Thursday, September 27, 2007

Akil 17

After a very satisfying lunch, we all packed ourselves into the two vehicles and headed out for our next adventure. It was not exactly clear to us at the time where we going. Juan had told us to accept anything the man offered to us and not say we didn’t like it. This kind of worried us but we said ok.

We drove over to Maria’s sister Lourdes’ house and picked her up. Just her. None of her kids. Then we headed out of town for a short distance and turned onto a narrow road that led us deep into some kind of plantation. We recognized banana trees, lime trees, avocado trees and watermelon, but had no idea what the majority of the trees were. We stopped at what was clearly the central processing area for the plantation and all got out. We still did not know where we were or why we were there. And we had not seen a single person, which we thought was strange. Most of the plantations we had driven by were very busy places with people planting and harvesting constantly.

After a wait of a few minutes, a gentleman about our age drove up in a new Ford F150 pickup. Juan made introductions. It turns out that this was the owner of the plantation and a good friend of Lourdes’*, who had arranged for us to get a tour of the plantation. His name is Jose.
Jose proceeded to give an explanation of the history and reason for his plantation being in existence. It was all in Spanish but, between Juan translating some of it, and Jose being intelligent enough to realize that he had to speak slowly and simply, we understood quite a lot of what he was saying. We found it fascinating. Juan paid attention because he had to. Lourdes paid attention because she wanted to. The rest of the family either wandered off or whined that it was hot or that they were bored.

Briefly, Jose had a brainstorm some 25 years ago that the fruit mamey would one day take off and he wanted to be the one responsible for it in the Yucatan. He took his then life savings and invested it in this plantation. Since it takes 15 years for mamey trees to fully produce, he survived in the meantime by planting the bananas, limes and other fruits we saw. But his first love, and it was very evident from listening to him, was mamey. And now he was seeing the fruits of his labor and he was prospering. One could tell from his clothes, his demeanor, the way the plantation was set up and his truck, that he had a little money. And good for him. We found it to be a great success story and kind of a dream come true story. His story alone could make a whole book!

Mamey, what is it? We had never even heard of it before, let alone seen it. He thinks that they may have it in the markets of Florida, otherwise it is only known in Mexico and Cuba so far. There is no English word for it. There are three varieties but he only raises the best two. It is similar in size and shape to a cantaloupe but the flesh is a very dark pink. He let us try a sample of each.

First was the one he calls Number 2. (No points for originality to Jose) The texture was similar to pumpkin, as was the taste. A sweet pumpkin. Neither one of us cared for it too much. Juan had a taste but the rest of the family wouldn’t even try it. They were busy filling plastic bags with limes from buckets that lined the walls. I guess Jose had told them they could have some limes. I think he could tell we did not especially care for it because he smiled and brought out Number 1. “Now try this one!” he said. One could hear the pride in his voice. The difference was immediately discernable. The flesh of this one was the color of a pink eraser and looked smoother than the other. He handed us each a quarter slice. Even though I politely smiled and accepted it, I was dreading biting into another unknown, foreign delight. But delighted I was! It was like eating ice cream. Same texture, only not frozen or cold. The taste was kind of fruity melon with just a hint of bubble gum. Very odd but very delicious. Juan and Lourdes both accepted a piece. The rest of the family had now moved on to collecting oranges. We finished the piece we had and he gleefully offered us a second, which we took! It was evident that B and I were both enjoying this new found taste treat.

While we were devouring the second piece and looking for something to wipe the juice off our chins, Jose had disappeared into the large walk-in freezer. He returned with a large jar of the mamey we had just eaten. This had been processed and was the frozen pulp, ready for whatever. He gave it to me and said it was a gift. I was delighted to have it!

After some more pleasantries, we bade this very nice gentleman goodbye and headed back for the house. When we got back, I took my mamey into the kitchen to try to find freezer space for it. Maria and Lupe were in the kitchen and were both surprised I had it. They had been so busy scooping up “free” stuff, they had totally missed that he gave it to me. Maria wanted to know how much I had to pay for it. She was shocked when I told her that Jose had given it to us as a gift. I think she was offended that she didn’t get one. I don’t think she stopped to consider the value of the limes and oranges that they had taken away.**

* much, much later we discovered that Lourdes was having an affair with this guy. It all ended tragically with her becoming pregnant, her husband leaving with the kids and her boyfriend abandoning her.

** somehow, the mamey disappeared from the freezer and we were never to see it again.

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