I’ve received a few e-mails from concerned readers wondering whether I’ve died, gone off the grid, or am simply trapped under a fallen piano. Where have I been?
I’m here. To say the least, life has been very, very busy here in Mexico. As you may know, I’ve been working for LocoGringo.com as a contributing writer, and it’s kept me fairly busy. Which is a good thing, because it keeps me out of trouble. Mostly.
I feel very lucky and blessed to be working for an editor who has been one of my heroes for a very long time. This includes a lot of research, and, as I’ve come to learn, tons of reading. Seems that every good writer out there tends to read more than they write, as reading provides tools for perfecting the craft. Don’t ask me to explain it, that’s just how it works. Every time I find myself complaining about writer’s block, I go back and read the words of Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential, where he suggests that any writer finding themselves in “writer’s block” should go clean squid for a living. That one statement always tends to re-center me. Just show the hell up and do the work. So, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading travel articles and books. If you’re interested in the Mexican Caribbean, one I’d highly recommend is The Lost World of Quintana Roo by French author Michel Peissel, an excellent work and a deep dive into the life of a true explorer who had ballsy courage to explore this coast back in 1958 when people were telling him he was crazy for wishing to do so.
In the time since my last entry here at Andys Caribbean Blogspot, we’ve been to a few places, mostly south along the coast, and we’ve made some great friends. We’ve explored Mahahual a couple of times and met some great people, including two chefs, who happen to be twin sisters. Both run restaurants on the beach there and make some of the most incredible cocktails and beach-side cuisine that will make you want to slap your mama. Sorry Mom, just kidding. We’ve gone off the beaten path in Mahahual and found pizza that would put any pizzeria in Chicago or New York to shame.
We’ve explored the networks of lagoons and canals described in Peissel’s book that formed an ancient Mayan trade route to the Boca Paila in what is now known as the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, where fresh water meets the Caribbean, and have been treated with the privilege of seeing the centuries-old classical Maya stone structure which served as an import and customs office and manatees surfacing and playing around our boat as we made our way across the lagoons. As we made our way through the canals to the sea, our Mayan guide pointed out petroglyphs – ancient writing in stone – along the canal’s limestone walls. The meaning of these writings is still under investigation. Are they warning signs, directions, or simply graffiti? Seeing them made me think of Peissel, who ventured far inland in his journeys along these shores. Had he seen these petroglyphs on his journey from Xpuha south to Belize, looking for the secrets of the ancient Mayans, long hidden by the jungle and mangroves?
We’ve spent some time in Xcalak, the southernmost point on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, with the joyously dreadful job of tasting craft beer, whiskey and rum brewed and distilled by Dave and Ilana Randal and their crew at Costa de Cocos. The quality of their products, staff, and accommodations are simply amazing. If you’d told me 10 years ago that I would be sitting in a cabana in the deep reaches of southeastern Mexico, shrouded in jungle, writing for a living by candlelight, with only the sound of the Caribbean surf and the call of jaguars penetrating the night silence, I’d have said you’re nuts. Not a day passes that I don’t pause and thank God for how blessed I am.
Giving is better than receiving.
Seeing our neighborhood come together to buy enough Christmas presents to ensure that every child in our little pueblo had a good Christmas was, well, humbling. And Carlos, our friend, and owner of La Palapa in
Chemuyil, opened his doors and provided the venue. The smiles on the faces of the kids, and their parents beaming with joy – now that my friends, is Christmas.
Traveling with good friends back into the jungle and other nearby pueblos to help distribute the gifts purchased by our community was incredible.
I won’t describe the range of emotions felt that day other than to tell you it’s good that I was wearing sunglasses.
When the Mexican people party, they PAR-TAY.
Entire towns shut down and the streets are filled with music, happy people, kids running all about and good cheer. If you don’t have a drink, trust me, a local will correct that problem almost immediately. If you can’t finish the incredible taco or torta you got from the street vendor, there’s always a friendly dog nearby who is more than willing to help you out.
Kat and I were cruising around our little pueblo, looking for breakfast. Of course, nothing was open. Most sane people were sleeping off the fiesta, with the exception of this one little group who had rallied through the night.
