We've packed the recent days with lots of activities, travel, and downtime. For Friday, we headed out to Puerto Juarez, about 10 minutes north of downtown.
Several locals told us that Puerto Juarez is a good getaway from the touristy beaches and bars in the hotel zone (although this time of year those aren't crowded at all). The main reason we wanted to head up there was tales of bars on the beach where you can order a few drinks and sit for hours, without being part of an all-inclusive resort for the day. That's all we've wanted, and while I'm sure it's possible in the hotel zone, the hotel zone is huge we can't walk miles to find the place that will allow it.
So on local advice we took a $50 MXN taxi to the Puerto Juarez ferry terminal (cheaper ferries to Isla Mujeres leave from here), and happy that we got a decent deal on the first taxi we hailed, we started looking for Flamingos bar that everyone had been telling us about...and it's about an hour walk north of the ferry terminal.
We usually look these things up before we go or at least before we get out of the taxi, but just trusted the local advice this time. It's always a conundrum to just wing it and go on what you've heard, or to try to plan ahead more at the risk of overplanning travel. In this case we should have planned a bit more.
|Avoiding some sun on the trek from Puerto Juarez ferry to Flamingos|
Oh well, we walked for a while and looked at the menus at several Puerto Juarez restaurants. Seafood is popular in this port, and every place had ceviches, cocktails (e.g. a giant glass of shrimp and ketchup water, as Melissa put it), aguachiles and other seafood dishes. Not liking the prices at the restaurants closer to the ferry terminal, and walking north on an hour long trip as the worst heat of the day approached, we checked out a hole-in-the-beach place that wasn't on google maps but did smell amazing.
|Restaurant Club Nautico|
|The dining room|
We continued our streak of accidentally over-ordering food here because of massive portion sizes. Some of the best guac we've had here, garlic shrimp with shells on (we ate a lot of shrimp shells because they were impossible to peel), a huge plate of shrimp/fish/octopus ceviche and one of the regional specialties here: a half order of fish fillet prepared "tikin xic."
|Tikin Xic. Only in the Yucatan in Mexico, 'x' is pronounced like 'sh'|
The host explained that this fish preparation is a traditional Yucatan preparation that we had to try. According to Wikipedia, this is traditionally prepared with a marinade of adobo de achiote and sour oranges and cooked wrapped in a banana leaf under a wood fire. I think ours was broiled but the rest sounds right, we're guessing the filet of the day was grouper. Tikin xic was great, although the half portion was so big we were convinced the waiter didn't understand and we'd be billed for the full portion. We were wrong, the half portion is just huge.
A well priced lunch of regional specialties accomplished, we were resigned to paying for another cab to take us the rest of the way to Flamingos, still at least a 45 minute walk. However, talking to the restaurant's host outside (who had excellent English), we learned that the collectivos run up and down this street and could take us straight to Flamingos for $8 MXN, or about fifty cents USD.
Collectivos are like route taxis or route buses in Jamaica. They're cheaper than buses and taxis but can be far less comfortable, especially when they get full. Here, they don't seem to wait to get full before leaving, and based on the detailing on the vans they seem to run on the same route as the local buses. The ones we have been in are 15 passenger vans with the seats removed and benches circling the back, with rods hanging from the ceilings for stability.
I love figuring out the cheapest mode of transit (within reason) available to me when traveling, and was very pleased when our collectivo dropped us off right outside Flamingos 10 minutes later for less than a dollar total.
Flamingos turned out to be everything that was promised. Not cheap but not too expensive, pina coladas for about $4 USD, and once we made it clear that we just wanted to sit outside and order the occasional drink they were happy to have us and didn't hassle is at all. Melissa really enjoyed the palm tree suspended hammocks and scenic, tiny beach. The restaurant had a live DJ for the entire day it seems, activities for kids, and food that looked excellent. Families came and went, ate their spiny lobster and chose postres from the dessert trays, and we sat outside facing the beach, working on the Rubik's cube and ordering the occasional pina colada.
|Flamingos from the front|
|Flamingos from the hammock|
Day half over. Next up, we wanted to try a food truck court back in Cancun that an expat told us about and go to a game of the the well loved local triple-A baseball team. Collectivo back to the city center, taxi down to a shopping center and a short walk until we found the food truck court that wasn't really on the maps so we had to trust that we'd find it.
|Graffiti en route to the food truck scene|
|Felt like home|
|Craft Mexican beers. This is actually pretty cool because the macro beers really dominate here: Sol, Pacifico, Tecate, Corona, Dos Equis|
The food truck court was really cool, similar to what we've seen in US cities, but much more night life oriented. There was a DJ working the entire time, trying to get some weird videos playing on a projector, a mezcal bar, a normal bar and a small craft beer stall. The trucks were diverse, from memory we saw: Mexican, Argentinian, amazing looking burgers that we regret not getting, brick oven pizza (Melissa's immediate choice), Hindi food (basically Indian from what I could tell), a ceviche and oyster stand (I still need to try an aguachile), a meat focused taco stand and a truck that didn't open, advertising "Arabian tacos".
|Melissa's pizza: Argentinian (onion, sausage, skirt steak) and Margherita pizza|
|My short rib tacos from the meat stand|
Oddly, like many things here, we were practically the only people there. It was clearly built to handle a crowd, they had a guy in an orange vest to direct parking! We would have loved to stay longer but had a baseball game to make. Some people were just starting to show up when we left after dark.
|Some chef's house on the walk to baseball. Not sure if it's a restaurant or some other format I haven't heard of.|
Going to sporting events when traveling is always a way to dramatically boost the amount of local culture you're consuming. In Tokyo, the Tokyo Giant's baseball game was fascinating: shockingly coordinated cheers from the fan sections with giant flag waving routines, beer girls walking the stands with mini kegs strapped to their backs to serve fresh beer on tap, and octopus balls as one of the snack food options.
One of the cool things about baseball, as an American, is that so much can be the same and so much can be different when seeing this sport abroad. The park felt exactly like my hometown minor league stadium. The rules of the game are the same, baseball players look like baseball players, the scoring used English words for the most part and the giant scoreboard screen flashed ads, team mascots and kiss cams just like any game back home.
For me, the coolest differences were the food and drinks. The only overlap between what was offered here and at the American baseball games I've been to may have been the beer and the nachos. We couldn't even figure out what most of the food on offer was, but we have some guesses.
|From the cheap seats. Los Tigres de Cancun vs Toros de Tijuana|
Definitely sold by hawkers in the stands: tortas wrapped in foil, nachos, Pizza Hut personal pizzas sold out of the insulated delivery bags, marquesitas, churros, beer (only Tecate, often sold as two cans in a souvenir cup, and often as michelada or chelada), fried plantains trips and giant potato chips
Other things sold that we can only guess at: one man carried a giant transparent box filled with what looked like very darkly fried empanadas and deep fried habaneros. On a closer look later, the habaneros may have been some kind of dumpling, but the box had lots of raw orange habaneros mixed into the fried balls so who knows. The "oddly shaped orange pasta" that I saw at Mercado 23 showed up here as a fried, puffed up chip type food. These were sold in plastic bags and hot sauced poured on top to mix in with the snacks.
The game itself had good pitching and defensive fielding, so boring but competent baseball. We stayed about 3 and a half innings and saw a couple of hits and runs towards the end. Melissa thinks she recognized a former MLB player, to be confirmed (confirmed, Jorge Cantu). We left before the end to walk home, and oh yeah, the bleacher seats were $1.