Mi Nombre es Albóndiga (My Name is Meatball)

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Kris just recently posted a great recipe for albondigas and I’d been racking my brain trying to remember where I’ve heard that word before. Well, I finally remembered.

About 11 years ago, Kris and I went on a fantastic vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  I know most people associate Puerto Vallarta as the place where Elizabeth Taylor filmed Night of The Iguana (well, at least my gay friends do), but I’m a little bit more simple and remember it as being one of the port of calls on the Love Boat.  Julie McCoy, the lovely cruise director, would always have some sort of dire situation happening in Puerto Vallarta – like Vicki Stubbing, the ship captains’ daughter and Charo, the ship’s entertainment, spent too much time shopping and almost didn’t make it back in time before the shipped sailed – very high drama. We didn’t experience any high drama on our vacation but we did experience some very comedic moments.

One such moment happened on one of our many excursions.  This particular excursion was a three hour horseback riding experience in the mountains about an hour and a half outside of Puerto Vallarta.

Our excursion started from the hotel in a nice air-conditioned shuttle bus.  About 45 minutes into the trip as we passed through this quaint little Mexican village, the shuttle driver pulled over and told us to get out and wait for another shuttle that would take us to our final destination – Rancho Capomo.

We thought this was a little odd because we didn’t realize we would need to transfer to another shuttle halfway there, but we figured because of the language barrier, this was our fault and they probably told us but we just didn’t understand.  So we disembarked in the middle of Nowhere, Mexico.

Standing on the side of the road, it appeared that this village wasn’t very quaint at all – it was basically two roads intersecting with a couple of stray dogs, a donkey and an old man who didn’t speak a lick of English.  So there we stood (well, I shouldn’t say “we” because Kris was running around trying to pet the stray dogs) at the intersection of Poncho and Tumbleweed in downtown Nowhere, Mexico waiting for a shuttle bus or for a Mexican Spaghetti Western to start filming.  After about a half hour, we started to get nervous – no sign of a shuttle and those stray dogs started looking at us like we were Chimichangas. 

Finally, this old school bus pulls up in front of us and tells us they are here to take us to the horse ranch.  At this point, they could have picked us up on a tricycle – we were just glad to be in the company of other tourists, even though they all looked about as rattled as we did. After another 45 minutes of a rather bumpy, dusty and hot bus ride, we made it to Rancho Capomo. 

I truly believe that Mexicans are some of the nicest people on the planet.  The men and women who worked on the ranch were so great.  After a quick breakfast of homemade tortillas, eggs and fresh salsa made by these very sweet ladies, the caballeros (Horsemen) introduced us to our horses.

Apparently, the selection process that matches horse to rider is very scientific.  The caballero looks at you, says a few things in Spanish to another caballero then brings you a horse that they feel is a good match for you.  There were approximately 35 to 40 people in our group and halfway through the pairing process, they brought out the horse Kris would spend the day with.  A horse called Meatball.

Meatball looked like he just woke up from a nap and hadn’t fully shaken off the cobwebs of sleep.  I’m sure if Meatball could talk; he would be saying something like, “Which way did he go? Which way did he go?” It kind of reminded us of a horse that Droopy the Dog would ride – sweet, gentle and a little bit of a sway back.  If Kris were a little taller, his feet would have been dragging on the ground.  Oh, Meatball.

I was getting more and more excited about meeting my horse but as the matchmaking continued, that excitement turned into anxiety.   I suddenly realized I was the last man standing…all the horses and tourists were paired up and staring at me.  I looked at Kris but he was no help.  He was too busy becoming best friends with Meatball.  It was all very awkward and then the ground shook.

Everyone went completely still, even the horses.  Whatever it was that was making the ground shake was getting closer.  I resisted the urge to run – I felt like I was in the movie Jurassic Park.  It was getting closer and it seemed mad.  From behind the stable emerged this giant yellow monster that was obviously a prehistoric cousin of a war horse.  The eyes were red and fire was shooting from the giant nostrils. At least that’s what I imagined I saw.

It took two caballeros to wrestle the horse over to me.  One of the caballeros told me the name of my horse was Canario.  The other caballero whispered to me, “Canario es loco!” as he helped me into the saddle…great, just great.  Did I mention safety is not a big concern in Mexico?

For the first half of the trail, Canario tried to get me off his back.  He would rub up against these thorny trees so I had to quickly get my foot out of the stir-up and move my leg out of the way.  He also tried bucking me off a couple of times.  Kris would be bringing up the rear with Meatball (who was dangerously close to nodding off) and laugh every time Canario would start flicking his hind legs in an effort to get me out of the saddle.

By the end of the trail, Canario and I were best friends.  Well, not really, I just wore the poor animal out.  Three hours with me riding around on your back would definitely do the trick.  I think Meatball and Kris switched places – Kris started carrying Meatball. 

All-in-all, we had a great time, and as we were leaving our little Mexican hamlet in the mountains, the caballeros gave us the translation of our horses’ names.  The English translation for Canario was Canary, a small yellow bird.  Are you serious?

The Spanish translation for Meatball – ALBONDIGAS!  

Want another classic Loon Log entry?  Take a look at: How Pasta Got Its Groove Back!

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