Posted by: lianadevine | 7 January 2008

Holiday Highlights in Bacalar

The first draft of this post started with an apology for not having written sooner, but the reason I’m late is that it’s been too much fun to take time out to write about it. I’m not sorry about that! Here’s how we’ve filled our days in Bacalar, aside from the normal routine of living – which I hasten to mention is also a little out of the ordinary, compared to life at home in Canada.

Our first bus-guest, Kevyn, arrived on the 21st, to spend Christmas with us while her husband Jeremy went home to England. Both foresters, they now live and work in Nicaragua, but we had met them ten years ago when they lived in Bacalar. Kevyn had many friends to visit during her short visit – she claimed to be drifting “from plate to plate” – but it was MY quilt she slept under each night.

After much discussion about how to prepare the Christmas turkey, we decided that the extranjeros (foreigners) would prepare the meal as we would at home. This would free Doña Mari from the preparation and give our Mexican family a new taste to enjoy. So NaDene, Calvin and I spent all day Christmas Eve preparing the meal, which traditionally would be eaten at midnight on the 24th. Meanwhile, Socorro made loaves of chicken salad sandwiches and Doña Mari was in charge of the potato salad, which we would eat on Christmas Day.

Christmas Dinner PreparationsBesides the broccoli casserole and carrots in amaretto I assembled in advance, I made the famous pear-date cake with maple syrup sauce (because it most closely resembled traditional plum pudding), and the pieces for 8 mini gingerbread houses. I had a hard time keeping Melissa out of the bus while I baked the gingerbread in secret, so after Calvin and I built the houses, I let her in to decorate hers. I had been in the kitchen cooking and cleaning for 12 hours before taking a break, so I sat with a cup of coffee at 7 pm to watch my telenovela “Tormenta en El Paraíso”. Then Calvin and I went to a Christmas party hosted by Carolyn, an American friend who runs Casita Carolina, a little hotel along the shore of Lake Bacalar. We had to cut the festivities short in time to meet the family at the Church for mass at 9 pm. Calvin dropped me off and it was standing room only already. I hadn’t a hope of spotting where the family was seated. Everybody was dressed to the nines, as if it were a fancy party or a nightclub instead of a religious event. Moments later, Calvin returned with the news that nobody from the family was coming, so we returned home. Now with time to kill before final meal preparations at 11, I finished the last photostory and tried to post it, but we’d had internet problems and it wouldn’t upload. Christmas Dinner 2007 with the Damas FamilyThe dinner was a hit, though we ran a bit late. Turns out cranberry sauce is as good a replacement for salsa as anything. It was 2:30 by the time we cleared the table, did the dishes, stuffed a few stockings with fresh fruit, granola bars and instant oatmeal…and then to bed.

Christmas Day we had breakfast with Socorro, NaDene and Kevyn. A few gifts had appeared under Socorro’s Christmas tree, in addition to the outdoor gas stove Calvin and NaDene built for Socorro, but otherwise the gift giving was very low-key. We had all worked so hard preparing the dinner on Christmas Eve, we took the day off to enjoy, so went with the extended family and friends to have a picnic at the Lake. Picnic at Lake BacalarAfter a swim, we ate the sandwiches that Socorro had made and Doña Mari’s potato salad, which is traditionally eaten using soda crackers instead of forks. Ramón and Yara had brought a sandwichón, kind of a layered bread and mayonnaise slab cake filled with ham. We watched an impromptu soccer game, then let the kids break the piñatas. Back at the house, I got out the rest of the gingerbread houses, icing glue and candies to decorate and let the kids have at ‘er. After seeing Melissa’s example, they soon got quite creative. It was a novel pastime that even the adults enjoyed.Decorating the Gingerbread Houses

Piñatas and picnics, not your typical Christmas in Canada, but it was a fun and relaxing day.

The family had given us a kilo of dried corn and cacao, planning to show us the process to make pinole and chocolate, respectively. Pinole is a nourishing hot drink made with ground corn and milk; the cacao became a pre-sweetened cake of chocolate to be melted in hot milk. Don Alfonso, Dona Mari and the Chocolate FactoryWe had such fun working with Don Alfonso, Doña Mari, Socorro, NaDene, Juan and Kevyn, toasting then grinding the corn and cacao, grinding sugar and cinnamon, mixing them together and forming the cakes. The day was a gift in itself.

