Valentine’s in Cabo

Work has been demanding for both Joe and myself, and we were overdue for some true R&R.  We’re not talking about a vacation that requires flying across the world, jammed pack with sight seeing and activities.  What we needed was a vacation that asked as little from us as possible.  That meant, taking the shortest possible flight and sitting on the beach.  Sure we could simply drive down the hill and sit on the local beach, but it’s just not the same.  Staycations somehow are not true vacations – you’re constantly distracted by ‘chores’.

Any flight time over 3 hours just becomes tedious at this point in our lives.  Hawaii is a 6-hour flight, but Cabo is 2 hours away.  So we decided to go to Cabo for Valentine’s week.

Now, we also wanted to get rid of the hassle of driving around looking for places to eat while on vacation, so we opted for an all-inclusive package.  Luckily, CostcoTravel has a good selection of these packages to choose from.  We ended up going with the Marquis Los Cabos All-inclusive package because it was a great deal, and it was adults only – again, I have nothing against children, I’m just accustomed to peace and quiet.

Plus, how can one resist a hotel lobby that looks like this…


Here’s what it looks like at night…


We flew out early Monday morning, and checked in to the hotel by 11AM.  Since our room wasn’t going to be ready for another 3 hours, we headed down to Dos Mares for lunch.

Here’s the view of the central pool looking out toward the ocean from our table.


Crab Tostadas…


Yucatan ceviche – I had this every single day, it was that yummy!


We walked around after lunch waiting for our room to be ready.  Here’s a view from above.


Some other views of the property…

Everyday was essentially the same – wake up, eat breakfast, hit the gym, lounge poolside, eat lunch poolside, more lounging until it was dinner time.  Rinse and repeat.

We did get a glimpse of breaching whales as well as stingrays leaping out of the water while lounging poolside.  I don’t have a picture of the flying stingrays, as they are hard to capture, but here’s an image from BBC Earth….

It is not known why mobula rays leap out of the water (credit: Octavio Aburto / iLCP)

It’s an amazing sight to behold as it is just so out of the ordinary.  It took me by surprise when I first saw one leap out of the water.

This is the view we got when things were less exciting…


Different shades of blue…

The only variation to the routine was dinner.  They have 4 restaurants on site for dinner – Sakke (Japanese), Pergola (Italian), Vista Ballena (Mexican), and Canto Del Mar (French).  Sakke was the first night and it was very average.  We tried to get in to Pergola the next night, but it was a wait so we ended up ordering room service as we really had no other option – Vista Ballena and Canto Del Mar were closed that night, and we didn’t want to repeat Sakke.

For Valentine’s, all the ladies were handed a rose…


We made reservations for Valentine’s 6-course tasting dinner at Canto Del Mar ahead of time.  This is probably the fanciest Valentine’s dinner the two of us have ever had in the 17 years we’ve been together.  Sure beats Chipotle that one year in Tucson…

For our last dinner we made sure we got to Pergola early to secure a seat.

You can’t go wrong with this view while enjoying the yummy seafood risotto.


Capturing palm trees reflected off the infinity pool during sunset…


All in all, this was a great, albeit short, relaxing trip.  Am I ready to go back to work now?

Not quite…


Sichuan – Pandas Galore

Our itinerary brought us back to Chengdu for our flight home.  We were to spent the night in Chengdu and fly out early afternoon, which meant we had the morning to do whatever.  And that ‘whatever’ ended up being the main Giant Panda Breeding Center outside city center.

We made sure to get there first thing in the morning since we really only had 2 1/2 hours to burn.  By the time we got there the pandas were just waking up to their morning feeding.  This place has pandas of varying ages – babies to adults.

Juvenile pandas…





They squeal like puppies…

Baby panda head looks to be too big for its body…

And of course the adults…




Something about the way they eat bamboo is mesmerizing…

Different eating technique…

An of course you have the red pandas…

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In all honesty we could have spent all day if we could, but we were happy we got a chance to visit this facility before leaving China.

Xian – Terracotta Warriors

The Terracotta Warriors!  This is the highlight of Xian.  It is on some people’s bucket list that they’d fly into Xian from other parts of China (usually Beijing/Shanghai) for the day just to see the Terracotta Warriors.  The warriors are burial soldiers accompanying Qin Shi Huang 秦始皇, the first emperor of China in 220 BC.  There are reportedly 8,000 warriors, and only 2,000 have been unearthed.  They’ve held off excavating the rest as they’re trying to figure out how to preserve the colors once the ceramic is exposed to oxygen.  Apparently, the oxidation process destroys the pigments within minutes after the terracotta are unearthed.

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There are 3 pits, and the first pit is the largest…




What’s amazing is that no infantryman has the exact same features.  If you look closely, they all look distinct.  We joked that the one on the bottom right looks like dad.

Each figure stands at 6 feet tall, and the generals are even taller.


The terracotta warriors were discovered in 1974 when farmers were digging wells due to the drought.  One of them came upon some ceramic pieces during the digging process.  Some believe that had he dug further north of the site the terracotta would have never been discovered.


