Our annual vacation finally arrived! For once, we did not go to the Far-East but went West and headed to Mexico for the very first time, to the Yucatán peninsula to be exact. It was a first-time experience for us in a Latin American country, and although we needed a few days to adjust to the local culture – fairly different from what we know -, but we enjoyed a lot our trip. People from Mexico are so warm, polite, hard-working, smiling and welcoming, that we had an amazing time among them. We rented a service apartment in Playa del Carmen for 11 days, and freely went plenty other places almost everyday as – truth be told – Playa is nice but does not suffice to itself, especially for curious lads like us.
One day, we decided to go to Cancún in order to take the ferry to Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women. There are 3 dock areas in Cancún where the ferries to Isla Mujeres can be boarded on: Puerto Juarez, El Embarcadero, and Playa Tortugas. They all are located on the thin sand strip that goes from downtown area all the way to the Caribbean Sea to what is called the Zona Hotelera, where all the big shiny resorts are.
Coming from Playa del Carmen (PDC) is fairly easy; just hop on a Playa-Cancún colectivo, one of the many shared vans that operate daily along the coastal area of the Riviera Maya. They all have air-con, they leave when almost full, stop wherever you like along their route, and only cost 40 pesos per person (about 2 euros). In PDC, the departing station is at the corner of 20th avenue and Calle 2. We never waited more than 5 minutes before a colectivo departed to our destination. This time, the colectivo dropped us at the final stop in Cancún, where we took a taxi to El Embarcadero for a few pesos. Prior to embarking on the ferry, we went up the Torre Escénica, a glass window tower, from which we took a look at Cancún from above. Nice view! For those who wonder, the pirate ships do not attack lazily laying tourists on the beach; they are operating at night, offering a short cruise on the Caribbean Sea, including a pirate show – Captain Hook style – as well as a steak and lobster meal.
A quick Margarita later – at the bar of the little cabaña next to the pier -, we finally cruised off to Isla Mujeres. Twenty-five minutes of a quiet cruise over turquoise waters, and we arrived in what was once a port where mainly sea salt was traded by locals, although it was known as well as a port where the Mayas simply stopped over to rest and refill merchandises on their way to the island of Cozumel, located a bit further down South (just across Playa del Carmen actually). Legend has it that the island name comes from the fact that the island kept the sailors’ women safe altogether on this tiny stretch of land, while they were away at sea. But it is more likely that the island actually got its name from the fact that it used to be a place of worship of Ix Chel, the goddess of the Moon and Fertility, and lots of statuettes representing her have been excavated and discovered in 1517 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba.
So, what is there to do on Isla Mujeres? The island is very popular among tourists, but despite that, going about around the island is pretty easy and fast. Lots of people rent a buggy for the day, and taxis keep driving around in circles all day long, so again we never waited more than a couple minutes before getting on one. Walking, strolling and visiting around only is worthwhile on the Northern side of Isla Mujeres, on and around Hidalgo avenue and up to Playa Norte where you can refresh a bit in the sea. the rest of the island is for water activities only. Rhythm is typical of all islands in the world, that is slow pace, and colors are exotic and joyful everywhere. The restaurants all offer a wide range of fish and seafood, and you could easily spend the day going from one to another, for food or a nice cocktail along the Caribbean Sea. As we had a solid breakfast before leaving PDC in the morning (including the delicious tartine with homemade bread that I give you the recipe of at the end of this post), we started the afternoon with a bit of snorkeling when other people were having their lunch. When we can, we always prefer avoiding big crowds and picking a more intimate location, especially when we feel like relaxing too, so from the pier, we rode a taxi down to Playa Hotel Garrafón, on the South-West coast of Isla Mujeres. It is a small (tiny) and family-run (I think) beach along super clear waters, where you can use beach chairs for as long as you like for the tiny amount of 70 pesos per person (3,5 euros) and snorkel all you want. Lots of tourists who don’t know that actually go to the Garrafón Reef Park next door that costs about 800 pesos for seeing the same fishes; that includes as well rental of snorkeling gears, lunch and unlimited drinks all day, but excludes all the (fun) extra activities that cost lots more bucks than the initial 800 pesos – traveler’s forums seem to agree it is not worth paying the price though.
After a fun hour or so, we took a taxi back to the downtown area and headed to Playa Norte where we had lunch under another nice cabaña. To help digest our light meal before going into the sea, we rented beach chairs just in front of coconut trees to a young man who was busting his ass off to set chairs and umbrellas for everyone arriving at the beach. It was interesting to learn that in Mexico the beach belongs to the people. Anyone can decide to open a small business, but even if one decides to run a business on the beach, you – as a customer – are totally free to go and lay down on that very same beach and not use the service or products of the company or family or guy who runs it if you don’t want to. Basically, it means you can put your beach towels in front of the beach chairs rows and not pay a dime to enjoy the same “private” beach. But there, honestly, it is so cheap that deciding to rent beach chairs is a no brainer – plus it helps the local business when we participate this way. And look at the view again!
All in all, it has been a very full day before we took the ferry back to Cancún and hopped on a colectivo for a ride back to Playa del Carmen. This day, I have to say that it has also been interesting for us to find out that the body adapts to the local environment and the local habits. Mexicans eat a large breakfast, then have a light snack around 11:30, then comes the comida the most important meal of the day around 4:00pm, and finally dinner between 8pm and 11pm. As far as we were concerned, we could not have gone through this busy day without a good breakfast – that was more of a brunch actually. In Playa del Carmen, we literally fell in love with a French café called Chez Celine, which I really recommend you to go to if you want to have a happy stomach. We usually never go to French owned places when we are abroad, but this café has such a good reputation for excellent quality and small prices that we got curious – and did not regret it! Now that we are back home, I couldn’t help but reproduce (with a twist) Chez Celine’s tasty Guacamole and Smoked Salmon wholewheat and cereals bread tartine. Hands on!
GUACAMOLE AND SMOKED SALMON TARTINE / HOMEMADE CEREALS BREAD
- Everything to make a good Guacamole (check the list here)
- 2 nice slices of Pacific ocean red smoked salmon
- green leaves with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
- 200 grams of all purpose wheat flour
- 300 grams of wholewheat flour
- 2 tsp of dry yeast
- 300 ml of lukewarm water
- 1,5 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of sugar
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- about 50 grams of sesame, sunflower and flax seeds
- Prepare the guacamole and reserve in the fridge until it’s time to serve, along with the smoked salmon.
- To prepare the bread dough, start to make the water lukewarm.
- Combine all the ingredients in that specific order: water, oil, sugar, salt, flours, seeds, dry yeast. At this stage, salt and yeast can’t get in direct contact.
- Start kneading.
- Leave the dough at rest in a lukewarm place under a clean kitchen towel, for about an hour or more till it has doubled its size.
- Grease a loaf pan with a bit of oil, and powder the bottom with a bit of flour.
- Knead again the dough and put it in the loaf pan. Cover again.
- Preheat the oven at 240 degrees Celsius.
- When it’s ready, put the loaf inside the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 210 degrees.
- Bake for 40 minutes (to 45 minutes) to get a crispy crust.
- Let the bread cool down before unmolding, and let it cool completely before slicing it.
- To make the tartines, grill 2 slices of wholewheat and cereals bread, spread guacamole and top with a rolled slice of smoked salmon.
- Serve with green leaves, seasoned with the Italian dressing.
Created and Written by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi. © 2017 All Rights Reserved.