Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Reel Inn

Favorite Pit Stops

Granted, the Reel Inn on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu isn't much to look at, but what a menu!  My travel buddy and I time our trips down to Los Angeles so that we hit the place around lunch time.  I'm hooked on their fish tacos!

This funky little building has been around since 1947.  It's changed hands a few times and is now a delicious seafood restaurant.  Fresh.  Seasonal.  Plentiful.  My mouth is watering just writing about it.  Heartier eaters can choose from an assortment of fish fillets.  They will be cooked on the spot and served with your choice of sides.  One of these days I'm going to have to time it better.  Arrive at 7 p.m. instead of noon.  I already know what I'm ordering.  The swordfish!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse

After driving through Los Angeles on the 405, I get really really neurotic.  I decided the only way to relax is to go back in time to a world free of crazy drivers and gridlock.   In the 1930's, I would have taken the "Red Car", the trolley line which ran out to Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro every weekend during the hot summer months.  I would go to the bathhouse, rent a swimsuit and a towel for ten cents and dive into the cold Pacific.
After my swim, I would go back to the bathhouse and take a hot shower; then grab the picnic basket I brought with me and go back to the beach for an afternoon in the sun.

This beautiful Mediterranean-style bathhouse is still being used today.  It was declared a historic landmark in 1989.  Of course, you can no longer rent towels and swimsuits, but the showers and bathrooms are still free and last week while I was there, loads of people were using them.

While I was taking pictures, an old woman walked out of the bathhouse in a bright red swimsuit and yellow bathing cap.  I followed her to the beach, intending to ask her permission to photograph her, but she ran into the water before I could catch up.  I bet she is one of those legendary Cabrillo Polar Bears.  She looked so at ease in the water.  Thirty years from now, that is going to be me.   Ninety-years-old and swimming in the ocean.  Every single glorious day.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lorikeets at the Aquarium

"Are you kidding me?  You spent an afternoon at the Long Beach Aquarium and only took pictures of birds?"


"Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"


Well, here's the thing:  The Aquarium of the Pacific is a wonderful place, especially if you are a non-diver.  The exhibits include fish from Baja, the Northern Pacific and Hawaii.  But I've strapped on a tank and dove among the fish in all these places, so to see them in big glass containers is merely a  substitute for the real McCoy.  But walking through the big aviary among these colorful, feisty little birds?  Now that, I've never done.  I wish I could strap on a tank and go diving in the sky.  Hmmm.  An Ultralight, maybe?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Altun Ha

Along the Maya Route

 The ruins of this ancient Mayan ceremonial center in Belize are the most accessible.  Tours are available even if your home base is out on the islands.  We drove the Northern Highway from Belize City, only 30 miles north to see them.  In 2003, the road was narrow and filled with potholes.  My travel buddy, two sons and I were a bit rattled by the time we got there.  Hopefully, the road has been improved.

Altun Ha dates from 1100 BCE to 900CE.  The ruins are from the classical period of this great civilization.  The site is small.  It takes only an hour or two to walk around them and this is at a leisurely pace.  We hired a young man at the entrance, negotiating a fee for ten dollars.  What a bargain!  Leroy had lived here his entire life.  His grandfather had helped to excavate the ruins, so he knew them inside-out.

We climbed to the top of all the buildings for incredible views of the jungle canopy.  Leroy knew the names of all the plants.  In fact, he stripped some bark off a tree and placed it on my sons' arms to relieve the swelling and itchiness from a wasp attack the day before.  "Wasps are especially vicious this time of year," he told us and then pointed out more nests in the trees below.  I had been spared because I had stopped to admire a bromeliad along the jungle trail we were following.  My three guys came screaming out of the jungle with a swarm of wasps (we thought they were killer bees!) flying behind them.  The wasps followed them all the way to the car and didn't leave them alone until we were a hundred yards away.  By then, they had completely stripped down to their boxers.  I tried to be sympathetic, but it was a funny sight.  They were not amused.   Those nasty creatures had impaled their heads, arms, backs and even the bottoms of their feet.  I swear they were cussing like banshees from hell.  

Needless to say  we learned a lesson that day.  Hire a guide!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Boat Trip to Lamanai

Along the Maya Route

Talk about magical moments!  During our  rip roaring boat trip down the New River in Belize we spotted crocodiles, snakes and howler monkeys, but it was the jungle that I found the most fascinating--so dense I couldn't see sunlight through the trees.  This is the reason I came to Belize in the first place.

Belize is an odd country.  Central American with a rich Mayan history but a Jamaican vibe.  English, Creole and Spanish blend together like musical chords.  Sometimes we understood.  Sometimes we didn't.

"You want fill it up with regular?"  the attendant at the gas station asks us upon our arrival.  Unlike the states, rental cars are handed over with empty tanks.

My travel buddy nods.

The attendant throws back his head and laughs and laughs.  "Only have super."

This happens all the time in Belize.  Their speech is sprinkled with laughter.  They tease and joke until you join in.  Being serious is not allowed.  Laughter, after all,  is a universal language and an ice breaker.  It got us through many trying moments during our two weeks down there.

Belizeans are not in a hurry.  Punctuality is unheard of and it turned out to be a good thing.  Our boat was to leave Orange Walk at 9 am, but my travel buddy was bitten by a chow just moments before.  He needed to go to a doctor.  "Don't worry," the dog's owner said.  "The boat never leaves until ten!"  He kindly escorted us to the doctor's office and his leg was cleaned and bandaged.  His body was more sore from the tetanus shot than the actual wound. 

