Spring

Spring officially started on March 20th. And with that, we said goodbye to harsh cold, dead trees and fallen dried leaves. By now, trees are full of green leaves. The transition is beautiful. I watched the barren tree in front of my house for days, searching for some sign of life. Then one day, I spot a few green leaves. The next day, there are some more. And after a few days, whoosh! The tree is loaded with bright green leaves!

My dry Bougainvillea and reduced-to-nothing Minuteman have sprung back to life.

Nothing makes me happier than seeing a dead plant come back to life.

Taking walks in the neighborhood has become a pleasure. Birds are chirping away to glory. Fragrant flowers are everywhere. Everything is so cheery.

I spotted these rose plants on one such walk. I never liked roses. But this one looks magical.

When nature is blooming with so many pretty colors every where, who am I to defy??

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Ps: Even though I had just 3 pictures (that too instagram pictures), I could not resist sharing them. I will probably keep adding more.

Categories: Bay Area, California, Photography, San Jose, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey

Old Fisherman’s Wharf is located in Downtown Monterey. It is a very old, historic wharf used for trade in the olden times. Now, it houses several souvenir stores and sea food restaurants. It is a pleasure walking along the wharf. Competitive restaurants give out samples of Clam Chowder soup. There are so many souvenir shops selling cute items that can be bought once in a while for keeps’ sake.

Catch hold of some ice-cream (if you are feeling adventurous because it is always so cool and windy there) or coffee and stroll along the wharf. Sometimes, there are street shows going on. Otherwise, it is just fun to watch people making merry.

You must end your walk with lunch at one of the many restaurants offering wonderful variety of fresh seafood (Try calamari and crab). Clam Chowder in sourdough bread bowl is a must-try! All restaurants are on ocean front, so that’s a plus. While you are waiting for food, watch seagulls fishing around for food.

From here, you can go for whale-watching (when the season is right), take a glass-bottomed boat ride, watch otters and sea-lions lounging around or go on a fishing trip if you have the right amount of patience!

Monterey is a very interesting location that has a lot to offer – everything from hikes to museums, aquariums, golf resorts, historic walks and parks. You can plan to spend a couple of days in Monterey exploring all your interests.

Other places of interest in and around Fisherman’s Wharf: Cannery Row, Monterey Bay Aquarium, 17 Mile Drive, Museum of Monterey, Old Custom’s House (both located at the Wharf), Carmel.

Interesting fact: The Monterey Bay Aquarium runs a “Seafood Watch” program, and keeps a list of which sea life is overfished and which are safe, and environmentally friendly, to eat. Pick a copy of the list up at the Aquarium, or around town. Many local restaurants have signed on to the Seafood Watch program. (Source: Wikitravel)

Personal Opinion:

- I prefer Clam Chowder at The Golden Gate Grill, SFO. In fact, that’s the only clam chowder I have ever liked. Fisherman’s Wharf at Monterey is known for its Clam Chowder and you must taste it yourself to decide.

- The Wharf is a fun, family place. There is something for everyone. It is a busy place on holidays and weekends and yet that place has something very calming about it.

- There isn’t much to do on the wharf itself. It is attractive during the first visit. If you want to go there the second time, it is a good idea to plan other places in Monterey as well.

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You get a feel of the Wharf’s old world charm even before reaching the main wharf.

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An old model of the wharf.

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A great option for kids.

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Whale watching season has begun and will be on through mid December. Look for deals online to enjoy this experience.

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Open counters like these display mouth-watering, luscious breads, pastas and seafood. Go ahead. Drool. And then try ‘em.

Look around the wharf and you will see many rustic, antique-looking items that are true to its archaic nature.

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old fisherman's wharf

If you want to have coffee and relax, try Coffee House (and give Starbucks a pass). It is located in the beginning of wharf (on the right) but in a secluded portion. You can enjoy coffee with crepes on the deck along with the sounds of water lapping against the wooden columns.

