Las Vegas

We had originally planned to hike the Water Tank Trail in Escalante after the St. George Marathon, but the forecast was calling for rain in the region so we scrapped that plan for fear of getting caught in a flash flood in the canyon.  We opted to go to Vegas last minute to feed the tummies – my legs thanked that decision.

Nowadays Vegas is less about gambling, and more about food and entertainment.  The day we arrived in Vegas was also the day of the big Conor-Khabib fight at the T-Mobile arena.  Rooms were going for at least $400 a night on the strip.  The cheapest was the Trump Hotel, but I would never give my money to anything with the Trump name.  So we ended up at the Westin @ Lake Las Vegas in Henderson for a night (we had already booked a room @ Delano for the next day).

Entrance to the Westin.

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The stay was pretty unremarkable, and there really wasn’t much to do there other than lounge by the pool.  But it was a great way to catch up on some sleep and rest.  We did have the pre-requisite post-race steak dinner @ Sonoma Cellar Steakhouse.

We checked out early in the morning so we could get to the Strip, check in, and start exploring.

I used my points from Chase Sapphire to book a suite (all rooms in Delano are suites) @ Delano.  I personally like staying at non casino properties as they tend to be more quiet, and if I ever return to Vegas in the future, I would definitely stay at Delano again.

Vegas is all about show.  Everything is bigger, splashier, and more ostentatious.  The only place that can beat Vegas in this department is probably Dubai, and I’ll let you know for sure after we return from our Dubai/Africa trip next month.

Lunch was @ Milos located in the Cosmopolitan.  If you like clean Greek/Mediterranean seafood, this is the place to go.  Their grilled octopus was to die for.  Their salmon tartare was just as heavenly – even Joe who doesn’t eat salmon (due to the fishiness) liked it.

Went to an escape room after lunch – we didn’t even survive the easiest room.  Sometimes when you’re life isn’t on the line, there’s no true urgency.

Dinner reservation was @ Bardot, a French bistro in Aria.  The duck with the raspberry sauce was amazing!

Surely, we didn’t have any room left for dessert, but we made room and shared a mille feuille from Aria Patisserie before heading off to the David Copperfield show.

On our way back to CA, we stopped by the art installation by Ugo Rondinone.  It’s unclear how much longer they’ll keep the Seven Magic Mountains at its location but it will at least remain there by the end of this year.

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Sticks out like a sore thumb in the drab desert.

Now thinking back, going to Vegas after the marathon was definitely a better choice than going hiking.  We got to gorge before returning to our austere living of chicken breasts with celery & carrots.

St. George Marathon

Entry into the St. George marathon used to be on a lottery system, which always turned me off because I hate the unknown.  However, in 2017 they scrapped the lottery system due to the decrease in demand thanks to a crop of new downhill races like Revel siphoning the runners.  So this year, I decided I’d run the St. George marathon.  The goal was to qualify for NYC.  NYC is another lottery race, but there is a guaranteed entry if runners can meet the qualifying standard.  For a woman my age, I’d have to run faster than 3:38, which I missed at this year’s Boston by a minute and 18 seconds (interestingly, qualifying for NYC is harder than qualifying for Boston).

I felt that my chances of qualifying for NYC were pretty good at St. George given the monster drop in elevation (2000+ft)  from start to finish.  The problem with downhill race is that if not trained properly, the race eats up your quads and you’ll end up finishing slower that you had planned.  So for this race, I was OK missing a lot of my tempo stamina runs, but I made sure I did a lot of lower body strengthening exercises focusing on my quads and gluts – squats, lunges, dead lifts, bridges, you name it, I did it all.  My peak weekly training miles never exceeded 35 miles a week, as opposed to a normal training cycle, that peak mileage would have been closer to 50 miles a week.  As race day approached, I started to worry that I wasn’t running enough and started to have doubts about being able to qualify for NYC, so I begrudgingly adjusted my goal to just qualifying for Boston 2020.

The race was on a Saturday, which meant we had to take Friday off to drive over to Utah for packet pickup.  We left early in the morning because we wanted to hit Vegas for lunch.  Stopped by Block 16 at Cosmopolitan for some donuts @ the District and some fried chicken @ Hatti B’s for Joe.

Walked around Aria and the Crystal shopping center to burn off some of the food we just had before getting back on the road.

