After a summer working as a field archaeologist on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, my boss (aka Heffa), his wife and son and my housemate/coworker (Dennis) of the previous three months climbed back into our vehicles to make the 1,300-mile trek home. It was during this journey that I had a cup of coffee like no other.
Luckily, by the time we were making the voyage home our fearless leader had finally gotten the fact that Dennis and I needed coffee to function -- desperately. We would stand beside our rattley green jeep each morning on the drive to our field project and the drive home again with coffee mugs clenched in hand, glaring at Heffa (who the Mayans said had the eyes of the Devil) until he would finally sigh, roll those fiendish blue eyes and give in to our addiction
We were zigzagging up the treacherous roads of the Northern Mountains of Chiapas, the state southwest of the Yucatan that borders Guatemala, battling trucks barreling downhill in the opposite lane. On this particular morning we drove for miles on roads lined with coffee bushes, their brilliant leaves and tiny green buds leering at us, the caffeine deprived. It was a desolate, god-forsaken scene. (All right, actually it was beautiful, but remember, our eyes were still bleary.) I was about to suggest to Dennis that we pull off and see what would happen if we wrung the necks of those little bushes and popped the falling green buds into our mouths. I mean, what could happen? Would Chac, the Mayan rain god, strike us down with a bolt of lightening? I don´t know if there was a coffee god, but if so, surely he would come to our rescue.
Fortunately, we didn´t have to tempt the hand of the pantheon of Mayan deities. We finally stopped at a tiny house half hidden in the swirling morning fog. As we crossed the threshold we saw a woman tending a fire that held a dented blue tin pan that looked like some of my old camping gear. She poured its contents into the mugs we silently offered.
What made this remote cup of joe so memorable? Maybe it was the woman´s grin at our butchered attempts to say thank you in a language that never came naturally, even after being immersed in it for three months. Maybe it was the cool air up there in the hills. Most likely it was the thick, black coffee laced with cinnamon and sugar.
I´ve never been able to replicate it or the day it takes me back to.
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