LOVE AT FIRST BITE
I knew in an instant that Mexico was the place for me and this sauce idea. The minute I got off the plane, I went on an all-out binge - tasting and talking my way round restaurants, markets, street food stands, and cantinas.
Passing conversations led to random tip-offs, most of which were dead-ends, but it was all part of the adventure. One such tangents began in a taxi, driven by a guy called "Toni Montana". When I told him my story, the cabbie became highly excited, waxing poetic about the habanero sauces made in his hometown. He insisted we meet in the remote Mayan outpost in exactly one week’s time.
ROAD TO NOWHERE
Seven days later I boarded a rickety old bus in Campeche. We bounced along to an unlikely soundtrack of hardcore techno as we tramped deep into rural Yucatan. It was a motley crew of farm labourers, school kids, dungaree-clad Mennonites, and me, an Englishman on a quixotic search for spice. Four hours later I reached my destination: a cluster of miniature houses in the wilderness with no street lamps, no shops, no hotels, nada.
I knocked on the first door I found, which was opened by a pocket-sized lady who looked slightly startled. I was probably the first foreign visitor they'd had in a while, if ever. Awkwardly, I mentioned my cabbie friend and the reason why I'd come. The lady said Montana was her neighbour but that he was out of town. She then went on to explain that they were now in honey-making season, no habanero sauce. Still a bit confused, she told me to follow her. We walked in the dark up a lane and arrived at a little whitewashed stone building. This was where they made their wares, we went inside and she gifted me two small jars - one honey, the other a habanero paste.
Both were very tasty, but not quite what I was looking for.
We returned to the cluster of houses and I asked when the next bus back to Campeche left. She pointed at the old jalopy I'd arrived on, parked up and serving as the driver's overnight crash pad: "Mañana a las 5 am." With no hotels or hostels within 50 miles, I was stranded.
Then she had idea and took me up the road to see her cousin. Highlander was a friendly chap with a big smile, and he kindly offered to let me doss in his garage with his two teenage sons. As he opened the garage door and turned on the light, the poor lads almost fell out of their hammocks in shock as their evening wanking session was prematurely interrupted.
I politely asked Highlander if I could I take the carport instead.
Deflated, I slouched against my backpack, and tried in vain to sleep. The howling of feral dogs was deafening and it wasn't long before a pack of the fuckers sniffed me out. I rued refusing the rabies jab my doctor had offered me as the beasts inched closer. Eventually they got bored and left, but the only zz’s I caught that night were from the mosquitoes, relentlessly dive-bombing me.
At about 4.45am I headed back to the bus. I could hear the driver inside already clattering about. The engine fired up like a smoker's cough and the thud-thud-thud of dirty techno signalled it was time for off.
I never did see Mr Toni Montana again.