Sunday, December 4, 2011

Here's What's Cookin' In Kike's Kitchen. From Sea To Ceviche

Our good friend and one of Playa's top fishermen, Kike, was out graciously sharing the fruits of his labor this afternoon so I decided to hang around and partake in his bounty.  Not only is Kike a great fisherman, he's a darn good cook too.  Today, 30 feet from his boat Kike mixed up some fresh ceviche in about 30 minutes with some of his fresh catch and a little help from his friends. The fish today was Jurel and Kike's tailgate served as his beachside kitchen.  The following photos show the process more or less from start to finish. For the men who may be viewing this tutorial, I have spiced things up a bit, midway through the presentation in an effort to maintain your interest. Nonetheless, please try to remain focused on the actual food preparation and do not let your eyes or mind wander to less important matters.  This is an instructional cooking episode with the sole purpose of showing you something you have not seen before or for that matter, in all likelihood, something you will not ever see again.  Okay Kike... let's roll!  On to the photos. You can click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

The all important lime juice. At least 12 limes
Step 1:  Squeeze a dozen or more fresh limes into your plastic container. Use a lime squeezer to make this simple and effective. Try to leave out as many paint chips and pieces of rust as possible from the kitchen counter which in this case is the bed of Kike's pickup truck.

2 or 3 purple onions, finely diced
 Step 2:  Finely dice 2 or even 3 small purple onions to add to the lime juice.  Be sure to dice the onions very slowly while tellling a couple of funny stories to your audience. The stories are best if they are about  about one of your friends misfortune and even better if the friend is present during the telling. It is also quite important to drink at least one warm beer while dicing and storytelling to keep your knife hand steady and your vocal cords well lubricated.

1 bunch chopped cilantro leaves and stems

Step 3: After rinsing 1 bunch of fresh cilantro in saltwater (located 30 feet away in great abundance although you can use fresh water in a pinch), chop the cilantro finely and add to the lime juice and onions.  As you can see from the photo, you should be on your third warm beer by now with nine more left in reserve.

Please keep your eyes on the habanero
Step 4:  In step 4 it is very important to pay close attention to the written instructions as following the photo only, could cause you to be distracted and end up with a nasty little knife wound. In this step we are very finely dicing dicing at least 3 of the fiery hot, orange habaneros.  If it's not already hot enough here, include the habanero seeds and add them in with the mix. You may use more or less habaneros as you see fit. You should also avoid touching exposed skin after chopping habaneros.

About 1 to 1 & 1/2 kilos of fresh fish (cubed) 

Step 5: Time to start adding the fish. It is at this point that Kike decided to invite an assistant in to help out with the cutting, which most of us on hand agreed, was a stroke of genius on his part as we were getting somewhat tired of his stories and his chopping. Now, with renewed interest we watched the assistant very closely while we sipped on warm beer so as not to miss whatever it was she was doing.

Use a kitchen helper whenever possible

Step 6:  Because adding the fish is such an important step in the preparation of the ceviche, we decided to add another picture of it here.   

6 or 7 roma tomatoes diced very small

Step 7:  Fortunately for us the inclusion of the diced tomatoes is also very important as you can also see here. Use about 6 roma tomatoes for this and be sure they are diced very small. You can leave the seeds in if you like. These tomato slices will need to be cut crosswise several more times to be small enough. Please note the extra orange habanero at the ready should it be deemed necessary by the chef.

Add salt and pepper to taste and mix well

 Step 8: After adding the diced tomatoes, add as much salt and pepper as you would like and mix thoroughly into the ceviche.  By now you should also be nearly finished with the first 6 pack of warm beer.

The coup de grace!

Step 9: As the culinary masterpiece nears its completion, a ceremonial orange habenero is added as a colorful garnish. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, ever, eat a whole habenero in one bite unless you are a professional. For that matter, even 2 bites. If you do and should you survive, you may wish you hadn't. More on this in a moment.

Step 10: The addition of the avocados is the final step in the preparation of the ceviche. Kike cuts the avocado in half, removes the pit and then uses the skin of the avocado as a cup while he thin slices the avocado right out of its skin.  3 or 4 avocados should be just about right.  You may also notice that the ceremonial orange habenero has already been half eaten by Kike's first mate. What a show off!

Time to eat! Thanks Kike!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

These people are obviously amateur photographers.  They have to use stands for their cameras.  Ha Ha!!  Plus they must be really old cameras because they are huge and clunky.  One of them even came with headphones.  What's up with that?? Probably has a built in cassette player for playing old music too.  Ha Ha!!  Don't these people realize that smaller is better??  Well at least most of the time, Ha Ha!!  I should know, I've got some of the smallest stuff in town.  Ha Ha!! (You're laughin' with me not at me, right?? Ha Ha??)

Anyway, I tried to be really nice to these people even though it was kind of embarrassing to be hanging around them and I even took a few pictures of their "gear" as they called it, Ha Ha, just to be nice. As you can see they really liked me and in one picture the boss even smiled and waved to me.

I could see that they were pretty jealous of my tiny "gear" when I pulled it out and the fact that I did not need a stand to use it.  I felt sorry for them and offered to let them use my super deluxe, Micro 4/3, fancy schmancy, sub compact, entry level, digital camera camcorder  to do some of their serious work.

