Turkey’s Black Sea Region: Where Acts of Kindness aren’t Random, but an Everyday Reality

“Bu lezzetli!”

Learn this phrase if you’re heading to the Black Sea Region of Turkey. It means “this is delicious” and, I guarantee, you will use it more than “Hello!” “My name is_____” and “Where is the bathroom?”

Cuisine, throughout Turkey, is a point of deep pride and, particularly in the Black Sea region where it’s impossible to be in the general vicinity of another human being without being handed a fig or a hazelnut or a bowl of fresh yogurt made that morning from the milk of their own cow.

Hospitality is so over-the-top (commerce, it seems, is beside the point) that any notions you ever had that foreigners are to be feared or that life sucks or that the world is going to hell in a hand basket will be dashed against the inhospitable shores of the Black Sea, a region in Turkey that looks more like the Colorado Rockies than Lawrence of Arabia.


It’s definitely not the place to give up caffeine, because every shopkeeper, every museum guide, every little old grandma wearing a colorful hijab (head scarf) will offer you a glass of tea (cay) along with a little teaspoon and a bowl of sugar.

And how can you refuse? The tea is grown right there on lush, green mountainsides in small family plantations. Ömer Faruk Öğretmen, the never-married tour guide who whisked us around to one little yayla (village) after another, says he averages between 30 and 40 glasses of tea per day. Just because people offer.

By the time you’ve had your second cup of the always-ready tea, you’ll be introduced to the whole family — second cousins and all — serenaded with folk music and invited back for dinner.

Over and over again, our little band of three Americans was invited into local’s homes not only for tea, but for full-blown meals. Even on deserted mountain roads, where we had to pause for chainsaw-bearing men to remove fallen trees that would otherwise have deterred our journey, young boys wearing rubber boots and Sponge Bob t-shirts appeared out of nowhere to offer pears they had just picked.

The nomadic herders of the Black Sea Region, ethnic Georgians, Armenians and Pontic Greeks, summer on ancestral lands throughout these isolated valleys. They earn their living off the land, herding cows, making cheese and harvesting tea, citrus and honey.

Although the Hamsis, as the locals are nicknamed (after the anchovy caught in this region) are often the good-natured butt of jokes in Turkey, their inexhaustible cheer, smiles and friendliness are wildly infectious, enough to sway the most cynical of tourists. Their local dance, the horon, an upper body shimmy modeled again after swimming anchovies, is said to have inspired Irish jigs and whether or not it’s true, I can attest that Michael Flatley has nothing on their exuberance.

One late morning, after a “one-hour drive” to the Santa Ruins, a crumbling 17th century village high in the Kackar Mountains, turned into three and a half hours, several farmers who were busy harvesting the last of their summer squash and ruing the wolves that had made quick work of one of their cows the night before, dropped everything to make us, their uninvited guests, feel welcome.

Ahmet Cukur showed us around the one-room shelter where he, his wife and three kids slept at night. He proudly showed us his gun, offering to shoot wild boar that he would happily send us if we wanted to start a business. He was Muslim and, of course, couldn’t partake.


His wife — on the spot — whipped up an incredible lunch of muglama, a cheese soufflé-like dish made from corn flour, cheese and butter and rumored to deliver superhuman powers. She served it with just-baked-in-the-stone oven bread, grapes and a fresh salad of tomatoes and cucumbers that the kids picked that morning before starting a soccer game on a makeshift field that cascaded down the mountain. We dined outside on rocks and small wooden benches that Ahmet pulled from his home as the entire community stood around, offering jokes, handshakes and sincere invitations to come for the whole summer next year.


Another evening, our driver who had been married just 14 days earlier, invited us into his home (completely unbidden) for a feast prepared by his gorgeous new bride. In Kavron, a little village above the tree line that looked more like Nepal or Tibet than Anatolia, we were graciously invited into the home of a 100-year-old woman, still spry, quick-witted and, of course, as welcoming as any concierge.

So, yes, the Black Sea Region has stunning Alp-like vistas, castles, ancient monasteries carved into cliffs and charming seaside villages with ancient Ottoman homes, but it is its people — it’s open-hearted, joyful people — that are the true treasure and the reason I may just take Ahmet up on his offer to return next summer.

