Travel Story Time: I Found a Secret Spot to Breathe & Eat

The Place:

Forgive me for these notes of a version of paradise that will never be named – at least not by me, but I see what y’all did to Tulum. If you somehow find it on your own, I cannot stop you from sharing it, but hear my voice in the back of your head asking that you do not. This is more to encourage finding your own place to rest, walk barefoot through the streets and down shorelines, wake up without alarms, fall in love with lovers in love, and take wild guesses at constellations that never visit your neighborhood.

My golden calf: “breath” and “soul” share the same word in many languages. I’m obsessed with finding places that lend themselves to me discovering why. I, and perhaps you, deserve to wake up remembering all the good dreams and feeling every second with your eyes closed gave you all the energy you’ll need while they’re open. You deserve that very first deep breath mid-stretch that leaves you weak. That exhale, too. That’s your soul thanking you for bringing it to that place, telling you not to feel guilty for feeling so good, so free. The soul finds ways to thank you for loving it, doesn’t it? Your breath is a “you’re welcome.”

I didn’t know I needed to be naked in an outdoor Japanese soaking tub until I was neck-deep in water, staring out, thinking about Fort Frances’ song, Wrong Man, and how sad it is to have the ocean in your ears, but being unsure of why you came. I was sure this time and let out a very audible, “I’m so grateful for this moment” to the Universe. Like the body knows when it needs water, my soul knows when it needs to be grateful.

My body requires water. My body has questions it’ll never ask aloud because it, like my brain, believes some things should remain a mystery – like this idyll. My body sank many times watching ships waft by. A mystery indeed.

I’ll return over and over to any place I’m able to hear the grass grow and hear the heartbeat of every kid or dog running by with finger guns or tossed food. In this place, the trees love us back. For that, I’m bound.

The Peace:

The Food:

Esther: “I’m not sure why it is, but I love food more than just about anything else.”

If food is the lightbulb, I’m the moth. If baked mac and cheese slowly sliding closer to the candied sweet potatoes like uncertain lovers wanting to kiss is the scandal, I’m absolutely the paparazzi circling, hoping to get my hands on the juicy bits.

Reservations over resolutions and I decided sometime in December 2021 to chase the stars. Not just any stars, but the Michelin kind I’ve only heard about from Netflix, BBC, or while eavesdropping on once-a-year tourists talking about next year’s goals. I strapped on my Winnie-the-pooh “big boots” that are really Salehe Bembury’s Antas in green – equally as dope for any adventure, and the constellations led me to some of the greatest dishes I’ve ever eaten. In a region where the number of Michelin-starred restaurants could form the Hydra constellation, I found love in every nibble.

Behind heavy and bold and oak and steel and colonial doors, in courtyards surrounded by bamboo and brick and hanging lights, and on mostly wooden tables, servers placed course after course, pairing after pairing. Each building, a palimpsest of the grace of rotating owners. There was even a jug of spirits with a full-bodied, but definitely dead rattlesnake inside.

I ate. Then walked and ate again around the corner. There were pitchers of hot chocolate and plates of sweet breads. “If you hold up your end of the deal, I’ll take care of you when we get home,” I told my taste buds, my stomach, my gluttonous soul. What a team.

The Bites:

There’s a place that allows you to live in the breath and listen to the brag of your heart and the rumble of your soul. Find it. Eat.

Dedication: for Erik the Architect & Sylvia the Poet.

Darnell Lamont Walker, a self-professed traveling foodie, has been found sitting at tables eating baby goat sweetbreads, drinking tequila, and laughing loudly with strangers. The writer, filmmaker, artist, and sometimes photographer puts happiness above all.