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coffee house

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Categories: Bay Area, California, Photography, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Solvang In Pictures

California has its own little Europe corner. Head to Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County to enjoy your slice of Denmark. Solvang is known as the Danish capital of California. Solvang literally means ‘Sunny Fields’. Quitely aptly named, Solvang was created by a group of Danish teachers who were looking for a settlement away from Midwestern winters. But it was only in 1947 when Saturday Evening Post ran an article on the “spotless Danish village that blooms like a rose in California’s charming Santa Ynez Valley” that Solvang gained attention and attracted visitors.

Solvang decided to retain its Danish look and constructed buildings that offer a taste of Denmark in California. There are several quaint windmills all over the town and the half timbered houses are very typical Danish. Some other well known pieces are the copy of Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen, bust of famed Danish fable writer Hans Christian Andersen and replica of Copenhagen’s Round Tower.

Solvang is a cute place to spend half a day. You can walk around enjoying the Danish feel of the place, take a surrey ride, browse through cute souvenir shops, lay around on the grass of one of their parks, enjoy some ice cream and Danish pastries. Oh yes, the food there is a highlight. I had had lunch at Paula’s Pancakes. Their French Toast was amazing.

Solvang residents celebrate many festivals. If you are lucky, you can experience one of their festivity celebrations.

Attractions: Solvang Festival Theater, Vintage Motorcycle Museum, Elverhoj Museum (check out old B&W pictures on their website. Quite enchanting).

Interesting facts: Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch is 10 miles north of Solvang.

Windmill @ Solvang

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Hamlet square solvang

 

vintage bench solvang

Categories: California, Photography, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Boats Through My Lens

I came across this picture recently when I was going through my photo collection looking for a photo to submit to a contest. And I realized, I had so many pictures of boats!

Surat, India

Taken on one early Sunday morning on ONGC bridge, Surat. The full post here.

The picture above and the one below were the first pictures of boats I took (with a simple point and shoot camera. In fact, they were one of the first pictures I ever took for the purpose of blogging). I used to look at these boats everyday while going to and coming back from work. They captivated me. Somehow. I thought they looked lonely, desolate and sad floating all by themselves.

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Two very red boats tied on Tapi River, Surat

Over the years, I clicked a lot of boats. I have no particular attachment to boats or the ocean or boating. It’s just that they make good photography subjects.

So let me show off my boat collection.

These ones were taken at Allepey, Kerala. Allepey was all about boats. There were houseboats, of course. And then there were these fishermen boats that would silently, confidently stroll by the huge houseboats, totally oblivious to their own littleness.

Allepey backwaters

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One place I have visited a lot in the last one year is Monterey Bay. Monterey is a merry place where families pour in on weekends and feed on clam chowder soup and crab. I have been there several times and am never bored of that place. It is a coastal place and there are all kinds of boats all around. The first picture is my favourite. It is currently my screen wallpaper.

Boat at Monterey

Monterey bay

Yacht parking Monterey

Another coastal place I visit a lot is San Francisco. SFO is always cold and windy. Like Monterey, SFO’s Pier 39 is flocked by families for clam chowder, chips (pigeons flock here for the same reason), street shows and boat rides. The boat in this picture is probably nothing special but the background is. The pier has a lot of history like the rest of SFO. From the pier, one can see (on a clear day) the Alcatraz Jail island and the Golden Gate bridge. This pier is one of the old retained buildings of the city.

SFO pier

My first experience of being surrounded by boats was during Christmas of 2012, 10 days after I landed in the US. This was at Two Harbours, Catalina (near Los Angeles). It is a beautiful, sparsely crowded island with just 1 restaurant and a couple of lodges. It is an adorable place. I should be writing about it soon.

Catalina Island

The next 3 pictures have been taken in Tulum, Mexico. Mexico… ah. Pure ecstasy! The tropical climate soothed my senses and allowed me to take a dip in all its offerings – exotic fruit juices, summer clothes and beautiful blue beaches. I gasped when I had got the first glance of Tulum beach. Its waters are in the prettiest of blues. Take a look yourself.

