Relative quiet greeted us as we lifted our mosquito nets. No generator noise anyway: “The Beast” (as Tyler called it) wouldn’t turn back on until 10. The Beast turned off at midnight every night and back on at 10 the next day, which kept all 500 people in Punta Allen taken care of in an electric sense. But after 10 “unplugged” hours each night, their now unfrozen frozen goods didn’t feel the same love. One of our hosts, Pierre, was convinced there was a logical solution. But logic and solutions are slow to come to Punta Allen. Take the pothole-infested road, for example. Some months prior, a loader arrived to “fix the roads,” but instead sat idle across the street from Posada Sirena. Eventually, it simply went back the way it came: down the increasingly potholed road.
Roads and generators aside, morning had arrived in Punta Allen and with it a need for coffee and food. For a few pesos on top of the normal nightly rate, Pierre took care of the coffee part via a stove top Bialetti-type coffee maker and welded, thrift store stove top steamer, while the Argentinian Alejandra and Tyler looked on, sipping their mate.
The mosquitos already hovered menacingly, even after we traded the table outside Posada Sirena for the one outside Lucy Cucina Economica. For a modest sum, we gorged ourselves with fresh juice and huevos motuleños (a popular breakfast from the Yucatan town of Motul featuring eggs and black beans on fried tortillas with ham, peas, plantains and salsa picante).
Bellies full, we met Alejandra’s friend (and our new amigo) from the night before, Angel, for a tour of La Laguna Negra (the Black Lagoon). The next few hours were one giant Spanish lesson for me, since Angel spoke even less English than I do Spanish. First stop on the beach near the Posada: a look at the lobster traps waiting to be placed in the sea.
Because Punta Allen resides in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, lobster fisherman can’t bait lobsters. Instead — knowing Caribbean lobsters hide in shade during the day — they lure lobsters underneath cement traps then lift the traps up and net them.
We also got a nature lesson of sorts; Angel pointed out the three types of mangle, or mangroves (rojo, negro, blanco y botoncillo), a poison ivy-like plant known as chen-chen, l’aguila pescadadora (osprey) and tiny crabs that scurried frantically off his thick, Mayan palm. All of this he accomplished barefoot.
At the end of the boardwalk sat a mirador (lookout), listing on the murky waters of La Laguna Negra. We spent hours up there, looking in vain for cocodrilos (crocodiles), trying to talk about life.
We parted ways with Angel on the beach and found that Sirena’s daughter, Michele, finally arrived in Punta Allen for the first of her 12-day stay. She was warm and animated; we shared a beer out front before Pierre sent us on our next adventure: picking out fresh lobsters from the guys across the park before they left for the day.
Pierre ran across the park ahead of us, to make sure they didn’t close. Approaching a large metal tub full of live lobsters, he then he taught us how to squeeze the lobster’s abdomen to determine which would have the most meat. A soft abdomen denoted a lobster that had recently molted — and more meat. We squeezed away as the lobsters screamed disconcertingly; after selecting two, a man placed them in a plastic bag and weighed them. Two lobsters, one kilo: 310 pesos (or about $17) for lobsters more fresh than a teenage boy at a high school dance.
Originally, the next step included bringing the stunned lobsters in their plastic bag to Lucy Cucina Economica before 5 p.m. where, for a small fee, the fabulous Lucy would cook them for us. I approached the connected tiendita (little store) to find at 4 p.m. Lucy already left the building. What now? Pierre, somewhat sheepishly but very kindly, said all right, I’ll cook them for you if I have to. But he had one other idea; we marched around the corner to ask “the Cuban” at the taco restaurant next door if he would cook them. The Cuban was livid; he served lobster too and why would he cook lobster for us that we hadn’t bought from him? Pierre shook his head; it behooved the Cuban to cook them for us, even if it put him out. As Tyler said, we would’ve ended up buying drinks and dessert from him.
