Day Two Isla Mujeres Trip Report with Late Eats at Lola Valentina

March29

At sunrise it looked like rain was inevitable and I seem to recall that it did rain that morning, for an entire 27 seconds, which is often the case.

I did a loop of the Malecon to say hi to some of my old Isla friends.

I am pretty sure that this was D’s first day of tennis with his new buddies, as I watched sunrise on my own. I sent the kids a selfie from that morning and they all teased me that I looked like I had been on a binder the night before. And no, I am not going to repost that picture here.

By the look of the sky, I thought that Sister #3 and I would have to forego our plans to hit the beach.

But no. See how clear the skies were only a half hour or so later? My beautiful sister who had been in Mexico for about 10 days at this time. She has diligently studied Spanish as she respects and loves the Islanders to such an extent. Between her language capabilities and her beautiful tan, she gets mistaken for a local. As does our brother K, but that will be a future picture.

I loved that first day at the beach. I had shaken off my malaise after being on North Beach the day prior and was happy to walk along the water’s edge which was quite unoccupied at this end. I took a number of refreshing dips that morning and remembered anew the wonderful feeling of being in salt water. D soon joined us as did another gal from our apartments. We met a gorgeous redhead from Saskatoon who we all immediately bonded with.

Soon it was time to head up for lunch and showers. I had figured out how to light the gas element in the apartment, so I rustled up this quesadilla with re-fried beans that Sister #3 provided and the gooey Manchego cheese that we love in Mexico.

By this time, three family members were on the island -Sister #3, Bro K and SIL L but we were soon to double that number! Sister #2 (Bro K’s twin), brother-in-law M and niece D would arrive later that day! If we are in Centro, we do our best to meet ferries when they arrive with loved ones on board. Sometimes it means we meet a number of ferries, not knowing for certain how hectic the airport was or the traffic to the ferry terminal. Later in our stay, we waited for a ferry that never came, even though family messaged us to say they were disembarking. But that is a story for another day.

There were many embraces to be had. This gang had not been on the island for 6 years, even though for most of us we had only skipped one year due to Covid. They were staying in an Air BnB in a familiar neighbourhood because they used to stay at Bahai Chac Chi. The guys assisted BIL M in getting the luggage and a cab to check in, and the rest of us tried to figure out where we should go for a bite because the new arrivals had endured a long travel day and we didn’t want them to get “hangry”. Lola Valentina was our destination.

We have long-loved Lola Valentina. I couldn’t count the number of times we have visited. In fact, the rehearsal party for a family wedding, six years prior, had been held here.

We started by sharing a starter of Lola’s unique guacamole with the inclusion apple, crumbled bacon and panko-crusted goat cheese bites.

Coconut Shrimp was enjoyed by Sister #2

as well as Stuffed Chicken by SIL L.

D and I split an order of Chorizo Bombas. They were hearty balls of mashed potato, cheese and ground chorizo, panko encrusted again and served with a yummy chipolte cream. But I was particularly entranced by what Niece D was served.

I had enjoyed the complex tastes of Tamarind Fish on a previous visit but I had forgotten how exquisite the presentation was. This tower of rice, veggies and the catch of the day was topped with papaya-cucumber pico de gallo and drizzled with a garlic, ginger, tamarind sauce. As much a feast for the eyes as the tummy. It wouldn’t be our last visit to Lola’s while on this trip.

Lola Valentina is right on Hidalgo across from our friend Fredy’s. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner from three separate menus and are open daily.

Kath’s quote: Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

So true-it happened to me!

Love never fails.

Day 1-Isla Mujeres Trip Report with Dinner at Chefcito

March28

Since we didn’t get a great sleep that first night, I was content to keep snoozing when D got up to watch the sunrise. This is another one of our Isla traditions and we don’t miss many of them. D made his coffee, strolled down to the Malecon and perched himself on the wall looking in the direction of town, not the sea. This was because he was absolutely positive that I would be joining him. I heard the door gently close, I tried to settle for a moment and then sure enough, I whipped off the covers, found my flip flops and jean jacket and was walking down our short street to the Malecon in mere moments. After decades of marriage, he knows me better than I know myself.

