Sunday, May 16, 2010


So we were in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico last week, checking out the boat we plan to buy.

Earlier in the second day, in what can be characterized either as expedient parenting, sincere and measured benevolence, or self-serving indulgence, I promised Eleanor ice cream...”later, if you work with me Boo.” I needed to focus on my survey of the boat, with little distraction. I empathized with Eleanor’s boredom and her overall impatience. It was hot and we were sweaty.

Now, as Eleanor reminded me, was later.

I nodded and addressed the hotel clerk. “Hay una tienda cerca aqui que se vende helado?”

The response was considered and...negative, no helado.

An aging gringo in the lobby, who I’d assumed was just another guest, reassured me there was ice cream near. He and the clerk obviously knew one another and they had a discussion about the place. He told Eleanor and me to follow him. On the way he explained that he used to live here with his daughter. He said that when he was my age, this ice cream place was a favorite haunt. He said that seeing Eleanor and me together made him wistful.

We got our helado.

The next day, as we were getting out of the luxurious pool beside the marina, Aging Gringo reappeared.

“Hey, listen to me. Tonight, after dark, walk out to the highway. Across it, behind the taqueria is a place called Mapaches. Take your daughter there. They have raccoons you can feed, they give you a little piece of dough. She will love it.”

It was our last night and I had promised Eleanor dinner at a “fancy restaurant,” an Italian place we’d seen the night before, suspended above the water with lots of sparkling lights. We were both eager for the experience, but I had been worrying about my lack of a clean shirt (reminder to self: pack more than one-shirt-per-day when traveling in the tropics) and spending money to eat at a place where Eleanor would only order plain noodles with some melted butter-—no, margarine, we are in Mexico. This Mapaches place seemed like an out.

“Hey Boo. Would you rather go to the fancy restaurant tonight, or go to a place where we can feed raccoons?”


This time of year, it doesn’t get really dark in Puerto Vallarta before about 10:00 pm. We were too hungry and tired to wait and found ourselves dodging traffic across the busy highway on the later side of dusk.

Mapaches is not a restaurant in the sense of a closed building, but rather a road-side stand with tile flooring and a roof, but no walls. The kitchen was diner-like, surrounded by a bar and stools. Outdoor plastic tables and chairs filled the rest of the space. Off to the side was a juke box and one of those metal contraptions shaped like a car or animal or spaceship that kids sit on and that jiggle for about 60 seconds for each quarter deposited...or in this case, two pesos.

As I’m taking the place in, I’ll be damned if there is not a raccoon, sitting there next to Eleanor, much like a cat. She hadn’t noticed.

“Eleanor, look.”

She’s learned to “be like Jane Goodall” in wild animal encounters and she sat down breathlessly near the creature, willing it to approach her, hoping against hope. Surprisingly, it did, and much to her delight. She turned her smiling face to me, seeing if I noticed this amazing event. In doing so, she missed the three or four others who quickly approached her from behind.

Her smile turned to giggles.

Before I could really process the information, there were about a dozen raccoons checking out Eleanor, and a waitress walked up to Eleanor and handed her a piece of dough...raccoons appeared from everywhere, running. More raccoons than I could quickly count, in a feeding frenzy all over Eleanor, who was now freaking out, jumping up. And they kept coming, it was suddenly like a sea of rats, like you’d see in a movie. Eleanor extracted herself from the mass, shock on her face, definitely shaken up, before I could even react. We were both stunned, right in the middle of the restaurant, a mass of fighting raccoons where there had been just one, sitting like a cat.

“Wow, geez. Let’s sit down at a table.” I Iooked around for some appropriate reaction to the pandemonium we’d just been a part of. Nothing. Business as usual. Two guys walked in and sat at the bar; they gave passing glances at the raccoons (now largely dispersed), but were not offered any dough to feed them.

“It hurts.”

“What hurts…oh, he scratched you?”


“Are you sure it wasn’t his teeth? Are you sure he scratched you?”


The waitress approached to take our order. The menu on the wall was pretty meat focused. We settled on two plain cheese quesadillas, an order of guacamole, an horchata, and a Negra Modelo. She left and we again shook our heads at what had happened, it was really overwhelming. Juxtaposing the neutral responses of the people around us and the fact that we were nonplused, made it all the more surreal. Eleanor was not attacked, but she was buried in a pile of frenzied raccoons.

[Why the hell, at this time, did we think we were about to enjoy an uneventful meal of quesadillas and guac? –Ed.]

