Airplanes and Interstates: Day 2 in Seattle

I live with geeks, so the first thing on the agenda today was a tour of the Boeing manufacturing complex to get an inside look at how some of the world’s biggest jumbo jets are put together. The building itself is, of course, enormous: it encloses 472 million cubic feet of space and is actually recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest building in the world by volume. We saw 747s and 787s in various stages of production and learned how the massive crane system moves all the pieces into place. That’s not something you see every day. (You can’t take photos in the actual factory, so I shamelessly stole a pic off the Internet to illustrate our experience. I doubt I’m the first.)

After a quick bite, we headed off for the zoo–but it turns out that Sunday afternoon of a long weekend is not the optimum time to try to find a parking spot. We drove through five jam-packed lots before finally giving up. I’m actually surprised that traffic hasn’t really been an issue before, but I guess that’s the beauty of having an interstate that doesn’t force everyone to drive straight through town (take THAT, Kelowna!)

The rest of the day shall be devoted to swimming, eating, and drinking. Home tomorrow…

Sunny Times in Seattle

Spontaneity is not my strong suit. In fact, if my family were to describe my best qualities, I’m fairly certain the words “easygoing” and “flexible” would not make the list. So they were all slightly stunned when I decided, with only five days’ notice, that we were driving to Seattle for the long weekend. Road trip!

Seattle is having uncharacteristically hot and sunny weather, and at least for now has no trace of wildfire smoke (take that, Kelowna!) so we really lucked out. The weather made our tour of the baseball stadium a real treat. We briefly considered going to an actual game, but that would cost four times more and keep Brayden’s attention for half as long, so the tour seemed like a better bet. And it was pretty cool: we got to go on the field, in the dugout, in the press box, and through a few other places the general public has no access to. We had to skip the locker room due to it being a game day, but you can’t win ’em all.

After lunch at a very neat Irish pub (which even featured a digital countdown to the next St. Patrick’s Day), we took another tour, this one of the underground passageways beneath the city. It turns out that Seattle was originally built on soggy tideflats. After a major fire leveled the city in 1889, officials decided to raise up the streets to get away from the muck: they built eight-foot retaining walls on either side of the streets and filled in the space between them, effectively raising the streets up by one storey and creating a series of hollow tunnels underneath where the buildings’ first floors used to be. Justin was a little thrown by the guide’s sense of humour (the guy kept joking about giant rats…sigh) but we all found it pretty fascinating in the end.

We’re currently debating whether to go out for dinner or take advantage of the free beer and snacks by the hotel pool. Decisions, decisions…

Getting Cozy With Cancun Crocodiles

Having held a baby crocodile in my hands on a trip to Australia many years ago, my reptile-cuddling needs have been long satisfied. But Brayden had never had such an opportunity, so today we joined up with our friends to tour Crococun Zoo, about a half hour out of Cancun.

The place is billed as an “interactive” zoo because you can actually hold a few of the animals; I’d also read that there would be wild spider monkeys swinging through the trees overhead. It was exactly the kind of place that would send Justin’s anxiety skyrocketing, but he was happy to stay at the resort by himself, so that worked out all right. (He was unusually happy to see us when we got back, but that was only because he’d managed to lock himself out of the room. Sigh.)

The guide let our group hold and/or feed everything from macaws and deer to boa constrictors and crocodiles. At one point we even walked through the crocodile enclosure, with strict instructions to walk single file and stay in the middle of the path. We were also told not to stop to take pictures, but to film as we walked. We literally passed within two feet of full-grown crocodiles, with nothing separating them and us. I still can’t believe that actually happened.

Home tomorrow…

Eco-Adventures at Xcaret

This was pretty close to a perfect family day. We spent it at Xcaret, an eco-park about an hour south of Cancun. I chose that particular park because it offered options that appealed to all four of us — not an easy feat. And we did it on a private tour where we had our own car and driver and could set our own departure and return times. Which cost a bit more, but which was totally worth it.

And it really was an excellent day. The park is beyond gorgeous, which helped us to forget that much of the rest of non-resort Mexico is dirty, decrepit and overrun with garbage. This place clearly made a big effort to protect the environment and keep things pristine. They even require you to use biodegradable sunblock so you don’t damage the ecosystem. Awesome.

We started by suiting up in lifejackets and flippers and spending 40 minutes floating through an underground river. I was more than a little surprised that Justin was willing to give that one a go (especially after Brayden loudly announced he’d seen real fish in the water), but he did great. Many sections of the river run through caves with low-hanging ceilings and absolutely no light, and he was still OK. One of his flippers fell off and he still managed to outswim most of us. Kudos, dude!

One whole section of the park is kind of a mini zoo with various animals on display. We wandered around for an hour or so and saw manatees, tapirs, jaguars, pumas, flamingoes, etc. They even had deer, which was no biggie for us as we get them in our backyard at home all the time, but we did overhear a tour guide in a heavy Spanish accent announcing “the Bambi exhibit,” which was kind of amusing.

