Northern Mexico is a lot like southern California, empty, dry desert nothing much to see. The sky was an unclouded, bright blue, no smog. Traffic on the four-lane highway was light, mostly big trucks going North and trailers and motorhomes full of snowbirds going south. A Beatles 8-track tape played softly. John Mc and Randy were playing cards again. Paul and Gil sat on the floor playing with their trucks and cars. John brooded in the back leaning up against the closet wall, looking at where we’d been.
Just before nightfall, we reached Hermosillo, even then a fairly big and modern town. We used the Sanborn's book to locate a small trailer park on the outskirts of town. No facilities but at least we could pull off the road and feel safe. On one side of the park was a big weed strewn field. Abandoned cars and trucks were scattered through it. On the other a grocery store with a sign out front Panaderia. The delicious aroma of fresh baked pan drifted through the windows into the camper. We walked over to the store to investigate. Paul and John insisted they "Had to have" some churros. These are five to six inch long strips of dough that is squirted through a tube then dropped into hot grease, fried then rolled in sugar. When they are hot and fresh they are delicious. We bought some for all of us. The sweet rolls and fresh bread looked scrumptious too. By the time we left we had four brown bags full of goodies.After supper, while I cleaned up the mess, Bill walked back to the store to change some money. The boys went outside to explore and I settled down to watch Mexican TV. The Donny and Marie show was on. They were speaking Spanish but singing in English. It was funny to watch. Obviously, the talking is dubbed but the singing isn’t.
The door banged open so hard the whole motorhome shook. Almost yanking the screen off it's hinges, John rushed in, “Mom, Mom! Ya gotta come see what we found in one of those trucks! It’s a head! A real head!”
Outside Paul and Gil were bellowing, “MA, MA!”
Great! I went flying out. There was just enough moon light for me to see Randy gesturing and pointing to the back of an old, broken down trailer truck towards the back of the field. Paul and Gil stopped yelling, motioned for me to follow and ran towards the trailer. Once there they stopped and stared past it's shattered doors into the interior of the trailer. Their eyes wide, their mouths hanging open yelling for me to "Hurry!"
Where the heck is Bill? Acting much braver than I felt I plodded over went up on my tiptoes and made myself look into the truck. THERE IS A HEAD IN THERE! I could just make it out. It had a beard, it had glasses, it's seemed familiar….It's John McClung grinning from ear to ear. I turned on the boys who ran in all directions. Bill showed up just in time to save their lives from the wrath of Mom.
Laughing they explained to their Dad what had happened. While exploring they discovered the trailer, it had a hole in the floor so why not put it to good use. They were starting to return too normal.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN (sounds like a song) and heading for the town of Guaymas on San Carlos Bay. Even more desolate road bordered by dirt, rocks, cactus and Joshua trees. We didn't have to leave California to see this. At last something broke the monotony. Off in the hazy distance was a graveyard of old warplanes, hundreds of them. There they sat tires rotting, their paint peeling, some leaning over with one wing touching the ground, like forgotten toys waiting for someone to play with them again.
Again and again we passed fields that were burning or smoldering. The fires and smoke didn’t seem to concern anyone. There were no frantic farmers or fire trucks. After a heated discussion that lasted at least 20 miles, it was decided that it must be a method of clearing the fields. One of the things we would have to get used to.
We saw lots of animals on the road: cows, dogs, rabbits, horses and some that couldn’t be identified. The guidebook said not to drive at night now we understood why. The pavement keeps the heat during the night so the animals sleep on the road. That explains why so many we saw were DEAD. Guess there’s no animal control there to clean up dead or dying animals. At first it upset the boys then they became fascinated by the different stages dead animals passed through.
Paul really got into it, watching for more carcasses. He summed the whole process up in a few well-chosen words “First they swell up, like hairy balloons with legs. Then the birds and flies eat them. Gross! Look that one has maggots. Then only the bones and a little hair is left.” He spent a couple hours pouting because Dad wouldn’t stop and let him pick up some bones.
I remember one of Bill’s arguments for the trip. They would learn something new every day. Oh Yeah!
Another new thing we learned was to time your trips to the bathroom to coincide with straight stretches of the highway. This was especially important for the boys as Gil pointed out after using the bathroom while we went around a sharp curve. Coming out of the bathroom he shared his experience with us, “Jeez Dad. Drive more careful, you made me pee all over the wall.” Of course, Paul and John had to go look. I hoped they weren't thinking about turning this into a game.
At Guaymas, we parked right on the beach on the Gulf of California and stayed for two marvelous relaxing days. Just like kids with new toys, Bill, Randy and John Mc had to put up the complete camp for the first time. Both tents, sleeping and screen were drug off the trailer and put up. The tables and grill and the rubber raft came out. They also put up the screen tent that attached to the side of the motorhome. It was a devil to unfold and hook up so this was the first, last and only time we used it on the entire trip. I thought it was great, the shade kept the inside cooler and it kept the files out. While we camped Bill was the chief cook and I am the chief bottle washer. If necessary I could also handle small things like cereal and sandwiches.
Everything worked: the refrigerator and microwave; the toilet and the shower; the TV and the blow dryer. All the comforts of home compacted into 24 feet. We turned the generator on for a while to watch TV, but before long we all ended up outside watching the sun slip into the cobalt waters of the Gulf. Somewhere way to the North there was an electrical storm. We watched the lightening but couldn’t hear the thunder. It was spectacular and went on for an hour.
