Meal Stop on the Way Through Baja

Posted on August 6, 2014

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      The restaurant is a roadside palapa with three or four small metal tables set at angles away from the patio where the owner’s wife does the cooking. Seated one has a view of the highway, a two-lane asphalt strip stretching along the desert towards the grim, gray mountains one has just crossed. A dusty taste lingers in the air, accented by teases of wood smoke from the patio.

The owner’s eight-year-old daughter brings tortillas. Unlike many children from isolated villages she is not shy. She walks and smiles as though wanting to ridicule the odd appearance of Americans on the way to the peninsula’s southern beaches. I ask for salsa and she cocks her head, then shrugs. Her brother, perhaps five, emerges from the patio. A lollypop stem protrudes from one corner of his mouth. “Hola, hijo,” I greet him. His shrug duplicates that of his sister. He extracts the lollypop, peers at it as though examining a crime scene through a magnifying glass, then returns it to his mouth and sidles back towards the patio.

His mother’s slightly off-key accompaniment to a ranchero ballad is interrupted by a curse, then a burst of laughter. A minute later she sashays towards us, steaming plates of huevos rancheros in either hand. A large dog follows her, perhaps a German shepherd-collie mix; he stations himself a few meters away from us, head erect and slightly cocked. The nine-year-old returns, flipping long black hair away from her cheek with a jerk of her head, and distributes knives and forks and two clay containers of salsa in front of us. I thank her and she shrugs, then impishly tells me, “pica”—“it bites.” I tell her I like it that way and she swishes her skirt as she returns to the patio.

         The eggs are delicious, the refried beans spicy and topped with melted cheese. The dog watches us eat, more a guard than a beggar, and the boy returns, munching what appears to be a slice of jicama. Their mother choruses a more romantic ranchero ballad and emerges to ask, “Todo bien?” Everything fine? We assure her that it is and she grins, her puffy cheeks exhibiting the same impish amusement  that I’d seen on her daughter’s face. As we pay and rise to leave the dog escorts us to our van and the girl ducks past her mother, waves and in lilting English calls, “So long! Come you back again!”      

 

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Posted in: Life in Mexico