I am writing to you to thank you, almost forty years later, for allowing me recover in your beautiful country after an exhausting year teaching in Canada in 1982.
My friends Peter and Anne had bundled me on to the early morning train at Kamloops Station in late December 1982, my overnight bag full of papers which I needed to finish marking before my students returned after their short Christmas/New Year break. I wouldn’t be returning to ‘Kam High’, where I’d been on an International Teacher Exchange for the past year. Looking up from time to time to the terraced views of the Canadian Rockies, this marking needed to be returned before I left Canada after visiting friends in Vancouver to say farewell.
The next leg of my journey would be from Vancouver to Mexico City, before returning via LA to Melbourne for the beginning of the school year at a new school in Melbourne’s bayside suburbs.
The timing of my trip to visit you was fortunate. I arrived at the Bureau de Exchange of the Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México to discover that there had been a significant devaluation of the currency overnight. My US traveller’s cheques fetched at least twice as much as I had expected! Flush with funds, I booked in to a small, comfortable hotel suite in the beautiful central area of Mexico City rather than my usual single room in a fairly basic hotel. How wonderful! I was so tired after my year teaching in Canada. I remember sinking into the comfortable bed, sleeping for hours and having meals delivered to my room, before eventually venturing out to the hotel restaurant and then on to the streets below.
The Mexico City I remember, the city of artists Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo, was a city of wide streets, blue high altitude skies and temperate weather. I’d arrived during the smog free Christmas to New Year holiday break. Industries had closed. Many people had left the city to visit families in rural areas or to take a break at one of Mexico’s many beachside holiday destinations. The Art Galleries and restaurants which remained open in the city were by no means crowded, the people friendly and welcoming. I eventually surfaced to explore the city, to undertake day trips to Mayan temples. I particularly enjoyed discovering restaurants and finding waiting staff who had time to chat – I’d lived in Spain five years earlier and was thrilled to speak Spanish again. Indeed, this was one of my reasons for choosing to return home from Canada via Mexico.
Just as I’d sought out the flamenco restaurants in Madrid, I sought out Mariachi music in Mexico. In Mexico City (and later in Acupulco and the beach resort of Ixtapa on the Pacific Ocean), I came across Mariachi bands at local markets, restaurants and theatres. I also followed up the music of a singer I’d seen perform in Madrid, Nacha Guevarra, who was living in Mexico. On New Year’s Eve, I shared my table with a handsome traveller, recently divorced and keen to have company. Serenaded by a mariachi band, we were the only diners in the restaurant.
An interest in matters political also tends to surface during my travels. I had received a letter from friends in my social justice oriented embroidery group at home in Daylesford. They were working to raise awareness of the work of ‘The Mothers of the Disappeared of El Salvador’ and understood that they had a base in Mexico. My task? To locate, and hopefully make contact with, ’The Mothers’. I love having a project while I am travelling, however found this task enormously difficult. I contacted a group of women’s lawyers who might have been able to give me a lead. They couldn’t do so, however were keen to tell me about the work they were doing to raise the profile of women lawyers in Mexico’s legal system. I sought out alternative music stores for possible leads – again without success. One store owner showed me artwork and let me listen to cassettes of the music of El Salvador, including a revolutionary song written to lead its disenchanted people through the task of assembling a gun. (I wonder if that is in an intelligence gathering file on me somewhere?) Somehow I managed to bring the artwork and cassettes back to Australia to show my friends in Daylesford, eventually giving them to a young musician, an exile from Chile.
After a year in Kamloops, in the hinterland between Vancouver and Banff in Calgary, I found myself longing to see the Pacific Ocean again. I left Mexico City’s bus station bound for Acapulco, a rather windy but interesting journey, buying simple silver rings embedded with amethyst at Taxco along the way, rings not worn for decades, long ago taken to a local opportunity shop.
My recuperation continued rather blissfully in an historic, still beautiful but needing refurbishment, hotel in Acapulco situated high up on a hill side, its view of the ocean including the cliffs of La Quebrada where I could watch the world-famous cliff divers in amazement. A grand old hotel which had seen better days, I loved its views and the the ocean breezes which swept into my room which look towards the ocean and opened out onto beautiful arched arcade balconies. Time was spent sitting looking out towards the ocean from the balcony of my room, walking along the beaches, enjoying the relaxed lifestyle, enjoying mariachi music when I could find it, and at times listening supportively over dinner to another rather handsome man who had been recently widowed. I don’t remember details. I think I just relaxed and continued to let the stress of the past year leave my body and soul before returning to Melbourne for another busy year.
My final week was spent at your beautiful beach at Ixtapa, north of Acapulco, a restful way of completing my year away in preparation for another busy school year. I remember many hours spent walking along the beach, interrupted by a leisurely siesta after lunch, a swim, then an early evening stroll along the beach before dining at a beachside restaurant. I felt so relaxed, indeed quite restored, when I eventually boarded the plane for San Francisco en route to Australia.
Gracias por todo, México.
Con mucho cariño,
Febrero 25, 2021