Rattlesnake Tequila: A Gringo's Quest
A multitude of onlookers wait patiently along the terraced viewing platform, every eye transfixed upon the gently rocking sea below.
No one speaks, save for the excited babbling of several disengaged toddlers.
Below, the ebb of the crystalline tide reverses course, garnering enough momentum to crest into a slow, unmistakable wave — it’s headed for the point of no return, a craggy inlet upon which the mesmerized crowd has trained their attention.
The force of the wave reaches it’s pinnacle just as it collides with the pressure chamber beneath the viewing platform —
BOOM! A cacophonous noise accompanies the resulting blast of water as it shoots nearly 100 feet into the air, spraying the awestruck witnesses with a backlash of moisture.
The crowd goes wild, elated at their latest brush with La Bufadora.
20 miles south of Ensenada, situated along the sleepy peninsula of Punta Banda, La Bufadora is an often overlooked bastion of authentic Baja culture and natural beauty.
“The Blowhole”, as translated into English, bears distinction as the second largest marine geyser in the world (The largest is in Oahu, Hawaii). Visitors are treated to the spectacular display roughly every 60 seconds, and no two eruptions are identical.
Our purpose for being here, however, is not limited to this natural phenomenon — we’ve come in search of a much more human design, one which involves the regions most poisonous occupant being plunged into a vat of the regional occupants most popular poison— huh?
“Tequila Con Vibor”, as this potent admixture is known locally, is the result of a live rattlesnake being drowned in a jug of mezcal liquor. Regional lore maintains that the dying serpent releases a cocktail of medicinal chemicals upon it’s expiration, supplementing the strength and charm of the liquor. The lifeless serpent is then removed from the concoction, only to be returned to the bottom of the tequila jar after being disemboweled. By the time the liquor gets to your favorite Baja watering hole, the slithering reservoir of toxicity has been fermenting for several months.
I have it on good authority that Manny’s place, a crumbling slab of concrete that doesn’t quite qualify as dive bar, has the very spirit I’ve come in search of. Manny’s bar abuts the bottleneck entrance to La Bufadora town, and is recognizable both by it’s dilapidated charm and the depiction of a snake coiled around a caricatured jug of firewater, rattle held high.
Stepping through the saloon style doors into the unlit tavern, I half-expect a dodgy cast of poker players and harlots to freeze their antics while they survey the stranger who just saddled up to their sleepy one horse town. Instead, I find only an empty dining room buttressed by a desperado style Mexican bar scene.
In true cinematic fashion, Manny lords over the dingy counter while massaging a highball glass with his tattered white rag. I'm surprised he isn't wearing an eye patch.
“Hey Bro” he quips laconically in a tone not unworthy of Cheech Marin, gesturing for me to choose a seat at the bar.
My eyes are immediately drawn to the far side of the bar, where the prized hooch sits stooped in a renegade ray of sunlight filtering through a crack in the wall.
“Estoy aquí para el Tequila Con Vibor — te quiero” I offer in my best Most Interesting Man In The World impression.
“JAJAJA!” Manny retorts— “Get in Line, bro!”
I quickly identify the error in my speech — the last bit of my announcement translates literally to “I want you”.
Okay, so we’ll just stick with my native tongue.
“Come over here and we’ll get you set up” Manny volunteers in his faultless English.
As I grab a stool and position myself immediately next to the tequila jar, he submerges his leathery hand into the brew and retrieves the magical ingredient — a three foot long rattlesnake with protruding, inanimate fangs.
“Have a kiss for the camera” Manny instructs. As I lean in to give the diamond shaped head of the rattler a peck, it jolts towards me with lightning quickness.
I instinctively recoil and nearly lose my footing, sending Manny the practical joker and his lone other patron into a fit of hysterics.
“I bet I’m not the first Gringo you’ve pulled that on” I chortle.
“NO, YOU’RE NOT” he bellows, still feverish with laughter.
By the time Manny’s maniacal fit subsides, the venomous cocktail is already en route to my gullible hatch.
“Salud!” I toast the prankster and his sparse audience, slamming back the brew in my best rough and tumble enigma impression.
I didn’t anticipate the staggering amount of liquid contained within the deceptively voluminous glass — This was less like a shot of rattlesnake tequila, and more like three shots. An overflow of the mysterious nectar cascades down my scraggly stubble and onto the bar in front of me, looking like the aftermath of a La Bufadora blast.
“JAJAJA — You got more in your beard than you did in your mouth” Manny jests sardonically.
He continues to light-heartedly lambast me between spasms of laughter, but I’m too consumed by the immediate potency of the mysterious nectar I’ve finally corralled.
A pronounced ringing in my ears accompanies the burning in my chest. The room seems smaller, more homely — the stool beneath me vibrates as I suddenly notice a gossamer-wing butterfly between two rusty liquor bottles over Manny’s left shoulder.
“You want another one?”
“I already got more than I bargained for” I rebut, optimistic that the rattler moonshine is settling in my stomach without threat of a return journey.
I slide the glass down the bar towards Manny, failing to account for the pool of liquor splashed around it’s base. The glass immediately topples over, rolling in a most unmysterious and amateur fashion towards the veteran snake hooch slinger. Although Manny’s place is saturated in a wild west mystique, I’m still coming off like the sunburned gringo archetype that I’ve been actively trying to suppress. I’m more Bill Murray than Danny Trejo, and no amount of rattlesnake tequila is going to disguise that.
I slap down three crisp one dollar bills, ever grateful that everyone in Baja California Norte still prefers greenbacks over the tumultuous peso.
“Gracias Jefe” are the last words I utter, doing my best to maintain the illusion of suave resolve that I’ve been desperately trying to project throughout this ordeal.
I can’t make out Manny’s garbled response as I exit his dusty den — his howls of laughter overpower whatever departing message he has for me, and the ringing in my ears continues unabated.