A great many fantastic adventures in life are conceived in inebriation. The quest for the Lost City of Camello Gigante began like most stories, three young men in search of fortune and glory – yet what we found in the bygone region across the border was beyond our wildest dreams.
Earlier this month I heard from friend and head Sommelier at Osteria Mozza, Matthew Bostick that he was going on an impromptu adventure south of the border to drink wine in the burgeoning Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California. Not looking to be outdone I decided to drop my own wine key and head south to investigate.
As I’ve not been to Baja California I knew that I needed to enlist an expert and guide. I got together with good friend and newly minted beverage director for Broken Spanish (soon to debut in the old Rivera space) Michael Lay. With Mike (the fixer) on board, I immediately got down to the business searching for ways to make the trip as absurd as possible. ‘We leave upon the tail of the Hour of the Wolf,’ or something silly like that I recall texting Mike. “Ok cool I’m in, but what time is that?” 5am.
The night before our departure, I attended a dinner party put on by a well-known writer in a dilapidated warehouse somewhere in the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles. I relayed my tale to a few friends there, and my friend Evan, a worldly yet under-employed mechanical engineer with a law degree volunteered himself for the trip.
I told him we leave in 4 hours, to which he began scribbling his phone number cryptically on a piece of toilet paper. ‘You can just put it in my phone dude’ I told him with raised eyebrow. An elite team was set, and I was to be the wheel man / interpreter.
As we got underway, somewhere south of San Diego, I ordered what was probably the largest breakfast burrito i’ve ever scene (a lb of home fries included) at a place which served Chinese food as well as Hamburgers. It was there an old woman huddled in a corner spoke softly to me of the Lost City. “Have you seen La Ciudad de Camello?” she whispered. Thinking she was speaking of a low brow prostitution spectacle I ignored her, but she hissed once more, ‘Los Camellos Gigantes, they guard the treasure for he who seeks’.
Our entry to the other side of the border was seamless; the border control agents thought we were lost, ‘You realize you’re going to Tijuana right?” Oh yes, we did. We had a lost city to find.
According to the old lady, Alexander the Great brought camels with him from Egypt to found a great city south of Tijuana along the coast. Their growth unchecked, the camels reached gargantuan sizes roaming the countryside and stealing treasure from tourists. At the heart of the city was a secret trove for would be adventurers. Ignoring the relative impossibility of this story, we headed south to seek this lost city of giant camels.
We reached the edge of the western hemisphere right as the morning sun began illuminating the beach head. We received quite a few looks in our early morning investigations. I relentlessly questioned the locals, many of which had no idea what I was talking about. ‘Take us to the lost city!’ I demanded, by now hallucinating from acute burrito meat overdose.
Finally a small boy quixotically motioned towards the horizon – ‘there you will find the camels, and the treasure.’ After paying him more than he would make in a week ($5) for a fructose corn syrup suckers, we embarked to the last leg of our journey.
We found the camels grazing silently off a well worn unpaved road. ‘I don’t know about this,’ were Mike’s first words. After some liquid courage and my insisting, we selected our mounts for the ride of our lives.
After one look at me, the camel handlers began speaking to each other in hushed tones. ‘Bring out Samson’ they said. In the distance I heard a low grumbling that nearly shook the earth, and then a disjointed galloping. Then he appeared, the Camel Lord – Samson.
Samson took one look and then one sniff at me, and I could tell he did not want a 200lb human on his back. Yet after a few carrots he seemed willing (I can relate). He smelled a lot like biodynamic Languedoc wine with no sulfur, as well as a few ex-girlfriends.
Much to our dismay, there was no lost city. We basically rode the camels in a circle.
The first thing we noticed about Mariscos was the fact that it was completely overrun by flies. The mild heat, residual camel sweat, and obviously unsanitary conditions usually had my appetite primed for seafood. We ordered several variations on Campechana, a Mexican seafood cocktail with octopus, oysters, shrimp, onions, cocktail sauce, and a spicy tomato base.
The menu had several creative and more expensive renditions of the exact same thing, including my favorite – the exact same dish served in a coconut for 10 dollars more. Disturbingly enough, there was a massive Mexican Walmart directly next door to this restaurant. I couldn’t help wondering if this was the source of the ingredients for our authentic culinary experience.
We drank copious amounts of oxidized beer doused with lime juice to account for the parasites we most likely ingested with the raw shrimp dish served in a stone bowl. I also thoroughly enjoyed the ‘Man Only’ hot sauce. I asked the waiter why it was for men only and he replied, ‘Because women know better.’
Stay tuned for Part Two of this Adventure, where we discovered the birthplace of the Caesar Salad and smuggled pre-embargo Cuban rum back to America!