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Traveling in Mexico

Traveling in Mexico is a lot like traveling in Europe except it is a different country and on a different continent and, with one or two exceptions, they speak a different language and the food is different. Basically the similarity between traveling in Europe and traveling in Mexico is that neither is in the United States. I’ve been several places in Mexico with my good wife Lynn who, as you may recall, speaks fluent Spanish. This is handy in Mexico because nearly all the folks who live there speak Spanish and no English at all. My favorite place is Monterrey, the leather capital of Mexico. It is also the home of cabrito, a delicious roasted goat dinner.

The first time I was in Mexico I was representing Auburn University at a wildlife conference sponsored by Ducks Unlimited of Mexico (Dumac) and Auburn. My function was to welcome the 105 very wealthy Mexican landowners (who spoke almost no English but had come to learn how to manage their very large game populations) at the beginning of the conference and to hand them certificates of completion and shake 105 hands at the end. The actual hand shaking seemed to involve more than 105 hands—more like 150 or 160. The reason was that a Mexican handshake starts with a face-to-face right hand grasp just like in the U. S. of A. Then a sort of reversal occurs so your hands are in the same position as they would be the start of an arm wrestling match. Next the hands separate, the fingers are cupped and the hands reattached by the cupped fingers. Finally, you revert to the original grip. Occasionally, but not always, the left hand is brought into play in a somewhat mysterious way that I never did quite figure out.

The conference lasted three days and my official responsibilities lasted approximately 30 minutes. I had a lot of time to learn about the joys of Monterrey.

The first thing I learned was that eating is different—the food is different, the drinks are different, and the schedule is different. Mexicans have a very casual attitude toward time and scheduling. We (my wife Lynn, a wildlife professor from Auburn and I) arrived in Monterrey around noon after traveling about 9 hours. Our considerate host inquired about lunch. We said we had not eaten lunch. He told us he would take us to a famous cabrito restaurant called El Pastor. Before lunch he took us to our fancy hotel to check in and freshen up. He said he would come back, pick us up, and take us to the restaurant. He did as promised, but about 4 hours later. By that time that crew from Alabama were in serious danger of starvation. We had not eaten for nearly 12 hours.

Our Mexican hosts warned us that the water sometimes had a deleterious effect on Americans and perhaps we should consider drinking margaritas. OK by me. Margaritas were ordered and served—in very small glasses, I thought. Extended food and drink depravation led Lynn to quaff down her small “small Margaret” in short order. The Mexicans were duly impressed. Lynn felt better almost immediately and ordered another. By the time the second drink was served, Lynn observed that she could not feel the end of her nose and wondered if she should be concerned about it. At some point during the second drink Lynn asked if our Mexican hosts had ever heard the Auburn University fight song, “War Eagle.” Surprisingly they said they had not, so Lynn sang it. They were impressed about that as well. I should point out here that Lynn was accustomed to drinking Alabama margaritas, that were mostly lemonade, from containers the size of fishbowls. The Mexican drinks were mostly tequila and good tequila at that.

After the margaritas we ordered what we came for—cabrito. One orders cabrito by body part. The strange looking choices on the menu included pierna, paletilla, costillas, and one which looked and sounded most familiar to me, cabeza. I ordered cabeza. The Mexicans looked surprised and Lynn looked amused. I didn’t know what I was getting, but the facial expressions around the table indicated it was a good choice. My dinner arrived. I looked at it and it looked back at me. It was a goat head including eyeballs and brains. I suddenly remembered why cabeza sounded so familiar having had cerveza thrust upon me more than once. There is not much meat on a goat head and extracting the brains, the best part of the cabeza, according to our hosts, isn’t easy. However, when your food is looking at you in such a disapproving way, you don’t want much of it anyway.

Our next meal, cena (or dinner, or supper, depending on your cultural heritage), started about 11:00 pm and included chickens. You didn’t eat the chickens; you bet on them. In the center of the restaurant was a pit into which hombres would place two chickens which would then proceed to kill each other. Actually, one of the chickens usually survived and the other died. Our host explained that this was not a cruel sport but it was a way for sensitive Mexicans who are fond of chickens to avoid having to personally kill the chickens to serve in their restaurants. I, personally, did not order any chicken dishes at that restaurant.

Lynn and I spent most of the remaining time shopping for shoes and other items generally unavailable in the United States. Liquor is plentiful and cheap. The shoes are just the right size for my small feet and they, too, are cheap. The shoes; not my feet.

Next week I’ll tell you about the most exciting part of the whole trip, the pigeon shoot. Stay tuned.