On the 27th we had a reprise of the full Christmas Dinner, finishing the turkey with openfaced hot turkey sandwiches. We invited an American neighbour, ZZ, who had missed out on a turkey dinner on the 24th. Kevyn’s last night in Bacalar fell on our wedding anniversary, 23 Years Strong!so we celebrated both with a special dinner on the 29th. Mario and his family joined us, and his wife Kati had even made a special anniversary cake for us. The next day, we took Kevyn to the bus, then detoured to the Free Zone just across the Belize border with Socorro and Doña Mari. Another successful shopping trip, though the crowds were much thinner.

By then, it was time to plan the New Year’s Eve dinner, so NaDene, Calvin and I decided to treat the family to a Chinese Dinner. We shopped at the local mercado, and picked up all the fresh veggies except cauliflower. Socorro and I lingered at the market to wait for the delivery truck which might have cauliflower, and to await the arrival of the local candidate running in the February 3 election. We were lucky on both counts: Socorro literally had the cauliflower in her hands before it hit the market shelf, and the handsome candidate greeted her like an old friend as his entourage passed by, propaganda, calendars and t-shirts in hand. On the spur of the moment, Socorro and I decided to make ponche so gathered the fresh fruits and spices that we’d need for this cider-like punch. A chance meeting with a co-worker provided the method and recipe.

Work had already begun on the Año Viejo, an effigy of the passing year made with old clothes and stuffed with wood shavings and strategically-placed fireworks. Calvin was really into this. We found an old gourd for a head and with plasticine nose, lips and eyes, wool hair and beard, he looked quite realistic. He sat in front of the family house the remainder of December 31, and after dark, Touring with the Ano Viejowe piled into the Thing and toured him around Bacalar, honking and shouting Felíz Año Nuevo to all we passed by. We noted many other Año Viejos sitting in front of houses and businesses.

Calvin and I stopped by Carolyn’s New Year’s Eve party a little later, but returned in time to stir-fry the Chinese food and eat around 11pm. As midnight approached, we could hear fireworks around town so we quickly finished our Comida de ChinaNew Year’s Eve Comida de China and counted down the last of 2007. We toasted the New Year, wished each other a Happy New Year with hugs and kisses all around, then made our 12 wishes as we ate our 12 grapes. Then we got our own Año Viejo ready to burn. It was a little less dramatic than anticipated, but along with confetti bombs and other fireworks, provided a good show for almost an hour, until all that remained of the Old Year was ashes.Burning the Ano Viejo

New Year’s Day was filled with visitors who dropped by to wish us all a Happy New Year. Some we had met before, others, including baby Pamel, were new to us. The day passed quickly, enjoyably and deliciously.

Melissa and I had gotten into a routine of reviewing her science and geography for upcoming tests on her return to school. One afternoon, our studying was cut short because of a rally held by the handsome local candidate. I thought I would just watch the party go by, but I could see it was quickly becoming a parade, as each family joined the entourage. Election Hoo-haSocorro, Doña Mari, Melissa and I joined the crowd and scored whistles, bumper stickers, colouring books and more T-shirts. Our parade snaked through the streets of town toward the park for the candidate’s rally, where there were speeches amid clapping and cheering and…free food and drink!

January 6th is celebrated in Mexico as Day of the Kings, but in the Damas family, it is also conveniently Don Alfonso’s birthday. In preparation, we spent all day Saturday making two different kinds of tamales: colados, with chunks of chicken atop sieved corn masa, and chaya, a vegetarian kind made with chopped leaves of the chaya plant. As if that weren’t enough, Sunday morning, we made a third kind, the torteados that Calvin and I enjoy the most. Tamale-Making DayIt’s an undertaking akin to making perogies or cabbage rolls – a social event as much as anything as the women work together to make huge vats of food. But we were expecting a crowd – all the family and friends who were away visiting relatives over Christmas and New Year’s.

Thus the birthday festivities began on Saturday, including planning to sing the traditional “Las Mañanitas” at midnight, instead of the usual 6 a.m. I had learned the song last June when I attended Keydi’s quinceañera, so I attempted to teach it to Calvin. He quickly mastered the simple tune, but not the words, so when we gathered in the dark in front of the house, he accompanied us on the comb. Oh well, it was just the dress rehearsal: Doña Mari was waiting up for us with the television on, so didn’t hear us singing. She eventually let us in, then joined in the chorus with me, Juan, Pati, Melissa, Samuel, Keydi and Socorro, whom we had startled out of bed. Don Alfonso was roused out of his sleep with this cacophony of kazoo-like humming, untuned strumming on a guitar, and the well-intentioned but unmusical angel chorus.

