The Black Bandit of Yucatan Birds

By Dave McBride

Whenever one travels in the Riviera Maya, one will inevitably meet a native whose mission is to (with guile and aggression) turn a tourist encounter to personal profit. Sometimes the light-fingered grifter is a time-share agent. Sometimes it is a Great-tailed Grackle.

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The Great-tailed Grackle (aka Mexican Grackle) is the larger cousin of the gang of Boat-tailed Grackles in my Florida backyard, who flock together to put on a morning zoo show just before dawn, talking over each other with more raucous chatter than a Fox News expert panel.

The Mayan natives call the grackle X’kau, or the Mexican Crow, although it is not a member of the crow family. These onyx opportunists disperse at dawn to commute to work either as lone bandits or in an organized gang of marauders. Native to wetlands and forests, in recent years they have discovered the tourist towns and resorts of the Yucatan far easier places to make a living, swooping and swiping the tater tot right off the breakfast tray on your hotel balcony.

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One will fix its steely yellow eyes on the remains of your taco till your attention is distracted and its amigos strike. You know the stare the raptors in the Jurassic movies focus on their victims? That’s the grackle stare. Their predation is why resorts seldom set up buffets outdoors. But their commitment to the pack-hunting brotherhood is falsehearted and fleeting because of the grackle’s fundamental selfishness. A gang member will fly to the brother who scored a prize as if intending to share a chest bump, and instead snatch the tortilla fragment out of the sucker’s mouth. Their memories are so short both return to being BFFs planning a new raid within thirty seconds.

A Mexican fable alleges that in the creation the Zanate (another name for the grackle) had no voice. So it stole sevens songs from the sea turtle, expressing the passions of love and hate, fear and courage, joy and sadness and anger. It is said all of these emotions can be heard in the chorus of grackle noise when they gather to gossip like tweens at an American-Girl-themed sleepover.

Many consider them bothersome pests and plain, compared to their colorful avian amigos. But the males reflect a satiny purple and green iridescence in their inky-black feathers and they demonstrate an engaging cunning and cleverness. It’s my observation they cackle cheerfully at the audacity of their own escapades and high five their cohorts with congratulatory whistles and snickers. I like this bird and enjoy its fellowship despite its annoying supremacy in any battle of wits.

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Veteran Newsman Dave McBride is an award-winning news radio reporter, anchor and program director and creator of fan-favorite Dave’s Raves. Dave has received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Writing for Radio/Large Market and the 2010 and 2011 Murrow for continuing news coverage. He was awarded the New York Festivals World Gold Medal for Best Writing for Radio. In his first year in Florida he received the Florida AP award for Best Long Light Feature in both first and second place. Dave is currently based in South Florida.

The Top Family Vacation Spots For 2016

Summer vacation is right around the corner. Your kids are ready. Are you? Give yourself and your family a much needed break this year: no lunches to prepare, dishes to watch, clothes to clean, or beds to make. Just fun in the sun with your spouse and children. (P.S. These resorts have kid’s clubs so you can enjoy some alone time with your husband or wife).

 

Riviera Maya     Jamaica     Punta Cana     Bahamas


Riviera Maya, Mexico

Riviera Maya beach

South of Riviera Cancun, Riviera Maya is home to many of Mexico’s best hotels and all-inclusive resorts. Stretching 100 miles, the area offers endless white sand beaches, lush jungles and ancient Mayan cities.

Where To Stay

Grand Sunset Princess All Suite Resort

Grand Sunset Princess All Suite Resort

Complemented by natural surroundings of fascinating beauty, this impressive resort is located along a pristine white sand beach in Playa del Carmen and offers an unforgettable 24-hour all-inclusive vacation experience. The resort offers 7 a la carte restaurants including Mexican, Italian, Asian, and seafood. There are 12 pools including eight main pools and four kids’ pools. Kids also have their very own mini-club, and the teen club provides fun from 4pm until 11pm.

What To Do

Xcaret

Xcaret Park is an expansive eco-complex situated just off the gorgeous Caribbean Sea. Swim in underground rivers, snorkel in protected inlets, observe exotic animals in natural habitats and visit a cool coral reef aquarium in this fabulous park!

 

Runaway Bay, Jamaica

Boats in Jamaica

Nothing is a problem on this island paradise, where the sounds of soft reggae harmonize with the lapping waves on soft shores. The theme of every vacation, regardless of which corner of the island, is relaxation to the max.

Where To Stay

Grand Bahia Principe Jamaica

Grand Bahia Principe Jamaica

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This spectacular Victorian-style resort is located on the beachfront in Runaway Bay. Both adults and children alike will enjoy the three interconnecting lake-style pools that surround the main building that includes two children’s sections and three Jacuzzis. Also included are free non-motorized watersports and a Mini-Club for kids 4-12.

