The Travelling Tamales

Posted by: Merran Smith on 11/25/11 4:15 AM

Early November was a busy time for the Mexican tamales, as they made two trips north of the NOLS Mexico base to San Lucas, Baja California for what was supposed to be the “mega-switch.” Instead, it turned into something more along the lines of the “eternal switch” because of whimsical weather patterns. The Norte winds put up a challenge for the two semester courses that were supposed to unite and dine with the tamales Nov. 10 before switching to sea-kayaking or sailing for the final leg of their courses.

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Confused? Well it all began when Rations Assistant Cecilia Avila came up with the idea to cook tamales at the NOLS Mexico branch to be brought to the mega-switch, providing a fresh Mexican experience for NOLS students and instructors. However, life can be hectic at the NOLS branch, and the only time to cook them was about a week prior. It took a lot of planning as cornhusks, the ingredient that forms the essential blanket-like covering for the tantalizing surprise inside, had to be purchased two hours north of the base in Santa-Rosalia.

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Tamale is Mexican dish that encompasses cornhusks with a mélange of olives, meat, potatoes, maseca, cornhusks, and green peppers. Head cook Rosario Avila says tamales are usually reserved for special celebrations such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and the Feb. 2 holiday Candelaria. She says typically people eat a cake with figurines inside it sometime in January. Whoever ends up with a particular figurine must make the tamales for friends and family on the day of Candelaria.

What a terrific frenzy it was making 200 tamales, as a lot of the in-town staff joined in the unusual event. Even Equipment Manager Meredith Young (whose passions do not necessarily involve cooking) said it was “a real family team-building experience” and that through it all she was able to connect on a deeper level with most of the Mexican staff. Rosario, too, said it was, “muy divertido porque mucho gente ayudando y haciendo muchas bromas y entonces reir mucho” (it was very fun because a lot of people helped and made a lot of jokes, so we all laughed a lot)!

With the last special tamale touch being to tie the ends of the corn husks together with the surprising strength of palm leaves, the tamales eventually came alive … but with their life purpose still a week ahead of them, they had to lay low in the NOLS Mexico freezer awaiting their mission.

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Finally, the day came and, along with fellow adventurers Mexican arroz and Mexican ensalada, the tamales made their way up north with the help of cooks Cecilia and Rosario. The students were very appreciative of the authentic Mexican experience, and one of the courses even sang a thank you song to the two cooks. One might just say the travelling tamales were a riveting success!