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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Catch Of The Day

Mrs. Princess and I went shopping the other day at Walmart (yes we have a Walmart) and as we passed through the seafood department I noticed some big pieces of fish laid out on ice that looked strangely familiar to me but somehow out of place here in Playa del Carmen. Upon closer inspection and reading the sign stuck in the ice I realized I was looking at Alaskan halibut. Being from the Pacific Northwest and great lovers of halibut, Mrs. Princess and I agreed that because it was just such a rare find we would have to purchase some no matter the cost. The halibut pieces were big boneless skinless filets and still frozen. There were a couple of pieces up front that had thawed out and I gave them the old sniff test. Mrs. Princess who wasn’t about to trust my nose gave them the once over herself. “Buy it” she then hastily commanded while pointing at some of the frozen pieces.

Back in Oregon we would pay anywhere from $7.00 a pound to as much as $15.00 per pound for halibut that was practically caught in our own backyard. Well, if there was halibut from Alaska in Playa, we were going to have some and that was that, cost be damned.

I approached the fishmonger and mentally prepared myself for the culinary sacrifices we would need to make in the coming days for the opportunity this rare treat was going to provide us that night however, nothing could have prepared me for the answer I received from the fishmonger. Our conversation was in Spanish so it always takes my mind a few extra seconds to process even simple Spanish conversation. I was promptly informed that the price of the Alaskan halibut was 48 pesos. My mind became a jumbled mass as it tried desperately to decipher what my ears had just heard. “Forty eight pesos” I blurted out. “Why…that’s ridiculous!” I said, which it was, although I only said it because my brain was still trying to figure out how much “cuarenta y ocho pesos” actually was. Once I got my arms around the 48 peso price tag the next step was to find out just how much halibut I would get for 48 pesos which is the US equivalent of about $4.50.

I knew that this was where I was going to get sucker punched and find that 48 pesos was going to buy me a piece of halibut slightly smaller in size than a US one dollar bill. Okay here goes “How much halibut do I get for 48 pesos?” “One kilo” replied the fishmonger. Luckily Mrs. Princess was standing behind me and grabbed me as I stumbled backwards nearly overturning the seafood display table behind me.

I quickly regained my composure and ran the math. At 48 pesos per kilo I would be paying just a few pennies over $2.00 a pound for boneless skinless Alaskan halibut filets. Suddenly I heard myself blurting to the fishmonger “We’ll take everything you’ve got.” The fishmonger nodded appreciatively if not somewhat surprisedly and opened the large door to the freezer just behind him. Just inside was a large unopened box about 4 feet square and 4 feet high. He pried the lid from the box exposing what appeared to me at the time to be all of the frozen halibut that could have come out of Alaska in the last sixty days. I told Mrs. Princess to stay with the fishmonger and to keep a close eye on him. I didn’t want to take any chance of messing this up. She asked where I thought I was going and I said “Over to the appliance department to look at freezers!”

Over in the freezer department I found that I would need to purchase at least two very large freezers to hold all the halibut that we were going to buy. Suddenly, the old brain came out of shock and began functioning partially again which is about as much as I can ask of it even on a good day. I could hear it whispering to me “Mike, your losing it. Go back to the fish counter, buy some halibut and go home and have a nice dinner with Ima Princess.” Dejectedly but with the satisfaction that the day was not totally lost, I proceeded back to the counter and explained to Mrs. Princess and the kindly fishmonger that we would not, after all be buying all of the beautiful, boneless, skinless, flash frozen, Alaskan halibut filets that Walmart had to offer. Strangely enough they both took it rather well.

After loading up with three or four large packages of halibut we headed home with our catch of the day. For the next three days, we would eat halibut at night and I would go back to Walmart early the next morning to buy even more packages of halibut. The first two days went well but on the third, the fishmonger's freezer was bare. No more beautiful, boneless, skinless, flash frozen, Alaskan halibut filets. Knowing that I still had a goodly supply at home in the freezer made me happy and knowing that Walmart didn’t have any more for me to buy and bring home made Mrs. Princess happy. I guess it was a win, win. I didn’t tell Mrs. Princess that the fishmonger told me they would have more soon.

Needless to say we’ve been eating a lot of halibut prepared in a number of different ways and I’m going to share with you the absolute easiest way to prepare this delicious fish. It’s also one of our favorite ways to eat it. I know some of you may be a little skeptical of some of the things I have just told you however, this recipe is 100% legit. You can easily make this entire recipe in less than ten minutes. I would never ask anyone to ruin a good piece of halibut. Here is what you need and what you do:

There are only 4 ingredients needed for this preparation. The first two ,

Juice of 1 lemon or lime (we only get limes down here)
4 or 5 tablespoons of butter.


