Wednesday, September 9, 2009

ISLA MUJERES: The Ballyhoo

The beach on the west side of the island is protected from the rough Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean seas. The water is calm, clear, and warm as bathwater. Because it's so calm, the beach extends out into the shallow water for almost a mile. This is a pretty apt depiction of what we did every day.

At the risk of ruining one of our favorite vacation destinations, I’d like to say, “Isla Mujeres, Mexico, is one of our favorite places on earth.” (Although I’m pretty sure even if the entire FOD audience were to all visit at once, no one would notice the difference?) We’ve been there twice now, and plan on returning again and again. The first time we went was a couple years ago in December for my birthday. This time we went in the summer for Tania’s 30th birthday. Both trips are a couple of the best vacations we’ve ever taken. The best way to describe it is it looks like those Corona commercials: paradise. And the best thing is, it doesn’t cost shit. We’re broke, but we were able to scrape together $1500 that paid for our flights, a room on the beach, food, drinks, everything, and even a whale shark expedition (more on that later). I don’t often use the word “hella,” but that’s hella cheap for a six day vay-kay. And, yes, I said “vay-kay.” I just said “hella.” If you’re gonna say stupid shit, you might as well go all the way, you know?

Food on Isla Mujeres worth writing about is sadly lacking. Because it’s a tourist destination, nearly every restaurant offers tourist food. The island is in Mexico, granted the furthest eastern tip of the country, but you may as well be in Ireland as far as Mexican food is concerned. Instead, the hype men on the street try to lure you in with pizzas, pastas, steaks, and hamburguesas. I kind of regret not trying a Mexican hamburger, but I did make a bunch of them on this last visit. “Hamburguesa” is my new word for “poop.” “Tania? Honey? You’re going to have to excuse me for a moment,” I’d say, “I have to go make some HAMBURGUESAS!” And then I’d go make little Mexican hamburger patties in the toilet. Plop! Plop! Yes, we cooked them “sous vide.” There is, however, as we discovered on this trip, good Mexican food all over the island. We found a bunch of new places we didn’t know about last time. But one of our favorites is still a place we found our first time there, The Ballyhoo.

The Ballyhoo is a little hut, with no walls, sitting over the ocean, in the middle of a dock, behind a gas station. It’s not a hundred feet from the main tourist street, but there’s hardly anyone ever there. I’m sure the gas station has something to do with that, and there’s always a bunch of dirty old fisherman milling about—the dock actually goes through the restaurant—and I think everyone knows what dirty old fisherman are like, right? Drunks. Not the type of people “Bill and Kathy” from Wisconsin want to mingle with on their vay-kay, right? But, if they just took a couple steps inside, they’d realize that The Ballyhoo is the place they want to go on their vay-kay because there couldn’t be a more beautiful location for a restaurant. They make the best margaritas (nothing special, they’re just normal and strong), and you can see the clear blue ocean undulating between the floorboards beneath your feet while you watch the fishing boats tied to the docks gently bumping into each other and the fishermen’s children frolic in the shallows with their tshirts on occasionally squealing at the site of a shark shaped piece of seaweed, and, best of all, you have a front row seat for one of the best sunsets on the planet.

Fish tacos at The Ballyhoo.

And the fish. I made the mistake of once mentioning to my mom that, “Tania doesn’t like fish.” And so now when we visit, or dine with family and friends, we hear, “So we heard Tania doesn’t like fish, so we made…” Tania does like fish, it’s just not her first choice on the menu. But you wouldn’t know it at The Ballyhoo: Tania eats the shit out of their fish tacos. They’re so good. And they’re simple. It’s just fresh grouper, deep fried, and covered with slaw in a tortilla. It’s yet another instance in which simple, fresh ingredients are all you need to make an amazing dish.

This is their hot sauce. The lady let me know immediately, "It's very hot. I tell everybody now." Apparently she gave it to some big dumb white dude who was too tough for any hot sauce and it knocked him on his ass. Pussy. This stuff is very hot, but it's really good. I immediately tasted the habaneros. "And olive oil," she said. Which is a weird one to me because, as you can see, it kind of separates. Still, it was really good.

We’ve watched fisherman come in from sea, tie up, and gut their fish on the dock. They bring the fish into The Ballyhoo and the little Mexican lady behind the bar cooks it up right there. One time, one of the old fisherman saw us sitting at the bar and offered us some of his fish. “Try some!” he said. We did and it was awesome. There’s just a really cool vibe there as well. Although it was at The Ballyhoo that we met one of the island’s shittiest residents.

Tania enjoying the view. Or scheming how she can steal a boat.