It wouldn’t be long before D connected with a bunch of tennis guys and would enjoy his early morning time on the court, but this first day he walked a lap of Centro and the airport strip while I enjoyed my quiet time. The location of our apartment meant that we didn’t have much of a view but in the early morning sunshine, I was content.

A couple of downfalls of the apartment was that it didn’t have a balcony per se, just a path really to get to the stairs. And secondly, it did not have a comfortable chair in the place. But D and I were undaunted. We brought our own hammock, beach chair and umbrella! I could perch here in the sun with my coffee and my thoughts which were all about gratitude. Thankful that we were on the island with family with more on the way. Thankful that we found a little economical place so we could extend our stay to a month. Thankful that Isla is a permanent part of our life.

While it was still relatively cool, we donned our walking shoes to make the trek to Chedraui. I felt so confident about the walk because I had a second knee replaced since I was last on the island. But knees aren’t the only joint that make walking possible. Unfortunately, it was not cool enough. My feet expanded from the heat and I could feel a rubbing on my heel. Sure enough, by the time we made it, my foot was a bloody mess. In fact, I could not pull on those shoes again until we were home in the cold, 1 month later. Note to self: decide in the summer, which shoes to take to the island.

We always enjoy our “stock the kitchen” shop at Chedrui. We feel like locals (except when we go through the cashier). The rumoured climb in prices was very real. We predicted that we paid approximately the same price for our groceries, as we would have back home. And we live in the centre of Canada where all our produce has to be shipped in from Mexico and the southern US! The next time we needed fresh ingredients, we went to the local market in Centro.

Once the groceries were put in their place (there were also no kitchen cupboards, but we managed), we took a fresh torta, slathered it with lime mayo, pulled off a hunk of spicy fried chicken as the filling and enjoyed our lunch. How come everything tastes so amazing on the island?

We decided to walk the beach starting at the place we always pitched our umbrella the year previous. We were in for a shock. The sandy area under the palms was now a permanent beach club space with tables for lunch and chairs and umbrellas as far as the eye could see. I will admit, I was bummed out. But we turned to the right and made our way close to The Mia. Family of K & L were already set up there as well as a number of Isla friends. Boy it felt good to hug again! We continued our stroll back to the apartment to get ready for the rest of the day.

We had followed the story in the months previous of a young Islander in the hospitality business who crashed his motorcycle to avoid a negligent tourist in a golf cart. He had been critically injured and there was a grave concern that he might not survive. A group of us prayed for him regularly and watched his ongoing rehabilitation. That afternoon Tiny Gecko, who supports so many philanthropic events, was holding a fund raising event on David’s behalf. We were happy to see him in the flesh and to contribute a small amount to this event.

From Tiny Gecko, we continued along the Malecon to meet up with long time friends J & B and see their apartment that allows for an even longer stay than us-3 months! They had already been ensconced on the island for a number of weeks and led us to a hidden spot we had never been to before-Chefcito! These were the chicken nachos that we shared as a starter. Their black bean sauce was so amazing that we made quick work of the platter.

J loved her loaded chicken tostados,

B his fish Vera Cruz,

and D his Coconut Fish. When I asked him just now to recount what he remembered, he said “Oh, it was fantastic!”

Under that mass of sauteed onions were two grilled porkchops. I was really pleased with my selection. They were no where near the thickness of my fav double boned pork chop at Fredy’s, but they were carefully prepared so as not to dry out. Little forkfuls were delicious as was the taco I made of the fixins.

Chefcito is a delightful spot on a Salina next to Isla Brewing. That evening there were no mosquitos but there were…roosters! Supposedly they wander over from another yard and are a delight. I must admit, I was glad that I hadn’t ordered the Chicken Tostados. Another lovely aspect of the evening (besides getting caught up with our good friends) were the reasonable prices at Chefcito!

Aw, our first full day. I was still too excited about all the days ahead, to settle into a good sleep.

Kath’s quote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one’s lifetime.“-Mark Twain

Love never fails.

