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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Riding the Rails to Mexico

By Marcy Belson

Our plan was to ride the train from Mexicali to Guaymas, Mexico over the Memorial Day weekend. Three days to get there and back. Everyone worked in our group of four couples so it would be a short stay of two nights at the hotel on the water.

The train was called "El Rapido" and we had first class tickets. It was sometime in the late 1960s, women still wore dresses for travel and men wore jackets for dinner in the hotel dining room.

It was advertised as a six hour trip. We boarded the car in Mexicali before noon. Hot weather in the desert by Memorial Day, probably close to 100 degrees. The car was clean and modern, air conditioned and sealed windows.

Do you see where this is headed? Well, we didn't. But about two hours out of the station, our train ground to a halt in the middle of nowhere - desert and cactus as far as you could see.

The electricity flicked and was gone. Now we were sitting in a sealed car, no air, no way to open a window. It took only a few minutes before the entire car of first class passengers was making a run for the second class car directly behind us.

The car was dirty, chickens in cages and children crying, music from a guitar and only a few empty seats. The windows were up, the Mexican passengers were laughing and talking and in the back of the car. A woman was cooking tortillas on a small butane burner stove. The smell was heavenly. But it was hot.

By that time, we could see the train porters and other employees standing outside talking and pointing to a man who was shimming up a telephone pole. He cut the wires and used Morse code to reach out for help.

It was a long couple of hours before another train engine arrived from Mexicali and pushed us to Guaymas. By the time we arrived, it was late afternoon and cooler next to the Sea of Cortez.

Taxis were hired and we were on the way to the hotel built by the Americans as a designation hotel for the train riders in the 1930s. Playa de Cortez. It was a lovely hotel with a big swimming pool and miles of beautiful beach.

The next day, we went into town by taxi and did the usual touristy things, buying souvenirs, enjoying Mexican food and beer at noon. Then back to the hotel and an afternoon by the pool. We were living the good life.

That night, the hotel fed our group in the open patio area at a long table with Mexican music played by the mariachi band. Maria Elena became my favorite song after that evening.

The following day, day three, it was time to return home. One couple made a fast trip back to town and filled their Styrofoam cooler with fresh shrimp and ice, a nice treat to take home.

The train was late, no big surprise. The day was still young but late enough for our group to wander into a small Mexican bar located next to the railroad tracks. The local men in that bar were shocked to see us. They probably didn't get too many customers, women in mini skirts and men in shorts and sunglasses.

We finally reached our northbound train by climbing through another train car that was blocking our way Only in Mexico would eight people with luggage climb through one train car, drop to the ground and then climb into the second train.

By the time we were underway, I was ill. Very ill. Montezuma's revenge is one way of putting it. I figured my big error was using the bathroom faucet water to wash my mouth after brushing my teeth.

We arrived back at the Mexicali depot worn out, me still sick and started down the platform next to the train. At that moment, the couple with the shrimp in ice had a disaster. The cooler broke open, the ice and shrimp went everywhere.

Our group bent down, trying to retrieve the shrimp. The effort was abandoned when we realized we had nothing to put the shrimp in and no ice. We were still an hour from home and the summer temperature was high.

My so-called friends referred to anyone with diarrhea as having "The Marcys" for years thereafter. I didn't gain any weight on that trip.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Funny story, Marcy. Love the last line - I can relate.

Oy, but lovely to read..always wanted to get to Mexico...closest I ever got was Yuma Arizona when my son lived there for few years..love your writing as always...

Good story, Marcy. Some day maybe I'll tell my story of unsuspectfully getting on a Toonerville Trolly with a 4-year-old and a nursing infant.

I loved the story, Marcy! I learned a lot how to described trains from sixties. In the book I am writing about my father there are two scenes about trains in the end of fifties, beginning of sixties. Although, I guess there were differences between trains going to Mexico and those in Soviet Union, but the crowds and cheerful atmosphere was definitely present in both. Thank you for sharing!

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