5 Things I Learned from Tacos

I’m sitting in the airport with my passport, one carry-on, and a lot of bittersweet feelings. I’m replaying lovely memories of celebrating my 39th birthday in Puerto Vallarta while simultaneously managing expectations for what to-dos are anxiously awaiting my return.

Everytime I get caught up in the breakneck speeds of our culture, I always swear I’ll do things differently. And I try. I try again. And I’ll keep trying. I just don’t think we were made for these kinds of rhythms.

But this past week, I experienced rest. Maybe not physical rest (we accrued 50k+ steps in a little over four days), but soul rest.

There was time to stroll cobblestone streets, admiring all the color and public art. There was time to soak up culture through traditional recipes. There was time to stand on a rooftop seven stories in the air and look to the right where the Pacific Ocean stretched as far as the eye could see, and look to the left where the mountains climbed toward the sky in an effort to scratch the clouds.

The word vast kept coming to mind and reminded me how very much, through the beauty of nature, I am loved.

Ever the daughter of an educator, I tend to digest experiences through lessons learned and, just like you can learn a lot from a culture through their culinary history, what I’m taking away from this experience really boils down to tacos.

1) Less is Best

Are tacos not the perfect food? I mean, authentic tacos. Soft, corn tortillas handmade in front of your eyes and served so hot you have to wave them around a bit just so you can hold them comfortably. The meat is charred on a grill and if you ask for them con todo, they top it with beans, onion, and cilantro. (It turns out, I also like mine with cucumber, lime juice, and avocado salsa.)

No hard shell, no cheese, no ground beef, no sour cream. Just simple, fresh ingredients adding up to perfection.

2) Kindness is Everywhere

On our last night in PVR, I thought it would be fun to do a best of the best makeshift taco tour for dinner, hitting all the stands we liked and trying some new ones. We came across Tacos Gonzalez and stumbled our way through ordering two chorizo tacos.

A local who’d just arrived gave up his seat, moving down so my husband and I could sit together. He did his best to clarify any Spanish we couldn’t easily understand and when his tacos came, he offered them to us (even though we ordered something different), just so we — the guests — could eat first.

I was reminded in this moment that kindness is everywhere if we look for it. (And even more prevalent if we are first kind ourselves.)

3) The Impact of Inclusion

I noticed one common thread at every taco stand (and we stopped at MANY): the sidewalks were always lined with no-frills plastic chairs. Most seats were filled with family and friends, talking and laughing in between bites of al pastor. As güeros, we always felt welcome — like extended family. Even though our skin looked different and we didn’t speak the same language (not as well as we’d like, anyway), we were eating the same thing and that was the only bond we needed.

4) The Ripple Effect of Starting with a Song

We unexpectedly happened upon Mexican Night, a weekly event on Fridays in November through April. Vendors line the streets of the Malecón boardwalk in Zona Romántica selling every kind of food imaginable: sweets, skewers, agua fresca, street corn, plantains, churros, and, of course, tacos.

We snacked and walked toward a large crowd in an amphitheatre where a mariachi band was playing. As the sea breeze rippled through the colorful flags strung overhead, music filled the air – not just strings and brass from the band, but voices! Looking around to discover we were the only ones NOT singing struck me in the best way.

Arm in arm, people swayed in time. They cheered for their favorite parts and when the microphone raised to the crowd, their voices erupted in unison. I stood in awe and tried to remember the last time I saw this sense of solidarity on display.

5) How to Navigate the Unknown

On my actual birthday, my husband wanted to take me to Mirador Cerro de La Cruz, a panoramic lookout point. We set out bright and early, eager for adventure. For twenty minutes, I walked [read: huffed and puffed] uphill and thought about faith, hope, and facing the unknown. This hike was a good reminder to keep going; even if you have to literally lean over to see your shoes and only concentrate on taking the next step in front of you. Even if it feels like you’re on auto-pilot. Left foot, right foot, breathe. Repeat.

When I seemed to master that rhythm, I looked up and took in the beauty waiting for me. And I smiled knowing more tacos were waiting at the bottom.

With a long day of two flights home, I can’t help but think now what? I’m too tired at the moment to come up with a solid game plan, but my next step is simple: take the love that PVR showed me and try to pay it forward every chance I get.

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