Gulf of California

Mother of Pearl, SO MUCH FOOD.
by -- April 11th, 2012

There is only one way that I will voluntarily wake up at 5:30 in the morning, and that is when there is promise of a day of great food. This morning we rolled out of bed, surprisingly not awakened by the loud speaker truck that has made a habit of parking behind our palapa at 5 every morning. With a quick nutella sandwich, we were all in the van and pulling out at 6:05.  It was a quite legendary on time departure for our group, only 5 minutes late. The drive to Guaymas is about three hours long and we got to see a quick peek of Hermosillo and old Seri territory complimented nicely with an informative narrative from Xavier and Leo. Without coffee, some of the group may have missed some of information, but I resumed consciousness to hear about an old cave with Seri paintings. Later in the trip the cave played an important part in the story of “The Giants” that the Seri told us. The spiritual importance of the cave and the land around it was stressed and the Seri are working on getting rights to the land. Land ownership is an interesting concept in the areas we have visited. In Kino Viejo, a person must squat on a piece of land for ten years before they can own it! Also, somehow in the middle of protected Seri territory, a Mexican military camp is plopped down.

 

We arrived in Guaymas at Taqueria El Cacheton for an unknown breakfast feast. I wondered what a Mexican breakfast would entail to and was not disappointed at all to find that involved a hefty amount of tacos. After entering the hallway-sized establishment we proceeded to stuff our faces with tacos ranging from carnecita, fish, seafood, pork skins, beans, cochinita and a very interesting stingray dish called cahuamanta. The taqueria had two counters on each side of the skinny room. One was for food assembly and toppings and the other was for customers to enjoy the food. We created a healthy flow between the two counters going back for seconds and thirds, although no one beat Mateja’s record of 9 tacos.

 

Taqueria El Cacheton

After sufficiently stretching our stomachs by 9 AM, we moved on to visit the market and get some coffee. Our large and oblivious group clogged most thoroughfares of the tightly packed market while we were taking in the bustle, color, food, and people. We got a nice surprise when the coffee we ordered was pre-sweetened and so we had an extra sugar boost as we headed off to the pearl oyster farm.

 

We arrived to get a tour of the facilities by Enrique at the old campus of Xavier’s undergraduate school. Enrique and his partners started the pearl oyster farm as a product of research and realized after working with the oysters that they could make a sustainable business out of harvesting the pearls. Enrique broke down the process of growing the pearl oysters into a comprehensive timeline. The process involves extensive and time-consuming work including checking nets, counting oysters, transferring animals to bigger nets, performing surgery to promote the growth of a pearl, and finally harvesting. As the facilities were small, we got to see the crew working on a variety of these tasks right behind Enrique’s lecture. After discussion and hands-on experience we headed up to the gift shop to look at the final products. The pearls harvested at Perlas Del Mar De Cortez are unique in the species of pearl oyster being used. Pearls of this kind and quality can only be found in this small area of the Sea of Cortez and so some of us found a special gift for family members or for ourselves.

 

Enrique lecturing in the pearl oyster farm.

Newly bejeweled, we headed for yet another bite to eat at a large restaurant on our way out of Guaymas. There we tried a fancily arranged penshell tower, fried fish, and a delicious cheese and mushroom dip paired with, of course, tortillas. Little did we know, our stomachs were just being primed for yet another huge meal and we barely made it to Hermosillo before we stopped for a bathroom and snack break.

 

Pen shell tower and fried fish at a restaurant.

We returned to the field station and got ready for the event we had all been anticipating all day: learning to make tortillas at Monica and Cosme’s. We arrived ready to help and Monica quickly put us all to work chopping vegetables, kneading the tortilla dough, making the fish batter, frying, flipping, and flattening. Although I missed about 99.9% of Monica’s instructions given in fast Spanish, Kiley and I managed to somehow to pull together our portion with some well-estimated guesses and frequent check-ups from the head chef. The room was filled with laughter and talking as more guests arrived ready to help out and share each other’s presence. This evening was one of the most influential parts of the trips for me. As I looked down the large cooking space different languages were being exchanged, everyone was smiling and everyone was collectively fumbling to make the tortillas flat and thin, some more successfully than others. It was a quintessential moment of food bringing together a diverse group of people, and there wasn’t a single person in the room who didn’t feel the happiness of sharing that moment. After we took in our last hefty meal of the day, we closed the night with dancing, talking and laughing together until 1:30 in the morning. I don’t think I could possibly be anymore invigorated by a 20-hour day.

Everyone helping out to make tortillas.

 

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