Casa Corona del Mar

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The thing about staying at the Fletcher’s Casa Corona del Mar is that you’re bound to gain weight. The minute you walk in the door (even if it’s well before noon) one of the Fletchers is liable to offer you a cerveza or a margarita made with just-pressed limes. Just to be polite, I’m liable to say, “Sure, why not,” thinking I’ll spend the afternoon lounging on one of their oversized outdoor beds on the patio and, you know, make my single margarita last until comida.

 

Photos by David Lansing

Photos by David Lansing

The problem is that the Fletchers are treacherous people; every time you close your eyes, just for a moment, or grab the binoculars to look at the humpback whales breaching a short distance from shore, they refill your drink.

And then the afternoon becomes what I like to call a Mexican Dorothy Parker afternoon. Remember what she said about martinis? “I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under the host.”

The same goes for the Fletcher’s margaritas.

Yesterday, they hosted a fiesta at their home. Marta and several other cooks at Punta el Custodio made a plethora of food, ending with red and green enchiladas and grilled camerones the size of small lobsters.

Since Marta was otherwise employed and the Fletchers were being gracious hosts, I took over as bartender, making batch after batch of blended margaritas. Of course, I had to sample each pitcher to make sure I’d gotten the ingredients just right, sometimes adding another splash or two of tequila, other times sweetening things up with a bit more Mexican Controy (which, to my tastes, is far superior in a margarita to the traditional French Cointreau).

We drank, we ate. The Latin music was fabulous. People got a little tipsy (did someone fall into the pool?). As often happens, the hangers on stayed late and laughed riotously at absolutely nothing. Eventually when the last guests left, I tucked myself into what the Fletchers call The Chicken Room (because of its yellow walls and tin chicken lamps) and turned off the light. Amazed to see that it was 9:30.

That’s what happens when you start drinking Marta’s margaritas before noon.

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Why Wal-E bites Mexicans

Nobody has ever accused me of being a dog lover, but I like Wendy’s dog, Wal-E, well enough. Perhaps because he’s always on a leash. Even when he’s just barking at the low-flying pelicans that taunt him while hanging out with me by the Fletcher’s pool. That’s because Wal-E doesn’t like Mexicans. Even though he’s a Mexican dog. Like Lou Dobbs, he indiscriminately attacks brown people (Is it possible that Lou Dobbs is actually Mexican?). Crazy, I know.

 

photo of Wal-E by David Lansing

photo of Wal-E by David Lansing

Chris’ cousin, Wendy, found Wal-E in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Puerto Vallarta. Which is how he got his name.

Nobody knows Wal-E’s family history but it’s not hard to imagine. He was dirty, skinny, and starving to death when Wendy spotted him. A street dog. With a chip on his scrawny shoulder. No doubt long abused by whoever came across him. In the Wal-Mart parking lot, Wendy watched one Mexican after another offer Wal-E some leftover nachos or maybe a scrap from one of those chorizo pizzas they sell at the Sam’s Club next door, but despite Wal-E’s obviously dire circumstances, he wouldn’t take their food. Or get anywhere near them without growling.

But when Wendy approached him with some chili and lime-flavored peanuts, he voraciously gobbled them straight from her hand. It just about broke her heart, she said. Now, maybe he just happens to be a dog who prefers spicy peanut snacks to gloppy nachos (who doesn’t?), but I doubt it.

Having decided then and there to adopt Wal-E, she tried to take him with her into Wal-Mart but was turned away. No dogs in the store. So she tied him up to her Jeep and gave 10 pesos to one of those kids who loads your groceries into the car to get him some water and keep an eye on him. When she came back, both the kid and Wal-E were gone. She was heartbroken.

So Wendy drove around the barrio behind Wal-Mart looking for Wal-E. And there he was, hanging around in front of one of those rotisserie chicken joints, the sort of sidewalk Mexican enterprise where you can get a whole roasted chicken, rice and beans, guacamole, salsa, and a dozen corn tortillas for about seven bucks. I love those places.

Anyway, that’s where she found Wal-E. Except he was on the other side of the highway. Which was a problem. Because in this part of Mexico, you can’t make a left turn from the left lane of the highway. What you have to do if you want to turn left is turn right instead onto a lateral road and then go way past where you wanted to turn until you come to a signal and then you cut across the lane you were in five minutes ago to make your turn. It seems crazy at first, I know, but after awhile you get used to it. Just the way some people get used to calling French fries chips and eating them with mayonnaise.

By the time Wendy had made a right hand turn onto the lateral road, gone a quarter mile or so to the next stop light, waited for the turn signal, crossed the highway, exited onto another lateral road, and found the rotisserie chicken place, Wal-E had disappeared again.

Fortunately, within minutes she spotted him. This time he was in the middle of the highway, trapped between four lanes of rickety buses, speeding pick-ups, and over-loaded trucks. Wal-E was doomed. So Wendy did the only thing she could do; she stopped her car in the middle of the road. Which is like coming to a halt in the middle of a Los Angeles freeway (if the freeway was full of potholes, dead animals, and auto parts that have flown off countless vehicles).

She got out and, somehow avoiding death, grabbed Wal-E. He then rode the entire way to Punta El Custodio sitting on Wendy’s lap with his snout tucked in her crotch (you know boys). In gratitude, the minute they got home, Wal-E jumped out of the car and bit two  construction workers mixing cement at Bodega Boys’ parents house across the street. For good measure, he then attacked Ismael, who manages the development. And is the kindest, nicest soul I know. Ismael refuses to spray the compound’s landscaping for mosquitos in the rainy season because it would, you know, kill them. But he threatened to shoot Wal-E. Right then and there. Despite the fact that I’m pretty sure Ismael doesn’t own a gun.

