Three Perfect Days: Los Cabos
Story by Joshua David Stein | Photography by Brad Torchia | Hemispheres, December 2017
Due to linguistic laziness, perhaps, the diverse cluster of settlements on the southern tip of Baja California have been bundled into one word: Cabo. But cabo simply means “cape." Dotted along this spit of land, the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Sea of Cortez on the other, the towns are uniform only in their seaside beauty. Cabo San Lucas, the best-known, is commonly associated with youthful hedonism. San José del Cabo, 20 miles up the coast, has always been the shy sister with artistic ambitions. Farther still, past some of Mexico's best surfing beaches, is the village of Cabo Pulmo, whose lifeblood is a majestic marine preserve. What this all means is that while Cabo may not have something for everybody, Los Cabos probably does.
The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea
I see the marlin twice, but only once alive. Jostled from a fitful nap on the deck of a fishing boat, the Valerie, 25 miles off the coast of Cabo San Lucas, I awake to see the fish arcing in the air, its cobalt skin iridescent against the brilliant sky. The captain, a wiry 55-year-old named Roberto Sandez, and his somewhat broader first mate, 54-year-old Salvador Flores, clomp down the steep ladder from the bridge to secure the rod. The boat ride, which had previously felt like a pleasure cruise, is now a hunt.
Earlier this morning, under a sky the color of a ripe eggplant, I drove to the Cabo San Lucas Marina. My family was still asleep under comforters in the battlements of the nearby Westin as I headed toward a body of water teeming with life: great shimmering masses of tuna and marlin, dorado, roosterfish, crevalle jack, and hundreds of other gamefish that have made Cabo the sportfishing capital of the world.
The sea began it all. Before Cabo San Lucas became known simply as “Cabo" in the mid-20th century, it was a fishing village of about 100 inhabitants. In 1955, the owners of Empresas Panado, the largest tuna cannery in Mexico, brought in a young Spaniard named Luis Bulnes Molleda to manage the plant. One day, Bulnes saw a boy catch a marlin on a handline from the dock and this, so big a fish caught by so young a boy so close to shore, made an impression on him. He later bought a stretch of undeveloped land and he and a partner built a hotel, Finisterra (now the Sandos Finisterra). He was convinced crowds would come for the marlin.
Playa del Amor, next to El Arco
When I climb aboard the Valerie this morning, there are no empty slips or vacant lots near the shore. Hotels occupy every sun-kissed plot of land, like turtles on a log, and on the water all types of vessel, from huge pleasure yachts to dented old pangas, bob gently, packed tightly. As we head out to sea, a lone pelican peers from the famous rock formation El Arco del Fin del Mundo (the Arch at the End of the World) into an ocean uninterrupted until Antarctica. I wonder if Molleda could have possibly imagined how right he would be. Marlin no longer swim shoreside, says Captain Roberto, who has been running charters here for more than 30 years. “I remember when we used to fish close to the land," he notes. “Now we have to go out for miles." Knowing this, I take a quick doze on the deck.“Back at the marina, the fish causes a stir. It's nearly 350 pounds, too heavy to lift."
Then it happens: the shimmering marlin taking to the air and the clamor that follows. The men gesture for me to take my place in the fighting chair, a swiveling contraption at the stern. Rod in hand, I realize that I have no idea what to do. They mime reeling in the line, then pulling up on the rod, which is nowhere near as easy as it sounds. I vaguely recall that it took the old man from Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea three days to haul in his marlin. I ask the captain how long it might take me. He shrugs. “Anywhere from 45 minutes to eight hours." It's hot. I'm sweaty. I'm fighting an animal. I hope it doesn't take that long.
An hour or so later, the epic struggle over and the onboard selfies taken (the fish, which normally would have been released, died of exhaustion), I ask the captain what he'd be doing if not for sportfishing. “Nothing," he says, his eyes fixed on the horizon. “There'd be nothing to do."
Back at the marina, the fish causes a stir. It's nearly 350 pounds, too heavy to lift by hand. A crowd gathers as the dockmaster wraps a loop of rope around its tail and winches it up. Next, we haul the fish across the harbor to be filleted. As a guy with broad shoulders and a sharp knife gets to work, a kitten waits under the table for scraps. Outside, a wrinkled old man hangs his hands on a gate. “Nice fish you got there, brother," he says. “Can you spare any?" His name is Ernesto. He was born in Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state, but spent 30 years in Dallas before being deported a few weeks ago. I take a small portion of the fish for myself and give the rest to Ernesto and the crew.
A sea lion hoping for fish from the day's catch
With a marlin steak in a plastic bag in the trunk—an ignominious end, I suppose, for so great a fish—I drive 10 miles north of town to the Chileno Bay resort. For the last six hours, my wife, Ana, and two children have been splashing in the resort's cascading infinity pool, which forms a sort of cabana-flanked stairway to the ocean. In our suite, which is much larger than our home in Brooklyn, my sons Auggie and Achilles—ages 4 and 5—keep repeating “This is sooo fancy," as they jump on all the beds and open every closet door.
After a delicious sunset dinner—chicken fingers my kids declare the ideal form; tremendously flavorful totoaba, a type of drum fish, for my wife and I—at Comal, the resort's fantastic restaurant, I head back into Cabo, alone, to party. Post-dusk is very different from pre-dawn. Neon signs blink. Young women in tube tops drink from outsize goblets while young men in cargo shorts gawk and sip beer. But it's not all lurid indulgence. I head past the kitschy Señor Frog's club to a new bar called the Blind Boar, which is said to have some of the best cocktails in town. These come from the hands of William Fox, a second-generation transplant from Chicago whose repertoire runs from classics like the Vieux Carré to in-house creations like the Hemingway, a play on the daiquiri.
“Basically," Fox tells me, “a bunch of us local bartenders were tired of making margaritas and shots." Later, sipping a tequila negroni, a neat twist on the classic, my thoughts turn to that marlin, caught for a moment in the light and then caught for good by my line. I step out into the hot night, amid shoals of tourists and neon lures, and quietly make my way back to my family.
