We stand at the bottom of a rocky cliff looking up. The razor yellow rays itch just so we can barely see the summit of the mountain, but there it is. We are waiting. Lots of us have paid to wait as the wind sings and the waves crash below, they arrive.
Like seals frolicking on a lazy afternoon we spot them: the divers. The famous Acapulco divers. They are there below us, knowing we are awaiting their deathly plunges into the water they thoughtlessly play in below.
“How will they get to the top of the mountain?” my daughter innocently asks.
And as if on cue they begin, first one, followed quickly by all seven others. With the nimble speed and agility of Spiderman (my alert son informs) they begin their ascent: no rope, no ladder, no steps- just calloused feet and strong arms pull them up reaching crevice to crevice of this incredible Mexican cliff, they climb. We are already in awe and no one has dived.
Once they reach the top the real show begins: they must dive into the narrow passage of water which they came from. The crowd begins to hush.
“It’s all about the timing,” Husband assures. But no one can quite believe that these boys (for they are merely seventeen or eighteen, at best) must time their jump precisely to the second which the swale of water consumes the narrow gap that is their landing spot. If they land when the tide is out, then they land on deadly gaping rocks.
We are hugged tightly by the mob of people watching, waiting. No one breathes in anticipation with the first diver. No one moves.
“I’m hungry,” I squeak. I can’t help myself. I need a distraction, and there is a tiny taco stand selling all sorts of homemade goodies. I can smell cilantro and meat and something else very familiar and sweet…honey is it?
“Not now,” Husband barks incredulously.
“But, I need,” I begin to whine nervously. People shoot me dirty looks. They don’t understand that if I don’t focus on food I’ll have to focus on this poor chap up there, willingly diving to his death.
“Shhhhh,” Husband commands. “He’s about to..”
And with that we hear oohs and ahhs from the crowd. I look up, biting my tongue, and see a graceful spin, twist and splash all against the backdrop of a beautiful sunset. I wait and hope for a happy ending. It arrives as the diver triumphantly pops out from under the wake and the crowd bursts into applause.
My children are in awe, clapping crazily with the crowd and shouting “amazing!”
I find I can finally exhale and my tummy growls in unison with the applause.
One by one the divers display their majestic and daredevil stunts. Some spin, some flip, some back dive. I hold my breath for all of it, only exhaling once their tiny heads appear above the rough waters. This could be my son doing this crazy thing in the not-so-distant future, I think to myself.
The taco stand lady knows there are plenty of nervous eaters like me. By diver #4 she begins sizzling and stirring stuff. She is off on the sidelines of the action but still I turn to her regularly. Our eyes meet. She smiles. They will be okay. They’ve done this one hundred times, guerita, don’t worry, her mocha eyes seem to assure me. And with that she pats more tortillas and places them on her comal, or Mexican skillet, to begin heating them. The sweet scent I can’t figure out haunts and comforts me. I can see it comes from a big pot but am not able to figure out what it is. Are there traces of brown sugar? Smells from home? I suddenly feel comforted and safe. Tortilla lady smiles gently at me. Dos mas, ‘mija, dos mas, she seems to say, assuring me only two divers are left.
Of course they are the last two, so they jump from the highest peak and do the most complicated stunts. The last one plays recklessly with time, landing just as the water begins to exit the passageway that is his landing spot. People gasp and break out in cheer when he reappears after an unpleasant pause of not seeing him. My knees buckle on that one. Off on the side I hear a small giggle. It is the tortilla lady. She has been watching me. She knew that kid would get me. Once it is all over and the crowd begins to disperse I run over to her stand, almost tempted to ask for a hug instead of a meal. But once I get there the aroma of sweetness overwhelms me and I ask with urgency what’s in the pot.
“Platano maduro,” she replies, informing me she has ripened plantain simmering in honey.
A warm smile spreads over my face. Of course! Baked plantain! A favorite of mine as a kid growing up in Venezuela. My nana Yoli used to wrap them in aluminum foil, place a dab of butter, a drizzle of honey and a sprinkling of cinnamon, seal the package and bake them until the flavors melded into one sweet comforting embrace.
Immediately I know I must have one. It will restore me. I ask for one and the tortilla lady smiles, knowing that this sweetness will round off the edgy nerves left on her new gringa subject. She grabs a foil packet from the aluminum pot and gently opens it releasing the sweet steam that has been teasing me all afternoon. The sun has set and the sky turns purple and pink.
“Queso?” she inquires
Yes, nothing compliments this caramelized banana better than salty dry white cheese. Yin yang at its best.
“Si, queso, porfavor,” I replied and she generously sprinkles on shredded white cheese.
“Whatcha got there?” Husband inquires, appearing out of nowhere as I am about to bite into heaven.
“Platano con queso,” I growl, adding a possessive tone to my tight grasp. I know it is one of his favorites, but after this diving stress, I must have this alone. He looks at me and gets it. He almost always gets it.
“Enjoy,” he replies. “I’m in the mood for a taco, anyway,” he lies, bypassing his confusing wife and heading straight for my smiling savior.
Platano Maduro Con Queso Blanco (Baked Plantain with Shredded White Cheese)
4 ripe plantains (should be black on the outside)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons butter
¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt
Preheat oven to 350F.
Gently peel plantains. You can place them in individual foil packets or one big foil packet (made with aluminum foil.) Add all ingredients except for shredded cheese on top of plantain. Gently wrap up foil. Bake for 45 minutes.
Remove from oven and carefully open packet (beware of steam!) Sprinkle with shredded cheese and serve immediately.