They looked at each other and then back at me and then at each other again.  Then they started to laugh.  I think they were too embarrassed to tell me that they didn't know how to use my "gear".

 That's actually when I took the photo where the boss was smiling and waving at me.  Someone standing next to me also said the boss said "Good Bye!" when I took this photo but I didn't hear that.

Anyway, I mingled in the crowd and cruised around all over Canibal Royale snapping photos of sexy, rich, young people without  many clothes on for another 30 minutes or so before the manager came up and asked me if I wanted to buy something to drink or eat.  I told him I'd love to but,  I was "working' ".  He looked at my "gear" and said "With that little thing?" and walked away. Whatever!  He then walked over to one of the bouncers and said something to him and pointed at me.  Probably to hold him not to bug me because I was "workin' ".

It was a good afternoon but I had to leave early to go home and put my clothes in the dryer, get dinner started and get ready to watch the latest episode of Glee tonight with Princess.

Hope you had a great weekend!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Click Here To See More

How can you not love Playa when you can walk out your door on a Friday afternoon and find an international recording star singing for free in the beach bar 150 yards from your house.  This is Lisa Shaw and she was impressive at Canibal Royale.  Natz Ti Ha squeezed right in for this video about 45 minutes ago.  Awesome!!  Lisa Shaw Performs At Canibal Royale  Mi Casa Es Su Casa At Canibal Royale October 7th.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Life Begins And Ends For The Tortugas On Coco Beach

Okay...... you can call me a slacker. It's not like I'm not busy doing things , I'm just not busy doing them here lately.

A couple of days ago, I was walking along the beach just in front of Natz Ti Ha and I saw a small group of people gathered 20 yards or so from the shoreline. Being the nosey type I am, I wandered over to see what was going on.

What I found was a sea turtle nest that was being examined by what I suppose were a couple of sea turtle experts given that they were crawling around in the sand and sticking their arms into the nest and writing a lot of things down in a notebook and on a clipboard. Plus, they were wearing badges which is always a giveaway.

They sorted and counted unhatched eggs and lined up little baby turtles that had died before they could get out of the nest. It was sad. They also very politely answered lots of questions from the small group of people that were standing by. I learned a few things about the turtles that I didn't know, which wasn't much to begin with. It was a good experience and I am happy to have been there to witness it. There is a bit of a happy ending to this story and if you click on the photo above, you'll find out why.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thanksgiving In Paradise

Looking for a break from the traditional Thanksgiving week at home? This year, why not take advantage of a very special Thanksgiving week in Playa Del Carmen at Condominiums Natz Ti Ha.

Arrive at Natz Ti Ha between Thursday November 18th and Saturday, November 20th. We’ll have a gift pack awaiting you upon your arrival.

On Sunday the 21st , attend the annual Taste of Playa. Last years inaugural event was one the best planned and best attended events in many years in Playa. This year’s event looks like it will be even bigger and better. The food is great, affordable and a portion of the proceeds goes to community service efforts in Playa Del Carmen. Learn more about it here:

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are yours to enjoy. If you need help arranging activities from parasailing to horseback riding, just let us know. Tours to Tulum or Chitchen Itza, no problem. Of course one of the best ways to spend the day is just relaxing on the beach in front of Natz Ti Ha. Everything you’ll need to do that will be inside your condo.

Although Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Mexico you will find a number of Playa’s restaurants offering a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in honor of the day on Thursday. Or, if you prefer you can prepare your own Thanksgiving dinner in your condo. Yes, turkeys will be available! There is even cranberry sauce these days in Playa.

And last but not at all least, the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival kicks off on Thursday the 25th with four days of free entertainment on Coco Beach just a short stroll along the beach from Natz Ti Ha. This year’s event includes among many others, the Manhattan Transfer. See more here:

If this isn’t already enough to get you in the mood to come to Playa we’ll up the ante just a little bit more by offering an additional discount off of our regular low season rates at Natz Ti Ha. From Thursday, November 18th to Tuesday, November 30th. Our featured 2 bedroom condos will be priced at only $150.00 per night and our 3 bedroom condos at $180.00 per night each with a minimum 7 night stay. This is a limited time offer and cannot be used for any other dates.
To reserve your dates visit us at or email us at See you in November! Gobble, Gobble!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I can't help it.... I really love this stuff. Maybe it's because I don't have to remember the words. Put on your headphones and listen in. more...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Playa Del Carmen Beach Restoration January, 2010

So .... after much anticipation and numerous false start dates, Playa Del Carmen is now getting a new beach, or at least a beach makeover, if you will.

With little or no notice, boats and equipment started showing up just offshore a couple of weeks ago. Within days a giant pipeline was laid along the ocean floor about 400 yards offshore and extending onto the beach near Constituentes. At first further progress was slow but when the heavy earth moving equipment showed up things really got going. In a little more than a week the beach has now been extended from Constituentes to almost Juarez a distance of more than half a mile and the pace of the work seems to be increasing. From east to west the beach width has increased about 35 to 45 yards.

Large tracors transport new pieces of pipe down the beach and connect them to the existing pipeline as the beach restoration moves steadily southward. The sand, mixed with water is pumped from the ship offshore through the pipeline under very high pressure and is then spread and leveled by bulldozers. The process is impressive to watch although it is difficult to get very close.

