Weekly Lessons From the Road: Fresh Chicken Enchiladas

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Fresh Chicken Enchiladas!

As I write this, I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop in the world, Hotshots in Lake Arrowhead, CA. And believe me, I’ve been to my share around the world and all pale to this gem in the mountains of Southern California.

When my dish came I was reminded of another time I ordered chicken. I had been riding a 2nd Class bus for days after crossing the Guatemalan border into Mexico. I knew this was going to be an adventure when I saw the sign on the bus driver’s visor that read, “Jesuscristo Mi Copiloto—Jesus Christ is my Copilot.” Above the inscription hung a collection of crucifixes and crosses and a picture of Christ ascending into the heavens.

As we wound through the first mountains that evening, I noticed the bus driver was turning his headlights off when passing on blind curves. He explained to me that this allowed him to see the lights of oncoming vehicles. He laughed when I suggested that another vehicle could be doing the same thing and pointed to the sign. I retired to the back of the bus with some campesinos and shared my flask.

As the trip progressed, I contracted dysentery requiring the bus driver to make frequent stops. Ultimately, the patience of the driver and the passengers was at an end and I found myself in Vera Cruz recuperating. A kind lady hotelier and a local pharmacist eventually put me right, which is another story.

I knew I was on the mend when I had the overwhelming craving for fresh chicken enchiladas, Vera Cruz style. My hostess told me of a local restaurant in her neighborhood that made the best in the city. She laughed and assured me they would be really fresh.

I decided I was strong enough to walk and could use the evening air. As I made my way through the narrow streets it began to rain, slowing my progress. Finally, I saw the little place down an alley and quickened my pace to get out of the weather.

I was about halfway, when a young man sprinted past me chased by a rotund policeman; huffing and puffing, pistol drawn. I had just enough time to dodge into an alcove as he began firing. After a several shots he bent over trying to catch his breath. The young man disappeared into the mist. The policeman and I went to dinner.

Inside was so steamy that you couldn’t see out the windows. My newfound friend and I were the only customers, so took seats near the kitchen. The policeman validated that the enchiladas were the best in town. The waitress was a short, little firebrand that stood tapping her foot impatiently as she waited for our orders.

I asked her if the chicken was fresh before I ordered. She laughed, as though to a private joke and assured me I wouldn’t find fresher. Right after she entered the kitchen with our orders, a small boy darted through it’s swinging doors, past us, disappearing outside. I quizzically looked at the policeman but he just shrugged assuring me all was normal. Of course, I took that with a grain-of-salt as this was the same man who minutes before had been shooting at someone out front.

Now, in Mexico you wait for your meal. It takes time and nothing happens very quickly. But usually it’s worth it. Dinner is a social event that should be savored. But this dinner was really taking a long time. Just as I was about to call the waitress over, the boy returned with a chicken under each arm and disappeared into the kitchen. Seconds later we heard squawking and the chopping of what sounded like a cleaver followed by silence; except for subdued laughter and the rattling of pots.

After about half-and-hour, we had the freshest and most savory chicken enchiladas I’ve ever tasted to this day. And I made a few lifelong friends that have enriched my world ever since, but, as I said before, that’s another story.

The road to the freshest chicken enchiladas you’ve ever tasted, can be a long and unpredictable one, but, as in life, the rewards can be great.

Almost Human is almost ready but fishing is getting in the way!

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My agent just sent the galleys for my new novel, Almost Human. I’m in Mexico right now so will have to review them when I get back from fishing and adventuring. Choices are difficult in this fast paced life!… Actually, the novel will have to wait for a little while. At least until I have finished fishing and drinking homebrew and shine with my buddy Steve Parks. 🙂 Choices, choices…. Oh, did I mention my good friend, Casey Whitesell did the original art for the front cover? The art department at the publisher loved it and she’s a local RIM mountain girl. Can hardly wait to thank her.

Baja Bound!

