Many years ago, I traveled to Mazatlan with two friends. I vividly remember the trip to Mazatlan in the relative luxury of a sleeper car on the train. It was the first time I had taken a sleeper car on a train, and I loved it. Being rocked to sleep by the motion of the train in privacy and comfort was pure luxury. This was my first real trip into Mexico, and I was thrilled.
I woke in the early morning to find that we were pulling into the station in Mazatlan and hurried to throw my things into my backpack and exit the train. As we descended the steps onto the platform, the three of us were mobbed by vendors. My friends were somewhat overwhelmed by the vendors. However, I had two words of bad Spanish and used them vigorously. “No moleste!” The vendors left me alone.
We then took a cab to our hotel on the “Gold Coast” of the town, a strip of sand, sea, and tourists. I was slightly disappointed by the number of English Speakers. I wanted Mexico, not Las Vegas on the ocean. My friends were in heaven, beer and beach was their only requirement. I spend two days trying to stay put. I didn’t last long.
Enthusiastically I tried to sell my friends on coming with me up into the hills. I had found a tour to a small town about fifty miles from the Gold Coast, and I wanted to go. I was nervous enough that I wanted my friends tagging along with me. They were not interested—no adventures for them. After steeling my nerves, I signed up for the tour.
The small tour bus labored up the steep mountain roads and came to a stop by the town square. Now here was Mexico! I was delighted and a bit scared. But I was brave and adventurous (I imagined). We, tourists, were taken to a restaurant and presented with a large lunch of somewhat Americanized Mexican food, but I was not above eating it. At lunch, I started talking with two men, obviously friends, one American, and one Mexican. The American invited me to dinner at his house. He was in his mid-sixties and seemed mild-mannered. I decided to go.
I told the tour operator that I would not be returning with the tour, he was fine with this. I also decided to book a room in the only hotel in town, knowing that I would be ending dinner too late to take any bus back to Mazatlan.
I was immensely proud of myself. I was so brave.
The hotel was a cute, traditional Mexican hotel with high outer walls and an inner courtyard. My room was decorated in early French bordello with red flocked velvet wallpaper and ancient stuffed imitation Louis XIV chairs. I was amused and unconcerned.
Off I went to dinner. We sat on the outside terrace and viewed the sunset. The man who I will call Charlie told me his story. He had owned a large car dealership in Phoenix, Arizona. He stated that he was busy and stressed, and on his second divorce. Charlie woke one day to a heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital and obviously survived to tell me his story. His doctor told him he had to make changes, or he would be dead in five years. Charlie took his doctor seriously. He sold the dealership and moved to Mexico. He said sadly, “My doctor died ten years ago. I guess he didn’t take his own advice.”
His house was simple, adobe with Saltillo tile floors and a large porch overlooking the valley. He enthusiastically described the rehab project that he chose to take on when he bought the house. The furniture was sturdy Mexican wood, and there were four medium sized rooms. Most likely, I thought, a far cry from his former home in Scottsdale. The house was lovely and comfortable and cozy. The dinner he fixed was classic Sonoran cuisine, simple and filling. I had a great time talking as the night set in. At about nine, I headed back to my hotel.
That is when the trouble started.
The hotel’s front door was locked, and the key I had did not fit the lock. It was pitch dark, and no one was around. For a moment, I thought of returning to Charlie’s house up the hill and then paused and decided I could solve this problem. I wandered around the hotel, which was a square with high walls. On the northeast side of the hotel across the street, there was a little grocery store open. I walked in and pantomimed being locked out of my hotel. The proprietor smiled and gestured to a gentleman stating that he would help. Remember, it was pitch dark, and I knew no one in town but Charlie.
The gentleman walked with me to the back of the hotel and asked to see my key. All of this was said in Spanish, so how I understood anything, I have no idea. I gave him the key. He smiled and walked to a door that opened onto the alley. He inserted the key, and the door opened, and there was my room bordello décor and all. I thanked him and entered the room.
Shaken, I decided that I had a lot to learn. Hours later, I finally got to sleep.
Suddenly, jarred from sleep, in the early morning hours, I heard a scratching at the door. In terror, I sat up. The clock said 4 am, and sure enough, there was scratching at the door. Someone was trying to get in. I decided that the entire town knew I was alone, and now someone was coming to get me. Fears of cartels and random rapists ran through my mind. I stared at the door. The noise continued. I stood up and shakily grabbed a large stick that was next to the door. I had not noticed it before and wondered if some other woman had placed it there for protection and warning. I gripped the stick. The assault on the door continued.
Slowly, with heart-pounding, I went to the door. There was no way to look out. I decided the stick would serve me, especially if the unwary assailant was unprepared for my assault. I grabbed the door handle and quickly opened the door, and then glanced down. A small pig stared up at me and then tried to enter the room. There were no marauders, only the tiny pig. I wasn’t sure about the policy on pigs in the hotel. I decided that the pig and fake French furniture didn’t really go well together.
About the time the little pig was trying to get past my legs, a door on the other side of the alley opened, and an older woman with a broom started yelling at the little pig. The pig looked at me and then scurried back across the alley and into her open door. The woman looked at me, smiled, and said, “Lo siento.” She closed the door.
I collapsed with laughter at my assailant, the tiny pig.
I never did get back to sleep but early that morning took a local bus filled with commuters into Mazatlan.The people on the bus were polite, the bus was packed, and the crowd was patient when the bus we were on stalled and died.
Eventually, I returned to the Gold Coast, delighted with my experience of small-town Mexico.
I have never forgotten Charlie or the pig.