Culebra Part III: Villa Fulladoza

I’m still investigating Culebra properties to amuse myself as the weather in Pennsylvania veers wildly between unbearable and less unbearable. Villa Fulladoza checks off a lot of boxes.villafulladoza

Really, really oceanfront? Check. Convenient location in case we have too many rum punches? Uh huh. Excellent outdoor space for lounging with coffee in the morning and a drink after the beach? Oh my, yes. Incredibly inexpensive? Yep.

There are some things I don’t love about it. It’s more hotel-like than most places we stay, with seven apartments instead of just a few, and that might make it noisy or otherwise annoying. Reviews of their WiFi are less than stellar and it’s a necessity for me at this point. But it’s still in our top three and the view and handy location (and ridiculously cheerful colors) may win out.

House of the Day: Another Spectacular View on Culebra

Saved by the bell! Casa Cima del Mundo rented for our week probably around the time that I was writing the last blog post. Now I don’t need to go through all of that agita about spending too much on a place to sleep and can get on with the usual task of finding cool places for $100 a night or less.

Next up, Seastar. It seems pretty basic, but man what a view:

punta aloe

One of the things I’m loving about Culebra research is that there are so many places in our price range with absolutely incredible, million dollar views. More to come!

House of the Day: Casa Cima del Mundo, Culebra

I am in the midst of an ethical dilemma. Well, that may be putting it too strongly. A quandary? It’s my word of the day.

Here’s the question: if you pride yourself on only staying in the most reasonably priced accommodations everywhere you go, what do you do when you find the perfect place and it’s over your self-imposed budget? ‘Cause I found the place and it’s way more than we usually spend (and way less than many people spend).

It’s Casa Cima del Mundo on Culebra.

cimadelmundo

Cima del Mundo means Top of the World. Yep.

There are a bunch of reasons that I’m considering it.

  1. The views, duh.
  2. It’s a dodecahedron! I’m a fool for round (or round-ish) houses.
  3. Dishwasher!
  4. Nice little office area, already equipped.
  5. Maybe the best reviews I’ve ever read that I haven’t written myself.
  6. Puerto Rico’s relatively reasonable anyway, so we have a little room to splurge. (Not the best reason.)

It’s actually quite reasonable at $150 a night and it’s just my foolish pride that makes me even think twice. I’ve got more from Culebra to post soon.

House of the Day: Folichon, Treasure Beach

I’ve already talked about loving Jamaica, although spending four days on the Negril cliffs drinking Red Stripe doesn’t really count as knowing the country. But those four days were truly spectacular, and not just for the scenery (beautiful), the water temperature (absolutely perfect), or the food (wow).

I hate to generalize about people and places. Jamaica is in some ways a very sad place that makes you realize exactly how unfair the world can be and exactly how much middle-class Americans are some of the luckiest people to have ever lived. While you’re complaining about the price of gasoline for your larger-than-necessary vehicle, there are people living in garden sheds in a hurricane zone.

That being said, Jamaica was amazing for its truly unique, distinct local culture. We weren’t in a big resort, but I’m sure if we were we wouldn’t mistake it for a big resort somewhere like Punta Cana or Mexico. For one thing, those places don’t have weird reggae muzak wafting over your beach loungers. But really, it was the people. We didn’t feel like everyone was just tolerating the gringos because they were getting paid. They were happy to just hang out. It’s a culture of chatting and dominoes. Even the many hustlers would chat a bit as they tried to sell you something (usually weed).

One night in Negril we walked down the cliff road and grabbed some grilled chicken at the side of the road and ate it at a picnic table while looking through the window of a local bar where everyone was watching the high school soccer championships on television. They were all acting like Western Pennsylvania football fans, who will watch the game on any level, pee wee to pro, and scream at the field or TV. There was just something about it that made me happy.

So, leaving aside the inherent moral difficulties of generalizing about entire cultures, I want to go back to Jamaica.

This time, we want to go a little farther off the beaten path, to Treasure Beach. It’s a series of bays on the south coast, about two and a half hours from Montego Bay. It’s where you catch boats for the Pelican Bar. There are some small uber-chic small hotels, lots of inexpensive guesthouses, and a nice selection of rental villas.

For a large group, Folichon may offer the best value: beachfront, two wings, and crazy vintage architecture.

They're big on faux-Moorish architecture in Treasure Beach, which is fine by me.

They’re big on faux-Moorish architecture in Treasure Beach, which is fine by me.

There’s one thing that weirds me out about it: a cook/housekeeper is included in the cost. All you have to do is pay for the food (and tip generously). This is a common arrangement in Jamaican villas and I’m sure most people love it. My first big objection: I love the food in Jamaica and I’d probably prefer exploring every single restaurant in the area. Second big thing: would we have to be sociable and dressed first thing in the morning? Third: would we have to decide what and when to eat 24 hours in advance?

Maybe we’re just so used to bare bones travel that we wouldn’t know how to act when luxury is included in the budget cost!

I have a couple more small places picked out in Treasure Beach, and last week I found airfare for $355 in November. If Buck didn’t have a big work thing at exactly that time, we’d be there in a heartbeat.

House of the Day: Maybe Our All-Time Favorite

We went to St. Croix this spring for our longest vacation ever: eight whole days! I am incredibly intrigued by this island, even more so after staying there. It’s not tiny and glamorous. The beaches for the most part aren’t soft and blinding white. It’s not all spruced up and ship-shape. It closes down well before dark.

But it’s kind of…comfortable. There are big supermarkets and farmer’s markets (and farms in general! local agriculture! as a gardener I’m envious). There’s even a Home Depot. It’s the kind of island that makes you go, “Hmm. We really could live here.”

Everywhere we go I manage to come up with a business idea. Vieques? They really could use a good ice cream shop. Salt Cay? It could turn into a paradise if they would just compost and create some actual topsoil. And on and on. But the best business ever is the compound of cottages that was our home-base in St. Croix.

Yes, I had to work

Taking care of business

Three cottages (with another on the way), plus owner’s residence, pool, and garage, in a handy spot but tucked away in the forest. It was just beautiful there, incredibly quiet and peaceful. Lots of dogs, friendly landlady, well equipped, well maintained. Cool and breezy. Outdoor shower. I could have lived there for years instead of eight days.

So, now I want to buy a place with some rentals in St. Croix. Having seen what goes into it (constant work, lots of money) I’m not sure I’d be able to pull it off, but it’s good to dream. If I could just get truly reliable Internet and keep my current job and salary there’s a place available that would be perfect…

The House of the Day is a Hotel: Hotel Yeneka, La Paz, Mexico

I’d be fine with never staying in a conventional hotel again. Even the nicer ones give you very little more than a bed, a dresser, and maybe a little working or relaxing space. If you’re really lucky you’ll have a little coffee maker. For me, personal travel only becomes truly relaxing when I can get up and throw on a caftan, grab a cup of coffee, and head outside to ease into the day.

But conventional hotels are one thing and the Hotel Yeneka is a different beast entirely.

Now that's a place to chill!

They also call themselves the Hotel Arte Museo Yeneka—that crazy garden full of art is where you go for your complimentary continental breakfast and your two free shots of tequila each night. All of the rooms have wacky themed decor. And you negotiate your own price! (From what I understand it’s probably around USD$40 – $60.)

I’ve been thinking about a big swing through Baja California Sur for a while now…Cabo Pulmo, La Paz, and Todos los Santos. If I couldn’t stay here in La Paz I’d be so bummed.

The One That Got Away: Casa Tangamanga, Tulum

tangamanga

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…