Sea-to-Field-to-Table in San José del Cabo
Where Cabo San Lucas is most itself at night, the quiet cobblestone streets of San José del Cabo are best explored during the morning hours, before the sun sizzles the plazas. After an early breakfast of huevos motuleños, a Yucatecan dish with poached eggs, tortilla, and ham, at the Cape Hotel—a two-year-old Thompson property just outside Cabo San Lucas—we make the half-hour drive north to the party town's artsy sister.
Walking through streets lined with bougainvillea, we find the Gallery District, a few blocks behind the old town square. The two most prominent artists here—that is, those with eponymous galleries—are Frank Arnold and Ivan Guaderrama. Both specialize in cheerful, colorful, and crowd-pleasing paintings. Their galleries are worth a detour—especially Arnold's, as it comes with the offer of a glass of mezcal—but I'm drawn more to the traditional galleries that line the town's narrow streets.
Admittedly, the man-size fiberglass giraffe sitting on a pile of books at La Sacristía gallery is a bit schlocky. Ditto the hippo playing a tuba. But in the back room, we find some gorgeously intricate beadwork. Nearby, an elderly woman with a weathered face and nut-brown eyes sits on a folding chair, focused intently on a half-beaded mask. The woman doesn't speak English or even Spanish but Huichol, an Uto-Aztecan language used by around 35,000 people. She is here from the state of Nayarit, the gallery owner tells me, and will soon head back into the mountains. Crouching in the middle of the room is a brilliant psychedelic jaguar; she spent months turning its hide Technicolor. That piece is out of my price range, so I settle for a small beaded ornament and head into the blazing sun.
Octopus at Acre
Luckily, we spot El Tropical Paleteria on the town square, which has been selling handmade fruit popsicles, or paletas, for 50 years. There are four of us, with two hands each, and so we depart with eight popsicles. The kids wonder if this is what heaven is like. A few minutes later, under the sun's furnace-like rays, we are wandering around licking guava juice from our wrists. We are cooled and sticky but still hungry so we head off in the direction of Acre, one of the few lauded farm-to-table restaurants near San José.
A few minutes outside of town, it feels as if we're in the desert, but following the signs along a steep bumpy road we come to what looks like an Amazonian jungle. This is Acre, the project of two Vancouverites who fell in love with Los Cabos four years ago. Today, in a thicket of mango and palm trees, they've built a modern restaurant with an emphasis on local cuisine. As my wife and I eat, we let the kids wander. Eventually they return, red-faced and happy. “Daddy! Daddy! Come see!" I follow them past the pool to the shade of the palms, where a scraggly dog looks after her litter of newborn puppies falling over themselves in the dirt.“The peach-colored cliffs are at my back; the sun-dappled sea stretches before me. Who needs adrenaline?"
The kids are tired out, so I deposit the family back at The Cape to lounge poolside and to drink virgin daiquiris. I, meanwhile, quickly change into a bathing suit and head to the beach, because it would be unconscionable to come here and not surf.
Perhaps the most famous surf spot in Los Cabos is a fast right break called Zippers in San José del Cabo. But I go over to a mellow right-hand break a bit farther west, in Costa Azul, to join a class of newbies from the High Tide Los Cabos surf school. As Alex, our laid-back instructor, helps a family of South Korean beginners, I paddle farther out. We're on the watery equivalent of a bunny slope, but that's OK. The peach-colored cliffs are at my back; the sun-dappled sea stretches before me. Who needs adrenaline?
Casting shadows on San José del Cabo
Mildly amped, I head back to the family, to their pool-shrunk toes and fingers and cries for dinner. I'm ready to eat too—and particularly excited to check out Flora Farms, one of the oldest organic farms in Baja California. Founded in 1996 by expats from Sonoma, California, Gloria Wallace Greene and her husband, Patrick, it has become a Mexican Chez Panisse, a restaurant wrapped in a philosophy of something bigger. But even I am not prepared when we pull up. The owners seem to have cut a deal with Horus, because the sun filters in gold, piercing a small pond full of turtles. Off to one side, there's a mango orchard, and on the other, a boutique by James Perse.
It's hot in the sprawling outdoor restaurant, and periodically the diners are misted like produce in a supermarket. The cocktails, served in Mason jars, are photogenic and herbal. The menu nods to all of Mexico but gazes primarily at the fields a few feet away. As the night grows deeper, the children drift off to sleep in our laps, and a local band, three handsome surfers who call themselves the Shamans, break into a mellow version of “Hotel California." I sing quietly along—“such a lovely place (such a lovely place)"—and then, because those are the only words I know, I remain silent, sipping my margarita in the golden light.
Just Me and the Seals
A long and bumpy car ride takes us from San José to Cabo Pulmo, a tiny village about 60 miles up the coast. We could have jumped on the highway, and it would have been smooth sailing. But at Flora Farms last night, Cecilia Escribano, a tall, stylish Argentine who handles the restaurant's media, told us to snake up the coast: “You'll find the most beautiful beaches in the world."
So, crabbity-scrabble, we bounce up the unpaved road that runs alongside the beach. Our rented sedan complains of the bumps, though not nearly as loudly as the kids. We pass scrub brush and tall cardón cacti, but luxury resorts are nowhere to be seen. This is exactly what I had hoped for.
The story of Cabo Pulmo is uplifting. In the mid-1990s, a group of fishermen, realizing local fisheries were in danger, petitioned the government to preserve the area. In 1996 they prevailed, and Cabo Pulmo, with its astonishing coral reef, was declared a National Marine Park. It's now home to more than 200 species of marine animal.