The sand is coming from a point just offshore from Cozumel, nine miles away. The container ship makes 2 or 3 trips a day to raise more sand from the ocean floor. The sand is sucked up into the ship vacuum cleaner style and then is pumped back out onto Playa's beach when the ship returns from Cozumel.

Not everyone is pleased by the new beach, especially many tourists who are vacationing in Playa at the moment and will not get a chance to even sit on it while they are here. Of course the little man who used to clean the little beach each day is a little overwhelmed as well. Hi sworkload has just increased a hundredfold.

The beach is entirely closed from Constituentes south as the restoration moves in that direction and that area of beach is entirely off limits. The area north of Constituentes is still open but a bit of a walk if you are staying downtown.

There also seems to be some confusion as to who is actually doing the beach work. At first it was said that a Belgian company, Jan De Nul, was doing the work with very high credentials for this type of project. Later the local newspapers said it was a Mexican company. I have a feeling if the project is a success it will be reported to have been done by a Mexican company and if it is a failure it will have been done by the Belgian company. Life expectancy of the new beach is estimated at 3 to 5 years at a cost somewhere around 90 million dollars US.

The project will continue 4.5 kilometers south of the ferry dock to the south end of Playacar with a terminus around the Sandos Hotel where a stone jetty has already been constructed to help keep the new beach where it belongs.

This video was taken down around 10th and the beach. The final frame showing the people on the beach is a futuristic projection that I thought was necessary. Within a few days, it should be a reality. Enjoy!

As a follow up, here is a photo of the new beach taken on January 23rd. Click on it for a bigger, better view.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Salsa ala Leslie

Our new good friend Leslie was just here from Oregon. At first she was not even our friend, just a nice person we met at the pool but when she brought us some fresh salsa that she whipped up and gave us the recipe to boot, she instantly became our new good friend. We’ve had lots and lots of salsa down here, both home made and store bought but I thought this was one of the best I have had. I think Leslie said she got the recipe from a Mexican friend somewhere around Lake Chapala.

No matter where she got it it’s a good one. Watch out though, it’s not for the faint of heart. If you don’t like hot then cut back on the habanero’s or substitute jalapeños. Thanks Leslie for sharing this recipe. Say hello to Tom and Terry! Sorry, no pictures, we ate all the salsa before we got out the camera. When we make our own we'll take pictures and post.

Here's the recipe as written by Leslie.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Little Bit Of Playa

Turn up your volume or put on your headset. Listen to the intro music and in about 15 seconds you'll get a picture. The quality is not too good here but if you are missing Playa it is better than nothing.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Day With Jose

Not all things in life are created equally and that certainly includes fishing trips. My most recent outing was with my good friend Steve who was visiting from Oregon. On a whim, early one morning we decided to walk out onto the beach to find one of the local fishermen willing to take us out for a few hours. After just a five minute walk down the beach, we encountered our first and as it turned out our only and last fishing guide. His name was, not surprisingly, José and his English was even more limited than my Spanish. Nonetheless we were able to communicate clearly enough that we wanted to go fishing and that he wanted to take us and as it turns out, take us he did. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself but only a little.

After negotiating a price for a five hour trip of one hundred and fifty dollars, down thirty dollars from the original one hundred and eighty but still more than I would normally pay, we examined, somewhat suspiciously, José’s boat which was bobbing up and down just next to us with its bow nudged gently in the sand. Although it was not much to look at, it appeared to be seaworthy which meant it had no obvious holes, did not appear to be taking on large amounts of water and had an engine that was new enough to be powered by gasoline rather than steam. It also had a small three foot wide canvas cover obviously intended to protect its occupants from the searing rays of the tropical sun. I noted at the time that the cover seemed a little small to provide much protection for more than one person but then what do I know.

Next we agreed to depart in thirty minutes which would be about 9am. As an unnecessary but seemingly polite gesture, José offered to pick us up in thirty minutes right in front of our home which is just a couple of hundred yards down the beach from where we were then standing. I quickly embraced the idea of this curbside fishing service and I even decided that future trips, God willing, should also begin just this way. I also began to think back upon some old Hemmingway stories I had read as a youngster so I could begin practicing just how to act when José picked us up. This, I thought to myself was just the way Hem, a true sportsman, would have gone fishing. Luckily for me I had an hour to prepare and practice my routine because José turned out to be thirty minutes late. In just such a circumstance Hemingway would have propped himself up against a log in the sand, popped a bottle of warm red wine and patiently contemplated his fishing guide. “He’s just a boy, not so good a boy but not so bad either. Just a boy, like any other boy, Not good but not bad. Late but not too late. I still like the boy, not so much as before though because he’s late and the sun is hot, but maybe that’s why I still like him, because he is late and the sun is not as hot as it will be and the wine is good. Maybe not good but not bad either. Maybe I’ll like the boy less if he’s much later but now I still like him. Not as much as blah, blah blah ………”. I hope you all like Ernest Hemingway. At any rate, instead of taking the Hemingway approach, I paced back and forth and determined that José was definitely a bad boy.

