Three Mexicans & a Gringo (or, Life in San Pancho, Part 2)

This continues my June 17 post discussing my daily life here in San Pancho.


11:30AM: Fun Productivity

After I finish my coffee as I watch the world of San Pancho go by, I usually transition to an hour or so of “fun productivity,” a phrase stemming from my original “perfect day” exercise.  Contrary to what may be the popular belief, I didn’t move here to lounge on the stoop or beach all day (just part of the day!).  I like staying busy and being productive, so my second activity on most days is one of the following: (1) study espanol; (2) do online work; or (3) work on my website.

Studying espanol is pretty self-explanatory, and I’ll save the stories about my progress, tutor, and many foibles for another post.  Online work consists of some bookkeeping for my cousin or honing my web development skills.  I also spend time building and refining my website and generating web posts like this one so family and friends can share this adventure with me.

12:30PM: Beach

With an hour of productivity in the books, it’s time to reward myself!  I usually walk the five minutes to the beach and frolic in the waves myself, but every so often, Estrella joins me.  Estrella was one of my first Latina friends here in San Pancho, and she’s as cute as she is fun to be around.  She also has four legs and is my landlord’s small and elderly dog. 

I've been trying to teach Estrella to play fetch, but she never gives up the toy / stick after retrieving it.  As you can imagine, our "fetch" games are over about as quickly as they begin.

During my first week in San Pancho, Estrella never strayed from Paula’s backyard, and I figured Paula wanted it that way.  Midway to the beach during the second week, however, I heard the “click click click” of paw-nails against the sidewalk and – to my horror – watched as Estrella bounded past me.  Not only had Estrella escaped the backyard, she was now on the other side of town without a leash (though given the town’s size, that’s not as dramatic as it sounds).  I thought about trying to grab her and turn around, but she was prancing ahead of me, more eager than I to get to the sand. 

We spent the next half hour playing on the beach, with me taking a couple occasions to take a quick dip, nervously eyeing Estrella to ensure she didn’t run off.  This turned out unnecessary, since Estrella simply sat at the shoreline, keeping a watchful eye on me, patiently awaiting my return.  Ultimately, we made it back safe and sound, and when I recounted the story to Paula the next day – a little hesitantly, unsure if I was even allowed to take Estrella to the beach – she just laughed and said, “Ahhhh, muy bien!  Estella le gusta la playa!!” (Ah very good! Estrella likes the beach!)  For the record, Estrella is allowed to go wherever she wants, whenever she wants.  In fact, she has two other homes (Paula has two other sisters who live in town), and frequently visits them when she gets bored with us.

No crocodiles in sight!  Or people...  Sunsets, however, bring out many townspeople to the beach.  It's a nice, peaceful, and relaxing community event, and nowadays I always run into someone I know.

2:00pm: Tacos

I love Mexican food - it’s one of the reasons I came here.  Although I haven’t seen a Chipotle yet, I’ve found something (possibly) even better: street tacos!  You can’t walk down the cobblestone roads here without passing a couple vendors – usually older women with a cart, a case of Coca-Cola bottles, and some plastic tables and chairs.  Preparation and presentation methods vary; some use two tortillas in each taco to prevent breakage, some put the toppings directly in the taco, some simply give you a tortilla and meat and let you do the rest, but the core offering remains the same. 

I’ve gotten three tacos and a Coke/Pepsi from just about every taco stand within a 200-foot radius of my house (about six different places), never paying more than 48 pesos in total (about $2.70).  In fact, I’ve eaten at the taco place directly across the street from my apartment once a day for all but six days of my stay here.  There’s no sign or menus, but “Uno Mas” - as I believe it’s called - has the best tacos in town.  My American friends here joke that I probably just heard that phrase (“One More”) and now wrongfully assume it’s the name (and that the friendly Mexicans just think I’m an ignorant gringo who always asks for one more taco).

Directly across the street from my apartment lies my favorite taco place in San Pancho: Uno Mas!  (I'm about 50% sure that's the name of it.  There's no signs or menus to prove - or disprove! - my belief.)

Learning the Ropes

On my first visit across the street, I didn’t know whether to seat myself or wait to be acknowledged and seated.  Looking back – even simply looking at the place itself – it’s obvious you just find an open seat, sit down, and tell them want you want, but I was both naïve and a bit too polite.  In a hilarious scene, I approached the bar counter, and only after being acknowledged did I plunge into my shaky “Hola.  Pudria sentarse por aca?” (Hi.  Could I have a seat here?)  In the time it took for me to spit out the whole sentence – pausing, repeating, and correcting myself in the process – a gentleman came up, sat down, and said (to no one in particular), “Una torta con todo.” (One sandwich with everything [on it].)  The woman acknowledged him with a quick “Si” and looked back at me.  “Uhhh, never mind,” I abruptly offered, pivoting quickly away from the unnecessary. “Tres tacos, por favor.”  “Si,” the woman replied, with an approving nod and the faintest hint of a smile.

Unfortunately, my lessons on Mexican taqueria processes weren’t finished.  It took me about five days of ordering “tacos con carnitas por favor” at Uno Mas – and getting an “asada” in reply, along with a serving of steak tacos – to realize that my favorite taco joint only offered tacos with “asada” (steak), not the carnitas (pork) I was ordering.  Another day, after inhaling and paying for my tacos, I innocently slipped off my bar stool, grabbed my half-finished Pepsi, and sauntered back to my apartment.  Suddenly I heard a yell from the taco place: “Ay! Adonde vas?!” (Hey!!  Where are you going?!).  Apparently they exchange the glass soda bottles for new ones, and thus customers aren’t allowed to keep their bottles.  Upon seeing my deer-in-the-headlights "what did I do?" look as I turned around, they told me I could bring the bottle back the next day.

