To Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and Back
Amidst all the news of the N1H1 Infuenza, I went to Mexico with friends. I know what you’re thinking, but the plans had been made for quite some time, and after doing a bit of research on just how many had been affected and in which areas, I blinked once and then packed.
A good friend and I were dropped off at the border crossing on Otay Mesa, and we walked across smiling about the four bottles of wine the two heavily armed Mexican military guys asked about after checking my luggage. It was in a zipped carrier and they asked something I thought I understood. I responded cheerfully that I had vino — tres blanco y una roja porque es mas caro en Mexico — or something like that. They waved us through muttering to one another, and with my friend commenting that she didn’t think they were asking about what kind of wine I had. Clearly didn’t matter.
A quick ride in a white taxi we were cautioned not to use because of overcharging got us to the airport where a few people were wearing masks — mostly employees — but not enough to do anything but remind me of when the Avian flu was in the news years ago. I guess if I was paranoid, I’d avoid getting in my car and on the freeway.
Ah, the things one does to take advantage of a $120 round trip flight to Puerto Vallarta.
Wait. This is a food blog, isn’t it?
Yes, we had food. And I have to be honest. If I could eat the street tacos we purchased many times from the cart a block from where we stayed, I’d be a very thin woman.
We watched the women make the corn tortillas with a ball of masa and a hand press. The perfectly round tortillas were peeled from the plastic wrap that lined both sides of the press, slapped on a griddle and then turned by hand as they cooked. Smaller than the tacos I make at home, we all agreed that even though two were more than enough, we could eat four — or six. Carne asada and a few beans filled them, and we helped ourselves to green salsa, guacamole, cilantro, and pickled cucumbers, carrots, jalapenos, and fresh radishes. Trust me. There will be reconstructed street tacos on my cooking agenda soon.
But there was other food, too. The first night there, we walked quite a ways to a small restaurant that only locals would know about since it was off the tourist trail a bit, and we were privy because our host had been going there for years. It was a tiny place with a small menu and the six of us grouped in twos to sample and share what we’d ordered: tamales, pozole, and thick corn cake-like rounds topped with meat and cream. It was delicious and we left feeling stuffed even though we hadn’t eaten that much.
Walking through the streets of Puerto Vallarta brought back childhood memories of Spain and those of some parts of Italy from our vacation last year — minus the palm trees, of course. It was hot, but no where near as hot as we knew it could get later in the summer when the rainy season began. We were on a quest one morning to find a French Bakery of all things, and after trudging through one street after another, found that it had been closed for renovations. We decided to settle in at a hotel restaurant for some chilaquiles, which were fabulous. Yes, they’ll be on my cooking agenda as well, but I will sadly lack the high pitched, palm covered roof and open sides with a view of the water that was so refreshingly cool after our hot, dusty walk through town.
The second night, we ventured a couple of blocks to a restaurant where our table sat right on the beach. Waiters ventured down to serve tangy margaritas and plates of tacos made of pulpo if we chose — and I chose. Pulpo is octopus and I’d never tried it before. I’ve enjoyed squid for many years, but somehow have just never been able to take on octopus. I’m thinking my resolve was dissolved — or marinated — in margaritas. Or pina coladas. Okay, both. The pulpo was very good, but if I think about it, I need to apologize and suggest it tasted like chicken. Really.
Since we were all there in celebration of a friend’s 40th birthday, we walked through the town and up the steep streets to share Tapas and sangria at Tapas Barcelona. The place was packed and we were fortunate to have a corner table with a panoramic view of the coast. No windows — just fresh air. The tapas came out as they were ready: Spanish tortilla, grilled asparagus, sauteed spinach with raisins and pinones, more octopus cooked with potatoes, shrimp cooked with garlic….the list goes on and on. Yes, we rolled down the hills to the beach after we were finished, quite happy with the meal.
All in all, it was a pleasant trip. A bit of shopping, a few bus rides and then a water taxi to a tiny village called Yelapa. We hiked through the hills to a trickling waterfall, then plunged into the surprisingly chilly ocean to cool ourselves off before dozing briefly on the sunny beach. There are many palapas there where you can stay if you’re one who needs a bit of nature with your vacation, and I did find myself wondering if I might coerce my husband to come back with me one day.
Back in Puerto Vallarta, “cocktail hour” each evening on our hostess’s sun drenched patio wasn’t too shabby, either. In fact, I think I’ve developed a taste for mineral water — especially after those Pina Coladas.