Here’s What Happened On Spring Break In Mexico

Roxanne Hale

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“Two Tickets to Guadalajara, please.” I placed thirty-two American dollars on the ticket counter and took a deep breath. “Wow. Are we really doing this?” My friend shifted her backpack and grabbed the tickets off the counter in front of me. “Why the heck not?” Carrie shrugged.

It was Spring Break, after all, and we weren’t the kind of girls to follow the crowds. Instead of caravanning to Port Aransas or Galveston like everyone else we knew, we decided to make our own adventure and take a train through the interior of Mexico. Maybe hit the beaches in Puerto Vallarta - if we made it that far.

We stood on the platform with a handful of other people waiting to board. Ten nuns got seated first. Some guy with a caged chicken went next. A drifter in flip flops made of tire rubber climbed aboard. Then us. I picked two seats in the back, away from everyone else, and spread out. It was supposed to be a day’s worth of travel with a couple of stops along the way.

The Mexican border is a two-hour drive from my hometown. I didn’t actually speak the language, but I knew enough Spanish to order my favorite foods and find the bano. Despite reports of narco murders, we’d often paid our fifty cents to cross the border to go shopping in the markets in Nuevo Laredo and drink margaritas at the famous Cadillac Bar. We’d never felt even a little unsafe, which is why I must have thought it would be no big deal for two twenty-something girls to travel alone through Mexico.

My travel companion was a care-free spirit who had dropped out of high school her sophomore year. Even though she was barely five feet tall and weighed around a hundred pounds, she wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone. She worked at the same diner I did. When she wasn’t working, Carrie spent her free time lost in fantasy fiction novels and daydreaming about traveling the world. And drinking.

Carrie and I were exact opposites. She lived her life without a plan, but I always had every detail buttoned down. She didn’t sweat the little things (or the big things), but I did. I’d saved up a little over five hundred dollars for our Spring Break misadventure and planned it out to the minute. I’m not exactly sure how much money Carrie had on her, and I felt certain all she had in her travel pack was a bikini and some weed.

We were half-way into our trip when the train’s engine started having trouble. It was still moving forward but at a snail’s pace. The nuns had started singing hymns an hour into the ride to pass the time, and they hadn’t stopped. It was charming – at first. Carrie comically joined them for a couple of songs, even though she didn’t know Spanish. The air conditioning never kicked on, so it was steaming hot in our train car. Carrie had given me grief about packing so much food, but now she was eying my stash of bagels.

The trip wasn’t off to a great start. I spent most of my time watching cactus go by from the back of the train car where it was cooler, while Carrie smoked cigarettes she would bum off the drifter and drank out of a bottle she had stashed in her bag.

Two days later, at nightfall, we arrived in Guadalajara. The city is home to five million people and spread out in all directions for miles. A sea of white and blue lights as far as you could see. It was captivating. I don’t know if it was the boredom of the train ride or the excitement of being in such a huge city, but I felt energized and ready to have a little fun.

We booked a room in a rundown hotel near the train depot and dropped our bags on the bed. Carrie and I wandered the streets until we found a bar that looked interesting to us. We passed an old man in a sombrero sitting by the door with a donkey on a leash on our way in. I gave the donkey’s head a pat and tossed a “see ya fella” his way, and followed the music inside.

This wasn’t some tourist spot. It was where the locals came to party. We stuck out immediately, mostly because we were young American white girls but also because we looked lost. Carrie quickly ordered us two tequila shots and we tried not to make a scene.

Before long, we found some dance partners. And more tequila. And more dancing. Then someone invited us to dance on top of the bar. Carrie didn’t really need an invitation and hoped right up, but I took some begging. Once I finally agreed, it felt amazing to be that carefree. Dancing on a bar is pretty damn fun. They even played the “Macarena” for us. Pretty soon the whole place joined in on the fun.

The old Mexican man from the front door wandered in with his donkey and ordered a beer. Maybe it was the tequila talking or just a desire to shed twenty years of being an introvert, but I jumped down from my dancing spot and offered him ten dollars for a ride around the bar on his donkey. Before I knew it, I was astride this animal and taking it for a spin around the place. Together, we bumped into tables and knocked over drinks. Maybe the patrons were used to these kinds of shenanigans because they didn’t seem bothered. In fact, they seemed to enjoy it. For another ten bucks, I bought the sombrero right off the old man’s head. He seemed to think it was hilarious and laughed at me through missing teeth.

That’s when I fell off the donkey. I don’t remember much after that. I woke up the next day with a huge hangover, but not Carrie. True to form, she was perfectly fine. There she was sitting at the end of the bed in her bikini and cut off shorts wearing a beat-up sombrero. She handed me a couple of aspirin and said, “Shake it off, sister. We're going to miss our bus.”

I managed to make it down to the street with all my stuff. I looked like hell. We had just turned the corner when the hotel clerk came running up behind us with a donkey. “Senora! Senora! Your Donkey!” he said, handing me the leash. Holy cow. What? And then a fuzzy memory of me asking that old man if I could buy his donkey rose to the surface. “Will $500 bucks do it? Do you take traveler's checks?” Then we shook on it.

I owned a donkey!

Carrie thought it was hilarious. Without missing a beat, she climbed up on our new pet and asked for directions to the nearest Western Union office.

We did make it down to Puerto Vallarta that trip and had a blast thanks to her brother’s timely wire transfer. We traded Bruno The Donkey for a couple of brand-new ponchos on our way out of town. It was a crazy trip. I’m glad we didn’t get murdered, and I probably wouldn’t do it again. But when I think of those two stupid young girls, without a care in the world, riding that donkey down the streets of Guadalajara so long ago, I really can’t help but smile.

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Roxanne Hale, owner, and broker of Arthouse has spent over 20 years in the real estate business. Here you'll find a collection of stories about buying and selling real estate & home building advice, housing history, and architecture & design tips. Oh, and some fun personal stories every now and then!

Homewood, AL
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