Squeeze the lemon or lime juice into a small glass dish. Stick the butter in with the lime juice and heat in the microwave until the butter melts, 20 or 30 seconds. This should be more than plenty for two people.

Now the fun part:


Pour a 2 liter bottle of 7UP or Sprite into a large saucepan. Put it on the stove and bring it to a simmer.

Cut the beautiful, boneless, skinless, flash frozen but now thawed, Alaskan halibut filets into small bite sized pieces about 1 to 1 ½ inches square.

Bring the 7UP or Sprite to a boil, add the halibut pieces to the pan and wait until they start to float. This will only take a very short time. A minute or two will be sufficient. Maybe three if you are really cooking a large quantity. If you overcook the halibut it will be very dry and you will not enjoy it nearly as much.

Drain the halibut and you’re ready to go. Make sure everything else is ready because the halibut should be eaten as soon as it is finished cooking. Dip one piece into the lemon butter, then put it into your mouth and the rest is pretty self explanatory.

This is so good that I recommend that you allow at least 8 ounces of halibut for each person. If you don’t eat it all at one sitting, put the leftovers in a Ziploc with a little of the lemon butter, refrigerate overnight and you’ll have some incredibly delicious, chilled lemon flavored halibut snacks the next day.

You can also use any other firm fleshed white fish like monkfish or wahoo but we think halibut is the best.

Buen provecho!!!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tragedy On The Oregon Coast

Every once in a while there are things that do not happen in Playa that are still noteworthy. This is one of them. After reading this terrible Associated Press report about this incredibly sad incident in Charleston Oregon, I felt compelled to share it with you on my blog space. Being from Oregon, I know that this was a highly unusual and random cruel act perpetuated by by two young, deranged youths (probably from out of state). All I can say is when you read this, you'd better have your Kleenex handy.
First reported by Associated Press, Friday June 13th, 2008
Men fillet Charlie the Tuna statue in Oregon
What began as a prank ended with a
sort of chain-saw massacre
Lisa Campbell and her mother, Mel Campbell, look over the pieces of Charlie the Tuna on June 6 behind a fire station in Charleston.
CHARLESTON, Ore. - It turns out the fate of Charlie the Tuna of Charleston, Ore., was sorry indeed.
The 8-foot Monterey cypress sculpture that used to greet visitors to the coastal fishing town was filleted by two young men who stole it as a prank and then, panicked
they would be found out, took chain saws to it.
Not that Charlie would have lasted much longer anyway, the town learned, what with the way bugs and rot had hollowed out his innards.
The statue stood beside the South Slough Bridge into Charleston until Mark Santos and Marvin Terry Jr. swiped it last month.
"We had planned to wait a little while and then leave Charlie in a random place in town where he could be returned unharmed," they said in an apology letter published in The World of Coos Bay.
But someone tipped off sheriff's deputies, who started nosing around. Santos and Terry rushed to their hiding place and tried to move Charlie. But the statue wouldn't fit in their truck.
"We decided to chop him up so we could move him," they said. "This was not pre-planned."
Deputies caught them in the act and charged them with theft and criminal mischief.
Mel Campbell of the merchants association had painted Charlie many times over the years — he was in blue with an orange hat, after the StarKist ads' Charlie.
Santos has paid her a visit, and Campbell is asking for leniency.
"This was just a terrible, dumb, stupid prank that went absolutely wrong," she said.
A wake is planned Saturday at the town's visitors center. The Wild Women of Charleston and the Tuna Guys will offer musical moments. The remains are to be burned and buried at the center.
Mourners are invited to share stories about Charlie, and tuna recipes.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Banana Plant, Tree, Whatever!

So……. I live in a tropical climate, right? Right. Tropical climates have coconut palm trees, right? Right. Tropical climates also have banana trees, right? Wrong. Tropical climates have banana plants because there is no such thing as a banana tree. Mrs. Princess and I have been watching the banana plant right outside our patio closely for the last two years or so and I finally decided it was time to learn a little more about this most interesting plant. We‘ve been lucky to watch the plant develop as it grew up to us rather than as it grew away from us. All the big banana action has been right at the level of our second floor terrace. We’ve watched this one grow since it was a baby after I accidently killed the full grown mother plant with a single errant chop from my machete two years ago. When I told Mrs. Princess (aka Cupcake) what had happened, she immediately called me inside, pried my machete from my hand and advised me to grow up. She still has my machete hidden away and to this day refuses to tell me of its whereabouts. When George Washington confessed to purposely cutting down a cherry tree he became a general, a hero and a President. I make one little tiny miscue with my machete on a banana plant tree and it’s all over for me. At least I still have my Swiss Army knife on my keychain.

