Pardon my hiatus from Loose Gringa!
Mars’ continual retrograding has caused me massive technological glitches, but I think — cross fingers — things are better now.
And it’s summer, and at the end of this July I’ll have marked a huge TWO YEARS since my epic move to the Yucatan. It seems like yesterday, and yet, and yet…
While I was in Mexico the last time, staying at Tulum’s wonderful Azulik, I invested myself in really scouring the local shopping scene. Tulum has pretty much been colonized by the chic set, so pricier boutiques are popping up alongside Tulum’s handicrafts market.
Below is my hit list of must-sees for those on and off a budget.
Splurge: Coqui Coqui
Not my finest hour at this uber-popular boutique hotel/spa/restaurant/perfumer, as I proceeded to knock down a massive display of jewelry. (At least I didn’t freak out at spying Kim Gordon in a yoga pose on the beachfront!) The shopgirl was less than enthused with us already, and even snootier after my clumsiness. No, the staffers aren’t the nicest, but the boutique is worth your while if you’re into hard-to-find, cult perfumes, which I am.
Now with three locations — Tulum, Coba, and Valladolid — Coqui Coqui has staked an empire in Mexico’s beauty and hotel industry, which is why tons of celebrities make their way through here.
I’d visited Coqui Coqui years ago in Tulum, but regretfully never bit the bullet on one of their scents. This time was different. Their rosas secas perfume drew me in, while my shopping partner opted for the tabaco; but the lovely Coco-Coco fragrance is suntan lotion meets coconut meets youthful misty beach memories, and a bestseller. I got the candle in Coco-Coco and light it during the winter. Perfection. Candles are around $50, if I remember, and perfumes top off around $80. One of a kind jewelry, clothing, and accessories can also be had here, if you’re operating with some mega bucks.
Tip: Coqui Coqui is across from delicious, amazing, must-go Hartwood. So shop first, and have the best meal of your life.
Save: Plastic Flamingo
Situated in a dirt lot in an airstream bus, Plastic Flamingo boasts the kind of kitschy look and goods that are a breath of fresh air against Tulum’s wallet-crushing hotels and stores. Screenprinted t-shirts, jewelry, and other knickknacks can be found here — all made locally and by hand and with a Mexican flair.
Splurge: Posada Margherita
This boutique hotel/restaurant is a fantastic option for staying or dining, and they have a small boutique off the restaurant, to boot.
Filled with bikinis, gauzy dresses, creams and potions, and perfumes by model Leilani Bishop, this mid-priced boutique is sparse, but smartly curated. I wanted everything! Definitely worth a browse on your walk by, or after your breakfast, which Posada Margherita does so well.
Splurge: Mr. Blackbird
A tiny beachfront shop (also beside Coqui Coqui and Hartwood) but THE place for gorgeous jewelry. I wanted EVERYTHING.
Photo stolen from Mr. Blackbird’s Facebook page!
Mixik is my favorite place to shop in Tulum. Bike or drive to Tulum’s center and you’ll undoubtedly stumble onto this shop featuring every Mexican handicraft you can image. From notebooks, matchbooks, mirrors, and more emblazoned with Frida Kahlo’s face, to lucha libre masks, to Dia de los Muertos jewelry, to rugs, blankets, home goods, dreamcatchers and more, this place has EVERYTHING and it’s all crafted in Mexico. The prices are totally fair, and you’ll walk away with gifts for all your friends and money left over for lunch, and maybe something for you, too.
Where’s your favorite place to shop in Tulum!?
Greetings from snowy Boston!
Thank you, readers, for a phenomenal past year. 2014 looks to be even more superb, as next week I embark on an 8-day sojourn to the Dominican Republic’s north coast.
And three weeks after I return from the DR, I’ll be heading back to Tulum for a rollicking stay at Azulik and for another adventure in the Yucatan.
I can’t wait to share with you all my stories, pictures, and places in 2014.
There is SO much more to come and I’m thrilled to share it all with you.
Thank you for reading Loose Gringa and, as ever, stay tuned!
It’s nearly September.
Can you believe it? Of course I’m still grieving for my two-month Mexican sabbatical, still grieving the landscape, the heat, the tacos, the blue.
You know that blue, that Mexican color omnipresent in everything from paints to walls to cars to sky to sea. Sherwin Williams calls these shades aquarium, marina, spa — but I call it Cozumel blue. See what I mean?
The students have returned to Boston, and I’m at my office desk most days, dreaming of faraway places and remembering the segments of the trip that made an impact, but that I didn’t necessarily get to blog about. Like, for instance, having a lovers’ spat in public.
