Matzatlan is a major port, so the Splendor didn’t have to patiently wait outside of the harbor for water shuttles to ferry its passengers aboard. Instead we debarked inside of a commercial terminal and had to be shuttled through to the visitor center and into waiting buses to take us to our salsa making and salsa dancing class at the Royal Villas Resort.
We were met by a trio of young women dressed in chef’s hats and aprons, who welcomed us by handing us each a margarita (at 9AM in the morning!) and guiding us to one of a roomful of tables set for eight. This was a large group – around 80-90 people – so apparently we weren’t the only ones who thought learning salsa (both the culinary and dance versions) would be fun.
“I’m not putting on the silly hat,” my Darling grumbled as he picked it off his chair and put it in his lap. “Nope.”
I looked around. There were a few other rebels in the camp, so I smiled and left mine in my lap too. More people filed in and one by one, the hat holdouts slowly succumbed to table peer pressure, until there was only one other couple besides us. Meanwhile, we traded small talk with our table compatriots – the usual topics: place of origin, occupation, what other shore excursions they signed up for, whether they had fun at Cabo and what they did. My Darling let it slip that he was a personal chef, which opened up lots of questions about what kinds of food he specialized in. Overall we were having fun and nobody at out table bugged us to put our hats on.
“¡Hola!” The leader of the trio cried. “I’m Erika.” She pointed to her partners. “This is Karla and Stephanie. Are you ready to make some salsa?” (She had a very decidedly American accent).
Nobody cared. “YES!” We all yelled back.
“Okay! Does everyone see that blue chef’s hat in the middle of your table?”
“Yes,” we replied as a group, collectively all noticing it for the first time and sounding a bit less certain.
She smiled widely with bright coral lips. “Now that you’ve gotten to know your neighbors, you’re all going to pick a table captain!”
Everyone looked at Mark.
“You are the chef here,” Bob from Cincinatti remarked. “You’re probably the only one here who really knows what they’re doing.”
The rest of the table nodded in agreement. I smirked and handed my Darling the blue hat, then donned my own white hat in a show of solidarity. He made a playful scowl, downed the rest of his margarita and shoved the hat down on his head. He looked very much the culinary captain. I looked over at the other bare headed couple. Sure enough, the gentleman was now also wearing a blue hat.
Our first lesson was in making the perfect Mexican margarita. Erika asked if there were any honeymooners and we tentatively raised our hands. She bopped over.
“You’re on your honeymoon?” She asked
“Belated,” I replied, adding, “We had to postpone it when we got married.”
“That’s good enough for me!” She led us up to the front, where a makeshift bar had been set up. We learned that a true margarita is one part tequila, one part Cointreau (or triple sec) and a squeeze of lime, served on the rocks in a salt-rimmed highball glass. None of this sweet and sour nonsense. They were absolutely delicious (and yes, I’ll be making them that way from now on).
Strawberry margaritas were basically a similar recipe, with two major differences: obviously strawberries were involved and everything went through a blender to purée the ice and berries together into the familiar slush. These were served in sugar-rimmed shot glasses to give us all a “taste”… And immediately became the requested drink of choice for the rest of the day.
Next we got down to business and whipped up a red salsa and a green salsa in rapid succession. These used basically the same ingredients (onions, jalapeños, cilantro, garlic and lime) except one also used red tomatoes and the other used green tomatillos. We ground all the ingredients together using a molcajete, which is a traditional Mexican cooking utensil. There are two distinct types – ones made from glazed red clay and ones shaped out of volcanic stone. They look like deep three-legged mortar/pestles. We used the glazed ones because they weren’t as porous and better suited for making our salsa. Once we had gotten a taste of making (and eating) salsa, we made guacamole using the green salsa and adding avocado and more lime.
At this point we took a short break so that our hosts could refresh our ingredients and clean up the vegetable-based war zone that had broken out on our table. I took advantage of this time to strike up conversation with Erika and discovered that she had relocated to Mexico from Florida as a child (hence the American accent). She said she absolutely loved Mexico and would never go back (which seems to be a pretty common opinion from people we’ve spoken to).
After the break, we settled down to make to “fresh” (uncooked) salsas: tropical salsa and pico de gallo (known locally as “Mexican salsa” because the colors match the flag). Again, the ingredients were very similar to each other (onions, tomatoes and lime juice) with only one exception – pico de gallo has cilantro while tropical salsa has pineapple.
The great thing about our salsa-making lesson was that it was organized in such a way that made it very easy to retain.
The last salsa we made was shredded coconut, melon, apples and this vanilla rum liqueur called rompope (which is similar to a thin eggnog in taste and consistency). This was served over ice cream, much to our delight.
Now the tables were cleared away and it was time to dance. We positioned ourselves in the middle towards the back so we could be clumsy and uncoordinated without bumping into too many people or otherwise attracting attention. Erika and Karla demonstrated the steps slowly, building upon a routine. I was able to pick up most of the steps, but never quite got the hang of one or two of them. So, when we assembled everything into a coordinated line dance, I faltered. I’ll need a LOT more practice before I can hit the Latin dance circuit. My Darling fared much better – he’s way more coordinated than I am.
Our adventure over, we headed back to the ship. While not as hot as Cabo, the sun was beating down pretty hard and we weren’t in an especially great walking area. We were given the option of hanging around the hotel, but we figured sitting at a bar drinking all afternoon could be better done on the Splendor, where we had prepaid for our drinks. They might not make as nice a margarita on the ship, but I didn’t mind sipping champagne as a substitute.
You can find out more about Salsa and Salsa on their Facebook Page.
Next up: Puerto Vallerta