A surfer ready to hit the waves at Costa Azul
As we sit in the second-floor restaurant of Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort, owner Cole Barrymore tells me how his dad, Dick, first came across the area. Barrymore is something of a local celebrity, although that isn't hard when there are only 130 people in town. He calls for a Tecate and begins: “My dad was a ski filmmaker, but he loved to come down here. One day in the early 1980s, we were flying our little Cessna, and we looked down and saw a small runway. We landed, pulled everything out of the plane, pumped up the boat, and went out to the first reef." Barrymore remembers the welter of fish just below the surface. His father dove in, forming caverns as the fish fled. He then surfaced, demanded his spearfishing gun, and said, “It's lunchtime!"“I can see my wife and kids walking the shoreline, their tiny figures hopping inch-high waves, peals of laughter in the air."
A few years later, Dick Barrymore bought a tract of land and built many of the thatch-roofed, open-sided, palapa-style houses that make up the village today. In the '90s, Cole joined him, and today he runs the Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort. (Dick passed in 2008.) With fishing off the table, activities in the sea are confined to SCUBA diving and snorkeling. Untrained in the former, I opt for the latter. As I head out to sea, I can see my wife and kids walking the quiet shoreline, their tiny figures hopping inch-high waves, peals of laughter in the air.
A few minutes later, I'm facedown in the water, peering at a shoal of big-eye jacks. I trail the fish for a while, interested to see how those on the periphery act as bouncers, herders, and guides. I also come across a shoal of black-striped sergeant majors that, collectively, look like a jailbreak. I poke my head above water, and for a moment the vastness of the mountains on the shore, the sky above, and the sea all around is overwhelming. I climb back into the boat.
In Brooklyn, where I'll be tomorrow, there are a few sea lions at the Prospect Park Zoo. My kids and I go see them sometimes and watch them gulp fish from the trainer's hand. But those sea lions and the ones who live here are very different. As I jump back into the water, a few feet from a colony, their amusing ungainliness is gone. A large male clambers off the rock, becoming immediately graceful as he hits the water. I duck my head under the surface to watch him dart and loop. We're only a few hundred feet from the shore, but it feels otherworldly. Then he surfaces and I do too. Both of us blink a few times to accustom ourselves to the brilliant sun, the jagged rock crashed upon by the roiling sea, and the vibrant blue sky above. For him, it is home. For me, it's as close to paradise as I'll ever get.
Around the web
The day off: Washington D.C.
Story by Ellen Carpenter | Hemispheres, December 2018
Politics, finance, tech, no matter: Deals happen in D.C. at every hour. But if you find yourself on a business trip with a rare free day, consider yourself lucky: The city has never been cooler.
Wake up in your spacious room at the InterContinental Washington D.C. – The Wharf, with floor-to-ceiling views of sailboats gliding down the Washington Channel, and forget for a moment that the craziness of Capitol Hill is just five miles away. Snap a photo of the waterfall chandelier in the lobby before popping next door for a delicious egg and bacon biscuit sandwich at Dolcezza, the first outpost of the D.C. mini-chain to offer a full breakfast menu.
Photo by Mark DeLong
Hop a cab to the National Portrait Gallery, where you can take a selfie with Barack Obama (well, Kehinde Wiley's depiction of the 44th president) before viewing an entire exhibit on the art of the selfie, Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Today, which features works by James Amos Porter, Elaine de Kooning, and more. Afterward, muse on the concept of identity under the undulating glass ceiling in the gallery's stunning Kogod Courtyard.
Photo provided by the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution/gift of Dorothy Porter Wesley
Take the Metro's Green Line up to U Street for a taste of Little Havana at Colada Shop. The small counter spot dispenses flaky empanadas, decadent Cubanos, and the café's namesake—four shots of espresso commingling with sweet Cuban crema. You know you want one.
Time to hit the National Mall and work off that caffeine injection. Every winter, the fountain at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden becomes an ice rink, where you can take in Alexander Calder's Cheval Rouge and Louise Bourgeois's Spider while practicing your triple lutz.
Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Cab over to the Kennedy Center for the free 6 p.m. show at Millennium Stage, offered every single night as part of the cultural hub's Performing Arts for Everyone initiative. Whether it's modern dance, West African blues, or experimental theater, it'll broaden your horizons.
Photo by Teresa Wood
Give in to your carb cravings at the Michelin-starred Tail Up Goat, a relaxed yet polished restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Toss back the complimentary shrub (tart!) and then dive into the red fife brioche (topped with chicken liver mousse, blueberry marmalade, and wood sorrel) and goat lasagna with tomato, anchovy, and salsa verde.
Catch a ride to Blagden Alley—a historic area that used to house the stables and workshops behind stately row houses—for a cocktail at Columbia Room, a lounge that has topped every best-of list imaginable. Score a seat in the leather- and mahogany-lined Spirits Library and order a Maryland, made with rye, applejack, and chartreuse. Then get another.
Photo by Karlin Villondo Photography
3 under the radar places to visit in December
With the end of the year approaching, it's time to utilize those unused vacation days. If you're not traveling for the holidays, take an excursion to one of these under-the-radar destinations. Treat your family to fun in the sun in Florida, kick back on an island in Mexico that takes relaxation seriously, or take advantage of the slow season at a popular Arizona national park.
Isla Holbox, Mexico
For a leisurely vacation to relax on uncrowded beaches
Seeking a destination where you can unplug and sink your toes into the sand while surrounded by natural beauty? Isla Holbox is the spot. This laid-back island sits on the northwest tip of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. It boasts spectacular beaches with endless turquoise ocean views.
What to do
Pack your flip-flops and beach reads for a seriously laid-back trip to Isla Holbox. Come here to sit on the beach (or in a hammock) while you kick back and relax as you've never relaxed before. Enjoy spectacular beaches without crowds.
Isla Holbox is small — just 26 miles long and one mile wide, with only 2,000 full-time residents. Bright colors and painted murals throughout the area evoke a bohemian vibe. Instead of cars, most people get around by golf cart or bike. (In fact, its taxi cabs are actually golf carts.) Isla Holbox won't give you the lively nightlife of popular tourist destinations like nearby Cancun, but there are plenty of beachside bars serving cocktails, food vendors and restaurants serving fresh Mexican fare.
