Panaderias and the Quest for the Elusive Elote

Took us a hot second there, but we finally managed to recover from that long walk to the beach we took on our first night in Tulum. We wised up on our second day and rented some beach cruisers. Rusty, clunky, and heavy cruisers are the only kinds of bikes you see in Tulum, and people ride and leave them everywhere.

Normally we would balk at the idea of pushing around such a heavy hunk of metal—especially in such hot temperatures—but Tulum’s flat topography and slow-moving bike traffic actually make it quite enjoyable. Plus, we’re not sure you’d want to put anything lighter or more delicate on the uneven mix of sand, rocks, and pavement that form Tulum’s chilled out throughways.

With bikes in tow, we felt empowered to explore. So we hit the open road and headed south in search of some lesser crowded cenotes than the highly tourist-traveled Gran Cenote we had read so much about. What an excellent decision that was, as Cenotes Cristal and Escondido provided us with two-for-the-price-of-one access to each of the refreshing swimming holes.

Now we’re in business.
Almost had this cenote all to ourselves.

Cenote Escondido was definitely the highlight of the two, tucked away behind an unsuspecting gate and a long dirt road. When you approach the cenote, you’re confronted with a stunningly secluded paradise, replete with rope swings that allow you to enter the cool, clean water from an elevated ledge. Whohn Brose is in 100 percent agreement that Cenote Escondido has been our favorite swim spot to date.

The next day we heaved our cruisers in the complete opposite direction, heading far north in the early morning to beat the crowds at the Tulum Mayan ruins. It’s really a sight to see, especially when you’re two of a few dozen admirers exploring the impressive complex. The most breathtaking view comes from the temple that sits atop a bluff overlooking the turquoise blue ocean waves. That and it’s a great spot to catch a cool breeze when all those steps start catching up with you.

The Tulum ruins are protected by a thick stone wall on three side and the ocean on the other.

Three days of long walks and heavy bike rides was definitely catching up to us, and we were ready for a siesta later that afternoon. We decided to set out on wheels to find a relatively uncrowded beach. Our Airbnb host recommended Zazil Kin, which is north enough to be less traveled and also offers a spectacular view of the ruins we had explored earlier in the day. We found ourselves a shady spot under a palm tree and took turns cooling off in the refreshing waves and napping in the white sand.

Afternoons on the Yucatan can be brutal and unrelenting, with a combination of sun and physical exertion proving all the more challenging than what we assumed we would be capable of. Three days in, we were finally beginning to understand why Tulum moves at such a slow pace during the day and comes alive in the evening. We guess the abundance of two-for-one drink specials also has something to do with that.

It’s always happy hour in Mexico!

But that’s enough about history, adventures, and sightseeing—let’s talk about what really stole our hearts in Tulum: the food! On our first night we had a killer mix of fish, shrimp, and octopus tacos; and for our first breakfast we ate chilaquiles and mushroom-stuffed enchiladas with mole sauce. The streetfood was the real showstopper, though.

At all hours of the day, including early mornings and late nights, the sounds of clown horns can be heard passing through the neighborhood streets. At first this seemed like a vaguely annoying quirk—that is, until we discovered what it all really meant. Each unique recurring sound you hear—be it a horn or a jingle that blasts from speakers atop a moving vehicle as it plays on a loop—indicates a different product or service rendered. The clown horns just so happen to announce a mobile panaderia coming your way.

If you don’t know what panaderia means, you should stop whatever you’re doing right now to look one up on Bing. Just kidding—who Bings? For real, though, Google it and go to your nearest one immediately. The baked goods and desserts you get at a panaderia/pasteleria are some of the best we have ever had.

Remember when we said something about travel abs in our last post? Well, the amount of times we visited a panaderia in Tulum may prove to be a bit of a setback in that regard. In fact, we went to our neighborhood panaderia so many times during our last couple days in Tulum that the store owners began to chuckle whenever they’d see us walking up. You just can’t beat two delicious pastries for $10 pesos!

We were too busy eating our panaderia goodies to stop and take a photo, so here’s a picture of John holding a cat in a basket.

Of course, it wasn’t all sugar and carbs. Early into our trip we spotted evidence of something we knew in our hearts we had to have: a stick attached to a stripped cob of corn. It didn’t look like much then, but we had clear visions of what that corn cob looked like in its glory days. We were determined to see it for ourselves.

We searched and we searched, and we even asked around: “¿Maiz en barbacoa?” Unfortunately our queries were only met with puzzled looks. When we saw people selling things from coolers on the side of the road, we’d stop to ask, “¿Que es eso?” to which they would mostly respond, “Tamales.” The search for barbeque corn on a stick was starting to feel hopeless, and we began to wonder if perhaps that shell of deliciousness past had merely been a fluke.

Our last afternoon of having bike rentals, we decided to venture into the part of Tulum we had not yet bothered to explore. This side of town felt more residential, removed from the bars and gift shops that make up the main strip. Is this where we would finally encounter the corn we had so desperately sought? It seemed unlikely, but we never fully relented the search. It was then we saw a woman on a bike with a sign that read, “Esquites y Elotes.”

During our supplementary internet research, we had learned that esquites is a traditional corn salad dish. Our hopes were not necessarily elevated when we saw this sign, but we decided to inquire just one more time. In a mix of Spanglish and hand motions, John asked the woman about corn. “¿Elotes?” she asked, pulling a boiled cob of corn out from a container attached to her bike.

This was it; this was the culmination of a days-long search for barbecue corn goodness! Except that was the thing—it wasn’t barbecue corn at all. It was boiled corn smothered in butter, mayo, cotija cheese, and picante sauce, and it was every bit as glorious as we had hoped.

Looking back now, it’s kind of funny to think about how many signs for elotes we probably passed in our elusive search for barbecue corn. Like many experiences we’ve had since embarking on our Central American travels, language barriers and cultural differences have made for an interesting adventure.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, we definitely overpacked.

Next stop: Caye Caulker, Belize!

2 thoughts on “Panaderias and the Quest for the Elusive Elote

  1. Your photos and amazingly-worded posts make me feel like I’m there! In case you’re wondering, it’s still gray, rainy, and all things horrible weather-wise in Portland. You guys left at a good time.

    Looking forward to when we leave for Caye Caulker 😉


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