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Boat at Tulum beach

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I loved the color combination of this one. I wish I had better zoom lenses.

And this last one was taken at Hume Lake in Sequoia National Park. The lake enthralled me completely. 4th of July long break crowds were all over the place – swimming, jumping off rocks, picnicking – and yet the lake made the atmosphere look so serene. i could have sat there for hours watching the calm waters and people frolicking around.

Hume lake boating

After looking at the effect of this picture, I am happy for once that I do not have high zoom lenses. The enormousness of the mountains and minuteness of the boats would not have been so apparent.

If you look through your archives, you may discover that you take too many pictures of a particular subject like food or flowers. Or clocks, maybe?!

Share with me!

Categories: Bay Area, California, India, Mexico, Photography, South India, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

My Trusty Travel Companion

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The bag that travelled 10 countries and uncountable cities with me

This bag has been with me for 3 years now. I bought it before my Australia trip (Has it only been 3 years since that trip? Seems like a decade ago). Since then, it has been with me on all my travels. Sometimes I travelled alone, sometimes with friends and sometimes with family. This bag was never left behind.

I totally take this bag for granted. It’s there. Period. It goes with me everywhere. But come to think of it, I am heavily dependent on it. I CANNOT leave it behind. I can’t even think of it.

My first job involved lot of travel. Every time I travelled, I forgot something essential like toothpaste or contact lens solution, etc. I would go looking for an open medical store late night only to find that everything in the area was closed. After I got this bag, things changed. I made this my permanent travel bag and kept a set of essentials in it. Things like toothpaste, toothbrush, moisturizer, perfume, hair clips, body wash, etc.

And so, every time I need to travel, I just put some clothes in and I am good to go.

Not only has this bag been so loyal to me – stuck along with me without tearing, breaking or giving away, it has come to my rescue whenever I was stuck at airports with extra check-in baggage. I have stuffed it with all kinds of stuff and it is still intact. I have used it roughly, it has lost its original shine. But it still ‘backs’ me up (Pun intended).

I owe this bag a lot. It facilitated and enabled my travels. Without it, I would not have seen 10 countries. Without it, I will not see any new place.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Bangalore’s Culinary Treats

Five days in Bangalore has added some inches to my waist. Being a foodie, it is difficult for me to refuse food, especially when I am in a new city and I know I may not be visiting that place again. I tend to eat greedily like there’s no tomorrow. And this is exactly what happened in Bangalore. M, the perfect host, took advantage of my weakness and stuffed me with lots of wonderful food.

I experienced quite a many restaurants and cafes during this time but the following 4 are my favourites for their uniqueness and history.

Koshy’s, Bangalore

Koshy's Bangalore

 Koshy's Bangalore

 Koshys Bangalore

Koshy’s was founded in 1940. It has retained its old world charm. As such it is a very ordinary place but it is popular because it is more of an institution and a legend than a restaurant. The waiters dress in traditional white uniform to add to the aura. Koshy’s is known to have served Prime Minister J Nehru, Soviet Union dignitary Nikita Khrushchev and Queen Elizabeth II. It is a very laid-back place and I read in reviews that service is usually slow. We went there on Makar Sankranti day for breakfast. We landed there at 9 am sharp when the restaurant just opened and 4-5 tables got occupied quickly. Our waiter moved really slowly and I was half afraid we would miss our flight.

This place is not to be visited in a hurry. You don’t go to this restaurant to eat. You go there to relax, think, ponder, converse and absorb the charming aged air.

They have a huge menu, which makes it difficult to make a decision. Our Veg Spanish Omelet was stuffed with loads of vegetables and cheese giving a very happy feeling. The Chicken Liver Toast was yummy too. I have never had such delicious chicken liver ever. Incidentally, Chicken Liver in various forms is their specialty. Their toasts and omelets have also got good reviews. Complete your meal with their hot or cold coffee (a tad expensive but in Bangalore every meal MUST end with coffee).

