Cave of the Monkey
It's just barely starting to be spring here. I've seen a few crocuses popping up, but otherwise things are still pretty bleak, so I thought I'd post a few pictures from a trip we took to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, a few weeks ago. The vacation was all too short, just a few days, and I keep wishing we were still there.
Parts of the town are a little too touristy for our taste, and condos and hotels are being developed like mad, but there's still enough we love about the area to make it special. (This was our second trip there.) The turquoise-blue ocean and white-sand beach (we head north of town to escape the crowds) are otherworldly, the local people, in our experience, are really nice, and the local recipe for guacamole is divine.
The other thing to love about Playa del Carmen is La Cueva del Chango, a.k.a. Cave of the Monkey, a little open-air restaurant, best known for its breakfast, that specializes in natural food and local Mayan cuisine. It's one of my favorite places in the world. That picture above shows the colored glass bottles set into its concrete ceiling like stained glass. A small stream runs through a channel in the stone floor and out into the open garden patio out back. In the bathroom you wash your hands under a little stone waterfall, presumably channeled from the same underground spring. Fish swim in a little pond in the middle of the restaurant, and a tree grows through a hole in the roof. This sounds a bit like Swiss Family Robinson at Disney Land, but the overall effect is more rustic and natural, and supremely relaxing. And it's not just me; Jacques Pepin comes here, too. What more endorsement do you need?
Coffee is served in simple clay mugs, with brown sugar.
Fresh jugo de piña, por favor. There are all kinds of fresh juices on the menu.
Huevos rancheros à la Chango. That green stuff in the beans is chaya, a leafy Mayan vegetable.
A view from the front door.
The monkey over the entrance gate.
Awesome monkey mural in the bathroom.
La Cueva is excellent in its own right, but I must acknowledge it's hard not to love a place when this is your destination once the meal is done.
I mentioned guacamole among our top four reasons to love Playa, so here's a bonus for any who have read this far. We had an afternoon snack at a place called Palapa Hemingway, which is one of those places with the gimmick of making the guacamole at your table, kind of like a Mexican Benihana. I don't mind the gimmick though, because it means we got to spy on the simple ingredients that went into it, and it was the best guacamole of my life! That might have been due primarily to the freshness of the ingredients (and the two margaritas I'd already polished off), but nevertheless, here's the eye-witness recipe:
1 and 1/2 avocados
1/3 of a fresh lime
1 T each, chopped, of:
1 T light olive oil
[That oil was the secret ingredient for us. Olive oil? Okay, I don't know if it was olive oil, but it was some kind of oil. Not extra-virgin olive oil, at any rate. A pale yellow kind. I wouldn't think that would be good in guacamole, but it was.]
Scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl with the other ingredients. Squeeze the 1/3 lime and add the juice. Shake salt liberally over everything. Mash everything together, and add more salt to taste.
Another place we like called Las Delicias sprinkles crumbled queso fresco on top. This is also extremely good.
Enjoy, then die of happiness.