Only in Chicago: The top 5 Things You Can’t Find Anywhere Else

Some vacationers look for Marriotts and McDonald’s, anything to uphold the status quo. Not me. I blaze into a city, a country, a destination looking for one-of-a-kind rarities, attractions I will likely have but one opportunity to see.

Chicago, notorious for its architecture including the world’s first skyscraper (the iron-and-steel-framed Home Insurance Building that was torn down in 1931), the world’s first parking garage (also now history) and skyscrapers big enough to have their own zip code, was more than happy to oblige my predilection.

Here are the top five things you can’t find anywhere else:

1. A puppet show on wheels. Unlike Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, the elusive Puppet Bike, a Chicago institution for 10 years, really exists. It was built by inventor/artist Jason Trusty and, if you’re lucky, you can catch the pantomiming puppets as they dance, pop out of trap doors, blow kisses, wave and give high-fives to audiences that quickly form whenever the bike spontaneously appears. Often sited in Chicago’s Loop, the Puppet Bike is a seven-foot brightly-painted box with a curtained stage, solar panels that power the ghetto blaster and disco ball and room (just barely) for one (maybe two if they really like each other) puppeteers.

Photo: Compliments of Puppet Bike

2. A museum that only Dexter could love. The International Museum of Surgical Science, a 1917, four-story mansion on Lake Shore Drive, shows off ancient Roman surgery tools, glass eyes, a case of fake legs, X-ray proof underwear, amputation saws and more than 600 paintings, prints and sculptures depicting surgery throughout the ages. As for Dexter, it might be difficult to pry him away from the paintings made from animal blood that, if you didn’t know, are actually quite beautiful. Opened in 1954 and run by The International College of Surgeons, this perfect-for-Halloween museum has more than 7000 medical artifacts including radiology pioneer Emil Grubbe’s first x-rays, a unique collection of heart valves, a pump invented by Charles Lindbergh for keeping organs functioning outside the body and a “Rolling Stones” exhibit with gallstones, bladder stones, kidney stones and other odd things pulled from the human body. 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive.

3. A perfume that creates jobs and drives economic growth. What do Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian and the city of Chicago have in common? They all have signature perfumes. But in the case of Chicago, Tru Blooms, a limited edition perfume sold only in the Windy City, has a noble mission — urban beautification, job creation and support of local economies. This sophisticated perfume is made from roses, lavender and violets grown in 22 parks around the city including a half-acre plot in Grant Park where Lollapalooza is held every year. Suffice it to say, it’s a win-win for everyone. Growing the flowers that are eventually distilled into the perfume’s essential oils creates more than 100 jobs, neighborhood green spaces and an economic driver that’s local and unique to Chicago.

Although it won’t be long before other cities take the idea and run with it, Chicago was the first to launch their own limited edition scent. As Debbie Roever, director of marketing said, “Similar to wine reserves, once this batch is sold out, we cannot replace it.” Last year’s harvest produced 2150 bottles of numbered units. It’s a marketing bonanza that Chanel would kill for. Pre-orders for the exclusive 2013 edition begin online October 14.

4. Giant dancing hot dogs and yellow arches that represent two ends of the American fast food phenomenon. The first McDonald’s franchise, that opened in suburban Chicago in 1955 (the first non-franchised McDonald’s was in San Bernadino, CA) is now a museum showcasing the history of the fast food behemoth, the largest in the world with more than 34,000 locations in 119 countries. As for me, I’d rather get fast food at Superdawg, a classic Chicago drive-in with a grand total of TWO locations. Started in 1948, Superdawgs have been called the Rolls-Royce of hot dogs which is saying something in a town that has more hot dog stands than burger joints. Maurie and Flaurie, the 12-foot fiberglass hot dogs dancing on the roof in their Tarzan-Jane outfits, oversee the iconic drive-in’s vintage Order Matic speakers and carhop waitresses.

Photo: Compliments of Superdawg

5. A hall of fame for gay athletes. On the same day pro basketball center Jason Collins came out and Barack Obama hailed his bravery, a Hall of Fame for LGBT athletes and their allies was launched in Chicago. The first 26 inductees including tennis icons Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, golfer Patty Sheehan, Olympic diver Greg Louganis, boxer Orlando Cruz, umpire Dave Pallone, skater Johnny Weir, Collins and the late MLB outfielder Glenn Burke were introduced on August 2 at Chicago’s Center on Halsted. It’s a first from a town that’s famous for LGBT firsts: having the first openly-gay baseball owner (Laura Ricketts owns the Cubs), starting the first gay rights organization (Chicagoan Henry Gerber started the Society for Human Rights in 1924) and publishing the first American magazine for gay rights (Friendship and Freedom). Hats off to Chicago for leading the charge!!