So the drinks and food arrived lickety-split. I was gratified to see the woman making our tortillas just as I do at home, with plastic wrap in her press. (Of course, her tortillas emerged from the pan more pliable than mine; need to keep playing with that recipe.)

After our drinks, our waitress set down our plate of guacamole and a single quesadilla before each of us. Then she walked away. We both noticed the head pop up from the seat next to Eleanor. We looked at him, kind of cute sitting there with us at the table.

In a flash, he was on the table and off the table, and Eleanor’s quesadilla was gone. She laughed, thought it was hilarious...and then...there are at least 35 raccoons around our table, most fighting each other loudly for a piece of Eleanor’s dinner, many others trying to climb on our laps. There was a row of paws along the table edge, noses and faces pulled up, eyes looking.

The waitress came by and swatted at a couple stepping onto the table from the empty chairs.

“They took Eleanor’s dinner.” She nodded and said she would bring another. She headed back to the kitchen. Three raccoons were on the table at once. Following the waitress's lead, I pushed them off.

“Boo, we just have to be bold, just push them away when they come near you.” Soon, I realized that’s all we were doing, trying to protect all fronts at once. Eleanor stopped laughing. They were multiplying. I noticed my quesadilla was gone, and I hadn’t eaten it. Little black hands grabbed a chip stuck in top of the guacamole. I used the back of my hand to push back a raccoon trying doggedly to get onto my lap….”ah, geez!”

“Did he scratch you?” Eleanor asked.

“No, he bit me.”

I looked at my hand as the waitress approached, just a little scratch from his teeth, not a puncture wound or anything, but it was bleeding. The waitress shooed the raccoons matter of factly as she set Eleanor’s replacement plate down. It felt wrong to me to allow this woman to put food in front of my daughter, like she’d taken a cub from a mama bear and set it in front of Eleanor.

“They got my dinner too, necesito un otro.” She explained that she was willing to replace the first plate, but that if I wanted more, I would have to pay for it. It seemed like an absurd position, but I couldn’t focus on conversing in Spanish to respond—-she’d just set the equivalent of a baby bear cub in front of my daughter and I was worried for her safety. I nodded, bring me another.

Eleanor was fighting the valiant fight, losing bits of her quesadilla to little black hands as she held the thing tightly, too distracted to eat. A raccoon grabbed the flower from behind Eleanor's ear and made off with it. The situation was out of control. We’d both been wounded and I wondered if I was a negligent father remaining here, could this get worse? Should we get rabies shots?

“Boo, eat as fast as you can, really, just shove it in. We’ll get ice cream if you hurry.”

“I can’t!”

I fought the raccoons for my guacamole and then got smart. I kicked the two plastic chairs several feet from our table and smiled at Eleanor, happy with myself, wondering aloud why our waitress hadn’t done this. This reduced the threat to the tall ones peering over the edge of the table (our drinks and plates had earlier found their way into a little cluster at the center of the table) and the tenacious ones grasping our legs in a bid to get on our laps. A couple raccoons bridged the chair-table gap with their bodies, but I pushed the chairs back even further.

The waitress brought my quesadilla and left. Eleanor and I were a bit smug, feeling in control. We could relax a bit and laugh at the experience. We just had to learn to manage the situation. I used my quesadilla to wipe at the guacamole still on the plate and...BAM! A large raccoon made a flying leap from one of the chairs I'd pushed back, landing on our table, sliding smack-dab into our cluster of dishes and right up to me. He recovered quickly, grabbed a hold of the quesadilla in my hand and wrenched it from me, before jumping back to the tile floor and fighting the others for his prize. In an instant, two other raccoons found their way onto our table, we were no longer in control. I told Eleanor to stand up, we were abandoning ship. I handed her the horchata and grabbed my beer. We stepped away from the table and watched it be taken over, picked clean, and then quickly abandoned. Each of us stood in the middle of the restaurant, clutching our drinks with three raccoons each standing at our feet, pawing at our legs.

I signaled for the check.

“Let’s get back across the highway, Boo. We’ll get some ice cream.”

-- MR

Post Script: We were early, too early. What I left out of this story is that about the time we got our check, they began feeding all of the racoons in the back. Eleanor went to ride that two-peso contraption and more diners filed in, largely unmolested. Raccoons milled about with full bellies and people tossed food to them and took pictures. I could understand the business model and see our mistake. Even more cars pulled up as we left, we the too-early gringos.

1 comment:

  1. I love how Eleanor's hands match the raccoon's in the second photo. -- WR


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