Never a good thing, but all the more dramatic that it was in Mexico. I can check international romance off my bucket list.
Then there was the dreary Saturday afternoon I got a mani/pedi and the shop owner recognized me from my blog!
Or how I sneaked into an all-inclusive over a period of multiple days and used their facilities, all day, without detection. Stealth was always my strong suit. Maybe because my teenage years were spent stalking teachers and rock stars, but I digress …
I witnessed and lived through the Mexican national election.
I learned a lot about the role of sexuality in Mexico, even a went on research visit to Cozumel’s only sex shop. But this blog strives for a PG rating …
But most obscene of all? This. I ate at Domino’s Pizza. In Mexico.
There’s a story behind everyone of these events, and whose memories I’ll preserve for my Mexican memoir. Until then, I’m knee-deep in my Mexican period poetry-wise, and the verse is coming fast and furious, full of bougainvillea and that blue I talked about and triumph but not without a good amount of sadness and sexuality, too.
Most of all, I learned a lot about myself on this trip.
I follow my heart and I live full-on, unafraid of risk. I laugh louder and longer than the rest, and I’m not for the faint of heart.
I fell in love.
And then I had my heart broken. But I won’t let heartache thwart all that was good about my sojourn. And all was good, even when it was less than perfect.
On my last week in Cozumel, someone snatched my purse. I heaved my flip-flops at the guy as he fled via scooter, and shouted English obscenities. I lost everything except my passport.
But that’s living. And that was the purpose of this trip. I did it.
Sobbing through two international airports on my return trip home, I did it.
And more: I became a scuba diver. I climbed Coba. I swam with the whale sharks in Isla Mujeres. I wrote a blog about Cozumel for a hotel in Playa Del Carmen, and made new friends along the way. Hell, I almost took a job and moved to Playa Del Carmen!
Too bad I never got around to:
Tanning my tetas
Getting a tattoo
But good things are in the works. I’m:
applying for a Fulbright for an independent research/creative project in the Yucatan;
working on several writing projects at once, for work and for me;
… undertaking multiple freelance gigs;
I have two months until I turn the big 3-0!
Can you guess where I’ll be?
That’s right. I’m going back.
Did I mention I’m unsinkable?
The ride is far from over.
To my surprise, I actually did cook a lot in Cozumel, even with all the amazing tacos and glorious street foods that entered my life.
I foraged hard-to-find ingredients at each of the island’s markets and whipped up a not-too-shabby Thai shrimp curry. Finding basil proved the most difficult task of all, and even then, the herb was another variety, slightly anise-tinged. The curry was still good, all things considered.
And I made my famous stuffed poblanos, modified from this recipe. A true crowd-pleaser, I always make it extra spicy and add fresh shucked corn to the stuffing.
Then there was the night I grilled skirt steaks, slicing it thin for tacos warmed on the grill. Earlier, I’d roasted tomatillos, onions, chiles in the oven, then pureed in a blender for a chunky, tart salsa.
But on my last week, I enrolled in a traditional Mexican cooking class: Josefina’s Cocina Con Alma!
Josefina has lived on Cozumel for the past 25 years, though she was born in the mountains of Veracruz. She operated a vegetarian restaurant before switching things up and starting her own cooking class, which has become a favorite among tourists. (She boasts a 5-star rating on TripAdvisor!)
A short walk from my condo, I showed up to Josefina’s pad just before noon, and met two married couples who’d I’d be sharing the class with. Two were biologists from Corpus Christi, and the other couple was a nurse and a gynecologist. I was the single gringa among them, the lone soul craving cochinita pibil.
Sigh. That succulent, shredded pork dish, cochinita pibil, would merge the unforgettable North Carolina pulled pork of my youth with Mexican flair. Nothing sounded better in my life. But, what was I thinking? It was 100 degrees out, and pibil would require Josefina to jumpstart the stove. No way.
Andy, the gynecologist of the group, suggested fish, and Josefina agreed. Of course the island has an amazing fish selection, so off to the mercado municipal we went.
Josefina negotiated with the fishmonger about what was freshest, what looked good. He recommended the red snapper, and it was lifted to our nose for a freshness check before being sliced into perfectly-sized fillets.
The market was small but plentiful, Josefina told us; and I couldn’t help imagining the sights and smells of what must be available in a Mexico City market. Visiting one is on my to-do list on my next Mexican sojourn.
But the Cozumel mercado was worthy, to say the least. Among the stalls of meat, seafood, and vegetable vendors, you could buy anything from a traditional guayabera to bird cages to cowboy boots to school supplies.
