Monday, September 25, 2017

Taking the road not usually taken

Los Rodríguez is one butt-ugly town, particularly if you don't like topes, or speed bumps, and more particularly if you've been driving for hours and this miserable place is all that stands between you and your warm bed at home.

I have no idea how the town came to be. Apparently one day the Rodríguez clan claimed it as their slice of paradise—sort of like The Smiths—settled here and dispensed with such civilized frills as a town square or a clump of trees.

And now we have Los Rodríguez, straddling a road with wide dirt shoulders that trap swirling trash during the dry season and rivers of mud after a downpour. Plus thirteen unmarked topes—count 'em—over a stretch of just one or two kilometers. Kata-plunk, kata-plunk, kata-plunk. 

One might surmise that the founding fathers and mothers installed the topes so that motorists would slow down and partake of the charms and retail opportunities of the place, except the locals seem to take exception to strangers, especially gringo-looking ones, who are greeted with what-the-hell-are-you-doing-here glares.

Félix adds that any pop-pop's you may hear on the last night of Los Rodríguez's annual fiesta are just as likely to be the sounds of cheap fireworks as angry drunks shooting each other.

Take my advice: If you want to visit San Miguel and are driving in from the north, avoid this place.

The proper way to come home after a long trip.
 That's what Stew and I tried to do last week returning from San Antonio although we didn't know where we going. It was a splendid move, a gorgeous winding-down after a long trip.

Skies were clear blue and the temperatures had dropped from the 100s we encountered in northern Mexico to a breezy and dry low 80s. And suddenly we were surrounded by mountains and kelly-green farm acreage, plus open land that at this time of the year is covered with millions of wild lavender cosmos and yellow daisies, popping out of the ground in unison after the rainy season.

If New England has its turning leaves of autumn, in Mexico we have the equally stunning fall riot of wild flowers.

We had been told one way to avoid Los Rodríguez was to approach San Miguel through the historic town of Dolores Hidalgo. Unfortunately, the navigation systems in the car and the phone decided to play dueling banjos and give conflicting directions. Finally, Melinda, the disembodied but authoritative voice of Google Maps in our phone told us to take Hwy. 37 to avoid some congestion or construction up ahead.

Why not, even though the location of Dolores remained elusive. Neither GPS would accept just "Dolores Hidalgo". They wanted a specific address or establishment.

So I entered "Carnitas Vicente," a restaurant in Dolores known for its carnitas, and Melinda took us to its front door. Another stroke of luck.

The remains of a very nice day. 
Carnitas are shredded pork that you season to your taste by adding any one from a selection of salsas, ranging from innocuous to five-alarmers. Then the whole drippy affair is wrapped in warm tortillas. We quickly dispatched half a kilo and ordered another kilo to take with for Félix, his wife Ysela and their three hungry munchkins.

We also ordered a side of guacamole which was one of the best we've ever eaten. Rather than the usual insipid green glob of something, this one was freshly made and had a potent but pleasant spicy afterburn that shut you up in mid sentence and made you reach for the lemonade.

The waitress, Mary (máh-ree) recognized us from previous visits. A pretty thirty-something woman with a shy but flirty demeanor, greeted us with her beautiful smile which for some reason she is trying to enhance with upper and lower braces. Why did you do that, Mary?

Dolores is Mexico's "Cradle of Independence" and the town was decorated curb to curb with flags and other patriotic paraphernalia, commemorating September, Mexico's independence month. Even so, the town lacks the colonial charm of Pátzcuaro, San Miguel or San Cristóbal in Chiapas, perhaps because it has been overrun with stores selling its famous pottery.

Still, the town is a fun place, buzzing with traffic, friendly people walking and chatting. Vicente's two-story restaurant is open to the street and shares its noise and buzz.

During our comida, a white Hummer stopped briefly and disgorged a small gaggle of giggly girls wearing jeans so tight they looked sprayed-on.

Were they Vicente's daughters? Could well be. He has one or two restaurants in town in addition to the main one where we ate, so he could well afford the wheels. Indeed, carnitas have been very good to him, though I can't say the same for the pigs within a square mile of Dolores.
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