The work is not complete, as they are still working at putting the pieces together.  Apparently the warring factions back in the days had looted and smashed the burial figures when they came upon the site.

Pits 2 and 3 weren’t quite as impressive in terms of size, but they did exhibit the standing/crouching archers, as wells as the mid/high ranking officers.

Check out the details on the sole…





If one can only visit China once in his/her lifetime, this would be it.  The sheer size and craftsmanship from more than 2000 years ago is mind boggling.  If this doesn’t impress, then nothing will.

Xian – Sights

Xian is rich in history – not only did it serve as the capital for numerous dynasties, it was also the starting point of the silk road, making it an interesting city to visit due to all its foreign influences.  Any Chinese history buff would love spending time here, but even non-history buffs like us could appreciate the richness of this city.

On the way to our first sightseeing, we saw tons of high rises on the outskirts of Xian proper.  Some were in the process of being built, and most seemed unoccupied.  Our tour guide told us that half of the buildings are in fact empty.

The government just keeps building to promote growth regardless of demand.  I suspect Xian can accommodate all the homeless in California with its empty buildings.

The following is just a collage of places we visited during the day…

Qianling Mausoleum where Wu Zetian 武則天 is buried.

My very first two hump camel!

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Tang Dynasty (618-907) SanCai “three coloured” glazed burial wares…

Famen Temple



When we got back to the city of Xian, we had our tour guide drop us off at the South gate of the city wall so that we could explore the city on our own.

This ancient city wall is completely intact, and one can bike atop the wall and complete the loop in 1.5 to 2 hours.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time (a recurring theme on this trip) so we just walked around and enjoyed the city night scene from atop the wall..

The next stop was the Muslin Quarter for some night market eats.  On our way there we got a chance to ogle at the beautiful bell tower.


I must say the city is definitely very photogenic at night.


The Muslim quarter was teeming with people.  Rule of thumb – if you see a line in front of a food stall, you make sure you get in on that line no matter how intimidating that line looks.


China is slowly becoming a cashless society.  Everywhere you see are QR codes.  Just scan the code with your Alipay app on your phone, and money is deducted directly from your bank account to pay for that pomegranate juice.


These guys leave no meat behind on that lamb carcass.  They put vultures to shame…

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Here’s a collage of the food offerings at the night market…

I wish we could have spent more time checking out the night market, but in consideration for the 2 elderly parents we had to call it a night.

The next day was the big day – the Terracotta Warriors…

Sichuan – Scenery

The place Sichuan conjures up images of spicy food for most people, but for some of us, it’s all about the pandas!  Of course there’s more to Sichuan than pandas.  There is the scenic Jiuzhaigou 九寨溝 we had wanted to visit until the most recent earthquake over the summer essentially closed it to the public for the foreseeable future.  So we ended up splitting up our time in China between Sichuan and Shaanxi – Pandas vs. Terracotta Warriors.

While in Chengdu, the tour guide had convinced the sister that Dujiangyan 都江堰 was a must see.  It’s considered an engineering marvel – a ‘dam’ designed around 256 BC to irrigate the plains.  In 2000, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sights along the way…

It was a nice side trip.  If we had to re-plan the trip I’d personally scrap this place, and spend all my time at the main giant panda base.

The original plan was to hold pandas, but we later found out that it was no longer offered after a few pandas had died from contracting illnesses from tourists.  Bummed!  The confusing part was that there were some tour groups still offering ‘close encounters’ with pandas, so who knows what the real deal is.  As part of our tour, we went to the smaller giant panda base in Dujianyan.


There were only 8 pandas!  I think San Diego Zoo has more pandas than this place!

Most were sleeping as we went in the afternoon.  FYI, pandas are active in the AM during feeding time, so if you want to see any ‘moving’ pandas make sure you go in the morning.

Disappointed, to say the least.  Did I just fly all the way to China to see sleeping pandas?!?

Luckily, someone was up…

The evening was spent checking out Chengdu city, which is very metropolitan.  Nice wide roads with modern buildings, putting Taipei to shame.

The way our itinerary was setup was mind boggling thanks to the unforeseen closure of Jiuzhaigou.  Long story short, we were to spend 1 1/2 days in Chengdu, fly out to Xian for 3 days, and then fly back to Chengdu to stay one night before flying home.  Let me just make it clear – I would not recommend this itinerary.

For the next ‘partial’ day, we had planned to hike the giant Buddha @ Leshan as well as taking the 20-minute boat tour to get a different perspective of the Buddha.  Leshan is about a 2-hour drive from Chengdu, and given the time constraint our driver picked us up at the hotel @ 6AM to give us a head start.  Well, luck was not on our side.  We spend 4 hours driving to LeShan thanks to freeway closure.  Safe to say, we didn’t hike Leshan.  We did get on the boat, and that was pretty underwhelming.

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site…


The plan was to leave LeShan ASAP so that we could make our flight to Xian.  The driver was expecting a 4-hour trip back to Chengdu, but guess how long it took us?  A little over an hour *facepalm*.

