Relax, Reset, Rewind
We woke up at 09:00 to the sound of birds in the trees outside. The sun was beaming through the cracks in the wooden storm doors across our entrance. We rose slowly, eager to get out but also trying to slow down after our journey.
We wandered out of our room into the main house, where Agustín greeted us after we’d sat down at an ancient farmhouse table. We perused the menu, but I already knew what I wanted — chilaquiles. We ate quietly, the silence deafening behind us. I looked at Mark and said “…So what should we do today?”
We left the main house and wandered the lime and banana plantation for a while, then returned to the pool to read. Maison Couturier has two pools — one smaller one close to the main house, and one further out. The closest one had a free lounge, so I took advantage and flopped down, book in hand.
I had bought a new book specifically for the much-anticipated pool time — “Mexico” by Josh Barkan. Don’t buy it — it’s a narco-fest, bloody and racist. I kept reading, groaning with each belabored page. I’d been taught to always try to finish a book, no matter how bad, and I almost managed — but I got distracted. I sat on the edge of the pool, watching our only companions at the resort — a younger couple, possibly French. I say “possibly” because I couldn’t eavesdrop on them easily, but their general demeanor and attitude fit the bill perfectly. They lazed about in the water, impossibly pretty, and kissed each other frequently. They smoked elegantly, and drank beer as if they were in a Modelo commercial. Meanwhile, I was swathed head-to-toe in black — black linen harem shorts, a black T, my black kimono — swatting gnats and reading the worst book ever. Playing the part of the obnoxious, try-hard American very well, obviously. We moved to the other pool, and ordered micheladas to dull our insecurities.
We adjourned from our very difficult and stressful morning to lunch around 11:30 — tacos de res, salsa verde, stacks upon stacks of tortillas, queso fundido, Victoria beers.
SALSA VERDE veracruzana
9oz. / 250g. serrano chiles, washed but whole
1 cup / 250mL olive oil
Garlic, as much as you please (I use three or four cloves. They’re called “dientes de ajo” in Spanish — teeth of garlic!)
Salt, to taste.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat — be careful to keep it under smoking point. Add the chiles and sauté until their skins turn white and begin to separate from the chiles. Remove the chiles from the oil, and let everything cool — don’t toss the oil!
Blend the chiles and garlic in a blender until liquefied — and slowly add the cooled oil, bit by bit (you may not need all of it). It will emulsify and look somewhat like store-bought guacamole — smooth and pale green. Taste and add salt to your liking. It will be fairly spicy, but it’ll mellow in the fridge. It’s best with tacos al pastor, but just as good on fresh lime’d and salted tortilla chips.
After eating, we asked Agustín how to get to Casa Proal — an art foundation in an ancient French farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, funded by Grupo Habita and the French government. He replied with a string of directions in Spanish, and then paused.
“…Quieres un mapitito?”
We nodded and he sent us to the reception desk, where we got a similarly indecipherable sheet of paper. We shrugged and headed to our trusty Aveo, a little unsure of where to go.
We drove through the center of town, then turned south — and after turning a corner, we stopped first at Casa Belin, an offshoot of Proal. It’s another ancient French farmhouse, preserved by the gentlemen at Habita. Its trademark bamboo face sculpture was there, albeit a bit droopy. We took this as a sign we were on the right track.
We passed endless banana fields, small farmhouses, women pumping water by hand into buckets, swerving taxis… We stopped in a field, as the road became impassable. There were orderly lines of giant cypress trees, swaying in the breeze — and for a very brief moment, I was transported back to the French countryside. We drove around another way — no luck there, either.
After that failed journey, we decided to go to Jicaltepec — a tiny, nearly-inaccessible town across the Filobobos river. We pulled up to a dirt cul-de-sac, scattered with taxis. We parked our car and walked through a small field of banana trees to the footbridge — an imposing (and fairly new) concrete monolith rising from the shiny green banana grove.
It was just a touch harrowing — the bridge sways violently, so we had to synchronize our steps to not swing off the edge. As we passed, I glanced down at the river and noticed the little boat anchored on the side we’d just left — it was the semi-official ferry, and we hadn’t seem him before climbing up to the bridge. I felt a pang of regret — was it rude of us to walk across both ways, instead of just one? The ferry was probably his entire livelihood — why hadn’t we checked for him
We descended into Jicaltepec and again, we were transported to France. It was settled by the French in 1833, and it’s obvious — it’s like a little technicolor French farm village. We wandered the totally empty streets, following a zig-zag pattern only informed by the next thing we wanted to photograph. Dogs followed us, tails wagging, as if we were the first humans they’d seen in ages. We took so many photos — everything was so beautiful. The neon and pastel colors of the buildings and homes against the electric foliage were so intoxicating.
We strolled around, mentally moving in to the little village. We imagined our sunny, quiet lives spent lounging in our yard, tending to the fruit trees underneath the piercing blue sky.
We crossed the footbridge once more back onto our side of the river and headed back. Once back at Maison Couturier, we relaxed on the patio with glasses of tequila spiked with fresh lime juice — and then ventured back into town, this time on foot. Back at Pujol in Mexico City, our friend Miguel had recommended a restaurant in San Rafael.
“El Sótano! You must go — they’ll know me!”
We walked past the cemetery as the sun was setting, the modernist mausoleums reflecting the changing sky. A poster implored visitors to use fake flowers, as real ones needed water — which spreads dengue and chikungunya fever. We turned onto the main road and passed a multi-level building — a street cafe on the corner and a gym on the top floor, blaring bro-rock. “There are gym-bros everywhere — even here!” I exclaimed to Mark. We kept walking through the main square, its French clock presiding over the small verdant lawn and the groups of napping dogs.
El Sótano is a tiny little storefront across a roundabout, along the edge of the river. We entered slowly, unsure of what it was awaiting us. The staff turned abruptly and greeted us warmly in the dimly-lit space, and shepherded us down a dark staircase. That stair led down to a massive, lime-green balcony overhanging the river — such a lovely surprise. We were utterly alone in every way — not another single customer, no ambient music, no noise from the town. We perused the menu and chose quickly — fajitas for Mark, tacos alambre for me. We were waited on hand-and-foot, with every employee taking turns — an older gentleman presided over everything with a casual formality. The tortillas were perfect little pockets of dough, the beer ice-cold. It was perfect in nearly every way… save for the bugs. Once the sun had set, we were attacked with fervor. I kept leaning down to scratch my ankles in between bites.
After we paid a whopping 550 pesos (around $30) for our giant meal, we ambled upstairs and thanked everyone, and then made our way out into the night. We walked up the street to a SuperStop corner store we’d passed on the way in — we needed snacks, obviously. I bought a bottle of Peñafiel sparkling water with a built-in siphon and chile-flavored Sabritas potato chips, Mark got a variety of candy and chocolate. Then the journey back — we used our flashlights on our phones to avoid puddles and potholes in the muddy dirt road through the banana fields.
We walked through the entrance to find the night-shift reclining in the patio chairs, watching TV through the screen window of one of the rooms. “Necesitas cenar?” “No, gracias!”
We laid in bed, eating junk food and laughing at music videos until we drifted into a hazy, satiated sleep — the jungle around us thunderously silent.