Salimos Sonora, Mexico

So the past two posts pretty much detailed our quick trip to Banámichi, but I do have some pictures of our last day, which was another gorgeous day, perfect for a long(ish) trip back to Tucson. We took a different route, up to Cananea then up the 2, crossing the border at Naco. This route was slightly less potholed, but possibly more winding (although it was hard to mind any minor inconveniences with this scenery).

IMG_1743 IMG_1747 IMG_1751 DSC_0246 DSC_0250 DSC_0253These are from a stop in Arizpe (in Opatan Arizpe means “land of the fire ants”!) to check out the church:

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Vamos a Sonora, Mexico, Continued

Okay, so after that drive, I was ready for a bacanora or two, preferably in a hammock on a rooftop patio looking at a beautiful sunset. So you can imagine our delight as we pulled into Banámichi and checked into Hotel La Posada del Rio, a place that had all those things and more.

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Banámichi is a peaceful, quiet community untouched by tourists and all the tackiness that tourists can bring; its denizens are mostly ranchers. It is close to the Rio Sonora (the name, which is Opatan, refers to “where the river bends”) and it is surrounded by gorgeous topography. The hotel La Posada is right on Banámichi’s plaza, which is currently under construction. It was still a lovely setting, and watching the local kids play amongst the debris was entertaining.

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We checked in and quickly ran around the town to stretch our legs, get a feel for Banámichi, and snap some photos of the sunset.

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The best views were from the hotel’s rooftop patio, where we settled in with some drinks to watch the surreal sunset.

IMG_1703 IMG_1704 IMG_1711After a scrumptious dinner which included caldo de queso and fresh tortillas, we promptly passed out, exhausted from the excitement of the day.

We awoke to machaca, freshly squeezed orange juice, and lively conversation with the hotel’s owner, Darrin.

IMG_1712Darrin was kind enough to lead us on an archeological expedition that day, to explore a nearby mesa where he had found Opatan pottery. Scrambling up the hillside got us to beautiful views and an abundance of pottery shards (which we didn’t think to photograph).

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Later that day, TDL and I drove to a local hot springs, enjoyed the peaceful Sunday atmosphere, and got some more hammock time.

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Vamos a Sonora, Mexico

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TDL and I have a habit of changing our plans at the last minute. If we have something planned (a trip, grad school, moving…) and it suddenly doesn’t feel right, we will drop it at a moment’s notice and go on to whatever is bigger and better (to us, at the moment). So I guess it was no surprise to anyone when a planned weekend trip to Silver City, NM turned into us grabbing our passports and heading for la frontera.

I am not sure how I first heard of Hotel La Posada del Rio (probably in my favorite periodical, Edible Baja), but I am so glad I did. It was the impetus behind our last-minute plan change and staying there really made our weekend special. You see, I am a bit of a hotel/inn/B&B junkie and will gladly go to an unknown destination just for a good hotel. Usually (and La Posada was a perfect example of this) this leads to getting to explore “off the beaten track” type neighborhoods/cities and meeting great people.

This trip started on Friday, as soon as I could drag TDL out of work. We showed up at the stunning Hacienda Corona de Guevavi in Nogales, AZ right before sunset. (Our destination was Mexico, but we stayed in the border town of Nogales to get out of town as soon as possible while avoiding driving in Mexico at night.) Hacienda Corona is a stunning, sprawling ranch that is unlike any other inn I have stayed at. (Here’s my Tripadvisor review) We checked in and immediately ran outside to grab sunset photos.

DSC_0213DSC_0216 DSC_0219 DSC_0223To save a bit of dinero, and to maximize time at the hotel, we brought some portabellos and some tasty sausages to grill, so after a delightful happy hour chatting with some other guests (who had come to Nogales all the way from PA just to get custom-made cowboy boots!), we grilled up our dinner by the pool.

