San Juan

Woke up at 3:30 this morning to catch a flight to Puerto Rico from BWI. Well worth it: I've been wandering around colonial San Juan since I arrived around noon local time. The old city is small but charming; reminiscent to me more of Cádiz in Spain than colonial cities I've visited in Mexico. Tomorrow I plan to blitz the national historic site and a few of the museums. For now, though, I'm beat.

York

As Eboracum, York was the northernmost city in the Roman Empire. Inhabited in turn by Saxons, Vikings, and Normans, York acquired an extraordinary amount of historical treasures before falling into relative poverty during the Industrial Revolution, a perfect scenario for preservation.

Having time available between visiting friends in London and Oxford on the prior weekend and a conference in Edinburgh the next, I decided to take a short break to poke around the city. The cathedral ('York Minster') is the dominant and most photogenic feature. Inside are what seems like acres of stained glass, most dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. Underneath, the crypt has remains of the prior Norman church and a Roman fortress still lower. York is reminiscent of former ecclesiastical centers I've seen in southern Europe, with an over abundance of old parish churches on every corner, which are nice to spend some quieter time in. The newly-built museum is small but keeps your interest, plus it's set on a beautiful lawn next to a ruined abbey. Very nice. I'd call it well worth a day or two if you're heading north-south on the east coast of Britain.

Tulum Ruins

Perched picturesquely above the Caribbean, the ruins of the Mayan city
of Tulum are beset daily by wave upon wave of tour buses. So we took
advantage of our location a couple miles away in town to get there
well before the worst of the crowds, when the park opened at 8:00.
Definitely worth it; when we left, the line for the ticket office
looked to be about 20 minutes long and growing.

Cobá

After the monkey reserve, we headed back down the road a few
kilometers to the archeological site of Cobá, home to the tallest
Mayan building in the Yucatan. The various temple and building groups
are spread out, but the cheap bike rental makes it easy to wind around
big tour groups and spend time looking rather than walking. I
personally don't have much of a historical frame of reference beyond
"pre-Colombian" to really put the site into context, but the fact that
the top of the temple (142m) is by far the highest thing visible from
one side of the horizon to the other is impressive enough.

Monkey Reserve

We woke up at 6:30 this morning to drive to the Punta Laguna Monkey
Reserve in time to catch them still on their morning rounds having
fruit for breakfast. The reserve encompasses a 2km-wide lake,
surrounded by tropical forest that's home to 400-500 monkeys (spider
monkeys and howler monkeys), jaguars, pumas, and other endangered
wildlife. Our guide helped us find a few different groups of both
spider and howler monkeys, inducing the latter to make startling loud
calls to each other, plus gave some language lessons in his native
Maya on the side. Well worth the early wake-up and hour-long drive
into the jungle.

Upton Park - West Ham v Aston Villa

Just got back from an afternoon outing to Upton Park to see a
relegation battle between West Ham and Aston Villa. I got a pretty
good seat buying a single online a month ago or so, as you can see
from the photos. West Ham went ahead in the second minute when Robbie
Keane found himself the lucky recipient of a blown offside trap, but
they were abject for most of the rest of the game. Most of the
spectators around me attributed their poor showing to missing Scott
Parker in midfield (phrased slightly differently, though). Villa
finally went ahead in stoppage time, and the stands emptied. Still,
it was a great afternoon, beautiful weather, and fun to see another
stadium.

Greatest Sandwich Ever

Thanks to my friend Marcia for introducing this to me last year. It's
from a Spanish stand at the Borough Market in London -- grilled bread
drizzled with olive oil, grilled chorizo, roasted red pepper, and
rocket (arugula). Heaven.

Pictured also is the line around the block for Monmouth Coffee. I had
planned to stop back there as well, but didn't see a half hour wait
being worth it, and hit a less popular (but also tasty) coffee stand
instead. The hardest part of the market is walking past all the
cheeses that I can't realistically bring home. Quel dommage du
fromage...