Go on a wildlife excursion to spot whale sharks, crocodiles or flamingos. Head to the Yum-Balam Nature Reserve to see other exotic animals.
The closest airport is Cancun (CUN). From Cancun, head to Chiquila, where you can take the ferry to Isla Holbox.
St. Petersburg, Florida
A family-friendly beach destination for fun in the sun
With award-winning beaches offering 35 miles of sand along Tampa Bay, calm waters and plenty of sun, St. Petersburg is quickly gaining momentum as a warm-weather destination for families. Downtown is home to many shops, restaurants, bars and unique attractions, such as an impressive Salvador Dali museum.
What to do
St. Pete beaches are known for their calm, warm and shallow waters. Add 360 days of sunshine per year and an average temperature of 73 degrees, and it's surprising that this sunny beach city still flies under the radar. Keep it laid back by relaxing on the shore, or bump up the action by parasailing, windsurfing or kiteboarding.
After a day of R&R, head downtown to enjoy the lively St. Petersburg culture and nightlife. There are 35 local craft breweries to choose from and many seafood restaurants ranging from casual fare to upscale. The most extensive collection of Salvador Dali's artwork outside of Europe resides in The Dalí Museum. You can even meet a local celebrity at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium — Winter the dolphin starred in the Dolphin Tale movies and is famous for her prosthetic tail.
United offers direct service to Tampa / St. Petersburg (TPA) from many U.S. cities.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
To have one of the most magnificent national parks (almost) to yourself
Though the weather is crisp and the temperature a few degrees chillier, the sun shines all month long at Grand Canyon National Park. Traveling here during the low season means fewer visitors will crowd your panoramic views of one of the world's largest canyons and most magnificent natural wonders.
What to do
From scenic drives to backcountry hiking, visiting in the winter makes for a more tranquil and peaceful adventure. The South Rim remains open all year round. The national park offers many trails to view the Colorado River snaking through snow-dusted temples and buttes. Try to catch at least one sunset or sunrise, and be sure to arrive with enough time to stake out a good vantage point. The visitors center and park website have recommendations for the best spots.
Ride the Grand Canyon Railway and travel back in time. A 64-mile stretch of railroad has been transporting passengers from the South Rim to the small town of Williams, Arizona, since 1901. The historic train has an observation dome car to catch the spectacular scenery and even has Wild West-themed entertainment aboard. Every evening in December, the Grand Canyon Railway transforms into the Polar Express and makes a stop at the North Pole where Santa boards the train to greet everyone.
Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is the closest major international airport to the South Rim. United offers service to Phoenix (PHX) from multiple U.S. cities.
Evolving our brand design
The United brand is heading in a new direction as we evolve the colors and patterns we use. Where did these new colors come from, exactly? Check out the video below to learn about the research, logic and thoughtfulness that went into this evolution as we took inspiration from the spaces around us, the environments we work in, our heritage, the United globe and much more.
Three Perfect Days: Riviera Maya
Story by Jordan Heller | Photography by Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock | Hemispheres, December 2018
There is some dispute as to how Playa del Carmen, the metropolitan heart of the Riviera Maya just 40 miles south of Cancún, got its name. Some say it's after Our Lady of Carmel, the title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as patroness of the Carmelites. But the more compelling story is the one told by locals.
As legend has it, in the 1970s and '80s, when the area first became a destination, tourists traveling by boat from neighboring Cozumel would disembark in Playa—then known as Xaman-Ha—on their way to the ruins of Tulum. A local Maya woman named Carmen would happily invite these travelers into her modest home for a traditional meal of fresh-caught seafood. She may not have had any experience with immaculate conception, but when it comes to Playa, this Carmen is definitely a matron saint. Today, her spirit can be felt throughout the Riviera Maya, which also includes the village of Tulum, the ruins of Cobá, and a number of small Maya communities on the Caribbean side of the Yucatán Peninsula where, if you're lucky, a woman not unlike Carmen will happily invite you into her home for a meal.
Exploring a Maya temple, befriending a butler and feasting on cochinita pibil
I eat grasshoppers for breakfast. No, this is not my way of saying I know how to handle a subordinate. I'm literally eating toasted grasshoppers sprinkled onto a dish of huevos rancheros with green tomatillo salsa, hoja santa, and goat cheese. I've just woken up at Playa del Carmen's Rosewood Mayakoba, which is perhaps the most luxurious resort I've ever stayed in (and I'm a travel writer). There's a private heated plunge pool outside my back door looking over a secluded lagoon, a spa Forbes rated one of the best in the world, and Tavo, my personal butler, who is at my beck and call through a Rosewood messaging app.
The sikil-p'aak tomato salad at La Ceiba Garden & Kitchen
A bottle of tequila and some toothpaste?
Certainly, Mr. Heller.
Despite all this luxury, I'm eating bugs—albeit with a Bloody Mary at a beachside restaurant overlooking the Caribbean. The toasted grasshoppers are crunchy (like perfectly burnt popcorn), incredibly delicious, and an appropriately indigenous start to a morning in which I'll be exploring the ruins of an ancient civilization.
After traveling inland to the village of Cobá, I trade my rental car for a “Maya taxi." It's the Yucatán version of a rickshaw—a padded bench fashioned atop the front wheel of a bicycle with a beach umbrella protecting me from the rain. My driver, Gustino, is transporting me through a mile of jungle and more than a millennium back in time, to the Late Classic (AD 550–830) Maya ruin of the Nohoch Mul Pyramid. The dirt path bustles with all manner of tourists riding Maya taxis, pedaling rented beach cruisers, or walking, excitedly talking about the sites of this ancient city in English, Spanish, German, Russian, and who knows what else.
As Gustino struggles to pedal through a particularly rough patch of mud, I ask him what nationality of tourist is the hardest to transport.
The Ixmoja pyramid at Cobá
“The Germans," he says. “It's not that they're overweight. They're just a very sturdy people. Americans are preferred: very easygoing and friendly people. Everybody wants an American fare."
