Saturday, January 17, 2009

Doug’s Excellent Mexican Adventure, Part Dos

Our route to Mexico City, in two Dodge Motorhomes was similar to the one on this map, without the detour to Guadalajara. Other than wandering around, I couldn’t tell you what I did for three days in Mexico City forty-three years ago. I know some of the 20 guys went to the National Museum of Anthropology. They talked for days about seeing the preserved arm of Benito Juarez. I’m sorry I missed it, because I can’t find any reference to it on the internet. Has it been removed? Or was it never there? I did go out for dinner with three other guys and we were able to get cold draft beers with our steaks. It felt so awfully grown up.

I recall street markets in many places, similar to the markets I would see in Europe years later. At one of those markets, I bought something that I just had to have and could not possibly live without. I spent 30 minutes bargaining with the street vendor. I walked away in phony disgust and came back again, but I think he knew the sale was only a matter of time. What was the prize that I wanted so badly? A set of bull horns mounted on a plaque. I wrote the name "Cuernos de Toro" on the back so I wouldn’t forget, and I haven’t. I hung them on my bedroom wall. The last time I saw them, my nephew had somehow latched on to them and they were in Washington State.

We set off for Acapulco one morning and passed through the old silver mining town of Taxco. I believe the mines still operate and the silver is used to make all kinds of beautiful jewelry and ornaments such as candlesticks and salt and pepper shakers. The town sits in the mountains to the south of Mexico City and was absolutely beautiful. We were red hot to get to Acapulco and only spent an hour or so there wandering through the narrow, steep streets packed to the rafters with vendors selling silver. I’m sure the town deserves at least a day or two. I have never been back, but I think I will get there one day.

We lumbered into Acapulco late in the day and found a motel where we could park the motor homes and get some rooms. I think we flipped coins to decide who would get a room and who would sleep on the bus. Acapulco at that time, 1966, was a considerably different town than it is today, judging by recent pictures of the huge skyscraper hotels along the beach. It was better known to the wealthy inhabitants of Mexico City than to wealthy Americans. Our motel was two blocks from the beach and had seen better days. There was only one water faucet in the bathroom; lukewarm. One faucet in the shower; lukewarm. But the toilet was clean and stocked with toilet paper. The bed was comfy so I was happy.

We immediately went to the beach and swam even though it was after dark. We played in the surf until the Acapulco Police forced us to come out of the water, for our own safety, I guess. We spent about five days in Acapulco and had a fabulous time. Every day we went to the beach until we got too sunburned to be in the sun.
One evening, a handful of us went to see the cliff divers and to this day I marvel how brave those divers were. I suppose we thought of them as men, but they weren’t much older than we were. They dove mostly for tips and it couldn’t have been enough money to risk their lives. The divers stood on the cliff for what seemed like a very long time, (I suppose it seemed very short to those doing the diving) judging the water and waiting for the perfect wave to come in and make the dive possible. Eventually, they would cross themselves and leap as far out from the rocks as they could. Magnificent and brave. Years later, now that I know something about tides, I can only assume that the divers performed at certain times of the day and month when the water was safe.

It was hot in Acapulco, I suppose, approaching 100F. Being gringos, and recently arrived from the frozen north, we sought relief; air conditioned bars, or cool, shady, breezy beach cabanas. The other place we congregated in the late afternoons was in our "luxurious" motorhomes with the air conditioning running. There was an American expatriate in residence, white-haired, skin brown as a coffee bean and wrinkly as a prune and dressed only in shorts and tennis shoes. He stormed out of the motel room where he lived, and berated us for several hours about the noise and the selfishness of our habit. He pointed out the little ninos who suffered from the heat without complaint, the poor old women who suffered all summer. He said he couldn’t take his nap with the bus and compressor roaring outside his window. He called us weak and spineless, told us we lacked gumption and good manners. Spoiled brats, insensitive Yanquis, wealthy gringos, filthy putas, resource wasting, caca eating Americanos. Of course he was right on all counts, but we didn’t turn off the air conditioning until dusk when it cooled off. Then we walked downtown for dinner.

Of course, the high point of the trip to Mexico was the morning we set off for home. We had to drag Tom out of his bed, hungover and stinking of gin. As we rolled north, Tom told his story, and the nine other students on my bus were green with envy. Tom, and a chap on the other bus, had visited a brothel the night before and had surrendered their virginity to a couple of young Mexican professionals. No doubt the same covert conversation was going on in the other bus. We had to know every detail. And Tom did his best to inform us but could not remember a lot of what had happened. Too much gin at a downtown bar, a knowledgeable taxi driver, a madam who took all of Tom’s remaining pesos and five minutes in a little room with Maria. We were enthralled and Tom was our hero.

We were done with Mexico. Five long, boring days in the bus stared us in the face. By this time we were irritable, cranky and homesick. We wanted American food and wanted it now. All of us, including the teachers, were sunburned and had peeling, itchy skin. A popular pastime was seeing who could peel off the largest patch of dead skin. We sat in our respective vehicles and picked on the perceived weakest member, as well as our skin. By the time we reached the border, the frustration and anger was boiling over. Bill, my future best friend and college roommate, got into a shouting match with another student who had called him "a silly clown" while the U.S. Customs Service inspected our baggage. Fisticuffs ensued and was broken up, hard feelings all around.

Cheers erupted spontaneously as our busses crossed the border into the good old USA. We took a short detour and headed for the nearest El Paso fast food joint for "high quality" American food.


Anonymous said...

As I recall, the first place we headed after crossing back into los Estados Unidos was a restroom at an El Paso Texaco. I pity the poor fool (probably Mexican) who had to clean that men's room.


The Silly Clown

p.s. I haven't drunk a Tom Collins since that extended spring break in 1966.

Peggy said...

Thanks for all your great stories. From human scat to zipper savvy ravens to fried tampax to the misadventures of young men...they have all been fun. Keep up the good work!