Monday, October 18, 2010

La Cockteleria Popeye - Cozumel

On one of my earlier visits to Cozumel, I was told about this restaurant. My friend, Steve, said you can't beat the ceviche or shrimp cocktails. He gave me a rough idea of where it was, but I couldn't find it and kept asking, "¿Donde esta restaurante Popeyes?"

Everyone shrugged their shoulders and said, "No se." Rare in a country where helpfulness includes giving you an answer, even if it is less than accurate.

Finally, a local who spoke better English than I spoke Spanish, thought a minute and said, "Oh, you mean Po - PAY - ya." Of course, it wouldn't be pronounced "Pop -eye" in Spanish. He gave us accurate directions, too.

If you haven't had a Mexican shrimp (or fish or octopus) coctel, you are missing a taste treat. A tall glass is filled with shrimp, then a mildy spicey tomato juice is added. That is usually garnished with some onion, cilantro and an avocado slice. You can add habañero sauce or a squeeze of a juicy lime (and they are always juicy on Cozumel) to your liking.

I love the ceviche here, the seafood is always fresh, and they make the coctels and the ceviche to order. The flavors are always crisp and fresh.

The coctels and ceviche are served with home made chips and saltines, the limonadas are huge and good and the beer is cold. In addition, they have fresh fish and lobster, if you're really hungry. The sides of bagged frozen vegies and white rice won't make you swoon, but the fresh fish is simply prepared and perfectly cooked. Fish and shrimp dishes run about $10 US.

A small coctel and a beer will set you back $8. A perfect lunch.

El Cockteleria Popeye El Marino
Calle 2 North, entre Av 25th y 30th
Cozumel, Mexico

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Chiapas to Cozumel

As we posted earlier, we didn't take the direct route to Cozumel from Cordoba, however, we may have taken the more interesting route. The road from San Cristóbal to Palenque goes through the Chiapas highlands. An early departure from the capital meant that we would pass through the mountains as the sun was burning off the morning mists. The tough part is finding a shoulder or small turnout to pull over when a photo opportunity arises.

There were lots of spots where one lane of the highway had been washed away by landslides caused by this seasons tropical rains, but the route was better than passable, and we made it to Palenque in less than five hours. This meant that our destination of Lake Bacalar, another five hours, was very doable.

Lake Bacalar is a large, brackish lake north of Chetumal. Surrounded on one side by weekend homes, hotels and gringo retirees, while the other side is dominated by mangroves and a few crocodiles. The lake is a very affordable alternative to oceanside living and the ocean is only an hour or so away.

A relaxing evening at Casita Carolina was followed by a relaxing morning with breakfast at a vegetarian restaurant/yoga studio. We're not in Chihuahua anymore José.

It was an easy drive to Playa del Carmen, with tacos at El Mariachi on the main highway in Tulum, and a quick shopping stop before catching the 6:00 PM ferry to Cozumel.

The first week is a flurry of nesting, getting internet ordered, buying a cell phone with a local number, getting the house in order and coming to terms with living, not vacationing, in another country. We are fortunate to have a few locals who have been helping us out with some of the issues (just when is the trash picked up - and how?), and they (Delfina and Iliana especially) keep the transition from being a lonely, isolating experience.

After more than a week on the road, we're pretty happy to cook linguine with white clam sauce, a panang curry with shrimp and squid (DON'T use coconut cream - only coconut milk), and a chicken mole. Still, we manage to get out for local food a couple of times.

Delfina told us about El Camarones Dorados, which has excellent fish and shrimp tacos. Just as plates loaded with shrimp tacos and tostadas, fish tacos, and conch tostadas arrived, the phone rang saying that the cable guy was at the house to hook us up.

"Right now?" "Yes, I will wait here with him until you arrive," Delfina said.

A couple of quick photos, pack up the food para llevar, and race for home. Don't keep the cable man waiting.

Despite the threat of rain, we tried out the new paddle boards on the east side, (its not as easy as some people make it look). After moderate success and several dunkings, we took a break at the Playa Bonita beach bar for some guacamole and grilled squid. The first salsa was devoid of any heat (or flavor), so we asked for something, un poquito mas picante. We got it. The habanero chiles got our attention. While being a little pricey by local standards, the cost was OK considering the ocean side location.

We'll get out more in the next few weeks and will post some photos and reviews of some of our favorite Cozumel spots.

Until then, here are a few photos of the Chiapas highlands, Laguna Bacalar, Playa Bonita and El Camarones Dorado.

Keeps those emails and comments coming.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pizzeria Napoli

