On our first morning in Mexico we were up with the birds to watch the sunrise over the Caribbean sea thanks to our still-confused body clocks. It was an auspicious start to our new adventure, and a wonderful way to welcome the day.
With a few other early birds we waited for the orange ball of light to emerge from the silvery grey horizon.
At the exclusive beach-front resorts, men in crisp white uniforms prepared tables with freshly laundered linens and shining glassware, stopping their duties to snap photos of the day break with their phones. We weren’t the only ones who thought it was pretty special.
But we weren’t having half as much fun as the pampered chihuahua in the pink dress who skittered around the pier in an excited frenzy.
Oh to have that much energy so early in the morning!
The previous evening we collapsed into bed at our hotel, expecting to sleep through to the alarm, our bellies full of delicious Mexican food.
For although we had only just arrived in Playa del Carmen that afternoon, we managed to find (and I’m not-so-quietly chuffed about this) The Best Tacos in town.
She’s jumping the gun a little, you may be thinking considering I’d been in the country a mere four hours before making that bold statement. But sometimes things are just meant to be, sometimes you just know when you’ve found the one, and I now know that love at first bite truly does exist.
The food gods directed us to calle (street) 38, and into the culinary embrace of the aptly named Exquisita de la 38. It’s a good thing the menu was small as it was in Spanish, the lovely owner kindly translating it to us in tantalizing detail.
He had me at hola.
His colourful descriptions like “the chillies are burnt until they are black,” were delivered with expectant eyes to see that we understood and an obvious passion for the food of the local region he tried to educate us about.
We tried the two specialties of the day along with some tacos, and the flavours were welcomingly unfamiliar. The mole, a paste of meat and spices was served inside a sweet bun, or conchas, a subtle flavour of cocoa permeating the savoury filling.
The sopecitas layered with beans, chorizo and potato, finished with pickled red onions, coriander and lime were beyond good.
And the tacos that looked so simple compared to the layered concoctions we make at home were unbelievably flavoursome, the tortillas soft and earthy.
Sopecitas. Isn’t that a great word? Sopecitas, sopecitas…
It’s hard to look good eating a taco…
“Oh my god,” was all I kept saying through mouthfuls of deliciousness, unable to believe our luck at stumbling upon a gem of an eatery away from the main drag on our first night.
I nearly choked on my hibiscus-infused agua when the bill arrived, weighing in at about $10 for the lot.
Needless to say, we were back the next night. When you’re on to a good thing…
I think I was just glad to find such a wonderful, authentic eatery amongst the tourist restaurants of PDC. When we first arrived in the searing heat of early afternoon and had to run the gauntlet of shops, bars and restaurants of 5th Avenue (the busy commercial strip), I was a little worried.
Playa is certainly no unassuming coastal village, it’s an ostentatious beach resort. Beautiful young things in not-very-much decorate sun lounges at the many chic beach clubs along the coast. Chill-house beats drift from stylish bars, through the billowing fabric canopies of large white day beds.
Along 5th Avenue, the paved pedestrian walking street, stores selling everything from sombreros to tequila to Viagra and everything in between compete for the international tourist dollar with icy air conditioning and calls of “Hola amigo!”
But thankfully there is also a beauty here. Playa is a real, living, breathing town. Blue and white taxis deliver short, stout ladies to and from the Mercado. Away from the beach, it’s business as usual for the local shops and restaurants who seem oblivious to the glamorous water-front establishments just metres down the road.
We have rented a lovely little studio in a great location, close to the beach and town but far enough away from the touts (and just a few blocks from our new favourite restaurant). We are adjusting to the summer heat with early morning swims in the ocean and lazy afternoon siestas under the whirring fan.
Tyrhone joined the gym and I’ve started researching Spanish classes and diving courses (though I’m baulking at the cost!).
I think I might get used to life here for the next couple of months, but it’s going to be tough…
Someone’s gotta do it…
I began my taco research today to substantiate my earlier claims. The pockets of spicy goodness served by the vendors along the main pier were also really good. But not as good as Exquisitas.
Sigh. The research continues…
If at the end of these three months I can’t speak Spanish or submerge myself in depths of water greater than a metre without feeling like my head is going to explode, then at least I’ll have a pretty solid taco thesis to show for my time.
And that I can do.
I can also peer out from behind cactuses.