St. George is about an hour and 45 minute drive from Vegas.  By the time we got to the Dixie convention center for packet pick up it was almost 5PM, which was perfect for dinner (for me).  To make things easier, I decided to have their pasta dinner at the convention center since I didn’t want to run around town looking for pasta.

Runners at the pasta dinner…

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After scoffing down 2 full plates of pasta with bolognese sauce we were off to check-in.  The plan was to go to bed ASAP, but I had to get in a shake out run to loosen up the muscles.  Luckily, no one was on the lone treadmill at the facility, and I was able to get the 30-minute run out of the way.  Unfortunately, the room we stayed in was too loud (street noise and AC noise), I ended up getting only 3 hours of sleep before getting up at 3AM to get ready.

Having run a few races, I’m pretty good at figuring out how to prepare for the pre-race wait.  Knowing that it was going to be cold and possibly rainy at the start, I brought my Boston heat poncho with me, and it worked like a charm.  Found a spot with good wind protection and waited until the race was about to begin.

St. George had pacers for 3:35 and 3:45, and nothing in between.  The last time I ran with a pacer was back in 2013 at CIM since Boston doesn’t have pacers and the only races I’ve done since CIM were all at Boston.  My goal was to run a sub 3:40 so I positioned myself between the 2 pacers.

My plan was to run conservatively the first half so that I wouldn’t blow up in the second half.  It was kind of hard to gauge my pace in the beginning as some people were taking off like rockets, and others were running at a much slower pace.  Unlike at Boston, everyone around you is running the same pace as you would be.  The 3:45 pacer started catching up to me and I knew my pace was too slow.  I decided to run with him for a mile so that I could settle into a rhythm, and then I asked how he was planning to run the race.  When he told me he was running even pace throughout, I knew I had to take off.

My first 2 miles were in the 8:44, 8:36 range.  For the next 5 miles, I averaged a 8:08 pace, and it felt effortless thanks to the downhills, and this was when I thought, maybe I could go for a 3:35.  Then the big Veyo hill came, and my pace dropped to a 9:10.  Miles 8-12 were slower miles (8:45) thanks to the tiny uphills.  I knew once I was past this point it was all downhill.  Miles 13-18 averaged 8:00, then something happened at mile 19 when my pace dropped to a 8:44.  I think it was the headwind and slight incline that I wasn’t expecting.  This was about when I was attempting to draft off people, and when the shin splints and calf cramps started.  Both these cramps could stop me dead in my tracks, and I decided to change my running gait to ease the pain.  I started lengthening my strides, and that worked, which would explain the 7:51, 7:25, 8:04, 7:58, 7:59 pace for the next 5 miles.  I took advantage of the icy hot aid stations (they have volunteers rubbing icy hot all over where your cramps are).  I was amazed that it had actually helped – LOVED IT.

At mile 25 I caught up to a girl who had been running and chatting with me at around mile 6.  She was walking and I asked if she was OK.  She said exasperatingly, “I just want this to end”.  I decided that I’d run with her to get her going again through encouragement and mental games.  Obviously this was one of my slowest miles (8:53), but it was also my most memorable mile.  However, I had to take off when I saw the clock on the road, and had erroneously thought that I was about to miss my 3:40 goal.  I hadn’t realized that the time on the clock reflected the time that had elapsed since the start of the race, and I didn’t cross the start line until a minute and 38 seconds after the race had started.  When I had .2 miles left, I saw that I was on pace to possibly finish under 3:38, and it was a race against time to the finish.

Final time – 3:37:44.  I qualified for NYC!

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Sedona – Path Less Traveled

I had wanted to hike Soldier’s Pass, but we were 30 minutes late arriving to the tiny parking lot, which meant no parking for us.  So we headed over to the Fay Canyon trail head, which is billed as a easy hike but with a spectacular vista at “the end”.

The hike was truly a walk in the park, with a flat terrain and rock walls to the sides.

This rock wall looks like a choo-choo train…

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The trail was flat up until the end of the maintained trail.  Then you’re looking at hiking up this…

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Must scale this to see the view…

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Most people stopped right here, but we kept going only because we wanted to see what was beyond.  After a certain point the trail grew thinner and fainter.  At one point, the trail was no longer obvious, but we saw cairns and started following those.  We ended up against a cliff wall, and this is the view everyone else missed…

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Resting and enjoying the view…

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Where’s Waldo?  This shows you the sheer size of the place.  There were darker marks along the rock walls indicating water falls.  I can only imagine how pretty this place would be when there’s water flowing.

