Posts Tagged ‘Mexico’

First published in the Lafayette Journal & Courier, Lafayette, Indiana, 1977



From the border town of Nogales, Arizona to the remote beaches of Acapulco, our bus bumps over a rough 1,700 mile stretch of road that zigzags wildly across the mountains. And fifty hours later, after numerous delays and transfers, we arrive in the bustling cosmopolitan city of Acapulco. (more…)


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First published in the Lafayette Journal & Courier, Lafayette, Indiana, October 3, 1976



The covered Acapulco market is large and sprawling. It is located in a section of the city that lures few tourists and the atmosphere is permeated with a mixture of strange, rancid odors. People bustle around from one stand to another like frenzied ants.

Most of Mexico’s poorer citizens buy their food at the market, and shopping becomes a daily chore because refrigerators are virtually nonexistent among the impoverished families.

As we approach the market, glistening slabs of diamonds attract our attention. But after spying pools of water at their bases, we realize that they are only blocks of ice. The iceman must sell his products quickly or the hot sun will literally eat up his profits.

But like everyone else, the iceman chooses a slow, easy pace. One day when we wanted to buy some of his ice, but he was off somewhere, presumably taking a “siesta.” Amazingly, no one stole his ice, except the thieving rays of sunlight.

Once inside we walk slowly towards the fish department to our sensitive noses, unaccustomed to such smells, the odor of dead fish is overpowering. The buzzing of flies combined with the stench is revolting, but everything looks interesting and exotic.

Shrimps, clams, oysters, lobsters are displayed everywhere in buckets of melting ice. The fish is sold fresh from the sea or scaled to suit the buyer’s taste. The vendor will conveniently chop up the fish on a block of deeply indentured wood. Crabs are tied together by a reed from the ocean.

Hopscotching over garbage on the grimy floor, we amble on bewilderingly until we find ourselves in the meat department. Here the wicked odor is even more putrefying.

No part of the chicken is wasted, and we are informed that the neatly arranged pyramid of chicken heads Is for sale as well as several chicken claws which are sticking out of a glass of water like skeleton flowers.

An entire pig’s head is displayed on a counter, blackened by the onslaught of hungry flies. Overhead hangs the remainder of the pig, on huge rusty hooks resembling the talons of a vulture. Blood trickles off the stall’s edge. Everyone is seemingly oblivious to all the flies and garbage and nauseating odors.

In the distance we see some of the this meat come to life! A man with a huge burlap sack slung over his shoulder is peddling iguana meat. The exhibited iguana is squirming as if in a wrestler’s pin. His front legs are tied behind his back and his mouth is clamped shut with a piece of rope.

The creature looked so pitiful and unappetizing it’s a wonder anyone cared to buy it But several nights earlier we had occasion to dine on iguana meat, and surprisingly enough it was very tasty.

The labyrinth, of paths leads us to the fruit and vegetable department. The produce is colorful and vibrant with freshness. Tomatoes are placed in creatively arranged piles. They are big and round, lacking artificial.

Sticks of sugarcane are also available. Nearby are brown sticks of an unknown nature. We learn that it is ocote. Ocote resembles sassafras sticks, but the fragrance is different. It substitutes as a candle and when lit burns slowly, releasing wisps of incense into the air.

Our thirst compels us to select from a variety of fruit drinks displayed in large glass containers which clearly reveal their tempting colors. A glass of watermelonade has bite-size pieces of watermelon floating on top. Limeade, lemonade, cocoanut juice, rice juice, orange juice or tomato juice are offered.

Bananas also are converted into drinks, but a blender is needed, thus making this an uncommon item sold in the street stands. The vendor adds milk and sugar to the pulverized banana, and the result, is a delectable drink vaguely similar to a banana milkshake. We each order one and pay for it with a 100-peso note.

We are astounded when informed that our money is worthless. It’s a counterfeit bill. Although it looks exactly like all other 100 peso notes, it does not bear the stamp of the Bank of Mexico in the right hand corner. All the natives are aware of the valueless bills, but the unsuspecting tourist is the last to find out about them. The ironic part of it all is that we obtained the bogus money from the downtown Bank of Mexico.

Many of the refreshment stands have convenient seats to rest on — they are wooden crates. The market totally lacks wastebaskets. Practically everywhere “stoves” can be seen. They usually consist of a small stone block with a charcoal fire burning a hole in the center. Ears of corn are roasting or fish is frying in pans. All the sellers are eating, so we’re confused if the food is for sale or exclusively for the sellers’ appetites.

Strolling through the market is a chore for non-natives. Our presence is so conspicuous that every seller yells to us to investigate his products. We are urged to buy everything from turtle eggs to avocados.

The sellers are overwhelmed when we choose their services. They take special care in wrapping the food in newspapers, shaped into cones, but it’s not quite the same as sticking a can into a shopping cart.

Leaving the covered stalls, we painfully walk through an obstacle course of sidewalk beggars; At times we gaze into their vacant eyes, but generally we just drop a peso at their feet, then disappear into the enveloping crowd.

We are on the outside now and still we come across more products. They are sold by aging women equating on the cement ground like gargoyles. Despite the hectic atmosphere, with hundreds of feet trampling over the ground, none of the products gets stepped on or crushed.

The noise and chaos of the city frustrates us. We are anxious, after a full morning of shopping, to retreat “home” to Pie de la Cuesta.

Finally our bus arrives. All protocol and etiquette are; completely abandoned as everyone struggles to be the first aboard the already crowded bus. Old women balancing baskets atop their heads receive no special privileges. Like everyone else, they must squirm through the small door and hope for space.

We find ourselves squeezed next to a woman carrying a live chicken by the legs. The upside down animal contributes to the pandemonium with its piercing squawks. Opposite the woman is a man holding a wire with five dead fish slung through it         

People start banging on the ceiling — the signal to the unconcerned bus driver that the vehicle is plenty full.

Paradoxically we hear the rhythmic strums of guitars. Despite the crowd on the bus, a boy and girl have managed to bring their guitars aboard to serenade the people. It is a common sight to see singing Mexican minstrels earn money on bus rides.      

The bus gradually empties after each stop as we approach Pie de la Cuesta. So ends a typical, enervating morning for us when we go grocery shopping at the “mercado.”         

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



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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