Sunday, February 14, 2010


We headed south on the 200, aiming for Zihuatanejo. The wheels on the left side were feeling a bit wobbly to Wil so we were on the lookout for a VW mechanic. The plan was to be in town to wait for the part Wil was sure we were going to need. We kept our eyes peeled as we entered town and found one on the service road of the carretera. After a quick pit stop and a tightening of the wheels (which we weren't charged for), we had a yummy sopa de mariscos at the market. While we were driving around Wil noticed that the noise was gone, which totallly changed to itinerary. No part to wait for, no reason to stay in Zihuatanejo. We headed back toward Troncones. The kids and I were excited to see the town again. I think Wil was more anxious than anything, worried that the town would not fare well in light of all our new and more genuine experiences of Mexico. Either way, it is where the seed of this year's road trip took root and we were all curious to see it again. So much of it was familiar and, sadly, totally underwhelming compared to last year's perfect two weeks. We drove along the beach road looking for a likely place to camp without much luck. We were very sad to see that Doña Nica didn't have her pollo asado stand on the main road anymore. We cruised along the string of restaurants on the beach and there she was running her own place. None of us had any expectation of being remembered but she did, and her husband Ramiro, a cab driver who'd given us a tour of his salt laguna remembered us, too. She very kindly agreed to let us pull up in front for a night or two. All we had to do was eat supper in her restaurant. Well, if we HAVE to. Our memory of her cooking was the only thing that didn't suffer in comparison with the rest of our trip. The first night she made us the most amazing chile relleno, stuffed with mashed potato and cheese with a side of albondigas (meatballs with a little chunk of hard-boiled egg tucked in the middle) all served in a zingy tomato sauce with rice, frijoles and blue corn tortillas. Watching her cook was half the fun of being there.

After the lovely waves of Caleta de Campos, the crashing surf and killer undertow of Troncones kept the girls (big and small) out of the water entirely. The town had three days of rain last week, washing everything out of the river on to the beach. The town and the government were in a bit of a power struggle over who was going to take responsibility for the clean up. In the meantime there was a three foot wide barrier of waterlily greens between the water and the shore. The beach certainly didn't look the same. Fortunately Doña Nica had a little pool that kept the kids more than entertained while Wil & I watched the ladies -- Doña Nica, her tortilla lady and her daughters, Brenda and Gardenia, get lunch and supper ready every day. All the cooking was done outside, on a variation of what we saw in Punto Maldonado, an 8-foot long low wooden table covered in clay with four keyhole-shaped slots of differing sizes notched about a foot deep into the clay. The narrow slot of the keyhole for feeding the fire, the closed side a place for the cook to stand without any of the heat of the fire. In the biggest hole sat the comal, a slightly concave earthenware disk where the tortillas got cooked and the jalapenos got toasted. The next biggest notch held a big wok where the chiles rellenos and pescadillas got deep fried.

Lunch on day two was a sopa de mariscos with the tail end of a huachinango, a small lobster cracked in two, a few massive shrimp and a bunch of octopus bits in a flavourful tomato-based broth. The kids got blue corn pescadillas stuffed with fish in a tomato base for the kids. The kids polished off their pescadillas and then begged for seafood scraps from the soup.

We ordered margaritas for our first sunset. Maybe the best we've ever had. When Wil asked for the recipe, Gardenia flashed a cheap liqueur de naranja, a couple of limes, no sugar ... and RUM!

We spent a lot of time chatting with her oldest daughter, Gardenia, who was (as she put it) suffering through her first year back in Troncones after five years in California. A 34-year-old mother of two boys, married at 15, mom by 17 and now back living with her mother, one of her sons and all her extended family while her boyfriend stayed on in California, unable to visit her or she him for lack of papers. Her ex-husband was in Zihuatanejo living with another woman. She loved her life in California and it so obviously pained her to have her 10-year-old son struggling with the adjustment of living life in a minuscule Mexican village, learning how to read and write in Spanish after five happy years in a U.S. school. The poor kid was so painfully shy. The kids and I sat with him for half an hour and the only words that came out of his mouth was the proud naming of the Elementary School he had attended in Vista.

Later on in my conversation with Gardenia she asked me if "los hombres canadienses son fieles?" Are they faithful to their wives? "I can't speak for all of them, but most of the ones I know." She sighed, Mexican men have a wife and at least two women on the side. Wil asked me about the math. Either there are a lot more men than women in this country or some of the women on the side have men on the side. The men of Doña Nica's household only appear when it's mealtime, along with a ragtag bunch of near and distant relatives. They sit down at the table, a plate of amazing food appears before them and is swept away as soon as the last bit is eaten. I never saw one gracias or any kind of compliment about her incredible cooking. In contrast, she seemed to love watching the kids eat her food with relish (they don't complain, she marvelled, and they eat everything!) She also watched Wil watching her cook and asked about whether, like many norteamericanos that she'd met, he cooked. Oh yes. The only thing MY husband knows how to do in the kitchen, she said, is to sit on his ass and wait to be served.

Doña Nica's second daughter Brenda's 4-year-old daughter Paola was a piece of work. Gorgeous little thing, always primped to the nth degree, sporting all the ridiculous footwear we've been seeing in the market. -- silver sandals with a four-inch wide ankle strap attached to the back of the sandal, Converse lookalikes that go up to the knee. The afternoon we met her she approached us holding a can with a slot in the top. Glued to the side of the can was a colour picture of her decked out in a tiara and one of the gawdy princess dresses that hang in half the shop windows in Mexico. What's the cause? "I want to be Spring Queen, whomever collects the most cash wins." After dropping in a few pesos we found out that Paola's can got a cut of every chile relleno that Doña Nica serves in February. Serious business. And like so many of these hidden ingredients of Mexico, now that we are aware of this phenomenon we keep seeing it everywhere -- usually a grandparent dragging around a pretty but sullen granddaughter wherever a crowd has gathered and hitting up anyone with a peso to their name.

Wil noticed that there wasn't a single lancha on the beach and no fishermen to speak of. When we asked Doña Nica about it she stated that the town is only 30 years old, that the village is just a bunch of farmers who relocated to the beach to service the tourists. It certainly explained a lot about what we did and didn't find there.

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