When José finally pulled up to the shore it became immediately apparent that there was no fishing gear on the boat. For that matter there was no gear of any type. I also noticed that José was running the boat solo instead of with the customary crew member. Thinking that perhaps we were only going to be shuttled out to a larger and more updated vessel I quickly dismissed his tardiness and began excitedly scanning the horizon for our real charter boat which must obviously lay just offshore in deeper water. My enthusiasm was brief however as after boarding in waist deep water, and I know it was waist deep because it came up to my waist, José took us directly back to where we had initially encountered him just two hundred yards up the beach nearly an hour and a half earlier. At this time, we all got back off the boat, in waist deep water, I know it was waist deep because blah, blah, blah …… and while Steve and I stood scratching our heads and mumbling to ourselves, José ran off into the bushes where he had a three wheeled bicycle cart stored. He next pulled out what appeared to be a bundle of long, narrow sticks held together by an immense glob of tangled string. Upon closer inspection, this blob of sticks and string turned out to be the fishing poles we would be using today. José then displayed a plastic tote sack which upon slightly closer inspection contained some really nasty smelling baitfish fermenting in their own juice along with six warm beers. These beers were apparently the refreshments that Jose had mentioned were included in the price of our excursion. I could hardly wait.

After throwing all of this into the boat, literally, we reboarded in waist deep water blah, blah, blah…. and shoved off. As we slowly motored away, José informed us that we would be fishing for grouper, wahoo, amberjack, tuna, dorado, barracuda, sharks, marlin, sailfish, Nemo, Namu The Killer Whale, Moby Dick and maybe a few tiny yellow tail snappers. This pleased me greatly and my mind easily conjured up a picture of myself with a marlin or two. So as we motored along, Steve and I now began enthusiastically untangling fishing lines and poles. A bit later, with all of our gear ready, Steve who is usually totally unobservant about looming disaster, uncharacteristically noticed that the plastic 5 gallon gas tank for our boat only had about a quart of gas remaining in it. He also noticed quite observantly that there were no other containers of gas on board. I might have noticed this myself had I not been so busy looking for a lifejacket, alas, to no avail. Swimming offshore is not my forte and on this occasion, the prospect of having to do so no longer seemed out of the question. Not wanting to embarrass or agitate our skipper (who by now we noticed reeked of beer) by mentioning the apparent fuel crisis, we decided to settle back and see what developed. What developed, as we watched, was a really massive hangover. Our skipper, crew and potential savior all rolled into one was apparently coming down hard after an all nighter with Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, José Cuervo and maybe even a little action with Annie Green Springs. To calm his nerves he pulled out a bottle of the warm beer that was submerged in the fermenting fish juice. After opening the bottle with his teeth (I never saw him spit out the cap) he finished off the contents in one long draw, belched loudly and poured the small amount of remaining beer foam over our fishing reels which seemed to please him greatly as I noticed that he smiled slightly and winked at Steve.

After another twenty minutes our first line was in the water and we trolled along slowly about one mile offshore in about thirty feet of water which in the crystal clear water of the Caribbean appeared to be only about six inches deep. Actually, maybe it was only six inches deep. Looking over the side and clearly seeing the ocean bottom, it was apparent to me that there weren’t many, if any fish down there and certainly none of the big fish that José said we would be catching. I tried to politely explain this to José but he seemed at best uninterested and at most insulted. A few minutes later we had three more lines in the water all pulling the baitfish chunks which José had extracted from our beverage and snack sack. At least we were fishing. Sort of. After about half an hour of this I happened to open my eyes and noticed the tip of my rod dipping ever so slightly but regularly. By this time my mind had already begun to wander dreamily from thoughts of catching a fish to the thought of drinking one of the warm bottles of beers soaking in the fermented fish juice. Lurching from my seat, I grabbed the rod quickly from its holder and reared back to set the hook. “Fish on!” I screamed. I think. Yes, fish on, definitely, although it did not appear to be one of the larger species our skipper had mentioned but of course I could not tell for sure due to the immense size and deteriorated condition of the gear we were using. Pieces of ground metal and grains of sand began flying from the reel making the winding difficult and several small splinters of fiberglass appeared along the length of my fishing pole. As I slowly began to reel in my line I noticed there was no give and take as is normal when battling the big saltwater fish we were in search of. This seemed to be a totally one sided affair with me doing all of the taking and my undoubtedly clever quarry doing all of the giving. Nonetheless as I proudly glanced over at Steve I could not help but notice that his one partially opened eye was filled with envy even though he was trying his best to hide it from me as he rolled over on his side and pretended to continue sleeping.

Shortly thereafter, very shortly thereafter, I saw a glimmer of silver and yellow rapidly approaching the stern of the boat. The iridescence of the water and the bright colors of the scales themselves made it most difficult to determine the actual size of the finny beast looming just below us. Moments later with José standing by with the gaff hook and baseball bat ready, I hoisted aboard without assistance, a fully mature, six inch yellow tail snapper which José quickly dispatched and tossed into a small pail of water. Steve, who had risen briefly for the occasion, put at towel over his head and rolled back over on to his side, obviously miffed that I had been the first to boat a fish. He and I are quite competitive about these things and I could tell that he was not taking it well.

Only slightly disappointed, I assumed that my initial catch was going to become fresh bait for some of the larger species we were sure to catch that day but when José turned to me and said “Congratulations!” and gave me a high five, an alarm went off in my head. Something in the sound of “Congratulations” did not seem quite right let alone a high five. But never, never for a single moment, did I suspect, at least not at that time, that that fish, and three more just like it could possibly end up being the evening meal for four adults.

