“Hasta Luego, Mexico”
The Continental Trailways bus ride from New Orleans to Brownsville, Texas went as suspected, an exercise in humility. Anyone who has ever had the golden opportunity to ride the Trailways knows what I am talking about. I swear the bus made stops at every hamlet and isolated outpost along the way. It took forever just to get out of Louisiana. Now to my reasoning, there are basically three types of travelers; first, second and third class. The third class generally consists of an eclectic blend of the frugal and the poor. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not casting any aspersions on the third class traveler for we are all on this bus together but an affordable ride does attract a colorful cast of characters. I especially love the proverbial wino who staggers aboard looking for an empty seat. Sitting next to a wino is perhaps the ultimate bus experience. Somewhere in East Texas a post card perfect wino sat next to me. His attire and aroma suggested that he hadn’t bathed in a blue moon. Oh my God, the conservation he conducted was beyond comprehension, I couldn’t understand a damn thing. All I could say was, “That’s a total bummer”. He smiled and offered me a swig from his bottle wrapped in a paper bag. Just perfect! He finally passed out but still muttered on. Just when I was about to abandon ship at a stop and hitch hike instead, he stumbled off the bus and disappeared but not before shaking my hand and thanking me for listening to him.
By the time the bus arrived in Brownsville my feet were so swollen from the torture of confinement it felt like I was walking on inflated party balloon. Nevertheless, I hoofed it from the bus station to the border crossing only this time going in the opposite direction. As I peered over to the U.S. customs facility my body involuntarily shuddered from head to swollen feet. That was the scene of our near miss with dire consequences. Passing through the Mexican Customs was a breeze. I couldn’t bear the thought of getting back on a bus (especially a Mexican one) for the long haul to Cholula. I chose to check into a cheap motel room near the station. As I surveyed the room with its’ faded and peeling paint, a single bed that probably hadn’t been changed in decades, an open toilet that probably hadn’t been properly sanitized in decades and a shower stall that looked like an abandoned aquarium situated so close to the crapper that someone could actually shit and shower at the same time, an awkward revelation struck me that I have actually slept in worse places. I didn’t care all I wanted was to elevate my feet and sleep. Fearing what critters may be lurking in the bed, I opted to roll out my sleeping bag on the hard floor that was flat and not moving. I slept like a hibernating bear. The next morning I was shocked out of my coma by gunshots a not so uncommon occurrence in border town barrios. I scrambled aboard the next bus to Mexico City. All I can say is that it was an uneventful nightmare; a long, long trip trapped in a bus filled with frijole farts! I may have passed out a few times along the way.
Taking a boiling hot shower was the first thing I did upon returning to Cholula. I then crawled into bed and slept for about twelve hours straight. A sharp knock on the courtyard door snapped me to attention. I trudged to the door and opened it, “Praise the Lord”, it was Goga standing with her arms crossed and looking slightly perturbed. She was clearly miffed and admonished me for leaving the country without telling her. What’s this? I was somewhat startled and frightened by her reaction. Was I now under some unspoken obligation to keep her abreast of my where-a- bouts? Call me paranoid but this felt like a passive aggressive form of entrapment; a subtle display of talons perhaps? Yikes! Just as I was about to take issue with this sudden post script to our relationship she gave an exacerbated huff, grabbed my hand and led me to my bed for an afternoon delight. I totally forgot my issue with her and furthermore promised to behave and be more thoughtful in the future. Yikes!
About a week later a friend dropped by and invited me up to his cabin in the mountains of Michoacan the premier pot growing region in Mexico. He somehow befriended a family of growers who built him a shack to manufacture a very potent form of hash oil. About once a month he would come down from the mountains to sell and share his product. I readily accepted his invitation and hopped on a bus with him to the wild state of Michoacan. After eight hours of rolling along on a narrow and winding road the bus stopped at a small town. Everyone piled off and dispersed. My friend “Little Richard” linked up with the jefe (chief) of the family. He informed us that the truck would not be leaving for a little while and asked us if we needed anything. On an innocent whim I asked if he had access to opium. He smiled and said, “Claro, come with me”. He led us down a narrow alley way to a small dark room hidden in a courtyard. We were told to wait for him. He presently returned with a rather gruff looking character. He sat down at a table, slowly looked around the room and then reached into his pocket and produced a wad of black tar opium. Intrigue filled the room like a heavy fog. He then gingerly pinched off a pin head size ball, placed it a pipe and asked if I wanted to try it. Oh man, just one puff convinced me that this was the real deal. I immediately purchased a sizable chunk for about five dollars. A loud rap on the door ended the party. A young voice shouted “the truck is ready”. El jefe led Little Richard and me to a flatbed truck and ushered us aboard. The truck quickly filled with passengers and started with a jolt on its’ way up a steep, winding one lane dirt road. Women and children sat on benches running along the length of the bed. Men except for the elderly stood holding on to the side rails. Because Little Richard and I were with the jefe we got the privilege of standing behind the cab which offered a commanding view of the super lush rain forest like mountains. My opium high served to make the ride even more enchanting. About two hours into the rugged climb the truck stopped at a small way station. Everyone piled off the truck to stretch their legs and use the out houses. All the men disappeared into the station and came back out with their weapons, rifles, shotguns and pistols. Little Richard took this opportunity to give me some critical information. An escort will be assigned to me and under no circumstances was I to wander off without him by my side. Outsiders were unwelcomed and would more than likely be shot. For an added bonus, tensions were running higher than usual because a few weeks earlier an old fashion shoot out took place between two families due to a lack of respect. “Gulp”! Was I heading into the “Wild West” or what?
