The third day of the retreat was quite a day. We had signed up for an expedition through Vallarta tours. After breakfast, we lined up at the hotel lobby and got onto a bus. Within a few minutes we had to be out only to be assigned a World War II relic of an ATV called Unimogs. These have extreme off-road capabilities and we soon found out. Our driver, Sese, was a master at creating thrills as he scurried along the poorly maintained roads. We had to sign a waiver after acknowledging that none of us had a back or a neck problem. The trip guide – Fernanda – joked that after the ride, we would definitely have these kind of problems! And indeed it was back-breaking as we went in and out of deep potholes and over stones and mud roads.
Our first stop was the city of San Jose. I was to find out many towns in the US starting with ‘San’ are all there somewhere in Mexico. The small town of San Jose is reminiscent of many of the towns back home in India, but definitely much cleaner than average. Our goal was to do some grocery shopping at the corner vegetable shop within a budget of 15 pesos while speaking only Spanish. I never got to remember what I needed to say so I happily delegated the task to the willing others. But we did get a lot of vegetables. For your information, about 20 pesos is 1 US dollar. The vegetables were definitely fresh and looked healthier than what you see in the huge convenient stores. Once done shopping, we stepped over to the other side of the street where tortillas were being made. Corn put into a machine that gets grounded and pressed to turn out as the Mexican equivalent of chapatis! If you are a vegetarian, you need to watch out. In Mexican food, chicken or beef broth is added to rice and tortillas, I guess to make it more manageable to cook or to infuse a healthier amount of protein – this is I am not sure why.
We then drove out of San Jose onto Sister Sala’s place. This is a farm-house replete with coconut, jack fruit, pineapple, banana and other trees. Our tour guide went over the various trees. It was then onto the competition. Here we were to make tortillas on a stone grinder which looked pretty much the same as the ones I was used to while growing up. We would grind rice to make flour for dosa or idlis. Here we were, about 4 decades later and 20,000 miles away and the world was the same! Our team, call Team Tacos (!), won the competition with Rama leading the way. The winner was whoever created the best tortilla flour that was well grounded i.e., less coarse.
At the other end of the shade, we could see Sister Sala baking hot tortillas off the pan. One of the farm helpers had chopped the vegetables we had
bought into a fine mince and created a salsa. There are three different types of salsas, avocado being one of them. Adding the vegetables and the salsa onto the tortillas made for a good morning snack. It is interesting how the locals have access to good, nature-friendly food and we city dwellers end up spending hundreds of dollars on bad, stale, greasy, totally unhealthy food and praise them all the way. Corn flour and vegetables, mixed with black bean salad makes up a good part of one’s daily nutrient supply with little or not fat.
The road into the farm was rough. Seated on either side of the unimog, we were to duck all the way down to avoid trees and splashing water. The guide would call out ‘Tacos!’ for our team to duck and for the other team on the vehicle, it was another similar word. We took a 40 minute walk through the hot, Mexican hills running across many variety of plants and trees. Many of these are a storehouse for water for those animals and people wanting it in the midst of nowhere. One of the trees was just very cool to touch. We came across
a big termite development only to be told that their homes are edible for a high protein content. No need to clean them or add anything else – such was the tip! Poison ivy was everywhere and we were adequately cautioned. At the end of the hike, the wet, cool towel made a difference in wiping off the sweat. These tour organizers really did a great job; no doubt, they should have cost a bunch.
It was nearing lunch time and we would get that at our next stop – on a lovely beach. The water was so pristine blue that it could have been some imaginary place. The beach house was a sight. Apparently the owners visit this place about four times a year; rest of the time it is rented out for those lucky enough to afford it. Seated under the shade of over 20 coconut trees, we had a sumptuous lunch starting with the delectable hibiscus water. I drank about three glass of it loaded with melon pieces. This was the best part of lunch to me. Bean salad, specially made chicken broth free rice, salsa, grilled vegetables and rice pudding made it all up. Those into alcohol made merry. It is beer-time anytime of the day there! A few of us burnt up the food playing ball while we strolled by the beach. The sand was burning hot and I couldn’t stand there for 30 seconds. So I threw off my shoes and ran the 50 yards to the water. We were at this place just before peak summer else it would have been less enjoyable. At the end of the tour it had been another 10K plus day for us, all the reason I added an ice cream to the list of deserts over the past few days! Not good, right? Now, I have to walk it off having evened out.