May 1, 2021
For us, the sights, sounds and even smells of any place we visit tend to be embedded into our beings. If you travel very much, you can probably relate. Think about the pre-covid days of a really cool place you’ve been. What made the place so awesome? What impressed you the most about it? Here are a few things about places we’ve been that have “stuck” with us:
Color on every corner, a feast for your eyes.
Massive structures with European flair.
Birds, monkeys, iguanas – an Indiana Jones adventure around every corner.
…and, our present location…
Men of the sea that shared their daily catch with us.
Over-the-top street vendors and their wares right at our doorstep.
We have rented a place here in Colima, Mexico, for the past few months. Our apartment is on the third floor of a complex that has 8 units. (Our Fitbits are so proud of our increase of stair exercise!)
The climate here goes from warm to hot, and folks start pulling out jackets if it drops below 70 degrees. Because of this, most homes are breezy with slatted glass window fixtures that you crank with a lever to open.
Since we’ve been here, we keep our windows open all the time. It’s great – nice and ventilated. And, because of our “open” way of living, we hear everything going on around us…everything! Dogs barking, children playing, car alarms, and people enjoying the park across the street. Of course, everyone here speaks Spanish, which really helps us with ours, even though we don’t understand much of what we hear.
So, when we started hearing our first neighborhood vendors shouting out what they were peddling, we were intrigued and amazed. Well, John was intrigued and tried to translate the Spanish to figure out what was being sold. I was amazed at the beautiful vocal timbre and projection talent that the vendors possess. I could care less what they were selling or in what language they did it. With my background in theatre, trust me when I tell you, these guys could belt it out to the nose-bleed section of Carnegie Hall with no microphone while pedaling a bicycle cart. Now that’s a gift. True talent!
For John and me, in our Colima third-floor nest, no day is complete without hearing the Bolillo Guy, the Horn Man, the “We’re Lost” Truck, the “Alley Cat” Van, and the Fabuloso Truck. No way could we ever be bored during our quarantine time here in Colima!
If our time here were ever made into a movie, here’s how our days here would been scripted:
Scene: John & Anel’s apartment in Colima, their second day.
Bolillo Guy: (shouting with an operatic voice from the street) Bolillos, el bolillos…
Anel: (all excited) Honey, did you hear that? I’ll bet there is about to be a musical play or concert in the park across the street and that guy is warming up.
John: Nah, he’s selling something.
Bolillo Guy: (continuing shouting) …bō-lee-yos!!!
Anel: (disappointed) Oh. Well, what is a bo-lee-yo?
John: I have no clue.
The next week we were at the supermarket and saw bags of long dinner rolls stacked on display with a big sign above it that read “Bolillos – 16 pesos.” Aha! So this is what a bolillo is! Crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, similar to a baguette.
Now we are not big bread eaters, but I had to check out the Bolillo Guy. When I finally got to meet him a few months later, I was flustered, like a groupie meeting a singing star for the first time. After all, I’d listened to this guy’s Tony-worthy recitations every day for months and was finally getting to meet the man behind “the voice!”
Anel: (in her best Spanish) Dos bolillos por favor. (Two bolillos please.)
Bolillo Guy: (in English) Sure. So, where are you from in the United States?
My mouth fell open. It had been a long time since I’d heard English spoken from anyone but John. Come to find out, the Bolillo Guy lived in Los Angeles for eleven years and spoke perfect English.
We chatted for a while and I bragged about his fantastic voice, claiming that he should be on stage. He just laughed and said he’d just keep making and selling his rolls, which, by the way, were delicious.
Think clowns, or even better, Harpo Marx and you can imagine the signature greeting of the vendor that John and I call, The Horn Man.
Here’s the scene:
Horn Man: (pumping horn) Squawky – squawk! Squawky – squawk!
Anel: (getting all excited) John, did you hear that? I think it’s a clown horn. The circus must be coming to perform at the park across the street!
John: Nah, it’s somebody else selling something.
Anel: (snickering) He’s probably selling…horns! Everyone needs one ya know!
After that, every time we heard the Horn Man on the street one or both of us would exclaim, “Horns! Get your fresh horns here!” (You get a little punchy when you are hunkered down for long periods of time, right?)
Several months later, I was fortunate enough to finally catch up with the Horn Man and finally find out exactly what it was he was selling. Now, the Horn Man speaks no English, so when I approached him I had no clue what to ask for.
He didn’t have a vast selection of shiny clown beepers, but rather two huge covered plastic buckets centered on his cart. They had steam sneaking around the edge of each lid. I pointed to one of the buckets and asked for two of whatever was in them, and then…
Bingo! Eureka! Zowie!
