This is Mexico……..
We live for our long weekends. This is because under the labour laws in Mexico, YM only gets 6 days holiday a year. Luckily, due to Mexico’s penchant for coups, riots and general battling, there are plenty of long weekends in the year (viva la revolucion!) The long weekends give us an opportunity to explore parts of the country that are really too far away to manage on a normal weekend. It also gives me an opportunity to stick a drawing pin into a huge map of Mexico I bought for a fiver whilst stopped at a roundabout.
For this ‘Puente’ we decided to head down the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, specifically to Bahías de Huatulco. Imagine a 10km stretch of coastline with 9 bays backed by steep rugged mountains and 32 different white sand beaches, some only accessible by boat. Heaven after a grey gloomy Christmas in the UK and cold, rainy weather back in Mexico City (when I say cold – I mean I’ve had to wear a jumper with a T-shirt underneath – scandalous!)
Preparations for the Puente began the Saturday before we left. In a rush of organization we managed to find an overnight bus that would leave Mexico City on the Friday night and arrive early Saturday morning. Our plan was to fly back on Monday afternoon thereby getting the financial savings of using the bus and the speed of using a flight. Canny or what?
After finding an appropriate flight back we decided to go to the bus station and book our tickets out. This journey meant we left the flat for approximately an hour. Imagine our surprise when we returned, smug in our productiveness, to find there were no flights left. Obviously all 23 million people in Mexico City tried to book return flights from Huatulco all within the same hour. Perfect. So we were left with 2 bus tickets for a 14 hour journey to Huatulco. And no way of returning.
Actually, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. We could easily get the bus back. However, this meant that we would spend all Friday night on a bus and get there Saturday morning. We would have Saturday and half of Sunday before getting back on the overnight bus to return to Mexico City on Monday. So…30 hours on the bus for about 26 hours in Huatulco. Sounds awesome. Actually, we didn’t have a choice having just dished out MS$2000 for our tickets (100 quid) so that’s what we did. Back in the car, back to the bus station and back to negotiating with the rather bemused counter assistant. Bless her manners. She obviously wanted to ask why we waved away the idea of a return ticket when we were there half an hour ago. Hopefully she just though we were eccentric foreigners…
Anyway, Friday rolled around and I managed to make a hasty exit from school. This involved some intense cycling through heavy traffic and a fun fair that had been thoughtfully set up on the main road back to my flat (ever tried dodging travelling fair rides on a bike? – it should be a ride itself). Being home on time to pack everything in time for YM’s return was of paramount importance to making the bus on time.
Of course, it would also mean it was the same day that I managed to lock myself out of the flat. With no mobile either. This meant another adrenalin-fueled ride back to school and using Google Chat to instigate some kind of triangular communication between YM and our Mexican flatmate (MF). Luckily we tracked him down fairly close by (although that is a pretty relative statement in a city this size) and YM successfully managed to prise him away from whatever unfortunate girl he was wooing that day.
Packing complete, YM arrived and we marched to the bus station. Literally, because the traffic was still grid-locked (thanks fun fair). Not the easiest thing to do in pumps, in the dark, whilst carrying a boogie board and a suitcase. Soon we reached the bus station and managed to get boarded and settled into our seats. All was going well until about 3 hours into the trip when YM began to experience all the hallmarks of serious food poisoning. Awful at any time but doubly horrendous when stuck on a bus (which was already running 3 hours behind schedule). As the night progressed YM got paler and paler and by the time we reached Huatulco he was transparent.
We staggered off the bus, blinking in the unaccustomed daylight and taken by surprise by the burning sun and relentless humidity. One quick cab ride and we reached our hotel. The receptionist started giving out some line about the room not being ready but one look at my darkening face and YM’s see-through one she upgraded us to a lovely suite, no questions asked. Sometimes, you just need to read the warning signs and take the path of least resistance! A quick shower and change and we were in a taxi and on our way to a beach known for its tranquil black volcanic sands with easy surfable waves.
However, this innocent endeavour was also a total washout. YM managed to pull off a massive scab (the result of an argument between his bike and a car bumper) which left a raw bleeding wound like a small mouth on his leg. No more surfing. The day was saved with an exemplary dinner in the hotel restaurant (my steak literally melted in the mouth) and enough girlie cocktails to chase away any remnants of food poisoning.
The next (and last) day in Huatulco was full of promise. Blue skies, shining sun and our own private lancha to explore some of the hidden bays and beaches. We snorkeled (YM got bitten by a fish), swam and lazed on the boat deck whilst watching the massive craggy cliffs meander by. This idyllic afternoon was quickly ruined when we stopped at Playa El Maguey for lunch. The first restaurant only managed to bring out half our order in the hour we were sitting there. The second restaurant tried to cheat us on our change and when challenge simply replied that they didn’t have the correct change to hand and hoped that we wouldn’t notice (we did!).
Anyway, these shenanigans managed to make us slightly late. We persuaded our lancha captain to open the throttle and push on back to Santa Cruz. He was a bit of a character and had spent the afternoon regaling us with stories of people he knew, including himself, that had sexual relations with open wounds on their legs. Turns out all these people, including himself, ended up with very nasty infections – not sure what to make of this??!) Anyway, full speed ahead meant moving from walking pace to a bit faster than walking pace, akin to a horrendously obese granny jogging perhaps.