When we arrive at Nohoch Mul, the panoply of tourists is suddenly speaking the same language: speechless. At 138 feet tall, the sheer scale of this temple is rivaled only by the gleaming hotels going up on the coast. But out here in the Cobá jungle, after I break the canopy and reach Nohoch Mul's summit, it's nothing but green as far as the eye can see, under which is apparently some 30 square miles of ancient city, most of it still obscured by the jungle. I'm told that just 5 percent of Cobá has been excavated since the project started in the 1970s.
"Today, if you come early in the morning, you find corn and beans here left by the local Maya, who continue to offer sacrifices to the gods."
“And what did they do with this little platform?" I ask Diego Viadero, my knowledgeable Tours by Locals guide, who's been schooling me on all manner of Maya history.
“Ah, yes," he says. “That's where the rulers would offer sacrifices to the gods, in hopes that they could avoid a collapse of the city."
“You mean like in the movie Apocalypto, where they chopped off the heads?" I ask.
“Just like in Apocalypto," says Viadero, doing his best to hold back an eye-roll. “Today, if you come early in the morning, you'll find corn and beans here left by the local Maya, who continue to offer sacrifices to the gods."
“Do you think it's enough?" I ask, making the comparison to the more (ahem) substantial offerings of yore. Let the eye-rolling commence.
The Rosewood Mayakoba's Sense Spa
Next, Viadero takes me to Nojoch Keej, which is Mayan for El Venado Grande, which is Spanish for “The Big Deer." It's a sanctuary for endangered animals run by a Maya man named Manuel Poot Dzib out of his back yard in the village of Nuevo Durango. Poot Dzib started the sanctuary in 2005, after Hurricane Wilma destroyed the habitats of many local animals. He now looks after bees (which produce honey that's said to have healing qualities), white-tail deer, paca, curassow, and ocellated turkeys, which he aims to repopulate in areas that are protected from hunters. From the looks of these turkeys, I think ocellated must be Mayan for peacock. They're vibrant, multicolored, and beautiful to look at.
"Tavo leaves me to my plunge pool, where I enjoy my cocktail to the sound of a rainbow-billed toucan flapping around the lagoon."
Poot Dzib asks us to stay for lunch, which is great, because I'm starving. “We're having cochinita pibil—es muy delicioso," he adds, giving off some of that Carmen spirit.
I breathe a sigh of relief when I learn that cochinita pibil is not Spanish for ocellated turkey. It's achiote-marinated pork that's been cooking with banana leaf in a hole in the ground in Poot Dzib's front yard since 8 this morning.
“They normally only do this for the Day of the Dead or other special occasions," Viadero says as we watch Poot Dzib remove the dirt and corrugated metal covering his subterranean oven.
A home-cooked meal, Maya-style
“We used to cover it with banana leaf instead of metal, but that's a much harder and longer process," says Poot Dzib. “This is more modern."
Modern? I'm not so sure, but I grant Poot Dzib that it's certainly an update. In any event, when put on a handmade tortilla with pickled onions and habanero, this cochinita pibil is definitely mouthwatering.
I say “Taakulak k'iin" (“See ya later" in Mayan) to Poot Dzib and his ocellated turkeys and head back to the Rosewood, where Tavo the butler awaits with that bottle of tequila, plus some fresh lime juice and agave nectar for mixers.
Certainly, Mr. Heller.
Tavo leaves me to my plunge pool, where I enjoy my drink to the sound of a rainbow-billed toucan flapping around the lagoon. Just one cocktail, however, as I'm hopping onto my complimentary beach cruiser (every guest gets one) to take a spin around the property, where geckos, iguanas, and even a tarantula skitter into the mangroves as I come rolling down the jungle path.
Appetite sufficiently worked up, I'm off to the Rosewood's La Ceiba Garden & Kitchen, where executive chef Juan Pablo Loza serves a communal dinner of Maya-inspired dishes with a contemporary touch. Seated at a long wooden table with 17 other guests, I ask the chef what he's learned from the local Maya villages, which he visits often to pick up cooking techniques.
“My top lesson from the Maya is less about food than it is about perspective," he says, before recounting a delicious meal he had with one family. “The woman who cooked for me had referred to her neighbor as poor. I found it an odd comment, because the assumption in a Maya village is that nobody is exactly rich. 'Why do you say your neighbor is poor?' I asked. She said because she has no family and no garden. If you don't have a garden, you can't get food from it, and if you don't have a family you have nobody to share it with. For them, having a family and a connection to nature is what it means to be rich."
“And now you have this beautiful garden," I say, pointing to his planters of lemongrass.
“And a family, too," he replies. “Including a daughter named Maya."
And then we feast. There's grilled octopus with black recado and burnt lime vinaigrette, zarandeado-style lobster, roasted plantains, and a k'úum salad of squash, arugula, orange, oregano, and ocosingo cheese, finished off with fresh fruits in guava honey and lemongrass.
Tavo, I'm stuffed! Turn out the light and have a pot of coffee waiting for me in the morning, please.
Certainly, Mr. Heller.
Scaling ruins, swimming in cenotes, and taking a turn on the karaoke mic
In the small village square outside Tulum National Park, the Voladores de Papantla are performing their ancient fertility ritual, or rain ceremony—named an “intangible cultural heritage" by UNESCO. Five men in traditional bright red pants and flowing white blouses with multicolored adornments sit atop a 90-foot pole. The man in the center taps an adagio beat on a simple drum and blows a gentle bird-like tune on a wooden flute while the other four men tie ropes around their waists. When the musician ups the tempo to allegretto, the other two men fall backward, like scuba divers dropping into water, and slowly descend upside down in a merry-go-round fashion, the spinning top ceding rope like a reel feeding line to a fish. It's absolutely beautiful.
On a path cutting through the mangroves and almond trees on the way to the park entrance, a guide shares a mnemonic device that will be helpful should I run into any venomous coral snakes: “red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, friend of Jack." I assume I'm a Jack.
