August 7, 2019
Not long after I moved here I attended a presentation made by Alan Goodman and his partner on hunting for and locating old haciendas around the valley. The trick they said is to look for very large trees near rivers and streams. They had an old map not to scale, that indicated roughly where many were.
So I struck out west after seeing one that should have been in the valleys beyond Monte Alban, turned right at Atzompa then left at some road and kept driving, eyes glued to GPS. I followed a river named Jalapilla, which my detective mind linked to the name of the hacienda I was hunting, Hacienda Jalapilla. How many could there be?
I stoped every so often to ask if people knew of it. As I got nearer people grew more certain of its existence, if not the location. I arrived at the village of Jalapa del Valle, turned left, stopped on a bridge and got out to ask a man if he knew of the hacienda. He said it was right behind me! There was precious little of it to see. The wall along the bridge was painted with the town’s name.
Underwhelmed, I doubled back and turned south to follow Rio Jalapilla. After a bit, I struck out for home following a track on the GPS. Not soon after, I took Rocío out on a Sunday drive to show her what I found. We followed the river to the end of the valley and climbed out on the road to Cuatro Venados. After exploring the mountains around we turned back. Hungry, she said she saw a sign for a trucharia back down at the end of the valley.
The entrance was a bit rough but the car made it in the 150 yards to the farm. The setting in the woods was rustic, the furniture was picnicky, and most importantly, the trout was delicious.
After first contact, we made many trips out there with friends and family local and international. When there with my friend Scott from Seattle, Rocío suggested that it might be cool to do one of our little documentaries on the place. The proprietors knew our faces so they knew we were fans. I brought it up to Juan, who thought it would be cool to do.
We showed up a couple of weeks later to record the interview and a few test takes around the farm and audio recordings in the woods for effects. Juan was a bit intimidated by my wiring him up with 2 lapel mics after pointing shotgun mic at him as well as the digital recorder (there’s only one take). He was not a talker and it was almost major surgery to pull out details.
The interview revealed some points I thought would be best for inclusion by illustration in the video:
- His village
- Working his fields
- Taking delivery of young fish
- Working to keep the pipes clear in rain
- His other work of being a sweetbread baker
- Capture of the fish and prep.
I made a trip to the states after the interview where I cut it down. I fretted over how much time to give to the various elements. Fish farming isn’t much more sexy than corn farming, so how much footage to give to it?
It was challenging getting a hold of him where there was little cell coverage and no internet. I began to think he wasn’t interested anymore. We took a drive out there anyway, to shoot around the village.
Holy crappy cow, that was a cluster! I knew we should get permission from the village leaders before pointing cameras at them. Fortunately, they were open at city hall. We waited outside an office filled with taciturn men. I made the strategic decision to let Rocío do the talking instead of an accented gringo. Crickets followed her presentation during which they looked at anybody but her, I assume because she was a woman. They wanted us to bring one of the trucheros in with us.
We only knew two names, and one of them was in the village that morning helping the community clean up in front of the church. We found Tomas, who accompanied us to city hall again only to find out that the man we addressed earlier had gone home for lunch, come back in 90 minutes, ugh. So we retraced our original exploration of the mountains looking for birds.
After the allotted time, we returned and were granted access to the wizard of oz again. He sat at the back of a small office with his minions seated around the walls in a horseshoe. This time Tomas did the talking, after making a point of shaking everyone’s hand, thus showing without intending to, how rude we were during the first attempt.
The boss was balking on the issue that the village was communal and something done for one (the fish farmers) needs to benefit all. The trout farm wasn’t part of the commune, so we needed to think about how to present the village in that light. Then we were granted our wish. The result was about 12 seconds of video costing hours and carbon. You can see the wizard dressed in a white shirt walking from left to right in front of city hall.
We shot some more at the farm, but still no Juan. We wondered if he was still interested until Rocío made contact and the show was on again. I decided to delete the rain work and focus more on the kitchen, which was dark and therefore more suited to artificial light. I wasn’t sure if we’d ever arrange a bakery shoot. We went out with our friends Ralph, Sally and Elizabeth and had a wonderful time shooting and eating.
Juan then said he and his brother were gong to bake in a couple of days and would I like to shoot that. His milpa was nearby so that was a plus. I went out solo and arrived while the dough was still in the mixer. I set up the lights, they put on their music, and the fun followed. After rolling out the small loaves and setting them out to rise, we ran out to the milpa to shoot. I shot him removing some already-baked loaves from the day before, while waiting for the fresh ones to finish rising. Then I shot him putting a pan in the oven after which we ran out to the farm to make some more underwater shots.
I’m still waiting for a call about the delivery of the fry but I don’t think I’ll wait more than a day or two. It’s interesting but not essential.
I can fill pages with cliches about humble country folk, but that’s not doing much for them. They are wonderful welcoming hosts. Please go out there and eat!