Club Med, Ixtapa is a place of all-inclusive isolated luxury. The outside world simply doesn't exist here where even the most work obsessed can leave their wallet, phone and watch in their room. Released from the grip of news or internet you become perfectly comfortable in being cut off.
Yet once outside the gates and after a thirty minute drive you're overwhelmed by the cacophony of sound, and the color of the buildings and signs is dizzying. You're swept up into the everyday hustle of the crowd, waves of people crashing down and carrying you through the currents of the market alleys. Just a short walk away you're lulled into a blissful stupor of the marina where pelicans lazily waddle past you in hopes of a dropped yellowtail snapper.
Our tour of the markets started at a dozy beachside fish market where fishermen laid out their catches on woven hemp and coconut mats. Stooped over a checkerboard, yellow and white bottle caps cleverly reutilized as pieces, they studied the game with the same quiet analysis they applied to locating schools of fish and hand sewing their broken nets.
The piles of freshly caught fish glistened and each face popped with a look of surprise from their last little fish breaths. Red Snappers with their wide bodies and sharp little teeth grimaced mincingly, while smaller fish that looked like overgrown sardines that our guide called "silversides" were piled high in long rows and were a popular fish for the locals due to their rich, dark meat; a quality in fish that most foreigners find too strange after years of flaky white bass and pink salmon.
We soon moved through to the market, a maze of corridors lined with strange and familiar produce, long strings of firey red and bright green chorizo of all kinds, and flanks of meat that were set out to dry. Everywhere the smell of freshly cut offal, nose burning chilies, the salty smell of fish, and sulfury onions strong enough to make you weep assaulted the senses.
Diane became the de facto culinary leader in our little group. She would buy up any inviting meat or bread then before you could react shove it into your hand with the command to, "Try this!" She'd then photograph your smiling reaction as you sudenly discovered food you had never before encountered, capturing you and that perfect taco de lengua con chili verde forever.
We trailed through the covered, crowded aisles tasting and smelling, each of us electrified and overstimulated. At one stall a savory pork and potato stew bubbled in a clay pot. The woman stiring it would then take a small loaf of crusty bread and rip it open then spoon in the stew, pinching the bread shut. The result was a hot, filling sandwich that trickled down your arm and dripped onto your feet. A somewhat contained mess that encouraged you to lick and slurp every warm morsel and crumb off every part of you.
Next was a hot sample of chorizo negro, black chorizo, dark from the use of chipotle chilies smoked until the color of charcoal, a flavor so rich and powerful from the smoke you coughed incessantly. When you breathed back in your lungs and nose filled with pungent smoke and heat, waking your entire body up.
Fresh arrauanites, berries that looked like green blueberries but tasted like guava and apples dotted the stalls as a snack and palette cleanser. Star fruit that had the taste of Granny Smiths charmed your curiosity. Freshly brewed hot chocolate stirred brusquely with cinnamon was readily available. Each food called you like some sweet and savory siren encouraging you to crash onto the rocks and enjoy them forever.
Finding someone to hack open a fresh coconut was easy. After they poured the milk out in a cup, the inside was deftly sliced away and bagged with rhythmic movements so clean and hypnotic one might normally associate such precision to that of a violinist. Next to them sat bags of sliced green mango sprinkled with sea salt and chili flakes which highlighted the teeth clenching, delightfully sour taste of the fruit.
"Everyone come here! Try this!" becokoned Diane once more as she shoved us all into a small booth where soon plates of steaming hot chicken covered in pitch brown mole were served up. The mole was dark and fragrant with chocolate, the rugged punch of cumin and garlic belied a teasing heat that made the chicken somehow glow when you ate it. It was the definition of a perfect food - one you happily drown in and that you realize will set the bar for all similar food the for the rest of your life. The flavor left you radiant in a way no new religion, massage, or hours of sex and yoga could ever do.
To the side was a bowl of chopped dried chilies, tossed with garlic and oil their fiery color attracted the eyes like a roaring campfire with all the same heat. The taste was intense and my lips and tongue tingled and burned. I was molten and drugged, covered with sweat and in a delirium where pain and pleasure blended into one. I began to dip fresh tortillas into the less spicy mole and then used it to slather up Mexican rice and black beans to help alleviate moments of the joyfully searing oil.
Within an hour we were full to bursting, all of us sweating more from the stomach searing spices than the wilting humidity. Still, we were all eager to make last minute purchases of more coconut and green mango to help sooth the pin-prickly sparks of spice that lingered.
The food of the market had unwound us all. We gazed listlessly through the city, walking the rest of the city in a haze marked by bright trinkets and textiles, worsened by many educational tequila tastings and heady musks of Cuban cigars.
As much as I tried to take notes of everything in the most assiduous manner possible I couldn't. Zihuatenejo doesn't do high strung or attentive. It's a town that encourages you to unfurl and engage. You have to simply repose, relax, and let the food unwind you.