The next day, after a tasty breakfast, we packed up and headed south. This was our first time driving into Mexico, and I would be lying if I said we weren’t a little apprehensive. I had purchased Mexican car insurance before leaving (call your insurance company, and they can transfer you to the company they recommend), but that was the extent of my preparation. Darrin, the owner of La Posada del Rio, had assured me in an email that our biggest concern was potholes. I called him before we left that morning to get a better feel for the directions (stupidly, we forgot our GPS), and he gave me all sorts of fun stops we could make along the way. The Mariposa border crossing in Nogales was easy and quick, as was the stop to get our visas once we were out of Nogales. A seven day visa was free. Our first stop was Imuris, for roadside carne asada tacos. You can choose any roadside stand you’d like; we decided on the La Familia stand and were very, very pleased. (Forgive me for my horrible picture, I was trying to be covert.)

IMG_1656Our bellies full, we traveled to Magdalena de Kino, where we wandered around the idyllic plaza principle.

IMG_1710IMG_1664 IMG_1657 IMG_1660We got back in the car and headed to Cucurpe, our next stop. Or so we thought. Thankfully, after peacefully driving 20 minutes, TDL started to question if we were headed in the right direction. He stopped and asked- no, we needed to turn around. Then ensued an ordeal that involved going through (and paying) the same toll three times, asking for directions no less than ten times, and more than an hour (maybe two?) of our day. FINALLY, shaken up but grateful for the kindness and assistance of so many strangers, we found the small side street that led to Cucurpe and, eventually, Banámichi. Here, the road really started to get potholed, but the scenery was amazing.

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I started to have panic attacks after driving for awhile without seeing signs or any indication that we were headed the right way. The road is so empty and desolate, and I hate being in a car anyway, so panic was pretty inevitable. I kept it pretty much together though, and was relieved to see Cucurpe.

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We decided not to stop to check out the petroglyphs and old mission in Cucurpe because we were worried about running out of daylight after getting lost. After Cucurpe, the road gets even more potholed, winding, and desolate as you pass over several mountain ranges.

IMG_1675The panic attacks continued as I admired the scenery and tried not to lose my shit. At one point we considered pulling over the only other vehicle on the road to ask if we were going the right way. We decided not to, TDL reassuring me we still had enough gas and daylight left to turn around if we didn’t soon see evidence we were heading toward Banámichi.

(So as to avoid making this the longest blog post ever, I will continue this in another post. Stay tuned to see if we ever make it to Banámichi…)

(Hint: We do. And it is fabulous)

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Getting back to our dirtbag roots, St George

Our kind of gourmet meal, somewhere in Idaho, 2010

Our kind of gourmet meal, somewhere in Idaho, 2010

When I met TDL, he worked at a gear shop and his life was a series of climbing trips and skiing adventures. He was pretty much a dirtbag. I have always preferred living out of my car and would rather be inside than out, so we fit together pretty well and created our life together based on our love of dirt and travel. We have slept outside all over the western US, chicken bussed through Central America, and have mastered the art of the camp shower.

During the past two years, however, we have been getting outside less and less. TDL’s nursing school was an intense year, and then we were working opposite schedules, and now we are in Vegas. I am unemployed here in Vegas, so TDL has to pick up the slack and work copious amounts of overtime. Between the overtime and Portugal, we haven’t had much outside time. That’s all changing now. This trip reminded us what is important: playing outside.

As soon as TDL returned from his weekend in Kingman’s ER, we loaded up the car and were on the road. It’s an easy two hour drive from Vegas to St George, UT, where we filled up our cooler at Natural Grocers and continued on to the Red Cliffs Campground. Red Cliffs is a gorgeous campground, with hiking and red cliffs (hence the name) in every direction. It was oppressively hot during the day (95-102ºF), but cooled off nicely at night. Probably not a good place to camp June-August.

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DSC_0052On Tuesday, we drove north on the 15 to reach Kanarraville, where the Kanarra Canyon hike begins (and ends). It’s $10 to park, but well worth it. The hike has a scorching beginning as you travel up and then down to the creek. After the first mile or so, there is more shade and you get to wade through the icy water, so the heat is tolerable. The hike is gorgeous, and the slot canyon section was incredible!