Where to stay:

The Peninsula. Look for the hotel’s signature guardian lions that are believed to have mythic protective powers. The Chicago lions, flanking the door on Superior Street, just 18 discreet steps from the Magnificent Mile, don’t just provide powerful Feng Shui. They harbor a certain, shall we say, reputation. Guests might be put off at first by all the questions at reservation. The Peninsula just wants to know which direction to head when providing that extra mile. For example, if the reservationist discovers a guest is in town to golf, a selection of golf magazines will be stocked in his room. Peninsula’s pageboys, the guys in the white pillbox caps, are employed for the sole purpose of running errands whether that’s filling a prescription, walking dogs or taking an American Girl doll to have her hair fixed for a birthday party.

When they found out my most recent book just made the New York Times bestseller list, they left in my suite a cake decorated to look just like the book.


Fairmont Chicago, Millenium Park. You can practically see the Fairmont in the mirrored surface of Cloud Gate, the Anish Kapoor sculpture that’s nicknamed “The Bean” and has appeared in more than half dozen Hollywood films. The 687-room Fairmont is that close to Millenium Park, where you can catch free movies, concerts and yoga classes. The Fairmont, hailing from the esteemed Canadian brand, has undergone a recent renovation including its top floor suites that are all connected and housed a—shh, don’t tell– top tier performer during Lollapalooza.

Here’s to a great beach vacation in….Chicago

Summer’s coming to an end and you’re torn. You want a weekend at the beach, but you could also use a little culture, a bit of big city shenanigans.

Why not have it all in the beach town of… Chicago. The third largest city in America has more than 26 miles of free, public beaches (more, in fact, than Bermuda), all with gorgeous views of Chicago’s stellar skyline. Let me just say that Oprah did NOT abandon Chicago because of its summers.

Photo: ©Choose Chicago

But even better than all the beach volleyball, the laidback vibe, the bikes, the piers and the soul-warming sand is that you can walk or ride a bike (look for the powder blue fleet of 700 DIVVY bikes that can be rented for a mere $7 a day) to Michelin-starred restaurants, two world-class conservatories, fabulous museums and shopping that plays in the major leagues with New York, London and Paris.

I’m more of a blue jeans kind of gal so I chose a first night on the town at Second City, the iconic comedy club that spawned everyone from John Belushi and Gilda Radner to Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert. From North Avenue Beach where you can even get WiFi while perfecting your tan lines, it’s a short three-quarter-mile stroll. Can someone say, “piece of cake?” You probably rack up that many steps just walking back and forth from your beach towel to the lake.

I’ve been to Second City several times and it never disappoints. Unlike Saturday Night Live that over the years has recruited more than a quarter of its staff from this Chicago institution and tends to be uneven, Second City is consistently, pee-your-pants funny.

Started in 1959, this comedy improv troupe that holds no cow sacred combines improvised and scripted scenes with new material generated through audience suggestion during the unscripted second act.

On night two of my beach vacation to Chicago, I caught the Tony-award winning Book of Mormon, not an easy feat since it has rolled over Chicago like a deviant tidal wave.

From 12th Street Beach, the beautiful sandy beach where Chicago’s second World’s Fair was staged, it’s a short two-mile bike ride to the Bank of America Theatre where the Trey Parker/Matt Stone send-up of organized religion has been selling out night after night.

The Chicago production that some claim outdoes even the original (Trey Parker did direct when it debuted there last December) runs through October.

So why decide? In Chicago, you can beach and big city in one great weekend.

Only in Riviera Maya: the top 5 things you can’t find anywhere else

On my perpetual quest to find the rare and one-off, I gave myself a monumental challenge. Would it be possible to find one-of-a-kind attractions in the manufactured tourist metropolis of Cancun, Mexico and the soon-to-follow Riviera Maya?

Turns out, yes. This tourism district that parallels the Caribbean coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula is much more than mega-resorts and partiers spilling, drinking and throwing tequila.