Tres tacos - asada tacos, mind you - y una Pepsi.

The Ladies of Uno Mas

As mentioned before, nearly everyone in Mexico has been extremely polite, friendly, and welcoming to me, wherever I go.  However, the three older women who operate Uno Mas – Socorro, Lupe, and Claudia – are older, traditional Mexican women who’ve seen people like me before; that is, “weekend warriors” or tourists who fly into the community, gorge themselves on tacos, buy some stuff, learn to surf, and leave as quickly as they came, never even speaking Spanish in the process.   So, when my first attempts to endear myself to these three were met with eyebrow raises and short, truncated Spanish phrases, I wasn’t deterred; I understood completely.  Challenge accepted.

From left to right, Socorro, Claudia, and Lupe. 

Little by little, I attempted to chip away at their barriers, offering up failed attempts at compliments with a smile: “Estos tacos estaba delicioso . . . tu eres buena cocina.”  (These tacos were delicious…you are a great kitchen!)  One day, after a particularly delicious batch of asada tacos, I tried a “Discuple senoras, mis felicitaciones al chef.” (Excuse me ladies, my compliments to the chef), except I horribly botched "felicitaciones.”  Two of them started giggling, though I don’t think they knew what I meant.  The ring-leader, Socorro, who’s the oldest, just stared at me blankly.  I quickly gave her a cheerful “Estoy estudiando espanol!” (I am studying Spanish!), to which she offered a blunt two-word reply: “Estudia mas.”  (Study more.)

Lupe's on the left whipping up a fresh batch of tacos as Socorro eyes me up while taking payment from the guy.  Estrella is there on the right searching for scraps.

Another time, I was sitting at the bar finishing taco numero dos of my customary tres tacos when two girls – about 8 and 5 years old – pulled up two stools next to me.  “Socorro - cuatro tacos y chocolate milk por favor” (four tacos and chocolate milk, please).  Mexicans refer to chocolate milk by its English name, even though “milk” in espanol is “leche”).  I was incredulous.  The eight year old – who may have been a quarter of my size and weight – had just ordered FOUR tacos, and I’d never managed to finish more than three.  I turned to her: “Puedes comer cuatro tacos??” (You can eat four tacos??).  She casually glanced at me.  “Si,” she replied matter-of-factly, with her tiny partner-in-crime gazing up at the both of us.  “Yo solo como tres tacos!” (I can only eat three tacos!) I responded, which got a nonchalant “Hm” of acknowledgement from the superior taco-eater.  Socorro, whose ears perk up every time I attempt espanol, glanced at me, and we exchanged an eyebrow raise and grin.  To her credit, the little girl finished all the tacos and the chocolate milk, and I still feel like a wuss whenever I see her around town.

Becoming a Regular

As the total number of tacos I ordered at Uno Mas approached triple digits, the women began seeing me not as a tourist, but as a regular like all the other Mexican patrons (except really white, bald, and horrible at Spanish).  Last week, for example, we were talking about each other’s families.  Socorro has nine siblings, which is part of the reason she’s what I call the “village elder” – she knows, and is in some way related to - most everyone in town.  During the conversation, Socorro mentioned that one of her sisters worked at a restaurant on the main road by the beach, and asked if I’d been there.  “Noooo, nunca voy a la restaurantes por alla,” I replied (Nooo, I never go to the restaurants over there).  “Ellos son muy carro.” (They are very expensive).  Socorro nodded in agreement, though I wasn’t finished.  “Solo turistas van alla,” I said, “y yo no soy turista!” (Only tourists go there, and I’m no tourist!).  This was met immediately with the usual response to my attempted jokes; Lupe and Claudia started cracking up, while Socorro first gave an eyebrow raise and smirk, and then started laughing, too.

Socorro in action, laughing about something.  The three ladies love to joke around with one another while cooking tacos, and frequently all start cracking up in occurence that seems to increase in frequency whenever I'm around. 

The final anecdote comes from just yesterday, when I strolled over to Uno Mas, iPhone in tow, ready for tacos and photos for this blog.  The previous day, I had asked permission for a photo op, which was granted, but only if it took place the following day.  When I arrived, however, Lupe wasn’t there!  Not only did that ruin the photo op, but possibly my lunch as well, since she is the taco chef.  (Claudia makes tortas, burritos, and quesadillas, while Socorro takes payment, makes fresh-squeezed orange juice and chocolate milk, and handles business items such as deciding how many crates of Pepsi to buy – a decision, like all, simply made on the fly whenever the vendor stops by.) 

With Lupe out (turns out she was sick), Socorro had found a younger replacement, who served up my tacos, Pepsi . . . and a lime.  When I saw the lime, I immediately took note.  “Socorro!  Ella dame un limon con mis tacos!  Lupe nunca dame un limon.” (Socorro!  She gave me a lime with my tacos!  Lupe never gives me a lime!)  Socorro laughed, said the new chef probably just likes me better than Lupe does, and told me to tease Lupe about it the following day. 

Sure enough, Lupe returned the next day and I ordered my tacos.  This time, however, Lupe included a lime.  “Ahhhhh” I remarked as she set the plate down in front of me, “tu dame un limon hoy!” (Ahhhhh, you give me a lime today!)  Lupe responded with something sarcastic and started cracking up, but I didn’t catch it.  Socorro, sitting at a table observing the exchange, gave me a wink and started laughing herself.  And of course, the ever-jovial Claudia joined in, making for a hilarious scene for any passersby: three old-fashioned, traditional Mexican women cracking jokes with a young gringo.

My new friends Lupe, Claudia, and Socorro!