By now we could no longer ignore the gasoline crisis as it appeared the motor must be running on fumes. Upon mentioning this lack of fuel to José, he surprisingly appeared quite alarmed which also not so surprisingly quite alarmed me. He proceeded to tell us that we would need to go back immediately for more fuel. This was the first time all day that we all agreed on something. It was also at this point that I began to suspect that we might be José’s first victims, I mean clients.

As we slowly motored back to our original departure point with the motor sputtering for lack of fuel, José produced a cell phone and began dialing away presumably trying to find someone who would bring down some gas. There are no marinas along this stretch of coastline and gas has to be hauled down to the beach in five gallon plastic containers. Unable to get anyone on the phone, José slowly motored in and out around the boats anchored just offshore searching for one that might have a container of gas on board which he could apparently “borrow” for our use. Spotting what he thought to be a potential fuel supply on one of the boats anchored in the area, he motored alongside and stumbled aboard. Unfortunately, prior to stumbling aboard the other boat, José failed to put the motor of our boat in neutral and Steve and I, sitting in the bow, began slowly motoring away as José looked on bemusedly from onboard the other boat.

Little did José know or seem to care that this was exactly the type of situation Steve and I had dreamt about, trained for, longed for and subjected ourselves to over and over again throughout our long forty year plus friendship. Our boating exploits, mishaps and mayhem together are legendary among our small circle of friends and could fill pages and pages. Maybe even volumes. Maybe someday they will. Just not now. After briefly debating whether we should just leave with the boat or actually go back for Jose, we seized the rusty controls of our skipperless skiff and retrieved José from the other boat which of course had no gas on board after all. José did not seem to be even mildly impressed or grateful that we had retrieved him and I began to realize that we had made a poor decision by going back for him.

At this time I rather firmly suggested that we should return to the beach near our home and I would take my Jeep to town to get boat fuel. José thought this was an excellent suggestion and quickly produced a 200 peso note and an extra twenty pesos for two bags of ice to freshen up our beer. Good call José! As I departed, José called out “Gaso para dos tiempos” which I roughly translated to “Gas for two stroke.” which meant that oil would need to be mixed with the gas to assure proper engine operation. When I got to the gas station I purchased a quart of two stroke oil from the attendant, handed him the oil and announced “Gaso para dos tiempos”. The young attendant looked at me briefly, opened the oil and dumped it into the empty gas can. He then began filling the can with gas. I thought it a little strange that it took exactly one quart of oil to five gallons of gas to make the correct oil to fuel ratio necessary for our engine and the amount of oil seemed excessive to me. Try as I may to ask about this I could not communicate my question to the attendant. A moment later another attendant who I’m familiar with and can speak a little English came over. I told him what we were doing and asked if the fuel to oil ratio was correct. He said “No way, José!” which I actually thought was a real thigh slapper at the time. We had more than twice as much oil as was needed for five gallons of gas but by this time there was nothing I could do it since I only had one container for gas. With nothing more to be done, I proceeded to buy two bags of ice and headed back to the beach.

When I arrived, I explained what had happened to José who simply laughed and said “No problema”. We loaded ourselves and the gas back into the boat. The two bags of ice had already melted in the sweltering heat. Have I mentioned before that the water was waist deep? Moments later we were on our way again under radiant blue skies, this time heading south rather than north. José felt certain that the action would be better about five miles south of where we were last, so off we went at a leisurely speed. Steve and I kicked back, anxiously anticipating some much deserved deep sea fishing which was most certainly just a few miles ahead. After ten minutes or so I stood up to stretch and as I turned around to look behind us I was horrified to see that we were about to be enveloped by an immense rolling fog rapidly approaching just off our stern and totally obscuring everything immediately behind us. After recovering from my initial alarm I also noticed that this fog was more blue than white. I also noticed that the fog was only behind us while on the other three sides of us I could see for miles on end. It was then that I also noticed that it was not fog at all behind us but smoke coming from our over oiled outboard engine. The engine had also begun to sputter a little bit whereas before it had purred as softly and smoothly as a kitten. José, seeing my expression looked behind as well and immediately cut the engine. Now, instead of staying ahead of the blue fog, we were in it.

Unbothered, José rebaited our lines, restarted the engine and we began trolling again leaving a trail of smoke which surely must have been clearly visible from shore. I expected to see a rescue vessel at any moment but assumed it would most assuredly not approach from astern.

No longer particularly interested in the fishing I became interested in how hot it was or more accurately, how hot I was. Unable to coax my hand into the snack pack for one of the hot and smelly liquid refreshments and also not having brought along any water, the heat was beginning to take its toll on both my body and my mind. I looked over at José and thought I saw him smile and wink at Steve again. I also noticed that Jose was standing under the little canvas top which provided the only escape from the searing Caribbean sun. It was located directly midship and just above the steering and motor controls which were of course manned by José. Throughout most of the five hours that we slowly trolled and rolled along the sun drenched Caribbean coast that day, I could not help but notice just how effective the canvas cover was in protecting José from the scorching solar rays while I continually attempted, quite futilely, to pull my baseball cap down far enough to cover the tips of my now beet red ears. Steve who had not been wearing a cap and who happens to be follicley challenged as well, looked like he was wearing a bright red rubber swimmers cap, which he wasn’t. I decided not to mention it to him because I was interested to see what it would look like later in the evening at cocktail hour. Thirty minutes of blazing Caribbean sun later Steve had taken on the appearance of a large boiled lobster in a bright red rubber swimmers cap and Jose looked like an oversized dark roasted coffee bean with teeth. I dared not imagine how I might appear.