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Again, where’s Waldo?  The best part was that we had the whole place to ourselves.

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This was a hike that was billed to be an easy hike, and was supposed to only last 55 minutes, but ended up taking us 4 hours to complete.  I’m so glad we kept pushing on because it felt more like an adventure than just any old hike.

Back to the spot where everyone else had turned around…

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After 4 hours, we were both hungry and a cold beer sounded like the perfect remedy.  The plan was to hit another hiking trail, but after 2 beers each we were done.

We did manage to check out the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village before our dinner reservation at Mariposa.  Joe really liked a piece by Robert Charon he saw at the Renee Taylor Gallery, and I’m thinking it might be a good 45th birthday present come September.

Object of Desire

Shoes.

There are some women, like my sister, who value comfort over style, so they’re OK living in cloggy Merrells.  For the rest of us, shoes are pieces of work – to be admired, appreciated, and desired.  My Stuart Weitzmans are all coming with me, along with my passport and birth certificate, if there is ever a need to evacuate the house.  There’s something about shoes that men just don’t understand.  On the flip side, the equivalent of shoes for men are cars.  Women, we don’t get it, but something about a shiny sports car grabs their attention like no other.

During our trip to Sedona, Joe’s car was a head turner.  I said to Joe, if you want to stay incognito, drive the Yaris, but if you want men flocking to you like flies to poo, then drive your new car.

Park attendant: What do I need to do to get one of these?

Joe:  Sell your soul to the devil.

Joe saw a couple of young men posing next to his car taking pictures.

Valet attendant (admiringly): That’s a 2018 right?

Joe: Yeah it’s a 2018.

Even the old guy driving the much more expensive car couldn’t take his eyes off the shiny new one.

Casa Sedona Inn

Casa Sedona Inn is a boutique hotel with 16 rooms.  We were lucky to snag the last room available for Memorial Day weekend.

We ended up with the Sierra Vista room.

Bathroom with a jacuzzi tub, which we never got a chance to use.

The room had it’s own patio entry.

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Dining, patio, and ‘lobby’.

They serve breakfast (except Mondays and Tuesdays) with some interesting items such as truffle brie scramble eggs, savory ham and cheese waffles.

After we checked in, I took a 2-hour nap before venturing out again.

There’s an iconic image of Cathedral Rock I (along with everyone else) wanted to capture, and the place to be is the Crescent Moon picnic area located within Red Rock Crossing.

We got there about an hour and a half before sunset.

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As did everyone else including a wedding party…

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Since we had dinner reservations at Dahl & DiLuca, we didn’t get to stick around for the Cathedral Rock to turn orange.  Dinner was yummy though…

Sedona

Sedona is one place that keeps drawing us back, and there’s always something new to explore each time we’re there.  Our first trip to Sedona was in 2006 when we had just moved to Tucson, and were in awe of the red rocks as we were driving into town.

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Our second time there was in 2008 when we stumbled upon the West Fork hiking trail.

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Since moving to CA in 2010, we’ve been busy exploring places locally, and hadn’t been back to AZ in 8 years.  Joe wanted to bring the car on a road trip, and living in coastal CA one only has a few options – go north toward Napa, south to Mexico, or inland.  Mexico’s out given how dangerous Tijuana is, and Napa we’ve been not too long ago, so we opted inland.  Palm Springs, which is 2 hours away, didn’t sound exciting enough.  Neither did Phoenix and Tucson.  Personally, I think the most beautiful area in all of United States is in the southwest – southern Utah and northern Arizona.  Since we’ll be heading to Vegas and southern Utah in October, we thought, “why not Sedona?”

We cobbled together a last minute trip for Memorial Day weekend.  Snagged the last room at Casa Sedona Inn, and we were off to do some hiking.  FYI, avoid Sedona Memorial Day weekend – too busy and crowded, good luck trying to find a parking spot at the trail head if you arrive 30 minutes after gate opens.

