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A Fish Story

Freda Isaksen

My friend and I had taken an escorted tour in Mexico and on the last day we were given free time which was a very welcome change after a week of following our escort like sheep. Neither of us consider food to be the highlight of a vacation, but this day we both fancied a simple fish dinner after a diet of spicy Mexican dishes during the past week.1

At our hotel we asked the desk clerk to recommend a fish restaurant and she immediately suggested El Galeon. She looked at us both and saw two grey-haired matrons and offered to call a taxi. “How far is it?” we asked. “We would like to walk there.” She shook her head and said, “Oh no, it’s too far.” But she didn’t know these two elderly ladies. Would it take fifteen minutes? Thirty minutes? About twenty minutes we were told.

So we asked for directions and set off to walk to the restaurant. After a while I saw that we were in a commercial street, I thought we had mistaken the instructions, so I told my friend we should give up, turn around and find another place to eat. She refused. “My father always told me never to give up in a difficult situation,” she said. She then went into a store and asked if they knew the restaurant El Galeon. The attendant did not speak our language but he went next door and returned with an English-speaking lady who knew of that eating place. “But it’s too far for you to walk,” she said. “My car is outside, I will drive you there.” Both she and her car looked quite respectable so we went with her. After only a five minute drive she let us off outside a most impressive-looking building with a sign that stated El Galeon. We thanked her profusely, took her name and address and thanked her again by mailing a card when we arrived home.

We stepped inside the entrance into a beautiful foyer lined with glass walls where our images were reflected forever. We figured that this place would be terribly expensive. On this last day of our trip we had already spent most of our pesos so hoped they would accept dollars or a credit card or we would work it off in the kitchen. We went into the main room and were taken by surprise by the unusual decor. The restaurant was in the form of a sailing ship with two decks, rigs, sails, masts and brightly polished wooden decks. An elegantly dressed maitre’d escorted us to a table. We were the only guests in this large room but it was very early for a dinner hour in Mexico so we were not too anxious.

The table was beautifully set with china and crystal, linen napkins were decoratively folded in the drinking glasses. We were really hesitant to be seated as we were afraid of the cost of the meal, but we were too embarassed to walk out at this point.

The waiter handed us large menus which were printed in Spanish. The only word I could understand was salmon and neither of us wanted salmon, we eat a lot of that fish at home. So I said, “Give us some good fish that’s not spicy.” He looked very vague so I realised that he didn’t understand me. He left us and returned with the maitre’d who didn’t speak English either. Both men left and came back with a whole raw fish on a platter which evidently was being offered for our inspection, and approval. “That looks good,” I said, “but filet it please.” The fish was returned to the kitchen and the waiter queried, “Sopa?” My friend immediately answered, “No, thank you,” and then aside to me, “We’d better keep down the cost.” Nevertheless the waiter returned with two bowls of delicious soup.

The next course arrived. On two platters were two identical cooked fishes with heads and tails left intact and in their open mouths were pieces of lemon. These fish were about one foot in length. The maitre’d carried more dishes with the accompaniments. To say we were shocked is putting it mildly, but we dug in with knives and forks, it tasted so good we even scraped the bones. Next came coffee and dessert, all served with flair. We were treated royally and we loved it. There was no hurry on our part and no pressure on us to leave so we took time to relax.

But the moment of reckoning came and with great trepidation we took out our credit cards and requested the bill. The cost of the whole sumptuous dinner came to the equivalent of ten dollars each, including everything.

Even though we still had money to spare we did not indulge in a taxi back to the hotel. The leisurely walk took twenty minutes through interesting streets.

This exciting experience was the perfect ending to a great vacation on our last day in Mexico.


  1. A very similar version of this story appears in I Survived Copper Canyon.

Copyright Freda Isaksen 1986–2006. Permission to reuse for non-commercial purposes is granted, provided that the text is unaltered and the original source is acknowledged. For more information, contact isaksen at

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