It’s our last day in Puerto Escondido. Erin has already left for the airport, and Elena and I are spending the 5 hours before our bus in the most profitable way—doing nothing on the rooftop terrace of our hotel. Elena is in a hammock reading, or maybe even napping, and I’m sitting with my laptop facing the bluest ocean imaginable. It’s almost too mean to say out loud to my friends, who are going back to lawyer jobs in San Francisco, but I’ve been on a vacation from my vacation.
In this blissed-out town, I haven’t been doing my usual nosing around for superb food, and perhaps for my Zen acceptance of life, I’ve been rewarded with some of the most memorable food adventures I’ve had so far.
Playa Carrizalillo is the best kind of surprise. It’s a bit further west than Playa Zicatela, with its wide expanse of glassy waves that look like the purest and cleanest of blue-green Japanese ceramics as they break. Carrizalillo is not as obvious, if only because you have to descend a long flight of stairs to get there. The steps are solidly constructed and pretty, with flowers and suitably tropical plants at every angled turn, but the best part is only a few turns from the top, when you immediately see before you the perfect, deep blue, baby bay.
Little thatched palapas and restaurants line the beach, selling beer and shrimp cocktails. The restaurants aren’t particularly noteworthy, though I’m impressed they don’t mark up the beer more, and there are fewer vendors who come by, probably because of the steep steps.
There is, however, a leathery, old man selling mystery mollusks that were tender, almost buttery, and salty from the bucket he just caught them in. He called the bivalves “callos de margarita,” which after some Google research, Erin and I have decided they are some type of scallop. The conches he called “caracoles,” which I thought meant “snails” in Spanish.
The callos had a pebbly, almost spiny outer surface, and a deep purple ring around the pearly interior. He husked them right on the rocks, rinsed them in the murky seawater in his bucket, sliced them thinly and expertly, and served them back in their shells, with a fresh squeeze of lime and some hot sauce available, though it turned out for us to be superfluous. It was better to eat add just a bit of lime and taste the sweetness of the meat.
In classic Mexican fashion, he didn’t assume that Erin and I, who were standing over him almost panting with eagerness, wanted to buy a mollusk or two. We were finally moved to explicit action when another woman started negotiating a price for all the mollusks he had left. The fact that I might never taste a “callo de margarita” again is okay. It seems so fortuitous, so blessed, that we got to taste them at all.
We even had more nieve de coco, this one purer and cleaner, the more innocent version compared to the more sophisticated salty-sweet coconut ice cream we’d had on Playa Marinero. I am glad I don’t have to judge which was better.
We had thought nothing could top Playa Carrizalillo, but two days later, we went to Mazunte. About an hour east of Puerto Escondido, Mazunte is a small town that seems to take the overflow from the hippies and nudists in Zipolite. The whole town consists of four or five streets in a loose grid, only two or three of them paved. It’s not much of a surfer town, and it feels even more laid-back than Puerto Escondido, which I hadn’t known was possible.
We stayed all day on a little semicircle of a beach that had no umbrellas, no lounge chairs, only a lovingly ramshackle beach hut selling sandwiches, juices and tropical cocktails. We had brought a light picnic lunch with us, based on the tostadas de corozo I had gotten obsessed with after our lagoon guide, Lalo, told us about them. They were flatter and darker, a little thicker, and not ripply like your usual tostada of corn. When I tasted them, I knew immediately they were worth the long, hot walk to the market in town and dealing with the surly woman who sold them to me. They were just sweet enough, rich with the milk of coconuts, but completely dry and non-greasy. Topped with ripe avocados, fresh lime juice, and criollo tomatoes, crinkly like heirlooms, they whet our appetites for more.
It was so easy to walk just a few feet backwards to Babel, the little drink hut, run by a group of young, attractive South Americans, who were so at ease with their good fortune. The entire area was little more than 15 by 15 feet, with a few chairs, two hammocks, and an astonishing view of the ocean. Their mix tape was clearly a beloved one, as we heard the same Bob Marley song twice. We put our feet up and drank big, soda fountain glasses of “cucu melon,” 1 for 35 pesos, 2 for 50, which were made of freshly squeezed honeydew, a bit of mezcal, crema de coco, sugar, and crushed ice. So simple and so good. I kept thinking about it for the rest of the day, absentmindedly murmuring, “Wouldn’t that be a good drink for a summer dinner party?” I know it would console me back in Brooklyn, when I finally have to go back home.