Going for Guinness


I HAD A NOPAL cactus growing in a whiskey barrel planter in my Houston yard in the early 1990s. It only had about four fronds, and it was notable for its lack of enthusiasm, no zest for life whatsoever.

After my wife tossed me out on the street in 1995, she got rid of it because it was “bad feng shui,” she claimed. I don’t believe in feng shui. I can’t imagine that the Goddess cares any more about which direction your door is facing than she does whether you eat fish on Friday or pork on any day whatsoever.

She is not so superficial.

She has more important things on her mind, like what those Mohammedans will do next to make peace on Earth dang near impossible. Mohammedans are a burr in her beautiful backside.

My nopal never did squat in Houston.

Flash forward two decades. A few years ago I planted a small nopal, consisting of only two little fronds, in the yard of our Hacienda. It went berserk, and now it’s just shy of 13 feet tall. Yes, I did measure.

I trim it now and then, with ladder, clippers and much trepidation, mostly to prevent its spreading horizontally, which it hankers to do. It wants to spread in every direction, but I keep it pointed heavenward. It’s height that interests me. In time I want this spikey baby to be in the Guinness Book of Records.

An old coot dreams of fame. I will be very proud.


40 thoughts on “Going for Guinness

    1. Peter: I’m not a fan. And even after all my years here, I often see it on my plate in a restaurant and I think, ah, string beans. But it’s never string beans. It’s narrow strips of slimy nopal. Supposed to be good for lowering cholesterol. True or not? Who knows?


      1. Nopal is just about the healthiest plant food around. Lowers cholesterol, adjusts blood sugar, de-rusts a body, boosts the immune systems, and even makes those who eat it wealthier and wiser. Eat your nopal.


          1. I’m going to chime in on the side of the nopal-lovers; it’s great for you, and properly prepared, a lot like okra, which I think is tasty.


            Kim G
            Champotón, Campeche
            Where the gulf glitters alluringly just on the other side of the street from my hotel.


            1. Kim: Saying it’s like okra is no recommendation in my book. Okra is only acceptable (i.e. not slimy) when it’s fried. I’ve never seen fried nopal.

              Campeche, eh? Carry on!


  1. It was probably your ex-wife who was responsible for the bad chi.
    She was no pal of yours and did you a big favor.


    1. Andrés: She certainly contributed some bad chi. I contributed some too. I don’t think either of us was doing it intentionally. But she was my pal for almost 20 years. And she did me the biggest favor anyone has ever done, though neither I nor she knew it at the time.


      1. The death of a relationship can be just as painful as the death of a spouse. You still experience grief and hopefully healing. Your chi is doing fine.


        1. Andrés: The death of a relationship can definitely be as bad as a spouse’s death, perhaps even worse, though I have never had a spouse die on me, so perhaps I know not of what I say.

          As for my chi, it’s doing fine, as you say.


  2. I have read that the Mexicans grow cactus as a hedge against starvation since it is edible and keeps growing when all other crops fail.

    If you want a second cactus just put one of the paddles (paddles, not fronds) on the ground in the sun and water it every other week.

    It will soon root and start growing new paddles.


    1. Christine: Ah, paddles, not fronds. I knew fronds sounded weird in this case. But then, so do paddles, but it’s more logical.

      As for my paisanos growing nopal as a hedge against starvation, that makes sense, especially in the past. However, we don’t have any more starvation down here than you have up there, I wager. If so, the difference is marginal. This is not your daddy’s Mexico. It becomes more middle class by the day. We do have a steady stream of Central Americans passing through with American dreams. They can be a bit grim, I have heard. Never actually seen one, to my knowledge.

      As for wanting a second nopal or wondering how to start it, oh, boy, no. I full well know how to start them. It’s quite simple, as is starting most plants here. Strangely, bougainvillea can be stubborn at first. But when it puts its mind to it, and decides it wants to live where it sits, watch out! It goes nuts.


  3. Grab some spineless paddles if they exist in your parts. That’s what we have in SAT but outside our fence. Deer eat them, though, in sparse water times.


    1. Carole: A few years ago, I stole a paddle from a spineless nopal outside a government building here. It’s been planted in a big pot in the yard ever since, and it’s growing pretty well after just sitting there with a smirk on its face for a long time. I’m never going to let it out of the pot, however. I do wish that my huge one was of that species. Had I known what it would do, I would have planted the spineless one in the first place.

