A ONCE-BENIGN COUNTRY TURNED SCARY
Every week the papers carry grim stories about Mexico—students abducted and beheaded. Towns protecting themselves with vigilantes in lieu of policemen. Busloads of tourists waylaid—and if they’re lucky, released.
Let me tell you about our adventures in Mexico—a once simple, but gay and carefree country that seems to have vanished. Rob and I first went there when we were young, with three little boys at home. We began in Mazatlan, where we rented bicycles and pedaled around the countryside. For me, in my cute white shorts, the whoo, whoo whistling from men in cars, from guys everywhere, made me feel . . . well, young and beautiful.
On one steep neighborhood street, Rob went ahead and left me pedaling valiantly, trying to make it up the hill. Suddenly a man came running out of a nearby house. Alarmed, I got off my bike and waited. But he signaled me to get back on. To my huge surprise, he found a spot for his hands and pushed me all the way to the top. We waved to each other as he left. It was then that kind of country.
The primitive parts made good stories—out back of the best hotel in Mazatlan, we saw someone filling bottles of “agua purificada” . . . with a hose. While we drank no water, something, some germ or other, reached my insides, and I was confined to bed, feverish and worse. With Rob determined to explore further south, after one day of letting me lie, he approached the bed. “Get up, Babe,” he urged, “you’ll be fine.”
I couldn’t believe he was serious. But apparently I was better than I thought, and managed to stagger to my feet. Blinded by the outside sun, I followed him to a reasonably modern bus headed for Tepic, and then, with a seaward turn, another bus to San Blas.
San Blas was quaint, but now in summer, almost tourist-free . . . though its hotel, right on the beach was, as Rob said, “an exotic destination.” Yet the ocean water that far south was so warm it was like stepping into a Jacuzzi, much too hot for swimming. Dinner that night was delicious—if you ignored the crabs scuttling between your shoes, or the fact that pigs rambled loose in the kitchen.
In the middle of the night, I awoke with cold sores so painful I couldn’t go back to sleep—sores that covered the lower half of my face and defined the rest of our trip. Next day we departed on another bus—this time so rickety it had boards for seats, passengers carrying live chickens, and an engine that smoked and sputtered and threatened any minute to quit. As we left town, we noticed a man working atop a telephone pole. To our horror, the pole suddenly leaned alarmingly, and with no warning crashed to the ground. The bus went on. Rob and I were shaken, knowing we’d just seen an innocent man die. And nobody around to care.
Back in Mazatlan, we found a kind druggist who stared in horror at my blisters and prescribed a drug that made no difference. For our next restaurant meals, we chose seats in back, where I sat with my hand covering my face. The pain was horrendous.
The man who piloted our plane back to Tijuana was, at heart, a dive bomber. From a level position he suddenly dipped the plane downward, and for long minutes we headed straight for the ground—with passengers moaning and shrieking. At the last second he leveled out and we landed. Amazingly, still alive. Come to think of it, that flight was anything but benign.
As we drove north, the official who stopped us at the border took one look at me and shook his head. “Cold sores,” Rob explained.
“I’ve never seen cold sores like that,” the man said sympathetically, and he must have wondered if the Americana was bringing back a dread disease. Well, I was and I wasn’t. The blisters took a week to disappear—but what didn’t disappear were memories of warm and caring people, and adventures we couldn’t duplicate anywhere else. Sadly, thanks to drugs and cartels, that same trip would now be impossible. Rob and I might still court adventure but never outright danger.