• Heather O’Neal


Dear Adventurers, I felt the need to take you to Mexico so I’ve attached (below) the journal I kept while visiting the Mayan Riviera in the Yucatan a few weeks ago. Since the political situation in the world is somewhat cold, I thought a little heat, palm trees, crystal clear turquoise water and Mayan ruins might offer a respite.

FIRST SOME ADVENTUROUS EVENTS: Thursday, April 24, 8:00 pm, (45 min) documentary movie, Altitude, the story of the first cancer survivor to climb Mt. Everest. The Eighth Street Trekkers’ Lodge B&B, 120 Eighth Street, Ann Arbor, MI. Trek on over for some trail mix and a mountain movie.

Tuesday, April 8, 7:00 pm, the Banff Mountain Film Festival. The Lydia Mendelssohn Theater in Ann Arbor. (I submitted Altitude to this Festival in September.) I will be at the “Of Global Interest” table in the lobby. Come say “HI”.

Saturday, April 26, “Club Day” at Eastern Mountain Sports on State at Liberty in Ann Arbor. Outdoor adventure clubs offer info on their programs. You’ll get 20% off outdoor gear, too.

OTHER EVENTS: Friday, April 11 at 7:00 pm, the studio where I take glass blowing classes, Michigan Hot Glass in Hamtramck, is having a party. April is “Michigan Glass Month”. There will be an exhibit of sculptural glass and photography and glass blowers blowing glass, too. Send e-mail if you want to go.

Saturday, April 12, fundraising dinner party and wine tasting for the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. The Gandy Dancer Restaurant. Tickets: $100 a plate.

Sunday, April 13, 5:00-7:30 pm, Spring Blues and Jazz Splash Fundraiser. Directors John Lawrence of Washtenaw Community College and Mike Grace of Community High School will lead performances by the WCC Jazz Orchestra and CHS Jazz Ensembles AND featuring the blues band “The Aviators”. Towsley Auditorium in the Morris Lawrence Building at Washtenaw Community College. This is a joint fundraiser for WCC Performing Arts Department, CHS Jazz Program and the AA Blues and Jazz Festival.

Saturday, May 10, fundraising party with two bands (TBA) and a silent auction (donations welcome) at the Downtown Home and Garden store on Ashley Street in Ann Arbor. Should be another good time!

Come to Kerrytown at lunchtime and play the Kerrytown Chime every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon. It’s a two ton world-class instrument with 17 bells in the tower. Play by number. It is SO fun!

Check out the winning design for the kids T-shirt contest at the People’s Food Coop on Fourth Ave.


Tuesday, February 25, 2003 Tulum, Mexico I look up while swinging in the net of the hammock with one foot in the sand. The palm leaves are giant, 6 and 12 feet long. I am counting the stars beyond but the breeze blows the spiky leaves, covering some stars, revealing others. The air is so warm and the Caribbean Sea is twenty feet away. It is humid, almost sticky, even at night. I am looking up, noticing coconuts about to drop. Maybe there are 20 in this tree but most are small, not ready to fall. Swinging in the hammock, I haven’t a care in the world. It is a peaceful paradise. The birds sleep, insects chirp and the wind steers the rolling waves to shore.

The concrete path winds around the base of the palm trees. Square orange bulbs at strategic places in the sand light the way. The tikki torches flicker reminding of an earlier, more primitive time. I am now in the hut. The dry palm thatched roof rattles, almost like rain in a constant chatter all night — a nice place to fall asleep.

Wednesday, February 26 Tulum, Mexico The birds hoot and sing from their perches, invisible in the foliage. The room is so small. It’s a twig hut on the beach with a palm leaf roof and is more expensive than the others because it has a shower. The place is just like Gilligan’s Island.

Four ropes hold the bed in mid air. I want to swing high, but the twig walls are confining on both sides and the entire hut shakes when the bed hits the wall. The mosquito net catches a spider’s web on the outside. Later, it seems I have disturbed the spider. A single strand of web caught my head, and I see him scurry on his invisible path toward one of the four ropes holding the bed.

