Trip to Los Mochis:As it appeared in Para-Mi Magazine 10/2004
At that time, it was cheaper to take the train from Del Río to El Paso, then across Copper Canyon and into Los Mochis, than to fly by plane. The entire trip would take four or five days and the smell of diesel was a constant throughout. The tiny quarters we called home during the train trip felt cozy and safe and my paternal grandmother would always pack a few thoughtful rations for my brother and I consisting of Spam sandwiches, Vienna Sausages and instant oatmeal. These foods taste horrid now, but back then we preferred what "Grandmo" packed to anything on the Amtrak menu. By the time we arrived in Los Mochis we would be extremely hyper and would spend the next few weeks burning off that energy. Our time in Los Mochis was spent involving ourselves in all sorts of adventures. They were adventures spent experiencing things that I now realize are gone forever.
Mexico in the 1970's was another world. There were no American corporations in sight, no English spoken anywhere and nothing we saw in everyday USA could be found there. We were in a foreign country with foreign smells and foreign sights -- like the truckload of Mexican Federales with their guns and "bad guy" mirrored sunglasses. Just walking down the street to the park in Los Mochis was fun because it made my brother and I feel adventurous.
Los Mochis was a small, quiet town that owed its existence to a Socialist Mormon who formed a commune there in the late 1800's. Almost a hundred years later, the only trace of these settlers that were left, besides a few blond blue eyed Mexicans with surnames like Jones and Harris, was a sugar cane factory and the homes that they had built. These homes were two story grand plantation style houses that were made out of adobe and had thatched roofs. Looking at these houses through thick tropical vegetation with the smell of molasses from the sugarcane factory wafting in the air was very eerie. Looking at Los Mochis was like looking at a ghost town with people still living there. What made the town even more of an anomaly were the sounds of Chinese, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian that we heard being spoken there by the men who had docked at Topolobampo Bay.
We had a few friends around our age in Los Mochis including a family of six kids who lived next door to my Abuelitos' house. They called us "Los Gringos" because we were from Texas. Some afternoons were spent hanging out with kids next door, their father was a taxidermist and their home was filled with his work. Owls, deer, and other animals were displayed behind glass in a faux natural habitat. We thought it was cool to have a backlit display like this in a home. It would often change from year to year with more rabbits here, a skunk there and no more deer where once they had stood. I remember once sitting in my Abuelito's ciruela tree for hours, talking and eating the fruit with them. The next day I was violently ill from having consumed so many ciruelas. But, most of our time with them was spent walking down the street for Fantas or various sweet treats made from leche quemado, tamarindo or peanuts.
Abuelita's house was the complete opposite of my grandmother's house in Del Rio. The latter bought and sold antiques and her house was run with the restrictive solemnity of a museum. We'd enter her home and have to ask permission to watch television, to get water or to go outside. There was never any freedom to explore or roam. But, at Abuelita's house in Los Mochis we were able to feel free. We could go into the kitchen and make ourselves something to eat, go digging in the closets for old photographs or games, and travel in and out of the house all day long, all by our own volition.
When it would rain in Los Mochis, loud rolling thunder would come in shaking the windows and gigantic plops and drops of water would fall from the sky outside where we would go and play in it. Jungle rain, I called it. It was the kind of rain that hurt when it hit you, a genuine force that after a while had a numbing effect leaving our backs and heads feeling weird. After we were completely drenched and frozen to the bone we would go inside and dry off, only to run back outside and do it all over again. All the while my Abuelito would be playing his operas in the background and food would be cooking. The smells of limes and spices made the inside of the house feel warm and magical.
Despite all the freedom, there were some boundaries. For instance, we knew not to fool around with my Abuelito's paints or his paintings and we knew that at a certain time things had to settle down and we had to go to bed even while the adults were having fun into the wee hours of the night. There was always a night or two when my mother's entire family would show up and a keg or huge ice chest filled with beer would arrive along with another huge chest filled with soft drinks. There was whiskey, cognac, gin, scotch, wine and good food all around us. Music would play as more neighbors and relative arrived and I remember falling asleep in my Abuelito's room to the drone of an AC unit only to awaken again to the sound of my uncles singing and goofing around. They all smoked and they all drank and there was joking, singing, dancing and eating throughout the night. To this day the smell of cigarettes and alcohol bring back these nice memories.
The conversations and stories told at these parties were fascinating, even to me as a child. Hearing my great uncle talk was the best. He had grown up a rich aristocrat but after the revolution he became so poor that he was starving and living in the streets. He was then rescued by American Masons and sent to California to go to school. He returned to Mexico without a cent and from scratch worked his way up to where he eventually bought a printing press and started three newspapers. After that, he went into politics followed by this then that. His "you can do it too" attitude would send me home to Del Río filled with ideas. But, I wasn't an orphan and my parent's weren't keen on letting me do all I wanted to do and since I found myself unable to procure the things I wanted on my own, these plans were never actualized. Still, the trips were inspiring and it was still okay because I did have the ability to make the trees dance and could speak to animals telepathically. This and other magic filled my everyday world as a child.
We always left Los Mochis by train at 5:30 in the morning and I was always sad to leave. The trip back had a different feel, a different mood. We didn't go through the same places we had passed on the way to Los Mochis. The route back was actually prettier. I remember being on a bridge so high that when I looked down I saw clouds. We were at eye level with a beautiful, narrow waterfall and I could hear my mother praying under her breath because you could feel the bridge sway from side to side as the train slowed down to cross over it. Once we crossed it and went around a bend I would look back at the bridge from far away and it looked like it was made out of toothpicks.
When the train stopped at a village, people would get off and more would get on. It was always more crowded on the return trip. I remember one trip in particular quite clearly. As the train gained momentum, we went around a small hill and saw two Mexican Indian boys playing with what seemed to be a ball but which, as we got closer, was not a ball they were tossing at all but a small boulder. One threw the boulder at the other, who caught it and then threw it back. My parents were calling for my brother and I to go back to our compartment, but for some reason we couldn't leave the window. Maybe it was because we were relating to the boys who seemed to be around our age, five and seven at the time. The boys were wearing all white; white pants, white shirts and white hats and they were running around and smiling as they threw the boulder back and forth. They intrigued us and as we watched them laughing we found ourselves laughing too. Others around us started to come over to the window and watch the boys and then something happened that broke up our revelry. The older boy threw the boulder back but the younger boy wasn't looking and it knocked his brains out. At least we thought it knocked his brains out. He fell on the dirt and blood came gushing out of his head. It felt like it hit us too. My little brother screamed and I heard a chorus of horrified "oh my God!" from all those watching. There was a great clamor of concerned voices as the adults around me talked of what to do. They tried to make the train stop, but the train continued on and as it pulled away I cried for the boy. I saw his blood flowing all over his white clothes. He was alone now, as the other boy had gone off to find help or maybe to hide. At that point my parents came to remove us from the situation, but it was too late. That night I had nightmares. A few days later I was home.