Now that “the baby” is a full grown plant complete with sixty or so bananas, I decided to study up on the internet for fifteen or twenty minutes and now consider myself to be a leading authority on banana tree plants. Are you ready for this? The italicized comments are some of the information that I stole, I mean learned from the internet.
“Banana plants are the world's largest herbaceous plants.” More importantly, herbaceous is a really great word and I was lucky to be able to use it here. Someday, I may even know what it means.

“By combining a small tree's stature with enormous yet graceful leaves, banana plants provide an unmistakably tropical look.” I thought this was a rather obvious and useless statement but it must have been important because the person I copied it from has a PhD in banana tree plants. I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt here because besides having a PhD, he has a lot of other abbreviations after his name as well and I don’t have any after mine. For this reason and this reason only, I am going to include his statement in my article. However, I think that I will begin looking for some better sources of information for the rest of my article, I mean thesis. One thing this guy got right is the leaves. They really are enormous and they really are very graceful and attractive. Some of the leaves on our tree are 12 feet long. The leaves grow incredibly fast as they unfurl from a tightly wound, compact stem into a huge beautifully dark green leaf seemingly overnight. That last sentence was all mine. What a great sentence. Who needs a PhD?

Okay….. Here’s a few more comments I took from Mr. Know It All. Notice how he’s really hung up on this “worlds largest herbaceous plant” thing. This is already the second time he’s used it in just a couple of minutes. If I see this word one more time, so help me, I’m getting out my dictionary.“Bananas, the genus Musa, are the world's largest herbaceous plants, and around 50 species can be found from tropical Africa, India and southeast Asia to northern Australia. The family Musaceae also includes Ensete with six species. Species and cultivars from higher altitudes or latitudes tend to be the best for growing outdoors in the UK.Musa have huge, paddle-shaped leaves that are prone to shredding by the wind, a natural damage-limitation device to prevent the whole leaf being broken off in tropical storms. The leaves split into parallel strips at right angles to their stout central midrib, which can look untidy but they still function effectively. Wind resistance varies considerably between species and cultivars.The stout central 'trunk' that leads to bananas being regarded as trees is not woody, but made up of tightly wrapped leaf bases, so botanically is classed as a pseudostem. The growing point, at the tip of the true stem, remains deep inside the pseudostem at the base of the leaves, and in this respect bananas are broadly analogous to bearded iris and canna. Each shoot is monocarpic, dying after flowering, but basal suckers take its place.”

Blahh…. Blah….. Blah……. What a windbag. I could have said all of that in a couple of sentences without using all the big words that he probably just made up to sound smart. He must think we’re stupid. Everyone knows that a pseudostem is just a fake name. And… who gives a rip about growing banana tree plants in the UK? Ever since I read this statement I’ve tried to envision a banana plant next to the Tower of London and no matter how hard I try I just can’t make it happen. If God wanted banana tree plants in the UK he would have put them there a long time ago. Also I think the way this guy throws in the phrase “basal suckers” at the end of the paragraph is really tacky. I don’t know what a “basal sucker” is but I very seriously doubt that it has anything to do with a banana. Okay, that’s it. I’m done with this guy.

Here are some things that I know about bananas:

If you step on a banana peel you will slip.

Green bananas do not taste good. Ever.

It is hard to eat a banana gracefully.

It is a myth that brown bananas should be kept to make banana bread. They should be thrown away. You will never make the banana bread and the bananas will simply rot on your kitchen counter.

The little stringy things along the side of a peeled banana are very annoying and there is always a decision to be made as to whether or not to eat them.

Trying to pull the little stringy things away from the side of a peeled banana will as often as not result in breaking off half of the banana and watching it fall to the ground.

Bananas cut from the plant all ripen at once and you must be prepared to eat a LOT of bananas.

Bananas cut from the plant also turn brown immediately after they turn yellow and you already know what you need to do with brown bananas.

The “Banana Republic” is an overpriced clothing store that sells clothes that wrinkle very easily.

Strangely a “banana belt” is not a clothing item at Banana Republic but a geographic term describing a warmer region of a typically cooler area.