I am traveling with Dawn, a professor on spring break vacation. She is ready for the day. At breakfast I didn’t touch the beans, but the mushroom omelet was good. And the fresh orange juice was worth the flight. The coffee was only ok. Like many scenes on travel agency brochures, the view from the table was full of palm trees leaning and reaching all over the beach.

The Mayan ruins down the road at Tulum were the main tourist attraction here. We wandered around and through the old stone temples and courtyards. The iguanas were everywhere. Huge, giant lizards waiting to catch your snacks, sneak up on you or accidentally TRIP you! I was watching my step in the grass. They looked like rocks. I wondered if they bite. Every tourist must have taken at least one lizard picture.

The entire area overlooked a beach and the most beautiful blue waters. No wo nder the Mayan people built their temples here. Butterflies decorated the ruins, and families were tanning in the sand on the beach. The heat and humidity pulled everyone toward the blue-green ocean.

In the town we ate tortilla chips and salsa “Bandera” — red, white and green, the colors of the Mexican flag. YUM! It was a magical combination of white onions, red tomatoes and green cilantro and jalapenos chopped together with lime juice and garlic. YUM! The margaritas quenched the heat of the peppers and the chips were super crunchy. It was hard to hear the conversation at times. I couldn’t get enough of those chips (and brought home a heftier waistline as a result). The roasted carrot wedges with grilled onions were a surprise. Marinated in a clear liquid, it was an unexpected addition to our lunch but good even with nachos and guacamole. Yum.

Thursday, February 27 Near Tulum, Mexico We rented bikes, first riding through a neighborhood with bright tissue paper flags cut in snowflake patterns strung colorfully across the street between the homes. I had to stop my bike to take a picture. One of the children watching us from one rooftop said his mother had made them.

Along the two-lane highway we biked about 5-7 kilometers. I looked for the Yucatan toucan but didn’t see one. The smells along the roadside were sometimes interesting. “No Dumping” the sign said as if explaining. Ahead was the Grand Cenote, and a few dollars later we were through the gate. We changed into swimsuits in a large one-person bathroom and rented snorkel gear for the next adventure.

It was just like a mermaid cave. I wanted to scuba down deeper and into the darkness. This was a sink hole leading to the underground rivers that take fresh water from the hills and lakes out to sea. I will draw a picture of Dawn snorkeling among the stalactites in the cave. She became a fish, swimming ahead. I followed trying to keep up sometimes too close to her kicking flippers.

What a wonderland it was in that crystal clear water. Little fish sparkled in the light in the distance and other fish swam near looking for food. I followed and watched several up close. In a fit of excitement, I turned heading deep into the darker depths of the cave. It suddenly got too dark so I lifted my head — too quickly, hitting my forehead hard on the rock ceiling. OUCH!

Dawn and I looped around several times. I found it thrilling to swim into the blackness. I loved this place and might have to come again to try scuba diving deeper. We rode back down the highway and all the way back to the sandy beaches, palm trees, cabanas and our favorite hammocks.

Friday, February 28 We were up early, drinking orange juice that the man spent a half-hour making. There were pillows on a bamboo mat and low tables — the perfect breakfast spot. The center piece was a conch shell. Artistic touches were everywhere. In almost every direction there were interesting mobiles hanging, hiding in the trees, above the bar, by the tables. Small shells and seeds and drift wood turned, defining their shapes in the breeze. I took pictures of those.

More time in the hammocks and soon we were in a big luxury bus headed further inland on the two lane highway. It was a boring three hour ride, but we sat in the front seat by the driver. Not much to see out the window but thick jungle lining the way, an occasional village and more tourist stops as we got closer to Chichen Itza, the biggest Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. Every time Dawn put her feet on the wall ahead of the seat, the bus driver flinched and waved his arm. I was just beyond his view with my feet up and comfortable. The countless speed bumps were, however, painfully too many.

We finally arrived at Chichen Itza where an older Greek couple asked if we knew where we were going. We ended up sharing a cab for the 3 kilometer drive to the town of Piste. We moved into a budget hotel on the main drag. The mildew imbedded in the walls of the room looked strangely like flowers on wallpaper. Of course the large insect that fled the scene on my side of the room was not quite as lovely. It would do for one night, I hoped.