After another two hours on an even more rugged and steep road we reached a plateau with small level clearing. Everyone scrambled off the truck and dispersed onto the trails leading to their parcels of land. My assigned escort el jefe’s eldest son a twelve year old boy packing a 45 in his holster stuck close to me insuring my safety. I actually felt secure with him; he was taking his assignment so seriously. We followed el jefe to the family compound which was a simple adobe style structure housing three generations. I was introduced to the whole family including the “Abuelo” (grandfather) a weathered old character with piercing brown eyes and a hardy laugh. The women folk were shy and slightly suspicious of this gringo in their midst. We arrived just in time for dinner; la senora had a big pot of beans boiling away on an outdoor fire pit and making tortillas the old fashion way with her hands. Dios mio, that was the best bowl of beans and tortillas I ever had. As darkness fell onto the mountains all the women quietly retreated indoors while the males gathered around the fire and chatted about manly kind of things. The grandfather getting a little tipsy started to get slightly demonstrative in his behavior, I think trying to get his opinion acknowledged by the rest of his family. His grandsons finally picked him up and steered their wobbling grandfather towards the house but before entering he looked right at me and asked, “Como se dice “Chingale” en Ingles”? (How do you say fuck you in English) “Fuck you”, I responded. He thought for a second and repeated, “Fuck You”! “Si”, I confirmed. He smiled, then turned to the rest of his kin and yelled, “Fuck You”! Whistling, he happily went inside. The men looked at each other and burst out into an uproarious laughing spell. The fire was almost out, time for everyone to retire. Little Richard and I had the small patio to ourselves. We rolled out our sleeping bags and smoked a joint before signing off. With no electricity there were no lights to obscure the night sky. The stars were so bright I could feel a slight and soothing sting from their piercing light. It couldn’t get any better than this at this moment. I fell into a dazzling dream. The next morning we were again treated to a breakfast of beans, tortillas and eggs. The best! El jefe then took point on a narrow path winding through a thick forest. Alongside the trail volunteer pot plants were growing everywhere. They were considered weeds and not tended to like the patches of cultivated plants. Nevertheless, I was in a pot paradise. We arrived at a small one room shack well hidden in a clump of trees. This was Little Richard’s hash oil factory and residence. I was immediately impressed with his operation. A one person cot was tucked into a corner with a small table and chair to complete the rustic décor. But the focus of the room was on a table laden with an assortment of flasks, Bunsen burners, beakers and boxes full of marijuana ready to be rendered down into hash oil. Oh my God, it was a charming little science lab run by a mad but charming chemist. Little Richard was indeed in his element. We stayed at the lab while el jefe and his son moved on to inspect their secret plots of pot crops. Being the unknown factor, I was not invited to join them. Just as well, the hike to the shack was exhausting enough. I was contented to spend the day with Little Richard and watch him at work and sample some of his latest creations. We both passed out into a heavily sedated siesta. It was late afternoon when El jefe and his son woke us up saying it was time to head back to la casa. We had to pick up our pace before the night fell on us. We moved in a single file with about thirty feet between us to lessen the chance of an ambush! Fuck!! This caused a wee bit of consternation putting me on high alert and suspicious of any movement in the thick vegetation. We came to a juncture where our trail crossed another one. As I entered the juncture a man appeared just a few feet from me startling both of us. He reacted by drawing his gun on me and yelling something that I interpreted as “Freeze” which I instinctively did. Carlos, my young escort came running up shouting, “Don’t shoot, he is with us”! The man gave me the once over and slowly lowered his gun. Carlos shoved me forward out of my frozen stance and commanded, “Vamanos, let’s get out of here”. I thawed quickly and started to gallop my way down the trail. God Damn it! Here was another situation where I would have to check and see if I soiled my “pantalones”.
Back at la casa the family got a kick out of my surprise encounter on the path. I was just grateful to be alive and able to laugh with them. After another filling dinner of beans and tortillas, everyone retired early. At the first sunlight everyone piled back onto the flatbed truck for the long decent down the steep mountain road. It was market day in town and time to buy provisions. After almost being shot, I felt it was time for me leave and hopped aboard. The women hid bundles of weed in their baskets for the waiting middle men in town. All the men jumped off at the way station and secured their weapons in a hidden bunker. I wouldn’t need an armed guard from this point on. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of activity and scurrying about by the town’s inhabitants. As we were starting to get off the truck a man came running up and confronted El jefe who turned and yelled for everyone to get back on the truck. A column of Army soldiers was just a few hours away heading towards town. This could mean only one thing; a raid on the town and the mountains above. Little Richard had to go back and protect his lab. El jefe warned me to immediately get out of town; if someone spotted me getting off the truck I would be arrested in the sweep and subjected to a severe interrogation, Mexican style. I ran and jumped on the first bus heading west to the coast. The road east would probably have been set up with check points. I was carrying a half pound of Michoacan mota not to mention the chunk of opium; I could not risk being searched at a road block.