Eventually, we ended back up on the bus to Mexico City (that smelt rather dubiously of chemical toilet) and left the bus station only 20 min behind schedule. A Mexican miracle! This miracle lasted all the way out the bus station and onto the main road. Then the bus stopped in the middle of the main road and the bus driver and his mate jumped out whilst leaving the bus running. And we waited…5 min, 10 min, 15 min…after 20 min YM had enough and decided to go look for them. It was a full bus and we had a long way to go. Lo and behold he discovered both drivers polishing off a taco in the taqueria next to the bus. Obviously the idea of take away tacos would be an insult to the mighty taco – passengers and timetables be hanged! The drivers knew where their priorities lay and no one could say anything different.
The next few hours passed without any drama. Most of us were asleep after being audibly assaulted by terrible PG-13 films dubbed into Spanish played on full volume (Marmaduke is a sh*t film and Adam Sandler is still an unfunny dick even in Spanish). However, this bus utopia all came to an end at 1am. We received a rude awakening as the bus swerved rather excitingly onto the hard shoulder in the middle of nowhere. It screeched to a stop and the driver put on all the lights. The bus had broken down (as a result of dodgy driving perhaps?) and we were stuck in a place that the driver assured us as only a little bit dangerous.
Of course this meant everyone had to get off the bus and mill around on the dark highway for an hour whilst the driver decided what to do. His idea was to wait until the bus that left after ours had caught up and then hitch a ride to the nearest town 3 hours away. However, our driver had neglected to realize that the other bus wouldn’t have enough spare seats for everyone from our bus. This meant two hours of standing in the aisle at 2am whilst being jolted side to side. It took every ounce of energy and strength to stay upright as the New Driver blithely attacked every speed bump as if he was piloting a BMX instead of a giant bus. As a result, YM’s knee gave way, his wound started weeping and I still have a bruised, blue palm as a result of hanging onto the luggage racks.
Eventually we reached the San Marcos petrol station (our rendezvous for the new bus) and gratefully collapsed against a handy petrol pump. We then witnessed one of the most awesome sights I have ever had the priviledge to experience and humbly offer it up as the essence of Mexico in an hour….As our coach was parked up at the bus station, fellow bus drivers from the same coach company were zooming the other way towards Huatulco. After catching sight of our stricken bodies strewn around the gas station and our parked up bus they obviously felt there was a wonderful situation going on that was simply to good to miss
One thing that defines a Mexican is an overwhelming need for a community get-together. They are amazingly social people and love nothing better than a good chat and if you throw in a Drama, even better!!. So, other bus drivers, catching sight of a potential Drama and the opportunity to have a bit of a natter, started pulling up in the middle of the highway and jumping out to join the New Driver. Soon there were no less than six huge luxury coaches stopped in the middle of the highway at 4am in the morning.
The drivers were on seriously good form. A driver from a rival bus company stopped and tried to muscle in on the Drama (fool!) but he was hurriedly sent on his way. Even better, a little old lady popped out of nowhere with the ever-present plastic bucket of tacos sudados (sweaty tacos). These women are amazing. They have special radars that can sense a gathering of four or more people and naturally, you can’t have a social occasion in Mexico without catering. So, with bent back, and gnarled fingers she set up her little taco stall and as soon as everyone was fed, she melted quietly back into the darkness.
After a good hour of taco eating, catching up and heated consultation about the Drama, the New Driver seemed to remember he had not one, but two bus-loads of passengers patiently waiting to get moving. He then remarked that the bus was further away than he thought so he had no choice but to rendezvous with it at another town an hour further along the road. Moaning pitifully at the idea of standing for another hour we shambled back onto the bus and assumed our positions.
Fortunately, the replacement bus only took 45 min to arrive after we got to the rendezvous. Unfortunately, it was not the luxury coach we had all paid for. It was a bus that had obviously been dragged kicking and screaming out of retirement. The seats were more broken spring than cushion, the suspension creaked, groaned and seemed to amplify every bump in the road and there was a pervasive smell of must, damp and eau de chemical toilet.
We limped into Mexico City, very late, very tired with broken bodies and broken spirits. But safe in the knowledge that should there ever be a future Drama, there will always be tacos nearby. And tacos make everything better.
As this is a food blog, I suppose I better stick in a recipe. As the only truly successful part of the Puente was my steak dinner, I shall pay tribute to it with my recipe for chimichurri sauce. The ultimate Argentinean condiment to all things meaty. I love it because you can
a) get away of eating loads of raw garlic
b) make anything taste better with it (Cheese toastie? Pasta? Pizza? Anything.)
To whip up some of this garlicky goodness you will need the following:
- a BIG ASS bunch of parsley (flat leaf works best)
- red wine vinegar
- 1 litre of extra virgin olive oil (cheap stuff is fine)
- red chilli flakes
- a lemon
- loads of garlic
- half an onion
Roughly chop your onion and throw that in as well.
Squeeze about 4 cloves of garlic into your mixture
Follow with the juice of one lemon (check out my cool lemon squeezing thingy – it’s cool)
I threw in a tablespoon of dried oregano. Mostly because it was the last spoonful in the jar and I wanted to use the jar for something else.
Follow with a teaspoon full of chilli flakes.
A teaspoon of salt and a good shake of pepper.
Finish off by pouring in about 150ml of red wine vinegar and all of your olive oil.
Now blend. And taste. And blend. And taste. This is your sauce so make it taste the way YOU want. More garlic (I ended up adding about 8 cloves!!) why not? More vinegar – go ahead! There aren’t any rules when it comes to making condiments because at the end of the day, you’re the one eating them. So it make it taste of what you like!
Once everything is blended (but don’t over blend – you still want the parsley to be a bit chunky) bottle it up into a sterilised jar. And enjoy it. On EVERYTHING!