Thursday, November 19, 2009

How I Met a Good Friend from Canada, Excuse Me, from Quebec: Mexico 1990

I had already been to Tijuana, had already taken a Tres Estrellas bus from that border town to La Paz in Baja Sur where I spent a few days, I'd taken the ferry across the Sea of Cortez to Mazatlan where I immediately took a cab to the bus station in that resort town--I did not want to stay in Mazatlan--and after some confusion, got on a bus headed south to Tepic. I was traveling alone in Mexico, doing it on the cheap without solid plans. My Spanish was less than so-so. I'd never been to Mexico before, had never really been out of the country except to drive through British Columbia and the Yukon to get to Alaska. So, in Tepic I was at this little bustling and discombobulating bus station (all Mexican bus stations seemed to be this way to me) trying to figure out how to get to the small Pacific-seaside town of San Blas.
The station was narrow and crowded and though I'd been in Mexico for a while by then, I felt lost. I wasn't real sure how I could get a bus from Tepic to the little town, but then I saw someone in the station that was not Mexican. I figured he was an American (a United States-ian?--really, we of the north and south continents are all Americans if you think about it), so I approached him and asked him if he knew how to get to San Blas.
He was a guy about my age, medium build (I'm tall, more or less) and almost bald. He smiled, was receptive, but English was not his first language. French was, because he was from Montreal. Okay. But of course, he understood and spoke English, so it wasn't much of a problem.
"I am going there, too," he said.
His name was Francis. We introduced ourselves and we bought tickets. San Blas was not far from Tepic and Francis had been there before, a few years ago. he was also traveling alone and--seeing as how we got along well enough--we decided to get a room together once we got to San Blas. He said he knew this great seaside hotel there.
Francis' English was good, though a little thick. He taught me some French (which I had taken one semester of at Iowa before switching back to Spanish) and he was a good, intelligent and pleasant fellow. So, we took the short ride into San Blas--a groovy little town with business' and a square, a beach--and got our luggage and began to walk. He knew where we were going, he knew of this hotel.
I was married but Fru had gone to visit family in Illinois while I went on my solo trip, and we had been living in Missoula, Montana for a few years, so walking down the street of the town, then down a sandy-dirt road lined by palms and pastures with longhorn cattle in them, was very interesting to me. It was sunny and hot. It was good to talk with someone after being alone for days. And finally we came to this hotel along the beach--forget the exact name of it but it translated as the Brothers Hotel or Three Brothers Hotel: Hermosas or Tres Hermosas Hotel. But this place didn't look so grand, not like he had described it. In fact, it looked dilapidated, it looked abandoned. Francis was a bit confused. The landscaping was all overgrown, there were no cars or anyone to greet us, fountains were still and weed-choked. In the lobby, which was large and open, everything was dirty, dusty, empty. We went to the counter and rang a bell--then up popped this guy, a slovenly guy but funny looking. He surprised us both and we laughed a bit. He said his name was Antonio.
Antonio was drunk.
But, Antonio checked us in--sort of--and took us to a room.
Francis and I made many jokes about Antonio after that, through the rest of the week and even years (I still know Francis and now and then we still make references to Antonio, to the trip in San Blas). The room was horrible. Door did not lock. Water did not really run. The two beds were so ugly I did not even pull back the covers that night, but slept on top of them. Francis was apologetic--a few years ago this had been a wonderful cheap hotel on the beach. Now it was a run-down piece of crap, but still on the beach and cheap. We met a few other Americans there--hipster-like Californians--but they were all stoned out of their gourds.
We spent only the one night there and the next day we took a place in town, Maria's, which was like a family place, like a hostel in a way, full of fellow foreigners. It was fine. It was fun.
So Francis and I became good friends. We walked around the town, ate at the cafes, drank in the bas, met other people in the town.
I left before Francis did--by a day or so. I think maybe he was taking the train to Guadalajara then flying home. I took the bus all the way from San Blas to Nogales--man that was a long trip (and then the bus from Nogales to Missoula).
But Francis and I stayed in touch. I was surprised. And after we moved back to Champaign, he came and visited. This was after our first child--First Daughter--was born and we drove up to Chicago to get him at the airport. We stayed at Don's, who lived in Chicago by then. And Francis came to Champaign and stayed with us, learning about my new family. . .But, who wants to come to Champaign, Illinois for a vacation and spend it mainly sitting around the house watching a one year old? Francis did, I guess. he came and visited a number of time in Champaign. And then later in Fort Lauderdale (which makes more sense). And we went, unfortunately only once so far, to Montreal to visit him.
But in that bus station in Tepic in Mexico, when I thought I was asking a question of a fellow American, I had no idea that I'd meet one of my best friends, some guy from Canada--excuse me, from Quebec, as Francis is a separatist and we talked much about this in Mexico--who I still know to this day and who still comes to visit.
Strange how some things happen.

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