My 11th and 12th days in Mexico were empty shells. I was still on my daily cycle of work, eat, excercise, sleep and there was no respite. Except one thing. Oh, one big thing; however I’m sure that nobody actually reading this would care. Bungie released a teaser for their next game, which we’ve now come to know as Halo 3: Recon. I’m not sure how many times I watched that teaser when I got back to the hotel. In fact, I may have skipped going to the Olympus Gimnasio just to sit in the dark, with the volume maxed so that I could better try and figure out what exactly they were showing us. The numerous frame-by-frame breakdowns that littered the Internets were stellar, and only helped to compound what I had already been able to decipher. All I knew was that I was excited for something, and it was most certainly a video game, and it was definitely set within the Halo universe. I could also look forward to the following day: Friday!

Friday the 13th

Okay, so the date wasn’t the 13th, but it was my 13th day in Mexico, so it kinda works, right? Anyway, today marked the first day that fellow American employees would be joining me in Mexico (staying in the same hotel too!), so I was looking forward to making new friends. During my day at work they came near my desk to use an adjacent office for a conference call and I was able to touch base with them, at which point they invited me out to dinner with them. There were three of them, all who worked in procurement (“part-runners” as it was described to me by one of them). Having this event to look forward to made my day go faster… and the fact that my Guadalajaran friends and I went out for a two hour lunch didn’t hurt either.

It was a beautiful day, with blue skies, lots of sunshine and a comfortable breeze to ensure we didn’t get too warm. As we walked outside of IBM, the guys double-checked that I liked seafood, to which I replied, “Are you kidding me?!”, I am, after all a seafood aficionado! After getting out into the parking lot, we loaded up two cars and made our way down the highway and into a dense urban area, with lots of people and street traffic. After about fifteen minutes of stop and go driving, we finally made it to our destination and parked on a side street. Immediately around the corner was a mobile food stand, taking up a spot on the street, with tables littered about the sidewalk. This sidewalk wrapped around a concrete brick wall, which was easily ten feet high, including the triple-level barbed wire on top. This wall also happened to be the attaching point for the gigantic tarp that was draped over all the tables as well as the food stand/cooking station.

There were no menus in this place and I didn’t know what they had to offer, so my good friend David ordered on my behalf. For appetizers we each got seviche, which was served on a six inch corn tortilla with two fat slices of avocado on top. There was a plastic shopping bag of extra tortillas set in the center of our table, which came in handy once the mound of seviche started tumbling out all over my plate. Of course, being in Mexico there was a nice selection of hot sauces to accompany the extra tortillas, which I made ample use of, even after being warned that they would be too hot for my weak American little tongue. Hah, I laugh in the face of spiciness, and spit at its feet.

After this first delicious tasting, I wanted more… so much more! After a very short wait our main course came out. I don’t know what it’s called, and I don’t exactly know how to describe it; but I’ll try my best. Imagine a very heavy and large chalice, made of clear glass (if I had to guess I’d say its capacity was 2.5 cups, and weighed about 3 pounds, 6 ounces). Now fill this glass with a delicious, mystery liquid (shrimp and octopus stock maybe) and an assortment of seafood and vegetables including shrimp (de-tailed), thick slices of octopus tentacles, fat chunks of avocado, onions, and cucumber not to mention the spices. This was basically a cold soup, but simply calling it as such is demeaning and fails to convey the quality and taste that I experienced. I’ve always loved seafood and have long been a fan of sushi; however this takes the cake for the most joy that I’ve ever received from eating a seafood dish. It was served cold, and after adding the hot sauces along with some Heinz ketchup and freshly squeezed lime it was like an explosion of glory within my mouth.