CTR, Bangalore

CTR Bangalore

 Benne Dosa CTR

CTR or Central Tiffin Room (erstwhile Shree Sagar) is a very old restaurant located in Malleswaram. The hotel was originally established in 1920s by a family. It passed several hands and changed names several times before being rechristened CTR. It is a small, ordinary place often crowded and messy. The reason why one goes to CTR is their superbly delicious food. Their specialty is the award winning Benne (Butter) Masala Dosa. This thick dosa is crunchy and soft at the same time. One side is crispy and the other is soft, which makes it so unique. I had taken one bite of this heavenly butter laden dosa and then eaten the rest of it in complete blissful silence. Have their Benne Dosa before trying out other dishes for that must not be missed. Their coffee is one of the best I have ever had. Other dishes worth trying are Kharabhath and Mangalore Bhajji.

Our Native Village, Hessaraghatta

Ragi Roti Our Native Village

Our Native Village (ONV) is an eco resort located in the secluded flatland of Hessaraghatta. People primarily go there to spend a quiet weekend with basic forms of living away from all modern interruptions. We ended up at ONV to have lunch after visiting Nrityagram. We were starving by the time we were looking at the menus and hoped the food would do justice to our hunger.

It did. We ordered simple wholesome food like Ragi Roti, Akki Roti with Tomata Palaya & Cabbage Gojju. The Tomato Palya was exceptionally tasty. We were told that the restaurant grinds their own masala (spices) and grows their own vegetables. We also had the option of plucking vegetables ourselves. We were too famished to do that. Lately, they have started serving non vegetarian food but otherwise, their vegetarian food is cooked using less or no oil and feels very light on the stomach.

Their filter coffee was a letdown.

They have a buffet option too. Food is amazing. The ambience is good. They also have some books you can read while waiting around. It was totally worth going there instead of Taj Kuteeram, which is right opposite the dance school.

Kamat Lokaruchi, Mysore Road

Moode Idly Kamat

 Sugarcane Appams Kamat

If you are travelling towards Mysore, you cannot not stop at Kamat. It is located 70 kilometers away from Bangalore and is a perfect lunch / breakfast destination for travelers. Done up simply yet tastefully in traditional ‘hut’ style, the ambience is really cozy. They have lots of seating, most of it is outside. They serve buffet on weekends and holidays. Otherwise, you need to battle your gluttony and order something from their vast menu. They have lot of popular and traditional dishes that are served with very little wait time. Try their Moode Idli (Steamed cylindrical idli wrapped in banana leaf) served with wada, sambhar and coconut chutney, Ghee Rava Dosa, Sugarcane Appams or Ragi Dosa. Dosas are often served with Tomato chutney and Veg Korma. Do not forget their memorable filter coffee in the end. I chose to have a glass of refreshing sugarcane juice. I was denied this tempting drink throughout my India trip for the fear of falling sick. But the Kamat sugarcane juice did me no harm.

For adventurous foodies, there are more ethnic dishes like Akki Rotis, Jawar Rotis and Ragi Mudde meals. Such meals are usually consumed by farmers and locals in interiors of the state.

Kamat concluded my tryst with ethnic South Indian food. And it was totally unforgettable.

These were some memorable food moments of my Bangalore trip. It could not have been better devoured than with M & E.

Any more food recommendations from you hardcore Bangalore foodies?

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Categories: India, Photography, Restaurant Reviews, South India, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Sahaj, Baroda–Shopping for a cause

SAHAJ is a NGO that works with tribal women artisans of Gujarat. Sahaj has helped several tribal women earn a livelihood and support their families. Their main base is Dahod but they do have a store in Baroda (named Dharohar). That’s how I came to know of them.

M and I have often visited their store and had a lovely shopping time buying jewellery, baskets and generally browsing through their collection. They have a pretty big collection of skin care products, coffee mugs, bags and decor items. I had bought a huge mud coffee mug that i used as a pen stand. It has a rustic look and is of very fine quality. All their products are.

