Tag Archives: travel

Beyond Beaches: Hidden Gems of Hidalgo, Mexico

For many Canadians who frequent Mexico, vacations to one of the many beach-front resorts are typical. Who could blame us. With a dizzying amount of advertisements throwing out words like luxury, cheap and all-inclusive, why not. These resorts offer beautiful surroundings, are generally safe and can arrange local trips to neighbouring towns and villages to view historic sites. As fantastic as they are, if this is the only Mexico you see, you are most definitely missing out! If you are up for a bit more adventure, check out Hidalgo for some wondrous waterfalls, a soothing dip in a natural thermal river or a “magic town”.

Prismas Basalticos

Prismas Basalticos, Hidalgo, Mexico
Prismas Basalticos, Hidalgo, Mexico
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Unique natural rock formations at Prismas Basalticos, Hidalgo, Mexico

Considered one of Mexico’s ’13 natural wonders’, this site is a must for nature lovers. Water that runs from a nearby dam comes crashing over tall columns of rock that, over time, have been formed perfectly into geometric shapes. So perfectly, the columns almost look as though they have been constructed and intensionally placed there.

Enjoy the view from the top of the ravine or venture down to the bottom to get a feel for the grand stature of the columns. The path down is lined with gardens of vibrantly coloured flowers. Stop off at the hut for a traditional snack, or a unique souvenir. A limited

Prismas Basalticos, Hidalgo, Mexico
Suspension Bridge – Prismas Basalticos, Hidalgo, Mexico

selection of local artesian crafts are on display and are available for purchase. For an alternate view of the falls, cross the suspension bridge that spans the ravine.

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The rest of the site is very much a full service recreation area. There is a swimming pool, playing fields and places to picnic. P1020922Take a hike along the river or rent a four wheeler to explore this natural wonderland. If these activities are too subdued, adrenaline junkies P1020931can zip line across the ravine. For stays longer than a day, consider renting a basic cabaña. Details are on their website, but be prepared to enlist a translator as the site is in Spanish only.

Los Prismas Basalticos may be a bit out of the way, but the spectacular view is well worth the trouble.

 

 

Real del Monte (Mineral del Monte)

Within reach of Prismas Basalticos is one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns). Though a bit disappointing that no wizardry was found here, Real del Monte certainly has many enchanting qualities.P1020958This quaint mining town was home to English settlers in the 1800s and the evidence of this is at every turn. Architecture of the town shows signs of English influence and high atop the mountain an English cemetery looms over the town.

Plan to spend the day wandering along the narrow, cobblestone roads or hike up the mountain to check out the view from the cemetery.P1020952Silver was the primary resource extracted from these hills which makes it a great place to shop for jewelry or trinkets crafted by local silversmiths. An authentic mine tour is also one of the attractions that can be added to the itinerary.P1020956

When you have worked up an appetite, finding something to snack on will be done with ease. Street vendors have stands with a variety of dolce (sweet) treats on offer. With a large selection to sample, it was hard to choose. These little indulgences are made with coconut, peanuts or fruit, but the soft chewy cajeta (caramel) squares were my favourite.

If you are looking for something more substantial to eat, hit one of the local shops for a great food with a local flare. In the centre of town is a market where you can enjoy some freshly made quesadillas or barbacoa. Lamb barbacoa is traditional, but beef, goat, chicken and pork are also common. In this region, barbacoa is classified by the traditional cooking method used. Now prepared in more modern ovens, historically, this meat dish was slow-cooked underground. Barbacoa tacos are a popular dish that is particularly found on the weekends.

By contrast to this Mexican meal, English influence comes in the form of a savory pocket of dough called a ‘pastes’. Traditionally filled with potatoes and meat, pastes are sold in every corner of the region. In true food fusion, the Mexicans have made it their own by preparing it with mole, chillies and chicken or pineapple in addition to the English-style. Initially prepared as a lunch for miners, this piece of culinary history is now taken quite seriously in Real del Monte and the annual International Paste Festival is a must for any foodies travelling to the state of Hidalgo.

P1020951It’s uncertain if the beautiful mountain views, the rich history or the delicious food is responsible for the allure of this town. However, the majestic and regal charms of Real del Monte are certainly unique as far as small Mexican mountain towns go.

Las Grutas de Tolangtango

Ever travelled to a place where words cannot do it justice. A place where photos provide a fraction of the picture? A setting that washes you in pure contentment? Las Grutas de Tolangtango is one of these places.

The vistas through the slow and steady climb through the mountains of Hidalgo were stunning.

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Cliffs and sharp mountain peaks are visible through the tall grasses and wildflowers line the country road. Little roadside stores offer food and snacks, but filling up the tank should be done in Pachuca as gas stations are few and far between on this route.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThough the 3 hour journey was breathtaking, the distance and the rough roads might deter some. But motivation is found in the prospect of wading in a natural thermal river.