Isle of Skye

Today was spent on a counter-clockwise circuit around the north of the
Isle of Skye. The landscape is almost entirely denuded of trees; only
the peat bog remains. The islands are formerly volcanic, and the vast
sweeps of the remnants are just unbelievably beautiful.

There are Highland Cows (pictured below) and baby lambs just weeks old
(not pictured), plus seals (couldn't get close enough to reliably
photograph) and golden eagles (not fast enough to photograph). The
final photos are from Neist Point, the westernmost point in Skye. The
only thing between there and North America are the Outer Hebrides;
watching the weather come across the Atlantic to finally land on the
Europe is fantastic.

I had a fantastic dinner tonight in Portree -- langoustines, scallops,
salmon, and mussels, all pulled out of the water within about 20 miles
of here. Currently at the pub that has both wifi and the Champions
League match between Manchester United and Chelsea. Not bad.

Western Scottish Highlands

Left Edinburgh early Monday morning en route to the Isle of Skye, via
a windy route around the western highlands of Scotland. It's
basically impossible to take a bad picture here; nothing but gorgeous
vistas in every direction you look.

The castle pictured below is Eilean Donan, a former Mackenzie clan
stronghold that was at times in the 16th-17th centuries maintained by
constables from the Macauleys (ancestor shoutout). Not only one of the
most photographed in all of Scotland, it also served as a set for the
horrible 80s B-movie The Highlander.

Colima & Comala

Last Thursday, I decided to get out of town for a bit. There's a bus
available that goes from Barra to Colima, the capital of the state by
the same name, about two hours away; Colima has a Ruby programmers
meetup; nearby suburb Comala is famous for its coffee. Easy choice.

I caught the bus in Barra in the middle of the afternoon, arriving in
Colima around 6:00 pm. Following the excellent meetup, two members
very graciously took me on a quick tour of downtown Colima (from its
best vantage point -- the top level of a parking garage) and then to
Comala, about 10km away. After dropping my stuff at the hotel and
getting checked in, we went out for coffee (pictured below) and some
snacks.

The next day I had the morning and early afternoon available to
myself, so I wandered around Comala for a while. The town reminds me
of Medina Sidonia in Spain -- all whitewashed walls and cobbled
streets, and almost eerily quiet at times. I sat on the square at a
coffee shop and did some work, and that was that.

Hopefully I can get back to Colima at some point and see the city
itself in more detail.

Beach Sounds Mix

I've composed a mix of some of my favorite music from the past couple
weeks. If Posterous' embedding works as advertised, you should be
able to listen along with the associated Youtube videos. Head down below the break to check it out.

Drums - Let's Go Surfing

The opening statement of intent comes from a leader of the current
crop of surf-inspired indie rock bands, familiar to anyone who doesn't
mute VW ads. It serves as the prototype -- you have the clean,
uptempo guitar line; the whistled hook; the elementary school summer
break bridge.

Saint Etienne - You're In A Bad Way

A classic off 1993's "So Tough," this is quintessential St Etienne.
Sarah Cracknell serves as 60s girl-pop frontwoman, with two former
music journalists mashing up a pop encyclopedia as the backing track.

Best Coast - Our Deal

Of the current crop of surf revivalists, Best Coast are my favorite
and probably best-poised for mainstream success. It's hard to go
wrong with Bethany Cosentino's dreamy, multiplied chorus laid over
Phil Spector-style bells, but cramming so much bliss into a two-minute
package vaults this one into the stratosphere occupied by Primal
Scream's "Velocity Girl."

Beach Boys - Good Vibrations

By far the most recognizable beach-inspired artists in history, the
Beach Boys churned a vast catalog of classics. "Good Vibrations"
strikes what I find the best intersection between their accessible pop
genius and instrumental and compositional experimentation. Also it
prompted from Colleen about the use of the theremin.

