Christmas in Cozumel

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! My Christmas was muy excellente – I spent the week with my entire family in Mexico. It was a fun-filled, busy, active week… although there was still plenty of hammock time.

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We all met up in Cozumel, an island near Cancun. There were 13 of us, and we rented a house so we could all be together. It didn’t look anything like the pictures:

selfie-david-destroyed-restaurant

I’m kidding. That’s a nearby waterfront restaurant that was destroyed in a hurricane decades ago and never rebuilt.

I love the Caribbean. The water is crystal clear and warm – unlike the chilly waters of the Pacific in California. The weather forecast looked gloomy when we arrived – it was supposed to rain most of the days we were there. And sure enough, it did. Every morning. And a few times at night. But it was clear and sunny during the days, and we had some gorgeous afternoons.

coast-cozumel-chankanaab

It did rain one afternoon while we were visiting beaches on the other side of the island, but only for a half an hour, and then it cleared up again.

david-waving-cozumel-beach-south-point

Since my sister Laura and I are both certified, the two of us spent an afternoon scuba diving.

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Cozumel has an awesome reef system, and we saw a huge barracuda (it was far away), a 6 foot nurse shark (it was very close), a sting ray, swam through coral arches and tunnels, and saw tons of colorful fishes, ranging from teeny-tiny to a giant grouper.

We snorkeled on other days, too, and I got badly sunburned – so my public service message is to remind you that you can get burned while swimming, so don’t forget to lotion up. Don’t be a dummy, like I was!

We visited Chankanaab, a park on the ocean, where we saw a sea lion show – and I got a kiss from one of its stars, Rocky.

david-sea-lion-kiss-chankanaab

Chankanaab had some good snorkeling, including a protected lagoon where my young nephews and nieces could get a feel for the mask and snorkel before venturing into the ocean. They also have a dolphin habitat, fenced off in the open ocean, and I saw a couple dolphins through the underwater fences.

Cozumel has Mayan ruins, so we visited a couple archaeological sites for a bit of history. This is Ka’na Nah, a pyramid at the San Gervasio site, that was probably in honor of the moon goddess Ix Chel, who was also the goddess of fertility.

david-san-gervasio-mayan-ruins-cozumel

Mayan women from all over the region would make a pilgrimage to Cozumel once in their lifetimes to make offerings to Ix Chel, and near this temple was the ruins of a little village.

We had a kitchen where we stayed, so we went grocery shopping and made a vast majority of our meals there. That made eating well easier for me, because I gave myself a big challenge for this trip. I’m about to embark on a 4-week no carb eating plan (much more on this in my next post), so I wanted to eat as few carbs as possible this week, to ease myself into it.

I did very well. I ate no refined sugar at all. No sweets, no cookies or cakes, nothing. I also didn’t eat any grains or bread products. No bread, no tortillas, to tortilla chips. I also skipped starchy vegetables, so no potatoes. (One minor exception: I ate 1/3 of an ear of corn during one meal, and I tried one palmful of lime-flavored popcorn, because I was curious.)

I did, though, eat a lot of fruit. And while I’ll have to cut out the fruit when I start this new program, I wasn’t willing to cut out the fruit in Mexico. We found some delicious pineapples!

And I gave myself one cheat meal: Christmas dinner. My brother Steven and my sister-in-law Alexis made paella for our big holiday meal. Paella is a saffron rice dish, loaded with seafood and meat. It’s the national dish of Spain, where my father was born, and it’s one of my very favorite foods.

pans-of-paella-stove

I portioned out a generous serving, and loaded the rest of my plate with healthy sides: salad, ceviche, and broccoli. I also had a glass of wine, which is a very rare indulgence for me (I drink 2 or 3 times a year).

paella-broccoli-plate-christmas-meal

What I ate the rest of the time was a lot of protein and a lot of vegetables. I made scrambled eggs nearly every morning (often loaded with vegetables.) The eggs there were very fresh, with vibrantly yellow yolks. So fresh that the supermarket didn’t even sell them in a refrigerated case – they were just stacked up on a regular shelf, like everything else!

I chose wisely on the few occasions when we dined out. My favorite thing I ate at a restaurant was shrimp aquachile, which is a spicier version of ceviche.

shrimp-aquaquile-chankanaab

We took turns making dinner for everyone, and when it was my night, I used the grill to make a simple, delicious dinner. I found whitefish fillets at the grocery store. They were labeled basa rojo, so I thought it might be red snapper (since ‘rojo’ means ‘red’), but it’s actually a type of freshwater catfish.

Laura suggested I make foil pouches for the fish, and that’s what I did. I made a pouch for each fillet, and here’s how I made them:

fish-steamer-bag-grill

Spray the foil with cooking spray, so the fish doesn’t stick. Then add the fish, and drizzle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Then a few sprigs of fresh cilantro, some slices of red onion, some slices of lime, and another drizzle of oil, salt, and pepper. Fold up the pouch and make sure to seal it tightly, because even though you’re putting it on a grill, what you’re actually doing is steaming the fish in its own juices (and the juice from the lime).

My mom helped me make big skewers of vegetables, and I also grilled halved roma tomatoes and eggplant slices. There was a lot to grill!

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I grilled it in batches, and it worked out great. Everything was delicious! And the best part is that seafood and produce is cheap in Mexico. I fed 13 people and only spent around $40!

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Those rectangular things on the right are pieces of nopales cactus pads, which is commonly eaten in Mexico. I threw those on the grill, too, and they cooked up in a couple minutes. Read more about nopales here.

I also exercised a lot. We spent 6 full days in Mexico, and as you’ll see, I worked out on all of the except one:

  • Day 1: A 4-mile walk with Alexis, to the marina and back.
  • Day 2: A 4-mile run, solo. I had planned on running more on this trip, but I didn’t know it would be so humid and sticky, and after one run, I decided to do other things instead.
  • Day 3: My sister Sarah and I were going to walk to a nearby hotel and run stairs, but weather and injury got in the way. A few minutes after we started our walk, it started downpouring, so we took refuge on the patio of a closed restaurant. When it stopped raining, we resumed walking, and a minute or two after that, I stepped off the road when a car passed by, fell, and scraped my knee. We decided to call it a night, and we headed home so I could wash out my cuts.
  • Day 4: An open water swim in the ocean. I swam for around 45 minutes, and covered 2,000 yards (over a mile!). That’s an estimate, but a highly informed one, because I calculated it using maps, satellite imagery, and math. I also did 250 sit-ups and 50 push-ups.
  • Day 5: A 2.6 mile walk, that included stops at 2 hotels, where I climbed stairs. One hotel was 5 stories, and the other 6, and I climbed each twice, for a total of 22 stories. A photo of one of the stairwells is below.
  • Day 6: Another open water swim, also 2,000 yards. I basically swam up and down the same 300-foot stretch of beach 10 times, but the current was stronger this time, which made swimming harder.

landmark-stairs-cozumel

Keep it up, David!

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