Surprise Parties, Turning 40, Mexico, and Framily
July came and went with the speed with which I am accustomed to all months passing now: alarming. I was always told how fast time goes as you age, and as I stare down the calendar at the rest of my August, I understand. It sometimes gives me fleeting panic attacks…how will I ever do everything I want to do and see and create and live and taste? It goes so fast. I just now at 40 - solidly middle-age if I am lucky - have my act together (kinda sorta) and maybe have another 20 years of good health and the ability to travel. It’s overwhelming sometimes.
As you can tell, I’ve done a lot of thinking about my Big Birthday, the Over the Hill Birthday, the Big Four Oh. I planned and planned a major trip to Mexico, to swim with whale sharks, to spend time with family, friends…my chosen family. We worked on getting our old house ready for sale, we worked on projects at the new house, and my Big Birthday loomed large, but I didn’t plan anything locally. I was so focused on the house (both of them), and work, and Mexico. Mexico was my birthday present, after all. And I was planning a trip for 12 people! So when my girlfriends Maddie, Sarah, and Bri invited me to brunch, I was excited to take a short break from my life, and even sneak in a cocktail or two.
I didn’t even flinch when they invited me back to Bri’s house for a celebratory cupcake. I chatted away, thrilled to be taking a break from my giant To Do List, and when I walked in the front door, middle of a story, it took a moment to process why her living room was full of people. I couldn’t understand why friends of mine, who do not know Bri, would be standing there. I was genuinely stunned when my (honorary) niece and nephew ran to hug me, when they all yelled SURPRISE, I was actually surprised, and because the kids were there yelled “SHUT UP!” instead of something more colorful.
I’m 40 now, and it was my first surprise party ever. I mean, I’ve thrown some, I’ve attended surprise parties, I’ve delighted in being in on the secret, but never been the recipient. I was so touched that my girlfriends threw it together for me before I went away to Mexico. It was so generous and loving and kind and thoughtful and shocking - it was amazing to be celebrated. With the new house stuff we’ve had going on, I’ve been a bit of an absentee friend, and being reminded how awesome the women in my life are was really special. I get a little (lot) sappy remembering it all.
Another surprise awaited at the bowling alley, as my Tuesday bowling league which happened to be rolling the night of my actual birthday, yelled surprise when I walked in, and had cupcakes, corn dogs, balloons, and the works all set up for me. My friend Colleen had made sure I had a party that night!
I’m not always a great friend. It doesn’t always occur to me to call, or text, or reach out - I’m not quite wired the same way most people are. So when people go out of their way for me I am overwhelmed and humbled and reminded that I should reach out more. I’ll keep working on it. Because my friends are amazing.
I cried leaving my pets, as I always do, and we left for Mexico at dawn on a Thursday. We knew Thursday afternoon we’d be having cocktails in Mexico, and Friday morning we’d be boarding a boat to go on an adventure with whale sharks, rays, dolphins…. and we got stuck in Denver. For hours. There was a fear of spending the night in Denver and missing the whale sharks. But Southwest moved some planes around, the gate agent kept everyone happy and current on news and laughing, and we got to Mexico, and Southwest even gave us all very nice Luv vouchers for our four hours of panic. It was strange to land in Mexico at night, and a relief to check in at the familiar hotel, and have dinner with our friend Paige and Aldo, who had beaten us there by several hours on a different airline.
While out at dinner the whale shark tour operator messaged us…due to a massive wind storm (a tropical storm north of the peninsula was wreaking havoc) the port was closed the following day, and the tour was canceled. The rest of our trip was booked solid, we couldn’t do it another day, so our tour operator refunded our deposits and I tried to not cry. It was supposed to be the Big Event of the week… but I was still in Mexico, we had some of our favorite people joining us on Saturday, we had a surprise free day to relax, we would survive - and we will try again next year for the whale sharks!
We wound up spending a lovely day in Puerto Morelos, light shopping, amazing breakfast (chilaquiles) at one of our favorite spots (there’s a kitty there, Dora, who has been there every one of our visits over 6 years), lots of relaxing. We sat in the shade of the beach bar, drinking, relaxing with the dog who lives there, watching the waves. At dinner time, before the sun set, we snorkeled just off the beach in the shallows. The schools of fish were thick, we encountered a very large barracuda, saw cow fish (like puffers), it was a wonderful time, even if it wasn’t whale sharks.