Just when I thought I could take no more, salvation appeared in the form of the devil incarnate on the eastern horizon. From seemingly out of nowhere, numerous, immense, towering black clouds some with whirling, spiraling and spinning black fingers reaching down into the sea began rapidly approaching our life jacketless but hopefully stalwart vessel. , José who had been sipping from a small flask all day and as far as I could tell could no longer see the horizon, was also finishing off the last hot, smelly beer and tossing down a couple chunks of the smelly baitfish which he was now referring to as “ceviche”. Steve who had given up on the fishing some time ago was curled up in the bow for an afternoon siesta, his now beet red head a potential search beacon should the weather continue to worsen.

I scooted over to where José was lounging under the three foot canvas cover and pointed over his shoulder toward the approaching black wall of clouds and water. He stood up, turned around, made a gasping noise and coughed up piece of ceviche. I did not take this to mean that he did not enjoy the ceviche. Quickly securing the chin strap of his Aussie style hat and without bringing in our fishing lines he applied the throttle to the motor and turned north towards Playa about five miles away.

Within minutes the first drops of rain were upon us, there were flashes of lightning mixed in with the black clouds and the formerly gentle Caribbean breeze began to pummel us with heavy wind and rain from the east. Yet it was now frighteningly clear that our fearless skipper intended to outrun this storm and return us to Playa. Steve, who was awake again, seemed to actually be revitalized by the sudden turn in the weather and was now standing up in the bow, arms spread, head tilted back, mouth open and laughing hysterically as he attempted to suck up as much of the storms watery offering as possible. Have I mentioned that the top of his head was really sunburned? Now travelling over the water’s surface at fifteen or twenty knots I turned around and noticed our four fishing lines, weights and bait were still bouncing along thirty or forty feet behind our boat but only coming in contact with the water every two or three seconds as each time they came in contact with the sea they were flung high back into the air only to return again in a now tangled mess.

It was really raining hard by now. José was hunkered down behind the helm and under the three foot canvas while Steve and I were perched in the bow holding onto to the gunwales for dear life as we bounced over the open waves and completely soaked to the bones. José’s maniacal smile and beaming white teeth clearly indicated that he was enjoying his duel with Mother Nature and he clearly intended to out run her. But alas, this storm was coming not from behind us from the south but from alongside of us from the east. Steve and I seemed keenly aware that we would simply soon be enveloped by the tempest but Jose appeared totally oblivious to our now obvious fate and continued to look back over his shoulder and laugh at his imagined victory.

In the end of course, we made it home. Battered, wet and weary, the weather conditions were completely the opposite from when we had left that morning but the water was still waist deep blah blah blah…… not that it mattered much because by the time we got back to Playa we were already soaked from “stem to stern” as the old nautical saying goes. We waded to shore accompanied by our scurrilous skipper who not only did we pay our one hundred and fifty dollars to but we also gave him a twenty dollar tip. Just glad to be back on solid land I guess. It was still pouring down rain when we got off the boat but we demanded that José clean our catch which consisted in total of four six inch mature yellow tail snappers and deliver it our house. While we trudged down the beach and back to the house Steve and I tried to decide what we would tell our wives about our fishing excursion. Steve suggested foolishly that we just tell them the truth about our day. No way!!” I said. “Why not?” said Steve. “Well….. because they would never believe us! “Why don’t you just tell them whatever comes off the top of your head.” I said. “Speaking of the top of your head, let’s get home. It’s almost cocktail hour.”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cart Cuisine 101

I like to walk but I love to eat. Normally my morning walk takes me from my home near Coco Beach over to 5th Avenue and down to the church, zocalo and food carts at 5th and Juarez. What I am supposed to do is walk all the way down to the church, make a 180 turn around the palm tree just in front of the church and go back home the way I just came, preferably without stopping. Two and one half miles, round trip.

Occasionally if I feel I have earned a special treat (rarely) or if my self discipline is lacking (often), I am drawn to the food carts located right at 5th and Juarez for a special breakfast treat. My charming bride, Mrs. Ima Princess, does not consider tacos and tortas as civilized breakfast offerings and therefore refuses to eat them and I know a few others who object for the same reason but, there are lots and lots of people here in Playa who love to start their day at the food carts. You’ll find everyone from the mayor to the street sweeper eating at the carts in the morning. It’s a stand up affair, with no seating provided and don’t be bashful because you’re definitely going to rub elbows with your neighbors.

For a long time, I was too intimidated to step up and order something from the carts because I couldn’t speak Spanish and I didn’t know what I was looking at anyway. I got over that years ago although there are still a few items remaining that are a mystery to me. It’s not that I’m embarrassed to ask, I just don’t really want to know. If I have to squint my eyes and look at the item really up close and still don’t have any idea what it is after about 10 seconds, I won’t usually order it. Some of the stuff is just a little too far out in left field for me even though I consider myself a pretty adventurous eater.

The carts start getting set up around 7am daily and they remain until they sell out which is usually some time around noon. This is a hands on operation and if your squeamish about watching someone handle your food with their fingers either just order and don’t watch or go stand in front of the church while someone else orders for you. Be comforted to know that the person who prepares your food is not the same person that takes your money…….usually.

