Nobody Looks for you in Mexico - Page 3
Before we had even crossed the border into Mexico, I noticed that Jon embodied the obligatory traits of an excellent travel partner—namely that he was easy going and adaptable. On parting Colorado, he made only two requests: a morning cup of coffee and a run at some point during the day.
After three weeks and several thousand miles we said our farewells in San Miguel. Jon returned north for CU’s cross-country training camp in the mountains of Colorado. And me? Avoiding Mexico City, I continued south, through Central America, Colombia, along the spine of the Andes until I arrived in Chile for the start of school at a university in the coastal town of Valparaiso two months later.
Fast forward another six years. Jon was a semester away from graduating medical school and I was washing dishes somewhere in Antarctica. Jon wrote in an e-mail that he would be back in San Miguel for a weeklong medical-school program shortly after I got off the Ice. He proposed a nebulous road trip around the volcanic highlands and trails surrounding Mexico City and central Mexico for the week following his class.
“Mejico,” he writes one time. Later “Mehico,” then “Mexique.”
In the news, the drug war was still burning strong and another 20 or so bodies had just been found in the desert or in the ocean. I don’t remember. I only knew that it would be warm there … and I never turn down a trip to Mexico.
Jack Kerouac made several escapades across the border in his years as a lonesome traveler and described the sensation of entering Mexico better than anyone. “You feel like you just sneaked out of school,” he wrote. “When you told the teacher you were sick and she said you could go home at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. It’s a great feeling entering the Pure Land.”
In a voice that would otherwise be considered soft if it weren’t for that accent, Jon hails me with “Chapo!” from across the bar, abruptly hushing other patrons’ conversations. “Chapo”—a nickname he gave to me—is part “ole chap” and part “chapoline,” meaning “grasshopper” in reference to a Mexican television show from the 1970s. Most importantly, though, Chapo was also the nickname of Mexico’s biggest drug cartel kingpin. We agree that the name can be skipped until either the drug war is over or we have left the country.
He filled me in on his week of working in San Miguel’s hospital, practicing his Spanish, learning new medical terms and even seeing patients. We discussed plans for the coming week, which were typical of Jon, that is to say amorphous and flexible. To his short list of travel requests, he added only a daily call home to his wife and one-year-old son, my godson, Christopher.
We remained, talking and drinking, in the corner until the bartender kicked us out at closing time. We woke late the next morning and ran in the dead heat through the botanical gardens that rest on a plateau above the city. Having run in the gardens daily for the past week, Jon instructed me to arm myself with small rocks to ward off ill-tempered pariah dogs.
Sweating away the stagnant essence of the mescal, we amassed a small collection of loops, meandering through the 220-acre reserve amidst the Nopali cactus, desert marshlands, crumbling stone walls, shade trees and old campesino men. Jon pointed out one well-dressed old campesino sitting on a stump beneath a tree.
“Every day, man,” Jon said. “He turns that cabesa like a tortoise to see me coming and I’m already gone.”
“Should we stop?” I asked.
“Nah. Let’s keep him guessing.”