Bahia de los angeles, campo gecko

In a few days, I’m headed to baja for a couple weeks because someone has to keep an eye on things 🙂 …. I entered the 101st. Airborne, jump school on April 23,1967, Fort Benning, Georgia..After that, was–well, after that. .So I like to be somewhere that I feel I earned….. You know what I’m talking about Johnnie Griffitts and  John H. Bogacki … We made it and are still going on… The only easy day was yesterday and yesterday was a …….

Weekly Lessons From the Road: A Polite Robbery

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Chili Mac

Back in the late sixties I was traveling with some friends along the coast road from Puerta Vallarta to San Blas. We had the road to ourselves and the stars were just coming out as we wound through the jungle. I had just repaired my BMW motorcycle and for once it was running well. I had hoed weeds all summer to earn it from an old man who had it setting in his barn (a story in itself). We were moving fast enough to cool us from the sweltering humidity when we came upon a tree blocking the road.

I was the first to stop and investigate. As the rest of our group came to a stop, a small group of armed men and women stepped out of the jungle and surrounded us. The leader pointed an AK-47 at me and demanded money. I was intimately familiar with this weapon as I was just out of the military. I could tell he was uncomfortable and surprised when he realized that we were all gringos.

Immediately, I took exception and told the leader that he couldn’t take all of our money as we needed to get home and, further, my girlfriend was expecting. This threw the whole group into a whispered discussion. Now, I admit I made the part up about my girlfriend but the rest was true. We had all stretched our spring break, which was designed to be a week long, into several months. Our parents (especially my girlfriend’s) and the college officials did not see the humor in our change of vacation plans.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, the leader nervously asked me how much we needed to get home. I replied that we only had a $125US between us and we needed a least a hundred to get home. I pointed sympathetically to my girlfriend. We bartered for a good hour and finally settled on us giving them $25US and cooking them dinner.

Everyone relaxed and the AKs were set aside. It was a communal affair with us sharing what we had for dinner. This being the sixties in Mexico, the women cooked while the men shared a bottle of tequila chased by macho stories. This was the birth of one of the recipes in the one-arm cook book, Chili Mac. They loved it.

The evening wore on as many of us nodded off. Our impromptu campfire died down and as silently as they stepped out to meet us, they drifted back into the jungle like sleep walking ghosts.

After moving the log I commented that it was the politest robbery I’ve ever heard of. I learned that evening that sometimes when you step into a drama and you just have to play it out. Besides, there might be a story in it.

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On the Road Headed for Fresno, CA. — The long way around!

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Where’s Charlie Boorman when we need him!

I’ll be unplugged and out of touch for the next few days as I’m headed up to Fresno the long way around for my talk. It’s my bad luck the the high desert and Death Valley National Park are in reach of my around about route to Fresno. My online presence will be sporadic at best but hopefully I’ll have a few stories to share. 🙂

I will be giving the presentation on Thursday, April 9 for the Central Valley BMW Riders in Fresno, CA. Here’s a link to their newsletter with all the details, http://cvbmwriders.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=45&Itemid=263.

Weekly Lessons From the Road: A little Sleep

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Boy Sleeping

Sometimes the story comes from life and ends up on the road. This is the case with this posting as it is a lesson I brought to the road.

When I was a new teacher just starting my career, I served as a bilingual 3rd grade teacher. I remember getting quite frustrated with a student who was consistently late and often fell asleep in my class. I saw this student as not motivated and disrespectful. I assumed that he was staying up late watching TV. This was long before personal computers and other technology.

One morning, during my math instruction, I found this student sleeping; head down on his desk. I lost my temper. I was young and new to the profession. I shook the desk waking him up and commenced to dress this student down for his inattention and lack of care for his education. I saw his behavior as disrespectful and made several assumptions about him and his future.

I kept this student after class during recess so I could discuss his behavior further. I began counseling this student about not watching television in the evening and getting to bed early. I threaten to call his parents. I stopped immediately when the student began to well up and cry.