The thing is, dogs aren’t allowed in this Mexican development. Particularly not dogs that go around biting Mexicans for no reason. So Wendy told Ismael that Wal-E was just visiting, which he sort of was, and that he’d go home with her when she left Casa Corona del Mar, neglecting to mention that this wouldn’t be for another four months. Ismael didn’t completely buy Wendy’s story, however. He told her Wally could stay, temporarily, but only if he was always on a leash. Always. Even inside Casa Corona del Mar.

Which is why, yesterday afternoon, Wal-E was tied to my teak chaise lounge, driving me crazy while he barked incessantly at the pelicans as I tried to enjoy one of Marta’s fresh-squeezed lime juice margaritas while finishing my Jon Krakauer book about those violent Mormons. And this is why it was so difficult to explain to Wendy what happened to Wal-E as I dozed off after another margarita or two. The leash was still there. Only Wal-E was gone. Needless to say, I felt horrible. But I’m sure Wendy will find him. Hopefully before Ismael does.   

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Marta, my dear

I told the Fletcher’s cook, Marta, this morning as she was squeezing about 50 oranges for our fresh juice that I wanted her to teach me how to make tortillas this afternoon.

No se ría,” she said without even looking up.

Soy serio, Marta” I told her. “You make wicked tortillas. They’re more addicting than Krispy Kremes.”

Cuál es Krispy Kremes?”

Buñuelos.”

This didn’t impress her. But then again, it’s hard to impress Marta. But late in the afternoon, when I was standing in waist-deep water in the pool, because it was just too hot and steamy to not be in the water, reading Jon Krakauer’s book about evil Mormons, Marta yelled from the kitchen that she was making tortillas for our comida and if I wanted to watch, I’d better hurry. So I grabbed a towel and, dripping water all over the Fletcher’s freshly-polished marble floors, hustled into the kitchen.

 Marta grabbed a golf ball-sized wad of dough, slapped it back and forth between her hands a few times and then smushed it flat between a couple of layers of plastic wrap on a wooden tortilla press. I knew this part. What I’d wanted to see was her mixing up the dough. I wanted to know what went in it. Because Marta’s tortillas puff up, like sopapillas, and that’s just not normal with corn tortillas. Plus they’re sweeter.

“Marta, cuál esta en la tortilla dough?”

She shrugged. “Esto y ése.” This and that. Whenever I ask Marta what’s in a dish, she says, “Esto y ése.” But she won’t tell me what this and that are. It’s this little dance she does with me. The only clue I had was the giant bag of Maseca corn flour on the counter. But there was more than just corn flour and water in these tortillas, which I was eating almost as quickly as Marta pulled them off her comal.

I asked her if she put pork lard in the dough.

Manteca?” she said, laughing, but not really answering my question. But something was making those puppies puff up and it wasn’t corn meal. So I decided to try a new tactic. I filled a warm tortilla with frijoles from the olla pot on the stove and raved about them. These are the best beans ever, I told her. So flavorful. “Muy saboroso. What’s in them?”

Marta, still patting out tortillas, didn’t even bother to look up at me. “Esto y ése.”

I think ignoring me is pretty much Marta’s way of flirting with me. If so, it’s working marvelously. 

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It’s almost exactly 75 miles from the airport in Puerto Vallarta to Punta el Custodio where Chris and Malin Fletcher have a spectacular Mexican retreat called Casa Corona del Mar. But the drive is not easy. And you’d be crazy to attempt it at night.

 

Punta el Custodio photo by David Lansing

Punta el Custodio photo by David Lansing

I could tell you about the narrow two-lane road that winds through the jungle and how you’re likely to get stuck behind a slow bus headed towards Guadalajara or an over-loaded truck hauling watermelons or used tires, but I think it’s better to just quote from the driving directions Chris sent me:

“Pass the Punta Mita turnoff with the cemetery on the right. Around Rincon de Guayabitos you’ll see a tall water tower that looks like a flying saucer. Past that is Las Varas. This is where everyone misses the turn-off, so STAY ALERT. Enter Zacualpan—lots of speed bumps. Turn left at the sign (there may or may not be a sign) for San Blas, just before the town plaza on the left and the church on the right. Two BIG speed bumps. Take care not to turn into Turtle Beach. Take the cobbled road down into Platanitos and continue straight past the thatched restaurants on your right and up the rutted hill (beware of raised rocks and giant potholes). You will come to a brick compound wall and a gate with a sign that says RING BELL. WELCOME! You are at Punta El Custodio!”

 Piece of cake. I only got lost four or five times. Once I missed the Y in the road just before the sleepy little village of Ixtapa and ended up on a dusty dirt road where several cows were taking a nap. Later I missed the cobbled road into Plantanitos and continued for half an hour along the road to San Blas. Easy mistakes.

 

Photo by David Lansing

Photo by David Lansing

But I finally found their compound, Casa Corona del Mar. And there was Chris, bare-chested, out on the patio, filleting a Spanish mackerel he’d caught that morning (and that his cook and housekeeper, Marta, would shortly turn into ceviche for our lunch) while his son, Nick, took the discarded entrails and scraps and tossed them from the rocks above the coast high into the air where a squadron of acrobatic frigate birds snatched them up, tussled, and sometimes dropped their precious catch into the ocean, 30 feet below, where the pelicans were lazily waiting for their own lunch.

It was like watching an exotic circus act. But here the performers truly were wild.

 

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