The One That Got Away: Casa Tangamanga, Tulum


I will never deny that we are very fortunate, privileged people. First and foremost, by saving and careful economizing in other areas we usually manage to take four real vacations a year. But above and beyond that, we were incredibly fortunate to make it to Tulum when it was still fairly cheap.

In the world of tourism on the “Riviera Maya,” for a long time Tulum was the place for hippies, backpackers and assorted weirdos. Spring breakers went to Cancun, partiers went there or to Playa del Carmen. The vast proliferation of all-inclusive resorts along the coast gave people who prefer buffets and swim-up bars an excuse to stay at their resort and leave only by tour bus.*

In Tulum, the hotels were (and still are) collections of beach cabanas off the electric grid and not necessarily bursting with creature comforts. For a long time many of them had sand floors, which is cool but means that your bed will turn into a massive exfoliating device after a few days.

But the beach…oh, that beach. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, lined with palm trees, fluorescent turquoise, and stretching for miles. The whitest, finest sand I’ve ever felt. Literally like powdered sugar. It’s impossible to get rid of it, just like powdered sugar. My Kindle cover had Tulum sand in it until the day the Kindle died.

We went during the financial crisis and stayed in a gorgeous little cabana with a view of the ocean. The bathrooms were shared, but they used conch shells as showerheads. It was ridiculously romantic and it cost around $450 for the week. Now, even one way back near the road will run you about $160 a night. Tulum has turned into a place where you’re more likely to run into a movie star than a naked hippie doing his salute to the sun when you head out for a cup of coffee in the morning.

When this property started up I got really excited. Small, personal, shared outdoor kitchen, and it would hold a bunch of people. At the time, even in high season, you could rent the entire place and sleep up to 12 for around $275 a night. Now it’s around $500 a night for three rooms.

So, goodbye to Tulum. I’m glad we met you when you were still cool. I still love that coast of Mexico but we’re going to have to head farther south.

* We’ve been to all-inclusive resorts twice for a grand total of six nights. And while I can totally murder a decent buffet and make it economically unfeasible for the hotel ownership, it always really got to me that people bring enormous, quart-size insulated mugs to resorts so they can fill them with booze and not have to move for an extra 20 minutes as they lounge around getting absolutely drunk. C’mon now. At least get up once in a while to get another drink.



House of the Day: St. John, USVI

Now THIS is a group vacation spot on perhaps the best island of all: St. John.

Having been to St. John first, even while camping, tends to spoil one for every other island. It’s so beautiful you just go around gaping and gasping the whole time. The other Virgin Islands call it the “Millionaire Island.” But you can always stay in a shipping container with a kitchen on the screened porch for $60 a night!

By the way, they appear to have made their window treatments out of the IKEA shower curtain that’s currently in our bathroom.

House of the Day: Isla Holbox, Mexico

I really, really want to snorkel with whale sharks:

whale shark

They’re 40-foot gentle giants who scoop up plankton and have cool spots. One of the best places to see them is Isla Holbox, Mexico, just off the Yucatan Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico. This house sleeps seven for $120 a night.

On Holbox there’s not much to do except walk on the beach, go see the whale sharks, eat seafood, and drink margaritas. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

House of the Day: Casa Anolis, Vieques

This is the next house!

casa anolis

For years–maybe 20?–we’ve gone to Cape May with a group of friends every summer. I love it still. As East Coast beach towns go it’s about as good as it gets…so pretty, with all of the Victorian houses and big trees and narrow streets. Plus there’s The Lobster House, which between the fishing fleet, cheap seafood to eat on the dock, and fish market to supply the grill, is my favorite restaurant in the entire world.

But it’s just so expensive! We could rent a cottage in St. Bart’s for the same week for less. And for the past few years the water’s been so ridiculously cold (c’mon now, 60 degrees in August?) that it’s almost unbearable to go in. Last summer as we were leaving I said goodbye for a year or two and vowed to find a beach house for a group that would be fun, affordable, and in close proximity to warm turquoise seas.

And so, Vieques. Bioluminescent bay! Horses roaming around everywhere! Mofongo!

For a cheap tropical holiday Puerto Rico’s the way to go. Airfare is really reasonable, the rentals are inexpensive, and you don’t even need to drive on the wrong side of the road. We’re bringing it in at less than $650 per person for all transportation and lodging for a week, and I defy anyone to get to the Caribbean for less.

Plus the house is cute, named after a lizard, has a coconut palm and a distant view of the sea, and appears to have lawn furniture in the living room. We win again.

Why the name?

Every time we go somewhere we do something that’s maybe a little…gauche. Gringo-ish.

The first time we realized it was in Tulum. Buck was going around saying grazie instead of gracias (and no, he doesn’t speak Italian). Then we couldn’t unlock our Fiat Panda because we were trying to open it with the remote for our own car, which was sitting in the airport parking lot thousands of miles away.

After spending most of a day wondering how we were ever going to drive anywhere it dawned on me and I held up both remotes and said “I feel like such a gringo.”

We have used the line at least once during every trip since. Thanks, Minutemen!


The beach is a vacation. Everything else is just travel.

It’s my manifesto.

Not that there’s anything wrong with travel. I love to travel. But for someone who has a tendency to think three steps ahead at all times there’s no substitute for sitting on a beach. Things that I don’t do on the beach:

  1. Make to-do lists.
  2. Cross items off of to-do lists.
  3. Care about how I look.
  4. Have imaginary conversations in which I tell people what I really think.

Things that I do on the beach:

  1. Look at the water.
  2. Roll over.
  3. Read trashy fiction.
  4. Eat a sandwich.
  5. Have a drink.
  6. Go for a swim.

And repeat. is mostly going to talk about going to the beach. Amazing beaches, with white sand and turquoise water and gently swaying palm trees. Because that’s what I like, and all of my best to-do lists are about how to do it on a budget that’s realistic for people who aren’t rich.

Some other stuff is going to creep in every now and then, of course–I have many expensive, time-consuming hobbies. I read books, grow flowers and vegetables, live with the world’s cutest dog, and paint pictures.  I make cocktails and dance around the kitchen. But many people do those things, and not many people find cool houses on tropical islands for less than $100 a night.

The plan is to post links to cheap, cool places to stay and share pictures and stories of amazing vacations, but plans change. No matter what, thanks for reading.