What the student told me next changed my practice as an educator for the rest of my career. He had been hiding in an abandoned car in the alley behind his house all night to avoid being beaten by his father who had been drinking. He said when his father began to drink he got violent and the family would hide and that this happened frequently.

I learned by listening, that this student got himself up each morning, dressed his younger sister and walked several miles to school through one of the most gang infested sections of the town. He told me he came to school because he could eat both breakfast and lunch. He was hungry most of the time. Further, he came because it was safe and he believed that I cared about him.

Of course, I felt horrible for the assumptions I had made concerning this student and the fact I did not know about his home environment. It never happened again in my career as an educator. I learned a great lesson that day. Sometimes, we as educators might be the only caring adult a student meets all day.

I learned that my experience growing up was not necessarily the same as those of many of my students. I was fortunate enough to have loving parents who cared for my sister and me. They made sure we were safe and secure. They valued our education and supported our schools. My family life was and is good. But I cannot assume this is the case with all my students. Abuse and hunger does not only just happen somewhere far from our community..

Over the years, I have become part of many of my students’ stories who have had to overcome great hardship and obstacles just to get to school each day. It is our primary responsibility, as educators, to identify those students in need and help remove those obstacles. We as educators must look beyond our classrooms to the world outside our schools to insure that our students are safe and secure.

I carry this lesson as an attitude on the road. I have learned that people while differing in language and culture have pretty much the same motivations They want to be safe and secure. They want to be loved and cared for and most importantly valued and respected. We have to look deep and not judge other people we meet on our adventures by the assumptions of our own culture (ethnocentrisms). By connecting with those we meet on the road with mutual respect and care, we open the very door that keeps us traveling to the next blank spot on the map as we chase the ever-changing horizons of our dreams.

If you are wondering what ever happen to the little boy I spoke about in the beginning of this article, my wife, Tammy, and I had the honor to attend his graduation from high school many years ago and we were proud to receive word of his commission as an officer and gentleman in the United States Navy. He is presently serving in harm’s way.

Buenaventura, amigos!

Weekly Recipe From The One-Arm Cookbook: Chili Mac

Okay, here is a staple for all of us who have been adventuring in Baja over the years. This is a dish you truly can prepare while sipping a beer in one hand. We always carry a couple of pounds of macaroni and a several cans of chili just in case. And we’ve gotten so use to preparing this while setting up camp that everyone complains if we don’t! In fact, our children have been known to ask for it when we’re settled and could cook anything.

You cook this after a long day of traveling overland trying to get unlost. You finally have found the beach you’ve heard about and its getting dark. So, chili mac comes to the rescue. You can cook it in minutes while your sipping a beer and setting up camp.

I apologize in advance to my foodie friends and bloggers I follow. But when in Baja, necessity is the mother of all invention. 

Here’s all you need: a little salt, 4 cans of chili (8oz.) and a 1 pound of macaroni to serve about 5 or 6 hungry adventurers.

Chili Mac ingredients
Chili Mac Ingredients

Steps:

Boil 4 quarts of water (salt to taste) or use sea water.

Heat cans of chili – or if you want to get really gourmet, use homemade you already prepared.

Dump the 1 pound bag of macaroni into to the boiling water. Bring back to boil and stir occasionally. Mac should be ready in about 6 to 8 minutes depending of altitude.

When the mac is soft to your taste, pour the water off. If you’re on a moto you probably didn’t bring a colander so use a lid; or we’ve even been known to use a flip flop when desperate.

When the chili is warm, mix both together and enjoy.

It will replinish you and give you enough energy to finish setting up.

Tomorrow, you can go out and catch a real meal!

Chili Mac
Chili Mac – All you need is a cerveza.

Weekly Lesson from the Road: Language and Communication

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Communication

Early one morning in Playa de Estero I woke up to a loud conversation just outside my window. I couldn’t really tell what was being said at first but it was loud. I was living in an old airstream trailer at the time and had all the windows open. It was August in Baja on the Pacific side and the fishing had been spectacular and the dinners and drinking even better. So it was just way too early to be waking up.