Here are the top five things you can only find in Riviera Maya:

1. A sculpture gallery that requires fins and a mask to visit. It’s one thing to snorkel around a reef, ogling octopi, massive sea turtles and cousins of Nemo and Dory. But at the Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA, for short) in the Cancun Marine Park, you can swim by 450 life-size sculptures created by British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor. Sculpted from coral-friendly materials, this unique installation that hopes to draw visitors away from over-visited reefs is divided between two underwater art galleries and weighs more than 200 tons. There are sculptures called The Last Supper, Time Bombs, The Gardener of Hope, The Dream Catcher and The Silent Evolution that includes 400 figurative sculptures depicting the evolution of the Mayan people. According to deCaires Taylor, the 18-month project that he dedicated to his parents took “120 tons of cement, sand and gravel, 12,460 feet of fiberglass, 8000 miles of red tape and 2500 bites from mosquitoes, tabano, fire ants and Damsel fish.”


2. The longest underwater cave system in the world. When British cave diver Steve Bogaerts and cohort German Robbie Schmittner finally confirmed, after four years and 500 dives, that Sac Actun was, at 95 miles, the world’s longest underwater cave system, they dropped a bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne at the junction of Nohoch Nah Chich (Mayan for “Giant Birdcage”) and Sac Actun (White Cave), previously thought to be separate cave systems. The Quintana Roo Speleological Survey reports more than 435 miles of flooded caves in the Yucatan Peninsula including, to go with Big Daddy Sac Actun, the next four longest underwater cave systems, all accessed through clear cenotes (sinkholes) that Mayans considered sacred and depended on for water. Other discoveries in these impressive subterranean passageways include Mayan artifacts, 12,000-year-old human skeletons, stalactites and bones from mastodons, horses, giant tapirs and giant sloths. Not surprisingly, the 2005 horror flick, “The Cave,” although set in Romania, was filmed in the Riviera Maya.

3. A growth spurt worthy of Guinness
. Choosing Cancun to host the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference was an ironic twist if ever there was one. If indeed humans cause global warming, this city of nearly 750 thousand residents could be its poster child. When the Mexican government began developing this potential tourist draw on the northeast coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Cancun had a grand total of three residents, all of whom worked as caretakers for a coconut plantation. From that auspicious day of January 23, 1970, Cancun has grown into a mega-tourism playground drawing close to 5 million tourists a year who expend large amounts of carbon getting there to enter wet t-shirt contests, drink bathtub quality booze and play volleyball in resort swimming pools.

4. The ability to swim with 60-foot sharks without being in a cage. The average whale shark, weighing in at 20,000 pounds (think grey school bus with polka dots), has more than 300 rows of teeth. That fact alone would be enough to dissuade most people from getting anywhere near. But north of Isla Mujeres, an island off the coast of the Mexican Riviera where each summer the world’s largest concentration of these monsters congregate, people pay good money to get up close and personal with the world’s largest fish.

There’s even a whale shark festival complete with a parade of school kids dressed like marine life. The good news is that whale sharks are mostly vegetarian–so those 3000 teeth (an average 10 vestigial specimens per row) are bypassed a unique filtering system that scoops up mass quantities of plankton, krill and clouds of spawning sperm. In other words, shark cages aren’t necessary. There are a few other places to swim with these benign, wondrous creatures (Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium, for one, and off the coast of Captiva where 19-year-old Chris Kreis made headlines when he jumped aboard one’s back and rode for nine seconds), but nowhere else besides this seven-mile radius where the Gulf of Mexico joins the Caribbean Sea can you do the backstroke with a whole pod of between 20 and 50 school bus-size fish.

5. An eco hotel that cleans the ocean, generates renewable energy and is entirely self-sufficient. Okay, so Grand Cancun Eco Island isn’t operational yet. But by 2020, when Cancun celebrates its 50th anniversary, this offshore platform with a zero carbon footprint will be in full swing. Designed by award-winning architect Richard Motera Castillo, the Grand Cancun resort will be covered in solar panels, employ vertical wind turbines and will filter hydrocarbons and other pollutants.

Where to stay: Sandos, a young company headquartered in Spain, lives and breathes sustainability. They’re busy remodeling all their properties, adding solar panels and since 2011, have reduced carbon emissions by 70 percent. There’s even an on-site windmill and an interactive program on Climate Change developed by NASA at the Caracol property. Look for three Sandos in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.