In my last few days in Baroda, we visited their exhibition held at Trisha gallery (They had lovely dupattas. I made things difficult for M by telling her to buy all that she liked instead of helping her choose). That’s when we met their entire team. Because I was taking photographs, we got talking and they offered to show us around their Dahod camp. But I was moving out and that wasn’t feasible.

Apart from the fact that they collaborate with tribal women to make products and that they have done a swell job at uplifting economic levels of the villages, I do not know much about them. Ashima has personally visited them and has written about them at length. I will just let my pictures and Ashima’s post to do all the talking.

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These are on my wish list. Buying one of those on my India visit.

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If you are in Baroda or visit Baroda, head to this store for cool Indian accessories perfect for yourself or gifting. You will be shopping for a good cause!

Do not forget to read Ashima’s write up about Sahaj to know their story. Visit their Facebook page for updates.

Categories: Photography, Travel, Vadodara | Tags: , , , | 17 Comments

Sushi Boulevard, Sunnyvale – Restaurant Review

I read about sushi first in movie magazines like Filmfare during school. In interviews, celebrities would quote sushi as their favourite food. I was so curious. Then I got the idea from somewhere that sushi meant squids and eels. Eek!

I have become a fan of sushi (and this restaurant) in the last 2 months. I have visited Sushi Boulevard (SB) thrice in 1.5 months. I am that crazy. It has become comfort food, anytime food and an ideal meal after a long tiring day.

This little, basic restaurant is located in Sunnyvale. They often offer Groupon deals. If you miss that, you can always visit them during their Happy Hour (3 pm to 7 pm). They offer 20% discount on the total bill during these 4 hours.

The service is pretty quick unless crowded. It is unpredictable, actually. Sometimes, the place is almost empty and yet food takes a little while to arrive. And given that I always go there from college, starved and deprived of good food, the wait seems a tad longer than usual. Well, sometimes they just have one cook. That could be the reason.

Their menu is elaborate and like most sushi bars, many items are presented with pictures on the menu card. Believe me, that is pretty helpful! Not to mention, the items are listed in alphabetical order. How convenient!

I usually go in for their rolls. Gordon & Spider Roll are my favourites. You cannot miss Gordon. It is marked with a red chilli, indicating that it is the spiciest roll. As per my tolerance level, it is not really spicy but yes, spicier than others and extremely flavourful. This has to be my favourite dish. It is made of up tako, scallop, shrimp, cucumber and jalapeno. Slurp!

The second is Spider Roll. The pieces are large and filling made of crab, avocado, cucumber and tobiko.

I have tried other rolls like Miss Netscreen (Tuna, Salmon, Hirame, Shrimp, Cucumber) which was a little bland, Hamachi Roll & Jackson Roll (Spicy tuna roll with seaweed). There are numerous options to try out and because I am still not bored of sushi or SB, I will be trying out more items of their menu.

Visit their website which has the detailed menu with pictures and descriptions to help you choose better. They also have some vegetarian rolls and a lunch menu.

It is a wrong idea that sushi is raw food. Indeed, the seafood portion is often raw (I am sure it is treated in some way and is not totally raw) but some sushi rolls are steamed or deep fried. There are many rolls that contain vegetables in larger quantities, suppressing the raw taste of seafood. And then you have the very spicy Wasabi sauce and Soy to pique up the flavour. Undeniably, sushi is an acquired taste. It took me 3 attempts to get hooked on to it. But do try it. Like me, you may get addicted and it may soon become your drug (yes, in my case It’s that bad. During my upcoming India visit, I am going to miss sushi like crazy).

And if you are near San Jose, visit Sushi Boulevard so that you get a great first time experience!

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Miso soup served at the beginning. It is yummy.

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Don’t remember the name but it was pretty raw and mild

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Spider Roll. Yummylicious!

