We went up into the mountains to a place near Parque Balboa in Planes de Renderos because we heard there was a good pupusería up there. Abbi Pupusería is located up the street from a scenic view called El Mirador and was once host to the making of the biggest pupusa which occurs each year on National Pupusa Day.
This is also where I had a humiliating run-in with mariachi that marked me as an obvious tourist in front of dozens of people.
Our driver parked his car in the tiny parking lot, aided by an energetic attendant who seemed to really love his job, directing traffic and fitting the patrons’ vehicles together in an impossible jigsaw puzzle that only he knew how to deconstruct when someone wanted to leave.
We invited our driver to come eat with us because he had become a good friend, and we lined up to order our pupusas. For myself, I ordered two revueltas – one cooked in the traditional corn masa, and another “de arroz” – which I’ve been wanting to try for years.
We chose a seat on the sheltered patio at one of the long, heavy wooden tables with benches and we sat down to wait. The restaurant was really busy – almost every table was full of people either eating or waiting to eat and the atmosphere was really festive. Sitting there that evening in the cool mountain air heavy with the scent of pupusas, everything felt kind of perfect… but that didn’t last very long.
Lost in my own thoughts, Carlos touched my arm and pointed out across the patio to men with instruments in hot pink shirts. “Tracy, mariachi,” he said.
Before Carlos could stop me, I had grabbed my camera and run off to get a good shot. I heard him calling over the noise of the other patrons, “Wait! Wait!” but wait for what? I didn’t want to miss getting a photo of mariachi and decided I’d find out what he wanted when I came back.
The mariachi were playing a song when I sat down right in front of them. While I usually try to be unintrusive when taking photos, I figured these are performers, entertainers – they should love to have their photo taken – so I snapped several photos of them before putting my camera away. To be polite, I stayed until they finished the song. As they finished the song, before I had a chance to go back to my table, they started talking to each other about me.
“Esa mujer sí es bonita,” one said.
“Mira los ojos bien chulos,” another responded.
The lead singer approached me, “Veinte dolares, cuatro canciones,” he said.
I told him I didn’t have money. He smiled and shook his head like I was the cutest little liar he ever saw.
“Veinte dolares, cuatro canciones,” he repeated.
I told him again, seriously, I don’t have money. (And I honestly didn’t. Carlos had all the money.)
At this point my youngest son came up beside me.
“Este es mi cipote,” I said, hoping to change the conversation.
The mariachi said nothing.
“Okay… gracias,” I said getting up and grabbing my son. “Let’s go back to the table, hurry up, come on,” I said to him out the side of my mouth.
The mariachi all started chanting, “Siguela, siguela, siguela” (follow her, follow her, follow her) – and they did. Hot on my heels, they arrived at our table right behind me. Carlos gave me an angry look.
“I told you to wait,” he said in English through clenched teeth.
“You’re the one who said ‘Tracy, mariachi’… How long have you been married to me? What did you think I would do?” I said under my breath, because all eyes were on our table.
“Veinte dolares, cuatro canciones,” the lead singer told Carlos.
“Veinte dolares?” Carlos said, incredulous.
The lead singer nodded and he guitarist strummed his guitar.
“Y por sólo una canción?” Carlos asked.
“Veinte dolares, cuatro canciones,” the lead singer said, completely unwilling to barter and let us buy just one song instead of four.
Carlos sighed and gave me a mean look out the corner of his eye as the entire restaurant watched. He started to pull out his wallet.
The lead singer held up his hand and told him he could pay after.
And so we sat there through four songs. I tried to pretend that it was romantic but by the way Carlos tapped his fingers on the table top I could tell he was annoyed at the whole situation rather than enjoying the music. Meanwhile I felt sick about having wasted $20, (this wouldn’t be the first or last time I had caused us to lose money in El Salvador due to acting like a stupid tourist) – and I was dreading the fight that awaited me once Carlos could talk to me in private.
After the four songs Carlos sighed and opened his wallet, but when he tried to pull out a twenty, some other twenties fell onto the floor. One of the mariachi hissed through his teeth. This made the whole thing even more embarrassing – dropping twenties all over the place like we were rich when we had initially haggled over the price of the songs.
For some reason, (I guess because he was embarrassed about dropping the money), Carlos gave them an extra $5 tip. They insisted this meant we got a 5th song, (a cumbia this time), and so our humiliation was further drawn out a few more minutes.
When our pupusas came, we ate and talked a little but I knew Carlos hadn’t really cooled off. Our driver was sitting there at the table with us and Carlos just didn’t want to make a scene in front of him. When we got back to the privacy of our hotel, Carlos let me know how very unhappy he was about the whole thing and I ended up crying, because what should have been romantic, wasn’t at all.
Thankfully the fight was short-lived and by the next day we were laughing about the whole thing. I imagine the mariachi were also laughing… all the way to the bank.