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A Mexican Picnic

Larry Landwehr

Mary had to fly back to the States for the weekend, so I was left on my own. I don’t know if Mary planned it, but Sergio, a Mexican friend that I had met through Mary called to ask if I’d like to go on a picnic. I said sure, thinking that he meant going to an open-air restaurant or something similar, but he really meant what he said.

At a little after 11:00 am he showed up with his wife, his baby son, his sister-in-law, and his mother-in-law. I hopped in the car, got introduced to everybody, and we headed out of town. As we started leaving Guadalajara, a canvas covered truck pulled alongside of us. Sergio pointed to a kid’s head that was sticking out from under the canvas, and said that that was his oldest son. The driver was his-brother in-law, and sitting next to him was someone else. Ok, I can deal with it. The picnic just got a little bigger. Everything was cool.

We followed the highway for several miles out of town getting into more rugged terrain. Mountains started popping up to the left and right of us. Then our little caravan turned onto a secondary road that we quickly left to follow a dirt trail leading across a pasture to the base of a hill that would qualify for mountain status in most of the US. We banged the bottom of the car on a couple of stones, until Sergio gave up and parked the car. The truck, which had been following us, parked nearby and people started climbing out of the back of the truck! - Sergio’s father-in-law, another son of Sergio, and another sister-in-law. Mexicans are definitely into extended families.

The car trunk was popped open to reveal picnic goodies. There was even more stuff in the back of the truck. Everybody grabbed something and we trudged further up the pasture toward a nice shady little group of trees.

One thing I can tell you is that at least some Mexicans don’t know a damn thing about lighting a charcoal fire. Sergio, his brother-in-law, and his father-in-law tore up some scrap cardboard and shoved it into the grill they had brought. Then they put some wood sticks on top of the cardboard ­ so far, so good. But then they proceeded to pour a big sack of charcoal over the cardboard and sticks, burying them. After all that, they tried to light some of the sticks that managed to poke out from under the charcoal. That didn’t work so then they poured a little bit of gasoline on top of everything and lit that (perhaps lighter fluid hasn’t made it to Mexico yet). That fizzled out too.

Just before the gasoline went out, I started tearing up cardboard and putting the pieces on top of the charcoal. When that started burning pretty good, I placed small sticks on top of the cardboard.

Everything was coming along nicely, so what did Sergio’s brother-in-law do? He knocked down the little teepee that I had built and spread the burning sticks across the top of the charcoal. The flames, of course, promptly went out. I bent down and started blowing on the smoldering sticks until they burst back into flame. More blowing and fanning with scraps of cardboard finally got the charcoal burning. Too many cooks cannot only spoil a soup; they can also spoil a fire.

We men started cooking up a storm. Thin strips of beefsteak were placed on the grill (I asked Sergio why Mexicans cut their meat so thin, and he answered that it was because meat is so expensive. I think it may be because it would be hard to wrap a tortilla around a thick steak.)

Onions were placed on the grill to cook until they were tender. Quesadillas (a tortilla wrapped around a small bit of cheese) were cooked until the cheese turned gooey. A pot of frijoles (beans) was put on the grill while a pot of guacamole had its lid removed. Chorizo (a kind of sausage) was split and placed face down on the grill.

We ate and we ate. Sergio’s father-in-law offered me soda; his mother-in-law offered me quesadilla after quesadilla as well as chorizo. Mexicans are such a hospitable people! They are truly “salt of the earth”.

While eating, I looked around at the scenery. We were surrounded by hills on three sides. The air had that funny quality so often found in Mexico. It was so extremely clean and dry that it didn’t appear to exist. Usually you can tell approximately how far away something is because the air slightly smudges it with increasing distance. But in Mexico, it often isn’t like that at all. You see landscape so intensely clearly, that you feel you could almost reach out and touch it even though it is hundreds of yards away. Your perspective gets messed up. It’s a magical feeling.

I was also surreptitiously watching the other people as I ate. Everyone was involved in taking care of the children. Babies went from one set of arms to the next as circumstances dictated. Both males and females took equal turns. The older kids kept an eye on the younger ones. There was a safety net present that was invisible, but strong.