Singing Las MananitasWe reprised Las Mañanitas later Sunday when we brought out the Rosca de los Reyes, a special sweet bread formed into a ring and decorated with icing and dried fruit. This is the traditional bread eaten on January 6th, and serves, in the Damas household, as Don Alfonso’s birthday cake. We let him cut into it first, and he was lucky enough to find a munequita which was baked into the rosca. Everyone took his turn strategically cutting their piece, and in the end, it was Juan, Calvin and Miguel who won the little dolls and the honour of making the tamales for the next feast on February 2, Candelaria Day. Lucky for them, Doña Mari also found a munequita in her slice, so she can help the men make the tamales….though I’ve heard this tradition is not strictly observed!

Don Alfonso’s PinataNo Mexican Birthday Party is complete without a piñata, so kids and grownups all took a swing until it came crashing down and dumped all its treats. The feasting continued with Ramón and Yara’s delicious marinated pork tacos, then more rosca served with hot chocolate, store-bought Abuelita brand, not our home-made. Everyone was fat and happy by the end of the day, the last of the Christmas Season’s festivities. Tomorrow, we diet!



  1. Hi guys,

    Your blog is a work of art! It is a delight to read all your news and hear details of all the things you are doing. Compared to life back in Kamloops … well, there is no comparison!

    The big news here is that Tumbleweeds (yes, your favourite watering hole) caught fire last night. The walls are still standing, but the roof has caved in and everything inside was destroyed. They think it started in the kitchen and spread from there. So, now that Tumbleweeds has gone up in smoke (literally) you may as well stay in Mexico … there is no reason to come back here.

    Keep up the great work on the blog. It’s almost like being there.

    Take care,

    Paul and Donna

    PS. It’s minus 10 and snowing!!

  2. Hey, Leanne and Calvin and Spike!

    Another wonderful installment in the saga—and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I just finished my third reading, in fact.

    The Christmas Eve dinner sounds splendid! How I wish I could’ve been there to share in it! I also counted myself fortunate to have tasted the pear-date cake with maple syrup sauce!

    ‘Trouble in Paradise’: What a terrific name! (Telenovelas are very popular in Phoenix, by the way.)

    People being dressed to the nines for the Misa de Gallo reminds me of Russian Pascha (Easter) when I lived in L.A. Although it was never very chilly at Eastertime, there were more floor-length mink coats than in a furrier’s shop. Sandra Dee’s mother, Mary Douvan, always wore a white one.

    Your picnic at Lake Bacalar sounds like a wonderful way to spend Christmas Day! And piñatas and gingerbread houses: what a combination! (a good one)

    When you mentioned atole mixed with chocolate, I immediately thought of champurrado. Is that what the mixture is called, or am I confused (yet again)?

    HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!!! May you have 1,000 more years of happy marriage life but never forget what it’s like to be newlyweds!

    Your Año Viejo effigy was really neat. In the photo, it’s difficult to tell that it’s not a real person!

    Your description of the food you had for Día de los Reyes has made me awfully hungry. Unfortunately, I don’t have tamales or Rosca de los Reyes, so I guess a store-bought croissant will have to do.

    I wish I’d been there to sing Las Mañanitas with you. Speaking of which, have you seen (and heard) this one?
    The Pedro Infante video is a classic, but in many ways I like this one better.

    So Calvin got a muñequita, eh? I’m glad Doña Mari got one, too, and will be able to help Juan, Miguel, and Calvin make them next year!

    Would you believe that I’ve never tried to break a piñata? I’ve seen lots of kids having fun with them (and have secretly wanted to take my turn), but I’ve always been just a spectator.

    Happiest of New Years!

    I can’t wait to read (and comment on) the next installment!

    As Horacio Idárraga Gil says, “Abrazos rompehuesos!”

    Dennis in Phoenix

  3. Ah, what a wonderful Christmas season you have had! Having celebrated Keydi’s quinceanera and my special birthday with the Damas family, I know how special these family celebrations are and I was certainly with you in spirit (and wishing I was there in body, too!)

    Being an “expert” at making tamales, I would LOVE to offer my services helping Calvin, Juan, Miguel and Dona Mari with their task. I can’t imagine a more surreal experience than that!!!

    My love and best wishes for a buen ano nuevo to all.


  4. The Holiday Season is quickly becoming a distant memory.. there are new chapters in the VV and the road carries on….
    But so glad the many happy time are captured here to share…

    un abrazota

  5. Hey, guys!

    Your blog is truly a work of art! Yes, your OCD comes out loud and clear, Leanne! Wonderful job!

    It is inspiring to see you two live out your dreams – something that others only dream about, but have done nothing about. Awesome!

    Will see you on Skype soon!


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