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First published in the Lafayette Journal & Courier, Lafayette, Indiana, October 24, 1976

POSTMARK:  Mexico

By COLLEEN McGUIRE

Because I intend to hitchhike from Pie de la Cuesta 300 miles south to Puerto Escondido, my sanity immediately is questioned.

A single lady hitchhiking on a Mexican highway! Crazy gringo!

But I adore adventure. I also love to defy people. So I’m determined to prove that a single woman can hitchhike in Mexico and arrive safely at her destination.

It is 9:30 a.m. when I boldly stick out my thumb. A taxi stops but I indicate I don’t want his service. Minutes later a white Volkswagen van pulls over. A young Mexican couple are on their way to work. They tell me the road is washed out ahead so they give me a ride taking a detour to Highway 200, the main highway which follows Mexico’s entire western coast

They wish me a good trip and drop me off at the crossroads.  It is a fairly busy intersection with a bus depot on one corner. Many Mexicans are standing along the road apparently doing absolutely nothing.

With my pack hugging my back I walk a bit hoping to get away from everyone’s stares. I hold out my thumb at the first passing car. It keeps going but at least everyone now knows my motives. Their suspicious stares turn to curious gazes.

Victoriously, I walk up to the second car that approaches. “Where are you going?” I ask the young, innocent looking driver, who replies “10 kilometers down the road.”

He looks safe, so I hop in. As we’re cruising down the road, the conversation reveals that this ordinary looking car actually is a taxi. Perhaps all the natives recognized it as a taxi, but I saw no such indication. Immediately I let him know I don’t intend to pay anyone to go anywhere.

The driver knows about five English phrases. Fortunately, the one he uses on me is “for you … free.” He deposits me at another intersection so similar to the first one that for a second I believe he deceived me and cunningly took me nowhere at all.

Again I stick out my thumb. A car stops abruptly. The driver is vague when I ask his destination. Besides, his eyes are shifty. I tell him “Andale, andale” (keep on going).

Next my thumb stops a truck. Inside are two well dressed men. For some reason, their clothes convince me they’re alright. Also, they can take me 100 miles up the road. Salvador and Pedro make this trip once a week. They are supervisors at a construction site that will eventually be a factory.

They are in their 40s, humorous and shy. Both are interested in the degree of their country’s poverty. Pedro asks me if Americans all have telephones, televisions and cars. He seems comforted by my answer, “Many young people don’t personally have all these luxuries.”

There is a pause. Salvador asks, “But do they eventually intend to get them?” I answer, “probably.” I feel uncomfortable sitting between them, knowing that despite their well paying jobs, even for them televisions and telephones are something of a luxury.

Their turn off has come. We shake hands. The good-bys are sincere and friendly. I watch the truck drift down a dirt road and look around me. The highway is empty. There is a profound stillness in the solid green wall of tropical scenery. The sun is scorching.

Yet neither the sun nor the lack of a ride really bother me. It is so utterly peaceful. I fee! privileged to be the only human in this panorama reserved for enticing postcards.

I sit down and smoke a cigarette.

About half an hour later, I hear a car or something coming my way. As it turns the bend, I make out a dilapidated truck with a spider web of cracks in the windshield, inside are three boisterous Mexicans.  They stop – or at least they try to. But it takes a while, since the truck’s brakes aren’t too good.

I explain to Isidrio, Bolivar and Napolean that the reason I am rejecting their ride has nothing to do with them personally. However, they seem just as offended that I have a low regard for their truck. Yet they give me a slice of watermelon then drive on as recklessly as they arrived.

About 10 minutes later another car approaches and pulls to a halt. An elderly man says he’s headed for Puerto Escondido. Great!

He’s a government engineer with the lavish name of Victor Santio Rocha Moreno. The Rocha is his father’s last name. The Moreno comes from the maternal side of the family. Most Mexicans have two last names for formal use, but for everyday use only the paternal last name is used.

Victor’s driver, Onofre, has jet black hair that appears to be dripping with grease. He wears thick glasses whose lenses are mirrors, a long-sleeve white shirt that just barely covers a pot belly … a James Bond bad guy, if I’ve ever seen one.

The car slows down just outside of Pinotepa. It is another one of those Federale road blocks. The young soldiers take down Victor’s name, destination and make of car. Routinely the Federales open trunks, checks glove compartments or dismantles suitcases, looking for people smuggling marijuana or running arms to the guerrillas.

At Pinotera, we stop for a lunch of enchiladas and chicken soup. Victor gets a beer and, as is the custom, puts a little salt and lime on the edge of the can’s flip-top mouth. I get a Coke.

When we enter the state of Oaxaca, Onofre bangs on the horn, honking in excitement at being back in his home state.

After traveling a bit, I understood his passion for Oaxaca. It is a mountainous land with a rich green carpet of dense trees. We pass an enchanting waterfall. In the river below, a young peasant girl, naked from the waist up, is washing clothes on a rock. In the very distant mountains it is raining.

We arrive at Puerto Escondido (Hidden Port) just as the sun is setting. I’m relieved to be here and happy with my successful traveling day.

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