The Magical Hacienda San Jose Pachul

Haciendas are to the Yucatan what castles are to Scotland. Mysterious, magical, sometimes otherworldly, they represent a time gone by that can only be imagined. Many have been abandoned, some have been partially restored as museums, a few have become expensive boutique hotels. And then there are the stalwart souls who actually search out a ruined hacienda and with patience, grit, passion and determination, create something remarkable.

Jose Fernandez and Richard Fuller are braver than most and the Hacienda San Jose Pachul is their luscious achievement. Forty minutes outside of Merida, this amazing property is both home and work for Jose and Richard. Two guest suites are in constant demand as are their culinary skills, and it was for this reason that 6 of us made the trek to lunch at this particular hacienda. After a tour of the grounds and gardens, we slaked our thirst with signature sour orange margaritas. The prix fixelunch menu was a perfect offering of fresh local ingredients artfully composed in dishes like banana gazpacho, a luscious adobo infused osso buco, and a guava papaya soup. Jose was a sommelier in a former life, and the accompanying Pinot Noir was a nice surprise. We arrived at 1:30 and left regretfully as the sun was draping its burnished glow over the landscape. Another amazing experience in the Yucatan and one I hope to repeat very soon.

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Mastering the dough in Merida

Apparently the secret to making good pizza is squeezing your vagina. I’m not kidding, but who am I to argue when it comes to the art of bread and pizza making.

Baking bread was something I attempted in my 20s, along with pickling gherkins. Suffice to say I was a failure at both – the bread never rose beyond a pizza crust wanna be, and the pickles…well let’s just say all the jars got tossed in the garbage along with the pickles. So when I received the invitation from a new Merida friend to participate in an all day bread and pizza-making extravaganza, I saw an opportunity for redemption.

I have often dreamt of an outdoor pizza oven, and for the first time in my life I am living in a place where I can actually use one more than 3 months of the year. But before I commit to bossing the Mayan bricklayers around, I figured I better learn how to make pizza.

The lovely Sofia is a Merida godsend, delivering home baked fresh bread to loyal customers once a week. She is mostly vegetarian (this is the Yucatan after all) and teaches others the fine art of all things gluten. Sofia originally heralds from Mexico but studied in France (I gotta get to know this girl), and when she arrived in Merida, I’m sure she took one look at what the locals call ‘bread’ and decided an intervention of the highest order was required. I know you are still wondering what all this has to do with squeezing ones vagina but all in good time.

We started off with the basics – where to get our ingredients in Merida, which is harder than it sounds. This is a culture based on one ingredient for one thing, and here, corn is the thing. Sofia’s search for a tortilla maker to mill her whole wheat flour was comical but she was relentless and has found a shop that mills everything. She also found a tienda (shop) for her nuts and seeds, another for her baking pans, one for her bags and Triunfo for her big cheap mixing bowls. You can see why it takes so long to get anything accomplished here in Mexico. Shopping truly is an art, and ya gotta know where to go.

Once we had our ingredients sorted, we started in on the dough. Making bread is a very intuitive tactile experience. You measure things by the feel in your palm. You gauge the readiness by the texture in your hands. And you knead with your body and soul, clenching your abs, your glutes and – you got it – your vagigi. After kneading for 20 minutes I was glad for the helpful hints, and in the end, we oohed and aahed at our loaves, sweet rolls, and focaccia. And rewarded ourselves with pizza 4 ways and a six pack of Sol…this is Mexico after all.

La Frontera

Road trips always start with an idea. Most are the garden variety “lets get away for the weekend” type and some more ambitious like, “I’ve always wanted to eat my bodily weight in lobster and I know we live in Alberta but life’s short so lets pack the cat and head to PEI.”