"The water is high and crisp as we float past stalagmites growing ever so slowly out of the cave floor."
Thankfully, there are no snakes to be seen in the ancient Maya city of Tulum, an open patch of manicured lawns and stone ruins protected by walls to the north, west, and south, and an ocean reef to the east. Or so it was protected until around 1500, when the Spanish came ashore. This beachside community, established circa 1200, was populated by a few hundred of Tulum's elite (and the sea turtles that still come ashore to lay their eggs), with thousands of people living outside the walls. It wasn't until the 20th century, when archaeologists began studying the region's various Maya sites, that we began to understand how advanced their civilization was—especially in the area of astronomy. As I walk the city's white gravel paths, I can imagine a well-heeled society covered in jade and obsidian jewelry enjoying the same ocean breeze and studying the same night sky. One glance at the view, and it's clear the Maya knew something about real estate. This plot right here, with a lighthouse perched on the cliff, would go for a boatload of jade and obsidian.
Maya ruins at Tulum
After fortifying my stomach with a few al pastor tacos (don't forget the guacamole) at Tropi Tacos in Tulum Pueblo, I meet back up with Diego Viadero for a drive out to Sistema Sac Actun (White Cave System), one of the world's largest underground cave systems, a 164-mile maze of freshwater flowing through subterranean limestone. This afternoon, we're exploring just one mile of the system. The rain-conjuring Voladores de Papantla must be in top form lately; the water is high and crisp as we float past stalagmites growing ever so slowly (less than 10 centimeters every 1,000 years) out of the cave floor and reaching up toward stalactites hanging like icicles from the cave ceiling. It's like the setting of a science fiction movie, so otherworldly I try to prolong my stay by floating as slowly as the calcium deposits are forming in front of me.
“Be careful," says Viadero, as I get a little too close to a stalagmite that's been a million years in the making. “You wouldn't want to break it."
“I certainly wouldn't want that on my conscience," I agree.
After emerging from a cenote (a natural sinkhole where groundwater is exposed to the sky), I offer an adiós to Viadero and make my way to Tulum's Route 15—the narrow street that cuts through the jungle, parallel to the shore, and is lined with trendy restaurants, bars, and “eco-chic" (their word, not mine) hotels. Twenty years ago, this strip wasn't much, but now there's not a speck of beachfront that isn't occupied by an Instagram-ready boutique property. (The number of rope swings is astounding.) In recent years, Route 15 has played host to Demi Moore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Gina Rodriguez, Reese Witherspoon, and, after today, me. I'm staying at Sanará, a stylish wellness hotel that attracts young and hip sunworshippers from around the world who like partying and yoga in equal measure.
A shop on Tulum's Route 15
I check into my beachside room (furnished with my very own yoga mat and dream catcher), flop down on the bed, and open up the “Wellness Menu." On offer are a Pudzyah Mayan Healing that “transforms pain to love at the cellular level … It harmonizes your DNA by applying fractal geometry energy"; a Multivibrational Massage and Chakra Balancing; and a Solar Plexus Healer. I opt for the complimentary “Sound Bath" of light yoga and didgeridoo before balancing out my chakras with a burger, a beer, and some fresh ceviche at Clan Destino.
This laid-back spot is all about the ambience: a wooden deck with chandeliers hanging from the jungle canopy and a cenote smack dab in the middle of the club, should you need refreshing after one too many cervezas. The bar offers a free shot of mezcal for those who take a turn on the karaoke mic (“Suspicious Minds" for me, thank you very much); after accepting my applause and draining my shot, I turn the glass over on the bar and take the plunge.
Floating down a canal, swimming in the Caribbean, and eating gelato on the beach
A cabana at Mía
At The Real Coconut, Sanará's beachside restaurant, I dig into a light breakfast of coffee and avocado toast (piled high like Nohoch Mul with a squirt of lime and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes). It's a deliciously healthy start to a morning that's going to include traipsing through the Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve and swimming in Laguna Chunyaxché.
At Sian Ka'an—a protected area of tropical forest, marshes, and lagoons about a 40-minute drive from my hotel—I follow my guide, Joaquin Balam of Community Tours, down the narrow boardwalk of Sendero Muyil, which cuts through a forest of zapote and ficus trees. I'm told there are jaguars, pumas, and howler monkeys about, as well as some 330 species of birds.
“Are those the howler monkeys?" I ask of a muted rumbling in the distance.
"We're floating in the current like a couple of astronauts in space, limbs slowly twirling."
“Oh no," says Balam. “When you hear them, you'll know it."
The closest we get to this array of wildlife, however, is some jaguar claw marks on a ficus tree. By the looks of the marks, I'm happy that we're strolling alone.
Baby back ribs at Mía Restaurant & Beach Club
At the end of the path, we reach the sandy shoreline of Laguna Chunyaxché, a bright body of water that reflects both the green wetlands and the blue sky above. We cross the lagoon by boat, to a shoreline of mangroves and seagrass, and step onto a dock at the entrance to a canal.
“Take your life vest off and wear it like this," Balam says, putting his legs through the arm holes of the vest, as if it were a diaper.
“If you say so."
Balam jumps into the canal and I follow, and I immediately understand the Baby Huey getup. We're floating in the current like a couple of astronauts in space, limbs slowly twirling as our seemingly weightless bodies travel down the canal. Cue the opening horns of the score to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Back on Route 15, I stop in at Mía Restaurant & Beach Club for baby back ribs rubbed with chili and tamarind, washed down with a glass of Château Gloria St Julien Bordeaux from the restaurant's wine cave—the biggest collection of fine wines in Tulum. It's as decadent as the beachgoers lazing in the sun not far from my table.
Head still swimming in that lovely Château Gloria, I decide to take the rest of my body for a little dip. The Caribbean is bathwater warm and crystal clear—in other words, perfect. I walk out for what seems like half a mile, and the water still only comes up to my waist.