Heather O’Neal Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel Ann Arbor, Michigan (734) 369-3107

Part II – Sent April 24, 2003

Hello Adventurers, I hope you are thawing out and enjoying the flowers. I bought eighteen packs of seeds to plant in the terraced fields surrounding my house. Something must grow. I leave soon for Spain. Any shopping requests will be taken seriously. I plan to have a Himalayan Bazaar in my Garage sale in July. You can make an appointment or reserve the guest room at the Eighth Street Trekkers’ Lodge Bed and Breakfast for a weekend getaway in Ann Arbor this summer. For reservations, appointments, tours, birthday parties, shopping, trips to Spain, Nepal, Hungary or Peru call: (734) 369-3107. (The lodge will be closed until June 12.)

Thinking about a trip to Nepal? Get out there (up there) in the Himalayas, explore, learn new things, think outside America, become an international citizen! Oct. 1-6 journey to the southern jungles of Nepal in search of rhinos and tigers on elephant back. Oct. 6-20 enjoy a moderately strenuous trek to 12,000 feet in the Annapurna Region of the Himalayas west of Kat hmandu, and Oct. 20-Nov. 9 test yourself on a big trek to 18,000 feet and visit Mt. Everest Base Camp. Adventure is calling. Join the internationally inclined! Please contact me for details. Space is limited. Travel is safe.

Thursday (tonight), April 24, at 8 PM watch “Altitude” a 45 min. documentary movie. Last year Sean Swarner of Colorado hired Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel to make the arrangements for his customized tour in Nepal and Mt. Everest Expedition. Sean became the first cancer survivor to reach the summit of Mt. Everest on May 16, 2002 at 9:32 AM. The movie is inspiring. Trek over to the Trekkers’ Lodge, 120 Eighth Street at the corner of Eighth and Washington near downtown Ann Arbor, MI. Call to arrange a movie showing and/or a Nepali slide show for you and your friends (734) 369-3107.

Saturday, April 26 all day is “Club Day” at Eastern Mountain Sports on State Street at Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor. Find me at the “Of Global Interest” table and you’ll get 20% off outdoor gear.

Sunday, April 27 at 8 PM a two-hour global television event will premier on the National Geographic Channel. Titled “Surviving Everest” this is the movie the National Geographic team was making while at Everest Base Camp last May 2002. Their camp was 50 feet from our camp. You may see me wandering around the glacier in the background.

Saturday, May 10, 8 PM, The Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival presents: Blues in the Garden at Downtown Home & Garden, 210 South Ashley Street, Ann Arbor, MI. Great food, live music – George Bedard & the Kingpins, a silent auction and cash bar. $35 all night or $20 after 10 PM. Proceeds will support this fall’s Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival scheduled for September 19-21. Tickets available at all Ticketmaster locations and at Downtown Home and Garden. Charge by phone at 763-TKTS or online at Donations are tax-deductible.

Sunday, April 27, 1-5 PM spend Earth Day in the Kerrytown Neighborhood. Also Thursday, May 29, 7-9 PM there will be a Kerrytown Neighborhood block party with live music and activities. Both events will be in the Farmers Market area downtown Ann Arbor, MI.


(See the Adventure Journal Archives at for Part I.) Friday, February 28 Piste, Mexico Continued. . . Just before the sun set outside the budget hotel, Dawn and I wandered through the town of Piste to the end of the strip. The big luxury hotels seemed to wait for bus loads of tourists from Cancun that never came. Such tourists, as one person described them, had long finger nails and wore visors with “Cancun” sparkling in sequence across the top.

At the other end of town there was an old church. The setting sun beyond silhouetted the bell towers against a pink and peach sky. The building was boarded up but across the plaza by the basket ball court there was a newer church. Those doors were wide open. We wandered in and sat in the second to last row. The altar at the other end of the room was far away. The size of a gymnasium, modern concrete architecture gave it little personality. The town must have outgrown the other church.

A woman rushed around behind where we sat and soon had unfastened the rope which she then pulled with all of her might. One of two bells on the roof rang, calling the town’s people to mass. The woman, framed by the doorway, wore the traditional Mexican dress that was white as white can be. The front was colorfully embroidered with a jungle of flowers in true Yucatan style. The bell resonated above for a moment, sounding similar to a tin can as the woman gave us a smile. A few of her teeth were definitely missing.

