Monthly Archives: April 2010

Grutas de Garcia – Monterrey

While in Monterrey last week, we were looking for something to do and the two attractions that always came up, were the Cola de Caballo waterfall and the Grutas de Garcia. Both were approximately 50 minutes from Monterrey and so a decision had to be made.

The waterfall, while I am sure it is beautiful, is just that: a waterfall. And the caves, according to one former Reynosa resident and fellow Yuca (who, as it turns out, has never actually BEEN to the Grutas de Garcia!) were just caves! He said “If you’ve been to LolTun or Calcehtok, why bother with another set of caves?” Nevertheless, to the caves we went with our trusty cabbie, Miguel Angel.

The drive is not particularly inspiring; the roadside is dusty, rocky and there are myriad constructions both finished and ongoing, and none of it is aesthetically pleasing. There was not one spot where I thought, oh, this is a nice place to stop. Dusty, hot, dry and gray.

Finally we arrived at the town of Garcia, where the road narrows with trees overhanging, making it a welcome green oasis after all that boredom. Just beyond the town itself, are the caves.

A ride up a Swiss-made gondola takes you to the entrance and from there it is a cool 18 degree (Celsius) 45 minute tour in the most spectacular setting you can imagine. The photos speak for themselves.

Highly recommended!

Pacifica – Monterrey

Fantastic seafood! The first photo: pozole rojo but not pork, lobster! The second photo, a selection of Baja style tacos, all featuring seafood of course, the most interesting a sope with chorizo made of shrimp and a taco of pescado al pastor, which tasted a lot like tikin xic and was served on a red corn tortilla.

The overly ambitious Critic ordered ‘1 of each’ from that section of the menu, but this would have been 9 tacos and the waiter, somewhat alarmed, advised paring it down a little. The Critic heeded his advice and still was unable to completely finish all of this delicious assortment!

This restaurant was recommended as an alternative to the well-known, and apparently tradition, seafood institution known as Los Arcos, which according to some locals in the know, was becoming a bit dubious since some of their clientele included people possibly involved in northern Mexicos burgeoning drug trade. It is within walking distance from the Novotel Valle in San Pedro and located under large palapa roofs behind the Sirloin Stockade, a place you wouldn’t want to spend money or time in, based on the Merida version anyway.

The room was packed, there was a smoking section (gasp!) and an outdoor deck lounge scene complete with thumping electronic music by a D.J.

Not shown in these photos is a ‘shot’ which is a large, salt and chile rimmed tequila shot glass, filled with warm cocktail sauce, tequila and one whole oyster. An interesting opening act!

Pacifica is highly recommended by the Casual Restaurant Critic!

El Gran San Carlos – Monterrey

Excellent cabrito, as far as cabrito goes.

The Critic, having been spoiled by the cochinita of Yucatan and Spain (if you have eaten at El Segoviano in Meridas Mejorada Park you know what the Critic is talking about) can not get his tastebuds around the famous cabrito everyone talks about when Monterrey and restaurants come up in a conversation.  Cabrito, or baby goat, can be a dry, chewy, flavorless affair, especially if cooked too long or is from the box – frozen and then reheated – that you can buy in Mexico City airport. This was the only cabrito the Critic had tried and he was under the impression that he was chewing on some dry, dug-up remains of the Santa Elena mummies

The cabrito that the Critic had at El Gran San Carlos was a whole lot better; probably because it was cooked in-house and fairly recently and probably because the Critic was advised to order ‘paleta‘ instead of just ‘pierna‘. The pierna being the leg, supposedly more flavorful but drier and chewier (no kidding) while the paleta is the equivalent to our shoulder with a big hunk of meat that is a lot juicier and fattier than the meager offerings of the legs…

The meat was decent enough, but it just does not have any flavor; and so you smother it with the delicious salsas offered and that makes it a whole lot more interesting.

The other highlight of the visit to this restaurant was the introduction to the Critic’s Yucatecan palate of the ‘frijoles con veneno‘ (beans with poison) which are refried beans swimming in fat scooped up from another Monterrey dish called puerco asado (roast pork), topped with chunks of the aforementioned pork. Be warned: take your stomach acid blocking medicine before eating here!


1) the entrance to El Gran San Carlos;
2) Tostadas and hot salsa;
3) Frijoles con Veneno;
4) the local beer, Indio which you ask for like this: “Una Indio por favor” which just sounds so wrong;
5) Mollejitas, which are deep fried chunks of something beefy… the Critic will have to get back to you on this one;
6) The famous cabrito;
7) and 8: Desserts: Guayaba cake and Merengue with Ice Cream

The World Warms Up to Global Climate Change. Meanwhile, in Campeche…

While the world – and even some enlightened parts of the united states of America – gets it’s collective head around the idea that the climate seems to be affected by human activity – duh – things in Campeche are moving in another direction.

