Sunday, March 6, 2011

Carnaval en La Venta (and we were only coming for the cockfight)

Today was one of those days you hope will happen in a foreign country, but which you don't really expect to.  On a tip from a butcher, Sam organized a group of us to go out to some unknown place called Rancho La Venta to try to find a cockfight.  Though we may be morally opposed, it seemed culturally interesting, if not even acceptable, at least once.  We had game friends (the Hensleys, with their two younger boys, Marky and Will), and the Macdonald/Asfours, with Janan's parents, Albert and Carol, in tow.  We drove from San Miguel about 30 minutes north towards Dolores Hidalgo, looking for a sign that said La Venta.

That's all the butcher told us: on the right, halfway to Dolores.  Easy enough, and it was.  Three miles off the highway, down what turned out to be the only paved road in the village, was a small pueblo with a bullring, a gorgeous church and an arcaded concrete building that was indeed the ring for peleos de gallos.  But because we're now in Lent, I guess, or something to do with Catholic calendar or Mardi Gras, the entire village was out celebrating with a carnival of games, rides, dances, bands, horses, and a beer tent filled with all twenty of the men who live in this town full time.

The kids hit the bouncy thing (what fair is complete without one), where their ten pesos got them about 30 minutes of jumping in this rickety, two-story contraption cobbled together with rope and wire.  When too many kids were on board, it swayed slightly to the right before listing back to the left.
The shoe pile at the moon bounce.

Janan's dad and I went for the first round of Modelo's under the tent.  We ordered three, and the guy manning the cooler insisted we take five.  He kept saying they were on the house, then pointed to a guy in a nice olive button-down and a big cowboy hat.

"He wants to buy you these two," the beer man said.  So we graciously accepted.  And that, as it turned out (why was a complete stranger in a total dust bowl of a town in the middle of nowhere buying an American woman and a Palestinian man two beers?) led to a completely unforgettable day.

Perhaps because we bought a round for every guy under the tent later (a gesture that set Albert and me back about eight dollars each), we had guys wanting to talk with us, guys wanting to buy us beers, guys wanting to get their pictures taken, and eventually, guys wanting the 16 of us to come back to their house for dinner.
The condiments bar.

Nearly everyone in this town is related, and at least 40 of them (in just four families) live in this dry, dusty compound right behind the beer tent.  When we needed to use the bathroom, they took us into their homes.  When we said we couldn't possibly all come to eat with them they insisted.  So we did.

Giving a little gift as thanks for using their bathroom
The mamacitas were in the kitchen, already preparing food I guess for the whole family clan.  Because within five minutes of sitting down at two long shaded picnic tables, they were serving us (first Albert and Sam, the two senior males in our group) plates of rice and pork in the most delicious red sauce and a pitcher of agua de limon.  The women would not sit down, and would not allow us to clear the table or wash the dishes.  They seemed shocked that we offered.
Walking from the carnival to dinner.
Our host, Jesus, getting us seated.
The kitchen
One of the mamas in the family, Jesus's aunt (who actually has no children of her own).
The goats gazing behind their house, behind the church steeple.
It was just incredible, one of those rare moments when you feel someone is offering all they have to someone they have never met, for no other reason than that they are good and proud and generous.  We stayed for about an hour, conversing with all the Spanish we could muster,  then left so that the kids could get home, wash off, and go to school tomorrow.

We promised to return to this little pueblo, La Venta, and bring the food with us next time.  The guys, Jesus and Jorge Conejo (George Rabbit as he liked to call himself), told us there's another big day on May 15.  So we know where we'll be that Sunday, a bag of steaks in hand to throw on the grill and a case or two of cold Modelo.

One last jump before we left and before darkness fell on La Venta


  1. What a memorable day! Now we just need to add some pics from later that night at the cockfight!

  2. You guys are beautiful people! I love the way you guys soak up Mexico.