I slowly pulled myself out of bed to see who was making so much noise when I saw and learned something very special. Three old friends were straddling their bicycles out front. They were so intent talking that they didn’t notice me .

It was Vic, Coach, and K-Mart Bob causing the racket. All three men were pushing 90 years old and had been friends for over 60 years. Vic was a tall lanky man who looked  like what I imagined Don Quioxte be like. He was missing an ear from his time in the South Pacific in WWII and he was stone deaf without his hearing aides, which was most of the time as he thought they made him look old. K-mart Bob definitely didn’t have his. I had helped him search his whole trailer the day before. He thought his dog, Misty, had eaten them. K-mart Bob had been a manager of a K-mart in San Diego before retiring in Baja. Coach, had been the women’s swimming coach at Claremont College and before that had played in the 1936 Rose Bowl. He always wore his but they didn’t do much good. Both Coach and K-mart Bob would’ve made a good Sancho Panzas to Vic.

As I leaned out the door and listened, I was mesmerized. All three men were shouting at each other trying to be heard as they gastrulated dramatically. Coach asked K-Mart Bob, “Are you feeling any pain this morning?” K-mart answered, “No! I don’t need a Goddamn Cane! What about you?” Vic interrupted, “I don’t have the flu why is it going around?” They continued in this way for a good 15 minutes, conversing but not actually hearing each other.

When they finally broke up, I stopped K-mart and asked him what they had been talking about. He said that they had had a good visit like they did every morning. For years they had made a point to stop and “catch up.” He paused and said, “You know there’s a lot of flu going around.”

I learned early that morning that communication was not really about language at all.

We should’ve Gone to Costa Rica – Lessons from the Road

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Fritz Hoffmeister and two halibut – Playa de Estero, Baja Norte, Mx

About this time every year, I like to retell a story about my best friend, Fritz.

It has been several years ago since he passed. But, like with all those we love who pass, it seems like just yesterday. He left, but not before he taught me one last lesson.

Fritz was a big, larger than life man who lived life to the fullest. I have often said, it is harder to find a good fishing buddy than it is, a good wife. And, Fritz was the best fishing buddy I ever had.

He was a man of many contradictions. He lived modestly, but was a millionaire. He was a tall Viking, but was the softest touch I ever met. He was the most successful contractor in our valley. He was a man’s man, and my friend.

Now, to the story. We were planning a fishing adventure down to Costa Rica. The motos were ready, the packing was done, and the dates were set. It was all we talked about for months. I poured over every route and studied all the possible tide charts and camping areas along the way.

I thought the day we would leave would never come. Finally,  the day of our departure was near. I was so excited that my friends were tired of hearing about our plans.

But a few days before we were actually scheduled to head out, Fritz called me, and said he could not make it. He said that a job had come up that he could not pass up. I was livid and we argued. He said he had doubled his bid but still got the project. He paused and said, “Kenny. We can always go next year.”

I postponed Costa Rica and left on a long moto trip that stretched into months. We didn’t talk much during the time as I was traveling to the white spots on the map where there was no connectivity. I was unplugged. When I finally got back, there were several messages on the phone from Fritz’s daughter that said my friend was ill and I should come right away to see him.

Fritz had contracted cancer. What he had thought was a bad virus before I left had turned out to be lung cancer. Immediately, I went to see him.

He was frail and ill. He was weak and barely had the strength to speak above a whisper. We talked long into the evening. He weakly laughed, as we recalled all the adventures we had been on and all the great times we had had.

I looked around his richly appointed house where we had spent so many evenings planning our adventures and realized all his stuff and money did not really count for much, now. All we were talking about were the good times and adventures we had shared.

As though he had read my mind, he squeezed my hand firmly, eyes welling up, and said, “Kenny, we should have gone to Costa Rica.”

My friend, Fritz, died the next day.