Toro Bravo

April 15, 2007 at 8:03 AM (alcohol, dishes by cuisine, Mexico)

    My mother loves to vacation in Mexico. From autumn to spring, Wisconsin can be a bit chilly, and a bit gloomy, which is fine for some- even I don’t mind it so much- but my mother is one of those people who would be happy with sunshine and summer every day. So, at least twice a year, she packs her bags, makes arrangements online, and, after a send-off dinner with the family and a few pecks on our cheeks, she’s off to sun-bathing and margaritas…

    She and her sister, my aunt, are there right now… and this is what made me think back to about 4 years ago, when my mother made a special announcement to our family: she had decided to take a group of people to Mexico with her. This group was to be composed of her best friend, my sister and her husband, and me, and, as I was single at the time, I was allowed to choose one of my friends to join us.  What a Christmas present eh?! Flight and hotel arrangements were made, vacation times were correlated and approved, and the six of us packed our bags and found ourselves in Puerto Vallarta for a week. All memory of the piles of ice and snow and spine-chilling winds we had come from melted in the warm, humid weather, the kaleidescope of flowers that bloomed everywhere, the rushing wings of birds, the people who lazily dawdled through the streets of the city and basked in sunlight on the beach. 

    And to think I almost didn’t go! I was nursing a badly-broken heart at the time. I was truly miserable, and found myself having to piece my self and my life back together again at the sudden demise of a seven-year relationship. Posessions had to be divided, new living arrangements made, goodbyes that needed saying were better left unsaid. My family insisted that the trip would be good for me…just to get away from everything….just for a few days… Finally, and a bit unwillingly, I succumbed… but what possible fun could I have feeling like this?

    Puerto Vallarta is steeped in a bit of history, and a bit of mystery as well. It was not always known by its current name, nor was it always a popular vacation spot. What it is would be hard to describe to someone who has never been there, but I think magical… romantic… with a touch of a masquerade thrown in would do it justice. What struck me first was that I was suddenly a bit wealthier because of the exchange rate; 200 pesos (about 20 U.S. dollars) could go quite a ways… and I don’t know exactly why, but, after a day or so I became intensely aware of how rude and snobbish  many other vacationing Americans were behaving to the hotel staff, taxi drivers and anyone else in a position of servitude. I honestly felt embarrassed to be associated with them in any way. I began to spend most of my days away from the hotel, taking a taxi downtown to wander the shop-lined streets (my American friend often joining me), and then a few paces furthur to what lay beyond.  As I walked along, I kept saying to myself, “I have seen many chickens in my lifetime, but this is something entirely new to me…”

    When night falls there, it is ushered in by a swirl of colour and a parting nod from the sun. The city seems to shift gears and transform into a festive, lamp-lit celebration that doesn’t end until the sun returns. My friend and I found a comfortable and welcoming place to loosen our buttons and mingle a bit. It was called Paco Paco, and if I were to tell of all those tales, secrets stolen from under its sheltering roof, from under its roofless patio in the sky, spied upon only by a veil of glittering stars and a moon that wanders by, I would do a great disservice to you, as they alone would fill up many pages. In the light of day, the streets are swept. Chickens peck busily at crumbs. No trace remains.

     I made a few good friends there. The best goes by Gonzo. When I knew him back then, he lived humbly and frugally in an old and crumbling hostel. He taught me just enough Spanish to be a little witty; his English was near-perfect; his knowledge of Mexican cocktails and the art of living beyond failed love, superb. He and I spent many hours chatting, laughing and sipping under the roof of Paco Paco. In my fleeting memory I can hear the latin-tinged, then-latest disco songs throbbing beneath us, I can see the two of us wandering room to room along narrow stair-cases that would make an American building inspector shudder. We took turns buying each other rounds of drinks, and this particular one he ordered, thinking of me and how I love black russians… just to cheer me up. He did.


Toro Bravo

1 1/2 oz. tequila

1 oz. coffee-flavoured liqueur, such as Kahlua

ice, coarsely crushed or cubes

half of a lime

1) Fill a medium-sized tumbler (old-fashioned glass) nearly to the top with ice.

2)Pour into it the tequila and coffee liqueur; mix gently.

3)Squeeze the lime over the top- discard, and serve.

I was told by Gonzo that this is to be drunk in one swallow like a shot…however, he may have been trying to get me drunk. I recommend sipping it slowly as an after-dinner drink or three.

NOTE: This is one of two variations I found for this authentic Mexican drink, and it is the one I remember. The other way is to use equal parts of tequila and Kahlua(or other coffee liqueur), but I find this cloyingly sweet. There are north-of-the-border versions of this as well made with equal parts tequila, Kahlua and vodka…with or without the lime juice; some of them are also shaken with ice and strained into a glass like a martini. I urge you to try the recipe above before any others.

ANOTHER NOTE: The last time he and I communicated, he delivered great news to me: he and a friend had opened up a pastry and coffee shop! Besides pastel de tres leches, and pastel de chocolate(3-milk cake and chocolate cake, respectively), he informed me of the delicious carrot cake they also serve! I had no idea…! It’s too bad that my mother doesn’t speak any Spanish, save margarita and cervesa; I would ask her to locate his shop to stop by and give my regards Oh, well…


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