Teenage Fanclub - The Concept

You can either get sunny music from those experienced with it (see the
two previous California-based bands) or from those pining for it, like
Glasgow's Teenage Fanclub. The opening blast of guitar feedback here
leads into a two-line summation of the song's subject: "She wears
denim wherever she goes / Says she's gonna buy some records by the
Status Quo" followed by the first of many "oh yeah"s. The
multi-minute guitar solo in the middle gives us plenty of time to
contemplate how to start Side B.

Smith Westerns - Smile

This pretty piece of glam rock is my favorite track off one of my
favorite releases of 2011, the Smith Westerns' "Dye It Blonde." Given
the ingredients -- the hushed vocals, the overdriven-but-down guitar,
the dense instrumentation, the acoustic guitar break -- it's kind of a
miracle that it doesn't come out sounding like T Rex-by-numbers.

Webb Brothers - Summer People

This is just a great coming-out-after-winter song. It has a pleasant
post-Britpop sensibility to it: They are a band, they have guitars and
possibly a couple synths, and they wrote some songs, and now here they
are.

Wavves - King of the Beach

This is seriously infectious surf/noise/punk/whatever. The first two
Wavves albums veered a little too lo-fi for my tastes, but the third
hits a sweet spot between snotty bedroom punk and polished beach pop.

Los LavaLamps - Coconut Devil

Los LavaLamps are from Guadalajara, Mexico; they play entirely
instrumental surf-rock; they do so in lucha libre masks; occasionally
they choreograph parts of the live performance; and apparently they
can go 6 hours without repeating a song. I consider walking into a
show of theirs at Rey Momo here in Barra one of my all-time
serendipitous moments.

Beach Fossils - Daydream

It's languid, and it's reverby, and it's gorgeous. The slightly
off-kilter four-piece vibe gives Beach Fossils a nostalgic AM radio
feel.

The Byrds - You Ain't Going Nowhere

The thrilling opening country-rock salvo from "Sweetheart of the
Rodeo," this is one of the Byrds' greatest Dylan covers. It was also
the highlight of an otherwise forgettable beach bar set Colleen and I
accidentally caught (think Kenny Chesney and Jimmy Buffett), prodding
me out of semi-annoyance into an approximation of one of the chorus
harmony parts. It's not the same without the pedal steel, though, so I
cranked this on my laptop as soon as we got home.

Air - Remember

I'm closing here with Air at their wistful best, off their debut and
the pinnacle of French retro-futurism, "Moon Safari." The album
itself is so perfect it almost seems like a colossal cosmic accident.
The Youtube version features the most useful comment ever posted on
the site: The drum track here is from the Beach Boys' "Do It Again."
Cosmic coincidence yet again.

Tacos To Go

Colleen left this afternoon, so I am back to the bachelor life here.
First order of business is replacing long pleasant dinners out with
fast food brought home in a disposable container.

Here I've bought from a dinner-only stand around the corner four tacos
de adobada (marinated pork) con todo (everything, namely beans,
cilantro, onions, and shredded cabbage). Additionally, there are
terrific grilled onions and so-so radishes, and an assortment of
salsas. I used just the guacamole (in pale green); the rest go into
the fridge to be used with eggs for breakfast.

Total cost was $MN20, about $1.75 US.

Tenacatita Boat Trip

We went on a boat excursion to Tenacatita today to snorkel,
whale-watch, and tour the mangrove. We snorkeled multiple times in
Tenacatita (a beach about 45 min north of here by car), but since then
a property dispute has closed the land entrance to the beach and
cleared all the palapa restaurants from the shore.

You can still get to the reef by boat though, which is what we did
today. The way to and back caught us numerous whale sightings,
including one fully-airborne gray whale easily visible from probably a
half-mile away. We saw a couple sea turtles in the open ocean; rays,
eels, and tropical fish in the reefs; and baby crocodiles in the
mangrove.