Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Vera Cruz

After a couple days of resting at home Alan and I departed again for a visit to his housekeeper's (Isa) family.  It is usually something like a 4-5 hour drive to get there, but we outsmarted the horrible Mexico City traffic and left at 4 AM after a quick breakfast of quesadillas.  It only took us 3 hours and we were extremely pleased though thoroughly sleepy. We arrived to a town called Perote by 7 AM and I took a nap in the car (necessary for my social functioning ability) while Alan went to look around the square.  We usually drive in alan's mom's car which is a small Honda, but we were instructed by Isa to take Mr. Drummond's car, a larger CRV with 4 Wheel Drive capabilities.  We doubted its necessary presence.  My nap over, we shared a scone and contacted Isa who met us, with her boyfriend, in the square and we all went for coffee.  Vera Cruz coffee is delicious of course, as are thier sweet breads that they serve with it ;D  We had been rather eager to meet Freddy, Isa's man, as we had only heard occasional mentions of him.  Both of them were extremely welcoming and we all chatted and joked around with much translating done by Alan.
We then drove to Los Altos where Isa's family lives.  This is where we were grateful we did not take the Honda.  Alan did an apt job of describing the state of the street by asking Isa later why she had us drive up the rapids instead of the road.  It had long gashes created by the extrordanary amounts of rainfall that season and potholes made to hold onto your car.  Quite a fun adventure.  We belted road-trip music all the while.  After avoiding numerous strays who clearly didn't care if a car was about to run them over and a herd of goats, we came upon the modest home.  I really loved the place.  We were ushered into the main building, which consisted of a concrete floor, concrete walls, and a roof made of sheets of bent metal with a slight hole in the middle that let the occasional rain drop through.  It was a simple rectangular building about the size of 2 king sized beds placed end to end.  Very cozy and intimate.  Inside there were 2 stoves made of overturned metal barrels with a small hole ontop for the smoke to escape, and a hole on the side to place wood into.
We said our hellos and introductions and sat down by the stoves.  In the back corner was the mother.  she was the oldest one there, turning 61 next week, but looked about 70.  she was kneading corn flour in a large bowl which would later become gorditas (fat torillas).  There was also a pregnant woman who looked to be about 19 or 20.  She stayed relatively to herself.  Then there was Isa's sister, a strong, capable woman who also worked in the city like Isa, for a family.  Hiding almost behind one of the stoves was the cutest girl I have seen, Aida.  An extrordinarily polite 7-year old.  As we all chatted, the men arrived from the fields.  We had planned initially to begin our visit with some time picking corn in the fields with them, but they decided against it due to the cold and rain.  They came in a flurry of corn stalks, big smiles, and a huge, memorable, waterproof poncho that was made out of a tablecloth.  Jesus, one of Isa's brothers,was the talker of the family.  He made fun of everyone and seemed like he loved his life in all aspects, and you couldn't help but feel animated by his presence.  The other brother, Max, was also a big joker, a bit more subdued than Jesus.  The spirits and beer came out and the corn, freshly picked from the fields was thrown onto some coals on a grill-like thing.  Then, to my excitement, Lima beans that were also picked just then were tossed ontop of the stove to heat up.  The mother was proceeding to shape the gorditas and place them on the stove to cook.  When they cooked enough they were shaped more to give them edges.  We munched on the Lima beans while the gorditas were topped with pig fat, salsa, and fresh goat cheese and onions.  They also threw on some Tamales of different varieties to heat up.  We ate and ate and ate and it was so delicious and fresher than anything I've had in a long long while.  No salt or seasonings needed as the freshness had all the flavour!
Following the feast of a lunch, the rains had essentially stopped, so we decided to pick corn and lima beans after all.  The sisters doted on any need I had, it was so hospitable of them.  They lent me a raincoat, long socks, boots, and en route an umbrella was given to me too!  We walked for 3 or 4 hours I think, to the fields, and through them.  We began by picking small peaches from a peach tree they had, then we were taught about how to tell if the corn was ready to be picked and we picked 3 different varieties: blue, white, and yellow.  Then I went mad in the lima bean area and filled my pockets with them.  The rains had started again and continued for most of what I can only describe as a jaunt.  Upon our arrival to the cars the beers were opened and music was played setting the mood for the rest of the evening.  It wasn't until after the walk that I finally emerged from the foggyness that had surrounded my sleep deprived brain. Yay.
Back to the main building.  Immediatly Isa grabbed a pair of wool slippers for me and put my boots and sneakers and socks to dry by the stove.  I had planned to some extent and had an extra pair of socks in my purse for both Alan and me.  Everything was steaming and drying.  We had planned to leave that same evening, bringing Isa with us so she didn't have to take the bus, but with one invitation by Isa to stay the night and no hesitation at all, we grabbed a few more drinks and laughed a little bit more freely.  The decision already made, though not known but the rest of her family, we were asked to stay by the others and as a gift for staying, or to make us stay, they offered to kill a goat in out honour.  Wow...That's certainly never been offered to me before seriously.  Alan and I exchanged a smile and took the invitation again, with even more enthusiasm than before. 