She wasn’t that bad, but she was Canadian and she thought of herself as a local. She had been living on the island for a couple years and had shacked up with a snorkel tour guide. I remember her as a white, pasty, ugly little blonde gal, but for some reason the image I have of her boyfriend is that of a handsome, bronze, Mayan warrior, ala Fabio. Huh? I don’t think we even met the dude? Anyway, she sucked. She was one of those annoying people that like to consider themselves “travelers” as opposed to the softer, less experienced, and uglier, “tourists.” In short, she was a braggart. For one, she was constantly letting us know how much better the island was when she first “discovered” it. Apparently it was a jungle paradise, completely absent of white people, just two years before? Because now, according to her, it was all crowded, and built up, and everything was going to shit. It’s been two years since then, even, and I can assure you it’s still a quiet little Corona commercial.

"She lived in the Colonias [the poor part of the island]," Tania said, "and tried to make it sound like she lived in a god damn tree in the jungle studying the habitats of primates. The reality is she was trying to romanticize the shack she lived in with her loser bf. She also kept talking about how she would mix up her own, weird, organic potions. Like organic face creams and cleansers, and perfumes. I kind of went in and out of her conversations because, like most Canadians, she was incredibly boring and one-dimensional."

She also made a point of speaking to us in English, but whenever she spoke to the bartender or the help, she did so in Mexican. In shitty Canadian Mexican. And I suppose that’s the way you practice learning a language, and it’s a nice gesture to the local people, but the bartender spoke perfectly fine English, and she was doing it just to show off. And not very well. She was making a mess of the language. Which is what Canadians do with everything Mexican: food, language, they just need to put their pudgy little hands in their pockets and ne touchez pas. But I’ll never forget that stupid little lady because she was one of the first people to provide me with an example of the snobby world Traveler. She was something else. I mean, I'm bad, but I’m just a snobby world Tourist.

More Isla Mujeres adventures coming up.

Some people don’t know this, but Tania is an International Underwater Handstand Champion. She’s good. And most people don’t know that I’m the Tiger Woods of "Sunset Golf." In "Sunset Golf" you use a camera instead of a fucked up li'l club. But the object of the game is the same: get the ball in the hole.


Brad said...

It's good to know that there are other people in the world who hate Canadians. That mean's that I'm not a bigot, but a part of a social group.

abbfla66 said...

Canadia sucks.

gbrl said...

i put it down for tania on facebook a little while back about how she is wayne gretzky of underwater handstands, but i must say that the pic of her doing her sunset underwater BEACH handstand is beyond amazing. she graduated from underwater pool hanstands to full on underwater OCEAN handsands! nYESH!

Christopher T. Campbell said...

MY wife suggested this little place to go on vacation, and after butchering the name, I remembered that you wrote about it, and jumped at the chance. Then we decided to get married there on the beach and not tell anyone. It kicked so much ass. But it rained half the time we were there, which is apparently rare. The little bar on the main drag that sells drinks has the best mojito ever. This little lady who looks like she should be selling gooballs to find her extra at a phish show grinds everything into a mojito paste. And watch out for the Michiladas. Its like a bloody mary with jabeneros and beer.

Anonymous said...

Hey sitting on Isla right now drinking a beer on my vacation from , you guessed it, Canada. Was digging your review until I got to your broad generalizations about my people. I got all indignant until I remembered you Yanks have a tendency to act like bunch of self-agrandizing fuck-wits. There's a reason you lot are hated by the rest of the planet

Bozo Monkey Bear III said...

tania actually nailed my response to that canadian fellow perfectly. i think that's why we got married, we tend to say the exact same things:

"yawn. they sure get uppity when someone says something about ONE person from their country. Yanks? you lot? is he English or Canadian?
way to get all butt hurt about a food blog. aside from being boring they’re also petty."

haha! buttfucker!

Jackson said...

I unequivocally agree with the broad assessment of Canadians given in this review. Having traveled extensively for the last 4 years for work I have encountered numerous obnoxious, boring, and vapid Canadians. In every hotel I have stayed at I have always been able to identify the Canadian guests. I just look for loudest, rudest and drunkest person. You American blokes get bad rep abroad but I think those syrup sucking neighbors to your north will soon eclipse.

Anonymous said...

it's actually canada. Best to educate yourself before you start to write. Assume that is your duaghter in the picture-unfortunate your seed doesn't end with you.

Anonymous said...

was enjoying the blog, excited to hear more about the food but then you slip into this xenophobic diatribe about an entire country. Holy shit-have another drink and go for a long swim off the dock.

Bozo Monkey Bear III said...

"anonymous," who i assume is another deeply offended canadian, actually left three comments but i accidentally deleted the last one, but retrieved it from email. it's as hilarious as the first two, "Jackson - in hotels. Yeah that's where you get a good indicator of what a people are like. Unfortunately, you got suckered- 'the loudest,rudest and drunkest' people are actually Brits, Aussie's and Yanks who've perfected Canadian accents. Sure this won't get by the blog owner, but hey, there ya go." oh, no, i'm definitely posting this. your whining is so endearing. how could i not share the important things you have to say with the world? i mean the ten people who read this stupid food blog.