A Whole New World

My week in Guasave, Sinaloa. Mexico

On the most important week of my school life, my family decided to take a trip to our home town in Mexico, completely blowing off the SAT I needed to take. Because who needs college anyways, right? Well, the trip started off fairly standard, waking up at four in the morning and getting into Tijuana around eight, where we cross via. the CBX bridge. Inside this facility we noticed a young man already in the elevator we needed to take and proceeded to completely and rudely ignore him, only getting a brief glimpse of him and noticing that he was quite handsome. Well, this person ended up walking behind us all the way across the long bridge. Only until we’d gone past the intimidating border patrols did someone bother glancing back, and when she did, Mom screamed out, “Meran! It’s Gael Garcia Bernal!” Drawing the attention of said man and the border patrol attending to him. I became dizzy at realizing that the love of my life was right there, that we’d been in an elevator together. And so, like good little stalkers, we waited for him outside the check area with a phone ready. In his deep sexy voice he agreed to pictures and I had the honor of holding his little waist and smelling his perfume in the proximity. Only later, when we saw the (extremely blurry) picture that Dad took did I notice that he’d touched my shoulder. And that’s the story of how I never washed that sweater again.
However, meeting Gael is not a typical part of our trips to Mexico. Actually, the most exciting portions of this particular trip happen to be the beginning and the end of it. On the very first day the cows grazing along the side of the road and the men shepherding them on horses may come as a shock, but I acclimate fairly quickly. As might the old man with his white sombrero driving his wagon down the cement road, cars honking and keeping out of the way of the three donkeys that pulled it. These things are normal traffic in town, but do sometimes end up accumulating traffic as the cows occasionally drift onto the road. Taco stands on the sidewalk are also a common occurrence, as every street corner is bound to have one. As is custom, we ate at our usual taco stand that first day, a young chubby boy of no more than nine years old as our waiter.
Because Mexico is fairly flat, my mother and I have the routine of cycling in the evening. That second day was no exception, as we geared up with lights from the tip of our heads to our toes (you see, cars don’t respect cyclists, so standing out like the fires of hell is a necessity if one doesn’t wish to die that evening) and headed on out. However, as we neared the river that borders the town, it began to rain heavily and we had to turn back.
On Wednesday I woke up remembering that my school was taking the SATs that day. Ha. Instead, I went to Burger King with my sister. Burger King is a big deal in this town. It is truly one of the nicest places you can go since not very many people can afford to go there.
As you drive around town, you are bound to catch a sniff of the broken drainage pipes at some point in the day. Many streets have puddles of waste, so unless you live on the Presidential street, you gotta get used to the smell because they ain’t never gonna fix them. The Presidential street, as it’s known, is where the richer people in town all live, so they don’t need to deal with mundane nuisances like broken drainage pipes.
I got into the habit of waking up at six in the morning and walking to the market with my mom before it got as crowded as India. We bough everything for dinner from a small stand run by an ancient campesino man, eating breakfast outside on the trunk of our black Cheyenne truck, pretending we were in Paris. It’s routine. The rest of the morning was spent beheading several pounds of shrimp for dinner, until I ended up getting too grossed out by all the guts, brains and blood that oozed onto my hands and called acquits.
The next day, as we ate on the trunk again, the neighbor’s ugly black chihuahua, Chapo, joined us. Chapo is unbelievably cynical, suspicious, pretentious and proud. The darned thing doesn’t seem to realize it’s a chihuahua. Well, he’s been warming up to us lately, especially since mom shared her breakfast with him so now he’s our homey. On this particular day we had to attend the wedding of a local singer we were acquainted with. As is tradition for Mexican parties, we went to a place to get our hair and make-up done. Even the humblest of people go somewhere to get ready. Well, since I’m not familiar or comfortable with make-up, it was painfully awkward to go through this process, but when in Rome, right? There was a power outage early on into the wedding party, so the live band ended up playing instrumental band and everyone danced and partied in the dark.
The next day, as we were walking early in the market place, a stray dog caught my attention. Street dogs are a common sight in this area, as dogs don’t mean a fraction of what they do in the U.S. Here, people are disgusted by them and often throw objects and kick at them, so most of them have scars and wounds on their body. This particular dog was no exception, and as I bent down to pet it I noticed his ears and back were littered with scars. Well, being so unaccustomed to affection from people, the dog ended up following us all the way through the crowded market and the entire mile home. We bought it some sausages and gave it water, but could not give it a home. The apartment we stay at simply doesn’t allow for dogs. As we closed the door on him, he stayed put right in front of it and waited. I came back half an hour later to check if he was still there, and he was. An hour later, he hadn’t moved from the very same spot outside our door. It was heartbreaking. A dog as loyal and loving as this one is a truly special thing.
That evening, Dad took us to the nearby town of Casablanca to watch the horse races. Casablanca is an agricultural ranch, and it gives the impression that you’ve gone back in time as you enter it. That is why it was startling to see a little creek with two girls seated by it’s banks on cell phones, an Indian man walking by them and an old lady on her rocking chair sitting nearby. The horse races were like nothing I had ever seen before. Sure, I’ve experienced horse races in the U.S., but in Mexico, they are a million times better. The track itself was very small and narrow, young and old men leaning against it’s thin rails. It was located right on the border of the agricultural fields, tucked away on the very edge of the town, so it was very cool and comfortable. A three-man band played on the other side of the track closer to the fields, performing the most beautiful classic Mexican songs. Skinny jockeys conversed with their beautiful horses as the stands betted fervently. The stands themselves were mostly filled with men in classical rancho attire–boots, belt buckles, and white sombreros. There wasn’t a single cell phone in sigh. The winds of a heavy rain threatened as the races progressed. My mother is familiar with the races, having spent her childhood watching them. Every single race she predicted was correct. She taught me that with races, you gotta pay attention to everything–the horse itself, it’s personality, it’s stress levels, the relationship between it and the jockey. All these things are crucial in deciding who’ll win. One particular race involved a mare and a stallion, since here, only two horses race at one time. Because we are in Mexico and the men think themselves the supreme rulers of the universe, all the macho men around me bet on the stallion simply because of its sex. My mother, however, was confident that the mare would win. There was a curious old man seated next to me in rancho attire who also told me with certainty that the mare would win. Well, I’m glad to say that the machistas were let down when the mare won by a full body.
The ambient in this place was very different. Tucked away from the town and so close to the fields, everything was calmer, more primitive and honest. It was almost a spiritual atmosphere, as the trees and the clouds watched overhead. It’s hard to describe, but it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Beer and beef-jerky were the main accompaniment to the merrymaking as the smell of cigarettes and rain filled the air, soon joined by the unmistakable fragrance of marijuana being smoked nearby. Most of the people were men, but there was a small pack of women dressed up in gaudy attire hunting for any wealthy man they could hook. It was quite interesting to watch. It was dark when we finally made the perilous journey back through the dirt road to the house. The next day we headed back home to the U.S. It was an unusually simplistic trip, this one, but I found it had great depth and beauty in the small things one sees every day. Life is better when you learn to appreciate the small stuff.

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