It’s Not Illegal – It’s Illicit!
Two words with very similar meanings and yet, at least in my mind…very different connotations.
When I see the word illegal I think crime. Courtrooms, judges, prison. Bad stuff. I want no part of it.
According to my dictionary the definition of illicit is “forbidden by law, rules or custom.” Pretty serious I guess, but to me it just sounds damn exciting. Even more so when you use the Spanish word “Ilicito.” I don’t think crime, I think adventure.
Did I Hear That Right?
And so….my ears pricked. Like a Doberman Pinscher when it hears the enticing mew of a street cat. We were sitting in the backyard of my GF’s family house. Eating copious amounts of food – for something different. People were hungry as they had been waiting a looong time for me to get the bbq going properly. I used paper, wood, firestarters, some spray-gas type thing. Oh and fire. However, even though I’m usually an excellent all-round handyman (insert rolly eye emoji here)…I struggled, but finally got there.
The words I was pretty sure I heard in Spanish were “I know a place where you can buy illicit mezcal.”
Unsurprisingly this got my interest.
I mean, obviously I love mezcal…but this mezcal was ilicito! Exciting, dangerous…and probably very cheap! What a combination.
My Spanish at this time was pretty ordinary; so I continued eating the tacos, tamales, enchiladas, gorditas, burritos, nachos and tortas while the better half carefully procured all the crucial information. She knew this was important stuff.
“Pedro” (name changed so as not to incriminate) spoke for around 20 minutes giving great detail about the product and how to obtain it. I understood close to nothing, but drank beer the rest of the day contentedly…knowing that there was some excitement on the horizon.
The next day, with anticipation I asked my GF about all the details. Her response, “I don’t remember.”
She thought Pedro said it was near an OXXO convenience store. Hmmm, there is an OXXO on every corner of Mexico. I’m not kidding. Along with a pharmacy….why are there so many pharmacies here?
I…ahem…gently suggested that a text be sent to Pedro to clarify matters. I was worried that Pedro would not want to put anything in writing, but sure enough not much later we had further information…or should I say clues.
Drive down towards the football field, left at the yellow house (plenty of them here), straight until you come across the man dressed as a gorilla juggling swords at the traffic lights, then right for about 100 metres. You will see a store there where they sell food and drinks….you can’t miss it. Ask for Enrique.
On A Mission
We arrive at where we think is the right place. It’s pretty desolate. No actual stores. Very few people. The only thing in the area at all is a taco stand. Two guys cooking up tacos al pastor. Pork taco prepared on an upright rotisserie with a chunk of pineapple on top for extra flavour.
Could this be it? I guess it has to be…I mean there are no other options. Why didn’t Pedro just tell us the goods were being sold through a taco stand? Too easy I guess. It’s only appropriate that in order to get your hands on something illicit you should be required to solve a riddle or two.
“Hola…como estas? Are you Enrique?” Sii…iiiii…. came the cautious reply. “Oh great….we are here to buy some of your mezcal,” I said in a hushed tone out the side of my mouth. There was no other person within 100 metres.
“Mezcal?” Enrique looked incredulous. As if I’d just asked him for a date with his daughter. Only tacos here amigo. How many would you like? The tacos looked great admittedly, but I wanted mezcal. Illicit mezcal.
“Sooo, there is definitely no mezcal here? I’d really like to buy some”. “Nooo..no..no..nooo”. Something seemed a little different now though. Enrique fired off some Spanish to his mate and they both started looking around as if they were under FBI surveillance.
“Who told you something about mezcal? We don’t have any here. Only tacos amigo”.
“Actually it was our friend Pedro I blurted out. Apparently he comes here a lot. He usually has his Rottweiler with him”.
Enrique’s eyes narrowed for a few seconds and then gradually grew larger and larger until they looked like the plates he served his tacos on…..”ahhhhh Pedro!”
“How many bottles do you want?! I have 5 boxes in my car! Why didn’t you mention Pedro earlier!”
Enrique handed me 2 one litre bottles, along with his business card. He has a business card! I handed over the small amount of money required to by illicit goods and we drove off as if the police were chasing us. I was suitably satisfied with our bounty.
This is Mexico
Here’s the thing though. I’ve since learned that illicit mezcal is everywhere here! I’m not sure why Pedro and Enrique felt the need to be so secretive. Honestly buying illicit mezcal here in Michoacan is easier than buying a bazooka in the US.
I first discovered this when I went out with the intention of buying a loaf of bread from the local corner store on a Sunday night. I ended up drinking two shots with Jose the store owner and coming home with a litre of illicit contraband in a plastic bottle. Forgot the bread.
Recently we went through some small towns in the mountains here. Mezcal producing country. We were crawling along in our car looking for something that looked like a store that might have some mezcal tucked away. We spotted a woman walking along the street. The type who might know where to find some of the good stuff. Through a rolled down window we asked her in a not too subtle way which store may have some illicit mezcal….with a huge grin she shrieked back “all of them!”
You may have realised by now that my writing style veers strongly towards the flippant. What I do want to make clear though is that when it comes to mezcal I really appreciate quality. Drinking an unexpected mystery mezcal with a shopkeeper is fun. That said, if you want to really experience this amazing drink there is no substitute for purchasing the real deal from a recognised mezcalero who has spent years crafting an amazing product.
Mexico has a lot of activity that falls into my definition of illicit. Kind of bad, kind of against the law…but usually fun. People don’t like to be told what to do. Rules are made to be worked around. Order and structure is practically non-existent. It can sometimes take some time to get used to, but it’s a huge part of the cultural charm of the country.
You never know what might happen here next – or where you might find your next illicit mezcal.