Carnitas in Técoman
Why are we here? Well, Paul (El Guapo) had heard that the greatest surfing destination in the entire world had been recently discovered on the coast near Técoman.
Paul is prone to hyperbole. For which reason I was disinclined to drive there, but we try to accommodate each other's objectives when we travel together. I wanted to see the salt museum, Paul wanted to see the world's greatest surfing spot. Tit for tat.
We found the surfing beach.
It was not the world's greatest surfing spot. The surf was unremarkable. Nearby restaurants and lodgings looked sad and decayed. A lonely surfer dude tried to spare change me. Looked like the excursion was a bust, but not to Paul's discredit. We venture into new situations together. Occasionally we strike gold; more often we strike out.
We found little else to recommend Técoman. The city sports a hideous sculpture at the entrance to town. All Mexican cities are required to erect these monuments. I think it's a law.
Técoman's is bigger than most.
Our fruitless foray onto the beach left us hungry and in the traveler's dilemma: Where can we find a good restaurant? We asked a trio of teenage girls outside a drugstore. Mamá came out as we were talking to them, took one look at our disreputable-looking selves, shooed the girls inside and gave us directions to a slum on the far side of town. Undoubtedly she was hoping that we would get lost and not trouble her daughters ever again.
Working our way back to the center of town, I spotted a red awning bearing the word carnitas. All right! You just can't go wrong with carnitas. To borrow the old joke about pizza. Carnitas is like sex; when it's good, it's very, very good, and when it's bad—it's still pretty good.
Red plastic Coca-Cola tablecloths, white molded plastic Coca-Cola chairs, takeout customers clustered around the owner while he chopped and packaged their orders: we knew this place was going to be good.
Paul meditates on the essence of pork.
Carnitas is that savory Mexican dish: pig boiled in lard. The meat is cooked way beyond well done. Cartilage develops a soft texture, excess fat is rendered away, flavors concentrate. It's incredibly delicious.
Carnitas is cooked in large tubs. After cooking, the rendered fat looks like used crankcase oil. Best not to look.
But I could see that the owner scrubs his cookware to a high shine every day. For a carnitas joint, this place was scrupulously clean.
I ordered a half-kilo for the two of us. You can get whatever part of the pig you want: loin, shoulder, belly, intestines. I ordered my favorite: ribs.
(In Guanajuato I once saw an entire boiled pig lying on a marble counter, with price tags stuck into its various parts. In that shop, some parts of the hog cost more than others.)
Our meal came with homemade salsa and pickled vegetables. Carnitas are usually eaten by putting some on a freshly made tortilla (with your fingers) and adding salsa and vegetables.
And of course you'll want to salt them. Carnitas need salt; in my opinion plenty of it. And the salt served in this place was that wonderful Espuma del Mar salt we'd seen being hand-harvested at the Cuyutlán lagoon.
What a find! The meal was delicious. These carnitas were every bit as good as Vicente's in Dolores Hidalgo. (Vicente's is the gold standard.)
The place had no name. Just a marquee announcing carnitas. Not to worry about finding it though: just drive southeast on MEX 200 libre to the center of Técoman and look for the red awning on a corner on the right. You can't miss it.
So our excursion wasn't a bust after all, and that's the way it often goes when traveling the narrow roads. You may not find what you're looking for, but often you find something else just as good.
The next day, we went to the Port of Manzanillo, an exciting place full of container ships, cranes and freight trains. I wanted to collect material for a post on the facility. While I waited in our illegally parked car under the gaze of an unamused security guard, unshaven Paul marched into the office of the harbormaster in his rumpled shorts, half-buttoned shirt and huaraches to ask permission to enter the port and maybe even get a tour.
The harbormaster took one look at him and said:
1. You may not enter the port facilities for any reason.
2. If you take pictures of the port from outside the perimeter fence, you will be arrested.
3. Go away.
Well all right then.
Paul spent the last afternoon in Manzanillo relaxing on the beach in front of our house.
Goo Goo G'joob.
When I retired, I wanted to take car trips all over the United States. As a child, I remember how different Texas was from New Jersey. But fifty years later, the Interstate Highway System was built our and our country had become homogenized. Most places looked pretty much like every other.
There are many wonderful places in the United States: Glacier National Park, Tucson, New York, Washington. But in between all those places, there's only limited-access freeways and chain restaurants.
Mexico is building its equivalent of the interstates, the cuotas, and they benefit the country just as much as ours did. But there's lots of backcountry here, and I find myself following the lure of the small roads just the way I wanted to years ago.