I lost track of the entire world around me as I devoured every last bite of octopus, shrimp and avocado with nothing but joy and wonderment. As I sipped the last remnant of splendor out of my chalice I was aware of the truth: this meal was the greatest meal I had ever had in my entire life, hands down. Just transcribing my experience right now makes my mouth water and my stomach gurgle as if I haven’t eaten in days. I would pay 35 dollars for this dish in a restaurant and not even think twice about it; yet when the bill came it was merely 80 pesos. About 8 American dollars for a seviche appetizer, an amazing octopus/shrimp thing, and a Squirt for my beverage. Now that’s getting your money’s worth.

Going out to eat on this Friday was marvelous considering that our normal time of departure for lunch was 1:00 pm; which meant that we returned to IBM at nearly 3 in the afternoon. Talk about a short day.. Before long I was sitting in the back of a taxi doing my best not to look out the windshield for fear of having a heart attack. I met my new part-running friends in the hotel lobby around 6:30 that evening as we sat around to talk about the goings-on with the supply chain and drink beer. Before long we had received a recommendation to try a newer restaurant called de Santos, which was supposed to be very delicious; however nobody told us that it would turn out to be two adventures within such a short period of time. What kind of adventures? Only the best kind…

The four of us piled into the taxi conveniently waiting for us outside of the hotel lobby. I took the front seat as one of the part-runners handed a scrawled note to the driver with the address of ‘de Santos’ on it. She looked at the scrap of paper like it was a receipt that she had specifically requested not to receive; as she stuffed it into a crevice in the car’s center console and pulled the taxi cab slightly forward to ask another taxi driver about the location of the restaurant. He was an older gentleman and as such was able to give her a very detailed account of how to get there, which made me nervous. Nervous because our taxi driver was a young woman, no older than 30; however what concerned me was that it didn’t appear that she was really paying attention to what he was telling her. Regardless, she sped off into the night and down the street in a direction that I had never traveled before. She took a few back streets and dark alleyways as my cohorts in the back seat wondered where exactly we were going.

I kept giving the taxi driver glances to observe the look on her face, which was somewhere between clueless and worried. I knew almost immediately that she had no idea where she was going and especially where this place was. After about thirty minutes of driving we exited the highway into a large traffic circle, with high rise hotels bordering a majority of its perimeter. As she came almost full circle I thought that we were going to be turning off at the last street (ie, a “left” from our original direction); lo and behold we didn’t. In fact, we didn’t go anywhere, as the woman drove around the circle three or four times before I asked if she knew where the restaurant was. With a firm “No”, she gave us little hope. We were growing hungrier by the minute and one of my part-running friends suggested we just go to Chili’s back near the hotel, which sounded to be like the best alternative. There was no point in circling this area any longer. I instructed the taxi driver to return us home, and she obliged; however as soon as we got to the on ramp for the highway, heading back towards where we came, I looked up and saw a sign from above. It was a dimly lit purple sign that read, ‘de Santos’ ! We had arrived! I was awe struck. I shouted, “There it is!” as the taxi driver slammed on the brakes, lurching my torso dangerously close to the dashboard.

Thankfully, since she drove us out of the way and took up a lot of our time, the fare was only about five dollars; which is a steal considering how much distance she traveled to get where we were. Regardless, we were just happy to be so close to eating. As we walked inside, we immediately noticed the “club-like” atmosphere of the establishment. There was a DJ on a second floor that looked to feature a dance floor with tables around the perimeter, and the lights in the entire place were very dim. There was loud music pumping bass into the expanse of the bottom floor, which featured a very long bar and surprisingly few tables. The hostess greeted us and asked for our reservations. Oh dear. We were so hungry to leave the hotel we had forgotten to ask the concierge to make reservations on our behalf. I told her that we had none, to which she replied that they didn’t have any tables. Noticing ample space at the bar, I asked if that was an acceptable location for dining, to which she confirmed and allowed us to proceed. I was feeling pretty good about myself being able to converse the way that I had in the Spanish language on this evening, so I wanted to celebrate; with a nice steak.

