My Dad loved to travel. He had feet tatted on his right arm. I asked him one day when I was a kid, and he smiled and said, “It’s because I always like to stay moving.” I didn’t quite understand that until later in life. My Dad is no longer with us, but his life teachings and the travel experiences we share have stayed with me. With four kids and a limited income, many would have thrown their hands up in the air and said, “I can’t afford to do that!” My Dad was the king of cheap travel. When most kids were staying home riding their bikes and chasing ice cream trucks in the neighborhood, my family and I took road trips. Back then, we’d pack for about two weeks and head down south to México. Once we made it to my Dad’s hometown in Mazatlan. The drive took about 24 hours from the Bay Area. Our dog at the time, Tiny, a rambunctious toy fox terrier made the trek with us, too. I got to see a part of México that I haven’t seen since.
The Mother of All Road Trips
I remember we stopped along the way to visit family members. In Mexicali, the days felt long and hot, and we ate nothing but seafood, bolis (that’s like the Mexican otter pop), raspados (Mexican icees), and tacos. I loved taking these trips because my Dad and Mom were always trying to get the kids to be more autonomous. You see in Mexico, at least before the age of tech where everyone has a computer in their pocket, they encouraged us to be outside and live. We were given a few dollars (thank you, Bordertowns!) and with that, we could snack on whatever we wanted all day long. I played with the neighborhood kids and got to know them and how they lived. It was eye-opening, and this is why I believe travel is essential for all. When we left, I had a better sense of the world around me.
The next stop on this trip I remember renting a room at some hotel in San Luis Rio Colorado. A stark white building with nothing but desert surrounding it and a beautiful big pool right in the middle of it. My Dad wanted us to enjoy a dip in the pool before hitting the Sonoran desert.
“Enjoy this. You’re not getting a pool for the rest of the summer.”
I spent so much time in that thing that my eyes were burning from the chloride, and my skin looked like a raisin. I couldn’t tell you where that place was, and trust me I’ve tried to Google it many times. Any time I reach a destination, I treat it with the respect it deserves. For me, that means, to enjoy every moment of it, which is why I tend only to upload pictures of my travels after the day has passed. I can’t imagine taking pictures of everything and having to upload them to every social network so I could show everyone every second of my day. That isn’t a vacation. You’re working for other people at that point. Take YOUR time, enjoy the moment, and if someone wants to see where you are vacationing, they can book a ticket themselves.
Before the next leg of our trip, we stopped by a roadside coconut stand. In the middle of nowhere, I wasn’t too sure about it, but I trusted my Dad and gift of gab. Me, a little Mexican-American girl straight out of the AC and into the blistering sun underneath a cabana with an awning that barely cast a shadow, I had my first fresh coconut water straight from the coconut. As I was ready to toss it out, my Dad grabs and yells, “NO!” You see some habits are hard to kick and had I thrown that coconut away, I was going to insult the cabana owner, and I’d probably get spanked later for throwing away food. He sat me back down with my coconut and asked the counter person for lime and hot sauce. He then taught me how to scrape the sides of the young coconut to form slivers. I would have totally missed this if it weren’t for his guidance.
“When you throw food away, someone doesn’t get to eat.”
Sidenote: My Dad was a hothead (hey just like me!), and a lot of things got under his skin, but throwing perfectly good food was probably at the top of the list along with buying something at full price. We survived on leftovers, and going out to “McDonnas” was a treat once in a while.
Keep Your Cool When Things Get Hot
Driving through the Sonoran desert was as you can imagine, like driving through the seven levels of hell. It was beyond hot. The kind of heat that will most engulf you and lead you to your demise. I burned my hand on the window when I was trying to be funny and show my siblings how long I could hold my hand to it. We were on our way to Guaymas to see some relatives when in the middle of our trip we were stopped by la policia federal or the Federal Police. The California license plates were the sign they were looking for to see what they could get from us. They came out with guns drawn, and it was scary because I had only heard of these types of things happening, and now it was happening to us. They rarely ended well. To this day, I don’t even know how we got out of this situation. What I do remember is the ‘police’ asking for money and my Dad saying he was only carrying credit cards. When they didn’t believe him, he gave them a wallet. I can only assume at this point that it was a fake wallet with no more than $20 in it because when we left, my Dad acted as if nothing happened. I’m trying to piece together the conversation, but it was so long ago I only remember bits and pieces.
“Can you please put your guns away, you’re scaring my family. Let’s talk and see how we can work this out.”
I learned three things:
- Never carry your money in one spot.
Traveling like this is not only dangerous but stupid. This is why I never liked those sticky wallets for your phone. One swipe and they have everything!
- Don’t bring anything you are not prepared to lose or make you a target.