On our way back to the low budget hotel, we took the back road through neighborhoods where the houses had many open doors and windows. Lights were turning on inside as it got darker outside, illuminating hammocks swinging in the front rooms, plastic flowers and books on the shelves, pastel paint on the walls. Each home was cozy and welcoming even to our foreign eyes as we passed in the alley. Not many tourists wandered away from the turquoise water and sandy beaches. We were glad we had.

Finally in darkness, we continued 3 kilometers beyond the hotel to the Chichen Itza ruins to see the nightly “sound and light show”. I sat in the grass because there was a cloud of cigarette smoke above the people in the audience in the plastic chairs. The grand pyramid, as tall as a sky scraper, was lit up in a brilliant neon purple. It was unrealistically glowing and at the same time the stone wall above the ancient ball court flashed silhouettes of warriors fighting. The sound effects, men yelling and swards clanking, must have scared the jaguars in the surrounding forests. The announcer relayed mythical stories over the loud speaker in Spanish as lights flashed around and through the temples. The drama continued, and “El Castillo” the grand pyramid soon became neon pink. Then I saw one shooting star in the sky. If only the Mayans could see this place now, I thought. Dawn had rented the headset with the English translation. Maybe she had a different experience.

Saturday, March 1, 2003 Piste, Mexico The next morning, I awoke to the churning and wobbling of the ceiling fan above my bed in the low budget hotel. My eyes then met the eyes of a German man on his tip toes who looked in through the open window. “Good morning,” I said to him. He also said, “Good Morning” and then disappeared. At least I wasn’t bothered by small animals or insects during the night.

We had breakfast at the restaurant across the street. Four tables sat on the sidewalk inches from high speeding trucks. One truck carried a load of innocent and noisy pigs. The sight made me cry, all wedged and jammed in there together. Being a vegetarian, the breakfast quesidillas tasted too meaty. Maybe lard? I resorted to the “fruit plate” since it looked good at the next table — bananas and watermelon. Yum! Dawn and I both had Mexican “bandera” (flag) omelets with tomato, onion and green pepper — red, white and green!

We spent the day wandering around the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and climbed to the tippy-top of the grand pyramid. Just as herds of Cancun tourists were squeezing in through the main gates, we inched by them on our way out. We caught the three-hour bus to Cancun at 2 PM. In downtown Cancun, we hopped into a taxi and sped to Porto Juarez where we took a ferry over to Isla Mujeres, the Island of the Women.

That evening after settling into the best little hotel, we were roaming the island streets. It happened to be “Carnival” (a spring festival) meaning young girls (and old girls) dressed in orange, blue and red totos with feather trimmings, wearing gold shoes and headdresses, were dancing to loud music in every street. Giant speakers on the backs of pickup trucks were controlled by proud men, blasting rhythmic salsas. It was like New Orleans, a 24 hour party.

We walked to the end of one street and onto North Beach where we turned left. We were soon content in the swings that hung at a bar near the water. This was the best way to drink margaritas and eat crunchy tortilla chips with salsa “bandera” — right there on the beach — in swings! I had to be careful not to get too excited. Smacking into the bar was easy to do. Maybe this was how the bartender knew when patrons had too much. Thick wood seats roped to the overhang above our heads held us in the conversation.

Sunday, March 2, 2003 Isla Mujeres, Mexico The next morning we rented bikes and rode fearlessly around the island. We stopped to view the sea turtles. Oh my gosh. They were soooo cute! So so so cute, swimming frantically around blue circular pools. This save-the-turtles operation rescues the eggs before the little ones hatch. They raise the turtles and set them free when they are hearty enough to have a chance of surviving. I took one of my best photos ever here.

Soon above the bushes on the left side of the road, a large white stucco house in the shape of a giant conch shell(!) appeared. I stopped my vehicle to take a picture. What a fun little place. Someday I will buy this house! A mermaid must live here. I was sure.

Back in the center of town we were surrounded by dancing women with feather headdresses and silver shoes. We returned the bikes and took the long way back to the hotel along the beach. There were several bars where the waves we re slowly creeping up toward the bar stools — I mean — swings. We had to stop for some salsa “bandera” and more crunchy tortilla chips.