      It’s not actually spineless. It has very tiny ones that will get into your skin if you don’t take care. But the big one has monster spears. It’s really incredible.


  4. We don’t need no nopales in our yard. Our house is backed up by a thicketed hill with abundant nopales as far up as we can see.

    Sometimes, along the potholed road that leads to our village, there are nopaleras; older women gathering the nopal pads with long poles with knives lashed to the end.

    I like nopales despite the slime, but do not eat them too often. I usually take them in jugo verde, but sometimes with onion, roasted chile Poblano strips and eggs. I forgot to put them in this morning’s mushroom, onion and chile apoblano scramble.

    Don Cuevas


  5. Some nopal pieces, an apple, banana, pieces of pineapple, chopped-up celery, a little chopped ginger, a tablespoon or two of yogurt, some honey or agave syrup, blend on high for about two minutes add a few ice cubes and it makes a healthy drink. Green juice at La Surtidora is also great for your system.


    1. Tancho: Sounds like lotta work. I rather buy it made. La Surtidora has pretty good jugo verde, but I prefer that sold at the veggie stand near the train station.


      1. That is what I had there this morning, sitting there watching all the tourists come into town. I will have to try the location by the train station.

        We make them at home and it’s easy if you have a good blender and ingredients. You are lucky. I have to purchase my napolitos. You grow them!


  6. I have never had nopales, and after reading I don’t know if I want to try them.

    Those cactus, even though they give a beautiful flower, are deadly to the touch. And, those so called
    ‘spines’ as small as they are, take forever to get out of one’s hands. At least the bigger thorns you can see.

    Is that woman in the picture emulating the frog on the right of that wall?


    1. Andean: If you like slimy food, you’ll like nopales.

      You’re correct in that the huge spikes are actually better than the sneaky little ones.

      Woman in the photo?! Dem’s fighting words, lady. Ain’t no woman. It’s me!


  7. I don’t like slimy food.

    Well, I never met you. Looking from the back you may need a haircut…


        1. Andean: After sleeping on it overnight, I feel guilty about lying to you. That’s not really me. It’s my wife’s granny. She leans toward black t-shirts, and you’ll notice the tattoo on her left arm. Her name is Lucinda “Butch” Torres, and she owns our town’s only Lesbo bar out on Calle Mango.


  8. My lifelong pal and I volunteer at an orphanage close to Lake Chapala. Every Friday, Walmart donates their trash that no one else will eat, to the orphanage and so we root through it to find something edible. This lead to our first experience with nopal paddles. We dug out the needles and cut it in strips, then diced it under the direction of our taskmaster, the cook who is also the most amazing woman I have ever seen in the kitchen, turning trash into gourmet meals and then presenting the dishes to the children as if they are dining in a four star restaurant. When I think of the food stamp and government school lunch program waste in the USA, this woman’s example makes me weep. Bonnie


    1. Bonnie: When I think of the U.S. in general, I weep. Or almost.

      Hope your first encounter with nopal paddles was not painful. If you want to drive over here, I have a cardboard box full of the spiny buggers, and I’m wondering how to dispose of them.


  9. I have seen your white/gray hair – no surprise there – the tattoo fits your disposition (I mean this in the kindest way please do not ban me). But that watch on your arm! I stopped wearing a watch when I stopped working (21 years ago or so). Somehow it just doesn’t fit. I guess old habits die hard or you have a lot of places you need to be on time – not a Mexican trait as we who live here all know.


    1. Señor Calypso: My mop is not white/gray. It is a stunning silver, and it covers all of my cranium, which is more than some old coots can claim. The silver locks top a sleek bod that, though aging, still carries out most of its functions in a satisfactory and uncreaky manner. Hoo-ray for me.

      As for the watch, I wrote a post about that in the past. I am not entirely mentally stable. I have this time fixation. My watch is always on me except when I am in the shower. I even sleep with it. And I have clocks on every wall of the house.

      As for banning you, I would never do that because I like you even though you are not perfect. But who is? You are the first to ever mention that I ban people hereabouts. I do. Here is what will get one banned:

      1. Calling me a racist outright or even hinting at it. It is a silly, common, Collectivist, knee-jerk epithet these days to about anything they disagree with. I am weary of it, and I will not put up with it. Do it even once, and you’re outta here.

      2. Rudeness in any form.

      3. Long-term snarkiness in comments. A few times is okay, but if a pattern emerges, bye-bye.


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