East of Ixmiquilpan, leads to a steady decline down a curvy dirt road. The kind of road that makes you grateful that it hasn’t rained in a few days. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATraversing down this challenging path leads to the obvious conclusion that this destination must be pretty spectacular, otherwise why would anyone bother.

Upon reaching the entrance, at first glance, it doesn’t seem like much and in truth, this destination is very bare bones with no frills at all. You won’t find any boutique shopping or high end decor. What you will find is an unaltered and unspoiled oasis.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sounds of water trickling all around combined with incredible views of lush foliage lining the hillside overload the senses while descending along the walking trail. Over 2 dozen pools are on the grounds, including large basins on the mountain hillside where visitors can wade in the warm water while soaking in the vistas of this deep canyon. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is also possible to swim around and explore the water caves. Once at the bottom of the canyon, pick a spot on the river, climb in and splash around in the soothing warm water.

The accommodations at Las Grutas de Tolangtango are basic. Many visitors opt to pitch a tent along the shores of the river but if camping is not your thing, cabin style rooms are available at decent prices.

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Keep in mind that they do not take reservations for the rooms. Tents and other camping gear can be rented on-site.

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In any case, this natural thermal spring and surroundings is one place beyond the beaches of Mexico, that is not to be missed.

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The scenery en route to Las Gruta
Waterlogged
Waterlogged
Lounging in the warm water.
Lounging in the warm water.

Swinging From Trees and Other Cool Things To Do In Miami Beach

For Families with Children or if you are a ‘kid at heart’, here are a few things to check out while in Miami Beach.

Miami Beach is well-known for its lively nightlife scene, particularly in the South Beach area. As awesome as it is, families often opt out in favour of more ‘kid friendly’ destinations in Florida. For the record – my son loved the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios, but actually preferred our time in Miami Beach. So what did he love so much?

1. The Beach – This one is an obvious one, right?

Aidan swimming at Sunny Isles Beach

Sure, it is, but you might not know that there is a long list of Beaches in the Miami Beach Area (16 to be more precise). Since we were able to score a great deal to stay at the Trump International Beach Resort, we spent a bunch of time in Sunny Isles Beach.

Sunny Isles Beach from Trump International Beach Resort
Sunny Isles Beach from Trump International Beach Resort

This is an area in the north that has recently undergone a major revitalization. Since it is some distance from South Beach, it is less crowded and cleaner; fantastic for families that want a bit more space for the kids to play.

Sunny Isles Beach
Sunny Isles Beach

On the south side of the Trump property you’ll find a hut equipped with water sport rentals. Even though we are typically paddlers, it was here that my son had his first epic ride on the back of a jet ski. A bit pricey, but most memorable. When you’re through building sandcastles and splashing in the waves, the ocean-side pools operated by the hotels are a good option. The pools at the Trump International Beach Resort were fantastic and were open very late allowing us to enjoy some refreshing night swims.

Night Swimming at Trump International Beach Resort
Night Swimming at Trump International Beach Resort

2. Go Fish!

If you are in search of a unique experience, take the opportunity to take part in some saltwater fishing while in Miami. Not interested in the full commitment of renting a boat – no problem. Florida is well-known for fantastic inshore fishing.

Bal Harbour, Miami, Florida
Bal Harbour, Miami, Florida

Miami has several piers and inlets that are purposed specifically for anglers. The Newport Beach Fishing Pier is one of them. This brand new Pier, destroyed by Hurricane Wilma, was recently rebuilt. The beautiful Pier spans over 230 meter’s into the ocean. The fee to fish is minimal and rental equipment is easily available right on the pier.

Bal Harbour - Miami Beach, Florida
Bal Harbour – Miami Beach, Florida

Another option is the Bal Harbour Jetty, a concrete structure where you can find many locals dropping a line. It didn’t seem that there was a spot for renting gear at this location, but one of the locals let my son hold the fishing pole for a moment. A surprising offer as the fishers at this spot appear to take their sport very seriously. If you plan on fishing from Bal Harbour, make sure you investigate the necessity of purchasing a fishing license. Any of the many bait and tackle shops around the area will be able to help you out here.

If the prospect of catching a barracuda at one of piers or jetty’s is too much to handle, these locations are still worth a visit. Go to check out what the locals bring in or simply hang out with the friendly pelican on site. And, if your timing is right, nothing beats a sunset walk on the pier.

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Friendly Pelican – Bal Harbour – Miami Beach, Florida

3. Let’s Go Fly a Kite!

Let's Go Fly A Kite! Skyward Kites
Let’s Go Fly A Kite! Skyward Kites, Haulover Park, Miami Beach, Florida. Photo courtesy Skyward Kites: https://sites.google.com/site/skywardkites/home/

Is there anything more idyllic then kite flying? Sadly, this is one of the activities that we had to forgo due to time and weather, but one that I really wish we didn’t have to miss. On a day with clear skies, you cannot miss the vibrant colours floating through the sky as you drive North on Collins Ave.