After the meal had had a chance to settle, we split up into three groups. One group stayed with the picnic stuff (I think the hammock strung up between two trees encouraged some volunteers). Another group headed for a nearby swimming hole. Sergio and I got in the car to drive to a nearby mirador (a scenic lookout). I held his infant son while Sergio drove.

We arrived at the mirador and beheld one of those magnificent panoramic vistas that Mexico is justly famous for. I wished I’d taken Mary’s camera, which could have done justice to such a view.

Sergio and I had been trading words back and forth all day. He knows more English (it’s taught in high school) than I knew Spanish in the two months that I’d been there. We’d talk mostly in English, but I’d throw in a little Spanish when I could. Every once in a while he’d say something in Spanish when he got stuck in English, and he’d be surprised when I could figure out what he was saying. It was like a very enjoyable game helping each other out.

Sergio was quite interested in my reactions to Mexico. I told him very truthfully that I loved Mexico. Mexicans are free in a way that US citizens can never be. The US has laws to cover every possible human activity. They have the police and the computers and the IRS and the DEA, and the FBI, and the NSA, and the BATF to enforce every one of those laws.

Everything in the US is regulated and watched right down to how many gallons your toilet is allowed to hold. The US is one of the most hyper regulated societies on the face of the earth. I have been to other countries, and nowhere are the border police more obnoxious and intimidating than in the US.

I told Sergio that Mary and I were planning to come back to live in Mexico because of its freedom. I told him of the US law that says that if you renounce your citizenship to become a citizen of another country, the US can still tax you for ten years because you would be leaving “to avoid paying taxes”. I forgot to tell him that the US can also banish you from the US for life for changing your citizenship. That means you can receive no services while paying ten years of taxes. I think he got a little taste of what I meant when I said US citizens are not free. The US government thinks that it OWNS people.

I told Sergio that he could make a lot of money working in the US. Then I told him about federal income taxes, state income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and social security taxes. He was curious why after all those taxes, US citizens, unlike Mexicans, get no government medical care. I had no answer for him.

Actually I’m much more drawn to Mexico than I am repulsed by the US, and that’s a good healthy way of looking at things.

After the mirador, we headed for the swimming hole. It was just a small little pool of water at the bottom of an arroyo. The water was very muddy, but Sergio assured me that it was not polluted. Sergio deposited his infant son in the arms of his father-in-law (who was seated at the top of a hill kind of watching everything ­ that safety net again), and joined the others in the pool. I poked around some potholes in the rocks lining the arroyo looking for gold that might have been deposited during floods. After a while, I went up the hill to sit near the father-in-law.

Everyone in the pool had jumped in fully clothed except for their shoes. They splashed water on each other, taking turns holding the kids. I watched Sergio holding his son and daughter, playing with them. I watched the father-in-law holding his sleeping grandson in his arms. It was beautiful.

Once everyone had gotten back to the car and truck, and changed, we headed on back to the picnic site. I thirstily drank two glasses of soda pop and ate a slice of cantaloupe (Mexicans really know how to picnic).

It was the rainy season, and the afternoon shower was starting, so we packed everything up and headed back toward town.

The rain soon quit (it was near the end of the season), and we came upon a roadside stand that was doing a good business selling sugarcane and boiled and roasted corn. I bought some sugarcane, which Sergio convinced me to have covered with limon juice and ground chile peppers (a quick word about limons ­ they are a fruit that tastes like a lemon, but not as sour and a little bit sweet ­ they are found throughout Mexico). As far as I was concerned, the limon and chile addition was a mistake, but hey, how are you gonna know if you don’t try it.

We arrived back at my apartment; I thanked everyone for being so nice and sharing their day with me. I helped Sergio’s wife to get in the front seat where I had been sitting, and waved goodbye. It had been quite a day - just one more beautiful day in beautiful Mexico.

Published or Updated on: June 1, 2001 by Larry Landwehr © 2008
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