1974 – Mexico

Or, mas cerveza por favor …

About two or three days before Christmas in 1974, I was party to a rash, impulsive and ultimately ill-advised decision to immediately spend the holidays in Mexico.

Packing little more than a change of socks and underwear, a sweater, and plenty of film, along with camera, of course, my photography cohorts, Bill (you’ve met him before) and Mike, and I departed LAX airport for an initial destination of La Paz, near the southern end of the Baja California peninsula.

With no reservations or any measure of planning, we made for the nearest hotel with a vacancy, La Paz Central, an extraordinarily seedy but inexpensive lodging. One night is enough.

A bad night’s sleep, walk around the streets and beach, and we decide to take the ferry on Christmas Eve to leave La Paz behind and seek out Mazatlan on the mainland. The weather turns cold …

The La Paz-Mazatlan ferry is our home for the next 16 or 18 hours, as we cruise across the Sea of Cortez, aka Gulf of California. Many passengers have booked and filled sleeping cabins, so we are left to spend the night crossing on the open deck, sharing space with a handful of night-owls or budget-challenged folk.

Once aboard the ferry, we meet two Dutch world travelers. In a striking gesture of international goodwill, the girls offer to share their sleeping bags with us for warmth. (This, after a measure of time during which they feigned the inability to speak English, or even Spanish, until they had apparently decided that we were merely harmless American fools.) The next many hours were spent passing the tequila bottle around that we had wisely brought aboard, talking and laughing, taking many photographs, solving world problems and trying to catch a few minutes of snooze here and there. It became so cold that everyone brought out all of their extra clothing and totally layered up; Mike took this to the extreme and ended up with a set of boxer shorts worn outside his other clothes. Eventually, Bill loosened up and crawled onto the dog-pile under the sleeping bags to fend off the chill.

Even if we had been able to sleep, we would not have missed the sighting of land in the early morning. Many passengers were up on the deck to join us in greeting the sunrise.

I believe we have a few photos of our brief encounter with Mazatlan (below), but here’s where the document trail goes mostly cold. Following vigorous debate, we decide to press for Mexico City. I clearly recall a terrifying bus ride along a coastal cliff road, then on to higher country and jungle. At Guadalajara, we transfer to a much more modern, but ultimately ill-fated bus for perhaps 12 hours to Mexico City. Within an hour of our departure, that bus’ onboard bathroom became unusable. Wouldn’t have been a complete show stopper, but it seems that our travel companion Mike was suffering from something that he had eaten earlier … Only Yankee ingenuity — the details of which shall be withheld — somewhat saved the day over the next … day.

So while I continue to search for the negatives chronicling the bus travel adventure, we suddenly find ourselves in Mexico City. We stayed in a sort of bed & breakfast that claimed to have once been the lodging of Leon Trotsky (if you don’t remember how he ended up in Mexico, and ended up, I recommend that you see the 1972 “Assassination of Trotsky” film, the 2002 “Frida” film and/or the Mexican “The Chosen”, said to be in production as of 2015, and not to be confused with any number of other films with the same name). So we visited an art gallery, the museum of anthropology (with claims of the best/biggest collection of pre-columbian artifacts anywhere) and Maximillian’s Palace.

Christmas night propounded the agony when our Christmas night dinner left almost everyone ill, myself least stricken as I had judiciously and assiduously substituted tequila for water on all occasions, and, regrettably, most affected was again Mike. As soon as we visited local farmacias the next morning for some stopgap measures, we attempted to immediately fly home. Finding that the quickest way out during the Christmas logjam was back via Guadalajara, we backtracked by bus — a most miserable experience — and eventually touched down, by virtue of a much more satisfactory Aeromexico expedient, in Los Angeles. Again, documentation on this leg is missing but may still exist, somewhere, in my negative archives.

[Rediscovered and assembled on June 4, 2016]