One day last December around siesta time I saw one of our neighbours, Señor Garcia, riding his burro up the mountain road from his fields. I suppose what had caught my eye was the fact Bruno (the burro) was barely visible from under the armload of red coloured vegetation Sr. Garcia was carrying. Further obscuring the animal, were two large sacks filled with mysterious lumpy things hanging down from both sides of the saddle horn. Bruno, as burros often do, had a look of indignation and resignation on his big eared face. It’s a sad situation but as a working animal, a Mexican burro always appears overburdened and rushed, or so it seems to me. (I am constantly amazed at how much weight these little equines can carry while having such small hooves!)
In the arms of this quiet and reserved man was what looked like a large bouquet of… jamaica? This intense red flower has a waxy, almost fake look to it and grows on rigid dark branches. A species of hibiscus, jamaica (pronounced hah-mike-ah) is traditionally used to make a refreshing and purportedly medicinal beverage. It’s one of my favourite morning “agua fresca” drinks and it can be enjoyed hot or cold.
Bagged Jamaica with dried petals below
Jamaica can be purchased already bagged in its dried form. Directions on a bag I have states to mix 2 cups of the flowers, 10 cups of water, ¾ cup of sugar and ice. Then it goes on to say that once the flowers have hydrated, turn down the heat and allow the liquid to cool. I can only guess that one is to boil the water first then put in the flowers, mix in the sugar and allow the whole thing to cool, then add the ice! Personally, I prefer to bring the water to a boil then add the dried flowers and sugar, give it a good stir and let it cool to room temperature. I strain off the flowers and use it immediately by pouring it into a large ice-filled glass. I store the extra in the fridge.
As Bruno ambled up to my gate, Sr. Garcia bid me “hola” and gestured for me to come over. He quietly told me about what he had in his arms, handed it all to me, and as I thanked him for it, he proceeded to dig into the large sacks and handed me even more foodstuffs! In my very basic Spanish, I continued to thank him, asked what everything was and how many pesos he would like for his delicious looking produce. He so very kindly replied “nada.” I insisted that he take some money, but he would have nothing to do with that. With a wave, he and Bruno continued their trek towards home for a well deserved siesta. What a gentleman. With less weight on his back and the break in his routine, Bruno appeared to have an energetic spring to his steps as he headed for his home in El Tonino, two uphill kilometers away.
The final tally of goods included: fresh jamaica, bananas that I found later to taste of apples and had flesh the colour of pale peaches, two huge lemons, several limes, and another type of citrus that was extremely aromatic but surprisingly had a rather bland tasting juice. How wonderful to have a neighbour like this!
About the Author: Tosia Archer spends her winter living near El Tonino (a 20 minute drive north from La Peñita) along with her husband David and their Mexican adopted pets: dogs Agua Chili Bob and Momz, and their cat Blanca. They all travel south together by truck from Fenelon Falls, Ontario, Canada each fall and return there to work each spring. She enjoys photographing local wildlife and flowers, whale watching and then rendering what she has seen into watercolour art. She volunteers with JBAR and is a member of the Guayabitos Artists Collective and Writers Who Love Mexico. Tosia is also part of the Jaltemba Bay Life Team.
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