And then there are the ones that involve full scale logistical planning that would put an Actuary to shame (I can say this because I know one, an Actuary I mean, and they are not to be trifled with). But I digress, a symptom of 5 days confinement in a small 4×4 ft compartment, aka a 2009 Nissan Frontier crew cab complete with topper and roof rack, which has become home for the next 10 days. Our brand of road trip involved months of sorting, purging, pleading, planning and finally, packing. We were not simply taking a trip as a distraction from our daily grind. We were making a one way trek to a new life, knowing what we left behind was only the beginning. We also knew we were totally fucked if the Mexican customs guy decided my well documented Spanglish packing list was not enough to satisfy his machismo. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We’d been telling people for days that we were leaving, never fully comprehending the enormity of our task. Finally, with the last items stuffed into the truck, the gas tank full and the road tunes cued up, we headed out just as the sun was sinking beneath the beautiful Rocky Mountains. I admit to feeling a bit wistful watching the sky turn from orange to magenta to midnight blue, wondering when I would be back to see this majesty again. We never made it farther then Lethbridge that first night, having hit our emotional and physical wall much earlier than expected. The debate to push on to Great Falls Montana lasted about 3 seconds as Ric realized an exhausted post menopausel woman is also not one to be trifled with.

Crossing the US border the next morning was surprisingly quick given the blue tarp encased ‘mountain’ on the top of our vehicle. And why is it that no matter how innocent ones contents, border crossings make you skittish? “Just driving through, are ya?”, the nice customs lady said, eyeing the blue mountain. “Enjoy your trip!” We thanked the travel gods that our nascent adventure raised no eyebrows, high-fived, and aimed our silver steed for Salt Lake City Utah.

And so begins my saga of the least favorite part of being on the road. ‘Tis not the sketchy gas station bathrooms, or the tedium that sets in despite the scintillating conversationalist sitting next to me. Or the fact that my dog snores. It’s the food. Or lack thereof as evidenced by endless fast food chains lining the highways like vultures on a fence waiting for their next bit of road kill. Looking for a decent place to eat and spending the time to do so is not an option when you’re trying to make Mexico in 5 days. So you settle for the least offensive offerings and check your culinary expectations at the door. For the record, if I ever eat another Taco Bell Bean Burrito again it will mean I have gone to hell. Once into Mexico, this became PemEx hotdogs and V8 for Ric, trail mix, water and the occasional piece of well past it’s ‘best before’ fruit for me.

My saving grace? Three things. Excellent road tunes, newly acquired by my music loving partner in life. Brilliant audiobooks downloaded by yours truly from the Calgary Public Library (big shout out to CPL). And lastly, the world outside my window. Utah south of Salt Lake City, on past the Big Rock Candy Mountain (yes, there really is one), into the canyons surrounding the Grand daddy of them all, was manna from heaven. I started taking pictures with my iphone up to my window, committing a tiny part of each new landscape to memory. Even Iggy perked up occassionaly to take in the view.

A quick tire change in Phoenix (no way was my husband travelling through the two biggest drug cartel states in Mexico with 20% treads), one last night in Rio Rico AZ and we were ready to cross the Mexican border.

Even though we’d done this before, we’d not done it with 2 crates of artwork, countless tupperware buckets, a computer monitor, art printer and a blue mountain atop our vehicle. Nerves were a little frayed and I elected to self prescribe Ativan all around. Iggy just sat there looking bored and wondered what all the fuss was about. We breezed through the documentation part and as we pulled up to the last checkpoint, our luck ran out and we were waived over for inspection. Our Mexican official had obviously had a good night’s sleep and we were his first customers I think. He was smiling and cordial and spoke a little English which didn’t hurt. And despite Mr. Harpers ridiculous Visa requirements for Mehicanos entering Canada, Mexicans like Canadians. “Canadian!”, he said, beaming at our passports. “You are proud!!”.  We heartily agreed, hoping this would allay his need to examine the blue mountain. Or the contents of our crates. It did, and we crossed the border with our hopes high and the sights and sounds of Mexico rising up around us.

Footnote: We arrived 3 days later to Manzanillo, having spent $1200 on gas and road tolls, and logging 4,792 kilometres along the way. We’re here for another few days before we make our final push to Merida ~ and home.

A week in Ottawa