I had heard nothing but good things about the quality of beef in Mexico, since every employee in Raleigh had suggested I get a steak while I have the chance, and that it was “the best cut of meat” they had ever tasted. After a quick glance at the menu I ordered the Ribeye, which was served with some kind of mashed potato and salad greens. After translating the menu for my colleagues, we ordered some cold brews and proceeded to watch the scenery. As it turned out, we had arrived right at the beginning of the dinner rush, as there was now a long line out the door. Most of the people coming into the restaurant were dressed up like they were going to the club, either that or the beach since most of the guys had sunglasses on. Regardless, it wasn’t long before our dinners came out, which is precisely the moment that I soiled myself.

My steak was quite easily the largest portion of steak that I had ever had in front of me. Not only was it large, but it was served on top of the mashed potatoes, which were in turn on top of the salad greens, which is EXACTLY how I would’ve eaten my meal anyway! What marvelous joy this provided me with! I didn’t even need to play with my food, I could just dive in! For anybody that knows me this is a rarity; and my only complaint about this presentation was that they forgot to enclose these three layers of deliciousness between two slices of bread. Despite this fact, I began to “dig in”, as they say. The steak was cooked just right, with enough blood to make me feel like a barbarian, but also cooked enough for me to not get Salmonella or E. Coli or Tape worms. It was juicy like a watermelon and tasted of pure win. The mashed potatoes were salty, with a hint of bacon and chives, and the fact that every bite of steak brought along with it a taste of creamy mashed potatoes and bacon just made my brain joygasm. It was a fantastic meal, and a spectacular steak that will not be soon forgotten. I can’t say it was the “finest cut of meat” that I’ve ever tasted, but it certainly was the best in terms of presentation since I didn’t have to do any work before devouring it. As we paid our checks I asked myself, “How could this day get any better?” Well I’ll tell you how it could get better: with another adventure!

We left the restaurant and wandered out towards the street, which wasn’t the best place to be standing considering it was basically a highway entry ramp; however it only took a matter of seconds to flag down a taxi. As we piled into the vehicle, I once again took the passenger seat and instructed the driver to take us to the hotel. Thankfully, every taxi driver so far knew the location of “Hotel Presidente”, so explaining where we were going was never a problem. With a quick nod we were off, as the taxi driver took us on a very unexpected route, which looked nothing like the route we had used to get there. It was about ten minutes before we were in sight of the hotel, which was either impressive on his part or depressing on the first taxi lady’s part; and it was about five seconds too late when I shouted “Presidente!” as we sped past the hotel at 100 kilometers per hour. The driver immediately face-palmed himself and apologized as we headed in the direction of Taco & Charley’s. As the driver came around the traffic circle to head back the other way, he was very apologetic. I told him not to worry about it and quickly realized that we were now passing the hotel in the opposite direction.

Unsure whether he was more comfortable making right-hand turns into the hotel, I hesitated before asking, “Are we going to El Presidente”, to which he replied with another face-palm. I felt really bad at this point and didn’t know whether I had done something wrong to make this guy continually forget where we were going. Either way, he made a sharp and violent turn onto a back street as I kept my eye on the skyline. I didn’t know where we were, so being at the driver’s mercy, I had no choice but to watch the top of the hotel peeking out to keep my bearings. We were within two blocks of the hotel when I finally realized that once again, the driver had passed the street that the hotel was on. Now this adventure had officially become extremely ridiculous, bordering on ludicrous. As a last ditch effort I told him to look at the towering black building on the skyline, and that was our destination. Hopefully this would be the last face-palm of the evening, and it was only another minute or so before he pulled into the hotel entrance. Going the wrong way, and blocking all traffic from leaving. Spectacular. We paid the man and tried not to wonder how many shots of tequila he was on; however it was hard to imagine a sober person performing the way that he had.

That night, as I relaxed to a healthy dose of Austin Powers I thought about my amazing day. Not only did I experience two spectacular meals, but I had two adventures within two hours of each other. I felt truly blessed at that moment, and as they say in such times: Effin A, Cotton. Effin A…