The garden at the rear of the elegant El Palomar restaurant/bar in San Miguel de Cozumel is a cool oasis of ferns, bamboo, and palm trees where a bartender is mixing our first drink of the morning.
It's here on the seafront, a short coach ride from the ship, that the Cozumel Foodie Tour begins, with mezcal, tacos and Diego, our guide. We've only recently had breakfast but, hey, when in Rome.
The island of Cozumel, just off the east coast of Mexico, is the first stop on Seabourn's 14-day Central America and Panama Canal Pathfinder cruise. We have Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, and Guatemala ahead of us. But first, the mezcal.
While the bartender struts his stuff, Diego explains that mezcal is the generic term for any product made from the distillation and fermentation of the juices of the agave plant.
"The difference between mezcal and tequila," says Diego as the staff begin to dish out a small shot glass and a taco, "is that tequila can only be made from one kind of agave [blue agave] whereas mezcal can be made from many different types."
The drink is a cocktail of mezcal, chilli liqueur, lime and orange juice, and the rim of the glass is ringed with chilli powder. The hand-made tortilla is stuffed with pork rind in red salsa, avocado sauce, radish, and cilantro (coriander to me and thee).
"Cilantro," says Diego, "is the secret ingredient in Mexican cuisine. If you want your Mexican food to taste like Mexican food, cilantro is the secret. Salut!"
It's not a bad start to a tour that will take us into the colourful, mural-strewn back streets of Cozumel, away from the main square with its alarming ponchos, cheap T-shirts, badly made lucha libre wrestling masks, Cuban cigar shops ("almost free, sir!") and touristy margarita bars.
Before we leave El Palomar, we get to taste an artisanal mezcal called sacalagrimas, which Diego warns translates as 'bringing out tears'. Paired with a slice of orange or grapefruit sprinkled with chilli powder it's not as bad as it sounds, and certainly puts a pep in the step.
Our next stop is a 10-minute walk away from the seafront, along a side street peppered with the brightly painted buildings that are a feature of Cozumel. We are heading for Chela Nah, a bar inside a white clapboard house with ocean-blue trim around the doors and a rusty corrugated roof.
Chela Nah translates as 'beer house' but it also stocks a good selection of tequilas, and soon we are getting stuck into both.
We taste a red craft ale called Libertad and pair it with a thick corn tortilla topped with fried beans, tomato sauce and chunks of trigger fish. "It's definitely not considered fancy," explains Diego. "It's a snack, and maybe not super-healthy because it's fried but, hey, it's really good."
After that, it's time for tequila – and a potted history of the drink that has become synonymous with Mexico. Did we know, for instance, that tequila was named after a town called Tequila? No, me neither. As for that worm? Well, you'll have to ask Diego which one of 30 or more stories is true.
The rest of our all-too-short time at Chela Nah is spent tasting — with some pertinent instructions from Diego — red label, silver label and gold label Amanecer Ranchero tequilas.
Our final port of call is a little more up-market. After some free time to swan around the main square we head off to Novena Ola, the restaurant on the roof of La Isla de Cozumel Museum, right on the main road overlooking the ocean.
Here, we're treated to three more tequila-based cocktails and a taco filled with pork cooked to an old Mayan below-ground technique and topped with shreds of pickled red onion.
The drinks include a simple mix of lime juice, orange juice and tequila which stands out because the rim is covered in sal de gusano, or 'worm salt' — a mildly spicy mix of chilli, salt and the ground-up and toasted larvae of the parasitic worm that lives on and eats the agave plant.
Talk about revenge being sweet.
Seabourn Cruise Line's 14-Day Central America and Panama Canal Pathfinder itinerary will set sail again at the start of December 2023, on the Seabourn Quest. It costs from $7999 for an Oceanview room and from $9999 for a Verandah room, a person, twin share. Pre-paid gratuities are included as are unlimited food and beverages. See seabourn.com
The Cozumel Foodie Tour costs $US59.
Keith Austin travelled as a guest of Seabourn Cruise Line.