Pizzeria Napoli - San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas
While Mexico has, in my opinion, one of the most varied regional cuisines of any country, you can’t always find restaurants that reflect that variety. We love tacos, tortas, chile rellenos and carne adovada. But, not every day. 
That’s when you start to notice the Italian, Lebanese, French, Argentine and Chinese places, if you are lucky enough to be in a locale that has them. San Cristóbal is blessed with such a variety. 
Pizzeria Napoli is a restaurant that is easy to pass by. This time we trusted all of the positive reviews on Trip Advisor.
It’s a small place with three tables inside, two on a courtyard patio and an open kitchen dominated by Romeo, who will make you feel like you have walked into a friend’s kitchen and being asked, “Are you hungry? Let me make something for you.”
We were the first in the door, at 2:00 PM, soon followed by others. A parade of people stopped in to say buenos tardes or ciao while Romeo put our entrada together. Soon, two glasses of a Chilean red and a platter of green beans, boiled potatos, roasted red bells and raw tomatoes dressed with olive oil and basil came to the table. After the veggies were hungrily consumed, Romero brought a house made fettucine with a bolognese sauce and canneloni stuffed with ricotta and spinach with a tomato sauce that tasted fresh from the garden.
We were stuffed, so it was painful to say no when Romeo said, “Chocolate ice cream? I make it myself.”
Prices are moderate, portions are large, and the quality is high. Romeo and his Argentine wife, Zafiro, have created a wonderful, simple bit of Italy in their corner of Mexico. 
I can’t wait to return and try the pizza.
Pizzeria Napoli
Ejercito Nacional #8
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

La Casa del Pan, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas

La Casa del Pan - San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas
Usually, finding a hotel with a great breakfast included is a good thing. When you visit San Cristóbal, you’ll discover most hotels don’t include breakfast in their prices. That’s also a good thing, because there are many outstanding cafes, bakeries and breakfast spots.
The aroma of roasting coffee permeates the air of this beautiful colonial city which sits in a valley at 7,100 feet and is in the midst of one of Mexico’s most prolific coffee growing areas. It would take weeks to visit all of the cafes, some of which grow and roast their own beans. Cooperatives that are run by or benefit indigenous people, who populate the majority of the state, are very prominent here.
La Casa del Pan emphasizes “buy local” by sourcing its coffee, flour, corn, eggs, honey, marmalade, and chocolate from local producers. On top of all this feel-good local sourcing, the food is darn good.
A nice assortment of baked goods, fresh bread, house made tortillas and good coffee go a long way toward making a good breakfast (and lunch) menu. Add a variety of sauces, tamales, enchiladas, chile rellenos, muesli, a large selection of teas and free wireless and it’s no wonder that this place, and its second location are very popular.
The huevos rancheros are served with a nicely balanced nopalito green tomato sauce and tasty black beans. The fresh butter and marmalade make the homemade whole wheat bread complete.
On another trip the enchiladas and tamales were quite good, even without the flavor boost of pork. Everything is vegetarian here, which seems to fit with all of the Buddhist related posters on the wall. 
Round out the meal with coffee, smoothies, tea or fresh juices. If that sounds too healthy, you could get a bottle of Bohemia or a glass of wine. I would stick with the coffee for breakfast.
La Casa del Pan
Dr. Navarro #10
El Puente Spanish School, Real de Guadalupe #55
San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Long Drive

No rain for a few days now. The clouds parted from the summit of snow capped Pico de Orizaba this morning. The first time I have seen this dormant volcano in four trips past it.

We exited the freeway in the direction of Veracruz, to make our way to Laguna Catemaco. We noticed there were a lot of commercial trucks along the side of the road, not being able to proceed further east due to several rivers flooding the expressways.

About 90 minutes out of Fortin de las Flores, and we came to our exit with a toll booth. The woman informed us we could not go to Catemaco, because the highway was flooded. I spoke with a man who works for the agency who runs all of the toll highways and bridges in Mexico and he said it could be four or five days before the route to the east opens up.

With his help, we picked out a route that would take us south through Veracruz and Oaxaca, almost to the Pacific Ocean, in order to be able to head east, then north into the Yucatan Peninsula. He said, “It is far, but it is passable.”

He was right, barely. We backtracked for an hour, got off the freeway to a two-lane and passed literally hundreds of trucks lining the sides of the road. About twenty miles of mostly good road (not too many potholes and a shoulder) brought us to the Rio Papaloapan, which was high and wide. But, not over the road or bridge.

With the help of a policeman looking at our map, and our sometimes-accurate GPS “Consuela”, we took about six miles of back roads (she was right this time) which led us to a highway heading south to Oaxaca city and an intersection with the highway that would take us southeast to Chiapas.

Scenic 147 follows rolling hills, filled with pasture and sugar cane. For nearly six hours we followed this road: dodging potholes, landslides, big trucks, washed-away highway, with the rest of the nation that was heading east. Bumper-to-bumper, sometimes 5 mph, sometimes 50 mph, often sitting still. It took five hours to cover 90 miles.

We pulled into a small town as it was getting dark. Luckily there was a few motels available. We found one that had a clean room, mirrors on the orange walls, a private carport with a curtain that you pulled to hide the vehicle and cost $16 for four hours, or $24 for all night. We splurged and went for the all nighter. Nudge. Nudge. Wink. Wink.

We were not shocked to discover there was no Wi-Fi in the room. There was, however, an intercom in the room to order drinks from reception (which consisted of a woman sitting in her kitchen watching TV), a private opening in the wall to place the money and then receive your beverage. In other words, very private.

As soon as it was light, we hit the road, pulling into the lovely town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas after six more hours of driving. This time, the room has WiFi, although it does cost a bit more than $24.

Our plan is to head over the mountains north to Palenque, then east to Chetumal. Finally, north to Cozumel on Sunday or Monday. That is barring any landslides or other unfortunate natural occurrences.

It is a bit odd that we can travel through the mountains where the most rain from Matthew fell, while the wet lands to the north remain flooded. Guess it is easier to clean up a landslide than it is to make the water level go down.

Thanks for checking in.