“My daughter is a cook,” said Baltazar, an older man who had been passing by on his bike, overhearing our cooking conundrum. “Let me just ask her if she’ll cook them.” We were stunned; what a nice man. Who — in the States — would go out of their way for a stranger?
Stepping off his bike, Baltazar motioned for us to follow him. We walked slowly on dirt roads, towards his large cinder block house. A woman who may have been his wife, Narcissa, swept leaves outside. Baltazar’s daughter, Shirley played nearby with her shy son, Liam. Baltazar explained our situation and she agreed. I thanked her and played the peek-a-boo game with Liam. Meanwhile, Baltazar located a sharp knife.
He motioned for us to come back behind their wire fence to an open air sink behind their house. Long lines of laundry swung in the breeze; a little, clean dog ran around shelves and drums full of this and that. Baltazar took the lobsters — very stunned and docile but still alive — and placed them on the ceramic lip of the sink.
Shirley asked what time we’d like to eat; we said around an hour. Just enough time to walk to the dock on the lagoon side of town and catch the start of the sunset.
When we ambled back to Baltazar’s, we found a little table set outside for us.
“Is this fine?” said Baltazar, in Spanish. I nodded, overwhelmed.
“Would you like something to drink?” said Baltazar. “I can go to the store…” Tyler quickly said he’d go too and off they went. Shirley’s other little daughter ran over to me and shyly gave me an orange, then bolted. I heard Narcissa say, “And one for her husband.” The girl shyly deposited another on the table and scurried off. I felt a wave of love for these hospitable people, smiling shyly at me from another table under an awning behind the house. I pondered why it is Americans are so hesitant to help strangers, when it comes naturally to others around the world…
But my thoughts ended abruptly when Shirley brought out our lobster, prepared with love and and aesthetics. Warm tortillas and drawn butter appeared next. Baltazar — tipped off by Pierre on my love of hot salsa — added a bowl of roasted peppers to the table, sliced and swimming in seeds.
After dinner, stuffed with fresh lobster and hospitality, we paid Baltazar the agreed upon price for cooking both lobsters (around 160 pesos, or $9) and a good tip. We exchanged hugs and went on our way, happy and amazed by the generosity of strangers.
We spent the evening hanging out at the table outside the main building at Posada Sirena with Angel and two chicks from Montana. We turned in early; the long, treacherously puddled road demanded an early start.
To keep our bump-addled brains alert this time, we decided to enact a puddle count. Puddles wider or longer than the Nissan March made the register. By the time we reached the arched portal to Sian Ka’an, I’d tallied 167 puddles that made the grade. My tallies were uneven and scribbled at odd angles. With a laugh, we pulled the car off the road: it was past time for a break. A free cenote called Ben Ha (which we visited on our previous excursion to Punta Allen) lay just a short, mosquito-riddled walk away through the mangles.
Much refreshed, we persisted north, stopping about an hour later at Bahia Soliman, a picturesque beach lined with fancy, private villas. After being asked if we were going to the restaurant at the end of the line, we quickly pleaded the affirmative after realizing we wouldn’t be let in otherwise. However, a plate of chips and guacamole and a margarita along a quiet, lovely beach was just the ticket…
We arrived at Resort Headquarters just in time to polish off the totopos (chips) and tequila on the deck with Mama Judy and Papa Ed. Tyler’s wickedly strong, delicious margaritas hit the spot.
After a taco dinner by Mama Judy a packing frenzy ensued. Whoever said “all good things must come to an end” surely experienced trading tropical paradise for a snowy Colorado mountain town and work in the morning…
But I must say, being back hasn’t been all bad. Take yesterday, at Vail Pass: just me, Tyler, Snowflake and a whole crap ton of new snow!
Next time on “There’s an Adventure in Every Sylva Lining,” it’s gonna hurt (for me anyway). Because let’s be honest, margaritas and sea level does not a badass, super-duper-in-shape Telemark skier make…