Reclining in the large cane chair, I look around and breathe in the air; it’s heavy with salt but refreshing. There is sand underfoot and lanterns are dotted around the treetop canopy roof, swaying in the late spring breeze. To the right sits apalapa topped, rustic bar sighing under the weight of mountains of limes and tequila glasses. A heavily tattooed Mexican stands cheerfully shaking the first of (no doubt) a million margaritas for the evening.
To the left is the impressive open clay fire with embers glowing, sending waves of heat toward us. Here we were, Mum and I, in a beautiful restaurant in Tulum - Mexico’sversion of tropical paradise, and all I could think about wasthe heat. The penetrating, suffocating, unrelenting heat,blasting out of the oven.
Now usually I’m not too fazed by the weather, but it had been a rather intense day. A three hour round trip on local public transport and battling hordes of tourists in a concrete enclave under the Mexican Caribbean sun meant a tiring start. The rest of the day didn’t pan out too well either. In fact, I was feeling like a dried up leather bag after ordering what I thought was a light lunch, but instead turned out to be coconut crusted, cream cheese filled prawns submerged in a sticky mango puddle. Even though I could barely eat two shrimp, it was enough to give me a good old mild dose of food poisoning.And so after the day’s events, combined with a balmy night and the open fire, I was feeling decidedly fragile.
We ordered some drinks and water for me, so I could slowlysip and try to enjoy the breeze that Mum insisted was existent and “actually quite pleasurable.” They took a while to arrive, because nothing happens quickly in Mexican restaurants. In fact, the time in Mexico is often referred to as ‘Mexican minutes’ because everything happens at an extremely relaxed pace.
At first, it’s irritating, especially after being used to service where we expect water to be placed on tables immediately and a constant flow of dishes to follow, but once you get the hang of exhibiting patience, it’s rather endearing. Mexican wait staff will not bring you the bill unless you ask for it as they think it’s rude to push you out. When you realise there is nothing you can do but go with the very slow flow, it becomes infinitely more pleasurable. Even tonight, feeling precious was soothed by Mexican hospitality.
And maybe slowing down was just what I needed. Eventually, after sitting for a while, I was able to tolerate the ridiculously warm temperature and calmed down after the fresh tasting gin and tonic ‘with a tropical twist’ hit my lips.
I didn’t feel like a big meal, so Mum and I decided upon two dishes to share. The food arrived rather quickly and I watched it being taken straight from the depths of the oven, stopping to be dressed by a chef (salt, pepper, garlic crisps) then bought to our table. The smell was half nauseating, half tantalising. Given that everything I’d already eaten earlier in the day had been forcibly expelled from my body, I was hungry, but didn’t feel like I could stomach anything.
A salad of grilled asparagus, goat’s cheese and garlic chips and a stack of Argentinian beef short ribs piled onto cheesy cauliflower and potatoes proved too tempting to abstain. I took a small bite of the asparagus, nice enough, swallowed down. My stomach immediately started gurgling but I had ataste for food back.
Next, I cut off a small chunk of rib, aiming to get a bit of meat, and a bit of salty crust. Again, tasty, but a little bit chewy, and as I swallowed, I realised it wasn’t actually going down. Stuck. I swallowed a few times, attempting to send it down to my stomach, but it really wasn’t going anywhere. Right, so maybe it would have to come back up. I flexed my throat but failed to spit up the meat.
As I tried to discreetly mime to Mum what was happening, the panic was rising in my stomach. Gulping, gulping, gulping,coughing quietly, trying not to cause a scene, but I wasbecoming more panicked as time passed, excruciatinglyslowly.
Standing up from my chair, I turned to exit the restaurant. Mum was looking at me, clearly confused. Part of me didn’t want to alarm her, but at that point my anxiety was through the roof. How the hell was I going to get this fucking lump of meat out of my throat!?
Halfway across the floor, the situation worsened and I lost my inhibitions, not caring if I caused a scene or not. I put my hand into my mouth, thrusting my fingers into the back of my throat to attempt to dig it out. I could feel my throat starting to pulse, making an ungodly hocking noise- contracting andexpanding, contracting and expanding, straining desperately to get air down into my lungs. As I threw my fingers into the back of my throat again, I felt my body change. My throatjerked involuntarily and then finally, the lump hurled violently up my throat and landed, along with the warm chunks propelling it, right into the hand that was waiting at my mouth.
For a brief moment, the relief was liberating, I guzzled down air, trying to recapture my breath. It almost felt like a spiritual moment until I realised I was in beautiful Mexican restaurant,surrounded by diners, enjoying a delightful evening under the night sky and I was standing with a pile of vomit IN MY HAND. I had just vomited, in public, INTO my HAND, and now, said puke, was sitting, warmly, in my palm.
Becoming aware of my surroundings once again, I was relieved that somehow, thankfully, during the last few eventfulminutes, I managed to get to the edge of the restaurant, and was standing in the darkened entrance with my back to the majority of the restaurant when the upchuck occurred. Upon glancing for the fifteenth time at my mess in my palm, I took a deep breath, and could feel stinging in my throat. I staggeredoutside and tried to slop the spew into the garden.
Mum was still sitting at the table, looking at me with a concerned but perplexed look until I motioned for her to come over. As I was gesturing toward her through the doorway, the maître d subtly sashayed towards Mum and they had a brief chat.
Obviously Mum, even in the face of this minor, very embarrassing emergency, was also operating on Mexican time. She ambled leisurely around, gathering a few items from the table, finally sauntering
over, passing me a glass of water and napkins.
Mum: “Are you alright? What happened?”
Me: “I just choked.”
Mum: “Seriously? On what? Are you okay”
Me: “I am now, no thanks to your prompt action.”
Mum: “Well everything is alright now, isn’t it. Maybe go and refresh and sit down”
Me: “ARE YOU KIDDING?! I just vomited, into my hand, in a restaurant, with other people watching. I’m not going back in there, it’s mortifying. We need to LEAVE, right now.”
Mum: “No, we really don’t, in fact I don’t think anyonenoticed, except for the maître d who was fine, and just came and asked if she could help. When I told her I wasn’t sure what had happened, she said that she thought you spewed.”
Me: “She said that?! Oh my GOD. She saw me spew!?! That is beyond embarrassing, surely she wants us to leave!?”
Mum: “Nope, she just asked if she could help and walked away. Didn’t seem like a big deal.”
And with that, she turned around and walked back to our table. Apparently she wasn’t budging on this one. I really didn’t have a choice. Looking around, I noticed that in fact,she was right. No one was paying any attention to me. Or at the very least they were trying to look like they weren’t looking. Everyone was happily chatting away, and the staff were seamlessly drifting between the tables and everything was… normal.
And so, after cleaning myself up (luckily it hadn’t gone everywhere), I put my head down and scurried back to the table, sitting down, extremely self-conscious, continually checking around to see if anyone was watching me. They weren’t.
“No one is looking at you, just relax” said Mum, aware of myinsecurities.
And so, the dinner progressed as most do. We eventually called for the bill, I left a larger than usual tip, and we left.Because that’s how things happen in Mexico. You get heatstroke and food poisoning, recover enough to go to a charming restaurant, take two bites of your dinner, choke, spew into your hand, no one really notices, you then clean yourself off, sit back down and finish your dinner, and then leave and go home to bed.
A very odd, somewhat traumatic and rather embarrassing evening made infinitely less so because there was no overwhelming response, no assumption that I was drunk, no fussing at the table. And so, as is so often the case in Mexico- a few margaritas, a few Mexican minutes and some sweet Mexican hospitality and the experience faded into the night.