Travel Day-Isla Mujeres 2023, Dinner at La Lomita

March27

We had flown into Montreal from Winnipeg the afternoon previously and even though things didn’t exactly go smoothly (luggage took 2 1/2 hours to get, we missed a French dinner out and our Uber didn’t pick us up at the Air BnB), we were pleased to get to Cancun relatively early in the day. Bro K and SIL L met us at the ferry dock. Oh my gosh, it was lovely to be “home” again.

Our pasty white selves.

Sister #3 had already moved into her apartment next door to where we would reside for our first 2 weeks. She had a welcome snack and refreshing drinks for us as we unpacked. Even though we had to mooch hangers, coffee mugs and glasses from Sister #3, we were happy with our relatively comfortable and affordable choice.

We managed to get organized enough to walk to Centro Beach for our first sunset. We were still pinching ourselves that the moment had finally arrived!

Perfection in paradise is relative I guess, because our sunset view was almost immediately blocked by another couple of travellers.

I was not discouraged, I simply wished them away (with a new setting on my camera).

Soon thereafter, we made our way to La Lomita. It was the first place we had ever eaten on the island in 2005. I can’t count the number of times, we have returned since then, bringing more and more loved ones into the Fans of La Lomita Club.

L chose my new favourite Mexican dish of the Enchiladas Suisse. I don’t remember whether I asked her for a bite but I couldn’t wait to taste them again. She too is hooked on them. Especially La Lomita’s version.

D ordered up another La Lomita fav-Chiles Relleno stuffed with cheese. They were glorious as always!

I wasn’t hungry enough for a full dinner so I did what I often intend to do, but never follow through on-I chose a plate of La Lomita’s fries. I consider their French Fries the standard for other IM restaurants to strive for. In other years I would have selected an entrée that came with fries, even though I wouldn’t have been hungry enough to eat it all. “No more” I pledged (with it being my first night on the island). And even though they were served after everyone else was finished eating-they were perfection with a squeeze of lime.

La Lomita was still as amazing and affordable as I remembered it. I don’t know why we just didn’t eat there every night!

We moseyed back to our little apartment via the Malecon to stare at the waves for a moment and once again, let it sink in that we were finally on the island again. We vowed to take a last glimpse of the water every night of our stay in Centro. But, we never did. Tiredness and the draw of our latest novels, assured that.

The only other event that evening was our first night in a Mexican double bed. Whenever I rolled over, D thought I was intentionally bouncing up and down on the mattress and me, him. Both of us are light sleepers and we knew that we would be in trouble if this were to continue. Thank heavens our little apartment had a second bed (underneath our hammock perch)!

Kath’s quote: “To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”
– Bill Bryson

Love never fails.

El Patio-2023 Isla Mujeres Restaurant Features

March24

While travelling I have realized how many people in the world have their own neighbourhood pub, bistro or coffee shop. Try as we might, we have never established one in the neighbourhood where we have lived for 35 years. When we are on Isla, El Patio is the closet thing we have to a consistent hang out. If we want one last night cap while in Centro, we never have to think where we will go-El Patio it is.

There is typically live music during Happy Hour which is a big attraction along with their food and drink specials.

Their frozen mojito was one of the best cocktails I had on this trip. And it was a HH special.

Whether it was their fish tacos, coconut shrimp or beef nachos, we were always impressed by their HH specials.

One day this visit, D’s brother and family joined us from Cancun for a day on the island. They wanted to know what we loved about Isla Mujeres. At lunch, we took them to the loncherias which they loved. In fact, I too was blown away by the presentation of the meals. That afternoon we spent at Centro Beach and before they had to catch the supper time ferry, we visited El Patio. They had enormous grins on their faces the whole time we were there, saying “Now we get it. This is so much more fun than the high end places in Cancun”. By the time they left, they were making plans to return for a longer stretch. In the end, it occurred to me that El Patio epitomizes what we love about the laid back, unpretentious island.

On this evening though, we started with a refreshing beer and a very generously poured glass of vino tinto!

Since we had sampled so many of their appetizers at HH, we opted for a Mediterranean charcuterie board. Charcuterie is a favourite way to dine for us and El Patio’s offerings are one of the few on the island. We had tasted their traditional board in the past so this was a refreshing treat. I especially enjoyed the flatbread and their rich and creamy hummus.

