Forget Cancun and Tijuana; the quintessential place to sample a margarita is by the sun-drenched shores of southern California, writes Kevin Pilley.
The shorebreak is 'macking' and 'gnarly' and the solid two-metre waves are really stomping in. There is no 'mushy junk' about. 'I feel really stoked!' I shout above the crashing waves. 'I'm really logging up some quality tube time in the Green Room!'
Bill Miller sighs. He has never seen anyone get such a rush from paddling in the Pacific before. Miller is a lifeguard and bodysurfing teacher at Oceanside in southern California. The former marine R&R town, a 45-minute drive from San Diego, has been re-vamped into a stylish resort. It hosts the world bodysurfing championships, which take place this year on August 27 and 28. Oceanside is also the home of the American Surf Museum.
'Bodysurfing is the most natural way to use the waves. You become at one with them,' says Miller as I nosedive into the shingle and flail about at his feet. 'It's the best avenue to experience the raw energy of the ocean.'
Clearly I don't have the makings of a surf legend. Apparently I don't have the right body figuration. My west coast fantasies, therefore, don't last long. The Pacific makes me feel middle-aged.
We retire to the Rockin' Baja Lobster harbour-side bar, which Miller assures me gives just as cool 'glass' as the sea. 'Fresh back from the Snow Zone, guys?' Candace the barmaid asks, noticing the puddles forming around my flip-flops. A sign above her head proclaims the premises to be the 'Home of the Big Bucket', whatever that may be. 'How about me putting something nice in that cute British mouth of yours? You want a taste of real Americana?' Candace gets busy with her hands. She does some vigorous shaking, leans over and gives it to me.
'The spirit of the west coast and the pride of Jalisco, Mexico,' she says proudly, presenting me with my first margarita of the day. 'One hundred per cent American agave, served according to my own secret recipe.'
Candace makes a mean margarita and the bar is part
of southern California's new Tequila Trail, along which
you can visit various hostelries in search of the perfect cocktail. Maps are provided to help you check out the
The next stop is the Oceanside Yacht Club, where barman Joe Jags produces a classic margarita in a big, salt-rimmed highball glass. 'Traditionally, it's meant to
be served in a flat, wide-mouthed shot glass called a caballito, or little horse, but that's too low rent for us.
Our members are sippers, not slammers. But they know
a good margarita when they taste one. They can tell a
pre-mixed one a mile away.'
Jags switches on his blender again. 'My customers prefer a customised margarita,' he says. 'That's three parts Cuevo 1800, two parts Grand Marnier, two parts my own sweet 'n' sour magic formula, three squeezes from a fresh lime and a lime and coarse-salt rim.'
Tequila was first distilled in central Pacific Mexico
in the 17th century and first exported to the United
States in 1873. There are now about 600 brands made by tequila producers such as Tukys, Chinaco, Casa Noble, Herradura, Jose Cuervo and Sauza. The most expensive tequilas can cost upwards of US$100 a bottle.
'How about a big purple one? I make them with two ounces of Chambord raspberry liqueur. It guarantees an authentic made-in-Mexico hangover,' says the barman at Bub's Whisky Dive.
A medicinal lesson comes at the next port of call.
'Pain relief and stress management, all in the same glass,' says the barman at McCabes at the Beach. 'Tequila contains cortisone, so every margarita is good
for you. It's a muscle relaxant. I use pre-frozen glasses
for the ultimate chill-out.'
The margarita has nothing to do with the island of the same name that lies off the coast of Venezuela. It was probably created in the 1930s, but no one is certain by whom. There are various claimants to the title of inventor of the world's most popular cocktail. The Rancho La Gloria bar in Tijuana claims to be the drink's birthplace. Legend has it that it was invented there by bartender Carlos 'Danny' Herreros for a fledgling American actress who was allergic to all alcohol but tequila. Her name was Marjorie, which in Spanish is Margarita.
Another tale claims a barman in Hollywood first mixed it for film star Rita Hayworth, whose full name was Margarita. The most likely account, however, states that it was invented in Acapulco by Texan socialite Margarita Somes, who was a close friend of the man behind the Hilton hotel chain that popularised the drink.
At the El Callejon Moonlight Plaza the barman runs through a list of tequila cocktails: Sunrise (with grenadine syrup), Ixtapa (with coffee liqueur), Martini (with dry vermouth), Cactus (with pineapple and coconut), Low Rider (with triple sec and cranberry) and Acapulco Blue (with Curacao). Apparently, there is even a tequila beer and tequila-flavoured pasta.
A few hours later I find myself reclining at Fidel's on Carlsbad Boulevard, having given in to the gravitational pull of the Earth's surface. As the old saying goes, 'One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor!' Suddenly water hits me in the face. I look up and hear a familiar voice. Above me is a sea of crop-headed recruits from nearby Camp Pendleton.
'You're not one of beautiful people, are you?' says my bodysurfing coach. 'And not much of an outdoors type either.'
Getting there: Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com) flies to Los Angeles, from where several domestic carriers offer connections to San Diego.