The Horn Man sells TAMALES! John and I are both tamale fiends! We love them! I asked the Horn Man to wait while I went upstairs and got John, telling him he was in for a special surprise. He bought enough for our dinner and they were scrumptious.
Now, like Pavlov’s dogs, now every time I hear the squawk of a clown horn, I may drool a little and think TAMALES!
Bartola, our housekeeper in Cancun, told us that there were only three products any Mexican house cleaner needs: bleach, muriatic acid and Fabuloso. Bleach for disinfecting and killing mold, muriatic acid for hard water stains and build up, and Fabuloso for everything else because it smells so good.
If you have spent any time in Mexico, I promise, you have smelled Fabuloso. It’s one of those smells that gets stuck in your head. In fact, it’s become a part of the fabric of life here. In every Mexican town we have been to, each morning, businesses and house cleaners scrub down, mop up and squeegee tile floors with Fabuloso. Some call it the national “smell” of Mexico. And folks, believe me, that is not a bad thing. The stuff smells great. In the cleaning section of any grocery store here, one whole side of the aisle is devoted to Fabuloso products. It’s serious business here.
We know and love Fabuloso.
So, when we heard a truck with a loud speaker on its roof announcing a long list of things they were selling, our ears perked up when we heard Fabuloso and we immediately knew this street vendor was selling cleaning products.
The Fabuloso Truck usually comes on the weekends, Saturday and Sundays. Cleaning days around here I guess. They have huge buckets of products on the sides of their truck, and they syphon out whichever product you need. Pretty smart.
We’ve never bought anything from them, but every time I hear the truck heading our way, I try to be outside just to smell it go by! It’s Fabuloso!
You have to be really old to recognize the song “Just Like an Alley Cat” sung by Peggy Lee. Well, I’m old, and at least 2 to 3 times a day I hear the van blaring “Alley Cat” as it cruises by our house. It’s one of those earworm songs that stays with you all day after you’ve heard it a few times.
Here’s what the Alley Cat Van sounds like as it comes down the street:
Song of the Alley Cat Van
Scene: John & Anel’s place in Colima, the first time the Alley Cat Van moseyed by
Anel: (all excited) Honey, do you hear that? I think it’s an ice cream truck.
John: Nah, this is the second time they have been by. I doubt it’s ice cream, but they are definitely selling something.
Anel: (humming the Alley Cat song) Okay, but if it’s ice cream, and I’ve missed it, I’m gonna be bummed.
So, a few weeks passed and we kept hearing the Alley Cat van, and we kept not knowing what it was they were selling, until one day I couldn’t stand it any more and I waited at the park for them to make their rounds to our neighborhood. I got out in the street to hail them down.
Neither the guy driving the van or his girlfriend in the passenger seat spoke English, but as I was attempting to ask him what they were selling, I spied a big box of ice cream cones in the back of the van! They were the Colima, Alley Cat version of the Ice Cream Man.
I ordered 2 cones, one was limon (lime) and I couldn’t understand what he said the other was, but it looked good, so I got it for John.
I ran upstairs and woke John up from a nap, and we enjoyed some of the best ice cream we’ve ever had. It was a lot like Italian ice. Yummy!
Now we know what the Alley Cat Van is all about, but I’m kicking myself for not checking out this one sooner!
We had heard these guys (Global Gas) when we were in Barra so when the distinctive jingle of their truck trumpeted our Colima neighborhood, we knew exactly what they were selling…propane gas! These guys replace residents’ gas tanks, swapping out an empty tank for a full one.
So why “We are Lost?”
Well, their recorded advertising ditty goes like this:
When we first heard it, to our gringo ears, it sounded like they were belting out, “We are Lost!” So, that’s what we’ve called it ever since.
Scene: John & Anel’s place in Colima, week one
Anel: Honey, do you hear that? Could it be the “We Are Lost” Gas Truck we heard in Barra?
John: Sure sounds like it. Guess they really are LOST!
We, like the rest of the world, haven’t been out much during the pandemic. Our “hunkering” just happens to have been done in Colima. We have been fortunate that Amazon, Mercado Libre, Uber Eats and Sam’s Club are still delivering. We’ve used them mucho!
But, it is the town criers who have brought not only their wares, but the personality and flair of Colima right to our doorstep. They have driven, pedaled or walked our area heralding with amazing voices, horns or catchy tunes to make sure that everyone in the neighborhood is taken care of. And, isn’t that what community is all about?
We salute all of the street vendors and town criers of Colima. You tirelessly work your craft day by day like rock stars. You embody the tenacity and creative spirit that every innovative entrepreneur must have to succeed. You probably don’t get the attention or kudos that you deserve, but, we think you are awesome. For us, as visitors, you are the true ambassadors for Colima. It’s you that have enlivened our time in your city and enriched our lives.
Thanks for the memories.