And as I sat there…I thought of my friends from one end of the country to the other and how they were really all in the same vast backyard…”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Sometimes, the best adventures are waiting in your own backyard.
“Come by around 2. It’s just a ten minute drive from the house.”
When Owen casually invited me and my boyfriend Ramon to eat trout one lazy Saturday, I imagined a few plastic tables and chairs on a shady side street near his home in El Bosque. Nothing special.
Instead we went off the grid and across state lines for the most succulent fresh trout I’ve ever tasted.
Hanging left at the end of Subida a Chalma, we sped down a curvy, narrow road through glossy leaves and needles luminescent with the sun’s rays. Near the bottom of the valley we braked to avoid grazing a large tree suspended over the road like a massive no sign. “Enter at your own risk,” it seemed to say. Stirred by hunger, we ignored the interdiction and drove on; slowing to ensure the old CR-V could clear the portentous portal. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” it called back as we passed.
Nature’s warning wasn’t entirely without cause. Tales of banditry are common along rural roads in Morelos, Mexico’s 2nd most dangerous state.
Our intrusion was rewarded with spectacular views of the forested hills spreading wide across Mexico State below. Enthralled by the scenery, Ramon craned his neck in every direction. I gripped the arm rest, terrified we would fly off a cliff or collide with another car.
“Look up and left, you can see the house.”
Several hundred meters across a wooded gorge, Owen’s house was radiant in stone and white stucco.
I’d admired these rolling hills many times from the roof of my friend’s bungalow. Especially this time of year, when dreamy Jacaranda and flamboyant Tabachin exploded, violet and vermilion through the valley. Its beauty was always abstract to me; I never imagined it was a place one could actually go. Today we were here, part of the scenery. I softened my grip on the arm rest.
As the terrain plateaued, we spotted a shady figure at a fork in the road. He wore a black and white striped felt hat, and a deranged expression. Moving closer we saw a teenage boy, squinting, hours in the sun etched in his weathered cheeks, holding out a paper flyer. I gripped hard again, and glanced nervously at my cell phone: no service.
He might have just told us which way to the trout. Or he might have been a decoy to get us to stop so half a dozen armed men could jump out of the bush and rob us. So we swerved right at the fork without stopping, all in silent agreement. The boy scowled back, dust-bathed.
“Any minute now,” Owen said. But several minutes down the road, still searching for signs of fresh fish, Owen made us turn back. “We should have seen it already.” Back at the fork with no fish in sight, we continued a while down the winding road we came on, to no avail.
“Maybe they don’t exist anymore. It’s been so long.”
Without cell service, we couldn’t even Google it. Owen was troubled, Ramon irritated.
I bellowed over my stomach. “Let’s just ask the boy in the hat.” Nervous silence.
Exasperated yet obedient, Ramon swerved back to the fork and leaned out, shouting. “Which way to the trout?”
The boy stared back confused, then handed Owen a flyer through the window. “20 km that way.” He pointed back to our original route. Now we saw a sign. “Ocuilan 25.”
“No way, it’s not that far.” Owen was skeptical, and hungry.
Mexico is fraught with risks, but believing what you read and hear may be the most dangerous.
With no bandits in sight, we were free to try again.
With a little more persistence (albeit not 25 kilometers’ worth), we found our destination “Truchas Los Alcatraces.” A colorful sign pointed down the riverbed to a large wooden deck and cabin. The yard was dotted with stone fountains feeding into tiered tanks and a shallow reservoir. A tiny oasis in Middle of Nowhere, Owen’s Backyard.
Sitting down to a round of ice cold Coronas and Victorias, we basked in the rustic atmosphere.
“I can’t believe this was here the whole time!” Ramon was ecstatic.
I savored the quiet satisfaction that just maybe, we hadn’t exhausted Cuernavaca’s possibilities yet. Even Owen was impressed how much the place had expanded.
Finally at ease, we lost ourselves in idle banter. Twenty minutes later, we had established:
- that having the blueprints to your house was a rare luxury in Mexico,
- that adobe bricks and trips to Dubai were prohibitively expensive, and
- that Yemen was cheap but scary and previously two Yemens,
The waitress brought two steaming plates to Ramon and Owen. Fragrant garlic wafted from shiny tinfoil pockets. “Trucha al mojo de ajo.” My plate followed with a sweet, pungent odor. “Trucha tradicional.”
In the middle, she placed bowls of juicy green limes, sweet tomato salsa, and fluffy sour cream, fresh from a nearby ranch.
Under my foil I discovered a glittering trout asleep in a buttered bed of caramelized onions, bright manzano chiles, and bitter epazote greens. Ramon’s and Owen’s trout were buried beneath an avalanche of crispy fried potatoes and garlic.
We ate with urgency, punctuating the silence with grunts of pleasure, washed down tender bits of trout with bittersweet lager. Rounds two and three rushed by like the rippling stream below. Insects chirped in the bush beyond the deck. A perfect summer day.
After paying the bill, we strolled down to admire the tiers of small (80 pesos), medium (95 pesos) and large (110 pesos) trout swimming in circles toward a singular fate. They seemed happy enough in their shallow tanks. Why wasn’t I? I wondered if the trout preferred to die by one flavor or another—Traditional? Garlic? Full-time employment? Freelancing? I longed to feel this free all day, every day.
Owen climbed down to the final rock facing the pond and took in the view, chest open to the wind.
Over lunch we’d debated if Mexico was getting better or worse, if Cuernavaca was boring or merely restive, if we should stay or go, if Owen should or even could sell his house in the depressed housing market. As a lungful of fresh air pressed against my sated belly, I knew that whatever we decided to do in the end, this backyard, Our Backyard, was one reason to stay.
When’s the last time you took an adventure in your own backyard? Tell us in the comments below!