Pan-American Trails part 6

By Jose Porta, Photography by Jose Porta/ Art By Joe Wirling

Through Northern and Central Mexico, Jose Porta fought impossible roads with his motorcycle. From Mazatlan to Mexico City, the elements frowned upon him and he battled rain as well as impassable roads. Yet he pulled into Mexico City more determined than ever to reach his original objective in Central America.

I left Zacapu in the morning and I wrestled all day in deep mud to get to the next village, Comanja. I was exhausted when I got there and I didn’t seem to have the strength to go any farther. It was pouring and the streets were deserted. I drove thru the Plaza and rode under the porch of what seemed to be the Casa Municipal. I saw a barefooted Indian squatting in a corner, away from the rain. A faded straw hat, a torn blanket over his shoulders, he looked pitiful enough to be mistaken for a beggar.

“Where is the Presidente?” I asked him, inquiring about the Mayor of the town, which is preposterously called Presidente.

“I am the Presidente.” He answered quietly.

I made myself known and he bade me enter into his office which was a large bare room in an old building, with a few benches in it and a table.

He was very hospitable and polite, the Presidente was, and everything he had he offered it to me. I slept in his office (?) that night and early in the morning I was ready to leave.

The Presidente was there to see me off. He had been proud of my visit, he said, and he hoped I would have a happy journey, being only sorry that he could not have done more for me. Then he fumbled in his pants’ pocket and he drew out a filthy rag, tied in a knot. He untied it carefully and slowly, drew out a fifty-cent piece and handed it to me, “Take it,” he said “you might need it.”

I couldn’t accept it and I politely refused, although I was touched by this unselfish act. He was poor, of that I was sure. He needed sandals and fifty cents would buy him a nice pair of guaraches. He had complained the night before that he couldn’t walk barefooted in the mud. So I didn’t take the fifty centavos and I left him feeling relieved at the thought that the Presidente of Comanja would have guaraches to wear when it rained.

I wanted to make Morelia before night and I made it, although it wasn’t before night. I drove again all day thru mud and thru countless seemingly unsurmountable obstacles. It was hard driving and slow going. Again it was raining all day long, with a light, steady drizzle Nearing Morelia the road was wide and level and it may have been a highway according to the Mexican Chamber of Commerce, but to me it was just a puddle of mud.

At sundown I was told that I was only a half hour from town, but as it often happens in Mexico, sometimes a half hour can be turned into a day or two. Being without lights I couldn’t see five steps ahead of me, and I missed the road several times and landed in the fields alongside of it and by the time I reached Morelia it was eleven o’clock at night, at which time the mud suddenly ceased and gave way to the paved streets of a nice, clean little city.

I stopped at a cheap meson and had a long restful sleep which lasted until noon the next day. The sun was shining when I got up. It had been over a month since I had seen it shine and it was a most welcome sight to me. If only it would shine for a few days, then the roads would dry and I would arrive in Mexico City without any loss of time. Therefore why should I leave Morelia and go thru all that mud when I could stay there a few days and wait for the sun to dry it all out? Surely I could then make up for lost time.

Vain hope! Next morning when I got up it was raining again and I left Morelia, hating myself for not having left the day before while the sun was shining so nicely.

From Morelia to Mexico City it was the same kind of traveling as I had met since I left Guadalajara. Always and always mud and never a day without rain. I had to cross scores of rivers and brooks and creeks every day. They were not exactly rivers; the enormous amount of water falling from the sky would strike the sides of the mountains washing down everything on its path and meeting on the way down finally to be turned into raging torrents as they struck the valley below. I couldn’t possibly avoid these rampant waters and I never knew where to find them or where not to find them.

I passed Villa Hidalgo, then I lost my way. I had been sent thru a narrow road up a steep mountain but I soon found out that the road was getting more and more impossible. It was a mere path and it was rocky in the extreme. That couldn’t possibly be the automobile road to Mexico City. I met an arriero and I stopped him.

“Is this the road to Aporo?” I inquired.

“Yes, senor, it is.” And he went his way.

I kept on going the best I could. A little while later I met an Indian boy and, still worrying, I put the same question to him and I received the same answer.

“Por Ia Virgen Santisima,” I said, finally blowing up. “How can automobiles go thru this path?”

“Automobiles? No, senor, only burros go here.”

So that was it! Only burros went thru there and, by golly, I was one of them. They had sent me to a shortcut thru the mountains, thinking that a motorcycle could go wherever a horse or a mule goes. But then it was too late to turn back and I managed to reach Aporo, where I bunked for the night.

Another day of mud fighting and I reached Hernandez, a small railroad station, where I spent the night in the yards, cuddled in the midst of a thousand sacks of coal, away from the wind and the rain.

At the end of the next day I was in Zitacuaro where the Presidente put me up in one of the cleanest hotels in the city, and I had all the comforts of an honored guest, in contrast to the bed of coal sacks of the night before.