DSC_0006 DSC_0009 DSC_0013 DSC_0018 DSC_0022 DSC_0028 DSC_0035After the hike, we were sweaty and starving and needed to get out of the sun during the heat of the day. We spent the afternoon as the smelly, dirty people wandering through the idyllic, manicured downtown of St George. We had a nice lunch at the Painted Pony and then while TDL got his hair cut (strange activity on a camping trip, but he needed a haircut and rarely has enough time off work to fit it in in Vegas), I explored the amazing Urban Renewal. This shop was fun enough to make me want to move to St George: vintage, secondhand, and new clothing, furniture, and random items from records to vintage aprons, with friendly staff and new items constantly coming in!! I was in love.

On Wednesday, our last full day outside, we went to Crawdad Canyon to do a little climbing. Climbing purists may not like the fact that this is a “climbing park,” requiring an eight dollar entrance fee, but we wanted to get in as many routes as possible and stay out of the heat. Crawdad Canyon has over a hundred sport routes on either side of a creek, so it was possible to dodge the sun and get in a bunch of routes with no approach time. Despite a swimming pool full of screaming children at the entrance, we didn’t see anyone else climbing and felt like we had the park to ourselves. We had a couple holds break and some of the routes were a little dirty, but it was a fun, productive day of climbing and we’ll definitely be back.

On the way back to the campground, we stopped in St George for some marvelous custard at Nielson’s, although we had also been told to stop in Veyo for pie, custard sounded better on a hot day. We will have to get pie next time.

Back at Red Cliffs, we had enough daylight remaining to hike to the swimming holes by our campsite. It was just another example of the beauty in this area.

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Look, it's a Wooly Mammoth!

Look, it’s a Wooly Mammoth!

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Lisbon in Pictures

We began our last day in Portugal by walking from our hotel to the Praça do Comércio. Along the way, we checked out Mude, Lisbon’s free design museum. It was a great way to get out of the rain and we really enjoyed the exhibits. We continued walking to the Praça do Comércio and as we reached the waterfront, the clouds broke up and we felt the warm Portuguese sunshine!

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While in the Praça, we attended an unimpressive wine tasting at ViniPortugal. I can’t really complain too much about a free wine tasting, but we shouldn’t have wasted our time.

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Leaving the tasting, we walked past a ginginha stand. Back in Tavira, our hosts had told us about ginginha en copa de chocolate and, being fans of both ginginha and of chocolate, we had to have a taste. Yum-my!

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DSC_0450We were enjoying the sunshine so much that we decided to walk all the way up to Principe Real.

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DSC_0460DSC_0462DSC_0463DSC_0461DSC_0465At the top of countless steps, we arrived at the beautiful Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântar and were awarded with breathtaking views of Lisbon.

Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântar, Lisboa - 02 Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântar, Lisboa - 08 Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântar, Lisboa - 10 IMG_0889 Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântar, Lisboa - 11We quickly fell in love with the Principe Real neighborhood and spent our afternoon exploring.

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I wish we could have spent more time in the area- there was so much to see! I miss Portugal terribly and am sad to be done blogging about it. A return trip is imminent…

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Solar do Vinho do Porto, Lisbon

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We may have not found Lisbon’s best restaurants or hotels, but we did find Solar do Vinho do Porto, and that made all the difference. For us, this was the place to taste port. We had a blast there and I think it is a must-visit while in Lisbon.

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It is not a trendy, modern-looking place. It was quiet and calm the two nights we were there, making it easy to get comfortable with a glass of tawny goodness. The servers were adorable older men who spent the time they weren’t helping us gossiping in Portuguese around the corner. The menu is a bit intimidating at first, but our server gave us a helpful hint: the ports are priced to reflect quality. The higher the price, the better the port; no guessing or tricks involved. The prices are reasonable, and make it easy it try several ports (as much as you can handle!). I got to try a port that was born the same year as me! Here are some pictures of the menu, some of them have my fingers pointing at the fantastic ports we tried.

port mosiacI hope my poor-quality iPhone pictures convinced you to check out the Solar next time you’re in Lisbon. Just go there, dammit!