The bus dumped me off at Playa Azul a small obscure beach hamlet; a perfect place to lay low for a few days. The only real hotel had only ten rooms and they were all booked. With nowhere to go the beach seemed a good place to start. It was stunning; a palm tree lined beach of brilliant white virgin sand stretched for miles, the aqua blue Pacific pounding the shore with majestic waves, man this was paradise. To sweeten the pot, I was the only one on the beach! Where is everyone? No matter, it couldn’t get any better than this at this moment. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make; I’ll stay here for a while. Near a grove of palm trees I began making a dugout for shelter. The first task was to dig out a hollow long and wide enough to fit my torso. Next, constructing a simple A-frame with driftwood, sticks and whatever I could find. The final touch, layering the structure with downed palm leaves. It was crude almost primitive but effective. It provided shade for siestas during the hottest part of the day and a sense of security at night. My first evening was spent under blanket of stars that again were so bright they cast a reflection on the ocean. I lit up a small bowl of opium and watched in wonderment as the crescent moon slowly sliced into the Pacific. I thought to myself, “Again, it just can’t get any better than this at this moment”. I was then struck by a revelation; strive to string as many as possible of these precious moments together into a lifelong series of joyous delights.
I blissfully lingered in this piece of paradise for more than a week. I had everything and wanted for nothing. My little beach bungalow was more than comfortable. A small shack/restaurant about a quarter mile away served a fabulous huachinango (red snapper) dinner with all the fixings for two dollars and an equally fabulous breakfast of huevos rancheros. I even found a place to take a shower for twenty five cents. Life was good. One afternoon a young local lad strolled up to my hut as I just lit up a joint and asked if he could join me in a puff of mota. But of course, I shared my doobie with him. We were having a pleasant time with small talk when he suddenly grabbed his head with both hands and said that mota makes him do crazy things. “I can feel El Diablo in me trying to get out”, he confided to me. Great, that is just what I wanted to hear! After several awkward and uncomfortable minutes he grunted, got up and walked away. Shit! Devil boy now knows where I live and will probable return to release the evil lurking within. I took this as a sign to pack it up and move on. I couldn’t stay in paradise forever. That evening I slept with one eye open and twitched at every unusual sound. The nest morning I woke up with something weighing my legs down. Fuck! He is here and ready to do the Devil’s bidding. I opened my eyes, raised my head and let out a giant gasp; Holy shit, it was a five foot boa constrictor coiled on my legs. Whew, that was a relief. I slipped out of my sleeping bag, gently picked the snake up and set it free in the palm grove. OK then, time to go.
The bus ride back to Mexico City was fortunately unimpeded by Army check points because I was still had mota and opium in my bag. Back in Cholula I ran into Little Richard who had a horror story to tell. “You got out just in time”, he said. The Army sent troops all the way to his neck of the woods. He grabbed the bare essentials from the lab and ran for his life from the pursuing soldiers hot on his trail. “I don’t think it is safe to go back there for a while” he lamented. I invited him to my place for a puff but he had business to take care of. I trudged home ready for a shower and a siesta. A letter was shoved under my door. Glory Be, it was from the Captain. I tore it open and screamed out loud; he bought a boat in Fort Lauderdale and wanted to know if I was still interested in sailing to the Bahamas. It took only a micro-second to process this; I burst out of my door, ran to the post office and attacked a public pay phone (there were no cell phones back in the day). I nervously dialed the number in his letter. He answered. “Captain, its’ Doc”. “Hey Zorro, you coming”, he asked. “Most assuredly so” I responded. “Good, meet me in New Orleans”, he ordered. After writing down all the pertinent information I hung up and ran back to my place. Oh my God, it is really happening. The dream is coming true! I had only a few days to get my shit together. Two days later I was at the Mexico City airport boarding a plane for Houston. I packed everything that was necessary into my Air Force duffel bag, the half-pound of Michoacan mota was tightly packed into my Fry boots. I knew the insane risk I was taking and the dire consequences of smuggling contraband into the US. I tried to stay focused on the dream but at the same time prayed for a less than thorough inspection at US Customs. One last thought before boarding the plane; I didn’t get a chance to tell Goga that I was leaving the country again. Damn, she is going to be pissed! I vowed to make some serious amends if our paths ever crossed again. For now though my thoughts were focused on the most uncertain future facing me. Hopefully, I would soon be crewing on a sail boat with the Captain at the helm and that would certainly mean risking life and limb with more mad cap adventures. I couldn’t wait.