Wednesday, November 01, 2006

though i'd planned to go to california from new orleans, i had no special schedule or anything that said i couldn't at least set foot in mexico. in texas i drifted south and decided to try it out; next thing i knew i was in mexico, hitchhiking and trying to speak spanish to people i met. my high school spanish was woefully inadequate and people kept saying "mande?" or "say it again?" so i got lots of practice trying to say things in different ways. eventually i got better too. my parents had told me about an old family friend, or maybe a distant relative, who lived in a small town way down by mexico city; i saw it on a map, and set out for it. little did i know that there was about twelve hours of desert between the border and that town, guanajuato. a trucker gave me a ride most of the way. he was a caballero (said so on his truck), a horseman of the road. a well-decorated truck, a macho kind of guy, very nice to me. he got me some food at a mexican truck stop- he obviously would know the good one- but it made me sick, as did the high afternoon desert sun. by the time i got to guanajuato i needed a big nap. but the relatives were very nice to me and took me out to show me the town.

it was an incredibly exotic town- very european, very cool at night, lots of people on the street. stone tunnels went beneath the town along the valley; the town itself was above this tunnel road on a level with the main street that went the other way. so beautiful! but, way above the town where there were some gold mines where the old man had spent his career, someone stopped suddenly in front of his car and caused an accident. i got the impression that this was a deliberate trick, but it was almost as if they wanted to find out who i was, rather than just to rattle the old man, or to get money out of him. any of those was possible, actually, and i was in another culture, and really couldn't tell what had happened. the old man, my relative, was very nice about it, and told me not to worry about it.

in fact i ran into one of the people from the incident later, and he assured me that it was nothing and that i should not worry about it. he also said, that if i was travelling through mexico, i should stay with some relatives of his, who lived in puebla, candy capital of mexico (?)...down past mexico city. this made it seem like i was being pulled further into the country, though i'd really had no plan. and i remembered, at some point, that my parents had come to mexico in a volkswagen when i was three; i remembered only the slides, but those slides were perhaps one of my earliest memories. though at the moment, they were very worried about me, hitchhiking in the center of mexico as i was, i was not worried at all; it seemed like everyone was friendly, and i was actually feeling that sense you get when you revisit a place from your childhood; where old memories and shadows of them come to you, and make you sleep more deeply, and connect to those ancient memories. and, though mexico was considered dangerous to my parents and many others that i knew, in 1974, i was also probably protected from the spectre of robbery by appearing to be carrying very little of value, and by appearing to be somewhat fluent. of course, i was better at appearing this way than at actually having any real fluency, but i had this hunch: it was the kind of place where appearing to have friends would always work in one's favor.

i repeatedly got rides from people who identified themselves as part of u.n.a.m., the national university, and these people seemed to be everywhere, and friendly, as really everyone was. my biggest problem seemed to be that in general many cars were already full to overflowing, if they rean at all; it was rare to find one that actually had an open seat. but anyway, a pair of u.n.a.m. students invited me to stay with them in mexico city (d.f.), and we spoke at length about kennedy's assassination, which they insisted was a conspiracy, and furthermore a conspiracy hatched in mexico. they were committed political leftists and this was one reason they wanted to pick my brain and find out what we american leftists were up to. i was probably disappointingly apolitical to them; i was not really even up on the us presidency or pollitical situation.

i used the same strategy i'd had in the states: pick out a place on the horizon to aim for; tell people i was going there; keep my eyes open for opportunities to see the real scenery; avoid the huge tourist spots (acapulco, guadalajara), talk as much as possible to find out what was good, what bad, where to go, what to see. it was working well. people wanted to know about my family a lot; it stretched my vocabulary just to talk about them.

in puebla i stayed in a garage of a suburban house that had the sisters, or relatives of the guy i'd met in guanajuato. they wanted to dance and i obliged. they were sweet, thier whole family sweet; we had a good time, and they sent me on my way the following day. puebla was quite large, as was mexico city; somehow, this wasn't bothering me. oaxaca was more reasonable in both size and climate, and was full of americans, which at that point i considered good. i noticed the irony that the americans appeared to be wearing mexican shirts; the mexicans appeared to be wearing american ones. i'd been told to go to the beaches in oaxaca state and i started out on a hilly jungle road that turned out to have, around one bend, a massive coffee plantation with an aroma i'll never forget. i remember someone, perhaps some americans who had given me a ride, extolling the virtues of a wild flower that grew in that valley, belladonna, but i also remember seeing an old coca-cola stand, quite ancient, and thinking that the whole verdant and exotic valley was somewhat hallucinogenic in nature, anyway, as it was; i certainly wasn't going to alter my consciousness when i really didn't have much of a handle on the reality i was experiencing at that moment.

but i had plenty of surprises waiting for me anyway. the beach i finally landed on, a good twelve hours from the town of oaxaca, was called zipolite, killer wave. someone warned me that there was one; the current would suck you out right about there, and then this wave would come crashing you against those rocks, which i could see out there against the sun. i laid out my pack and relaxed on the warm sand; it was a lazy place, not much happening, it was only about twenty cents to camp there; and there was night life, so they said, and a good grocery store, down the road in puerto escondido. after a while i decided to try the ocean, and went for a glorious, relaxing swim, that loosened up my aching leg and foot joints, and made me drift into a kind of relaxed state. but this was obviously a mistake; the "zipolite" came by and crashed me against the rocks, raking me and scraping my skin several times. i kept my wits about me and survived, angry at myself for ignoring advice that had been pointedly and generously given to me when i arrived. from then on, i decided, i'd take what people said seriously, whether i believed them or not.


Anonymous Stacia marie said...

wow that sounds cool man ive had trips like that too, where i just get bord with one place and go pack my things and just move on man, just move on. theres nothing else like being out there seeing the world through tainted eyes.

2:15 PM  

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