Oh, Mexico!

Rocio and her mom at home in Cancun.

Location: Mexico
Person: Rocio
Recipe: Ponche, Winter Fruit Punch
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There are three ways a person can travel:

Walk among the people.
Bike, bus, or train with backpackers.
Observe from a remove, knowing it’s all a mirage.

Over nine days in Mexico, I experienced all three.

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On January 1, I flew to Mexico for what I thought was a much-needed vacation. To be clear, I live in the United States, have a roof over my head, eat three meals a day, enjoy the benefits of heat, electricity, and hot water, and am fortunate enough to engage in work I find meaningful that also pays enough to meet my basic needs while giving me extra for occasional splurges.

I first couchsurfed at Rocio’s home in Cancun. Incredibly, she left me alone in her house while she stayed at her boyfriend’s; her boyfriend, she later confessed, was her ex-husband.

In the bedroom at Rocio's.

I then headed to the beach town of Tulum where, lacking a reservation, a Swedish woman on the street directed me to a cheap, but clean, hotel.

A hotel in Tulum.

Finally I spent four days at a luxury resort in Playa del Carmen attending a workshop — the real purpose of my trip.

The bedroom at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

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In Cancun, Rocio’s mother fed me bacalo and gave me warm ponche to drink to celebrate the New Year. At night, I wandered the streets and found a restaurant called Blanca Elana, where I watched a woman make tortillas while I ate papas con rajas.

In Tulum, I sat by the beach at restaurants with outdoor terraces and wooden tables. At Las Estrellas, I ordered ceviche and drank cold, Mexican beer.

Ceviche at Las Estrellas.

At Xcatik, the French-born chef treated me to fusion versions of traditional Mayan food and introduced me to Mexican wines.

Steak with black beans and guacamole.

Once at the resort, I dined at five or six restaurants, each with its own cuisine. Getting to them required taking a shuttle bus down a smooth, dirt road through a mangrove jungle. Waited on by beautiful waitresses and handsome waiters who anticipated my every move, I took delicate bites of strange and exotic dishes like Napoléon de Foie Gras Mi-Cuit Sur Tuile d’Amandes, each dish a kind of theater unto itself.

Foie gras at Grand Velas, photo courtesy of Loaded Kitchen.


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For fun, in Rocio’s neighborhood, I wandered the neighborhood in the early morning and listened to birds.

In Tulum, I biked to an archaeological site filled with Mayan ruins, where I hiked through green fields scattered with tourists.

Mayan ruins with tourists.

At the resort, I lounged by the pool and read or drank margaritas and chatted about food and photography.

The pool at Grand Velas Maya Riviera

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Nine days later, I returned to New York City, the memory of Mexico quickly vanquished by the onslaught of wind and snow and the inevitable routines of daily life.

But when I drink a cup of ponche now to warm my hands, I’m reminded of why I love to travel and how fortunate I am to experience travel in its many incarnations.

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With thanks to Rocio and her mom; Chef Dennis Radoux at Xcatik (Calle Sagitario Pte. esq. con Alfa norte, Tulum); Petter from Sweden, who walked me back to town after visiting the ruins, and the Swedish tourist who led me to the hotel; the leaders of Food Blog Camp and all the wonderful bloggers I met there, including Maggie, my former roommate, who blogs at Loaded Kitchen; the staff at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, and the doctor who treated me when I fell ill there; KerryGold for providing a scholarship to the workshop; and all the strangers who crossed my path whose names I will never know but who supported me along the journey. Namaste!

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Mexican Ponche, Adapted for Gringos

To make true ponche requires ingredients that may be difficult to find in some parts of the world, like piloncillo and sugar cane. I’ve included a link to a traditional recipe from the wonderful Mija Chronicles and created my own version using more easily available ingredients. For the dedicated, some but not all, Mexican ingredients can be ordered online and delivered to Europe through Mexgrocer. For U.S. customers, Latin Merchant has a wide selection, including the ingredients below, all of which can be shipped within the U.S.

Servings: 8-10 teacup size servings

Ingredients:

4 cups water
5 cinnamon sticks, 3-4″ each
2 tablespoon tamarind paste
1/2 cup firmly packed dark, brown sugar
1/2 cup whole walnuts
1/2 cup yellow apple, cut into 1″ pieces
2/3 cup pear, well-ripened, cut into 1″ pieces
8 prunes
1 cup orange slices, peel left on, each piece cut into small triangle

Optional if you can find them:

4 whole guavas, also called guayabas, in syrup, seeds removed and cut in half
6 tejacotes in jar, pre-cooked

Directions:

1. Place water, cinnamon, tamarind paste, and walnuts in medium size pot on stove over medium heat. Cover and heat until just beginning to boil.

2. Add remaining fruit except orange or tejacote or guayaba if using.

3. Lower heat and allow to cook until fruit is soft but not falling apart, approximately 15-20 minutes.

4. Add orange slices or Mexican fruits and allow to cook another 10 minutes or to taste.

5. Remove cinnamon sticks. Serve hot, scooping pieces of fruit and nuts into each cup.

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10 thoughts on “Oh, Mexico!

  1. Hi Wylie,
    Now that’s the way to see Mexico! I’m so glad you were able to explore outside of the resort. That’s the one thing I missed doing while there this year. Great photos!

  2. Wylie, I loved hearing about these adventures and also regret not spending more time in Mexico, would have loved to tag along, too on your couchsurfing excursion. At least I can glimpse it, even if vicariously, from your photos!

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