The travel gods were not on our side for this leg of the trip, but no worries, we made it up when we returned from Xian…

China – Food

November – our annual pilgrimage to see the parents.  Since mom and dad had decided that they would no longer be flying to the US to see us due to the long, tiring flights (more on that later) 2 years ago, we had been making the trip out to Taiwan every Thanksgiving to spend time with them.  Personally, if it were not for them, I don’t think I would ever visit Taiwan.  It is grey, small, and there isn’t really much to see.  One saving grace was the food, until this trip to China.

I never thought much about Chinese food, because what you get in the US is really ‘bastardized’ Chinese food – it never appealed to me.  So I always fell back on Taiwanese comfort food.  Luckily in Southern California you have your pick of decent Taiwanese food, especially my favorite Taiwanese beef noodle soup.  However, after our trip to China, my opinion of Taiwanese and Chinese food has drastically changed.  The worst food in China is better than any food in Taiwan!  Beef noodle soup?  Go to Lanzhou!  That’s where you get good beef noodle soup.  The broth is clear, yet heavenly tasty, and the noodle has a bite to it – not al dente.  It’s O-M-G!  They even hand make their own noodles in the airport noodle shop.


I don’t even want Taiwanese beef noodle soup anymore.  Just thinking about how I can possibly get my hands on Lanzhou beef noodle soup without flying to China is depressing!

Every province in China has its own specialty.  Sichuan is of course known for spicy food and their hot pot.  Chongqing is spicy savory, and Chengdu is spicy numb (literally, your mouth goes numb).  Spicy numb is not really my cup of tea, but the rest of the food was awesome.  For a Chinese, I’m an anomaly.  I don’t particularly care for rice.  When we go out to eat I’ll only eat a spoonful of rice if at all.  However, when we were in Chengdu I actually had 2 servings of rice per meal because the dishes were so good.

All the dishes were made out of very simple ingredients, but the taste was off the charts.

Not only was the food good, it was cheap!

For 5 people, this fish-based hot pot dinner cost a total of $30 US.  In the US, it would run $15 or more per person.  They gave you unlimited free ingredients to add to the stock, but by the time we were done with the fish inside the pot, we really had no more room for anything else.

In Xian, food was much more tame in comparison.  But the variety of food was eye popping.  Walking through the Muslim Quarter was a feast for the eyes.

The lamb kebab was my favorite, and they have their own wide “biang biang” noodles they’ve even made up a character for.

When people used to tell me that Chinese food is the best in the world, I never believed them until now.  I never thought I’d ever say this, but I would go back to visit China just for the food, and I would definitely make a side trip to Lanzhou for the beef noodle soup.  Yum!

Lesson Learned

I get the daily NYT news alert featuring “California Today” – features and stories that matter to Californians.  This past Friday’s “California Today” featured Borrego Springs, a Dark Sky community that draws stargazers thanks to the low light pollution levels.  It’s also known for it’s quirky metal sculptures, the work of Ricardo Breceda, scattered around town.  Since it’s a couple hour drive from where we are, I decided last minute that we would take a day trip out there this weekend.

Ideally, we should have left first thing in the morning so that we could spend most of the day there.  However, we had to get our regular exercise in – one hour with our personal trainer, and another 45-minute run for me, and an hour of BJJ for Joe.  This meant, we didn’t get to leave until 2PM.

The drive ended up being 2.5 hours given the usual traffic on the 5.  By the time we got to town, it was 4:30PM.  We had about an hour and a half of daylight left to check out the sculptures.

First stop was the Mammoth.  This was the only spot where we got sunlight.


Next up were the dinosaurs.  The sun had already dipped behind the mountains.

T Rex


The car offers a perspective to the size of these sculptures.

We hit the Scorpion and the Grasshopper next.



For the star of the show – The Serpent.



Unfortunately, there were a whole bunch more sculptures we had to bypass as we were short on time.

Since we didn’t have to wait long for night fall, we stuck around for some stargazing.  We had never seen so many stars in our lives.  When we lived in NYC, the only celestial object we could see was the moon.  Tucson opened up our eyes to starry nights, and I routinely got the chance to trace out the big dipper and Orion’s Belt, but we never could make out the Milky Way.

Borrego Springs is on a whole other level.  The sky is FULL of stars, and we got to see the Milky Way for the first time in our lives!

Of course I had to attempt shooting the stars.

Here’s a screen grab of the NYT photo of the Milky Way in Borrega Springs…

Here’s my shot of the Milky Way…


EPIC FAIL!  Talk about ‘photo does not do justice’.

I could not for the life of me figure out how to sharpen the image, other than shortening the shutter speed, but then I wouldn’t get enough light.  Increasing the ISO only made the image too grainy.  The specs for this epically bad photo was ISO 6400, 10mm, shutter speed of 30 secs.  Using the ‘500 rule’ (500/focal length, which in this case is 10mm), my shutter speed should have been set @ 50 secs, but my camera ‘does not go there’.  Later I realized that my settings should have been ISO 3200, 24mm, shutter speed of 20 secs.

Oh well, next time…