Back to Mexico

I stumbled through my stay-out-of-jail Spanish with the taxi driver, who was taking two of my Oregon high school students and me back to our hotel.  He seemed somewhat upright—so I delicately probed that. (Teachers are notably curious.)  What he said in response was sadly true.

“These kids,” he jerked his head at my two teens, ”have the money to spend on travel; ours don’t get to travel….anywhere. Our kids have not enough money, often not even to eat.”

I had warned my students to be careful about being too obvious with their money, for several reasons, but one had been about the economic situation in Mexico

That afternoon, Gabino, our Mexican contact teacher, took us on a walk through the seaside town.  U.S. teachers tend to “bring up the rear” to shepherd lagging students.  Not so in Mexico, not then anyway. When I sought my spot at the rear, Gabino rushed up, “No, no, maestra comes up front.”  I argued, not wanting to appear “entitled,” but lost the battle, since both nations’ kids had already made room for “la maestra” at the front.

And the bullfight was yet to come.  Talk about cultural differences!  I had avoided the topic of bullfighting, but now was faced with a deadline.  (I also knew the parents of my students might have an opinion to offer, so I’d tread gently.)

Gabino explained to the high schoolers that a major part of the bullfight was the colorful presentation—almost like a dance of two equals.  The matador had a knife and cape; the bull a set of horns and a thousand pounds more behind those horns. He stressed the peppy and dramatic music played before and during part of the fight; he mentioned that the “olé” call was a cheer for the matador.  He talked about the long training it took to become a matador; he had to be physically at his peak, as well as nimble and quick on his feet.

As a horse-lover, I kept worrying about the horns coming too close to the helpless horse.  Gabino said the horses were trained to help avoid the bulls.  He then explained that the meat from the bull was sent to hospitals and orphanages. (I wondered about that, since my dad warned me not to “run” our cattle, because it made their meat “too strong” or “too wild” to please folks at dinner time.)

The students behaved well at the bullfight; there were no tears or jeers.  I even heard an “olé” or two.  They all mentioned the music as being the high spot; why wasn’t I surprised?

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Musings From My Early Travels

The primary goal of this website is to interest you, help you evaluate, and perhaps inform you, as well as add something valuable to your interest in the world, via my travels.  Or, perhaps I should say, travails. You get to decide.

I believe strongly in the delightful value of traveling to see other places, with those “strange sounding names,” but I will also present some warnings/difficulties/possible Chloe at the Great Wall; Pyramidsdisappointments. (I didn’t get to Petra, but I did get to the pyramids; I didn’t get to Angkor Wat or Vat, but I did climb Machu Picchu; I didn’t get to Singapore, but I did walk a bit of the Great Wall of China.)

The preparation for travel on my own was predicated on the experiences I had traveling with student groups. Most of our students don’t study the cultural basis for most countries they visit; it was up to me to try to fill in the gaps. Many of the “gaps” I saw, in the tour bus driver’s mirror, were the gaping mouths of students snoozing as we drove past historic monuments to a nation’s heroes, or past battlefields.  But they came eagerly awake when we drove past Harrod’s in London—perhaps the world’s most famous store, with slightly infamous owners.

One cultural “situation.” We were in Rome; I had 9 high school students with me.  One gorgeous girl wanted to go outside right after we’d checked in to our hotel—a former convent for nuns.  The girl was wearing too-short shorts.  I told her she’d need to change. She objected and stormed out of the lobby.  Within 3 minutes, she returned, blushing and nearly in tears.  (Yes–you’re right; she’d been pinched—several times—by some hot-blooded Italian boys.)  I never had that problem again.

Another cultural “situation.”  In many countries, youthful drinking is just part of life. This was in Mexico, and one of the members of my Global Volunteer team had been drinking. He climbed to the top of the hotel and wanted to fly.  Another team leader, male, yanked him off the roof before he splatted on the ground below.  (Global Volunteers is a terrific Minnesota group that offers people of all ages the chance to “do a good deed or two” by teaching or training individuals in other countries.  The oldest volunteer I met was 83; the youngest was 15.)

One caveat here:  if you become a “counselor” leading part of a student group, here’s a warning tip.  When we were in Rome, two of “my own” teachers kept asking me to “keep an eye on” their group, which was about 15 high school students. (They had so many students because there were two of them; not one.) Of course, I said, “sure.”  So now I had my own group and their 15; after twice agreeing to that, I told them “no” the next time.  Even an octopus couldn’t keep an “eye” on that many antsy students!

But keep an “eye” on this website—I’ll try to stick to interesting topics.

Taking High School Students to Mexico

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 theA17334_036 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.