Dance the dance of Mexico
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Dance the dance of Mexico

The Mexican port of Cozumel looks a bit like a parking lot for giant cruise ships.

There’s at least four docked as Carnival Legend, my home for a week on a Western Caribbean cruise, glides into port.

In day tripper numbers that’s somewhere between 10 and 12,500 people _ mostly Americans _  descending on the seaside town.

Cozumel, on Mexico’s Yucatan, is a beach and diving paradise and to simply call the water turquoise does not do it justice. I guarantee that as you make your way along the pier towards the duty free shopping you will turn to the person next to you, even if you don’t know them, and comment on the colour of the ocean. It’s impossible not to notice it.  It’s like someone has filtered the water with a blue die that glistens under the mid-May sun.

Cozumel is Mexico’s largest island.  Marine legend Jacques Cousteau declared the island’s 20-mile reef to be one of the world’s premier scuba diving locations so people travel here from all over the world to swim in these waters.

Cozumel is also famous for its preserved Mayan archaeological ruins and many shore excursions on offer today are taking guests to the not-so-hidden carvings, cliff-top castles and crumbling temple walls from that first century BCE civilisation.

I’m seeking a different understanding of Cozumel.  A more basic view of the Mexican existence. An understanding of food, drink and dance.

From the 52 shore excursions on offer today my wife and I have signed up for the $69.99 per head Salsa and Salsa tour which promises to not only teach me how to make an authentic margarita and a variety of Mexican salsas, but also commits to teaching me how to dance salsa in four easy steps.

I dance like the tubby guy in the hit movie Hitch. There’s usually lots and lots of arm and leg movements without much attention to the beat. I figure it is harder to hit a moving target. Salsa dancing, I’m told, is following the rhythm and beat of your heart. Moving your hips, feet and hands in one following movement. This is one certificate I might not get to hang on the pool room wall.

Step one of the class, it seems, is helping me abandon my inhibitions.  This is accomplished by the all-you-can-drink frozen lime margaritas handed out to everyone on arrival.  There’s also a table of Jamaican tea and virgin margaritas but trust me no-one is paying any attention to them.

The four-hour class brings together a collection of guests from the various visiting ships and is hosted by three twenty-something women who call themselves the “dancing chefs”.  Thankfully unlike Leo Sayer’s classic Long Tall Glasses song we get to eat and drink before we have to dance like Fred Astaire.

Our first task is to make the margaritas.  If I learned anything from the class it is this _ there’s no such thing as too much alcohol when making margaritas.  First I make the classic lime one (see recipe below) and then progress to the strawberry version.  While we make the potent concoctions our waiters keep filling up our bottomless cups.  At one stage I have three margaritas on the go.  I feel something in my hips.  I think I’m almost ready to dance.

Next we start on three different salsas _ the Tangy Salsa Verde, the Fiery Red Salsa and Oaxacan Guacamole.  During the making of the fiery one I must have misheard our master chef.  You have to understand that with all that tequila being consumed the room was getting loud.

I unloaded a batch of green chills into my molcajete (mortar and pestle) instead of cilantro (we call it coriander) so my salsa went from fiery to fearsome in a mouthful.  There was no water on the table so I downed another ice cold lime margarita.

At this point I was so hot, and relaxed, I was ready to dance.  And dance I did.  It started with a step to the right, and then the left.  I had to wax on and wax off with my hands.  My hips had no trouble making that sexy latin figure eight movement.  Ole, Ole, Ole I shouted as I twirled my princess through the six-step turn manoeuvre. ...

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