D had quesadillas and really enjoyed them. Especially because he was looking for a lighter supper that evening.

I loved my parmesan encrusted fish, Greek salad and fries. When the Fisherman’s Co-op was in Centro, I would often have their version of this recipe. I had missed it over the years. I also really enjoyed the salad. It had some Mexican touches like avocado and a less salty version of feta. The evening was lovely but I wasn’t surprised. We have enjoyed El Patio’s food and libations tremendously over the years.

What would Hidalgo be without El Patio? They are open daily from 12:30-midnight. And there infamous Happy Hour is 4:30-6:30 daily.

Kath’s quote: “Where everybody knows your name.”-Cheers theme song.

Love never fails.

Sardinia Smile-2023 Isla Mujeres Restaurant Feature

March23

We live a blessed life. When I am not at home in our perfectly located house of 35 years, living at the lake or on Isla Mujeres, we are often planning other sojourns. Right now we are considering Italy again (if airline prices come down). Isla and Italy are pretty much tied with me for a favourite place to visit. I would say “live” but I would miss my immediate and extended family too greatly.

So when we are on Isla and we get the opportunity to enjoy a piece of Italy, we jump at the chance. I can’t say I have sample every Italian food restaurant on the island and that is because I stopped when I thought that I had experienced the best. We have dined at Sardinia Smile on a number of occasions. Some of my all time favourite meals were eaten there.

What makes our visits particularly authentic is that Sylvia and her staff mostly speak Italian, so in the same way that I have trouble expressing myself in Italy, so too the task is troublesome on Isla. But somehow we always manage. It adds to the charm.

It was late afternoon when we arrived and Sylvia had just opened the restaurant. We had foolishly double booked ourselves. She encouraged us to sit inside because of a potential rain storm. We always sit outside which is also the case in Italy, so I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed. But only for a few moments, because sure enough, rain started falling in enormous drops and it came on as if a dike had been broken. Fortunately it didn’t last long but I was happy for the suggestion that Sylvia made of the dry table inside.

We started with Sylvia’s suggestion of Aperol Spritzes. A refreshing cocktail that we had first tasted in Sienna, Italy. It was just what the doctor ordered and we settled in without a care of being double booked or the inclement weather.

Why doesn’t every restaurant in the world serve an amuse bouche? My dining experiences are always elevated by this gesture! You take a readily available product like tomatoes in Mexico and pair it with toasts made from what is likely excess bread and voila! You have “amused a guests’ mouth” and it cost very little to do so!

We decided to share a soup as one of our appetizers. When D settled upon tomato soup I secretly thought that his choice was a bit pedestrian. Oh my gosh! I didn’t share my thoughts with him because the creamed soup with extra cream garnish was the best creamed soup I had ever tasted; anywhere! I was actually sad when the bowl was empty and whenever I get a soup hankering, I think of this sublime bowl every time.

Offer me anything in garlic and wine and I can just about guarantee that I will love it. especially when what is floating in the glorious duo are tender and oh so fresh seafood; black mussels in this case. A generous squeeze of lime brought out a spritely essence. We dipped the fresh bread into the broth to ensure we did not miss out on a drop of the nectar.

When I love a taste, I LOVE A TASTE! It may have been surprising that I ordered almost a duplicate dish for my entre, but it was really the ultimate complement to the Chef!

In the mean time, D chose a hearty seafood risotto. He too was enamored by the mussels and there were clams as well as enormous shrimp. The rice was perfectly soft and bursting with flavours that had been locked in by a slow heat and constant ladles of broth.

At this juncture, I excused my self to the ladies room saying” I am too full for dessert UNLESS we get offered Sylvia’s panna cotta”. Guess what was sitting on our table upon my return? I can’t resist the sweetened cream and the mini servings are the perfect size!

Sardinia Smile has been a mainstay on the south end of Hidalgo for years. They are closed Wednesdays but open every other day from 3:30-11 pm. Do yourself a favour and same a bundle on air fare to Italy!

Kath’s quote: “Art, passion and family traditions for three generations.“-Sylvia owner of Sardinia Smile.

Love never fails.

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