Ting, ting, ting. That distinctive sound announces that the paleta salesman is passing by, selling an assortment of ice-pops and frozen treats.
The vendors’ mobile cold-storage carts are refilled daily with a fresh supply of frozen concoctions in a rainbow of colors – white, cream, chocolate, green, pink, purple and bright yellow, available in lip-smacking flavors of coconut, arroz con leche (rice pudding), coco-crisps, lime, strawberry, grape, pineapple, plus chocolate and vanilla.
Manuel “Tuggui” Borges is the second generation of paleta makers on Isla Mujeres. His dad Benjamin Borges started the business 25 years ago, purchasing the paleta making machinery in Guadalajara, along with four of the original carts. Over the years he hand-built several more to augment the business.
Early in the morning the salesmen trundle the heavy carts to their designated routes, and as the sun is setting wheel them back, hopefully empty, to the factory. Their starting point is approximately mid-point on the island, across the street from Deysi and Raul’s El Charco Restaurante on the Paseo de la Aves, so the round trip is about seven kilometers per day.
While chatting with Manuel “Tuggui” at the family paleta factory we inadvertently activated their very efficient alarm system, a 17-year-old goose named Pequeño or sometimes Pequeña. None of the family members knows for certain if the goose is male or female.
The goose doesn’t seem to mind the name confusion. Either way, it can effectively rouse their napping pit-bull with one loud annoyed hoon-onk!
By the time we returned home from visiting the factory, had a second cup of coffee and downloaded the photos we could hear the ting, ting, ting sound coming down our street. The gentleman who let us take his photo while he was reloading his cart was now passing our house.
He had been walking for nearly an hour by this time, from the factory to the high school to catch the morning shift of students, then around to the other schools in our neighborhood, returning to the high school for the afternoon shift.
Other paleta salesmen roam the downtown area and patrol the public beaches. It’s a long day in a hot and humid climate, pushing a heavy cart.
When we first moved to Isla we occasionally purchased coconut or lime paletas from one of the vendors, Manuel, as he passed by our house. One morning I asked: “Por favor, una foto?” He nodded, smiled shyly at the camera, and then continued on his way.
It is one of our favorite people photos. It always amazes me when island friends see the photo they immediately recognize him as the popsicle man. We haven’t seen Manuel recently, and can only assume that he finally retired from the job.
The next time you see the paleta vendors passing by with their carts, try one of their frozen treats. They are yummy! Our current favorite flavors are coconut for me and lime for Lawrie. But we might have to re-sample the other flavors for research purposes.
The writers are Canadians who have been full-time residents of Isla Mujeres for nearly 10 years. You can read their blog here.