(An Adventure With Eduardo and his Family)
So last Tuesday, I’m walking up the main street in La Cruz (Avenida Langosta – or, Lobster Avenue) towards the bus stop. Just another day for a couple errands – we needed cash and as long as I was going to the ATM I figured I would stop at the Mega for a few things.
By the way, all the streets in La Cruz are named for fish. There’s Lobster, Sailfish, Shrimp, Mackeral, Red Snapper, Dolphin, Marlin, Shark and the outlier is Coral – not a fish but still a worthy name.
So I’m walking up the street when a black SUV pulls up next to me, the passenger door opens and it’s our buddy Eduardo with his wife and daughter. He and his family operate the Green Tomate, one of the first restaurants that we got to know in La Cruz. It was their first season, and we were among the early birds for the cruising season, became semi-regular patrons and so we stood out. Plus now that we are one of about ten populated boats left in the Marina, we really stand out.
Eduardo asked if I wanted a ride but I wanted to walk for the exercise, but when he told me that they were going to Mega too, well it was just impolite to say “No, thank you” a third time…..so I hopped in.
The tricky part is….Eduardo speaks only as much English as I speak Spanish (very little), his wife speaks no English and his daughter Lia (LEE-Ah) is 17 months old so she doesn’t speak much of anything except the word “agua” (water). Over and over and over.
Once we got to Mega, I tried to say “don’t wait because I don’t know how long I will take” but he tried to say “We will wait because it’s no problem and you shouldn’t have to take the bus with your purchases”. He won, they waited.
Then the real adventure began. On the way back to La Cruz, we go through the neighboring town of Bucerias. He pointed out a road to “El Valle” (the Valley) and the town of San Juan. Have I ever been (no). It’s very pretty there, very green (sounds pretty). Would you like to go? (I don’t want to make more trouble for you). It’s not trouble, only an hour – maybe and hour-and-a-half (Well, yes I have the time).
So, off we went.
El Valle is ranch / farm / countryside. We passed a few herds of beef cattle, at least one horse ranch, crop fields and several mango orchards.
Mature mango trees are huge, at least as big as maples back in New York, and grow in orchards like pecans in AZ or apple orchards in NY. The mangoes dangle from these huge trees like Christmas ornaments. In this region they are just starting to turn from green to a purplish color, on their way to red and then the ripe yellow. According to Eduardo and his wife, they are harvested by a person who just cuts cuts cuts mangoes all day.
As one who always look forward to mango season in the U.S., paying up to a dollar apiece, I’m amazed at how many mangoes grow on a single tree.
As we were driving, Eduardo explained something about restaurants up that way serving shrimp and coconut. Now, coco shrimp are very popular along the coast- those being the shrimps that are in a flaked coconut breading and deep fried. So that’s sort of what I pictured. Next thing I know, I’m agreeing to add a trip to a coco shrimp restaurant. Well, not exactly the next thing I knew, because I didn’t really figure it out until after we stopped in front of the restaurant….
….but first, we took a quick side trip to Aguamilpa – a spot in the small river with a dam of sorts….he explained its purpose but I didn’t quite catch on to what it was, but Lia was excited about all the agua. I had already learned that milpa is plant like “cow corn” back in the states – it’s grown, chopped up and stored for cattle feed. So in tetrospect, it might be the place where they draw the water for the irrigation canals that run along the sides of the road. Just a guess on my part.
And then a few more miles of back country dirt road, and we stopped in front of Coco Loco, somewhere in the middle of …….somewhere. It’s a place Eduardo knows from his days in youth soccer leagues (again, I think that’s what he was saying).
Coco Loco made me think of places we visited in the Caribbean – dirt floors, palapa (woven palm frond) roof, donkey braying out back, chickens wandering through the tables. It was definitely a local favorite, not for turistas as demonstrated by the fact that the menu was entirely in Spanish.
So yes I ordered the coco shrimp – when in Rome, and all that. NOT what I expected but TOTALLY delicious. Very simple spicy tomato broth with chunks of the fresh coconut meat and delicately cooked shrimps. The kicker – it’s served in the coconut shell. And they can package it up to go, so John’s dinner plan changed on the spot.
Then the drive home – now Eduardo and his family don’t have tons of money, yet when we stopped so he could get some bottled water and I said I had some with me, he still brought out a cold Corona Light for his wife, and one for me (of course I had to drink it to be polite). And he paid for my lunch. Plus the time out of their day and extra gasoline to entertain me… so I asked him if I could buy some gas before we returned to La Cruz. He only accepted as much as he had spent on me which barely moved the needle back to where it had started, but I guess we both felt OK about the exchange.
At the end of the day, it took a little over five hours from the time I left Nakamal on foot until the time I returned home with my few purchases and John’s coco shell of soup (as a bonus, they also packed up the coco-water from the shell for a drink). I learned several new Spanish words, I got to practice speaking and listening and I don’t think I embarrassed myself too much. But my head hurt a little bit.
I’m told that being “adopted” by a Mexican family and scoring an invite to a family event is the ultimate in “learning Spanish” experience. Maybe someday…..