bucket list: 2010 – june

PUNTA MITA:  Is there anything better than room service at a Four Seasons?  Actually, there is: a lounge chair lunch on the beach at Four Seasons Punta Mita, looking out at the Pacific Ocean. Some hotels treat you like a guest; others make you feel like a king.  Take me back to Punta Mita anytime:  I was treated like visiting royalty – even down to the stunning Mexican sunsets.  (Though I must give special props to Imanta, too, on the road to Sayulita.  The ceviche was inspired and the spectacle of thousands of crabs migrating down from the hills was a scene out of a horror film I won’t soon forget.)

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if at first you don’t ceviche …

Try, try again!  The record heat here in New York is so thoroughly debilitating that I thought it medically necessary to flashback to the weekend before last.  I was overheated, yes, but also enjoying the Pacific breeze in Punta Mita – not to mention eating my body weight in ceviche.

Here’s a shot of the namesake Ceviche Punta Mita by chef Richard Sandoval at Four Seasons’ Ketsi restaurant. A combination of octopus, scallop, shrimp, onion, tomato, jicama and avocado, it’s accompanied by a refreshing shot of Bloody Mary sorbet.

(By the by, New York readers of this site should know of Sandoval, who’s become a leader in the upscale Latin culinary movement.  Born in Mexico City, trained at the CIA, he’s the man behind the restaurant Maya, which introduced the concept of bold and flavorful Modern Mexican to New York City, as well as Pampano.)

And because nothing goes better with ceviche than a big bowl of guac, I’m including a shot of the guacamole made tableside at Ketsi.  It’s mixed and served in a traditional molcajete, a Mexican mortar and pestle made of lava rock.

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comidas a la playa – el fin

I love it when a long weekend turns into a proper holiday.  I was only in Mexico from Thursday afternoon through Sunday morning but somehow it felt as though I had been away for a solid week.  Give credit to Four Season Punta Mita which made me feel like royalty in their ineffably discreet and unfussy way.  Here’s one final sunset as seen from Bahia, the resort’s relaxed grill under the giant manzanilla trees on Las Cuevas beach. This particular night I enjoyed the spicy Zarandeado Snapper  – a whole pink snapper marinated with spicy achiote and grilled over a mesquite fire.  Delicious, yes -  yet not nearly as seductive as the view.

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adios imanta

One last look at Imanta – just because architecturally I really do love how the complex integrates into the environment rather than disturbing it or being obtrusive.  From the locally quarried stone and responsibly harvested wood, to the black slate pools and minimalist interiors, it’s an obvious design (and ethos) homage to Aman Resorts, but who cares?  Conceptually the idea of high-style/low-impact is a new thing for Mexico, land of the gringo-driven, mega-resort beach hotel, so any place that can make good on the promise of sustainability deserves credit in my book.  To do so with a flash of wit or whimsy only heightens the seduction for this traveler.

By the way, Imanta is only three months old.  They’re just getting their sea legs, so to speak, but are off to a stellar start.  I’m looking forward to watching this one grow up.

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comidas a la playa – parte dos

Despite my misgivings about the crab infestation at Imanta, I couldn’t help myself when a big bowl of ceviche was put in front of me under a tent along the beach – though it was just a little bit odd to be eating with one eye cocked under the table, waiting for the siege to begin.  Thankfully, a vigilant waiter soon stood by at the ready, so I could enjoy lunch as well as the limitless ocean view.

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crabs! (the musical?)

Over the hill that dominates the peninsula of Punta Mita, the road leads up the Pacific coast towards the expat surf town of Sayulita.  A few miles to the south of there I visited Imanta, a new eco-concious resort of seven casas that blend seamlessly into the rugged coastal landscape.  As eye-catching as the accommodations were, however, it’s the critters underfoot that had me fascinated:  land crabs – all about the size of my palm.  At first there seemed to be a handful scattered about near the palapa that serves as a reception area, including a few bright red “queens”. However, as we made our way down the hill towards the beach, the pathway was littered with crabs scurrying to escape the crunching wheels of the golf cart.  The crabs were no longer a curiosity, they were a horror film.  Or a musical, depending on your mindset.  I half-expected them to start caterwauling down from the trees.  Arriving at the beach I now saw a plague of crabs – literally hundreds, if not thousands  -  digging holes in the sand with their dominant claws.  The enterprise looked like a giant anthill or termite colony spreading out laterally across the sand.  Every human step suddenly became an invitation to accidentally break through and be devoured inside the intricate network of subterranean crab lairs.  “Crab,” I heard Roy Scheider shouting in the back of my head.  “Crab!!!”

I soon discovered that there is a great crab migration which takes place annually along this coast.  Descending from the hills with their sacs of eggs, the crabs bury the kids in the sand before retreating back to the hills.  The whole process takes place in waves over a few weeks time and once the little guys hatch, they, too, go running back from whence they came.