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Jackson Roll. It was pretty good.

Categories: Bay Area, California, Restaurant Reviews, San Jose, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Ik Kil Cenote

Ik kil cenote (3)

View from inside.

A cenote (a Mexican Spanish word) literally means a deep natural well formed by collapse of surface limestone that exposes the groundwater underneath. A lot of cenotes are found in Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. Historically, it is said that cenotes were used by Mayans to make sacrifices.

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Stairs that bring you to the base. Does this remind anyone else of Hogwarts?

Ik Kil cenote

Looking up.

Today, a cenote is a natural wonder that amazes tourists visiting Mexico. I was astounded by this beautiful natural creation. It was almost surreal. We visited Ik Kil cenote located very close to Chichen Itza. The cenote is located in a private complex that has a restaurant, shop, cottages for rent and some Mayan ruins.

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The swimming platform. On busy days, there is a long line of people waiting for their dive

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Lots of vines and creepers

It is cool inside. The water is in its pure, natural form and is full of black catfish. You swim with them. There are vines all the way from the opening of the cave at the top till the surface water. A platform has also been built from where people can jump and dive into water. Swimming is a totally unique experience here. I badly regretted not being able to swim as I stayed out of water and watched everyone have fun.

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Swim with black catfish

Yucatan cenote

Looking down into the cave

If you visit Chichen Itza, Ik Kil cenote must not be missed. I read that there is a cenote in Valladolid too but it must not be this big.

These kinds of cenotes are totally unique to Mexico. It must be on your Things To See/Do list while planning a visit.

Categories: Mexico, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

Snorkelling at Cozumel, Mexico

When you come to a seaside place like Cancun, you cannot avoid water activities. Of course you can. But that would be a sin. It would be a sin to ignore the beautiful green-blue coloured water that is so comfortably warm and soothing. There are all kinds of water activities offered here – snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming with dolphins and even submarine rides.

There are several snorkelling spots near Cancun / Playa, natural and artificial, but we chose Cozumel because of natural coral reefs there. Cozumel is an island less than an hour away from Playa. There are hourly ferry rides till there. One can also decide to stay there for a day or so.

You will be bombarded with snorkelling photos and tour guides the moment you exit the ferry. You can haggle and get a decent deal. We paid USD 22 per person. The trip was for 2 hours and involved 3 spots. There was also a guide or captain with us on the boat all the time. This made the whole thing very comfortable for a non swimmer like me.

I had failed at snorkelling three years back in Whitsundays, Australia. I was too scared and intimidated by the rough, salty ocean. This time, I was determined to crack it. There were some other people also in our boat and we ended up becoming friends. They were so encouraging! I was the baby of the group. Last one to jump into the water. The one given most attention. In fact, I hung on to a tube (despite wearing a life jacket) and the captain pulled it (and me) along with him all the time!

Of course I was scared. Not of the water, but of failing. I really want to do it this time. So I jumped. I sputtered, choked and panicked a couple of times but eventually sailed through. The first sighting of underwater world was unbelievable. It was magical. White sand was glimmering below crystal clear water. The warm bright sun made the whole scene glitter. The sounds I could hear were my own breathing and bubbling sound of water. Everything else was shut off.

I left the whole world behind me and let the underwater world hypnotize me. When you see such beauty – pure magnificence in its purest form – and come to an understanding that the natural world is very huge, of which you are one tiny part, a change runs through you. Everything else in the materialistic, fake world seems so insignificant, so small.

Cozumel is a popular tourist destination. It has several restaurants, shops and souvenir shops to entertain tourists. You can spend at the maximum 2 days there, relaxing and indulging in water activities.

Some views of Cozumel…

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Usual Mexican style facade

cozumel main plaza

A large souvenir store at Main Plaza

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Street surrounding Main Plaza Square

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A duo band playing lovely rock music at a restaurant

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An artisan store

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One of many souvenir sellers in Cozumel

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Sunset on our way back

Categories: Mexico, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

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