Now……… if you’re new to this dining experience and you want to give it a try, here’s how I suggest you break the ice (not that you'll find any). Start with something simple. Cochinita pibil is simple and it’s still my favorite. Cochinita pibil is big pieces of pork rubbed with achiote paste then mixed with sour orange juice and other seasonings then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed for a long time until it is super tender and can be easily shredded by hand. It is delicious. It is also pretty easy to identify because it is usually in a really big pan full of meat and juice and it is usually hand pulled to order by the “staff”. If you’re not sure, just listen and watch for a minute or two and you’ll hear somebody order “cochinita”. Then you can see what it looks like before you order. Or you can just walk up and say “Cochinita, por favor”. The reply will be “taco o torta?” You reply “Dos tacos, por favor” unless you want a sandwich in which case you would say “una torta, por favor”. I suggest you stick with tacos until you get the hang of things although the tortas are just as delicious. Remember, Rome was not built in a day. You can always come back tomorrow and get something else. Today we are doing tacos. It only takes a few seconds to put a taco together and in that few seconds you will probably be asked “Cebollas?” to which you reply “Si, por favor”. Cebollas are the marinated purple onions which are a must. Make sure you get some.

Now this is where things get a little different. You will next be handed your two tacos on a little Styrofoam plate but there will be no mention of money. You take your tacos from the attendant with a simple “Gracias!” and find a spot nearby to stand and eat. If you want to add some zip to your tacos you will find a container of salsa on the front of the cart that looks similar to the marinated purple onions on your taco. It is similar but they’ve added enough habanero chiles to it to curl your toenails if you’re not careful. Try a little on one taco first.

Once you have enjoyed your two tacos, it’s time to decide if you want some more which you probably will. So, work your way back to the front or side of the cart with your little Styrofoam tray, hand it to the attendant and ask for two more. You know the routine now. When you have enjoyed two more tacos you will probably have had enough for your initial visit. Now it’s time to pay and excuse yourself so someone else can squeeze in to eat. Someone will be collecting money. Walk over to them and when it’s your turn say “cuatro tacos” or hold up 4 fingers and say “tacos” or whatever. This is the honor system. Don’t try to cheat. They will rattle off a number in Spanish. If you understand Spanish numbers give them what is due. If you don’t understand Spanish numbers the going rate for a taco is eight pesos. I have never been overcharged, at least as far as I know, and I have never been charged a different amount because I’m a gringo. Still, it’s probably a good idea to just have a few 20 peso notes and some coins in your pocket so you’re not changing out big bills. Also make sure you are paying the person at the cart where you got your food. These guys are independent contractors. Don’t pay the wrong one.

You have now completed your first course in food cart dining. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself going back again and again day after day to try different items. It’s really a lot of fun, it’s affordable and it’s really Mexican. I have never become ill and I think it’s some of the freshest food in Playa because they sell out each day and start fresh the next morning.

Other things to try from the carts are the shrimp tacos “tacos de camaron” and the cheese stuffed chile tacos “tacos rellenos”. Both the shrimp and the rellenos come topped with Mexican rice and purple onions. Don't forget the hot sauce out front. There are plenty of other items to try as well. I have included a picture of one of the items available that most will consider rather unusual. In English it is known as “corn fungus”, “smut” and “devils corn”. And that is just what it is, a fungus that grows on corn. In the US, farmers consider it a crop disease and go to great lengths to keep it from infesting their corn crops. In Mexico it was named huitlacoche by the Aztec which translates to English as “raven’s excrement”. Yummers! As it was in the day of the Aztec, it is still considered to be a delicacy throughout Mexico. I’ve squinted at it quite a few times while I’m eating my morning tacos and I’ve seen it on several restaurant menus but everytime I decide to give it a try I suddenly feel full and not hungry anymore. You look at the picture I’ve included and send me an email if you’re still hungry after looking at it. If you have any doubts about what this stuff really looks like, just click on the picture for a real closeup shot. Be careful. It's not for the faint of heart.

If you need something to drink while you are eating, you can get a variety of different bottled sodas from any of the carts or you can buy a big glass of fresh squeezed orange juice from the lady right on the corner next to the church.

If you have any room for dessert, just walk down the street towards the beach and look to your right. Here you will find big colorful cups of freshly sliced tropical fruits of all varieties for 18 pesos each. If you have a few minutes to spare, watch the women who peel and cut these fresh fruits and then go home and try it yourself. Good luck! Mango, papaya, coconut, watermelon, cantaloupe, mandarine oranges, tangerines and honeydew melon plus more are all available.

I really recommend that you try all of this at least once while you are in Playa. I don’t think you will be disappointed but if you are there is a McDonald’s right next door. Buen provecho!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Remembering Emily And Wilma

We're well past the midway point in the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season and although our area has been spared so far this year, others have not been as fortunate. As of this morning I see we are watching to see if tropical storm Kyle develops into something more formidable. Let's hope not.

I decided this would be a good time to find my Emily and Wilma poems I wrote in 2005 and try to get a little mileage from them. Emily came first in July and Wilma followed exactly three months later in October. For Mrs. Princess and me, Emily was our first hurricane experience. It was almost a blessing as it gave us a sense of what to expect from Hurricane Wilma. I guess Emily was the marriage equivalent of a wedding rehersal dinner for Wilma. Emily lasted about eight hours and Wilma lasted almost three days. Here's what I was thinking then.


