So far, we had spent about $700 U.S. of our $4500 we started with. (I didn't know how much money we had - or rather didn't have - when we started the trip. I didn't find out until years later. )
We were driving through mountains again but the weather was cooler now that we were at a higher altitude. The road was a little wider, however as usual there were no shoulders and here and there pieces of the edge of the asphalt have broken off leaving a drop off of a few inches to the sandy dirt.
There wasn't very much traffic so we were making pretty good time, about 55/60 miles an hour. . Bill was driving, I was sitting in the front seat reading about Mexico City, Paul and Gil were playing a game on the floor and John was in the back sleeping. Randy and John Mc were playing cribbage on the table right behind me. A tape played quietly in the background. It was a nice day, cooler and a little overcast. I was looking forward to spending time in Mexico City.
Suddenly all hell broke lose. As near as we could make out when talking about it later, one of the right wheels of the motorhome went over a section of the road where a chunk had broken off, (or a chunk broke off when the motorhome went over it) and the wheel dropped off the pavement. As the motorhome jerked and Bill moved the wheel to compensate the trailer hit the same hole and begin to fishtail. Bill fought the wheel. But the trailer had control; it was pushing and pulling us all over the road. The trailer tried to go one-way and the motorhome another; causing them to twist and buck like frightened horses.
INSTANT CHAOS. Everything was pitching from side to side. There were dreadful bangs and cracks. It sounded like every joint and seam in the motorhome was coming apart. Everything inside that wasn't tied down was airborne. The TV flew off its rack just missing John in the back bed. The metal canisters shot off the counter; their lids separated as they bounced off and hit the floor. Flour, sugar and coffee formed a cloud in the air. Paul and Gil were tossed around like rag dolls. Their game went every which way. With a screech the microwave slid out of the cupboard and dangled by its cord, one corner just touching the floor. Cupboard doors exploded open; the contents spilled out. They slammed shut and flew open again, each time more coming out. The lock on the refrigerator door broke with a crack; catsup, fruit, lettuce, milk…everything flew out to bounce off the opposite wall and fall to the floor. The motion and the noise were terrifying. It seems like it would never stop. Drawers continued to bang open, and then slam shut. Dishes, pots and pans bounced off each other then the counters and walls to crash to the floor where they continue their crazy dance. No one made a sound; everything happened so fast and it was too frightening.
As quickly as the nightmare began it stopped.
Somehow we had remained upright and on the pavement. In the silence, I could hear Bill’s breathing as he leaned his head on the wheel.
I picked myself up from the floor under the dashboard and looked around. Whatever was not bolted down was on the floor. The boys were scattered all over. Still no one spoke or moved. We were all too stunned. Paul and Gil, who were next to the kitchen counter, were covered with flour and sugar. As I went towards them Gil started to cry with no sound--big tears rolled down his cheeks leaving streaks through the flour. John Mc and Randy extract themselves from the jumble of items that fell on them from the bunk bed. The cribbage board was nowhere in sight and the table they were playing on had tore lose from the wall. They looked as pale as I felt. John shouted for help. He was trying to hold the big back window in. It was not broken but it had twisted out of its frame and was half in and half out of the motorhome.
No one had been hurt. The motorhome was in one piece and the trailer was still attached and upright. Inside: every drawer was on the floor; all the cupboards were empty; the bathroom smelled like every bottle in there broke. As I look at the mess and realized we were all okay I started to laugh. I thought we had left earthquakes in California, but I guess we brought one with us. Everyone but Bill joined in. He was still slumped over the steering wheel, shaken and utterly exhausted. Later he told me he could look straight down at the pavement out of his side window and that he didn’t think we were going to make it. Thank God he was driving, how he managed to keep us on the road was a mystery and a miracle.
The mess defies description. There was not one thing that was where it belonged and not one area that wasn't coated with flour or sugar. Looking at the floor by the refrigerator, I was sure glad we ate the watermelon the day before.