Another day, more rain and more mud and I was in Toluca a few miles from Mexico City, which meant the end, at least temporarily, of all my hardships and tribulations.

And the next day, on the ninth of September, four months and one day after having left Saint Louis, it was indeed a proud young man who drove a battered and badly smashed up motorcycle thru the crowded streets of Mexico City.

It was the end of my first lap.

I had visited Northern and Central Mexico and I had succeeded in covering all that territory under the power of the motorcycle, a thing which had been considered impossible. From Mazatlan to Mexico City I had traveled continuously under a steady rain which made those impassable roads still more impossible. Yet the motor pulled thru it all. And when I reached Mexico City I patted myself on the back and told myself that I had done enough for a while and that I had deserved a good long rest. The motorcycle was feeling the same way. It needed a complete overhauling and we didn’t reach Mexico City any too soon. The road from Toluca was all paved, still I barely made it. The motor was screeching, the pistons were sticking and the oil was leaking from everywhere. But nothing mattered now. We were in Mexico City and there we would stay until I saw fit to go any farther.

Mexico city is more European than American. Its low buildings, wide avenues and shady parks bespeak a Latin civilization, although it was first founded by the Aztecs, a nomad tribe of prehistoric men who came from the North.

The legend says that they wandered for centuries all over Mexico looking for a suitable place to build their empire. Such a place, the wise men of the Aztecs said, would be showed to them by an eagle poised on a nopal, with a snake in its claws. And so for centuries the Aztecs wandered, looking for such an eagle, and finally at about the year 1200 of our own era, as they reached the valley of Anahuac, in Central Mexico, they stopped in wonder on the shores of Lake Texcoco. There on a small island was a nopal and on that nopal there stood an eagle with a serpent on its bill. Their journey had come to an end and the Aztecs knelt down and thanked their gods for their good fortune, and they built a city on that island, which they called Tenochtitian, the embryo of the Mexico City of today.

Why they should build their city on an island when there were so many suitable spots on terra firma remains a mystery, yet either they showed good judgment or they were in luck, because today Mexico City stands on dry land, the lake on which it was built having gradually evaporated, giving way to a dry plateau.

While in Mexico City I drove twenty-five miles north to Teotihuacan, the center of the Toltec civilization which preceded the Aztec’s. Here again one finds many historic monuments, the most interesting of which are the pyramids of the sun and of the moon, the former being probably the largest structure every built in America by prehistoric man.

I left the motorcycle below and I climbed hundreds of steps until I reached the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. I wanted to know how it felt to be on the same spot where hundreds of years before the Toltecs stood. And I wondered why they built those pyramids. Was it to get nearer to the sun and the stars or was the structure used as a sacrificial temple where young maidens were slaughtered as an offering to their brutal and thirsty gods? Or was it just meant to be an architectural stunt? But after all why should I worry about that? The Toltecs meant no more to me than the King of Siam did and so I drove back to Mexico City and to a show.

Speaking of shows one certainly gets his money’s worth in Mexico. There are bargain days where for thirty centavos one can stay in a show from two o’clock in the afternoon to ten o’clock at night seeing a continuous different program. The pictures are usually from Hollywood and they are spoken in English with Spanish titles. A few of them are spoken in Spanish, having also been produced in Hollywood with a Spanish cast.

But what noisy places these moving picture houses are! Most people take their lunches with them and will eat their raw onions sitting next to you, and during the intermission vendors go up and down the aisles selling sandwiches and drinks.

After the show I usually went out for a walk along the beautiful Paseo del Prado, or I would just ramble thru the crowded streets of Mexico City. Here one doesn’t see the hustle and bustle of the North American cities. People walk slower and take their sweet time. As for me I was still used to rushing and I couldn’t slow down, and I would get sore at the numberless Mexican newsboys or other peddlers who would step right in front of me trying to sell me their goods. Although I didn’t want to buy anything they would walk backwards and stay in my way for half a block until I’d get sore and push them aside only to meet the next boy who would play the same trick on me.

The main object of my stay in the capital was to try to collect the one hundred and seventy-one pesos and thirty-five cents which I left as a deposit for my motorcycle when I entered Mexico thru Laredo. I was told there that I could secure an extension of my three months permit when I reached Mexico City, but try as I may I could never obtain that extension. They would promise it to me and tell me to call again at the office after two or three weeks and finally after two months of waiting I gave up all hope.

While waiting for my passport I made some extra sight-seeing.

I had received some spare parts from the factory and my motorcycle had been thoroughly overhauled and I was once more ready for the road. This time I took the precaution of having a steel plate half an inch thick welded under the frame to protect the motor against all outside knocks. Such a precaution proved to be the best improvement ever made on that motorcycle and it saved its life over and over again.

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By Jose Porta
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