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Mexico: Some Memories
By Jonas Stenstrom
When Rob and I sat at the dinner table about four years ago and started talking about future adventures and travels I first did not think much more of it than any other dream you have and discuss with a good friend. Soon I started to get the feeling that maybe there was more seriousness in our wild adventure plans than I had first thought. There was something in the way we both seemed to burn for travel, nature and adventure that made me feel that maybe we might actually do this for real, together.
One of the last memories I have of Rob before he left Australia and James Cook University was him saying:
"Jonas, I know that at some stage in the future I will start planning my own adventures and travel. If I call you up then, would you be interested in joining me and help out?"
Well, for me, there only exists one answer to a question like that...
Then around early 2002 I received an e-mail from Rob: "What do you say about filming a documentary in Mexico?" That was all I needed to hear; the planning began.
I can not say I knew much about Mexico before this idea came up and even though you can get a lot of information through books and the internet, there is no better way to experience something than first hand. The idea of driving through the country and living as simply as possible with a group of enthusiastic nature freaks suited me just perfect!
I have been struggling with the task of describing my impressions from the trip in only a few words but still in such a way that everyone would get a feeling for how it was. There is really no such compromise. I would either have to sit here typing everything down until I drop or feel that I have not said enough to describe all the incredible experiences we had.
If there is one thing I would like to point out as my greatest memory it would have to be the people. Everyone was so incredibly friendly to us. I do not speak any Spanish and most of the people in the small villages we visited don’t speak any English. Still, we somehow managed to communicate and they really made us feel welcome. We could drive through a tiny village in the middle of the night and pull up to get something to eat. There were often both adults and children out socialising, eating enchiladas and tacos until late at night around the local food stands. They usually ended up laughing heartily at us for not being able to explain in words what we wanted to eat and for offering them a handful of money to grab whatever the price, just because we did not understand when they said how much it was. Still, everyone always acted friendly and helpfull.
Five gringos in an old van must have sent out some rather suspicious vibes to just about everyone. Especially when these young hippies had not showered for a few days, hadn’t eaten their daily vitamins and had been playing a combination of Indiana Jones and David Attenburough in every cool natural environment they stumbled across. Then when a cool environment is defined as everything from beautiful lush rainforest to a local dump station you may understand a bit better why I share full understanding with anyone who looked upon us as simply crazy. Yet still, I cannot even think of one single occasion during the whole trip when I did not feel safe.
At one time we had not had a shower in a few days, (well, I suppose that happened more than one time). We were cruising in the middle of nowhere when we got struck by a huge tropical rain and thunderstorm. We stopped at a gas station to fill up. The gas stations in Mexico are generally in very good condition, usually with a main building where you pay for gas and buy snacks plus a separate building with restrooms. Just as we were to head off someone said: “Why not use the rain to wash off now?!” We backed up the van close to the restrooms, got in our swim shorts, got shampoo and soap out and had a shower under the rainwater coming off the building roof. The looks we got by the locals that time were pretty interesting. When I looked around I saw a guard keeping an eye on the restrooms. He had army clothes and a rifle and my first thought was that we were in for some serious trouble. He came up to us and to my surprise he was more amused by our inventive way of showering that instead of telling us to leave, he started pointing out better places to stand to get more water from the roof… I think this kind of describes the mentality of the majority of the people we came across during the trip.
Although many of the things we experienced in Mexico were adventures in their own right, no matter if it was scouting for reptiles and amphibians at night in the middle of nowhere in pouring rain, collecting a load of unwanted “pets” inhabiting my guts that apparently did not like my choice of food (probably some kind of amoebas, that left me with stomach problems for about 4 weeks!), or waking up in the middle of a dump station just because it was too dark to see where we set camp, trying out the local delicacies of blood tacos and goat head or visiting a sanctuary for one of the most endangered animals in Mexico, the Baja Pronghorn… etc etc.
I still have to say that the greatest challenge and, thus, one of my strongest single adventure memories ever must have been climbing Pico de Orizaba, North Americas 3rd highest peak.
Since this natural experience left me with such a deep memory I decided to write this trip log separately together with telling the story about the mountain. So please visit Pico de Orizaba.
I have personally always loved to travel and see new cultures. Obviously every country you visit has its own way of living. One cannot expect to have things exactly as they do at home. It is very important to realise this and to always show respect to the people and nature in the country you are visiting. Also, of course everything cannot always go as planned all the time when you travel, which for me is a large part of the whole experience, to not be able to plan everything in advance. Unfortunately, there are always a small number of people you meet that will try to make use of the fact that you are just a visitor in a new environment. At one point we did get into trouble with the police in Acapulco, when we apparently ran an imaginary red light. We then learned that you are supposed to stop at imaginary red lights and we thought we had miles until the next one… Another personal dilemma was that my cameras got stolen in Oaxaca. I have to admit that this was partly my own fault because I kept them under bad supervision at this point. Still a sad setback when it happened. Overall these problems had only little effect to the overwhelmingly positive memories I brought back home.
Mexico is a big country. We managed to cover a large section of it in a short time. We certainly missed out on many good opportunities and offers along the way due to time limitations but all in all, I am truly grateful to have had the chance to experience what we did, seeing as much as we did of this beautiful country. I sincerely recommend to anyone in for a bit of adventure to take the chance to see the wild Mexico.
I also wish to take this chance to thank all the people that helped out in anyway and believed in our project.
I wish to send an extra thanks to:
Alberto Ysunza. Although we never manage to meet up we all appreciate the time you spent to help us out.
El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve: Especially Ramon Castelleros and Jamie Morales and the rest of the staff at the pronghorn reserve for giving us the opportunity to come and see your work. (www.vizcaino.gob.mx)
Silvia Gonzalez: for the hours you spent helping me at the police station after my cameras got stolen
Elaine Acker (Bat Conservation International): for her help in Austin, TX, and giving us support and belief in our project