Eric in New York City
Brian and Natasza in Belize
Eric and Brian went traveling and made the mistake of sending me emails with pictures. I thought the juxtaposition was great, so I threw them up here. Brian is still out there, so if he sends me any more stuff, I’ll add it.
Tight connexion to Belize flight in DFW turned into 30-min “security check” delay (which was originally called a “cleaning delay” when it looked like it would only be 10 min). This carried over to our arrival in Belize 30-min late, giving us one hour to get our bags, clear customs, & drive 30 minto th last water taxi to Caye Caulker, where we had prepaid for our hotel & needed 2 b at 8:30 tomorrow morning to catch our 3-day sailing trip. It was quite likely that the 30 min delay was going to screw up our first 3 days in Belize. Well, as u can c by th photo, we made it to th water taxi (of course nothing here happens on time) escorted by our warm, cheerful taxi driver Solano who didn’t even have to speed. It would’ve been completely out of character for th place (although th water taxi threw up a righteous rooster tail for 45 min straight). Got a golf-cart taxi from the pier to th hotel and was greeted by proprietor Rob, a US transplant about my age with th permanent spacey smile of one who makes a good living hanging out in a tropical Eden. We decompressed for a minute in our rustic room before changing into flip-flops & parrot-head shirts and ambling down one of the islands three dirt roads to find a grilled fish.
If yer looking for a grilled fish big enough for two that was minding its own business on a tropical reef this morning, walk ~4 blocks thru th salty, steady sea breeze down th main drag of th island (see below) & turn right across from th pier. U may decide to stop along th way at one of several mom & pop stores for some bottled water that is sold at a refreshingly sane price (50¢ for a half-liter) in a place where a) u can’t drink tap water & b) there’s absolutely nowhere else to buy clean water. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
It’s impossible to describe this place without over-using th word ‘vibe’ so I’ll spare you th banalities. Perfect weather, impeccably friendly & sincere people at every turn, & a big ass snapper grilled to sweet perfection. The early-American Tiki decor, complete w/year-round strings of Xmas lights & giant plastic buoys converted into hanging lamps, is exactly as it should be. We have gone from zero to blissfully relaxed in two flights, a taxi & boat ride & a leisurely stroll.
Time to stroll back to th room & turn in.
From th Dept of Blunt Advertisements.
We rented bikes & gamboled th rounds of th island…
Into The Star Chamber…of Momofuku Ko. No phones allowed. (and therefore no pictures.) No menus, either, so I had to hand write everything after they served each dish…
Thought you might like to see:
Greeted by Jeanette (?) on arrival at 6:50pm behind a trio speaking Japanese. They were seated first on the corner of the bar, I was seated next to them. A few minutes later a man my age was seated as part of a pair (the places were all set — we would be one party of three, one single, and four pairs), later joined by a man in his 50s, both high powered. As the evening went on the rest of the bar was seated: a couple on a date, a couple in their 50s, another power male pair.
They presented me with a Wine/Beer/Sake menu, but I heard the hostess describe the pairings of wine/beer/sake. The Japanese trio wanted wine, but NO beer or sake. I wanted the full pairings (prefaced with “—” below) with my meal.
There was no menu given or available; all meals were prepared in the area that we faced behind the bar where there were prep surfaces, cooking ranges, ovens, etc. The cooks set your meal in front of you over the counter and then told you what the dish was. You were allowed to talk to the cooks, who were friendly, though obviously busy with their job. The hostess was joined by a young man with a beard who helped her add and remove silverware and empty plates, also serving all the beverages. They were *very* conversant with the beverages in the pairings, down to being able to explain exactly how the custom beer (a “Kolsch”) served with the egg and caviar dish was made (in Brooklyn, natch).
The appetizers were tiny bites, building up to larger portions in the meats and desserts. The pours of the pairings were modest, but well measured to complement the food paired.
DINNER and PAIRINGS
—cocktail of Rittenhouse Rye, apple juice, and ginger syrup with a lemon twist on the rocks
Smoked fresh cheese, grilled kolrabi chunk, fried rosemary leaves
Pork skin “chicheron” with Shichimi Togarashi
—Txakolina/Chacoli white wine from Basque region of Spain
Parsnip soup with green apple chunks
Striped bass sashimi, fermented chile sauce, sesame oil, sheep sorrel leaves
Spanish mackerel sashimi with ginger, wasabi horseradish, mustard oil
—Young white wine from Piedmonte, Italy (barn yard, funky, fresh, good!)
