Because I’d had limited travel experience, usually only to go to look at a band of sheep my dad wanted to buy, I was cautious about those “faraway places” being too far. But an opportunity came my way in the late 1960s, via a man who worked in the Oregon State Department of Education. It involved supervising students on a three-week trip into the interior of Mexico and to Mexico City. He would be with us; my job would be to pitch in if there was a situation with the high school girls on the trip. And to handle the finances. I checked the organization; it was an Oregon-sponsored program, with glowing references. I had two children, but they were old enough to be supervised by their father. Of course, I said “yes.”
We took a bus from Portland, a bus filled with excited high school students, many away from home for the first time. After an emergency stop in Phoenix, so one of the girls could see a doctor, we ended up at the border of Mexico.
From there we took the train . . . and here’s a bit of advice . . . always take food with you on a Mexican train. And take a relaxed attitude. And patience. The ride was long, but it was fun. Corralling twenty students was a handful—and a responsibility, but we arrived at our destination, Mazatlan, in fine fettle.
There we met my Mexican counterpart, Gabino Covarrubias, Jr., a handsome young man. With him was a handful of his male students who I guessed were twelve or thirteen years old.
Both of our groups went swimming one day; I was pleased they were getting along so well. When I commented on this to Gabino, I also asked the ages of his swimming six. He said the boys were maybe 18 and 19. I looked at the ocean, where those I thought too-young-to- worry-about boys were playing in the sea with my mature, bikini-clad high school girls.
I took a deep breath, then yelled. “Get out of the water, now!” (It hadn’t taken much imagination to realize what parents would think about these unknown young men, some 18 and 19, cavorting with their 13- and 14-year-old daughters.)
Despite that small wrinkle, the trip went well, as did the two more I made with this organization. Students gaped when visiting colorfully elaborate churches. They visited banks, learned how to cash travelers’ cheques, met students from schools unlike their own. They experienced the mysteries—and fun—of traveling on older Mexican buses, sometimes in the company of a goat or two, but usually just with chickens. They learned to dodge cars; one year they went to a bullfight (for which I’d prepared them, I hoped); they learned how to mingle with others culturally unlike themselves.
And what I learned: be flexible, be open to learning new things, national boundaries are mere lines on a map. I became confident enough that when, a few years later, I had the chance to travel with high school students to Europe, I was ready. And those experiences would help to soothe itchy feet desiring to visit faraway places with those strange-sounding names. They kept calling; thankfully, I could respond. More on that next time.