Photo: Compliments of http://www.underwatersculpture.com

At Denver’s Infinite Monkey Theorem, wine tasting is raw, gritty and inspired

Even before I arrived in Denver, I was blogging about the Infinite Monkey Theorem (IMT), a counter culture wine lab and tasting room in Denver’s River North (RiNo).


I had a sneaking suspicion, even before the Friday I was scheduled to visit, that I was going to fall in love with this winery that turns snobbishness and elitism on its outdated head.

Any winemaker with the chutzpah and the quirky sensibility to name his wine after a probability theorem that posits that a monkey hitting typewriter keys for an infinite amount of time will eventually type the complete works of William Shakespeare is my kind of guy.

Says Ben Parsons, the 37-year-old Englishman who started IMT, about its rather offbeat name, “I always envisioned a monkey typing Shakespeare as a way of making order out of chaos. And my business plan, which involved farming, which is always fickle, a short growing season, harsh winters and driving trucks full of grapes through mountain passes to a city on the other side of the state, resembled what could be considered chaos. Or at least there were an awful lot of factors over which I had very little control.”

But because he believed he could make Shakespeare-quality wine in an old warehouse, next to a back alley, that’s exactly what he did. Indeed, his seasonally-changing Syrahs, Malbecs, Roses and Rieslings have secured glowing reviews from Wine Spectator, medals at competitions and, most importantly, at least to Parsons, the loyalty of young, active Coloradoans who email him pictures of themselves drinking his wine while pedaling through mountain passes or cooling it behind rafts on Colorado’s famous white water.

To Parsons, wine and wine-drinking is all about community. His fashionably immodest tasting room has scattered sofas, tables made from reclaimed timber, one, the so-named community table, seats 20, dangling wine bottles transformed into lights and a tricked out vending machine that dispenses perhaps his most unorthodox scheme so far—wine in slim aluminum cans. IMT

“Why the pretense?” Parsons says. “Everybody in Colorado is outdoorsy. They hike, ski, raft and climb and it’s tough to carry a glass bottle into the wilderness. I wanted to come up with packaging that isn’t going to break, that cools down very quickly in a river and that can be crushed down and thrown into a backpack.”

So far, canned wine (also Wine Spectator-approved) makes up 20 percent of IMT’s business, but it’s soaring in popularity with airlines (glass bottles, after all, could be used as weapons), concert venues (IMT was a star at Brooklyn’s Great Googa Mooga music festival this year) and at sports stadiums.

He also sells wine from a keg-dispensing station and in boxes for Snooze, the popular breakfast joint that’s spreading across the country faster than a runny egg.

Sure, he says, there will always be snobs who look down their nose on canned wine, purists who insist wines need corks, but he doesn’t care.

“We focus on the variables that matter—using the best grapes, harvesting them at the their peak, nurturing each batch and getting to know the people who drink it,” says Parsons, who has a degree in oenology. “We want to cut through the pretense, shake things up a bit.

“Our mission is to change people’s perception of wine, to make it accessible. It’s not about proving you can age fine wine in a can. It’s about a particular lifestyle, about enjoying yourself.”

And who knows, maybe Parsons populist approach to wine-making will follow yet another theory, the 100th Monkey Theory after which, of course, Parsons has named one of his wines.

A blended mix of Petit Verdot, Petit Syrah, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, the 100th Monkey that Wine Spectator bequeathed last year with 89 points was described by the Wall Street Journal as “boysenberry jam in liquid form.”

But as for theories, Parsons hopes that like the 100th Monkey Theory that suggests a tipping point happens when you finally reach 100, that eventually everybody will get it that wine doesn’t have to be stuffy or elitist.

Photos by: Ryan Lee: www.thinktomake.com

Where would Walter White Cook?

Walter White, the protagonist of AMC’s cult hit “Breaking Bad,” did a lot of “cooking” during the five seasons of the popular show that ends its stellar run this fall.

But that’s not the kind of cooking this article is about. Yet, it is for Breaking Bad fans, those rabid maniacs who make pilgrimages to Albuquerque from all over the globe to have an Indian taco at Los Pollos Hermanos (Twister’s, in its civilian life) or grab a chili dog at The Dog House. This Breaking Bad “cooking tour” has five foodie locations that have either played a starring role in one or more episodes or become a favorite of the cast. Let’s just hope they don’t get blown up before you can get there.