The Diario de Yucatan reports that students are upset about the recent ‘trimming’ of the trees at the Universidad Autonoma de Campeche.

No kidding! Look at the photos in the Diario article online, one of which is used in this post. In the far away, dreamy land of Campeche, climate change is not on the agenda, it would seem, and of course it is so cool there that no shade is required. And those nasty x’kaues that poop all over the place; well, the hell with them and their noisy racket!

These are not Halliburton employees on a mission to drill oil; these are supposedly well-read university people. Unbelievable.

And dare I ask what the students or teachers were doing while the cutting was going on? Could no one lift a finger or did they magically do all this ‘trimming’ in one night and no one heard a thing?

Felicidades Campeche! Every once in a while someone in Campeche insists on doing or saying something that is so… well, Campechano.

More on the Cell Phone Debacle

Many Mexicans were surprised that there was no ‘prorroga‘ (extension) on the deadline for registering your cell phone; in fact, anyone who has lived in this country for any length of time knows that any new law requiring anything to be done on the part of the populace, ends up getting postponed and those who rushed to comply on time feel foolish, cheated and are laughed at by the more seasoned pros who knew that the deadline was not really that firm.

You might remember when former president Fox announced his ‘borron y cuenta nueva‘ tax program, essentially forgiving fines and back taxes on those who had not paid their federal taxes. Those of us who did pay their taxes felt like a bunch of idiots as the tax cheats laughed their way to the bank.

Water bills? Same thing. The JAPAY regularly forgave debt in order to invite customers to get back on track. While some of these folks might have had real economic troubles, a great number of them did not and simply abused – and continue to abuse – the system.

Well, everyone expected the deadline for the cell phones to be extended and were indeed surprised when it was not. Lineups at TelCel offices were long and the whole RENAUT system collapsed under the pressure of so many people doing last minute registering via text message.

Meanwhile, the question of whether this idea was really that great in the first place has come up. Turns out that a good number of people registered their cell phones in the name of Felipe Calderon (president) and many more registered them in the name of someone else (read more on this here). You perhaps? You’ll never know, unless a crime is committed somewhere with that phone and you get the knock on the door – if they are polite; if not, they will kick it in, to use a phrase by our illustrious governor.

And now, the major player in the cell phone market in Mexico, TelCel, has announced that it has in place an ‘amparo‘ which is essentially a legalistic delay tactic that permits them to NOT cancel any unregistered cell phone accounts, as the law dictates it should. Telefónica, another cell phone provider here is in the process of doing the same. It is difficult to imagine the “powers” that be telling Carlos Slim what he can or cannot do, so it will be interesting to see how the government handles this.

Aren’t you glad you took the time and trouble to register your phone? I know I feel good about it.

Canada’s Harper Has Been a Bad Boy

I absolutely love this photograph, taken when Barack Obama told Stephen Harper a thing or two, after Stephen insisted that he really enjoyed the Bush/Cheney years and was sorry that they had come to an end. Before Barack chewed him out, Stephen also was trying to convince Barack that the neo-con, right wing policies Stephen was trying to implement were a good thing and that Canadians actually support him, which is of course, totally untrue.

and so, little man...

A Box on a Tree

This is a photo of a box on a tree. Completely random and the uses for such an artifact unknown: is it a garbage box to keep the garbage away from street dogs while it awaits pickup by the garbageman? Is it a very large and insecure mail box awaiting a package from FedEx? And the carefully lettered sign is true and classic Mexican typography. Note the word ‘caja‘ didn’t quite fit so it was made a little smaller at the end, but perfectly lettered in its own way.

The text says:

“Don’t do unto others what you would not have them do to you. Don’t take this box”

Because you know you want to take that box, don’t you?

Local 3 – Fresh, New Restaurant in Merida

Local 3 is an ambitious new restaurant, run by the people from COVI, who sell a great assortment of wines and liquors and who are a go-to source when looking for something beyond the scope of the wine selection at Sam’s Club and Costco; and Culinaria, the new cooking school here in sunny Merida.

