Suzanne, a friend at Las Mariposas, our hotel in Oaxaca, Mexico, suggested we take a trip to Etla one Wednesday. It was market day, and she knew I was a market devotee. There was further incentive to …
Suzanne, a friend at Las Mariposas, our hotel in Oaxaca, Mexico, suggested we take a trip to Etla one Wednesday. It was market day, and she knew I was a market devotee. There was further incentive to going to Etla: She’d heard there was a town, not too far away, where restaurants specialized in cooking fresh trucha, or trout. The trip was a bit arduous since we wouldn’t be hiring a driver as we usually did. We’d be taking a public bus to Etla, then, after walking through the market, we would find a cab that would drive us to the town of Arroyo Guacamaya. She pointed to it on a map. It looked doable.
Our Spanish was primitive—pretty much non-existent—but Suzanne had lived in Columbia for a few years, and we assumed she was well-versed in the language. We walked to the bus stop and grabbed the bus headed for Etla.
The market was one of the best we’ve been to in Oaxaca. I was stunned by the abundance of beautifully displayed produce and wowed by the vendor’s wares of handicrafts, breads, meat and fowl.
Reluctantly, we left the market and went in search of a taxi that would take us to Arroyo Guacamaya. We walked around aimlessly until we came upon a young man in a tiny vehicle. He beckoned us over and Suzanne tried in what I now realized was not fluent Spanish to tell him where we wanted to go. He explained that he could take us to a taxi stand where we could find a cab that could transport us there, so the three of us stuffed ourselves into the diminutive back seat of his “motor taxi” and took off.
When he stopped for gas, the driver turned around and addressed us. From what we could gather, he was offering to take us himself to the town “with the trout” for what would amount to $30 U.S. dollars. Fine, we agreed, having no idea what we were getting ourselves into. First, introductions all around. I imagined we had made Gabriel’s day, perhaps week, for that matter.
We drove through town until we came upon a long, seemingly endless dirt road. As we climbed in altitude we looked around and realized that on either side of the road was an enormous, precipitous drop. We passed no one on the narrow, desolate road, nor could we have, for that matter. Gabriel wove back and forth, and I found myself, squished in the middle seat, moving my hand from right to left, as if to guide him back into the middle of the trail. As we made our way slowly along, we collectively wondered whether we might be in trouble. We got giddy. As we rose even further in altitude we began to giggle uncontrollably.
Near the end of an hour, I noticed in the front of the cab that there was a metal figure of a little man in a suit and tie, wearing a hat, sitting upright in a red chair. I became fixated on him and perhaps even uttered a little prayer to him for our safety. Finally, we saw a dilapidated sign with faint lettering announcing the town of Arroyo Guacamaya. Another mile or two later, Gabriel pulled into an area with wooden structures. He pointed out the window and said there was a restaurant specializing in trucha. Afraid that we would be stranded there, Suzanne attempted to ask that he stay and wait for us. We would be ready to head back in an hour and a half. “Si, si, claro (of course),” he assured us.
We climbed out of the motor taxi and stretched our arms and legs. As we headed to a large wooden building we caught sight of Gabriel pulling away, headed back to the dirt road. We glanced at each other helplessly, then walked inside where we saw a woman, arms across her chest, standing in the empty dining room. “Comida?’ I asked, indicating we’d like to eat lunch. “No, no comida,” she answered. We were astonished. We asked again and got the same answer. They were not serving food, let alone fresh trout. Suzanne tried to ask her how we would return to Etla from there? We all thought she murmured, “Burro,” but there were no donkeys tied up outside and, by this time, we may have been hearing things.
We returned to the dirt road. At a distance, we saw some workman and, not far from them, a truck. We decided we’d beg them to return us to Etla and headed up the hill. When we reached them one of the men spoke some English and pointed the way to a place he said was serving trout. A couple of minutes later we were standing at the entrance to a simple roadside restaurant, one side of which was open to the road. Before us, four men sat eating and drinking at a table. When I asked, “Tienes trucha?” and received a smile and nod of the head from a dark-haired woman in a red apron we were directed to another table in the room. I immediately asked for two Coronas with lime for my traveling companions and a shot of tequila for me. It had been a long and harrowing trip in search of a piece of fish.
After we ordered trout with rice and black beans, we watched as the woman and a helper worked in the kitchen directly across from us. And then, who should pull up next to the restaurant but our driver, Gabriel. He greeted us sweetly and sat down with us. This was his family’s restaurant, he informed us, but the language barrier kept us from finding out much more. In particular, we couldn’t understand why he had not taken us here first. Perhaps, we reasoned, he had thought we’d prefer a big, bustling place to this homey one.
After munching on crispy tortillas with a piquant salsa, we were each brought a plate of simply prepared, delicious trout. I savored the head, where I knew there were lots of good bits and had a second tequila. I took many photographs. I wanted to remember every part of this extraordinary day. Then we bid goodbye to the table of compadres and our hosts and squeezed ourselves back into the tiny taxi. An hour or so later, we were back in Etla, thanking Gabriel and wishing him well. We arrived back at our hotel at 4:30 p.m. and threw ourselves onto our bed for a nap. We had left the hotel at 9 a.m. We fell immediately into a deep sleep in which I dreamt of the little man in the red chair in the front of Gabriel’s cab.