The Dog House. You can’t miss the vintage neon sign of the giant dachshund who has been eagerly wagging its tail at travelers on Route 66 for more than 60 years. Jesse Pinkman, Walter’s sidekick, made a few “transactions” at this tiny hot dog joint that serves a killer foot-long chili cheese dog, Frito pie and green chile cheeseburgers. It’s tiny (five tables and an old-fashioned counter), but why not try Jesse’s favorite table—outside in the waitress-attended parking lot. 1216 Central Avenue NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102, 505.243.1019.

Twister’s Grill. This Albuquerque burrito and burger joint wasn’t up for an Emmy for its role as Los Pollos Hermanos, the fast food chicken chain Gustavo Fring uses to launder his meth earnings. Don’t expect fried chicken (think Indian tacos and green breakfast chile) and know, whether you text “Pollos” to your friends or not, you’ll snapping photos (the Los Pollos Hermanos logo is painted the wall) and signing the guestbook (yes, there’s a guest book) with fans the world over. 4257 Isleta Blvd SW
Albuquerque, NM 87105, 505.877.2727.

Java Joe’s. Remember Tuco’s hideout? The one the former chemistry teacher blew up by throwing a piece of fulminated mercury on the floor, the daring ploy that convinced the psychopathic Mexican kingpin he wasn’t dealing with the wuss he thought? Well, that hide-out is Java Joe’s and it’s not in ruins, after all. Instead, it’s a quaint neighborhood café serving up breakfast platters, its own house-roasted coffee and a funky vibe complete with nightly live music. 906 Park Ave SW Albuquerque, NM 87102, 505.765.1514.

The Grove Café & Market. Walter and Skyler, the long-suffering wife for whom he’s amassing a fortune, have tiptoed a thin conversational line a time or two at this bustling cafe in the Huning Highland district that also (spoiler alert) plays a starring role in the next to last episode. Using locally-sourced breads, eggs, produce and meats, the Grove is creatively run by another husband and wife team, Jason and Lauren Greene, who pour their passion into such dishes as raspberry-coconut French toast, grilled cheese with pickled fennel, ricotta, gruyere, braised kale and roasted tomatoes and a goat cheese burrito with housemade green chile. 600 Central Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM 87102, 505.248.9800.

El Pinto. Famous, even before Walt and Jesse came to town, 1200-seat El Pinto is run by identical twin brothers who wouldn’t put anything artificial in their mouth if Krazy-8 Molina tried to slit their throats. They grow all their chiles to specification, fussing over them like a vintner fusses over his grapes. Jim and John Thomas, whose father started the restaurant and coined the term “New Mexican cuisine” have cooked on Air Force One and in the White House when George W. Bush decided to celebrate Cinco De Mayo with recipes the Thomas twins learned from their grandmother, Josephina Chavez-Griggs. Just about every actor with an agent has made it to this 12-acre property that serves 140 types of tequila and nothing that’s not organic and locally-grown. In case you’re wondering, Bryan Cranston likes a quiet spot by one of the fireplaces, Jeremiah Bitsui (Victor) keeps his own bottle of tequila in the private tequila cabinet and the Wrap Party for Season Three that was held there was one of the only times this Albuquerque institution was closed to the public. 10500 4th Street, Albuquerque, NM 87114, 505.898.1771.

The Candy Lady. Owner Debbie Ball didn’t consider selling blue ice candy at her three-decades-old candy store in Old Town until she saw Bryan Cranston offer up a bag to David Letterman. Since she’s the one who sold him that bag (the show hired her to make 100 pounds the first two seasons), she decided to capitalize, adding a whole line of Breaking Bad products, including Heisenberg’s famous porkpie hat. She even has exclusive rights to sell the “Breaking Bad” Pez containers made by local folk artist Steve White (no relation to Walter) who also make Elvis Pez-ley and American Pez-idents. 524 Romero St NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104, 505.243.6239.

breaking b pez

The Seven Habits of Highly-Effective Beach Bums

A week at the beach is more than a geographic destination. It’s a state of mind, a Zen-like approach to life that lowers blood pressure, strengthens family bonds, promotes peace of mind and elevates joy.

