Great Stops near Mexico City

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Driving through Mexico this summer took us to an old favorite in the state of Veracruz, Fortin de las Flores and the wonderful Hotel Posada Loma. (see October 2010 blog post). The hotel has been in the same family for more than 50 years, features incredible gardens loaded with orchids and one of the best breakfasts in the area.

We were headed back to the US to do some M & J Photo shoots and to sell our car. But, that’s another blog post.

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The short drive (about 2.5 hours) over the mountains to Puebla took us past amazingly clear views of Mexico’s tallest peak, snow-capped Pico de Orizaba (5,611m).

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Pulling into Puebla, we were treated to views of volcano Popocatépetl spewing a huge plum of ash. Neither one of us had seen a volcanic eruption like that and we were mesmerized. Even though we were 43 kilometers (28 miles) away, it looked very close and threatening.

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Walking around Puebla on a pleasant Saturday afternoon was relaxing, and we stopped for lunch at the well-known Mesón Sacristia de la Compañía. Even though it was chiles en nogada season in Mexico, I passed on that dish. Though it is the “national dish” of Mexico, I think it is over-priced ($240 pesos in a nice place) and it is definitely too rich for my taste.

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The restaurant, like the city, is known for mole. I went for the plate with four different types of mole over chicken. I loved them all: mole poblano, red and green pipian, and one made from chipotle. The eclectic hotel and courtyard is loaded with what some people call antiques and art and with what some people call “stuff”. As they say, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

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The centro historico is dominated by the cathedral, just south of the zócalo. Begun in 1550, it was completed in the 1640s and features the tallest cathedral towers in Mexico (69m). The  around surrounding centro is lined with antique shops, cafes, small taverns, markets and shops selling talavera (the real stuff). Many of the buildings use the tiles as exterior accents and the effect is wonderful.

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The NH Hotel was really comfortable, with warm service and free parking. The constant car alarms in a nearby parking garage certainly wasn’t fault of the hotel, but it kept the stay from being perfect. $77 a night for a city hotel with parking is not bad.

We both look forward to our next visit to Puebla and Fortin de las Flores.

Diving Cozumel in the Summer

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While summer on the island of Cozumel has it’s challenges (heat, rain, mosquitos, humidity), it also has several good points. Diving during the summer on Cozumel’s reefs is certainly one of the good points.

The wind tends to die down, which helps the visibility. Winter water temperatures are usually a pleasant 79 – 80 degrees F, but summer temperatures start hovering around 85, which means I’m not as likely to get as cold on the second dive and I’m not wearing two wetsuits.

Coral blooms, little fish hatch and the ocean seems to become a little more active during the summer. If you can catch a stretch of time without rain, then you’ve found the cosmic convergence of good diving conditions on Cozumel.

Here are a few photos from recent dives from the Swordfish with Aquatic Sports and from shore dives and snorkels from the Blue Angel Resort, two of our favorite Cozumel dive operations.

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Turtles seem to be solitary by nature. I have rarely seen them swimming or feeding together.

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A poaching victim?

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Shallow shore dives give you the opportunity to slow down and look for the little things. There probably isn’t anything harder to find than a seahorse, except maybe a frog fish. However, one of our dive master friends told us about a spot where she has seen one repeatedly. It took about 25 minutes of slow swimming with our noses about 12″ above the ocean floor, but we did find one that was about four inches long.

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The fish life around the sting ray enclosure next door to Blue Angel is alway active and varied. Pelicans hang around to feed regularly. One of these days I am going to hang out and try to catch them hitting the water while I am underwater. That should make a great photo.

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Summertime on Isla Mujeres

We always enjoy visiting Isla Mujeres. It is so different from Cozumel. It is small and cozy, and just seems more tranquil. There are lots of great places to eat and sleep, and several interesting beach clubs along the west side. We were there to shoot an engagement session for a lovely couple from the San Francisco area. That meant it was more work than play, but, oh what a place to work!

First, we would like to acknowledge the warm welcome we received from the owner and concierge at the very cool and stylish Casa de los Sueños, where we shot many of the photos. We are looking forward to going back and checking out the rooms, hanging in the infinity pool and laying around the wooden dock.

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We ended up staying in town at Casa el Pio, which was a stone’s throw from the small plaza and the eastern shore. Open the windows and listen to the surf break! The manager, Jill, took great care of us, and even opened up a room for our photo subjects when they arrived with a couple of changes of clothes. Unfortunately for Casa el Pio, Jill is headed to Tulum to manage Posada Yum Kin, which means we now know where we will stay in Tulum.

The shoot was made easier by Maru from Isla Mujeres Trips, who had a golf cart lined up for us outside of the normal 9 – 5 hours.

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We had decent pizza and pasta at Armandos on Hidalgo, the island’s wonderful pedestrian street, and great coffee and tasty fruit crepes at Cafe Hidalgo the next morning.

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It was hard to sit at dinner and listen to Jorge talk about the amazing whale shark trips he has been leading all summer. Lots of manta rays this year. We hope to fit in another trip before they are gone. We felt a little better about not bringing snorkeling and UW photo gear when the skies opened up and dumped a couple of inches of rain after sunset. That tends to keep the whale sharks in deep water for a day or so.

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What’s your favorite Isla spot?

Cuba’s Dive Sites

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For years we have been hearing about the amazing, pristine diving in Cuba. No pollution and not many divers should mean coral reefs that rank among the world’s best. Last May, we decided to see for ourselves.