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Lisbon

Lisboa, from THE House - 5

I need to finish up our Portugal trip (over a month later). Our last destination was Lisbon. I am having a hard time trying to figure out how to write about Lisbon. I feel like we didn’t really succeed in finding its great restaurants or hotels, and we had a case of the Sunday Blues while we were there, knowing it was the end of the trip. Lisbon is also a place I had really built up in my mind (bad idea!!) for years. During my first trip to Europe 13 years ago, I found a book by a Danish author. I remember the book as a beautiful, sad love story, taking place in the “white city,” Lisbon. The love story was as much about a girl as it was about Lisbon, and so, in a way, I was in love with Lisbon before I even met her. And, we all know, love can be deceiving. Anyway, maybe I just need to type away and see what happens. Good luck, reader.

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We arrived in Lisbon by train on a gloomy, rainy Sunday. Our hotel was The House, a three-story family home, converted into a bed and breakfast, inside an apartment building. It sounds confusing, and it kind of is. The views are great and the hotel is spotlessly clean, but after one night there, we moved to a more central location. We had picked the wrong room at The House, and were paying 90€ for a room with thin walls that didn’t have an attached bathroom. I have a small bladder, and walking through a common area in the middle of the night to pee is just not something I pay 90€ for. The owner is incredibly kind and accommodating, and I recommend The House, but it’s not the best for a romantic holiday (I feel so cheesy typing those words, ugh).

After a mediocre lunch close to The House and some wandering around, we decided to get on the tram and head to Barrio Alto for dinner. FYI, Lisboa is a ridiculously hilly city, and places that look like they are walking distance on a map may actually not be, once you factor in the elevation gained. If you’re staying at The House, tramming to Barrio Alto is a must (I just turned “tram” into a verb and I like it). We were impressed with all the shopping and fanciness in Barrio Alto, but it was Sunday, and every restaurant we had picked out was closed. Endless hungry wandering led us to resort to an old trick of mine: pick out locals who are dressed nicely and look like they are headed somewhere. Follow them. The Portuguese family we followed “took” us to an Italian restaurant in Barrio Alto. I was so hungry and exhausted that I neglected to remember the name or much of what we ate. Exhaustion didn’t prevent us from needing some gelato, but after creamy dessert heaven, we trammed back to the hotel and called it a night.

The next day, we moved hotels to the Fontana Park Hotel, which is part of Design Hotels. It is a large hotel, but more conveniently located, with friendly staff and cool design features (the second picture is the hallway leading to our room):

DSC_0421 DSC_0429_2It was another cold, rainy day, but we welcomed the opportunity to walk downtown to Bonjardim to get some piri piri chicken.

DSC_0425The chicken and the spicy piri piri sauce were absolutely incredible, but  we left with a bit of a bad feeling about our experience there. Our bill was surprisingly high, and upon reviewing it we discovered we were charged for much more than we expected. The covert was expensive (and gross, we shouldn’t have munched on it, but were too hungry to be reasonable). Our server brought us some fried cod fritters that we didn’t order; we tried them, not expecting to be charged, but they ended up on the bill (again, they were gross and we should have just said “no thank you” but we thought he was being nice). When we ordered our chicken, we asked for no fries and a salad. We were brought fries and a salad and charged for both. These all added up to an expensive lunch. Bonjardim is worth a visit, just say no to all the extras they bring and you will have a cheap, filling, delicious lunch.

That night, we went to Sacramento for dinner. It was recommended by our hotel, and the food was quite good. Not the most memorable meal of our trip, and I don’t believe there was a single Portuguese patron. If you want to experience Portuguese food in an accessible, modern setting, this is a good place. I guess I just prefer restaurants with a little more character.

After dinner, we stepped into A Brasileira for a drink. At the time, we had no idea we were in one of the oldest places in Lisbon, and were merely impressed with the beautiful decor and the fact that TDL’s Portuguese was improving to the point that he didn’t have to use any English or Spanish during his interactions at the bar.

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