When Emily was a little girl
just learning how to sing and twirl,
she danced across the ocean blue
still not quite certain what she’d do.

So day by day she roamed the sea
thinking hard of what she’d be,
until one day she finally knew,
exactly what she was meant to do.

No longer just a little girl
she quickly blossomed and unfurled.
Spreading out her windswept arms,
looking for someplace to display her charms.

And once she decided on her course,
she knew she needed much more force.
She really wanted more attention,
to be someone that all would mention.

And as she grew, she caught the eye,
of airplanes flying in the sky.
“Hello up there” she would say,
“I am Emily and I’m on my way”.

Her name became a solemn word.
Her presence felt but still not heard.
And to the shore where she wound her way,
people grew more anxious day by day.

To any doubters it now occurred
Emily would keep her word.
“I said I was coming” she would scream.
“I’m the real thing, not just a dream”.

“And if you thought I might be kind,
I’ll be in after midnight if you don’t mind.
So get out your candles and hunker down,
I’m sure you’ll know when I hit town.

And so we did and so did she,
A real “Bitch” that Emily.
Her stay was brief and we were blessed,
But I’m telling you, she sure made a mess.

And now she’s gone her days are done.
She made her name a common one
if only to those of us she knew
still I for one am glad she’s through.


My name was Wilma the name suited me well
big, fat and ugly and angry as hell
My sister preceeded me just three months ago
her name was Emily as I’m sure you all know
Emily moved quickly all limber and lean
tormenting the coastline like an unruly queen

I approached slowly cloaked in the guise
of a tropical storm of no consequential size
Under cover of darkness I tossed off my veil
opened my wings and unrolled my tail
I was a demon swirling in blue black and green
the likes of which, have never been seen

I came well prepared to stay for awhile
wherever I travel I travel in style
Accompanying me was my full entourage
everything needed to unleash a barrage
With landfall in sight, I slowed to a crawl
You all watched me and I watched you all

Proceeding ever so slowly I crept through the night
roaring and howling but waiting for light
My manners have taught me that it’s always best
to arrive in daylight if you’re an unwelcome guest
Then raise hell all night and the following day
for forty eight hours I decided to stay

I ripped and I tore, I screamed and I blew
I visited each one of you before I was through
And now that I’m gone, I look back and see
the damage I left as I smile with glee
I left very little but sticks stones and rubble
then headed on to give others some trouble

But sadly, I look back, knowing I did my best
But it seems you’re all used to unruly guests
How quick you recover it’s amazing to see
I hate to admit it but you’re better than me
My days are over, I’m a thing of the past
and as the old saying goes “He who laughs last laughs the best”

Saturday, June 28, 2008

3er. MUNDIALITO de Futbol

La Quinta Magazine hosted the 3rd annual Little World Futbol Tournament at Mamitas Beach this last weekend June 21st and 22nd, under beautiful blue skies and next to an even more beautiful blue Caribbean Sea.

A total of 16 countries signed up for the weekend event. Teams were present from Uruguay, Italy, Israel, Mexico, USA, Holland, France, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, England, Canada, Switzerland, Cuba, Germany and Chile.

The teams were made up of primarily people who are all living here in Playa. Most but not all of them played on the team of their national origin. I saw lots of familiar faces on many of the teams and I never realized how good these people that I pass on the street each day, really are at futbol. I also did not realize how seriously most of them take the game. Soccer or futbol as it is called here, is a really big deal in most of the world except the US and in Playa it is no different. Several of these matches nearly came to blows. Cursing, spitting and kicking sand were the norm in many of the matches. Uruguay, Italy and Argentina in particular all brought far too much testosterone to the beach. My Spanish and Italian vocabulary of filthy names quadrupled over the weekend. I can’t wait to use them. I don’t think I’ll try them on any of the people I learned them from however.

Team USA made a respectable showing but was never a threat. To anyone. They played hard and deserve credit for even going out on the sand but alas they were doomed from the get go. With three consecutive losses to Israel, Argentina and England, the USA was eliminated without scoring a single goal. I’m sure they’ll regroup for next year and do much better.

I hope Argentina and Uruguay enter the tournament again next year. Not because I want to see them play but because their female rooting sections had some of the best looking and scantily clad South American beauties to be found. Some of the players had a difficult time keeping their minds and eyes focused on the game. I even found myself distracted once.

Team France had some pretty good players and one excellent one but the one match I watched between them and Uruguay turned into a rout after a 1 to 1 tie part way through the second period turned into a 7 to 1 loss after the French goalie completely crumbled. By the time the match was finished so was he.

Team Canada had a young lady on their team who actually played very well. I think the really hard core teams had a hard time deciding how to handle her or maybe I should say not handle her. She was the only one who did not seem to be bumped, tripped grabbed and kicked. Even the mangler’s from Uruguay and Argentina cut her some slack.

Although I didn’t see the final match for the local championship, I understand it was played between Italy and Israel with the Italians coming out on top here in Playa only to find the true Italian national team was eliminated at about the same time by Spain in the Euro 2008 competition in Germany.

All in all it was a great two days of fun for the locals with wonderful weather both days. I’m sure next year will bring even more teams to the beach.

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