Gelato at Origami
Refreshed and sun-dried, I'm ready to trade in the historical and ecological sights of the last few days for the fashion runway of Route 15. The women wear bikinis and sarongs, the men wear linen shorts and loafers, and everybody wears designer shades, brimmed hats made of straw, and suntans of golden bronze. Origami, a beautifully designed gelato shop, is the perfect place to have a seat and watch the catwalk. I have a Ferrero Rocher and crunch on the hazelnuts drenched in icy chocolate and cream while the fashion models play street chicken with Vespas and the delivery trucks distributing tanks of fresh water to the five-star eateries
If Route 15 is for the well-heeled, then Calle Centauro Sur is for the flip-flop set. It's a strip in the center of town, about two miles inland from the beach, where the more casual tourists and locals congregate. Call it the Brooklyn to Route 15's Manhattan. At Batey—a hip, open-air bar and music venue decorated with paintings of Miles Davis and the Beatles—I take a sidewalk seat and listen to a Mexican Elvis impersonator singing Simple Minds' “Don't You (Forget About Me)." As I sip on a Don Julio Reposado, a patchouli-scented parade of 5 o'clock shadows and hot pink hair dye ambles by.
“Are you going dancing tonight?" a young man in a tank top, cut-off jean shorts, and tattered Chuck Taylors asks a friend sitting at the table next to me.
The bar at Mur Mur, in Tulum
“I'm dressed and ready to go."
Back on Route 15, the revelers are stepping out as if their outfits are going to be scrutinized by bouncers holding clipboards and manning red velvet ropes. Thankfully, no such velvet ropes exist as I enter Rosa Negra for an indulgent meal of burrata, besugo sashimi with black salt and citrus, soft-shell crab tacos, and Pescadores—a fine craft beer made right here in Riviera Maya.
The food is as comely as the patrons, who are bopping their well-coiffed heads to a drum-and-bass DJ. But before I have a chance to pass judgment on an ambience that may appear a touch too buttoned-up, a live conga player steps in front of the DJ.
A rat-a-tat tat, bop ba-da ba-bop, dup du-duh dup du-dup!
The congas add a touch of that Carmen spirit—their organic vibrations reminding me that despite all the Manolo Blahniks and slinky black dresses, my T-shirt and flip-flops are welcome at the party. I shimmy my shoulders, take a swig of my Pescadores, and nod to the beat as I dig into my tacos.
A rat-a-tat tat, ba dop ba-da ba-dop, dup du-buh dup bu-dup!
For Oscar, United's turnaround is a journey
Our CEO, Oscar Munoz, sat down with Texas Inc. to discuss our turnaround strategy, stating it's a journey. Read the full interview here featured on the Houston Chronicle.
Ankit Gupta honored with Crain's 40 under 40 recognition
Network Planning and Scheduling VP Ankit Gupta can talk airline business for hours without losing steam. Just don't ask him to talk about himself; that's when he clams up. You'd think after being named to this year's prestigious Crain's Chicago Business "40 Under 40" list he'd be a little more inclined to wax poetic about his life and career, but no such luck.
Security and technology in the air
This week on the Smart Women, Smart Power Podcast, Beverly Kirk is joined by Linda Jojo, Executive Vice President for Technology and Chief Digital Officer at United Airlines for a conversation on the transformation of technology in the airline industry and more on security in the digital age.
The best National Parks to visit all year round
National parks can be a refuge from the noise and hectic pace of everyday urban and suburban life — America's special places in nature. But during the summer peak season, they can be as busy as cities. Smart travelers visit between November and March when most parks are less crowded and accommodation choices are discounted. These national parks are especially worthwhile to visit and they're all close enough to major airports to make a three-day weekend getaway possible.
Fall and winter visitors to Yosemite National Park are treated to autumn leaves in the fall, snow-capped granite landmarks in the winter and replenished waterfalls in the spring. Tent camping can be cold, but hotel rooms in and around Yosemite Valley are widely available and Yosemite's historic lodge, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly Ahwahnee), hosts two big events in November and December: the Grand Grape Celebration and the Bracebridge Dinner (a recreation of Christmas in Olde England). Airport: Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
Many summer vacationers are among the one million annual visitors to Everglades National Park, but the best time to come is in late-autumn or winter. Southern Florida's temperatures are milder, it's far less humid, hurricane season is over and summer flooding of the prairies has receded — letting you see more fish and reptiles. You can also see more birds in the winter via airboat tours through the Everglades, America's largest tropical wilderness. Not to mention this “river of grass" is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve and a wetland of International Importance. Airport: Miami International Airport.
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Another world lives beneath Kentucky in the world's largest network of caves known as Mammoth Cave National Park. You will walk beneath massive crystallized formations inside the caverns and may spot one of the eight species of bats that thrive in this environment. The caves are about 54 degrees inside year-round, as if regulated by a thermostat, so they are protected from the hot humid summers and freezing winter nights above them, making them a perfect place to visit any time of the year. Visitors to this southern Kentucky park will also benefit from this climatic predictability while taking any of eight cave tours. While cave tours should be at the top of your list of things to do here, this park also offers hiking, camping, horseback riding, kayaking and more. Airport: Louisville International Airport.
Your visit to Haleakala National Park may include a number of experiences, but witnessing the sunrise or sunsets are a must. Many visitors wake up early to drive to the Summit Visitor Center to view one of the best sunrises. But make sure to plan accordingly because the National Park Service now requires a reservation for vehicles to view the sunrise from the Summit District. Other activities on the 10,023-foot mountain include hiking one of the nine trails, guided horseback rides and bike rentals post-hike to coast most of the way down. An added bonus: Humpback whale watching season stretches from December to March in Maui. Airport: Kahului Airport.