The engine came to life, we were moving again, slowly. Bill found a place where we could safely pull off the road and we started to clean up what we could. Randy went up on the roof; everything was still there and looked okay. When we reached Mexico City we would do a complete job. The boys put the back window back in its frame and held it there with good old duct tape. It would have to be repaired or replaced. The TV and microwave went back where they belonged both still worked. In an hour we were back on the road, none the worse for our “hootchy-cootchy." We were a more subdued group than before. How quickly things can go wrong. Gil, Paul and John dropped off to sleep. Randy, John Mc and I were still trying to put things away and wipe up.
I didn't mention this in my next letter home.
The weather had turned colder and it started to rain just before we reach the out skirts of the city about dusk. This was unexpected.
Mexico City is huge. Using our trusty guidebook, we located a RV park right in the middle of the city. On one side of it was a stone building that was over 400 years old. The stones were black with age and covered with dark green moss. According to the guidebook it was used as a prison during the Conquistador times. The park had hooks up for water, electricity, and sewer. Also there were nice shower rooms, with lots of hot water. The spaces were narrow, but there weren't many campers there so we could unhook the trailer and put it in a spot next to us. This was the first time we had to use our electricity converter to run the refrigerator and microwave. The electricity was 210 instead of 120.
There was no room for the tent so everyone had to sleep inside while we were there. No one complained. We started cleaning right away, especially the floor. That night we just crashed (bad choice of words). Everyone gave some sort of Thanks before going to sleep. The next day would be a very busy day.
There was ice on the windows and roof when we woke up. What happened to the tropical weather? It had been really cold during the night; after all it was still winter in the Northern Hemisphere. We had to dig out our heavy coats again; we just packed them while we were in Mazatlan.
A good part of the day was spent putting the motorhome back together. Thank goodness for the plastic covering the carpets. I can’t imagine even trying to get the mess out of the shag we would have had to tear it out. We made a list of what needed replacing: flour, sugar, salt, etc. etc. We should have scraped some of it off Paul and Gil. The guys put the back window in with caulking, screws and duck tape. It seemed like it might be okay. We were lucky it just twisted out and didn’t break. Everything still worked and as far as we could tell no major damage was done to the structure of the motorhome. The skin wasn't ripped; nothing bulged or sagged where it shouldn't have. We were leaking though. Water was coming in through the ceiling, probably from where the trunks were bolted to the roof. Randy went up to re-caulk all the screw and bolt holes.
Towards afternoon, we decided to take a break so we rented a Volkswagen bus to do some sightseeing.
Let me tell you right away. I did not see much as I was too busy hiding under the dashboard. Bill kept saying “Take a picture of that, take a picture of that!” I'd peek up over the dashboard and take a quick look. That -- was a building made entirely of blue and white ceramic tile. It was just magnificent. I took a chance and pulled my eyes off the road for a bit and looked in the guidebook. The building is called “The House of Tiles”. It is made entirely of tiles brought from Spain in 1708. Even the kids were in awe of it. My concentration quickly went back to the road! I just knew he wouldn't be able to navigate this traffic without my help.
“Look out where you're going. Why don’t you park this thing and let us out of here before we're all dead. You want pictures, let me out!” Looking back I'm surprised we didn't have more fights than we did on the trip. I certainly nagged enough.
If anyone had told me that driving in Mexico City was worse than driving on the highway I would have laughed. Well, I wasn't laughing then. There must be 10 million Volkswagen Bugs in the city and they all wanted to be precisely where we were going. I have never seen so many little, brightly colored automobiles in my life. Now I know why they call them “bugs."
All over the city there are wonderful statues, they are on little islands right in the middle of the intersections. The road makes a circle around the island and there are seven or eight avenues radiating off from each circle. You have to be real quick and know where you’re going or you’ll be driving around the same circle the rest of your life. On our first trip around a circle next to us was a car from Colorado, the driver, a man, was gritting his teeth, the woman was gesturing and shouting. The kids had their faces plastered against the windows and were both crying. They were still going around when we finally managed to get off.