We left home a little after 11PM Friday, and drove 7.5 hours to Sedona – best thing about driving at night, no traffic.  We got to the Mescal trail head parking lot @ 6:45AM – early enough to still get a parking spot, and we were off towards Devils Bridge.  For those with high clearance vehicles, they can drive right to the Devils Bridge trail head.  For the rest of us we had to either park at the Mescal trail head or the Vultee Arch entrance, and then hike towards the Devils Bridge trail head.  Of the 2 options, I recommend parking at the Mescal trail head, as the hike in is shorter.

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Devils Bridge…

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We were fortunate enough that there wasn’t a huge crowd by the time we got to Devils bridge – if you want to hike this and avoid the crowd, start early.

We witnessed 2 proposals on the bridge.

Us, old married folks, on the bridge…

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Before reaching Devils Bridge there’s a path that splits off to give you a view of the underside of the bridge, which I think it’s totally worth checking out.  A lot of people bypassed this…

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By the time we got back to the car, it was only 10:30AM, so we were off to the next hiking trail since check-in wasn’t until 3PM.

Cathedral Rock.

We had more fun with this one because it was scrambling up the rock.  But first, we needed to find parking, which the lot was full.  It took some driving around – going to the overflow parking lot, Yavapai Vista, which was not ideal; looping back to the Cathedral Rock parking lot, and tracking hikers who were heading back to their cars.

Beginning of the trail…

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Going up…

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Photo op along the ledge…

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The vista from the top…

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By the time we were done I was ready to crash since I had gotten 1 hour of sleep in the last 30 hours.

Time to check in…but not before checking out Chapel of the Holy Cross…

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World Majors

It’s only been 2 weeks since the Boston Marathon, and I’ve signed up for another one.  In the last 3 years, I’ve been happy just to commit myself to 1 marathon a year.  Part of the reason was that I was just too burnt out training for Boston every year.  However, this year the training felt much easier and less tedious.  Naturally, I’m ready to start training again for another marathon.  Plus, I know if I don’t have a race to train for, I’ll just slack off for the rest of the year until Boston training cycle starts up again in December.  In the past, I’ve just turned into a de-conditioned marshmallow during off season, and I really hate how it feels.

I’ve heard about the World Majors – Boston, Chicago, NYC, Berlin, London, and Tokyo, where you run all six and get a special medal.  I’ve thought about it in the past, and knew that it was just a money making gimmick and brushed off the idea of wanting to attempt it.  My one goal has always been to be a Boston streaker (10+ consecutive Bostons), but lately I feel I need another goal to make things interesting, so I’ve decided to complete the World Majors.  Most of the races are hard to get in due to demand.  A lot of them take applicants through a lottery, and I just hate the lottery system.  Luckily, both Chicago and NYC have a qualifying time guarantee entry, and I can easily get into Chicago with my Boston time, but NYC qualifying times are actually tighter.  I needed a 3:38:00 for NYC, which I missed by 1:18 @ Boston.  So the plan is to run a faster time this fall to get in for NYC 2019.  And what could be more perfect than St. George in October.

St. George used to be on a lottery system up until 2016.  I’d always wanted to run St. George because I hear it’s fast and beautiful, but never applied due to the application process.  However, starting from 2017, they opened up the registration for first come first serve up to a cap of 7,800 runners as the demand for the race waned (there are so many other fast races to choose from, and St. George occurs after Boston registration has closed for the following year).  Perfect for me.

Here’s the big picture plan:

  1. Run sub 3:38 @ St. George October 2018
  2. Boston April 2019
  3. NYC November 2019
  4. Boston April 2020
  5. Chicago October 2020
  6. Boston April 2021

Somewhere in there I need to get lucky with the lottery for Berlin, Tokyo, and London.

I like to plan out my life 3 years in advance.  Hopefully, by the time I retire in 5 years and 8 months, I’ll have completed the World Majors.

The Garbage Bag That Saved the Marathon

There’s no doubt about it.  The 2018 Boston Marathon was brutal.  I underestimated how cold it would be, thinking that it was going to be a replay of 2015, which was cold with drizzling rain.  Since I ran a PR in 2015, I figured the cold and rain were welcome news.  However, this year it was colder (apparently the coldest in 30 years), with driving rain, and 25 mph head wind.