Here in Playa a banana is left unpeeled and squished in the hands until the inside is a mush. Then the top is cut off and the insides are squished into the mouth. I haven’t tried it yet but I am thinking about it.

The average American eats 28 pounds of bananas a year. Someone else must be eating most of mine.

In 1516, Friar Tomas sailed to the Caribbean bringing banana roots with him and planted them here in the tropics, thus beginning the banana's future in American life. Nice guy.

Once the main plant produces its fruit, it dies. The next one that will take its place is already half grown before the first one dies. This cycle repeats itself over and over. We are getting ready for more bananas.

Sadly, a couple of days ago the second mother plant was cut down by the gardeners. The baby plant is now about six feet high. The watch begins. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Brick Road To La Playa

It looks as though one of Playa Del Carmen’s most well known streets is about to get an extreme and much needed facelift. The 150 yard stretch of Calle 28 between 1st Avenue north and the beach that leads to Playa’s two most sought after and overcrowded beach clubs “Mamitas” and “Kool” is finally having brick pavers installed. The brick blocks that have been stacked on pallets at the corner of First Avenue for the last six or seven weeks are now being laid to rest in their new home.

The days of ankle and axle breaking on this ever popular, massively rutted path to the beach may soon be a thing of the past. I’m sure more people and drinks have slipped, slopped, dripped and dropped along this short stretch of road than anywhere else in Playa. Once the paving is done the overimbibed will no longer be able to use road conditions as an excuse for their stumbles and tumbles.

On a busy day, of which there are many, there can be hundreds of people at any given time walking to or from the beach on 28th from dawn until well after dusk. The bricks are currently being laid beginning at 1st Avenue and heading toward the beach. I’ve got a hunch there may only be 1 block paved for the time being. Construction is scheduled to begin on a new condo project on the north side of the street with lots of heavy equipment coming and going. This may delay the last 100 yard stretch for a while. We’ll see. In the meantime maybe we could come up with a new name for the street. It certainly deserves one. There is absolutely no doubt that this 150 yard stretch of road provides the best place for people watching anywhere in Playa del Carmen, maybe even the world!
I’ll post some more pictures of the progress or the lack thereof in the coming days.

It seems that all of the work on 28th street may have gone for naught. The newly brick blocked street has been almost entirely taken over by motorized vehicles instead of foot traffic. The foot traffic is still there but oh my..... what a mess. Maybe the powers that be will put some restrictions on vehicle traffic. It seems a shame to have this newly rennovated street completely over run by cars trucks and even busses. We'll see.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

World Kiteboard Competition In Playa

The first PKRA (Professional Kite Riders Association) event of 2008 was held in Playa for the fist time from March 5th through March 9th at Mamita’s Beach. The best kiteboarders in the world were on hand and they put on a great show. A variety of wind and weather conditions made each day a little different. I made it down for a couple of hours each day and I can tell you, these young people are amazing! Both freestyle acrobatics and course racing were on the schedule and front row seating was available to everyone on the beach.

The first day provided warm weather and light but consistent winds that averaged between 10 and 14 knots. These winds were not strong enough for a freestyle event but were good enough for a triangular race course event that began at 2:45 p.m. with an average race time of 15 to 20 minutes per race.

The second day provided enough wind for the freestyle competition to be held and possibly the most noteworthy item was that the 14 year old women’s world champion Gisela Pulido from Spain was disqualified when her kite became entangled with another rider’s kite. This 14 year old young lady cannot be more than 80 pounds soaking wet and believe me she was soaking wet all the time.

Day three brought a lot more wind than day two, averaging between 20 to 25 knots. The wind, along with an unusually strong current made it tricky for the riders to stay upwind. The riders would launch out from the beach but would end up having to come ashore after a couple of minutes and run back up the beach with their kites being controlled in one hand and carrying their board in the other. Some of the women had some help from some of the men riders but the entire ordeal looked absolutely exhausting. The high wind and the rough seas provided many a rough spill for a lot of the riders. I was surprised that a few even got back on their boards.

Day four was spent waiting for the wind to arrive. When it did, it was not suitable for competition because it was blowing offshore instead of onshore and thereby made it difficult for the competition to be held close to the beach because of what they call wind shadows caused by buildings and trees close to the beach. Competition was called off at 4 p.m. and the course racing event finale was scheduled for early Sunday.

The weather deteriorated on day 5 and the sun failed to come out for the first time during the competition. Light, early morning winds gave way to northerly breezes around 10 am and the course racing and the freestyle events were concluded. I really don’t know how it all wrapped up or what the final standings were but I’m told there was $40,000 in prize money to be awarded so I’m sure it was important to the competitors. I just enjoyed the show.

