The International Writers Magazine: Mexico
Trips around Mexico
Leroy B. Vaughn
I was nine years old in 1957, the first time I went to Mexico. That was the year my wife was born in the central Mexican state of Michoacan. Before meeting her, I had been to Mexican border towns more than twenty times never venturing more than fifty miles south of the border, spending all that time in areas that did not require a visa to visit.
Since we have been married, over thirty three years at the time this story was written, we have been from Tijuana, at the California border, to Quintana Roo at the border with Belize. We have traveled by car or pick-up truck through the Mexican States on the Gulf of Mexico from Campeche, to Matamoros at the Texas border and every state in between.
In 2003, we decided to take a trip into the Copper Canyon, or as it is known to Mexicans, Barranca del Cobre. The Copper Canyon is four times bigger than the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but is almost unknown to local Mexicans. The canyon can only be reached from the Pacific Ocean side in the state of Sinaloa by train.
We crossed into Mexico at Nogales, Sonora and drove south on Mexico Highway 15. About one hour south of Nogales, Arizona, we passed an older American man wearing a leather motorcycle racing outfit as he pedaled his one speed third world style bicycle past a road sign that said “Rancho Viet-Nam 6 K.” The fact that it was over eighty five degrees in the Sonoran desert did not seem to bother him, as he pedaled up a steep grade.
|We spent the night in a hotel in the town of El Fuerte, Sinaloa. We would catch the Chihuahua Pacifico first class train the next morning for the eight hour ride up into the Copper Canyon. Considered by travel experts and train buffs to be one of the ten best train rides in the world. I made arrangements with the hotel keeper, a man who had been to Las Vegas, Nevada several times, but had never been to the Copper Canyon to leave our car at his hotel, until we returned after spending the night at the top of the canyon, in Creel, Chihuahua.
The experts were not wrong. The train ride was beautiful. The scenery was breathtaking as the train went through the coastal plains of Sinaloa, into the mountains of Chihuahua.
||Railroad police officers were on board to keep locals off the train, when they tried to sell their hand made goods to the tourists. The train traveled through tiny Indian villages, stopping at various places for a few minutes. The train engineer sounded his whistle when approaching the tiny villages. Indian women and children flocked the edges of the tracks as the train stopped and allowed the passengers to barter for woven baskets and hand embroidered shirts and blouses, as well as homemade food items.
We spent the night in a motel with a metal roof. The constant rain pounding on the roof made sleeping comfortable, until it turned to hail. The temperature was near the freezing mark, the next morning as we toured a local Catholic mission and watched the local Indians as they sold trinkets to the train riders.
We were back on the train before lunch for the ride down the hill, Back to Sinaloa. There were plenty of characters on the train from all over Europe, Japan and Australia to keep everyone talking, until we returned to El Fuerte. We spent the night in El Fuerte and headed out the next morning, back to California. It had only been two days since we had driven into El Fuerte, but we found that we could not leave by the same way we came in because of the one way streets.
At the edge of town, I spotted an old man holding a five gallon paint bucket. My wife asked him for directions and he asked for a ride. He said he lived just off the highway on a little rancho. It was on our way and I told him to climb into the back seat. He got in with his paint can that was holding a few basic hand tools. He pointed us out of town and about three miles from town he asked where we were from. My wife told him we were from Los Angeles. He asked, “Los Angeles, California,” and my wife told him yes.
The little old man then said, “Los Angeles, my daughter lives there also. Do you know Marie Guadalupe Sanchez?
She told him no, the name did not sound familiar. The old man seemed surprised that we would not know her as he pointed towards his little ranch house and invited us in to eat. We declined the offer, as we dropped him at his front door. As I drove away, my wife asked, “How many Marie Guadalupe Sanchez’s do you think live in Los Angeles?
“About three hundred,” I replied as we waved goodbye while the old man stood on his front porch waving at us.
||We stopped at Culiacan for gas and I asked a gas station attendant how far it was to the Sonora state line. He did not know, because he had never been out of the city limits. He was in his late thirties.
We found a nice looking hotel and decided to stop for the night. We did not get much sleep because a hooker had rented the room above us and spent the night walking up and down the cement stairs with high heel shoes.
The walking finally stopped when one of her tricks punched her out and she called the cops. The cops spent the next hour standing in front of our room window, shaking her down for money before they took her trick to jail.
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When we got to the state line, separating Sinaloa and Sonora, I pulled into a state agriculture inspection station. The agent at the inspection station looked us over and asked where we were coming from. We told him and then he asked if we had any fruit or produce. When I answered no, he turned and walked into his little office and returned with a package of shrimp.
He explained that the shrimp were fresh, from local waters and he wanted to know if I would buy a package. He was selling the shrimp to collect money from the annual agriculture inspector’s dinner. I really did not want to take a package of shrimp back to California with me, so I offered a donation for the inspector’s dinner instead.
