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Letting go in Mexico: Young teens on their own

Wendy Devlin

Josh, fourteen, and Rose, twelve, were keen to discover Mexico in their own way in San Patricio/ Melaque. As they were six and eight when last they frolicked in the waves, they now felt mature and open to what Mexico might present them. They determined to prove it! Traveling solo, for the first time since their births, their safety stood forefront in my mind. Soon, I learned to start letting go in Mexico.

The process began in the first few days. First, I watched them like a mother hen. Whenever they entered the ocean, I maintained guard. Whenever they left the hotel, I went with them. Whoever they met; I wanted to meet them too.

Gradually I relaxed as I took stock of the overall situation and realized that Melaque seemed as safe as our hometown. Josh and Rose began to enjoy their increasing independence. All day long, they decided where they would go and what they would do. They especially loved wandering the street mercado, (market) and ordering their own food for every meal. Josh got a kick out of buying me a beer at the tiny tiendas and bringing it back to the beach. This was something to tell his friends back in Canada! There it is illegal to purchase beer until you are 19!

In the middle of our two-week vacation, we took a bus trip to Guadalajara. The six- hour bus-trip along the precipitous Hwy. 80, introduced us to our first long distance Mexican bus ride. Four days spent sight-seeing in Guadalajara with our Mexican friends began our first extended visit to a sizeable Mexican city. Our friends asked us to stay extra days so that we could visit their country home at Lake Chapala. Josh declared by staying over Sunday we would miss the "paseo dominicial," that we enjoyed during our first weekend in Melaque. He announced that he felt perfectly capable of riding the bus back to Melaque and booking a hotel room on his own.

I stared at him in disbelief and gasped, "This is Mexico! You're only 14! You've never even stayed away from home by yourself in Canada. Besides, if I dare say yes and something happens to you, your father would never forgive me!" Josh protested that he was sure he could get around Mexico as well, if not better, than myself. The tug in two directions was powerful! I wanted us all to stay together near Guadalajara. He wanted to go back alone to Melaque. So I bargained for us all to return by the later afternoon bus.

Returning to Melaque felt like coming home. The Primera Plus bus rattled along the bumpy village streets and stopped by the station. We swung our travel bags over our shoulders and two minutes later stood in the hotel lobby. Nestor answered the bell and greeted us warmly. The view towards the beach displayed the lingering rays of the sun caressing the playa (beach) and the palms. The hue and fragrance of tropical flowers entranced our senses.

The following day on the playa, we met an American family, Suzanne, 43, Trent, 14, her son and Suzanne's mother, Mavis, 73. The three teens hit it right off! I made a set of great new friends. Suzanne explained that she had been bringing her two children to Melaque from Ithaca, New York for the past twelve years. Her mom, Mavis, journeyed as a veteran snowbird to Aiijic, Jalisco. She arranged to meet them on their annual winter vacation.

Trent readily joined Josh and Rose in their independent social life. They met with other teens to swim, eat and generally hang out. Mornings we arranged to meet at the "Bananarama" for the best cup of fresh coffee in Melaque (instant Nescafe is the common choice of coffee in most Mexican restaurants). This little street-side coffee bar run by two Canadians from Grand Forks, B.C. (my home province in Canada) thronged with gringos. It was the informal gathering place for the unofficial tourist grapevine. After hearing the "news", the teens would meander over to the tiny comida (food) stalls in the mercado to order fresh bionicos (fresh fruits and yogurt or cream).

Despite their display of daily independence, their declaration "Mom, we want to go over to Barra tonight, without you!" still surprised me.

"What's this?" I exclaimed. "You want to go to Barra, alone, after dark? You've got to be kidding!" Dark thoughts instantly flooded my mind. All of those stories from the newscasts and the internet. Remember this was Mexico, the dangerous!

"But it's Barra with nightclubs, discos, bars, street people……strangers!" I sputtered. Josh replied calmly, "Mom, it is only five miles away!"

I convened an urgent afternoon conference under my beach umbrella. I told Suzanne and her mother about my misgivings. Suzanne told me squarely to get a grip on my anxiety. She said, " This is San Patricio Melaque and Barra de Navidad on the Costalegre (Happy Coast) of Jalisco, we are discussing. It is not Mexico City!" "Whose side is she on?" I thought to myself. Her mother, Mavis, poured me a measure of potent Don Pedro rum. "Did this conspiracy include grandma?" I pondered. "After all, Trent, her grandson, a mere lad of 14, would be leading this expedition to Barra!"

Who were my allies in this increasing tidal wave of teen-age independence?

In an attempt to quell my anxiety, Suzanne proceeded to tell me stories of her own independent family.

When Suzanne's 18 year old daughter was fourteen, she started living with a home-stay Mexican family in the hugely populated Mexico City. Her daughter has been an exchange student in England and Argentina. She currently lives as the only foreign student in a remote rural village in southern Japan. Last year, she explored a rain-forest backpacking trip in Costa Rica with Mavis, grandma. Confidentially, Suzanne told me that she wouldn't have banked on either of the two making the trip successfully on their own. However, by pooling their skills and talents, they managed just fine!

Two weeks before, her arrival at Melaque, Mavis took a month long Spanish language course in San Cristobol de Las Casas, Chaipas which was one of the reputed, troubled, political hotspots of Mexico. Accompanied by a foreign aid worker, she drove to a remote village without incident and counted it among the highlights of her experience. Suzanne's husband frequently worked overseas as a consultant in plant science. The entire family thinks little of flying to stay with him in many different countries.

"This is a remarkable family," I thought to myself. "But still…this is Mexico, you know, Mexico the dangerous!"

Finally, after reviewing the situation, I relented. I gave the teens the phone numbers of our Mexican friends in Guadalajara and our hotel. The minibus from Barra to Melaque stopped running before 10 p.m. I instructed them carefully how to take a cab the five miles back. After big good-bye hugs, a nagging doubt lingered in the recesses of my mind. I still thought, "What chances are they taking? Am I going to regret this decision?"

Trent, Josh and Rose returned to Melaque by 10:30 P.M. They enjoyed wandering around, watching the spray-paint artists and exploring the streets of Barra. The restaurants and discos hadn't attracted them. Famished with hunger, the teens socialized in a café in Melaque until it closed at mid-night. With children home at last, the 'mother' in me, laid to rest and dreamed of my next letting go in Mexico.

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