Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mexico, part 4: El fin de la semana

Good lord, is that the sun out there?! (What, someone having a little fun with a freshly-plucked Mayan heart?)

DAY 5:
After a morning spent in lounge chairs under a palapa on our private beach (read, doze, swim, doze, read, swim, doze ... bliss) we head out for a taste of this famed Cancun nightlife we keep hearing about. Only when we get to the club zone, we find that all of the really famous places require some sort of outrageous cover charge, some of which include an "open bar." But having been around this block a time or two (god, it's good to be in your 30s) we know those places will be filled with long lines of obnoxious kids and shitty booze. So we opt for a place called Terraza, an open-air cantina with good music and top-notch people-watching.

After an hour or so, this short, fat white dude comes up to us with a plastic bottle of red liquid. He is wearing a sombrero and a very large, very fake moustache, and he looks like he really hates his job. He grumpily offers to pour us a shot, which we decline. Half-hour later, a perky little senorita comes up with her red bottle. (This time, I notice "sex on the beach" written in sharpie on the masking tape around the bottle. Classy!) We say no again, but she is darned convincing. And by that I mean she poured a shot, tilted Sal's head back, and forced it down his throat. And then a second shot. Cackling wildly, she puts the glass down, places her hands on Sal's head and wobbles it around, and then she grabs his chest. And before I know it, she's attacking me! One shot, two shot, head shake, BOOBS! Both of her hands, grabbin' BOTH my boobs, and giving them a nice, firm jiggle! I do not stop giggling for a full 30 minutes.

Then it was onto Margaritaville for food, drink, and dancing to country music and rock 'n' roll. We stay out VERY LATE. Like, after midnight even.

DAY 6:
Those moonshi-- er, I mean "sex on the beach" shots might not have been the wisest call the night before our sea adventure. But hangovers are nothing a little salsa verde and omelets can't cure. (I mean, this is practically WHY Mexican food was invented!)

Today's tour consists of a half-hour journey to a sweet snorkeling spot, an hour in the water, then a half-hour back, and every couple gets their own little speedboat to drive. Let me assure you that driving a speedboat is petrifying. OK, so are you good at those race-car arcade games? Because I suck at them. I'm that driver who makes her way around the track (one whole time, if I'm lucky) by crashing into one rail, overcorrecting and crashing into the other, overcorrecting again and ... you see what I mean. Well, that's kind of what driving this boat is like, only a jumpy touch with the wheel is actually how you stay alive. Even if you keep the wheel straight as can be, the water is constantly wobbling you, so you have to be vigilant about balance and speed, which frankly are not my top talents, you know?

I never quite relax my white-knuckled grip on the wheel, but I do eventually get the hang of it. We careen through the big lagoon and tall tangles of mangroves, and we even spent a few minutes on the wide-open ocean. When we get to the snorkeling area, we tumble out of the boats and float around with about two bazillion fish. Plus brain coral and crabs and tall furry purple tentacles sticking up from the reef, like underwater cattails. It almost feels like flying, because you can see all the way to the ground and rock formations down there, and you just float right over them!

We complete this home run of a vacation day with dinner at the Ritz-Carlton's Club Grill. Now, as an aspiring foodie, I've had plenty of fine-dining experiences and more than my fair share of top-notch service. But this place, it blows the mind. They sprinkle rose petals on our table. Place my purse atop a tiny stool at my feet. Ten seconds after I part the curtain shears with my hand to see the view, our waiter is there tying them back so we could see everything. He even apologized that there wasn't a full ocean view. Yeah, dude! Like, why does your place suck so much?!

I don't even know what to say about the food, except that it was so wonderful we could barely speak. If you are a food dork like me and you read menus and cookbooks like they are actual literature, you will dig this:
  • We like to begin grand meals like this with champagne, and to our delight the chef also sends an amuse bouche of tuna carpaccio with capers and caviar.
  • Appetizer of foie gras and caramelized apple on toasted brioche, drizzled in Mexican chocolate oil.
  • Next Sal has the lobster soup with cream sauce, and I enjoy a mesclun salad with three pear textures (I believe they were caramelized, poached, and pureed in the dressing) with a lump of creamy goat cheese.
  • With this course we are also presented with a selection of warmed bread on a silver tray, and we tried three: apricot, rosemary-garlic and potato. Goat cheese butter and blue cheese butter are options, in addition to the regular stuff.
  • For his entree, Sal chose roasted duck with tequila honey sauce. There are four tender medallions placed atop sweet potato puree, plus a little drumstick planted into a tangle of caramelized onions. For me, roasted Chilean sea bass on a bed of paella, next to shrimps topped with garlic foam.
  • Grand Marnier souffle for dessert, with french press coffee and tiny fresh biscotti.
Friends, it was a meal for the ages. As we leave, our waiter presses into my hand a tiny blue box containing a housemade truffle, and then I seriously hug him. Hard.

DAY 7:
There's one final item on my wish list, and that is to eat someplace truly authentic. Someplace locals go. Deep in our tour guide, there are two lines devoted to a little place "off the beaten path," and if you want to go there, tell the bus driver and he'll drop you off near a "sandy path" that will take you to the restaurant. But we don't need a bus, right, because on the map, this place is next to a bridge that is just like two inches from our hotel! Imagine the luck!

But two inches = two miles, and the walk is grueling, in searing midday heat with no shade. Our clothes are drenched and stuck to our bodies as we plod along silently (OK, one of us was silent; sorry, hon!) for a good 45 minutes. The bottoms of my shoes grow smooshy because of the hot pavement. But finally after walking past lots of little guys like this...

... we get to the sandy path! Which leads to a short, nameless road, and after passing this sign...

... and crossing this bridge...

... we arrive at this secret jungle oasis!

There under the trees is a rustic little beachside restaurant, with a few plastic tables beneath some palapas. It's a bit shabby, with cases of empty beer bottles stacked under the counter and up against the walls of the tiny kitchen shack, but there's a cool breeze, lively music and great views of the mangroves and water. Tied to a pier are small blue rowboats they use to catch fish every morning, and we devour the fruits of those labors with fish tacos and shrimp quesadillas while we watch Mexican kids splashing around in the water. A perfect lunch that isn't even ruined by the scary bathroom with no toilet paper and seven or eight wasp nests affixed to the ceiling.

For our last evening in Cancun, we head back to the nightclub zone, buy some souvenirs, then settle in for drinks and dinner at the very cool (though poorly named) outdoor cantina Mextreme. Here we realize we can't be losers who went to Mexico and never once did a shot of tequila. Our amigo behind the bar helped us out with that. And we proved without a shred of doubt that drinking top-shelf tequila actually IMPROVES your Spanish language skills.

And now, friends, I've turned the last page of scribbles and lists in my travel journal, so we must be at the end. If you read all of this, and especially if you enjoyed it, someday you and I will do a nice shot of tequila, too.

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