“DO NOT DRIVE AT NIGHT IN MEXICO.” Over and over the travel guide warned that it was not safe. If hitting stray cows, pigs, horses wandering unlit highways didn’t kill us, an accident would embroil us in bribery. Bandits planted carcasses on the road too. But we had to be in Mexico City, 750 miles away, by tomorrow. My Mexico Papers, typed on a salmon pink portable typewriter in the back of our Datson hatchback home record what happened next:
“We find a nice big truck that can do 50 mph and follow it. So far, in daylight, we have seen trucks passing on curves, three abreast on mountain roads, cars pushed onto the shoulders. There are more trucks than cars. And abandoned restaurants, gas stations, little tumble down huts and adobe shacks. Lights go on in them as it gets dark.”
The truck drivers we were following kept signaling us to pass them, so when they pulled off at a roadside restaurant, we did too, to introduce ourselves. Two men in their early twenties, they said they would be delighted to run interference for us and, deep into the night our Datsun rode safely behind their tractor-trailer bulk. Until, in the middle of nowhere, the truck pulled over.
One of the drivers came back to explain that a car ahead of them had hit a cow. A family needed a ride to the nearest town. They would all fit into the truck’s sleeper space behind the seats, if one of the drivers came with us. Les and I conferred. Was this the scam we had just been reading about, a one-way ticket to rape and death?
In the end, in moments of crisis you have to trust your intuition. I moved into the passenger seat and, in the safe darkness inside our little car, the driver told us about himself and his country. Mexico in 1972 was ruled by a repressive regime. He and his partner were university student who has been expelled for being at a meeting to commemorate the death of their friend at the 1968 Olympics.
“He tells us to beware of Mexican bandidos and terrorists. And be more careful with truck drivers, he says, because many are drugados, especially those driving gas trucks. Stay away from the police. Driving through the night, my mind brings to life the stories he is telling.
“After the truck drops off the family and they buy us dinner, we pull into a truck stop at 1 am. They park us in the shelter of their truck. Our friend sleeps in a hammock under his truck. The other driver sleeps inside the cab. They tell us to yell if we are disturbed… A few hours later we are off again, 250 miles left to the capital. We leave our friends with much honking and waving. We don’t even know their names.”
Forty years later I wonder where are our saviors are now. May their lives now be full of richness.
Later in the morning “a man crosses the divided highway on a burro. So far we have dodged burros, cows, pigs, horses, chickens and dogs on this road.”
By dinner time, after a Mexico City traffic ticket delivered on the back of an envelope and paid on the spot in cash, we were luxuriating in marble bathrooms and white fleecy towels at my parents’ hotel. The Mexico Papers were not shared.
Please feel free to comment below or through my Contact page, and join me next month for the trip south into Mexico’s rainforest to meet the Stone Age Lacandon Indians.
Thanks for visiting,