“This is better than an E Ride at Disneyland!” observed Randy. Good, he can sit up front, with his knees right next to the bumper. Everyone else was pretty quiet; whether from fear or fascination I couldn't tell. Actually it was a good thing we rented this and weren't trying to get around in the motorhome. A lot of the streets right downtown are still cobblestone and very narrow.
“How come everyone is going the other way Dad?” Gil wanted to know.
I was wondering the same thing, but had the presence of mind not to mention it. But even I could understand the gestures we were getting. Then we discovered why. We were on a one-way street going the wrong direction. The one-way streets weren't marked. If you were from the City you knew which ones they were, if you weren't Good Luck. We needed a better map as soon as possible.
Another thing, there are no stop signs at the smaller intersections. The first vehicle to blink his lights at the intersection had the right of way. The law of THE BIGGEST worked here too, so sometimes the crossing could get pretty interesting. It came down to who had the most/biggest cojones.
Up ahead we saw the buildings of the University of Mexico. They are absolutely magnificent. I still don’t have words to describe them. At least ten of the buildings are completely decorated with mosaic murals depicting the history of Mexico. What a pleasure it must be to attend classes there. I wish we could have spent more time looking at them.
“DAD! A Pizza Hut! DAD! Time to eat.” This from John who never wants to eat anything. A sight from home was just too much to pass up.
We found a parking place and went in all drooling with the thought of pizza. Well, this was not Pizza Hut, as we knew it. It was extremely expensive and the pizza had a very strange tasting sauce, more like chili. Never know unless you try. After eating, we went into a big market that was right next door. It had food, clothing, auto parts and anything else you think you might need. There was even a Laundromat attached. Luckily we had thrown all the dirty clothes in the VW in hopes of finding a laundry. We all traipsed into the market where I pulled out my list and started to buy the things we had to replace. Bill suggested I go do the laundry and he and the kids would do the shopping. We got the clothes and they left me at the laundry. After loading all the clothes into washers (almost every washer in the place) I went back into the store. I passed Randy and John Mc looking at clothes. John and Paul were looking at toys, and Bill was still putting groceries in the cart.
“What do you mean, ‘Where’s Gil?’” Bill came back with.
“What do you mean, what do I mean, ‘Where’s Gil?’ He’s supposed to be with you.” We left the half filled grocery cart and started scouring the store, as we came across the boys we sent them out in search of a frightened, little, seven year old boy who can’t speak Spanish, lost in a huge, foreign market. I ran back to the Laundromat to check on the clothes. There were two women at the back of the room, one was ironing and the other mending. They could tell that I was upset and (I think) asked me what was the matter. My Spanish was almost nonexistent, but I was so worried I needed to talk to someone. I tried to explain to them that I had lost my son in the market. From the startled looks on their faces, the clicking of their tongues and the fact that they were backing away from me, I think I may have said something else.
A few minutes later Randy, John Mc and Gil came to get me. They found him sitting on the floor looking at comic books in the back of the store. He didn't know he was lost.
“I knew where I was Mom. Why didn’t you just come get me?” He couldn't understand why everyone was so upset.
When I told Bill about my conversation with the women he almost fell over laughing. According to him I said something like, “My eye is gone in the market.” Oho…hijo - eye..son, sounded the same to me. No wonder they looked at me so strange.
We bought Randy (Randy - of the blue jeans only Randy?) a new pair of pants, beige and close fitting, dress type, only $13 US. Then waited while his boots were re-soled and the toes of John Mc's shoes re-stitched.
By the time we were back in the VW it was dark so we decided to drive around the Zona Rosa, at that time it was the main tourist section of the city, very upscale and fancy, reminded me of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. I didn't have to worry that the stores were closed. I wouldn’t be shopping there anyway.
There were Federales all over. Everywhere you looked were soldiers with guns. Guarding buildings, inside and out, riding in army trucks and just walking around. It was so strange to see this, I don't remember the last time I saw a soldier let alone one with a gun. The scary thing was they held their guns as if they were ready to use them. One thing you didn't do was point your finger at them and say “Bang!” This was not a game. Randy and John Mc were impressed.
Campground right in Mexico City
Building at the University
Very old tile house
Some of the ruins right downtown Mexico City