On Saturday eight of our friends and family members were joining the four of us who were already in town - making for a dozen adventurers for the week ahead. The four of us who got there first travel together regularly, and in fact, Paige and Aldo are currently bunking at our house while their floating home is remodeled. They’re honorary family - my “little sister” and her hubby. I had bought my step daughter Briana a ticket to Mexico, for her first trip, and her significant other Alex was joining us as well - they flew in from New Jersey. My honorary big brother John and his wife Megan were coming in from North Carolina. One of my oldest friends, Mike (we met the summer of 1991!), and his wife, Netty (who did the flowers at my own wedding!), were flying in from NH. We had another friend, Ena, flying in from San Francisco, and one of my first girlfriends from Portland, Kristin, was flying in as well.
A million thanks to Conie out of Cancun for Flytographer! It was so awesome to not have to work on my own vacation, and we even got our photos before our trip was over. If you can’t hire me to go with you on vacation, this company is a pretty cool option.
I wanted a real vacation and even hired another photographer to do family portraits at golden hour in Puerto Morelos that Saturday night. Me, my husband, step daughter, her boyfriend. While out on the beach, some of our friends wandered by and we dragged them in for a group photo, and even did a “pyramid” on the beach; the photo is already hanging as a large 24”x24” canvas in our living room. I believe in photography so strongly that I paid another professional to document my trip for me. #truestory
I didn’t take a lot of photos during the week, in the spirit of vacation. We had a 15 passenger van. We ate a tiny restaurant in Muyil on our way to the lake. We took up four suites at my favorite hotel in Bacalar. When we walked into our suite, Aldo and Nora (the hosts) had decorated for my birthday!!! We hired a catamaran for a private four-hour excursion on the water, like the Duran Duran video for Rio. Bacalar was alive with festivities - we’ve only been in the off season before and July it was full of fellow vacationers. We ate marquesitas and fresh helado on the square every night, as we browsed the stalls of art and jewelry. One night we had a magician perform at our table, which was a surprise and a delight.
We climbed Maya pyramids. We swam at the public beach, braved the water slides, met giant grasshoppers, saw a wild anteater, and laughed at the local turkeys we saw every night. We visited some museums in Chetumal, and had a surprisingly wonderful lunch at the most beautiful spot in Calderitas, overlooking the bay. One afternoon another hotel guest emerged from his suite in a luchador mask, as his wife filmed everyone’s reactions. What they weren’t counting on was my own husband donning a mask and joining the “wrestler” in a match in the hotel pool. The laughter just hung over the hotel as everyone howled at the splashing and absurdity.
Naps in hammocks. Late night drinking games. Breakfasts and lunches and dinners at old favorites and new discoveries. Toasts with loved ones, so many laughs my abs hurt, and memories to last until my mind goes soft. We fell deeper in love with Mexico, old friendships were brushed up, new connections were made between some of my favorite people. We sparked a love of Mexico in some of our fellow travelers, and look forward to more adventures with them in the future.
And now, now I look ahead to a business trip this week. Five of us from the trip will be there together, at a terrible little speck of an airport “town” in the midwest, not even close enough to the nearest major city to be worth a trip into the metropolis, and I imagine we will lament the cost of the average food, the concrete floors and artificial lighting we’re stuck with all day, the only culture around us the nearby Hummel museum. sigh. I suppose 40 can’t be days of sun and laughs and great food and friends and loved ones in Mexico EVERY day. I just wish it were so.
And that’s essentially and simply what I wished for when I blew out the candles on 40: happiness. Thank you to everyone who helped me ring in this new decade, I can’t wait for our next adventure. And I leave you with more photos from our trip. All hotel and restaurant recommendations that I can link to online and other information will be at the end of the post.
some photos from the trip…
Tuch Tlan, Puerto Morelos (a time-trusted all-time favorite)
(always) ice cream from Panna e Cioccolato, Puerto Morelos
Hotel Oasis Suites, Bacalar
Casa Tortuga Sailing, Bacalar
Christian’s Tacos, Bacalar (a favorite - get the pork chop, aka chuleta)
Restaurante Chunyaxche, Muyil
Maya Cultural Museum in Chetumal
Restaurante La Uva, Calderitas
Public Beach (Balneario), Bacalar
Restaurant Savora Bakhalal, Bacalar
And lastly - thanks again to Conie (based in Cancun) for Flytographer!