It was 10am, and they were still going. As we drove by, they forced – forced, I tell you – a bottle of champagne through the driver-side window. Not wanting to be rude, I took a huge gulp. Next thing I know, we’re buying beer for this bunch. As we distribute the Dos Equis, one of them reaches down and pulls out a huge bottle of tequila.
Yep, these are my kind of people. I turned to Kat with an ear-to-ear grin.
“Uh oh,” Kat mumbles. She knows what’s coming. But hey, it would be an insult to turn down their offer, so in the interest of promoting international relations, I said, “Hell yes!”
Please keep in mind that when you get a “street shot”, it’s not the same as the shot you get in a bar. With a street shot, whoever is pouring is filling an entire plastic cup with tequila. And holy crap, we did some shots. Okay, fine, I did some shots. Kat just stood by and watched the hilarity unfold. When I was working for the Air Force, we had a Wingman Code. Somebody always has your back, and you always have somebody’s back. “Got your six,” as the pilots like to say. Well, she had my six that day.
Drivers, start your livers. “Salud, Salud, Salud!” was heard over and over.
Frankly, I don’t remember much after the second “street shot” was poured, but others tell me that, standing there in broad daylight in a Mexican pueblo, backed up against the jungle, I had a pretty damn good time.
Cops drove by a couple of times, laughing and waving and bidding us “Felice Ano Nuevo”. Through the haze and fog of New Year’s morning, I can at least remember that part. Back in Texas I’d be arrested and put in a cage for running afoul of some ridiculous statute that deems it a crime to have fun in public. Here, everyone has fun in public.
When I began to slide down on the car I was leaning on, one of our amigos went into his casa and brought me a chair. It’s also rumored that at some point during this little street fiesta, I decided I wanted to go sit in the jungle, but was talked out of it. Who knows. I was “blotto”, so it’s all speculation as far as I’m concerned.
We’ve come to know Abby, bartender at the Beached Bikini. Originally from Philadelphia, she found her home here, and believe me when I say this girl can make a Paralyzer that will knock you off your bar swing and into the sand.
Getting back in touch with my artistic side.
Yeah, I know that sounds a bit, well, festive. So laugh it up. Life out of the hamster wheel affords you the opportunity to take a deep, reflective look at who you are, where you’ve been, and what you want to be.
Painting art with Jesse Montenegro, his lovely wife Angie and our friends was a blast, and we’re definitely going to be doing that again.
I’ve been splitting writing time with getting together with friends I’ve made here from Venezuela, Canada, California, and Belgium for jam sessions in the street. Watching them and playing along with them has not only been an honor, it’s made a drastic difference in how I think about and play guitar.
Modern Auto Repair Sucks
Remember when you could lift the hood and pretty much figure out what was wrong with your car? Not so much these days. It’s a snake pit of wires, hoses and electronic and EPA required bullshit. Discovering that my auto repair skills don’t include fixing a motor that seized up due to an oil pump failure? Not fun. That’s another story, I just thank God it didn’t happen on my 2,200-mile drive from Texas.
And, wedding plans. Kat and I are getting married April 4th, on Aventuras Akumal bay. I’m finally going to get to meet Kat’s wonderful family. Which reminds me, I have to touch up paint around the house.
So, it’s good to be back. I’ve had some time to process a few ideas for andyscaribbeanblogspot.com, including a daily weather and sea conditions brief for the Riviera Maya and Costa Maya regions. We’ll also be featuring some of the best food from street vendors and restaurants in the area, and we’ve been exploring some ideas for video features for this blog, so more on that later. Meanwhile, I’m working on part 2 of “The Freedom of Traveling Light“, having heard some great insight from friends, so you won’t want to miss that piece which is coming soon.
Staying in Mexico – Advice
Save your money and get down here. Get off the resort. See the real Mexico. Bring packs of sidewalk chalk, and hand them out to any kids you see. For advice on where to go, what to see, and what to do, email me and I’ll be happy to help.
Follow That Dream. Hablamos pronto!