Spring break road trip teaches college kid about Spanish heritage

Posted: Friday, July 28, 2006

If you want to take a vacation to Mexico today, you would most likely go all the way by a comfortable jet airline, probably with the logo of Alaska Airlines on the side.

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Over 50 years ago, I took a very different ride. As a student at the University of Oregon in Eugene, two of my classmates and I decided, during spring break, to visit the southwestern United States, particularly the state of Arizona. I had a secondhand Chevrolet sedan to provide the transportation.

We got to Tucson, and the car broke down; we had to leave it at a garage for repairs for two or three days.

We decided to venture into Mexico and crossed the border at Nogales, just as the train was pulling out of the station. We ran to catch up and hop aboard. It traveled slowly at about 20 to 30 miles an hour. After eight hours, we reached Guaymas on the Sea of Cortez.

We went to an outdoor movie. There were four walls, but there was no roof; so we sat under the deep blue sky and the shimmering stars. They were playing "Zapata." When Marlon Brando first appeared, made up as a fierce patriot of Mexico, the crowd gasped.

Emiliano Zapata was one of the heroes of the Mexican Revolution in the second decade of the 1900s. He led an army of poor peons from the South. Pancho Villa was the leader of the Army of the North.

The next day, we took the bus to Hermosilla, the capital of the northern state of Sonora, to spend the night.

In the morning, we boarded the bus for the trip back to the United States. The bus was packed, and the crowd was very loud and celebratory. There was a large family - a mother, father and several children. One of the boys was a dwarf. They all seemed very happy. When we crossed the border into the US, the people seemed to become still, and we traveled on to Tucson mostly in silence. I reflected that there was something grand about the exuberance of the Spanish people and that our heritage in America was perhaps tinged with the grim and quiet virtues of the pilgrims.

We still had a day to wait for the car, so we headed to the University of Arizona. Wherever you walked on the campus, the air was fragrant with the perfume of flowers. The kindly janitor let us spend the night in the student center.

Then it was, as it is inspiring to say when you travel along the highways of America,

"On the Road Again,

On the Road Again."

• Lifelong Alaskan Elton Engstrom is a retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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