The plan was to rent two 1966 Dodge Motor homes. Twenty students and four teachers would make up the crew. Forty-two years later, I remember very few of my fellow students on that trip, and only three of the teachers. Mr. Rider, a young Chilean, taught Spanish as did Mr. Dayton, a gringo. Mr. Terrinzini was from Vermont and had never been to Mexico nor did he speak a word of Spanish. For the life of me, I can’t remember the fourth teacher. All of the students were boys between the ages of 17 and 19. Basically, two busloads of pimpled, hormone fueled idiots.
The Dodge Motor Homes slept about eight, as I recall, which meant we had to sleep in shifts. The food provided was industrial, gallon sized cans of peanut butter, pickles, beans and the like, anything the cafeteria at school would let us have.
We left Denver Friday afternoon a soon as school was out and drove almost non-stop to Mexico City, which took us five days. We were told to bring very few belonging as there wasn’t much storage room. The bathroom situation was dismal. As you might imagine the toilet and bathing facilities were for emergencies only. When we would gas up, we’d hit the bathroom en masse. This worked fairly well until we actually got to Mexico. The first gas station in Mexico was a lifelong lesson in how things operate in the third world. The urinal, toilet and sink were brimming full of waste. I doubt that any of us used the facilities, and I’m sure all of us still remember that event. I recall nearly gagging and losing my lunch when I walked into the hombre’s cuarto de bano. After that we would stop by the side of the road for bathroom breaks. When we got to Mexico City, we took a taxi to the "Hilton" and used their luxurious bathrooms in the reception lobby. I know I bathed in the sink and left five days of by-products in the toilet. My compadres did likewise.
I remember being surprised as we crossed the border from El Paso, Texas to Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. For some reason, I thought that the transition from the U.S. to Mexico would be gradual. It wasn’t. As poor and dismal as El Paso is and was, it was nothing compared to the poverty in Mexico. And it was immediate. As we drove away from the Mexican customs, I remember seeing a fence marking the border, and however bad the homes on the U.S. side were, they were eclipsed by the hovels in Mexico.
We made a few short stops in the afternoon and evenings as we approached Mexico, D.F. I remember Zacatecas with it’s 16th century Spanish Aqueduct bringing water down from the mountains and across the valley to somewhere else. The aqueduct was, at that time, the oldest man-made structure I had ever seen. Later as we would drive through Mexican towns and villages, we could look into the casitas in the evening and see the ninos playing on the dirt floors. The villages seemed to come alive after dark, as they do in other hot countries. After work, and without television, the villagers would congregate outside their homes or in the town plaza, or around food stalls. We went to the markets and bargained with the vendors, which was an amazing novelty for us American kids. We were playing a game and they were fighting for every peso.
We went into a bar in some little village, I do not remember where nor can I name it, but I remember the experience as if it was last week. It was a small place, about six tables with chairs, and four or five campesinos standing at the bar and drinking beer. We all ordered cervezas from the bartender, the first time for all of us, and he brought us bottles of Corona. While we laughed with pleasure at our first legal beers we watched one of the campesinos go to the corner, open his fly and piss in the corner. There was a hunk of plywood screwed to the wall forming a triangle. Until then we hadn’t noticed it. From the triangle came a flow of water in a gutter along the side of the room and it went through the wall into the street outside. We were some flabbergasted gringos, I can assure you.
We stayed for three days in Mexico City, saw all the sights, and had all kinds of adventures. Our main form of transportation was the taxi. Until you’ve driven through Mexico City at rush hour in a Mexican cab, you have not felt fear. Horns were bleating as the cab screamed through the roundabouts, as if that alone would keep us safe. Italian drivers are slow and timid in comparison. We would always arrive safely, but with white faces and churning bowels.
To Be Continued