We knew our trip this winter would be an adventure, and it certainly was!!! We left our home in Nashua, NH. in mid-January, which required some courage considering this was the year of El Nino. Our plan was to take delivery of our new fifth wheel from Factory Direct RV in Elkhart, Indiana, with the faith to launch into our trip with a new but untested rig. We then slowly worked our way south to Mission, Texas to meet with the caravan of 17 RVs that we had signed up to go to Mexico with.
We were delighted with the 28/29 ft. fifth wheel Cardinal Americana we had contracted to purchase from Russ Anderson. We had met with him in Elkhart in September, and signed a purchase agreement. Through the magic of computers we were able to keep track of the assembly process, finishing date, and other details. Indeed, everything was waiting for us on the bitterly cold Monday afternoon we appeared in Elkhart, including a big fluffy teddy bear, a gift to keep us company on our travels. We spent Monday night in Elkhart as planned and headed south on Tuesday morning in search of warmer weather. Elkhart this January seemed colder than the North Pole. Thus it was that we traveled to Nashville, then Columbus, Mississippi, and Ruston, Louisiana - planned stops on our way to Mission, all the while the teddy was keeping us company. By now he had been named Russ, and sat comfortably at a dinette chair, guarding the rig as we traveled. Any concerns about an untested rig soon vanished and we enjoyed our new fifth wheel and its many features as we traveled along with no significant troubles.
Mexico was delightful, though it certainly presented us with some challenges. The language kept us on our toes at all times, trying to understand and be understood. For the first week on the road, Ed Barrett, our tour director, held Spanish lessons every afternoon. One of the first impressions of Mexico one gets is of the concrete or brick walls that seem to line streets and roads everywhere. Many of these walls have been painted by Bardahl, Coca Cola, or Corona Cervesa, so for miles you see one continous billboard or another. You think that the whole country has been corrupted.
Actually these walls surround little complexes of homes, and the people who live in these areas hardly need to be aware of what is on the outside of the walls that surround them. As a matter of fact the advertisers have probably done them a service by preserving the walls with the covering of paint. We found the colorful history of the various regions and the crafts, and friendliness of everyone to be most heartwarming. As we traveled into the interior, we soon learned that the stereotype of Mexicans and their life style in border communities is far from the real Mexico of the interior.
It took about three weeks traveling through the villages and towns until we reached Guadalajara. Along the way, we visited many historical colonial cities and learned of the historical struggles of Mexicans for freedom and independence over the years. It was very sobering to note that colonial civilization and culture in Mexico were almost three hundred years old before the first pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. We stayed at the San Jose Del Taco RV park in Guadalajara for five weeks (see picture).
The lure of Guadalajara is its ideal weather. Year around the average daily temperature is 70 degrees. During the night, temperatures drop to the mid-50¹s. We saw clouds in the sky only one day, and then only briefly. There was not a single drop of rain or windstorm during our entire stay in Guadalajara. These conditions result from the altitude (nearly 7000 feet) and in spite of the tropical latitude.
One might wonder what was going to fill the hours in a land so unfamiliar.We discovered a very efficient and incredibly inexpensive public transportation system and a beautiful historic city with endless shopping and cultural sights. We saw the world-renowned Folklorica (a collection of pre-colonial and regional dance and music) as well as a unique rodeo. We enjoyed many day trips to well-known places such as Lake Chapala (Mexico¹s largest), Tonala, Tlaquepaque, etc. Now that we have emerged we realize that there were many things that we just didn¹t have time to explore.
Our caravan directors, Ed and Anne Barrett of Aztec Trails Tours, have developed supportive relationships with several orphanages and the Salvation Army Children¹s Home through the years. Members of the caravan were encouraged to visit the children, and what a highlight those times were!
One afternoon several of the women went to the Villa Maria Reina Orphanage, which is a home run by a group of nuns for girls. The girls range in age from 5-17 years. They are not orphans, in the sense that there is someone with whom they can spend the weekend, a single parent, a grandparent or other relative, but no one is able to provide consistent care through the week.
Our visit to Villa Maria Reina was in the tiny town of Santa Anita (just south of Guadalajara), and down a street with walls on both sides, though these walls didn¹t have any advertisements. Anne Barrett got out of the car, and knocked vigorously at a door, and shortly two small girls swung open the big blue gates, and we were ushered into a very special world.
The buildings and grounds were simply and immaculately kept, and the children neat and clean, and well groomed. The buildings were very modestly furnishedŠ..austere would be more descriptive. Our project that day was for us to assist about thirty of the girls with a simple art project, and just enjoy them, and let them enjoy us.
There is an openness about children, and they were interested in looking at us very closely; our clothes, eyeglasses, shoes, all seemed fascinating to them. We communicated surprisingly well regarding the art project, and it wasn¹t long until everyone had an interesting mask to display. At that point Russ, the teddy, was presented to the group. He was an instant hit. Everyone wanted to feel his softness. It was decided that he would stay at the orphanage permanently and travel from one dormitory to the other, spending a week in each.
Several of us took pictures, and that was great fun too, because somehow everyone wanted to be sure they were photographed. Reluctantly the afternoon ended, and we promised that we would return. Two weeks later a much larger group from our tour, that included men as well as women, arrived for a fiesta. Again the knock at the door, and the opening of the gates. This time there was a much larger group of girls present, and the activity of the day was to share coloring of a Spanish/English activity book.
After this project was completed, each girl took one of the visiting tourists by the hand and showed them through their living quarters which were comfortable and immaculate. They were very proud of their home and it was evident that they enjoyed life in a very caring environment. Don had taken his electronic keyboard along for the visit, and the girls enjoyed playing musical chairs and singing Celito Lindo which both they and the folks on the tour had memorized. In spite of the language difficulties, the girls had a marvelous time with gifts and dessert provided by Anne Barrett, the tour director.
At other times, Anne has collected donations from tour members and others for school supplies for which there is a great need. Don remembered only one Mexican song, a Christmas carol, but when he played it the nuns sang with great enthusiasm and gusto. All the girls and some of the nuns too had to have their chance to try their hand at the keyboard. Our departure from Villa Maria was accompanied by many hugs and entreaties to return. Late in March, we reluctantly left our Guadalahara ³home² and returned to Mission, TX via short stays in Zacatecas and Saltillo.
We have carried away many indelible memories of Mexico, but most lasting will be the friendliness, helpfulness, and industry of the people of Mexico. Stereotypes of Mexico are sometimes unflattering, but we now know that our friends south of the border are hard-working, artistic, devout, and above all friendly neighbors.