I am fortunate to say that I have just returned from a beautiful and relaxing vacation in Mexico. Kyle and I joined my family for a week at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun. We swam with dolphins, explored the natural beauty of Contoy Island, enjoyed relaxing spa services, and went shopping on the crowded streets of Isla Mujeres. We went snorkeling at Xel-Ha, and as I swam on the surface of the clear blue water in a rocky lagoon, I saw a large barracuda calmly and terrifyingly glide below me. We ate delicious food at beautiful restaurants and expansive buffets on the property. All of our beer, wine, and cocktails were included, and we even had a liquor dispenser for in-room mixology.
We threw a little birthday celebration for my Mom a few days early this year, at the end of the week. Faced with an amazing itinerary of activities, a ridiculous amount of credits for free spa services, a cocktail menu that I couldn’t have drank my way through in a week if I tried, 24-hour free room service, and seventeen hours of buffet service available per day, I struggled to find something special I could give Mom for her birthday that wasn’t already included! Then as I walked along the fresh fruit buffet one morning, it hit me. You can’t get real sangria here. One of my Mom’s favorite warm weather indulgences isn’t available on any of the menus. But the ingredients were.
When you explore any of the shopping districts, plazas, tourist attractions, or resort areas in Mexico, you are always greeted with merchants calling you over to see what they have to sell, promising you a great deal on whatever it is you may be searching for. “Hola, Señoritas, come inside, great prices for you, real silver, dresses, blouses, almost free for you today.”
On my first trip to Mexico, I visited Mexico City, Teotihuacan, Puebla, Oaxaca, Huatulco, and a few small towns in between. Everywhere we went, we heard “almost free for you” from the local peddlers. That was the trip through malaria country, when we doused ourselves in military grade bug spray, brushed our teeth with bottled water for fear of what flowed from the tap, and once had to draw the shades on the tour bus for the duration of a four-hour trip through the mountains so that the political protesters outside the bus couldn’t identify us as American students.
My most recent trip was the one at the five-star all-inclusive resort, with bilingual wait staff around every corner, a reverse osmosis water purification system on the property, complimentary Wi-Fi, an in-room Chi hair straightening iron, and “almost free” sangria. Both vacations were incredible experiences, for very different reasons. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to see the country from many perspectives.
My attempt to create a “free” cocktail made from things found in the room and on buffets (for which you must pay a hefty weekly fee, hence the “almost” in its title) began three days before the birthday celebration, with the squirreling away of free sugar packets. I needed twenty 5-gram packets for my recipe. After I swiped all of the 5-gram sugar packets from the coffee condiment tray in the room two days in a row, the housekeeping staff started replenishing the tray with 4-gram sugar packets instead. Hmm. Maybe they found my stash of sugar packets hidden under an upside down coffee cup and they were on to my game. Regardless, they left the stash and enabled my hoarding, albeit in smaller size packages, for another day.
The fruit came from the breakfast buffet on the morning of the celebration. The tropical fruit salad was cut by the chef, but I had to break down the peach slices and pineapple chunks into tiny pieces with a plastic fork and knife. The knife was surprising sharp for plasticware.
My in-room free liquor options were vodka, whisky, tequila, and rum. I went with the rum. This sangria was starting to feel pretty Caribbean. The liquor dispenser provides one shot-sized dose of liquor per press of the nozzle, which is convenient if you are trying to measure your liquor in modest, drinkable, portions. However if your aim is to dispense twelve ounces of rum at once, operation of the dispenser becomes a little more difficult. But I’m not complaining.
I never saw a drink pitcher at any of the bars or restaurants for my whole stay. The only thing that resembled a large vessel in which I could mix my ingredients was a 32-ounce insulated mug that retailed for a ridiculously high price of $40 in the gift shop. I considered using the ice bucket, but we are classy people. We do not ruin the in-room amenities like the shiny silver ice bucket. So I mixed the fruit, sugar, and rum in a (presumably) clean plastic bag. Double-bagged, just to be safe.
The boozy bag o’ fruit chilled in the mini refrigerator for about eight hours.
We thought the mini bar contained apple juice and orange juice. I reached for what I assumed was orange juice and then I read the label. Bebida con pulpa de mango. This was a box of 16% mango juice plus water and sugar. I thought, it’s a good thing I only had fourteen 5-gram packets and four 4-gram packets of sugar, instead of the twenty 5-gram packets I desired, because we’re about to make up the difference with this “juice.”
A free bottle of wine comes with the room, along with a very cheap corkscrew. Based on the tropical fruit, liquor, and juice I used, I would recommend a citrusy white wine if you have a choice. I did not have a choice, and I knew that Mom loves read sangria, so Kyle wrestled the artificial cork out of the Spanish Merlot and I dumped it and the mango juice into the sangria bag.
I couldn’t serve the sangria out of a complimentary laundry bag (what kind of bartender do you take me for?!) so I emptied a 1.5 liter water bottle, snipped a small corner off the wine bag, and transferred the homemade hooch to the botella de agua. Fancy.
I served the sangria over ice with a splash of soda. Mom was pleasantly surprised by the gesture, and after each drinking at least one glass of the fruity wine cocktail, we all survived the night. Success!
Almost Free Sangria
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 cups fresh fruit, diced
- 1-1/2 cups light rum
- 3/4 cups fruit juice (orange is preferred, but mango works too)
- 1- 750 mL bottle of wine
- 1/2 cup club soda, citrus soda, or ginger ale
- Combine sugar, fruit, and liquor in a large pitcher (or whatever vessel you have on hand). Mix thoroughly.
- Refrigerate the fruit mixture for 8-12 hours.
- Add juice and wine to mixture. Chill for 1 hour.
- Add the soda right before serving, or add a splash to each glass. Serve sangria over ice.
My second birthday present o my Mom: silver earrings (not free).
My third birthday present to my Mom: the satisfaction of knowing that if I ever end up imprisoned at an all-inclusive resort, I will make friends quickly due to my improvisational mixology skills, and will therefore be safe and happy even in the direst of circumstances.
Happy Birthday Mom!