Tag Archives: Gap year

A cup of tea in Mexico (One from the archives)

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Coat of arms of Mexico.

Mexican coat of arms

From time to time, I will be sharing stories of some my earlier travels with you here at Rocinante’s Droppings. To do so, it only seems right to relate them in my original words, based on emails sent home while I was away. I can’t resist tidying them up somewhat grammar/punctuation-wise, but I will otherwise leave them more or less as they were. So, I apologise for my younger self in advance!

I’ll start with one from the trip on which I first flexed my latent travel writing muscle – my gap year adventures in Mexico. To set the scene – the year is 2002. I am young, relatively untravelled (this is only my second trip outside of Europe) and don’t yet realise that talking about the local driving is one of the ultimate travel clichés.

Yesterday we [myself and the other volunteer who was living with the same family as me] woke up in an empty house. Much as we love the family, we were quite pleased about this. It’s rather embarrassing being waited on, but they won’t let us help.

Anyway. We went downstairs, got ourselves some cereal and fruit (a nice change from hefty chilli-charged tacos, or the like). And there was a pan on the table next to our tea bags, so naturally, naturally we assumed it was water for our tea (kettles are virtually unheard of here). I bunged it on the hob and sat back down to my breakfast.

After a while, I began to wonder what was taking so long. I went up to the stove. Alarming clouds of blue smoke were rising from the pan. But sometimes denial is our only weapon and I merely thought, ‘God, that’s making a lot of steam.’

We took one of the plastic ladles and began to spoon the ‘water’ into the mugs which already contained the tea bags.  Immediately the tea bags began to spit and crackle and emit a nasty smell. As we turned round to get to the sink, we discovered that the whole room, and indeed the whole house, had now filled with the blue smoke.

And then the damned [Reading back over these emails, it has been something of a surprise to discover how often I used the works ‘damn’ and ‘damned’. I can’t account for it. I can only assume that I thought I was living in the 1950s] dogs started to bark.

Three different tea bags

Harmless-looking tea bags

‘What if they’re choking?’ Gemma squealed.

‘Well, what do you want me to do about it?’ I demanded, personally being more concerned about the ruined mugs.

I returned to the pan to investigate this mysterious ‘water’ and discovered that the plastic ladle had melted. I mean completely melted. All that remained was a pool of orange plastic. Gemma  peered over my shoulder.

‘That is NOT water,’ she remarked.

And indeed, hours later, when, with the help of all the fans in the house, the smoke had gone, the incriminating evidence of the plastic puddle and the mug had been removed and the dogs were quiet (actually, they were far more subdued that usual, leading Gemma to suggest that we set fire to the kitchen every morning), we broached the subject with our ‘big sister’.

‘Oh!’ she said in horror.

[Here I clearly lose the motivation to describe the elaborate pidgin Spanish/pidgin English/charades that were required to facilitate this communication.]

It was paraffin. Do not ask me what it was doing on the table in a saucepan with our breakfast things.

We had orange juice this morning.