A fortunate chain of events led to two awesome days up in the hills of San Mateo del Rio Honda. Let me start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.
Sam and I were staying at a hippy inhabited hostel in Oaxaca city last week, consuming many mole negros, sampling the locally produced mezcal, and biking out to little suburbs of the city. As I was struggling to get my bike up the stairs at the hostel, a really tall hippy named Flow, and his girlfriend Opal, hauled me up the last few steps. We got to talking and hit it off, ate some cookies, then harmonized in a group om and traded contact info.
We ended up taking a pit stop in the mountains before heading to the beaches of Oaxaca. Who knew one state could be so diverse? We stopped off in San Jose del Pacifico, known for its mushrooms, hiking and temescals. We got sucked in for a few days at Casa de Catarina, a cozy guesthouse overlooking some spectacularly cloudy views. We ate hippy gruel and sang songs late into the evening. One night Sam and I even took over cooking duties and creatively used the few ingredients we had to feed 24 mouths. An Aztec temescal (adobe hot house) finished up the experience in an exhausting/invigorating kind of way.
We packed our bags and hugged the many new be-dreaded friends we made over the past few days. We stuck out our thumbs and caught a truck to another town a few kilometers away. We were going to try and find Flow and Opal and see their little haven they’ve created in the mountains of San Mateo. We ended up having to walk half the distance to their town because no cars were coming down the dirt roads. After about 6 or 7 kilometers we finally hailed a ride into the tiny center of town. And within a few steps from the car, we heard a whistle. Opal was sitting on a bench, journaling. She was surprised and, I think, happy to see us. Turns out that their ‘home’ is a barn and their wasn’t really any room for us to crash. I started to get nervous that maybe we had come to this town too unprepared. But Opal hopped up and walked us over to their landlord, Tia Maria. Tia Maria tried to charge us too many pesos for too little accomodation, so Opal led us up and up a hill to her friend Emilio’s.
Back in San Jose, the Italian running the guesthouse had told Sam and me about Emilio (because he realized how food obsessed we were and how much we would appreciate this Spaniard man’s pork product!). Half way up the hill, puffing and weezing from the altitude, we realized we were headed to the same Emilio we had heard of. We both got excited about the prospect of perhaps learning a bit about his work. Timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We walked through the front door and heard screaming and wailing. Emilio was dragging an orange haired pig down the hill. We had to dart out of the way to miss the angry pig’s attempted attack. Emilio looked at Sam and threw him a rope and commanded him to pull it taught until the pig was dangling from mid-air. ”Bienvenido a mi casa.”
Emilio’s beautiful wife, Naialy, scuttered out of the house with a pot and spoon in her hand and took her position next to the pig. My eyes went wide. I couldn’t believe I was about to see my first ever live butchering. The knife went in, the blood came out and Naialy stirred and stirred to keep the blood from coagulating. She would soon be making morcilla, or blood sausage. I helped untie the pig and then basically was elbow deep in the operation for the next few hours.
After cutting the pig into pieces for salchicha (it was too small to make jamon), Naialy passed over the loin and asked Sam and me to cook it. We feasted that night, cooking cabbage with a bit of the pork lard, baby red russet potatoes with a bit of crisped pork, and a fireplace roasted, garlic marinated loin. Oh, and a few pork cracklings slipped into my mouth along the way.
The pork was honestly the best I’ve ever had. Maybe it was because I felt so connected to the whole experience. I’m not really sure. But the meat was so incredibly flavorful and tender. I can’t remember ever having eaten meat so freshly butchered. Emilio opened up a robust bottle of red wine, ripped apart some crusty bread and toasted to good food and new friends. What an unexpected day.
The next day, after a 20 km hike for some mole negro, we came back exhausted to their house. But Naialy was making the morcilla, so we beelined for the kitchen and helped her turn out some links of the ruby red sausage.
We reluctantly left the next day, not wanting to overstay their generous welcome. But first, Emilio insisted on walking us around his garden and explaining why his pigs are special to Mexico. They are the same pigs that produce the famed pate negra from Spain. He is so proud of his work (as he should be) that he showed us how he took care of them and explained the whole process of raising them. He also grows artichokes and asparagus in his garden. It’s a European wonderland in a tiny Mexican mountain town. He led us back to the kitchen, us with our backpacks on and trying to squeeze through the door, and sliced us a few of his cured items to sample. We ended up buying one of his head sausages and a pack of pancetta. One of the best souveniers I’ve ever bought.
We arrived at the beach a few hours later, after hitching a ride with a lovely Aussie couple. Sitting in the cabana, listening to the waves, we made little sandwhiches of creamy avocado, juicy plum tomatoes and alternating pork products. What a lovely way to get to see Mexico. By way of cities, towns, hills and beaches. With hippy travelers and open hearted locals… and a few bites of pork make it all go down smoothly.