I hate the beach and basically everything about it. Shorts are what you wear under your pants and I have never, never once in my life worn sandals. My aversion to dry, dusty, powdery sand-like stuff goes so far as to have prevented me from becoming a better baker since putting my hands in flour made my skin crawl. I am perpetually hot and the idea of sitting beneath the sun to roast myself like a chicken is preposterous. A beach vacation would be my idea of complete hell on earth.
Until Tankah that is. Our week in the Yucatan was everything that I have ever heard rapturous beach-loving people rave about.
How though, you ask if the first paragraph is true did we ever end up with a week on the beach?
The first year we were open we hosted a dinner for the Chamber of Commerce and one of the auction prizes was a week's stay at this place in Tankah that sleeps 12. I, flushed with auction fever (I am, as I have mentioned before, an auction junkie) thought the bidding was far too low for this item and decided I would help it along by a modest increase. Well, you see where this is going. No one else bid and all the money we were supposed to get for doing the dinner went directly back to the Chamber. That was 6 years ago.
Our original plan was to close the restaurant for a week and go down with the entire crew. But when we had the time we didn't have the money and one crisis came after another and at last we had only one of our opening crew left with us. So, last fall we decided if the people who donated the prize were still willing to honor it we just had to go. We picked a slow time of year, booked the flight and then found out the GM was pregnant. Even more reason for us to have a getaway. Surely this will be last time we go somewhere as a couple for a good while.
And though I was willing to suffer the beach vacation because the GM is always cold and is forever wishing to be in some earthly inferno, digging her toes into the sand, the irony is that pregnancy has tilted her already busted thermostat to high, and she is most often hot these days.
And hot it was although a nice wind from the Caribbean and ceiling fans inside the house kept us reasonably cool most of the time. The weather was quite like our Chapel Hill, NC days but more (if that could be possible) humid.
We swam, saw the ruins of Tulum; a gorgeous Mayan seaport, laid in the hammocks and incredibly did not mention work once. I discovered snorkeling, which was the most amazing thing on earth. I was swimming in entire schools of fish, including many types I cook and serve, literally inches from my face in crystal clear, warm water. The volcanic sand is entirely different from the very powdery Atlantic sand of my youth which remains in your clothes and car for weeks after a beach visit and the breeze made the sun a little more bearable.
Yes, but did we have good food? We did indeed. And we got to feel what it's like to be a visitor looking for a meal. We did some things we never do, like asking a restaurant to turn off their music. People have asked us to change the music and we've been peevish with them and now we saw first hand how crappy music can destroy your experience. However, when we sat down, there was no music playing, so it was a little different. Once the owner, a beach addled loser who looked like he stepped out of some Jimmy Buffet nightmare, woke up, he turned on the horrible white blues, completely obliterating the gentle sound of bird and waves. We didn't want to ask him to turn things down, since that would be insulting his taste, in his home, so we asked the waiter, who thankfully took care of it.
Dona Elsy had great food, was warm and friendly, and off the beaten track. Many of the restaurants in Tulum cater to the tourist trade and we managed to avoid those. At the first place we tried off the strip it was clear they weren't too thrilled to see gringos sitting down. The GM was a bit scared, especially since there was a rally for the PRD's (Mexican socialist party) candidate for senator going on across the street. Her Spanish lags slightly behind mine and she was afraid he was going to say, "Hey, there's two gringos now. Let's get 'em!" I was able to follow along well enough to assure her that wasn't his platform. As for me I was less uncomfortable. As a small hippie boy spending considerable time in small Southern towns in the late '60's/early '70's, that feeling of "boy, what the hell are you doing here?" was quite familiar. I knew also that once you comported yourself respectfully things usually lighten up, which they did. Still, it wasn't an experience we were looking to repeat, so when we found Dona Elsy, we decided to go back to her place, where the welcome was nearly as warm as the Yucatecan sun.
After a hard days snorkeling, what do you want?
Fish of course. When I ordered a kilo of fish the waiter gave me the look. The look that says, "look pal, you know this a whole fish. Eyes, head, fins. The whole deal. I'm not bringing this and have you send it back because it's not a fillet." And gave a questioning, "Un kilo?"
"Si. Un kilo."
"Con ajillo, o solo frita."
"Con ajillo por favor."
The tangy garlic sauce was incredible. The GM, not a fish person, either in the swimming and looking at them department or in the consuming them department, tried it and really liked it.
As, as you can see, did I.
While we were at this place, Don Huacho del Media Dia, los cocineros started frying some chiles. The entire restaurant, full of Mexicans, started choking and coughing from the fumes, some retreating to the street for air. It didn't affect me though which was surprising as I am usually pretty sensitive to those sorts of aromatic affronts. Not sure what they were preparing but it might have been the sauce to go with the GM's
poc-chuc, a Yucatecan dish all the Mayan guys who work for told us to try. In the silver dish at the top was a brown-black sauce that the waiter told us was "solo chile habanero". The GM tried a little and tears started streaming down her face. Two Fantas and a stack of napkins later, she tried some more. And loved it.
The rest of the time we ate pineapples, tacos de puerco asada, mangoes, watermelon, panuchos, caldo de pollo, tortas, frijoles con puerco, chuletas haumada y refrescos de melon, limon, pina, y frutas varidades.
We of course want to go back. What I'd really like to do is time a visit when one of our Mayan employees decides to spend a few months with his family. They are all from the town of Peto, about 4 hours from the coast. We'd get a place on the beach, drive to Peto, see his pueblo and bring the family to the Mayan Riviera. Maybe next winter, when baby's about a year and a half.
Right now though, there's Memorial Day weekend to gear up for.