And you could order breakfast or lunch at one of the many food stalls.
Or simply pop in for this guy. You bet your ass I tipped this man my pesos.
My favorite part of touring the market with Josefina was sampling the selection of tropical fruits, many of which I’d never seen. The group was amazed to see beautiful pitaya — dragonfruit — which I’d tried outside Coba, and which converted me forever. Later, back at Josefina’s, we’d slice and blend the pitaya for a refreshing agua fresca.
But, what is a nispero or mamey or cherimoya? I couldn’t try them all, but Josefina fed us each a nispero, or loquat. Seedy, but good.
We headed back to Josefina’s to create our goods. Josefina showed us achiote seeds, used to make achiote paste, a widely-used Mexican ingredient, which comprised the base of our fish marinade.
Achiote sauce, from Josefina’s cookbook Cocina Con Alma
This is the base of the famous Mayan dishes: Tikin’xic (fish), Poc Chuk (pork), Cochinita pibil (barbeque), and Pollo Pibil (chicken). Now you can find achiote cubes in the Mexican food section of the supermarket.
For every pound of pork, chicken, or fish:
1/2 cube of premade achiote OR a teaspoon of achiote seeds
1 sour orange, OR juice from 1/2 orange and juice from 1/2 lime and a bit of vinegar
1 large garlic clove
salt and pepper to taste
a teaspoon of cumin
Mix ingredients in a blender or mortar and pestle
Remember: if you use achiote seeds, soak them in hot water before mixing!
While chugging jamaica, the eponymous Mexican drink made from hibiscus leaves, we skinned cactus leaves, or nopales, careful to remove all the tiny blisters on the skin. Then we diced it and made a fresh nopal salad with cheese and lime juice.
When it came to tortillas, Josefina was strict. No nonsense. Just water, and corn flour. Mix until it seems right, then roll a small ball of the dough in your hands, and flatten into a circle lightly with your fingers, and then with the palm of your hand.
We carried our tortillas to a hot skillet, where they were cooked in lard, and which we used for papadzules, made with pumpkin seeds.
Papadzules, from Josefina’s cookbook Cocina Con Alma
Pumpkin seeds are widely used in the Mayan part of my country. This is a colorful dish, nutritious and easy to prepare.
Red Mexican sauce (recipe follows)
2 pounds of tortillas, freshly made
1 pound of red tomatoes
1 pound of pumpkin seeds
10 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 handful of epazote
Make red sauce.
Toast the pumpkin seeds for 5 minutes and put them in a blender.
Boil the tomatoes with the epazote leaves and salt. Let them cool.
Add the tomatoes to the blender and blend together. You will get a sauce.
Soak the tortillas in the tomato and pumpkin seed sauce. Place a hard boiled egg in the tortilla and roll them.
Place in a serving dish and top with the rest of the sauce. Serve immediately.
Red Mexican Sauce
2 red or green tomatoes (tomatillos)
1 serrano or jalapeno chile (to taste)
handful of fresh cilantro
1 tbsp. onion
1 clove of garlic
salt and pepper to taste
Boil the tomatoes and chili for 5 minutes and let cool.
Add the cooled tomatoes and chili to a blender. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend.
To keep this sauce for more than 2 days, fry it in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil for 10 minutes. It will keep for 10 days in the refrigerator.
When all was said and done, we’d made so much food. No one could finish everything, not even Josefina’s famous guacamole. Her margaritas were equally amazing.
One of my favorite recipes of Josefina’s was a quick, simple summer salad (to the left of the guac), made on the fly with the juiciest and tastiest of all Mexican mangoes, chopped cucumber, dash of chili powder, and lime juice. Perfect poolside, with a Corona.
And the slab of beans there? Yeah, I helped make ’em.
They’ve got chorizo, for extra flavor. And of course, lard. Smashed to all hell and delicious and nutritious as can be.
I walked home a bit drunk, and so full I didn’t eat for the rest of the day!
Gracias a Josefina y su hijo Geronimo por una tarde marvailloso de comida y diversión!
If you’re in Cozumel, and want to take a class with Josefina, information is available here.
I'm Sarah Sweeney. I started Loose Gringa in the summer of 2012 when I dumped my shitty boyfriend and uprooted my life to the island of Cozumel on a tour of the Yucatan for two months. I almost stayed forever — I fell in love with a man and got offered a job. Neither of those worked out. But I learned unforgettable lessons about life, love, and about me — and now I can’t stop traveling.