There was another kiteboard competition in Playa a couple of years ago but it was not a World Kitebord event. I enjoyed watching it as well but it didn’t compare t this years event. Even though I know absolutely nothing about this sport it was captivating to watch up close. The riders, the international competition, the camaraderie and enthusiasm of young people engaged in a relatively new sport, the staging area where riders and kites all mix together and even the crowds that gathered to watch made this a really memorable experience for me. The pictures can tell the story of this event much better than I can. I hope they all come back next year and do it again! In the meantime, I'm going to buy a better camera.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mahi Mahi, Mangos And Marinade

Our son Matt was down recently for a vacation so he and I decided to do a little fishing. For one reason or another, we ended up in Akumal to begin our trip. We had been in Akumal the day before and had talked with Chino, who would be our guide and arranged to go out the next morning at 9 am. Since Chino lives in Playa del Carmen, I suggested that we would just pick him up at 8 am at his house the next day and we would ride down together.

We arrived in Akumal on schedule, picked up a few snacks and headed to the boat. The bay here in Akumal is something to behold on a calm morning. We walked along the bay for about 15 minutes while Chino and our skipper prepared the boat and the equipment. Chino carefully attached steel leaders and fresh bait to each of the four rods we would be using. He also hand sharpened all of the hooks we would need for the day. The boat itself, called a lancha down here, was a small open boat with an equally small canvas cover to provide some shade. The boat was equipped with a 40 horse outboard which proved to be more than adequate. The lancha was spotlessly clean and obviously well maintained. Nonetheless I was pleased to see lifejackets readily accessible all around.

We had agreed to pay $120.00 for a three hour tour, a three hour tour. The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the lancha would be lost, the lancha would be lost. Whoops! Sorry! Too many Gilligans Island reruns. We did in fact however agree to pay $120.00 for a three hour tour, a three hour tour.

Actually the bay was perfectly calm as we slowly motored out and Chino pointed out a few small sea turtles as we headed for open water. We ended up only 3 to 4 miles offshore and within easy sight of land and bobbing along comfortably in 2 to 3 foot swells by that time. There were a few other boats within a mile or two of us but no one seemed to be getting much action. Chino let out our lines and we sat back to enjoy the scenery. After about twenty minutes Matt and I both saw an incredibly fast moving streak of water crossing behind our boat about 30 yards out. The next moment found one of the four rod tips dipping forcefully towards the water and we had a fish on! When fishing for mahi mahi, the bait is actually pulled along the surface of the water in full view of the occupants of the boat. If you are watching carefully, you can often see your fish approach and strike. Matt was first in line for a chance to catch something and after about 30 minutes, Chino hauled aboard a beautiful 20 pound or so mahi mahi much to our delight. After putting out our lines again we had another fish on in fairly short order and this time it was my turn with nearly identical results as the first fish.

We trolled around another hour or so without any more action but Chino did spot two absolutely huge sea turtles which he motored slowly over for us to see. I truly thought as we approached that we were looking at two overturned boats. I had no idea they could grow so large. Unfortunately I did not get my camera in time to get pictures.

Back in Akumal Bay, Chino filleted our fish, packed them in ice and sent us home with enough mahi mahi for eight or nine meals (with guests). We grilled some of our fresh mahi mahi on the barbecue that evening after marinating it for about 30 minutes in the following:

2 large cloves of chopped garlic
1/3 cup of olive oil
3 tablespoons of dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons of basalmic vinegar
¼ cup of fresh lime juice
¼ cup of orange juice

Mince the garlic, add the other ingredients, mix thoroughly and add the fish. I wouldn’t marinate the fish for more than 30 minutes as the marinade will overpower the fish.

This marinade is great with grilled chicken breasts as well and you can add a minced jalapeño or two if you want it spicy. You can also marinate the chicken for a couple of hours if you like.

I also made a very quick and easy mango avocado salsa for the fish:

1 mango, peeled and diced
1 plum tomato, seeded and diced
2 green onions, sliced thin
1 jalapeño chili finely chopped
¼ cup fresh lime juice
1 avocado diced

Mix all the ingredients except the avocado and refrigerate. Add the avocado just before serving. This is a very good and simple salsa.

We had a great fishing trip with great results and the price to me was very reasonable. Chino did a great job. If you would like to go out with him, I’m sure I can get you in touch.

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