Kite Flying at Haulover Park, Miami Beach, Florida.
Kite Flying at Haulover Park, Miami Beach, Florida. Photo Courtesy of Skyward Kites: https://sites.google.com/site/skywardkites/home/

Haulover Park near Bal Harbour is dedicated to kite flying. They even have a mobile shop on site where you can pick up a nice nylon kite for a good price to get you in the action. The next time we are in Miami, a visit to Skyward Kites and this kite park is definitely on the list.

Kiteday 2013, Haulover Park, Miami Beach Florida. Photo Courtsey of Skyward Kites: https://sites.google.com/site/skywardkites/home/
Kiteday 2013, Haulover Park, Miami Beach Florida. Photo Courtesy of Skyward Kites: https://sites.google.com/site/skywardkites/home/

Find out more about Skyward Kites on their website at: https://sites.google.com/site/skywardkites/home/

4. Swinging From a Tree

Pinetree Park, Miami Beach, Florida
Pinetree Park, Miami Beach, Florida

No. Seriously! Though I am pretty sure that this one is not sanctioned by any Miami officials, it was way too much fun to not mention. A friend who was fortunate enough to spend his teenage years in Miami Beach took us on a nostalgic tour of the area. One of the stops was Pinetree Park. This serene and picturesque park lies on the other side of Indian Creek (more like a canal if you ask me). It is an easy walk from the hotel strip and is visible across the creek from the well-known Fountainbleau Hotel. Complete with friendly lizards scurrying up and down the trees, this park is a nice walk for a change from the beach scene.

This gigantic tree was easy to climb and it only took a bit of creativity to fashioning a swing from the vines.
This gigantic tree was easy to climb and it only took a bit of creativity to fashion a swing from the vines.

The series of paved walkways are surrounded by an expanse of well-manicured grassy areas and a variety of trees. There is no playground at this park, no monkey bars, no tire swings or ice-cream parlors nearby. But, if you head to the very back of the park, right beside the small boat launch (a great spot for paddlers who wish to canoe or kayak in the calm of Indian Creek) you will find the main attraction. This huge sprawling tree is hard to miss, with multiple trunks that add support to the massive limbs, it has sturdy vines ideal for swinging on. Take a few minutes to link a few of these vines together and Voila!

Do you know of any other cool, off the beaten path, locations in Miami Beach?  Be sure to share them in the comments below!

The Mommy Dilemma – Revisited

20140712-025039-10239564.jpgAs the Persian poet Rumi wisely wrote, “When setting out on a journey, do not seek advice from someone who has never left home.”

Most often when people talk about the mommy dilemma it is referring to the difficult decision a woman makes between maintaining a career versus devoting herself to child rearing responsibilities. In a similar fashion, as I begin to firm up what my year off will entail, On more than one occasion, I have questioned if this is in fact the best parenting choice.

As an educator, I am constantly reminded of the high value we place on the conventional form of education in North America. We most often see it as downright criminal for students to be absent from school and parents who dare allow relaxed attendance are most certainly neglectful.

In fact, I myself as a school counsellor, often help students who are struggling with attendance issues. In the secondary school setting one of the fundamental keys to success is in showing up. I know this sounds rudimentary, but some youth and families truly need support in this way, and this has become a typical task of counsellors in the system.

Perhaps to my son’s teachers chagrin, he is infrequently absent; admittedly tardy on occasion, but typically present. All testaments to my strong commitment to public education and advocacy of regular school attendance. And also the reason for the nagging voice in the back of my head calling me a “boldface hypocrite”. The same voice that makes me question what months out of my sons Grade 4 school year will do to his progress.

But I’ve got this covered, right? I tell that voice that I’ll dig up the curriculum books and I have enough teacher friends who will surely help me along the way. For a time, I feel settled with my decision when I randomly get an uncomfortable response from someone learning of my plans and the dilemma sets in again.

Some time ago a colleague went on a rant about a student who would be missing one week of school due to a family obligation overseas. A lengthy conversation occurred about this issue and the colleague suggested that we call the parents of the student in question to point out just how detrimental this absence would be. After this meeting I just about packed the idea in. If an esteemed individual, a knowledgeable longtime professional in education claimed that a one week absence was a detriment, certainly several months would be extremely harmful. Convinced that I was making a bad decision, I fretted for many days.

Then I came across an excellent Ted Talk presented by 13-year-old Logan LaPlante. Logan’s talk called “Hack Schooling” is incredibly well done. He points out the importance of embedding health and happiness into our Education. His parents began home schooling him at 9 and in his talk he describes many creative and unconventional learning experiences for helping him maintain his health and happiness. At the time, Logan’s talk was all I needed to inspire me to press on and put an end to my “mommy dilemma”.

My son will get a chance to spend time in nature, see historical sites and wonders of the world. He will experience a variety of cultures, climates and customs and be immersed in a different language. True, we will have to infuse some conventional curriculum into his days, but I truly believe he will be enriched by our adventure. As always, all opinions are welcome but I’ll be more apt to take advice from those who have “left home”.

If you are not among the 5,781,361 people who have already seen Logan’s talk, it find it here: