Here’s a guest post written
by Andy Altman-Ohr:
Today we had a real treat.
We were invited by a well-to-do Mexican man to join a weekly Saturday morning breakfast gathering of family and friends on his rancho about five miles south of town.
The man has had a long career as a lawyer, professor and now restaurant owner, and we know he is from a prominent Zihuatanejo family, so we were quite honored to be asked. The night before, we bought some Italian cookies as a gift, and this morning we got up extra early to walk the dogs so we’d be ready for our 7:30 a.m. rendezvous for the drive out there. Figuring it would take place at the man’s country estate, we dressed nicely — not over the top, but I did break out my top-shelf sandals for the first time since we’ve been here.
We drove toward the airport, did a “retorno” and then pulled off the main highway and started driving up a long dirt road, the foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur not far off. A corral with three or four burros could be spotted about 75 yards to the left; 25 yards beyond that, a flock of goats milled about, doing what goats do best. Mango trees were everywhere, with the green fruits turning an interesting shade of purple en route to ripeness. The house must be just over the next crest.
But then we spotted some plastic chairs and tables underneath a big tree, and the cars stopped and parked. Breakfast, it turned out, was going to be right there — in the shade of a huge tree, next to the dirt path, adjacent to palms and mango trees, with the chachalacas in the branches belting out their morning “gobbles” (for lack of a better word). Tables were slid together and dusted off, chairs unstacked and placed around the table. Relatives and friends began to arrive, each bringing their own small contribution to the meal and setting it up meticulously (but certainly not buffet-style orderly) on the table for all to enjoy.
As everyone sat around the table, noshing and having conversations with those nearest to them, I felt like I was in a scene in an Italian film. OK, I know we’re in Mexico, but this scene I’ve seen in Italian movies, not Mexican ones.
Stacey and I managed to converse with the attendees a little bit, asking some of the men if they liked baseball, and I regaled one man by knowing which teams are playing this weekend in the Mexican soccer league semifinals, and what the scores of the first legs were.
Interestingly, Stacey ended up being the only woman among the 12 attendees. Sometimes women attend, we were told, but usually not. She didn’t feel awkward, however, and did her best to make conversation. Two of the later-arriving attendees (a pair of brothers) spoke some English, and since they sat near us, we were able to talk to them a bit. Later, the men started telling stories to the whole group. We sat and listened, unable to understand more than a word or two here and there.
Anyway, much of the focus was on eating. There was Mexican cheese and roll-your-own fish tacos; sweet tamales (to be eaten with the cheese) and Mexican pastries; thick, homemade corn tortillas and barbacoa (slow-cooked meat in a barbecue sauce); pork carnitas (pulled pork) and soft rolls to hollow out and make into tortas; and homemade, crsipy chicharones (fried pork belly). We had a tasty baked good that was crumbly and tasted of cinnamon; a Zihuatanejo specialty we had never seen anywhere in town before let alone tried (a gelatinous corn “tortilla” pressed and wrapped inside a banana leaf); and a “burro banana” (as they are called in the U.S.) … only this one was the most flavorful banana ever. Bowls of salsa and two plastic jugs of coffee were there for those who wanted them. What a great experience!
So how did we get invited in the first place? I would think it’s pretty rare for Americans living in Mexico to experience something quite like this, let alone two rubes fresh off the boat (so to speak) only three weeks earlier.
Well, here’s how it went down:
A week earlier, we were having a drink at a nice restaurant bar when the owner came over to say hola. We began conversing with him in Spanish as best we could (he speaks almost no English), and eventually told him that, come Octubre, we would be living in a house across from the fire station owned by Senor Amador Campos.
His eyes lit up and nearly popped out of his head. Amador Campos! “Mi hermano! he said. No way, we thought. He must mean “brother” as in a close friend, best amigo kind of way. But no, Amador is really his brother. Of all the tequila joints in all the towns in all of Mexico, we somehow walked into his. He knew, of course, that his brother had rented his house to an American couple — but what are the odds that he would randomly wander over to talk to some couple, and it would end up being the renters (us)?
Anyway, we continued our conversation in Spanish, then he called over a “translator” (his son) who helped make things a little more clear. In Spanish, he invited us out to his rancho the following Saturday (today), and we gladly accepted (also in Spanish), and asked what could we bring (in English, I think).
Two times at the gathering, for the early crowd and then the late-arrivers, he told the story of how our paths crossed, getting big laughs both times.
His brother happens to be the ex-mayor of Zihuatanejo and was also something like a state representative to the Mexican congress … but “How we ended up renting the ex-mayor’s house” (where he and his family lived for 17 years) is another story for another time.