Saguaro, a type of giant cacti, serve many functions for desert wildlife — but they don't cast much shade. That's why winter is the best time to hike among them where they populate hillsides by the thousands in Saguaro National Park. The park is split in two, straddling the western and eastern boundaries of Tucson, with 165 miles of hiking trails. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a museum, zoo and botanical garden, is a must-see attraction on the edge of Saguaro NP West. Airport: Tucson International Airport.
Joshua Tree, California
The namesake of Joshua Tree National Park is an odd-looking tree that fits in well with the weirdly wonderful rock formations adored by photographers in this high desert park. Located between Palm Springs and the L.A. area, the park encompasses two major deserts and a mountain range, offering a profoundly contrasting appearance due to the two varying ecosystems. This park can be explored by car or by foot on one of the 27 hiking trails. A bonus to visiting in the winter is the desert wildflower blooms between February and April. Airport: Palm Springs International Airport.
Famous lighthouse at Key Biscayne, Miami
Most of Biscayne National Park is on water, not land, so the best way to see its coral reefs (among the world's largest) and the abundance of marine life (highlighted by manatees and sea turtles) is by renting a boat or taking a boat tour. Several marinas are found at the park's edges where you can do just that, as well as rent snorkeling or diving equipment for a closer look underwater, where you'll discover diverse and colorful aquatic life and multiple shipwrecks. Kayaking and fishing in Miami-Dade County are also popular. Airport: Miami International Airport.
If you go
United Airlines flies to airports within a two-hour drive of all of these national parks. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your accommodations. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your national park getaway.
The feedback from customers and employees was clear: we needed to improve our boarding process. As part of our ongoing efforts to put customers at the center of everything we do, we identified boarding as an opportunity to improve the airport experience. We tested a variety of different boarding processes on thousands of flights across multiple airports. Best practices emerged from each test, and combined, they now form what we are calling "Better Boarding".
Better Boarding consists of three key improvements
Less time in line:
By reducing the number of boarding lanes, there is more space for customers to enjoy the gate areas, many of which have been completely remodeled with more comfortable seating and in some airports, the ability to have food and drinks from within the airport delivered directly to the gate area. Over the years, we have invested millions of dollars in our terminals, and now with less time spent standing in line, customers will have more time to dine, shop, relax, work or enjoy a United Club℠.
Simplified gate layout
Say goodbye to the five long lines we see today
Group 1 will board through the blue lane.
Group 2 will board through the green lane, followed by groups 3, 4, and 5.
Late arriving customers in Group 1 and 2 will use the blue lane.
Customers in groups 3, 4, and 5 always use the green lane.
We are providing customers with more information throughout the boarding process so that they feel more at ease, and more equipped with the latest information about their flight. Customers with the United app can receive a push notification once their flight starts boarding. Customers will only receive the notification if they've opted in for push notifications and have a mobile boarding pass in the app's wallet.
Be in the know about boarding
Customers will receive boarding notifications through the United app (if they've opted in for notifications).
Improved gate area digital signage to guide customers through boarding.
Balanced groups and better recognition:
United MileagePlus® Premier 1K® customers will now pre-board and United MileagePlus Premier Gold customers will be boarding in Group 1. For more information on our boarding groups, visit: https://www.united.com/web/en-us/content/travel/airport/boarding-process.aspx
Improved premier customer recognition
We're happy to make them happy
Improved premier recognition and better positioning of customers to create balanced boarding groups.
The new Better Boarding process is just one of the steps we are taking to improve the customer experience. We will continue to collect feedback from customers on ways we can further improve boarding and you may receive a post-travel survey to tell us more about your experience
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From players and personnel to thousands of pounds of equipment, it takes not only a game plan, but a team to get the San Francisco 49ers to their next game and back all within 24 hours. This process is a little thing in the airline business we call chartering. Learn more about how our Charter team gets professional sports teams to their away games and back on the newest episode of Big Metal Bird.
On March 8, 2018, we announced a new global relationship with Special Olympics, an organization we've partnered with for many years focusing on supporting the spirit of inclusion with our employees through local communities and through our Charity Miles Program. United's increased sponsorship includes support for major Special Olympics events, including the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago, site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games in 1968, and the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
In addition, United will engage with local Programs in our key markets around the world. Special Olympics embodies our shared purpose to connect people and unite the world. With more than 5 million athletes and 1 million coaches and volunteers in 172 countries, our employees and customers will join forces with Special Olympics to achieve our shared vision of inclusion. Together, we hope to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities.
Our relationship with Special Olympics represents a continued effort to break down barriers and further build on the organization's remarkable legacy by engaging our customers and employees around the world. Working together, we created new training that specifically reflects insights from Special Olympics, including training scenarios with real-life situations that individuals with intellectual disabilities face when traveling. By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 United frontline employees will have participated in the new training modules that reflect Special Olympics insights as United takes steps to deliver a world full of inclusion.
Check back this summer for coverage from Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago and 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
"Many years ago at an air show, I saw a T-shirt that said 'Chicks fly,'" said Orlando-based Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor and Chix Fix team coach Laura Spolar. "And I told my husband, 'Chicks can fly, but chicks can also fix!' A lot of people don't know that women are aircraft mechanics."
Laura didn't know it at the time, but that conversation would serve as the inspiration for the team name of our history-making, all-female team of technicians that competed in the
2018 Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC). Of 69 teams at this year's AMC, only three were made up entirely of women, and Chix Fix was the only one representing a commercial airline.
"It's so important for us to show young girls and women that this is a career option for them," said Airframe Overhaul and Repair Managing Director Bonnie Turner, the Chix Fix team captain.
Chix Fix is made up of technicians from five stations. As a group, they only practiced together three times before the competition, but they bonded instantly.
"I feel like I've known these women my whole career," said Denver-based Line Technician Janelle Bendt. "It's been a lot of fun getting to know them and learning from them."
"As a team we just communicate really well; we all respect each other," said San Francisco-based Base Technician Katrina Oyer. "The biggest thing I've taken away from this experience is confidence. Working with these ladies is an eye opener. We really can do anything."
Watch the video above to learn more about Chix Fix and their journey to the AMC.