I was prepared to run in a singlet like I did in 2015, but luckily I decided to bring a long running shirt that I could peel off later in the race.  I did prepare throwaway fleece pants, jacket, gloves, and an ear flap beanie hat to wear on route to the Athlete’s Village; but I didn’t have any rain gear, so I got a Kirkland drawstring trash bag from my sister, cut a hole on top and 2 on the sides, and voila, I had myself a rain jacket.  I was certain I was prepared.

That was until I got out of the T at Boston Commons.  It was raining, and before I had even gotten onto the bus my socks and shoes were already wet.  I was not prepared.

Luckily the bus was toasty, but as soon as I got off I was shivering.  I needed to start moving.  I so wished I could run in my throw away jacket and fleece, but that would’ve been unwise given that they would just get soaked and weigh me down.  I ended up keeping the beanie, and leaving the trash bag on so that I would not get any wetter during the race.  I believe that decision ended up saving me from a DNF.

Given the ‘cooler’ race conditions, I had set to go for the elusive 3:35 the day before the race.  However, once the race got going, the goal quickly turned into ‘just try to survive this’.  There really was no other option but to keep moving, because I knew as soon as I stopped moving I’d freeze.  I think the wind made a huge difference in how this race felt compared to 3 years ago.  Not only did it make everything feel colder, it also was hard to run against.  As a result, I hopscotched from one tall man/woman to another to run behind throughout the race – one of the benefits of being 5’3.  That helped tremendously.  Granted it slowed me down a little since some were running at a slightly slower pace, but it made the conditions bearable.

You’ll often hear that running a marathon is a mental game.  It truly is.  How you play the game will determine how well you do.  All negative thoughts need to be banished.  Thoughts such as “if I were to collapse right now, would there be medical personnel to come fetch me” or  “maybe I should just stop now, because there’s another 25 miles of cold, wind, and rain”.  Yes, these thoughts will pop up, but it’s important to shut it down immediately, and not allow them to grow roots.  Instead, I conjure up all the reasons I must finish the race, “I didn’t spend all this money to fly out here just to drop out”, “I need to finish in the top 3 of all the runners from my city”,  “this is the year I can get a huge cushion to BQ for next year”, or “the family is waiting, I shouldn’t let them worry about me”.   One trick that worked for me was breaking up 26.2 miles into segments and individual miles, and to conquer them one at a time.  Knowing the course and knowing what to expect helped a great deal.  When I know that the first 16 miles are mostly downhill it’s easier to stomach, and then when the hills come, I just tackle them one at a time.  The last 6 miles is just cruise control going downhill/flat to the finish line.

The usual spectator crowd was a little thinner this year, and it was nice to run in relative peace, because the last thing I wanted to hear was “you’re almost there” when I’ve only covered 1 mile – believe me someone did say that.  However, I did appreciate the ones who were out there cheering us on.  They really didn’t have to given how miserable it was out there in the element.

The volunteers were nothing short of spectacular again this year.

I made sure to take it easy earlier in the race so that I wouldn’t beat up the quads, and it definitely helped because I did not get any of the cramping I got during the last 2 races.  After I crested the last of the Newton hills, I was able to lengthen my stride and pick up the pace.  However, looking back at the data from 2015, I had run faster those last 6 miles that year, and I suspect the head wind this year had a lot to do with the slightly slower pace.  I distinctly remember how tough it was for me to sprint down the home stretch because of the gust.

At the end, I survived this epic misery and actually ran my second fastest marathon (I was racing to get to the end and the hell off that frigid course) and qualified for next year’s race by 15+ minutes.  I remember swearing off running the marathon between miles 20 and 21, but as I was ready to toss my water bottle at the finish line I held on to it and mumbled, “I can use this next year”.  Running the marathon is like going through labor pains (luckily, I’ve never had the misfortune to go through that), you’re hating it at the moment, but once it’s over, you’re ready for another go at it.

Finally, it was a combination of grit determination and strategy that got me through the race, but I honestly think the garbage bag (and the beanie) made a huge difference between finishing and being forced off the course by hypothermia.

2018 BM

http://www.heretocreatelegend.adidas.com/id/AojjcGVm5v

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…

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Here’s what it looks like at night…

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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.

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Crab Tostadas…

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

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

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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…

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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…

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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.

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Capturing palm trees reflected off the infinity pool during sunset…

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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…

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They squeal like puppies…

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

And of course the adults…

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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.