A few more 'Saluds!' and the rest of the family started to wander in.  First there were more little girls, a 2 year old with pigtails, and a couple of 9 or 10 year olds.  They teased the 2 year old relentlessly and she held her ground rather impressively.  Two 17 or 18 year old boys came in a bit later, one with a lip peircing, and the other with a nasty pus covered burn on his shoulder.  When they entered, the 2- year old screamed 'Dad is here!' in spanish and ran toward them.  I was impressed with the youth of her father, but then an older man, around mid-forties came in with metal outlined teeth, a hefty presence, and a very tough, but happy, look to him.  He was the faher, and his wife looked to be in her 40s too and she was preganant again.  Apparently he had 2 wives, but I honestly couldn't tell sometimes if people were just joking around with me or serious.  He was also the police chief for the town, and he had 2 wives.  I donno.  More tamales, lima beans, and corn were thrown onto the stoves and everybody ate.
A few drinks later and a baby goat was brought in.  they were playing with him and then Alan informed me that this was the sacrifice.  Again, couldn't tell if they were joking around to see this white girl's reaction or not since they were all playing with him.  All was clarified when they took him outside and he screamed a couple of times and a goat carcass was hung next to the door.  I was totally not picturing a baby goat, but Alan said that he was cheaper and more tender.  Gave me a little shock, not gonna lie.  Something about killing a domesticated animal bothers me more than going out hunting for a wild one.  I got over it.
We finished the homemade spirits and the beers.  Some of the kids went to bed, but most stayed or returned later with the biggest marshmallows I have ever seen in my life.  We got sticks and roasted them all the while making jokes about the men lending thier sticks and whose was stronger and other such jokes about each other's moms.  Everything that night was fun, warm, happy, loving, joking, familial, light-hearted.  It struck me multiple time throughout the day and night how much love there was.  everyone made fun of eveyone and nobody was allowed to be uptight because they would just be made fun of more.  The kids played with each other and if they did anyting wrong they were let to feel the impact of thier mistake as it was or were just made fun of more for it and embarassed a bit, then everyone went back to laughing and story telling.  I couldn't get over how different the dynamics were to most families and communities I know of.  I guess this is more common with simpler living.  Happier and closer knit.  Everyone took care of each other.  I could have stayed many many more nights and been very happy.
By 11 PM people were hungry again, I swear all they did was eat!  I was stuffed at every meal, so we took a drive down to a Sunday Taco place and chilled there.  More laughing and eating.  I had hit a wall by this time, very hard, and simply focused on not falling asleep on the chair in the Taco place.  When we did begin getting ready for sleeping, a bed was set up for Alan and I in another building right next to the main one.  It had 2 other beds and a loft where they used to store crops.  The mother slept in a room attached to ours with a girl who lived nearby who kept her company.  The girl told her stories and just slept next to her so the mother was not alone at night, as the father had died not too long ago.  The sisters put 4 or 5 blankets on the bed to make sure we would not be cold, gave me fluffy thick socks to wear and a pair of pajamas as well as a pair of crocs for if I needed to use the outhouse in the middle of the night.  I will never forget how nice they were.  At the end our bed, to our surprise and amusement, was the goat carcass, hanging from the ceiling.
I have not slept so well in a very long time.  We woke up at 8.45 and were told by the other women in one of the other beds to go back to sleep.  They and us had no work to do so no need to wake up until later.  No reason to argue with that.  By 11.30, though, we got dressed and joined the family in the main building.  They were preparing the goat organs in a soup, and cooking some other good things.  They set out a little table for Alan and I with Cafe de Olla and some buscuits.  The peaches from the day before were boiled with cinnemon and some sugar and were just so good.  Then Carnitas, a pork cooked in some delicious way which we ate inside a fresh corn tortilla.  Then the goat was cut up and cooked outside on the open fire grill.  Served with more tortillas, salsas, cucumber, lime, a cooked cactus leaf (Nopal), and more lima beans.  We ate and ate and ate!  I was encouraged to try the soup which also has the goat hoof.  I really enjoyed it with all the organs (intestines, a stomach, liver, heart, kitdneys etc.) but I couldn't do the hoof.  I tried.  I really did.  Stuffed again!  What a breakfast!
The brothers took Alan and I out on the horses to go foraging for mushrooms.  We decided that we wanted to try barebacking it!  So one horse was left with only the bridle, the other 3 were saddled.  Alan rode up the mountain sliding onto the horse's butt and getting a couple of bucks for that.  He said it was easier than he expected so I did it on the way down.  Lots of fun!!  Definitley harder than with a saddle!  At one point we tied up the horses and explored the mountainside on foot, searching for edible mushrooms.  We found something like 5 of those red ones with white spots too!  We didn't eat them.  Late afternoon/evening fell as did the rain, so we headed back with our bag of goodies.  Drying off by the stove they heard me say the word Esquites (a yummy food) and the brothers jumped up to prepare it for me.  I wasn't asking for it, as I really wasn't hungry, I simply asked Alan something about it.  They harvested more blue corn, cut the kernals off and boiled it in salted water with some kind of herb.  Served in a cup with a spoonful of mayo, fresh goat cheese, a sprinkle of chili, and lime.  One of my favorite Mexican foods!  Fresh and delicious once again, blew me away.  By this time it was evening and time to go home.  We collected all of our things said our good byes and thank yous and left.  Everyone came out to see us off and we brought back some of the Goat cheese, peaches, corn, and lima beans.  I will never forget that family and the amazing experiences we had.  We were, of course, invited to return and they would take us to more places to see and try more things.  How could we say no.

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