Monday, March 3, 2003 Isla Mujeres, Mexico The next day was our last full day in the Mexican sun. We booked a day tour to Isla Contoy. At 8 AM, after excellent coffee at a small cafe next door to our hotel, we were trying on snorkel masks and fins. Soon we were slathered in suntan lotion as the motor boat roared out into the vast turquoise waters. The Caribbean Sea was so beautiful — hues of blues and greens everywhere. In the distance, Isla Contoy and its many palm trees awaited our arrival.

But first, we would dive and explore the coral reef with the snorkel gear. It was somewhat of a shock to keel overboard and go from dry breezes to wet, wet water. But everyone did. Our tour group was twelve people not including the captain and his mate. We were four people from Italy, four girls from Mexico, a couple from Germany and Dawn and I from Michigan. We smiled and nodded at each other mostly.

The reef was a nice underwater cosmos. I ended up on my own, swimming down to the sandy bottom and back, practicing my snorkel technique. The rest of the group was ahead, hovering over the thick of the reef. I was worried I would accidentally kick a coral or another snorkeler so I stayed nearer the boat. The water was clear but murky and dark and confining compared to the Red Sea where I had snorkeled last. This was wonderful for Mexico, but not nearly the rainbow of brilliant color I had imagined. I found more fun testing my breath, diving toward the sand and following the bigger fish than trying to avoid disturbing the sea life.

After another hour in the boat we were soon ashore at Isla Contoy — yet another beautiful place. Dawn and I immediately headed down a sandy path into the heart and remote edges of this island. A short trek and we knew more than the ten other members of our group who huddled on the shoreline near the boats waiting for the grilling to begin.

After climbing the blue lookout tower that looked like an army garrison, Dawn and I were also on the beach waiting for lunch. Free beer, actually included in the price of the tour, we had a few Coronas and enjoyed the sunshine. I wasn’t interested in the large fish smashed inside the giant two-sided grillers. Instead, I performed a personal ceremony for them having sacrificed their lives. I heard they were tasty.

I ate guacamole and those crunchy tortilla chips and all the other fixings just not the fish. Lunch was great. But the highlight of my entire trip to Mexico was meeting, befriending and admiring the sting ray. I never did get his name but he had such a personality and somehow spoke with such clarity as if to say, “I know you are all here to eat fish and drink beer and play in the sunshine. You are welcome to use my beach as long as I get the leftovers. I promise to be on my best behavior and you must promise to leave me whatever you don’t eat.”

It really was like he could talk and like this black triangular thing, swimming in the shallow water at our knees, could have won the hearts of humans worldwide! He was the sweetest, most handsome and adorable sting ray I have ever met. He was sooo nice. It seemed he liked to be pet and would swim at close range so one’s hand and fingers could caress his most divine back. The best I can describe is it was the feeling of one of those IHOP pancakes cooked in oil where the edges are crispy and the center is soft and full of syrup! This is exactly what this sting ray felt like as he floated by. The edges of his being were a little rough while his entire backside was sooo soft and squishy! So squishy! I wanted to lie in a big hammock made of him! He was so sweet.

Nearby there were two star fish who didn’t have quite the same personality, but they actually moved around on the sandy floor under the sparkling shallow water. I took their picture wondering if they had any idea how good looking they were.

Another beer later and we were back on the loud speed boat headed back to Isla Mujeres. From there, Dawn and I headed to our favorite swing set on the North Beach. Later we had dinner and were soon fast asleep, warm with a sunburn and tired, so tired.

Tuesday, March 4, 2003 Isla Mujeres, Mexico The next morning we were up early having breakfast at the Redeye Cafe. Two hours later on liftoff heading back to subzero Michigan, I gazed out the little round window next to me, down and down to the Caribbean Sea. There they were — a wall of five-star hotels lining the narrow strip of land which is the famous “Cancun”. It was a solid barrier of high rise hotels, blocking the view, blocking the adventures of Mexico. The tourists were sitting at swimming pools inland from the beach. I think they missed most of Mexico’s charm. Heather O’Neal Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel Ann Arbor, Michigan (734) 369-3107

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