We depart Tucson in a van at dawn—six tourists plus our Spanish-speaking, Norte Americano driver-guide and me, the writer. The van reaches Nogales, Arizona an hour later where a big smile is all that’s needed to cross into Mexico. Twenty minutes later at the military checkpoint we are required to obtain a visitor’s visa. The work-pace behind the counter progresses from slow, to slow, to Mexican slow.
Then our guide huddles with us. It seems that the visa department is extremely busy today, although we only see three other applicants waiting in the room. However, if we could see our way to offer a tip (let’s not say bribe) --the service might be expedited—perhaps, five dollars American, each. This is an all or nothing offer. We plop $40 U.S. on the counter and quickly thereafter are zooming down Highway 15 south to Hermosillo some 225 km below the border.
We continue another 75 km and spend the night in the gorgeous Gulfo de California town of San Carlos. Our near-luxury hotel overlooks the harbor and is reminiscent of the wealth found in Newport Beach albeit with a few less yacht slips.
After breakfast the next morning, we drive through Ciudad Obregon then onto Navojoa where we turn east toward our final destination, Alamos. Some say that this colonial, mountain town reminds them of San Miguel Allende of years earlier. We are to be quartered in a residence once built to house cloistered nuns. Each of us is shown to a cell.
It feels enchanting. I sit on my hard bunk and survey the immaculately clean 8x10 ft. space. Not much room to move around given the furnishing and doorway access to the one-person wide bathroom. Sudden awareness of my isolation becomes a comfort—no radio, no television, no phone (cell or otherwise) no Internet, and the staff does not speak English. At this point my heart rate slowed, slowed to Mexican slow. My entire being down-shifted to a gear that I didn’t know I possessed. Within hours I had acclimated to my surroundings. It felt more than comfortable.
For the next few days, while the guide took his charges to see the sights, I became the outsider, choosing to travel my own way. After all I was not on holiday; I was reconnoitering for a fictitious group of terrorists who would be passing through here on the pages of my novel.
For example, there is more than one plaza in Alamos. There is one in front of the church, for the tourists, and one through an alleyway where the locals shop. I sat among the residents and scouted. I hung around the grubby-looking bus station. I took pictures of the open markets for future reference.
I talked with the children. It’s amazing how much you can learn about a place by asking parents if you may speak with their children--usually they have less resistance to telling the truth about a place.
The opportunity to add local color to my story comes on a Friday night where I witness something that I had only heard about from my friend born in Cadiz, Spain—a different kind of courtship--Paso a Rosa.
Teenaged boys sit on benches around the plaza and the young women walk continually around. As the ladies pass, a boy will jump up and hand a rose to one. She accepts it and continues walking. When she passes him the second time she either keeps the rose and the boy joins her on the walk, or sadly, she may give it back and his invitation has been rejected.
The week ended all too soon. I was not ready to speed back up to “U.S. Normal Time,” but my ride and escort needed to return his passengers. On this trip I experienced Mexico like none of my previous visits to Mexico City, Monterey, Taxco or the border towns.
Avoiding the Hilton, Omni and Ritz-Carlton for once, went native, as it were, and paid very special attention to the element of time. A writing/research retreat that I’ll always remember fondly. I manage to refrain from carving my name and date on the wall of my cell although the urge is surely there. I want others who stay after me to know that I spent a delightful time in this Mexican cell.
Causes Charles Redner Supports
All Down syndrome associations, Buddy Walks in LA, Tucson and Orange Country CA