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Huitussi, Sinaloa, Mexico

Wendy Devlin

Have you ever tried to do a "good" deed and found that you had difficulty pulling it off?

It happened to me on my second road trip to Mexico. From the previous year's journey through the Baja, I knew that there was a great need for quality used clothing for Mexicans living in poverty. So all that year, I carefully gathered up clothing until I had five large plastic bags full to the bursting. These bags were squashed under the small kitchen table in our trailer. When the five of us attempted to eat, we perched ourselves like large crows above the bags. The three kids would sometimes giggle and make cawing noises while they opened their mouths at mealtimes! After a week of travelling in this cramped fashion, I vowed that the first appropriate opportunity to give away the clothes, I would take it!

I mistakenly thought that driving the highways of mainland Mexico would somehow be like driving in the Baja. I was wrong! For starters, after many hours of driving south, there had not been any sign of a camp-ground, a side-road, a road margin, or anything wide enough to harbor a van and trailer for a night.

With night falling quickly on our heels, Bill, my husband, pulled us over to a closed road-side café. Several semi-trailer rigs crammed into the dusty parking lot. A tiny ram-shackle taller mechanico (garage) burned a lone lightbulb. I approached the tottering building to ask the mechanic for his permission to stay the night in this parking lot. Pablo was most agreeable, and immediately cranked up his ancient crackling radio with loud popular music. I believe that he was ready to party-hardy!

After a long and tiring driving day, I said "thanks but no party tonight, por favor!" The kids were too excited to sleep so they explored around the place for an hour before bed-time. Bill and I leaned back against the trailer, sharing a few cervezas with Pablo, the late-night mechanic. Soon, Josh came running back and happily announced, amidst the diesel fumes, the broken glass, the garbage, and the dirt, that this was our best camp-site ever! His discovery of a litter of scrawny puppies under the shack was an additional bonus that I took to mean that he was pleased to be back in Mexico.

We all agreed!

While camping at the wide beach at San Carlos, outside of Guaymas, Sonora, we took up company with our only immediate neighbour, Frank, a retired American city administrator. He'd ambled over to greet us to the beach within minutes of our arrival. He greeted us with "Call, me Paco, like all my friends do!" It felt like we had an instant grand-pa on the beach!

After a few days of exploring the beach, the Americanized resort town and the markets and streets of Guaymas, we were ready to roll on. Paco took a soiled and creased map from his battered old R.V., saying, "Nothing much in the way of camping south of here until Mazatlan. But you might try looking here in this area of tidal flats."

That evening, in the middle of vast agricultural holdings, we drove off the highway to look for a campsite. Paco's prediction of tidal flats was true---miles and miles of them! Suddenly the paved road ran out! It had abruptly ended in what appeared to be the dead-end, in the center of a fishing village. From this center, three steep and rutted roads branched off in three directions. The village center was attested to by a few tiny shops, a school and a metal taco stand. Sight-seeing was out of the question. Turning the van and trailer around in that small dead-end space was priority Number one!

Manoeuvering the trailer was dicey at the best of times. Nothing strained this husband and wife camping team relationship quite like this. Bill would exhort that I was quite useless with giving him proper hand signals. I would counter that a little more patience on his part would go a long way! In the meantime, the trailer was see-sawing and jack-knifing. A curious crowd of villagers started to gather for this display of gringo folly.

Then, crash!

The trailer bumped squarely into the metal taco stand. Rattling like a giant metal container, the contents of the stand shook violently within. The face of a huge and alarmed man peered out from the quaking container. The villagers gasped with astonishment as the metal stand ceased to shake and relaxed back, quietly, on its foundation. Absorbed with his own task, Bill was still pulling the trailer away. When I realised no harm had been done to the stand or the man, I burst out laughing! As if they shared my sense of relief and absurdity, all the villagers started to laugh too!

I noticed that the children wore ragged and dusty clothing. Bill noticed that it appeared to be a fishing village. So he might as well try to find some fish to buy. He's always been a "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" kind of guy, so off he went with a villager named Carlo. In the process of finding Bill some fish, Carlo naturally took him around to meet his mother, sisters and friends. They both were gone for over an a hour. What was I to do in the meantime with my fledging Spanish, surrounded by a gathering crowd of curious villagers. Why it was time to give away the clothes!

Easier said than done! First I tried explaining that the clothes were a regalo (gift) to the villagers. This comment met with blank stares. So I tried asking if I could talk to someone in authority, for example the profesor ( teacher); no response. How about if I could speak with the padre ( priest); more shaking of heads. I was getting nowhere fast! I trotted out my Spanish-English diccionario to find more words to convey my meaning to them. Still, no signs of " entendimiento," ( understanding)

So I decided to socialize in the trailer with 20 of my newest "friends" while 30 more waited their turn out-side! Richard, my oldest son, joined some boys in a game of futbol (soccer). My two youngest children were becoming a little overwhelmed by all this undivided attention. They scooted off to the van with its privacy glass windows. "This must be what the Queen of England feels like," whispered Rose as she passed me.

When Bill returned with his fish, I explained about the clothes dilemna. He asked his new "friend", Carlo for advice. Carlo suggested that we go over to the new IMSS ( Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social) building across the street. In the early evening, the building appeared to be closed. Carlo knocked loud and long until finally, a large, unsmiling woman answered the door.

Again I explained in fledgling Spanish how I wished to give these clothes to the village. Not a crack of emotion showed on the woman's face, as I repeated my request. I paused for her answer for what seemed like the longest moment. Then almost imperceptibly, she nodded her head ever so slightly. Contact had been established with the chain of authority! We were in!

The villagers dove into the bulging bags of clothing. Everyone was helping each other to try them on, with much laughter and theatrics. It was an instant, huge, dressing-up party! Fifty of my newest friends wanted to thank me personally or shake my hand. It was a little overwhelming; this going from nothing to an everything response!

My family was invited to spend the night camping in front of the village school. However, sleep did not appear to be on the villagers' agenda, anytime soon. So I declined the offer and we drove some miles out of the village and parked the trailer in a peaceful corn-field.

The evening sky was ablaze with rose tinged towers of billowing clouds. Birds called out their last night songs as we drifted off to sleep.

Thousands of Mexican road miles later, I met an American couple who camped in back of their small car. Travel stories were swapping around an evening camp-fire. They mentioned running out of road in a dusty fishing village surrounded by miles of tidal flats. It was named Huitussi. They remembered being somewhat overwhelmed by the friendly villagers who surrounded them while they attempted to turn their car around on the dead-end road. Coincidence? Later, I was able to find Huitussi on the Pemex map and confirm that it was, indeed the same village.

I always got the feeling when we were travelling in Mexico, that some people may have thought, " Now this is a strange gringa.... travelling with her family. But you know she kind of reminds me of my mother's aunt who used to.………"

In Mexico, so many people display a kind acceptance towards strangers that seems increasingly rare in busy modern life. Common acts like the giving away of clothes become unforgetable experiences.

If nothing else, I have learned to expect the "unexpected" when travelling in Mexico.

Published or Updated on: April 1, 1998 by Wendy Devlin © 1998
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