The Critic and group of friends went the other night based on a recommendation by the Critics BetterHalf, who had had lunch there and raved about the delicious offerings, and the food, to be sure, was impressive. There was a salmon ceviche, served in little cubes piled in a cylinder and doused with what seemed to be a light cream or yogurt. Not sure if that is a ceviche purists dream, but it was good and innovative in its presentation. The tuna tartar was served the same way and the flavor of the tuna was excellent and hard to stop eating once the Critic had a taste. Last on the list of appetizers was an octopus carpaccio style, thinly sliced and lightly seasoned with lime. Refreshing but just a tad sparse for sharing among 6 persons, even with the other two appies on the table.

Bread, in the form of croissant-like rolls and bread sticks, brought earlier to the table was homemade and served with a creamed butter, also quite good.

For the main course, there was an arrachera steak, which was apparently very good as it disappeared before the Critic could finagle a bite to try. There was a goat cheese foccacia also, which, although advertised as warm, unfortunately arrived quite cold (¡está helado!) as the Yucatecan who ordered it, put it) and was sent back. It returned warm, perhaps heated in a microwave judging from the inconsistent temperature throughout. The Critic sampled the Sea Bass, one of the day’s specials which was excellent; as was a strange concoction of seafood served in a small casserole dish and baked with choclo, a kind of creamed corn mixture which rendered the dish a little sweet but served as an interesting counterpoint to the savory seafood – shrimp and scallops – within.

There was no room for desserts.

The big problem on this occasion was the fact that the main dishes took over 45 minutes to arrive at the table, from when the appetizers were finished. This is a huge time lapse and by the time the dishes did make it to the table, the stomach was sending messages to the brain that with the appetizers and bread already ingested, it was full, thank you very much. Apparently, this delay was due to the fact that there was some filming or photography going on and dishes were being prepared for the shoot. Not a good plan, unless the other diners were informed of this and offered a round of drinks or some other form of compensation in exchange for being ‘extras’ in their promotional piece.

Service by Danae was very good; she was calmly professional and completely unflappable by some of the slight whining going on at the Critics table regarding the tardiness of the food.

The Critic recommends you try this restaurant, as it has some imaginative ideas on the menu, the room is comfortable (and cold, especially by the window facing Montejo) and if you are lucky enough to have Danae as your server, you will be very pleased indeed. Just look out for a professional photo session first.

More on One of My Pet Peeves: El Tope

So (I have been listening to interviews on NPR and am surprised by the number of times people answering Terry Gross’ questions start with the word ‘so’) I live in this neighborhood – let’s call it La Ceiba, just for fun – that one could consider ‘upscale’  for Mérida; it’s on a golf course, the lots are large and there are a fair number of BMW’s and Audis driving around which seems to indicate a certain level of socioeconomic prosperity. What I am doing there sometimes baffles me, but we got in at a good time and I anxiously look forward to the day when golf will become appealing to me.

The roads within this fraccionamiento were all repaved with actual asphalt a few years back and the smooth surface seems to be irresistible to the frustrated Fitipaldis and Schumachers that inhabit the luxurious homes, and so, topes were introduced. First at occasionally conflicting intersections, then curves, then any straight stretch lasting for more than 500 meters.

Originally, yellow ‘boyas‘ also known as turtles in some quarters were used. These required a full stop and then gentle acceleration as you eased your vehicle over the obstacle; not doing so would result in severe damage to your cars’ suspension system. Interestingly, I observed that the drivers who would come to full stop were mostly men, while the women and offspring thumped over them with little concern. I attribute this to the fact that the men are paying the costs of their vehicle repairs, while the other drivers are oblivious to the damage they were causing.

After the stop and accelerate process became unbearable – do this eleven times on your way to and eleven times on your way from your home and you will slowly go insane – these nasty bumps were replaced by large concrete ramps that had an incline, a top and a decline, if that is the right word. Imagine a kind of wedge. These new topes are much easier to roll over; a high speed traverse will throw the whole car into an Evel Knievel fit, so they were also more effective at slowing down all drivers.

The tope project however, has meant an ongoing maintenance program in which thousands and thousands of pesos are spent sanding, smoothing and then painting these obstacles a bright yellow. I cannot think that there must be a more effective use of time and money than to spend it on these aberrations!

And yet, we can’t live without them, it seems. It’s a sad reflection of reality: Mexicans want the smooth streets they see on TV or have experienced on trips abroad, and yet, they can’t be bothered to drive responsibly on those same smooth roads, thereby requiring the almost medieval solution of physically placing barriers on those smooth roads to make them horribly bumpy again, thereby defeating the purpose of having a paved road in the first place. Because the undisciplined lot that we are cannot be trusted to obey a speed limit, even with the threat of injuring or killing a neighbors’ pet or child.