What To Do

Dunn’s River Falls

The setting is truly breathtaking, and the incredible cascading falls challenge, refresh and delight visitors of all ages. Enjoy everyone’s favorite activity, which is climbing up the falls. This is relatively easy. But if you prefer, you can take a swim or walk alongside the river all the way to the top and appreciate the beauty of the tropical vegetation.

 

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Punta Cana

Known best for its endless stretches of white sand beaches, Punta Cana is often referred to as the Coconut Coast. No resort in Punta Cana is higher than the highest palm tree, and there is no shortage of palms on the 40 miles of white sand beaches.

Where To Stay

Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe

Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe

At Barceló Bavaro Palace Deluxe, family is always first, with a full day’s activities awaiting your crew. Take the kids to the Barcy’s Kids’ Club where they will take part in games, movies, arts and crafts, and more. Come and practice your swing on the 18-hole miniature golf course, enjoy 4 swimming pools for all types of entertainment, and watch your children play on castles, water slides, and waterfalls at Barcy Water Park!

What To Do

Marinarium Tour

Set off in a glass bottom boat to the Marinarium Marine Park for a Punta Cana snorkeling adventure. After some time exploring the reef and underwater marine life of the Caribbean Sea, you’ll be given the opportunity to swim with nurse sharks and stingrays. But don’t worry! This shark and stingray excursion is completely safe!

 

Paradise Island, Bahamas

Bahamas

By far, sparkling turquoise waters and white sandy beaches stretching for miles have always been one of the most alluring features of The Bahamas. The ocean ranges from absolutely clear and colorless turquoise to all imaginable shades of blues.

Where To Stay

Atlantis

The Atlantis

Unleash a world of magic and wonder as you discover Atlantis, Paradise Island. World-class restaurants, luxury shopping, the Caribbean’s largest casino, fantastic water sports, thrilling slides and rides, Dolphin Cay, hundreds of species of sea animals at the Marine Habitat, and so much more, all ready to discover, right at your fingertips.

What To Do

Aquaventure at Atlantis

Atlantis Paradise Island’s water park is a one-of-a-kind 141-acre waterscape. This non-stop aquatic thrill ride features over twenty million gallons of water, incredible Atlantean-themed towers, thrilling high-speed water slides, a mile-long river ride with rolling rapids and wave surges, 20 swimming areas, a spectacular kids water-play fort and 11 unique and refreshing swimming pools.

 

Snorkeling adventure at Maui’s Molokini Crater and Turtle Town

We asked Instagrammer michaeldizon to take us along as he and his wife Niki and kids Jake and Liam explored the Hawaiian Islands in December. Here’s their trip report:

Snorkeling is one of those activities that everyone in our family could do. With two kids in tow (one 8 and the other 11), it was a great way to kick off our stay in Maui. Quicksilver was easy to find in the Harbor. After signing a waiver form, we boarded their boat and enjoyed a continental breakfast while receiving instructions from the crew about safety and how to put on the equipment.

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Our first stop was Molokini Crater, which was roughly a 20-minute boat ride from the harbor. The water was cool and clear – perfect conditions for snorkeling. Donning the snorkel mask and fins make you superhuman; not only can you breathe underwater, but you get more power out of your kicks when you swim. To make it easier, we put on flotation devices around our waists, which made our one-hour stay at the crater less strenuous.

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And one hour was the perfect amount of time for us. At that point we boarded the boat and were ready to go to our second location, Turtle Town. En route, the crew served a buffet-style lunch of pulled-pork sandwiches, potato salad and drinks. Afterward, a crew member passed out home-baked chocolate chip cookies, which was a nice treat and gave us the energy we needed for our last stop.

Turtle Town was less deep than Molokini Crater, and that allowed us to get closer to the coral and see the underwater life. Like its name suggests, it’s a popular spot for turtles, but we weren’t so lucky that day and didn’t encounter any. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful spot where the world underwater is just as colorful and vibrant as it is above the surface.

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Jungle Valley Adventure with Princeville Ranch Adventures Part II: Zipping through the air with the greatest of ease

We asked Instagrammer michaeldizon to take us along as he and his wife Niki and kids Jake and Liam explored the Hawaiian Islands in December. Here’s their trip report:

One of the most popular activities offered in tropical destinations is ziplining. In theory, it sounds insane: Strap yourself into a harness, connect that harness to a wire strung high between two trees, and jump, hoping that wire and that harness will get you safely to the next platform.

In reality, ziplining is … awesome. It’s safe, fun, requires just about zero athletic ability, and makes you sound cool to friends and family alike. And anyone can do it, from my 8- and 11-year-old sons to my 70-something parents.

During our trip to Kauai, my family signed up for Princeville Ranch Adventure’s Jungle Valley Tour, which combined ziplining through the rainforest with more mild-mannered adventuring such as kayaking, hiking, and swimming. This was the part of the tour my sons were most excited about, and it did not disappoint.

