Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mexico, part 1: "Dos Soles, por favor"

While my last post indicated that our summer vacation would look like white sands and blue waters, the truth is, it looked much more like this:

Not that I'm complaining. Gulping down copious amounts of icy Mexican beer is basically the only way to survive that kind of suffocating heat and humidity. And even if you down six bottles in one sitting? You sweat so much you won't get even a tiny buzz. TRUST ME, I TRIED. So I can only imagine that the muchas cervezas were replenishing much-needed bodily fluids, like a bubbly IV drip in a pretty glass bottle. So thank you, Sol beverage manufacturers, for saving my life in Mexico like 30 or 40 times.

So you'll recall that this is the trip I accidentally bought in March 2007. And I'm relieved to report it was worth every cent. It was the kind of vacation that had all the exact right amounts of adventure and terror, of luxury and relaxation.

But you have to get out of the hotel area. Aside from the beach -- which is of course big and breathtaking and everywhere you look -- the long strip of hotels is entirely disenchanting. For the first day and a half, I was like "Really? This is it?!" Our resort was definitely nice, but unlike the strip in Vegas, there's no real incentive (or even a sidewalk, for that matter) to hotel-hop if you want a change of scenery. Once you have visited your hotel's lobby bar, its restaurant, its beachside bar and again the lobby bar, you're kinda over it. So it wasn't until deep into Day 2 when we finally left the hotel zone that we really began to discover Mexico.

Before I get into all that, though, I need to tell you about the food. OK, I am not even making this up, over seven days and 21 meals, there wasn't a single disappointment to be found in the lot. Not one! I mean, you can't even leave town for a WEEKEND in the United States without at least one stinker of a restaurant experience. But on our trip, the worst thing I could complain about was the crab-mushroom dip at Margaritaville that ONLY didn't knock our socks off. It was merely fine. Everything else? Astounding.

I found that the Yucat√°n's most delicious foods are also the simplest. For instance, have you ever tasted a banana that was so mouthwatering, you actually closed your eyes while savoring it? We discovered these at our hotel's breakfast buffet. They were ugly on the outside, but the flesh was velvety and golden, like tropical candy. And evidently frijoles refritos taste a bit better than the cylindrical brown blob that slides out of a Rosarita Fat-Free Refried Beans can -- I have never had such thrilling beans in my life! Quesadillas on housemade tortillas ooze Mexican cheese and seasoned steak. Guacamole and avocados are so bright green it borders on absurd. Tacos overflow with chunks of fresh white fish, under a squirt of lime and a sprinkling of diced purple onion WHICH I ATE, PEOPLE. (Those who know me well understand that this is monumental, akin to asking a spider if he could please tickle me under the chin.)

The customer service was also astonishing. It didn't matter if you visited the grittiest hole-in-the-wall on the block (we did) or a five-star restaurant (did that, too), the service was the same: courteous, respectful and heartfelt. Servers, bartenders, hotel staff, they all want to know how they can help, how you're doing. And they seem genuinely thrilled when you tell them you're great. They clear dishes immediately, refill waters, bring beers and napkins and snacks, all with a smile. It's not just restaurants, either. Bus drivers pull over to pick you up, even if you're not at an official stop. In flea markets and other commercial areas, vendors sit in sweltering heat until you enter their store, at which point they race around turning on fans. Walk out, and the fans go off. Now, obviously tourism is the biggest thing going in a place like Cancun, so I know these people are just doing their jobs. But so's that gum-smacking broad in the Macy's shoe department, and when was the last time SHE was that helpful or kind?!

Coming next: A day-by-day rundown that will feature yours truly plunging into an underground lake, piloting a speedboat, and getting my boobs grabbed by a Mexican waitress!


Robyn said...

Remember that time you and the Englishman wanted to make quesadillas and your idea of one was a tortilla with cheese melted on it? And I had to tell you, "No, that's a cheese tortilla, not a quesadilla"? Oh, and remember that time we made cheese tortillas at your house and I didn't believe you that the broiler was in that drawer at the bottom? I believe you now, because that's the kind of oven I have now.
Anyway, point being that I think it's all because of me that you could even appreciate that quesadilla in Mexico in the first place.

Robyn said...

Oh, and it's because of you that I'm off to drink a beer now.

Anonymous said...

Mexican butter is the magic ingredient that makes all the food taste so remarkable. Our trips to Puerto Vallarta end with one of us wishing we could pack up the unpasturized, never refrigerated, golden yellow ice cream scoops of butter that get served with everything. But that would just make a mess in our bags.