Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thoughts on Mexico

This piece is published in today's Durango Telegraph. I plan on doing some more research about the alliance between the three Durangos in Colorado, Spain and Mexico. 

A while back I read an article in the Durango Herald about an alliance created between the three Durangos: our beloved city, Spain and Mexico. From the tone of the piece it sounds like the communication has gone by the wayside, but it got me thinking of my own connection to our neighbors down south.

            My travels to Latin America began with a three-week trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua before the start of my senior year in college up in Gunnison. We volunteered, surfed, partied and rambled, seeing the lush, tropical countryside and returned with a changed view of the world, and a new appreciation for some of the simple luxuries we have as Middle Class Americans. I also realized I’d probably never make another international trip that didn’t involve rock climbing.

            A couple years later a January trip was planned to El Potrero Chico, Mexico, a climbing area located just a few hours south of Laredo, Texas. When we were alerted to a travel advisory warning in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico we almost bailed, but we ended up making the journey. What a revelation: only a day’s drive from Colorado was a dangerous, almost lawless land, with endless limestone, and prices just right for a dirtbag.

One climbing partner was scared of spiders, the other of snakes, and I was scared of everything. Their fears could have made for some good practical jokes, but nothing could have topped the real life situation, when my amigo who was deathly afraid of spiders hiked for an hour with a tarantula in his shoe, nestled under his arch. The whole hike he complained about his shoe feeling weird, and when he finally took it off he discovered the tarantula, screaming and sending an aftershock of terror so loud they could hear it up north in Estados Unidos.

            When we reached the border town of Nuevo Laredo, we somberly saw all the memorial crosses along the Rio Grande River, those that lost their lives crossing the border, trying to seek a better one. I may not have understood the complicated relationship between the U.S and Mexico any better, but I felt a sadness indicating some things are wrong and need to be improved.

            I kept returning to Mexico, each time getting more comfortable there, despite the fact that my Spanish wasn’t getting any better, and the drug war was getting worse. The border has the vibe of a war zone, but the hills are tranquillo, in small towns locals smile and wave, a universal language.

            Each time I get back to the United States after being in Mexico, something that was once old is again new. Sometimes it’s the grandeur of our grocery stores, other times it’s the realization that I won’t have to bribe the police if I’m pulled over. Occasionally it’s noticing that our Jesus just isn’t as sexy as the Mexican Jesus.

I appreciate the land we live in more with each visit. On those long drives home, headed north through the flat desert of Texas into New Mexico, I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to make the decision to enter the U.S. in search of a better life, or to improve my economic status to provide for a family. As time goes by I know I could have that question answered because I have a few friends that have lived that journey, and also several co-workers.

Someday I’ll ask, but for now I just wonder. I’ll wonder about a former co-worker, a dishwasher who lived and worked in the U.S. for six years away from his family. As a longtime dish-diver myself I studied the guy, and found him to be the most Zen of all divers, working 60 hour weeks and always had a most positive attitude. Despite my terrible Spanish and his broken English we became friends, and our conversations usually involved cervesas, chicas and mota. Now he’s back in Mexico, reunited with his family and hopefully living like a king.

I’ve yet to do any more international travel beyond Mexico, as a creature of habit I just return again and again. I’m in love with the limestone, and mysterious nature of the country, and still scared of its unstable and unpredictable tendencies; standing close enough to dream, yet still escaping soon enough that some of the darker realities never quite sink in, walking that fine line between tourist and traveller. 

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