Our car was packed with bags of clothes and electronics we were going to donate to our cousins as we did every year, but this time around it could have cost us our lives. Once they popped the trunk, they looked at it like a long lost treasure. My Dad calmly said, “It’s just clothes.” They took his word for it, closed the trunk, and took him to the side to talk to him.
- Don’t escalate a bad situation, especially when dealing with foreign law enforcement.
My Dad spoke calmly and softly, which until that moment didn’t even think that was possible. He handled it like a pro.
Family is EVERYTHING
Because of his quick thinking and ability to diffuse the situation we made into Guaymas. There we were greeted by the family who I had never met before, and my Dad hadn’t seen in over 20 years. Seeing a grown man succumb to tears was a rare sight, and even more rare for my Dad who’s only emotional settings seem to be jovial and stark raving mad. I left with the notion that you always need to make time to visit people when they are around. Before my Dad passed away, he used to tell me, “Don’t cry and bring me flowers when I’m gone. Come and spend time with me right now while I’m alive.” This would explain why traveling to see relatives were essential and so we’re spending the holidays with those closest to you. During his last years, he was more willing to have a birthday party, just so he could see family. He loved to cook because of his family. He wanted everyone who ever walked into his home to feel welcomed.
And speaking of food, traveling through cuisine was a must for a family of then 4 on a limited spending budget. When we lived in Los Angeles, we got to know Chinatown very well. I ate Peking duck for the first time there. Also, Chinese restaurants were some of the only places opened on holidays, which meant good cheap eats for the entire family. A few years ago, about a year before he passed, he and the rest of my family made the trip from the Bay Area for a Dodgers baseball game, and guess where he wanted to go? Chinatown. Anytime I grab a pink box of Twin Dragons Almond Cookies or eat duck I think fondly of him.
Other lessons learned during this trip?
If the seafood smells funny, don’t eat it. This happened as we were leaving Hermosillo. Another food stand, another food vendor. This time my Dad did lose his cool and cussed the guy out.
“Are you trying to fucking poison us?!”
I’m sure the guy was just trying to make money to feed his family, but my Dad felt so strongly about it, he argued with the guy until he got a refund. Ever try to get a refund from a Mexican vendor? Yeah, when you do, please let me know how you did it without threatening them.
Don’t ever let your guard down. Like ever. Nobody cares that YOU are on vacation, only YOU. We stayed in the township of El Roble and my little Americanized self almost got stung by a scorpion (my Mom like a boss, just picked that sucker up from its tail and tossed it out) did get stung by fire ants, could have lost an arm to a Boa constrictor, or struck by lightning while playing outside near an old factory and if I wasn’t good at math could have lost a lot of money to crooked food vendors. My Dad would remind us only to speak Spanish, stay with groups, be home before sundown, and if it starts to rain, get your ass indoors ASAP. The tropical storms in Sinaloa get mad wicked.
…and learn about where are you going. Yes, that means customs, culture, mores, and language. They don’t need to adjust to you, you need to adapt to them. I soon learned that the kids around me didn’t care that I was Mexican-American, I was on their territory and had to play by their rules. My Dad also reminds me of this when I cried for a hot shower.
“Boil the water yourself.”
I couldn’t just waste the gas on the stove either. In the States, it seemed like I had an endless supply. In México, my Dad would buy a few tanks for the week, depending on how much cooking my Mother was doing. So, I had to boil water for a shower, and if I wasted any of it, my ass was grass because that meant we’d have to wait for the gas truck guy to come around delivering new tanks, or my Dad would have to drive into the nearest town to get it. Either way, one of my actions or inactions could cause a chain of inconveniences. And being in a small town meant that everyone would hear it. Public shaming at its best.
My Dad was always early to rise. He went to bed by 9 pm and was up by 5 am. He learned this growing up in Mexico where a rooster was his alarm clock. He did have a rooster in his last home in the city but had to get rid of it because the neighbors were complaining. If he was up, that meant everyone in the house had to be up. Sleep until 8 am and you were given the title of
Everyone was on a schedule, so if you snoozed, you lost.
All of the family trips and the memories attached to them come with me when I travel and as I move through my life experiences. I don’t need a lot of money to feel rich or travel. There is always something to do in your hometown and surrounding areas that you have yet to discover, and the experience is always better with people you love. When I do travel further outside of my zip code, I am aware of how others live, and more mindful of other’s feelings and life journeys. I make it a point to understand rather than chastise and to bring a piece of the world with me home to infuse in my daily life.
Thank you, Dad, for showing me that people just want to be loved and understood everywhere.
Thank you, Dad, for showing me how to enjoy every moment.
Thank you, Dad, for showing me how to be more compassionate.
Thank you, Dad, for all the ceviches, carne asadas, Big Macs, and raspados.