Paths lead through the rainforest to both excavated and unexcavated sites.  I wanted to grab a shovel and start digging.  Was there another giant face waiting to be revealed?

Lamanai  is one of the oldest of the Mayan cities.  Relics have been carbon dated to 1500 BCE and Mayans lived here until the 16th century, making it the longest known occupied city of that civilization.  Many jade and copper artifacts have been uncovered here.  Archeologists believe copper was produced on-site; therefore, this city was an important post along the Mayan trading route.  I can't help but think it's remoteness attributed to its longevity.   Still, I liked walking through the jungle the best.  My guide rambled along with me, happily pointing out black orchids and the giant cahune trees.  I loved it when the cicadas and the monkeys "went off" at the same time.  I let my travel buddy climb the pyramids by himself this time.  I was in no hurry.  I was in Belize.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Along the Maya Route

The UNESCO World Heritage Site added Uxmal to its list in 1996 because it represents the best of late Mayan art and architecture.  That is precisely why I enjoyed these ruins so much.  The architecture is intricate and beautifully carved.  The site is small and more easily digested than the larger ruins of Tikal and Chichen Itza.  The ancient city was founded in 500 CE and reached its peak in 850-925 CE.  After that, Toltec invaders captured Uxmal and it began to decline.

Getting there was half the fun.  My travel buddy and I hopped on a second class bus from Merida and enjoyed the ride through the Mayan villages of today.  Many families still live in adobe homes with cone-shaped thatched roofs.  Some of the homes didn't even have doors and we could see the hammocks and televisions inside.  Chickens and turkeys run wild in the front yards.  The stone fences along the road, interspersed with jungle, made it an unforgettable ride.  Our driver dropped us off at the entrance to the ruins.  We sprinted to the magnificent Pyramid of the Magician and climbed to the top for the view of the entire site.  Climbing down was scarier because the step pyramid is so narrow and steep.  There were chains to hold onto.

The Nunnery Quadrangle or Governor's Palace was another exceptionally beautiful building.  This was one of several rectangular buildings in Uxmal where the facades on both the inside and outside were elaborately carved.  I loved the latticework design.  The serpents were added by the Toltecs.  We heard many tales of horror about these conquerors--that they plucked the beating hearts out of men and threw young virgins down the wells during sacrificial ceremonies.

After climbing up and down several pyramids and then taking a walk through the jungle, we were more than ready to catch the bus back to town.  We slept the entire way back.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Avila Adobe

The Birth Place of L.A.

The Avila Adobe is located in the El Pueblo De Los Angeles Historicial Monument.  It is the oldest existing house in Los Angeles and has a fascinating history.  It was originally built in 1818 as the home to Don Francisco Avila and his family.  He was  a successful cattle rancher who later became mayor of Los Angeles.  He loved to entertain here and one of his more colorful guests was the fur trapper Jedediah Smith.  Smith wrote in his diary, "A few families are rich in cattle and horses and mules and among these, Senor Francisco Abela and his brother, Don Ignatio are perhaps the richest."

In 1847, Commodore Robert Stockton used this adobe as his headquarters while peace was being negotiated to end the Mexican-American War.  After that, the house saw many renters and finally became a boarding house.  In 1926, it was renovated along with the other historic buildings on the plaza.

The house is built around an inner courtyard.  One side consists of the interior rooms refurnished with period antiques.  A docent was on hand to answer questions and give a brief history.  A museum and gift shop are found on the other side.

The early adobes had kitchens outside in the courtyard with ovens like the one above.  It wasn't until the 1840's that kitchens started to be built inside the house.  Even then, most of them were used as storerooms for utensils and food.  The actual cooking was still done outside.  I stepped back in time and imagined a home lit by candles, windows covered with cowhides and the floors made only of dirt.  Innovations like glass windows and wooden floors came about slowly over the decades.

The Avila Adobe was one of the most spacious homes of this era.  The rooms are all quite lovely, especially the master bedroom and the family room.  I always find it interesting how cool and comfortable it is inside these adobes.  It was very hot the day I was here.  What a nice place to duck into! 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Olvera Street

The Birth Place of L.A.

The entrance to Olvera Street is across from the Union Station and part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Park.  It was originally named Calle de las Vignas (Wine Street) and is one of the oldest streets in the city.  The street was renamed in 1877 to honor Agustin Olvera, a well-liked local judge.  Today it is a colorful, festive Mexican market place and a great place to buy a souvenir.  I came home with some dishes rather than my usual bag of clothes (much to Mimi's dismay); however, I took lots of pictures of the gorgeous summer dresses.  Next time, Mimi!

There are 27 historic buildings lining this little street.  The Avila Adobe is the oldest; built in 1818.  The Pelanconi House was built in 1855; and Sepulveda House in 1887.  Although the street had been a mecca for business in the 1800's,  by the 20th century it had become a slum and its history forgotten.  Fortunately, a campaign was waged in 1926 to save the birthplace of L.A.    The street was closed to cars and restoration began.  Today, Olvera Street is a major tourist attraction.  There are several good Mexican restaurants on the street with outside patios--perfect for people watching.   I did just that.  Since I wasn't driving , I ordered a second margarita .  Around 6 pm, I walked across the street and caught the train home.  A most enjoyable day!