Lunch was an excellent buffet in a spectacular setting — the boys could even watch the jaguar from our table. Brayden ordered a pina colada, his new favorite cocktail, and it showed up in the most amazing drink container ever: a full-sized pineapple that had been given eyes, ears, a nose and a mouth made out of fruit. Way cool.

After stuffing ourselves, we took a leisurely 15-minute raft ride on another river. It was billed as a way to see exotic flora and fauna without getting wet, but it didn’t actually show us anything we hadn’t already seen on the long walk down to the raft boarding dock. Live and learn.

We spent our last bit of time in the park’s aquarium, which was especially awesome for its air conditioning (ahh). Jellyfish, sharks, sea turtles…the kids loved it.

One more day!

Hunting Iguanas in the Hotel Zone

I can only take so much relaxation. We’ve never done an all-inclusive before because I do all the vacation planning and I don’t particularly enjoy sitting on a beach for a week at a time. It doesn’t matter how nice the resort (or cruise ship) is or how many activities are available. I like a change of scenery once a day, even if it’s only for an hour.

Certain other members of my family do not share this need, however, so I was having trouble organizing a family outing this morning. Chris was happy to just sit by the pool, and Justin could not be dragged from the kids club. I finally sold Brayden on the idea of checking out a small archeological site near the hotel that’s known for being overrun with iguanas. He couldn’t care less about ruined temples, but hunting lizards is totally his thing. So off we went.

The ruins were bigger than I expected and probably would have been more impressive if we hadn’t just done Chichen Itza yesterday. We counted 34 different iguanas — not too shabby for 40 minutes’ work. It wasn’t until we found the first big lizard that it dawned on us that we knew almost nothing about them: should we be worried that they keep bobbing their heads in our direction? Is that one about to charge? What do iguanas eat anyway? Huh.

After lunch and some colorful kiddie cocktails, it was back to (where else?) the beach. I swear that sand is never coming out of Justin’s hair.

To an eco-park tomorrow…

The Mightiest Mayan Ruins: Chichen Itza

As I repeatedly explained to my children: today was for me. The rest of this trip (the kids club, the beach, the waterslides, the basketball court) was designed to make them happy, but today was about letting Mommy get her history fix. And if that meant sitting on a bus for 2.5 hours each way, with nothing to do but watch movies and drink pop and eat snacks and play iPad, then so be it.

So we headed off on a tour of the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza (or as Brayden called it: “chicken pizza.”) There are other ruins closer to Cancun, but the ones at Chichen Itza are the largest and most famous, so that’s where I wanted to go. 

We started out with sincere intentions of following the guide, but after 10 minutes of standing in the heat listening to him ramble on in a dry monotone, the kids were close to mutiny. So we bailed on the tour and just wandered around on our own. It was hotter than Hades and we had only a vague idea what we were looking at, but it was still a neat experience. We even managed to get a photo of all of us smiling in front of the famous pyramid. Nice.

Lunch was in a charming restaurant in the colonial town of Vallodolid, and included traditional foods of the Yucatan as well as typical American fare. The boys ate Mayan chicken and a few actual vegetables (gasp) in addition to their hot dogs and fries, so I was pretty happy. The buffet also included unlimited Corona, so Chris was pretty happy too. We had some free time after lunch to wander around the old town center, but we were out of steam by then (hot as Hades!) so we plopped down in the shade and watched Chris play Bejewelled until the bus arrived.

Our final stop was at a cenote, an underground sinkhole. There are thousands of them all over the Yucatan, and they’re a popular way of cooling off. Our guide noted that this particular cenote was unsuitable for swimming, however, as it sits in the middle of the city and the water is almost certainly contaminated with sewage…but we saw a few people floating around in the water, so clearly not everyone got that memo. Yuck.

A long day, but a good day overall.

Relaxing at the resort tomorrow…

Kayaking on the Cancun Lagoon

We are not what you would call an adventurous family. Given my motion sickness problems and Justin’s anxiety issues, many of the most popular activities in Cancun (snorkeling, scuba diving, speedboating, ziplining) are a no-go for our group. So I was pretty excited when I discovered a marina near our resort would let us borrow pedal boats for free — we could explore the lagoon in leisurely comfort and never have to get wet. We even convinced another family we know to join us on this little outing. Perfect.

But things didn’t go quite according to plan. The guys at the marina explained that the current was too strong for pedal boats, and that we’d be wasting our time trying to manoeuvre around that way. So we went with double kayaks instead. This required a lot more energy and a lot more coordination, neither of which was in great supply.  Brayden was more interested in ramming the other kayaks than actually contributing to the navigation; I finally gave up and told him to just sit still and let me do all the paddling. Still, it was a good time. Here’s hoping I can lift my arms tomorrow.

After a lunch in which my three boys ate a combined total of four hamburgers, two hot dogs and four plates of fries (we are really getting our money’s worth at that buffet), it was back to the beach, where the kids spent the better part of three hours getting sand into every possible orifice. Good times.

Tonight we’re having dinner with our friends at the resort’s Italian restaurant, which will be a nice change from the line-up-at-the-trough experience of the main buffet.

Day trip to Chichen Itza tomorrow!