Potato seafood chowder (foamed soup over cooked and raw seafood chunks, garnished with tiny round oyster crackers)
—Smoked Kolsch-style beer from Brooklyn (brilliant pairing)
Smoked soft-cooked egg, sturgeon caviar, sweet potato vinegar, potato chips, plus a side of potato bread served with smoked butter
—a Sicilian Cataratto white wine (deep golden color, balanced flavor)
Celery root stuffed cappelini, foam with tandoori spices
Broiled chunk of sea bass (Branzino), shishito pepper dashi, black trumpet mushrooms
—St. Hilaire de Beauvoir (Languedoc) sparkling white wine
Shaved frozen foie gras over lychee fruit and pine nut brittle
—Roussillon Grenache/Mouvedre 2001 red wine
Roast venison, kale chips, roast sunchokes, lacto-fermented pomegranate juice
—[a sake poured over ice that was sweet but very full-flavored, almost coconut-y with the following dish]
Lime sherbet over banana pieces with coconut meringue flat chips
—Moscato di Siracusa white wine
Carrot and orange sorbet, buckwheat and Earl Gray tea panna cotta
Funny thing happened on the way to the 3-day, 2-nite sailing cruise. They gave away our places b/c we didn’t get in until after they closed last nite. After some consternation after learning this when they opened this morning & a bit of rooting about, we found a 2-day, 1-nite trip that leaves tomorrow. Our hotel had one open room tonite, so we can chill for the day hear & get back on schedule. We were somewhat annoyed at being dropped (one of us still scheming to ruin Raggamuffin Tours on the Internet – they will feel our wrath!) but when we saw their boat leaving the harbor packed cheek by jowl like they were fleeing Elian Hernandez’s Cuba, we didn’t feel so bad. Our new outfitter is a much smaller company and our trip will be just the two of us plus the smiling toothless captain and his young mate Choco, who appears eager to teach me to spearfish. And with any luck we’ll avoid thunderheads like the ones that just rolled thru as we paid our lunch tab and scurried back to the hotel.
Speaking of ‘mates,’ this place is crawling with Ozzies, who seem to far outnumber the gaggles of Yanks, Brits, French, Italians & other misc tourists here; which begs the question, aren’t there plenty of exotic tropical beaches closer to home, mate? For a country of barely 20 million, they sure get around.
Island mechanic… Tue 1/15 There are virtually no cars on Caye Caulker; golf carts, rental bikes & flip-flops are the exclusive means of carriage. We were on bikes exploring the back roads of the island [N.B. it is only broad enough for three roads, none of which travel the island's entire length] & I was struck by the presence of a golf cart mechanic. I don’t know much about golf carts but from what I understand they’re not terribly complex machines, which may explain why the mechanic (in striped shirt beside the white cart) was about 15 yrs old. He acceded to my request to take a photo but I’m not sure that his girlfriend (doing her homework in the blue one) did.
From Caye Caulker, we took an overnight sailing trip to an island dubbed Cocosolo by th locals b/c it is home to a lone coconut tree and little else. It was one of the most remarkable trips I’ve ever taken but I will remark on it later b/c photos from that trip were made only with our other camera.
The attached photo is of a worker at the Belize City bus depot removing the last chunk of a termite ridden bench that collapsed under me while I tried to repair a shoelace. I put my hand out to break my fall and after th brief commotion (there were two schoolgirls also on th bench and we all had good chuckle) I noticed that I had cut my hand. Not auspicious in a grimy bus station in a tropical country home to a wide variety of pathogenic microbes. Thu 1/17
Here is a close-up of the fetid corner of the Belize City bus depot where I cut my hand. Note the algae, which was liberally smeared on the cut along with plenty of other funk. Natasza went to get help while I flushed the wound with drinking water and wiped off the gunk with a moistened towelette. She returned shortly w/a portly policeman (who I discovered later moonlights as a tour guide at a nearby Mayan ruin) who reminded me a bit of Michael Dukakis dressed up in his battle gear for the fateful tank photo op. He escorted me to a shop (~20′ away) where the young Indian shopkeeper didn’t stock hydrogen peroxide but did offer to spray my wound with Axe Body Spray. We politely declined (the policeman less politely). A depot worker was dispatched to find some peroxide. In the meantime, we took stock of what we had on us. We had (about half of) a small bottle of local rum. I took a swig into my mouth and put my mouth around the cut. Natasza got out a ?????????? pill, an antibiotic she brought from Kyiv that I think was streptomycin, crushed half of it and rubbed the powder into the wound. I ate the other half. I then remembered that I had packed some penicillin that was left over from a dental prescription and ate one of those too, wondering whether the reaction between the two pills I just took would be worse than any infection I might get from the cut. The station agent returned with a new bottle of peroxide and doused the wound repeatedly. The cut was ~2cm long but not deep – a mere flesh wound, if you will – and now that the peroxide had arrived, it was pretty well under control. I put a bandage on it with antibiotic gel and that was pretty much that. We still had a few minutes to regroup before the bus arrived. Thu 1/17
Eric is long back from NYC, Brian has been in and out of the jungle and flooded me with 20 or more photos. If you’ve read this far and didn’t receive his emails directly, I will forward them to you.