After a restless night in Culiacan, we drove to Altar in Sonora. We stopped for lunch at a roasted chicken place that was also used as a jumping off spot for illegal aliens to gather, before they crossed into Arizona. As we ate our lunch, a young man offered us money to let him ride in the trunk of our car, as we crossed back into Arizona. We declined his offer.
We moved to Mexico for three years in 2005 and would go through the state inspection in Sonora several times, since we came back to the border every six months to re-new my visa. My wife did not require a visa, since she has duel citizenship.
We would see the same agriculture inspector at least two more times as we crossed the state line heading north from Sinaloa. Both times, he offered to sell shrimp to us. Once was for the inspector’s annual Christmas party and the other time was for another inspector’s retirement party. I offered a donation both times.
Before we settled down in a little house in Michoacan, we decided to take a trip to Belize. We didn’t take a direct route and on the second day of the trip, we were in the state of Guerrero. I didn’t have any interest in seeing Acapulco, but my wife had been there as a teenager and wanted to see the beach at Acapulco one more time.
Guerrero is an ugly state in my opinion, with the exception of Acapulco. We ate lunch at a very nice restaurant on the beach and after a few hours, I decided that I had seen enough of Acapulco. I looked at a map and decided that we could take a back road to a town named San Carlos in the same state.
On the map, San Carlos didn’t look very far, maybe less than two hours. It would be dark in a little over two hours and I always tried to be off the road in Mexico by dark
The road wasn’t too bad, but it was a jungle road and it was slow, due to all the animals crossing the road. It seemed strange to see wild turkeys down there, but after being in Mexico for a few weeks, nothing surprised me anymore. We did not know how far San Marcos was and we didn’t have much daylight left, when I spotted a man walking down the road carrying a machete. My wife asked the man how far San Marcos was and my heart sank when he told us it was about three hours from there.
I had looked at the map, just before we saw the man and I could not believe that the town was that far, but the man was a local and I thought he should know. Twenty minutes later, we entered the town of San Marcos. At first I thought there might be two towns with the same name and then it occurred to me. The man was talking about walking time to San Carlos, not driving time
On another trip we were returning from Padre Island, Texas and I had to outrun a team of high-jackers. They were in two pick-up trucks that tried to run us off the road in Chihuahua, in the middle of nowhere. I took my Nissan pick-up truck with the 5.6 liter engine up to one hundred and ten miles per hour before I left them behind in the desert.
The attempted high-jacking was a little on the scary side, but nothing compared to an incident in the mountains of Sonora, less than one hour south of Arizona. We were leaving Mexico for the last time in 2008. We decided to move back to the United States when the narco wars started to get bad. There were military and law enforcement road blocks everywhere, and we went through at least ten vehicle inspections on the last trip home from central Mexico.
A buddy of mine had just returned from Arizona and he told me about a route through the mountains of Chihuahua and Sonora that was not too heavily patrolled. We made it to the last check point in the mountains of Sonora. We were less than fifty miles from the U.S. border when we pulled into a military checkpoint. Military checkpoints can be very dangerous. Most of the soldiers are poor uneducated kids and their training is not very good.
I watched the first soldier wave a brand new Lincoln pick-up truck worth at least forty thousand U.S. dollars through, while I kept my eye on the nervous soldier that was pointing a machine gun at the grill of my truck.
I was a little annoyed when the first solider signaled for me to pull into the inspection station, after waving the Lincoln driver with the big cowboy hat and western shirt through the checkpoint. I told my wife that the Lincoln driver had narco written all over him. As I pulled into the inspection area, which was just a dirt space next to the soldier’s tent, we were surrounded by soldiers.
I told my wife not to worry. We’re an older couple and we did not have any type of contraband. As I stepped out of the truck, I was greeted by a young Army Officer. He introduced himself as a Lieutenant and asked if he could use our truck for training.
As my wife interpreted, I began to get nervous. “Training for what? My wife asked. I could see that she was starting to get annoyed. The Officer went on to explain that he wanted to plant a shoe box full of marijuana in the bed of our truck. It was perfect for training he told us. We had a tonneau cover and the bed was full, after three years in Mexico.
My wife started to object, but I told her that I didn’t think we had much of a choice. This was Mexico and we had no way to stop them if they wanted to take us to jail after planting drugs on us. Thoughts ran through my head. I could see the Lieutenant driving my pick-up truck around the mountains of Mexico, telling everybody that he had confiscated it from a couple of gringo drug runners. We consented to the training and watched as he hid a shoe box of marijuana in the bed of our truck, under boxes of kitchenware and bed sheets.
My wife told him that we would have a hard time with U.S. customs agents, when we crossed back into Arizona. He assured us that he had wrapped the drugs in tin foil and the drug sniffing dogs would not be able to smell where the marijuana had been in the truck. After his men found the marijuana, the Lieutenant saluted me and thanked us for assisting with the training of his new men.
Less than one hour later, we rolled into Douglas, Arizona.
© March 2013 Leroy B. Vaughn
You can listen to some of my short-short crime stories on crimecitycentral.com pod-cast, starting with story # 32.
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