At last! Everyone got to spread out for the night. John Mc, Randy and John pulled their sleeping bags into the tent. Paul and Gil stayed inside with us; each on a separate bed. They staked out their territory. One slept on the bunk, the other on the dinette seats. They wouldn’t admit it but I think the “head” thing kind of spooked them, even though they were in on the joke. Imagination can play tricks on you when you’re in a strange place.
The next day the sky was a dazzling blue and the sun warm, another beautiful day. Bill and the boys took turns with the foot pump inflating the rubber raft. Then they spent hours paddling around in the crystal-clear waters of the gulf. They said they could see the sandy bottom and all kinds of colorful fish swimming around. Even a sand shark who got agitated when Paul prodded him with an oar.
I curled up with my Victoria Holt novel. Life was not bad.
The boys were already starting to pick up some Spanish words. Especially Paul, he wasn't happy unless he was talking to someone, Gil tagged right along with him.
Another American family camping near by told us the trailer and other stuff (tents, boat and grill) would be fine if we wanted to leave them and go shopping or sightseeing. This brings home that we were in a different country now; things couldn’t be left unattended back home in California. So we decided to take the motorhome and drive into town to get a few groceries. To do this, the tent that was attached to the side had to be unhooked, folded up and tied down. (When we got back to camp this tent was packed away forever.)
There was a supermercado not far from the beach. Everyone picked up what looked good to him or her. I made sure we got the essentials: bread, milk, fruit and salami. The checker rang everything up and gave us a smile and the total $197.90. WOW! For milk and fruit! There had to be something wrong. Oh, it’s in pesos not dollars (about $9 U.S.) The conversion rate in '78 was 22 pesos per U.S. dollar.
We had to learn a whole new measuring system too; gas milk and soda came in liters, meat and vegetables in grams and kilos, and distance in kilometers. The speed limit signs said 110 - kilometers that is - not miles. In miles it’s still about 70 mph.
Time to leave. We were up with the sun at 7 and it took until 9 to get everything loaded and repacked. In retrospect we should have taken a picture of the trailer so we could remember where everything was stuffed. Finally everything was back in place and we headed south again leaving the peaceful beach behind.
The 253-mile drive to Los Mochis took seven boring hours. According to the signs and Sanborn's book we passed through several big Indian reservations. But didn’t see any sign of life, neither house nor Indian. There was a lot of livestock wandering back and forth across the highway. Slow plodding skinny black and white cows and proud big horned, tan bulls. They would stop on the pavement in front of us and dare us to blow the horn at them. Somewhere there must have been buildings and cowboys, but we never saw any. Just miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles of nothing.
“Dad! Look out. Slow down. Here comes a Tope,” Randy yelled as we all braced ourselves.
That’s one sign we learned to recognize after the first time. It meant we were coming to a really nasty speed bump. The bumps resembled cannon balls half buried in the asphalt. They definitely got our attention. When we went over one everything inside shook and rattled and the trailer would bounce for the next five miles.
This one was a warning to slow down for the federal inspection station up ahead. As we started to pull over a soldier came out and waved us on.
What’s going on? Good we didn’t want to be inspected again anyway.
Out of the blue Airstreams, Airstreams, and more silver, bullet-shaped Airstreams full of “old” people were passing us. There had to be 100 or more. Jeeps, station wagons and Cadillacs were pulling them. The license plates were from Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. And some were even towing cars! Men drive most - women some, all waved as they passed. Bill finally pulled over and stopped so they could all get by us.
“There must not be any old fogies left up there,” comments Randy. “They’ve all loaded up their trailers and are headed down here. Sun City on the move.”
In Los Mochis our luck held and we found a nice RV park to spend the night in. It had his and her shower rooms and a pool (cold water), only $90 pesos a day. The weather was getting warmer as we traveled further south so the boys could sleep outside with just sleeping bags. Everyone had their own sleeping bag (except me, I had a bed and didn't need one.) John Mc and Randy use green army issue mummy bags they bought in a surplus store. John, Paul and Gil had new nylon ones all different colors. God forbid they should crawl into someone else’s. John says he could tell the difference by “the stink.”
After setting up camp we made our customary trip to the market. There wasn't any milk in the store's refrigerators. When Bill asked where it was, he was told, “The cows aren’t giving milk because there has been too much rain.”
Okay. That must have lost something in the translation. Never did get another explanation, nor did we find any milk.
Back at camp everyone grabbed clean clothes and headed for the showers. I was really looking forward to a nice hot, strong shower. The one in the motorhome does the job but it would be nice to stand under a full hot stream of water that I don’t have to keep turning off and on. I arrived at the shower building, went inside, piled my clothes on a stool, got under the faucet and turned on the hot water faucet. Jeeze - it’s cold, hum maybe they're mixed up, I turned on the cold faucet, and it’s colder. There wasn’t any hot water left. I took a very quick very short very cold shower. The heck with the hair. When I got back to the motorhome with my lips blue and my body covered with goose bumps everyone else was talking about how good the hot water felt, “Right Mom?”
“Shut up.” I growled.
It was still light so we walked down by a little river that ran past the campground. Several fishermen sat on lawn chairs or wooden crates with lines in the water, their bottles of beer on the grass next to them. One, dressed only in cut off jeans and a straw hat, pointed to his bucket and asked if we wanted some of his catch. Before anyone else could answer I replied, “No Thanks”. Back at the camper Bill fixed hamburgers on the grill. As usual Randy wanted his practically raw. It’s funny how things cooked outside smell and taste so good. As much as possible we used paper plates and drank out of cans or cartons so clean up was usually pretty easy.
Gulf of California
Gulf of California at Guaymas
Driving our motorhome from Hermosillo to Los Mochis on the Pan American Highway