There's a coffee shop I enjoy visiting once or twice a week when I go into town on errands. It's an open air place on Zaragoza, occupying a corner to an alleyway and just off the frenzied main shopping road of Heroes. The plate glass window is decorated with the works of a local artist with hopes of a sale, and, when available, the owner's own delicious honey sits in small bottles waiting, though not very long, to be whisked away by the afficianados.
The small tables are set to maximize seating with two or three "4 Tops" spilling over into the walkway. Holding up the overhanging roof are large black pillars upon which are written the names of special friends who have passed and those, still alive, considered "cafeteros" or 'regulars'.
The coffee is strong yet tasty and very hot which, suprisingly, helps to calm the nerves as clients carry on conversation and idly twirl their spoons until the hot brew is just the right temperature. Those who can't wait are often caught with pursed lips blowing across the cup before taking the first tentative sip.
Sugar and napkin holders are always provided, and creamy milk if you ask. Offered are fresh squeezed juices with toasted slices of baguette-style bread accompanied by butter and jam. An extensive list of various combinations of eggs, bacon, ham, veggies, beans, tortillas, and more will tempt the palate. You can even have flapjacks with honey. There are fewer choices for lunch but what they serve is consistently very good. My favorite for lunch is the "Sulfrida", a local version of the pressed Cuban Sandwich. With fries.
It's more than a coffee shop, it's a rendezvous point. Regulars and occasionals create a veritable melting pot of Chetumalian humanity. If one needs to describe an absent patron, one can usually point to a certain table or seat and the connection will be made. We're all creatures of some habit.
Should you visit, step inside to greet the owners, waiters, and kitchen staff in the back. Order your coffee, grab a paper if they're not all taken, and find just the right spot outside from which you can observe the current of life. Or just get comfortable in an available spot and one of the hosts will be by to take your order.
On one end, several tables are joined to accommodate a daily reunion of "movers and shakers". Active and former businessmen and politicians come to read the papers, talk of current events, swap stories, and, for those who sport leather, get their shoes shined. One or two will spend more time on their phones than actively engaged with their tablemates but perhaps the joy is simply where they are seated. Sit too close and you'll hear the noisy roll of the dice to determine who pays a round of Cafe Americano, Espresso, or Capucino.
On the opposite side, at a table near the alley, a young lady has her "office" and will often be found conferring with clients. She helps both locals and expats navigate the often Byzantine world of Mexican bureaucracy. Her English is very good and she switches from one language to another sometimes in mid-sentence. It's a gift we polyglots enjoy.
As if sitting upon St Edward's Chair, an imposing Belizean woman welcomes people with loud "Hello! Good morning! Sit there!" as she points to the recommended spot and reminds the "big ones" to stack two of the plastic chairs for safety.
The paperboy, a large Belizean, comes by now and again. Loud and boisterous he decends upon the Gringos for a chance to practice his English and say hello.
The shoeshine boy sits quietly, always with his earbuds in place, and doing a good job of making old shoes shine again.
There's the young Mayan boy always with a smile, very polite, and happy to sell one or two of his round treats yet if he doesn't, still with a smile and seemingly just as happy.
Of the Gringo's there's the gentleman who limits himself to one cup of coffee and perhaps a glass of water whether he stays an hour or longer, or orders his usual flapjacks or not; one who will drive more than several times around the block for a convenient parking spot and gets a wave from his table mates each time he passes; the fellow who gets distracted and leaves his hat behind and is then rushed by the staff waving it about for attention; and the couple from Belize who, certainly tired of the Belikin monopoly there, always enjoy a couple of Negra Modelos with their breakfast eggs.
Even amongst the poor who pass there are regulars: the frail old lady with thin limbs and wrinkled dark skin wearing but a shift and carrying her cane; the blind man led by his son navigating the close-set tables with cup in hand. Passing nearby, the tall, thin man of indeterminate age, perhaps ex-military, with straight shoulders and his kepi firmly in place mumbling to himself.
Across the street the pawn shop sees more customers than the neighboring credit union and bank. The small ATM vestibule often has a line and the machine inside states your withdrawal limit is 3,000 pesos but it's really 7,000 if you tap in the numbers. The two carwashers out front earn a full day's wages in just the morning hours. Shortly before noon they are rolling up their extension cord and folding their rags. Off, somewhere, until the 'morrow.
The popularity has its drawbacks as the florist shop next door felt it necessary to put up a small picket fence to prevent encroachment on their storefront. In effect, it lends a certain charm that even the regulars don't seem to much mind.
There's passing trafffic on the street, the motorcyclist who stops with the daily ration of tortillas or fresh meat; the beer, coke, juice, or egg trucks temporarily double-parked for a quick delivery; and taxis doing the same.
I always enjoy the conversation or, whilst others talk, watching the people pass Cafeteria los Milagros. Don't forget to return your paper and thank the staff but most importantly, don't forget to return.