Needless to say I became somewhat obsessed and horrified by the photo-shy crabs, to the point of accidentally chasing one unfortunate guy up a tree.  Despite the claws they are far more afraid of us than we are of them.  A stretch of freshly swept beach became a tapestry of crab retreat in the blink of an eye as one small group of crabs scurried away. I still keep thinking about what a great textile the pattern would make:  crab tracks.

As interesting as it was to observe all of this crustacean activity for an afternoon – and I won’t even get into lunch – I don’t think I’d warm to staying at Imanta during the great crab migration.  I kept flashing back to all of those over-the-top, Nixon-fueled  eco-disaster films of the late 70’s and early 80’s:  The Swarm, Food of the Gods, etc.  My fear of becoming some other creature’s dinner would ensure I never slept a wink – no matter how high the thread-count of those Egyptian cotton sheets.

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h is for huichol – and hakali

Hakali is the local Huichol Indian name for nopales, or cactus paddles, which are put to excellent use as the main ingredient in the rejuvenating Hakali Massage at Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita.  Developed specifically for the resort’s Spa Apuane – apuane being the native word for healing waters -  the massage incorporates indigenous flora and local massage techniques in conjunction with the nopal paddles to facilitate the flushing of toxins, in addition to deeply re-hydrating the skin.  Perfect after a little too much time in the sun, it’s even better as a prelude to the desiccating flight home.  Better still, do what I did:  take your massage in the small  spa pavilion overlooking the Pacific and let the sounds of the surf carry you away.  Apologies for the resort-issued photograph here  – had Rosa’s magic hands not kneaded me into a puddle of butter I would have remembered to snap my own photo.

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lush life

Did I mention it was hot as Hades in Punta Mita?  And about as humid as Rangoon in the rainy season?  Well the upside to that is lush, sumptuous gardens peppered with dozens of different of palm trees, bananas, passion fruit, and ginger, along with my favorite: a sweet-smelling jasmine which entwines itself inside a prickly hedge and perfumes the air.  Naturally this kind of foliage attracts its share of birds, too – from hummingbirds to oystercatchers to the noisy, comical chacalacas.

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comidas a la playa

Yes, yes, yes, there is something incredibly decadent about staying at a great hotel, ringing up room service for a felony-rate breakfast and then carelessly taking it all into bed with the morning paper – crumbs be damned.  However, in Punta Mita this weekend, I discovered something equally indulgent: lunch a la playa.  (Does everyone know about this?) Too lazy to drag myself off the beach to go find food, I scanned the menu tucked under my cache of icy water bottles.  Okay, I thought, let the mountain come to Mohammed, whereupon I ordered lunch and dove into the ocean.  When a waiter showed up with my order twenty minutes later, I immediately had second thoughts.  Wet, hot, dusted with sand, and sweaty in direct sunlight – who wants to eat like this?  Yet before I could open my mouth in protest, a new chaise longue was being prepared under a shaded palapa, a cool cloth was on offer to wipe my hands and face, and suddenly I was reclining like a melodramatic 50’s housewife taking to her bed.  Water was poured, chips were set within easy reach and a bountiful bed tray was perched across my lap.  How very civilized.  How very unexpected. How very – dare I say it? – Four Seasons.

Mahi Mahi Ceviche, in a tomato-citrus broth, with avocado and pico de gallo to start. Followed by the Ketsi Salad – a mix of greens topped with almonds, jicama, grilled chicken, tamarind vinaigrette and my now new-favorite way to eat watermelon and cantaloupe, chili-dusted.  Far from the grueling picnic in the sun I feared, lunch was a refreshing respite that cooled me down.  If only I knew then what I know now I would have gone and ordered that half-bottle of Pinot Grigio, too.

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breakwater

At low tide, the breakwater becomes a walkable path to 3B, the island green of yesterday’s posting.  More interesting, however, is the wildlife that suddenly appears once the water recedes:  crabs, egrets, sand pipers and little hermit crabs.

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a whale of a tail

The Jack Nicklaus-designed Pacifico course at Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita – where I happily spent four cosseted days – features one of the coolest par 3’s in the game:  3B, the world’s only natural island green, nicknamed The Tail of the Whale due to the giant mammals that surface off the coast during the annual winter migration.  I won’t pretend to have parred the hole – or even to have played for that matter – but at low tide I did trek out along the breakwater just to see what all the fuss is about.  Something tells me there’s a veritable army of stray golf balls residing at the bottom of the Pacific.

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video: pacific pacifier

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triptych: washed ashore (or, dead things found on the beach)

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mexican hideout

I’m heading down to Punta Mita, Mexico in the pre-dawn morning and will be without technology until Sunday.  This is my first consecutive-day break since starting this site, so don’t be alarmed by the lack of postings – there will be plenty of report upon my return.  Unless of course, I run into angry Indians – or one of those pesky drug cartels.  Hasta luego.

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