February 22, 2018
Reward yourself with a break.
Slowly, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Now, go to your happy place.
Imagine a beautiful beach. The waves are steadily rippling onto the bright white sand of the shore. The sky is blue and no artist (alive or dead) can replicate how beautiful the clouds are, as they gently float in the sky. The water is such a gorgeous shade of turquoise that even Crayola can’t reproduce it. You are lounging in a beach chair that has the perfect amount of cushioning, so as not to leave slat marks on your legs and back. You are completely comfortable.
Fantasy Island’s Mr. Roarke and Tattoo aren’t there, but they should be, because suddenly a muscle-ripped, tanned, shirtless beach hunk (Anel’s fantasy) and a curvy, tanned, bikini-clad beach babe (John’s fantasy) appear carrying an aromatic five-course meal, so exquisitely prepared that when you take the first bite it makes you want to float with the clouds. The second bite outdoes the first and you savor the pleasure of feasting on an absolutely perfect meal.
Ahhh…can you see it? Feel it? Taste it? Do you grok me?
Bo-ink!!! The bubble pops! Drat!
Reality check. The beach is a few miles north of Xcalak on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, where John and I just finished an awesome housesit. The blue sky, picture-perfect clouds and clear turquoise water are just like the fantasy. The beach chairs leave slat marks, especially when you fall asleep in them. There really aren’t any beach hunks and babes, but there are a few locals and retirees, in pretty good shape, that walk up and down the beach every now and then.
And the food…well good luck.
It’s not that there’s a lack of absolutely delicious cuisine around the area, it’s just that you have to work for it…as in driving a considerable distance to find it! So here’s how we fed ourselves the weeks we were on the beach north of Xcalak, divided by chunks of time.
The closest ample supply of groceries was in Chetumal. It took us at least 3 hours to get there, and of course that long to return. A trip to Chetumal was a BIG shopping event, because it involved a full day. We made the trip about every two weeks. In Chetumal, there are modern grocery and department stores. There’s even a Walmart and Sam’s Club.
The coolest thing about a trip to Chetumal was that you have to pass through quite a few smaller villages like Ch’uhuk Piña (Pineapple Town) to get there. Many of them have speed bumps conveniently positioned, so that travelers are forced to slow down at the fruit and pineapple stands along the way. The pineapples purchased at any one of the stands are to die for. The locals call them piñas de miel (honey pineapples) and they are luscious. You can purchase 3-4 for 50 pesos, which is about $2.60 U.S. What a deal!
When we needed food and didn’t have a day to kill, we made a trip north, up the coast, to Mahahual. Mahahual is a port for cruise ships, so there are several places to buy food. The merchants are smart and cater to tourists, so most of the stores aren’t much more than what a convenience store would be in the U.S. However, we did find one store that carried chorizo that was the best we’ve ever had. When we told the store clerk what we wanted, he pulled out a huge plastic bag from the freezer and handpicked from the bag the number of delicious red sausages that we requested. Yummy!
When it was an absolute dire emergency, like when we ran out of coffee or toilet paper, we ventured into the closest village, Xcalak, only 45 minutes down a dirt road that redefines potholes. Actually, there was no ground coffee in the entire town and we had to buy instant, but coffee is coffee for café junkies like us.
The few Xcalak stores that carry groceries give new meaning to “Mom & Pop” in that they consist of shelves with limited products that are crammed in to a small room of a person’s home. Usually “Mom” tends the store and you may catch her in the middle of doing dishes or laundry. Wonderful, kind, sweet people…just not much to offer in the way of FOOD!
With many grocery chains (AmazonFresh, Kroger, Safeway, Whole Foods, etc.) now offering home delivery services, it’s nothing new to have food delivered to your doorstep. But you have to order from these mega stores online and then your ordered items are delivered. You always know exactly what you’re getting.
It was a little different and a lot more fun, the “grocery truck” way, at our Xcalak house sit.
Every Sunday afternoon around 2 pm, Lucio and his helper came to our house sit “compound,” honked his horn and opened his travelling grocery store for our shopping pleasure. His selections included fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh meats, soda and chips, eggs and tortillas. Even though the selection was limited, the quality was primo! We looked forward to Lucio’s visit each week and had our list ready.
It was also a great time to practice our Spanish. Lucio knew how to recognize our English for the basics like apples, pineapple, beef, pork, chicken, etc., but we always tried to ask him what he had in Spanish, out of respect for him and out of respect for Mexico, as well. He was especially patient with me, and my pronunciations usually gave him a good chuckle.
One day it backfired on me though. Kind of. This day I proudly requested “pollo” (chicken). His helper rattled off something in very fast Spanish that I really didn’t understand, so of course, I just replied, “Si!” He handed me a black plastic bag with my chicken, to which I replied, “Gracias.” Thinking I had arrived as a true comprador Mexicano (Mexican shopper) I hurriedly dropped it in my grocery sack and went on with my order.
That night we decided to grill the chicken and John went out to start the fire on the grill. I pulled the black plastic sack out of the fridge to prepare it for the grill. This is what I got:
Anel: (shouting) JOHN!!!
He came running, thinking I’d fallen again or something.
John: What’s up honey???
Anel: You are never going to believe this.
He took a gander at what was soon to be our evening meal. We both giggled, rather rolled on the floor laughing in tears.
John: Well, it doesn’t get much fresher than this! I think Lucio’s wife may have plucked this one this morning!
Obviously my Spanish needs a little work, but that night we feasted on the most outstanding, flavorful chicken either one of us had ever consumed.
Are you hungry yet?