Our guides, experts in the flora and fauna of Kauai, also turned out to be experts in ziplining. They cleverly didn’t tell us we were hiking up to the lines until there we were, 60 feet above the rainforest without even realizing it. They helped us into our harnesses, secured us with two lines for safety, and eased our fears. After one guide zipped across to wait for us on the next platform, it was our turn. IMG_0013

My kids, who had never ziplined, jumped up to the front of the line and whooped and hollered their way across the rainforest. Then it was my turn. Do I step off? Jump? Ease my way down? Finally, after the guide jokingly said he would push me after the next question, I jumped – and suddenly was whizzing high above the trees, feeling free and exhilarated.

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At the next platform, we did it all over again, this time with everyone – including me – eager to go first!

Jungle Valley Adventure with Princeville Ranch Adventures Part I: Hiking, kayaking, and a hidden swimming hole

We asked Instagrammer michaeldizon to take us along as he and his wife Niki and kids Jake and Liam explored the Hawaiian Islands in December. Here’s their trip report:

Of all of Hawaii’s islands, Kauai is known for its bounty of natural beauty. Dozens of Hollywood movies have been filmed in Kauai, with its landscape filling in for everything from Jurassic Park to the alien lands of Avatar.

We decided that the best way to explore Kauai was to get up close and personal with the nature the island is known for. That’s where Princeville Ranch Adventures came in. The huge ranch offers a variety of tours including ziplining, ATV off-roading, and horseback riding. We chose the Jungle Valley Adventure, a five-hour tour that included a little bit of everything: hiking, kayaking, ziplining, and a dip in a hidden swimming hole.

My family of four (including two adventurous boys ages 8 and 11) was welcomed to the town of Princeville by its natives – chickens! They roam freely on the ranch and in the nearby area, squawking away at everyone they meet. Our true welcome came once we found the ranch, where two friendly and knowledgeable guides were eager to get us started!

Word to the wise: Princeville Ranch Adventures rents hiking sandals for just $5, and it’s the best investment you can make. The hiking trails are MUDDY, which just adds to the adventure! We hiked up a hill and past some curious cows, taking in the breathtaking scenery as we made our way to a nearby stream.

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Kayaks awaited us at the stream, and the guides made it easy for the novices among us to figure out how to go with the flow as we glided to our next destination. A short hike later we were high above the rainforest and ready to zip through the trees (more on that in part two).

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Our adventure ended with a nice picnic lunch and a cool dip in a hidden swimming hole with a waterfall before we hiked and kayaked back to civilization. We explored many places in Hawaii, but our boys enjoyed this true adventure the most!

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Hungry for Hawaii?

We asked Instagrammer michaeldizon to take us along as he and his wife Niki and kids Jake and Liam explored the Hawaiian Islands in December. Fair warning: Don’t read this if you’re hungry!

Click on each photo for all the delicious details!

Advice from a Fitness Pro: Top Workouts in Mexico & the Caribbean

As owner of Fit Bodies Inc., which places fitness, yoga and sports professionals as guest instructors at luxury resort properties throughout Mexico & the Caribbean, fitness pro Suzelle Snowden has toured hundreds of resorts. We asked her for her favorite places for a good workout, and here’s what she had to say:

  1. The spin studio at Secrets the Vine Cancun has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the pools and the sea. It’s the perfect view to fuel you through your workout.

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  1. Dreams Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa has a great gym and indoor studio for spin and fitness classes, but the real standout here is the outdoor yoga classes held in the wedding gazebo.

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  1. Negril’s Couples Swept Away has an amazing 10 acre sports & fitness complex that includes lit tennis courts, two squash courts, two racquetball courts, a fully equipped gym, 25-meter lap pool, aerobics, yoga, an outdoor jogging track, steam rooms, saunas, Jacuzzi and a basketball court. Fit Bodies Inc. sends two professional instructors there each week – one for yoga and one for fitness.

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  1. Head out to the pier at Secrets Silversands Riveria Cancun for yoga classes. But you have to get there early – classes at this dreamy location fill up quickly!

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  1. With a well-stocked gym, Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa would be a great choice for any fitness fanatic, but what makes this resort stand out is the early morning powerwalk through Cinnamon Hill Golf Course to the famous Rose Hall Great House at the top of the hill.

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  1. While Secrets Papagayo Costa Rica has a beautiful spa and fitness center, the pro tip here is that every single member of the resort’s entertainment team is a professional dancer – guaranteed to get that heart rate pumping during poolside dance lessons or water aerobics!

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  1. Secrets St. James Montego Bay and Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay share a fitness facility that overlooks manicured tropical gardens. Fit Bodies Inc. offers a yoga teacher and a fitness teacher there each week. SEMB_Aerial3_1