Death knocked twice then climbed through the window. Its tongue began to wag like a snake dancing in the sea at night. A husky voice cracked into my mind and two words lodged in my ear...

Where The Drinks Are Hotter Than The Chili Sauce

Where The Drinks Are Hotter Than The Chili Sauce

Story by Kate Ballis and Tom Blachford

Bag nerds and photographer couple Tom Blachford and Kate Ballis have been exploring Central America. This was their second trip through Mexico in two years and they are planning a third. They have been documenting the trials and ‘tortugas’ of their trip, get lost.

It’s hard to believe Mexico D.F. is home to more museums than any other city in the world – over 175 are registered. This is a vertical garden at Soumaya, a museum that houses a private art collection of 66,000 pieces belonging to Carlos Slim, counted many times as the richest man in the world. The building itself cost over $70 million to build.

Taxco is a silver mining and smithing town 170km from Mexico D.F. set on a steep hill. The best part is the 1960’s VW beetle taxis that roar along the narrow cobblestone streets. The streets are so narrow we often had to duck into silver shops to escape bumpers but perhaps that’s the way it’s planned.

Some time in the eighties a member of the Mezcal family of drinks went rogue. Tequila, the black sheep of the family, made its way around the world and ditched its heritage to be enjoyed as shots, slammed fast with lemon and salt to disguise its sharp flavour. The rest of the Mezcal family stayed true and are making a resurgence in Mexico and around the world.

… a spicy mixture of salt, chilli, cinnamon
and an extra kick from crushed up worms…

Distilled from the heart of the Agave plant, traditional varieties vary per region but share a smooth smoky taste and an eye watering alcohol content of 40-50% thanks to three days of pit roasting and triple distilling. They are traditionally sipped slowly enjoyed with oranges sprinkled with Sal De Gusano – a spicy mixture of salt, chilli, cinnamon and an extra kick from crushed up worms found on the agaves. We’re hooked on the stuff, and our favourite is the super slick Meteoro brand.

Whilst learning Spanish, the app we were using kept on asking us to translate the phrase: la tortuga no bebe leche, the turtle does not drink milk. ‘Tortuga’ was always on the tip of our tongue. On our last night in Puerto Escondido we were invited to release freshly hatched baby tortugas into the sea. We first met them as a scrambling mess of little babies in a bucket. They had a habit of rolling over onto their backs and taking an adorable eternity to right themselves. We released and named a bale of tortugas.

… the turtle does not drink milk.

Kate’s first, Peonie, was a champion and raced into the ocean as soon as she was released. Tom’s first, poor little Lewie, was a little slow to start and took his time, as did Tom Junior and Matilda who all needed a little helping hand to find a wave to take them out to their new homes in the ocean.

During our stay in Puerto Escondido, we heard of a beautiful place known as Roca Blanca. A few days in we were taken there by a friend to discover what made this Roca (Rock) so Blanca (white). A couple of hundred meters out from the beach in the Pacific ocean lay the rock, gleaming a brilliant white, covered entirely in guano. We ate a fish lunch in a beachside restaurant with sand floors and a surly waitress who delivered freshly speared fish and salty micheladas.

… in the Pacific ocean lay the rock, gleaming a brilliant white,
covered entirely in guano.

After lunch we walked along two bays to discover an epic beach with giant waves and not a soul in sight. Perched on the edge of the end of one of the bays was a bizarre concrete turret structure that looked like it belonged on Tattooine. Abandoned, it had become home to hundreds of tiny black bats who would fly out a few at a time every time we spoke.

Dotted up and down the Yucatan coast of Mexico there are countless natural deep water holes called ‘cenotes’. They form in limestone rock and each cenote has its own unique wildlife, stalactites and stalagmites, and some have networks of caves. Some, like the Gran Cenote, are filled with a bale of curious and moss covered turtles who spend their time swimming up to your face or nibbling your toes when you dangle them from the platforms above. We spent an afternoon paddling in the cool blue waters and working up the courage to explore some of the dark caves.

We rose in the cool dark of pre-dawn determined to beat the rows of tour buses belching tourists and have the Tulum ruins to ourselves. We discovered that a few tour companies had exactly that same idea. We felt stupid and really tired but it was pretty hard to be angry at the buses when they were so damn cute.
See more of Kate’s work here.
See more of Tom’s work here.

Featured Product



68cm Check-in Luggage


Stowable Backpack