But to fully enter beach consciousness takes practice. Lucky for you, I’m providing this handy dandy cheat sheet for thoroughly chilling in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Follow these seven steps and in no time, you’ll be living in the moment, following your bliss and moving items like “make a sand castle” to the top of your to-do list:

1. Gather your Blackberry, your Kindle, your Macbook, your I-Pod. After using the device of your choice to make a reservation at one of three Sandos resorts on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast, pack every one of those devices into the nearest carry-on. Deposit said bag in the farthest reaches of your closet. Take a couple deep breaths and back out slowly. Do not, under any circumstances, look back. Grab another duffle, toss in a bathing suit, a pair of flip flops, a couple t-shirts and voila! not only have you mastered the Sandos dress code, but you’re packed for at least a week.

2. Throw away your guilt. I know. You’re making a valiant effort to lead a carbon-lite life and flying to the Yucatan creates anthropogenic greenhouses gases. In fact, you’re probably thinking of getting out one of those devices from step one and googling a scheme to carbon offset. Don’t do it. Instead, assuage the old conscience with this offset: Sandos, a young company headquartered in Spain, lives and breathes sustainability. They’re busy remodeling all their properties, adding solar panels and since 2011, have reduced carbon emissions by 70 percent. There’s even an on-site windmill and an interactive program on Climate Change developed by NASA at the Caracol property.

3. Do your sightseeing in one place. If you’re heading to the Yucatan, you’re practically indebted to swim in a cenote, visit a Mayan ruin, “ooh” and “ahh” over jungle animals and take in at least one Mexican or Mayan cultural show. And, of course, you have everything intention of doing just that. You want enviable vacation photos as much as the next guy. But then the warm ocean breezes and those smiling waitresses bringing free drinks with umbrellas seduce you into staying….just one more colorful drink longer.


At Sandos Caracol, an eco resort on 59 acres, you can do all those things without ever leaving the property. There’s an ancient Mayan ruin right on the property, 16 cenotes and, because the property was built around the jungle, monkeys, agoutis, macaws and all sorts of tropical birds, live right outside your window. As Heidi Verschaeve, Sandos sales manager, told me, “I never know what new animal I’m going to see. Every day, it’s something different.” Sandos Caracol also has a real Mayan herbalist, Mayan bees (they’re considered sacred and their honey, harvested once a year, is medicinal and used at the spa) and a kick-ass Mayan Fire of Life show.


4. Say, “Yo queiro tequila!” Despite its reputation as a fire-breathing shot to be swallowed with a lick of salt and a squirt of lime, tequila is a serious spirit with a 500-year-history and aficionados who pay thousands for a good bottle. Greenhorns in the U.S. tend to drink mixto tequila, a shabby wannabe with a mere 51 percent of blue agave. Like wine, the good stuff is aged in oak barrels and savored like a glass of fine cognac. At Sandos, included in the all-inclusive price, you can sample the good stuff. And after an afternoon of blanco, reposado, joven and anejo, four classes of the smooth, aromatic elixir, beach bumming came as natural as saying, “Ohmmm.”


5. Enjoy a liquor-infused cupcake. To further cement your new laidback attitude, head to Sandos Playacar that just opened an adults-only Cupcake Café. I sampled a vodka-infused cupcake (yes, it’s all part of the all-inclusive) that set the stage for one of the best massages of my life. And speaking of food, Sandos’ chef Angel Ibarra has been incorporating local ingredients, things like chaya (tree spinch grown in the Yucatan Peninsua) and flor de calabaza (it’s an edible flower suffed with cheese or used as fillings for quesadilla) into the Sandos menu.

6. Indulge in an indigeneous spa treatment. Each of the Mexican Riviera Sandos has a fabulous spa and each incorporates Mayan rituals and indigenous medicine into its treatments. The Playacar property, for example, added a Temazcal which is a Mayan sweat lodge and Caracol offers a wide range of Xcalacoco treatments from skin regeneration with Mayan honey to hydration using chaya and savila.

7. Build a sandcastle. Grab a lounge chair or a beach towel or make a sand snow angel and relax into the loving arms of this legendary sand that’s white as a newborn’s bottom and soft as the baby powder that’s applied there. And while you’re at it, toss the Ambien in the nearest bin. At Sandos, you’ll sleep like you did in first grade before money, before responsibility, before members of the opposite sex moved in our your mental turf.


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