Saturday, 3 November 2012

Story told by an Old Man About Another Old Man's Story

      There was a noble old man, by the name of Agustin Salinas, who was my father's mayordomo in charge of the day to day issues of our citrus grove care business and general  farming activity back in the days when north of McAllen meant   "way out in the country".  Don Agustin would at times refer to certain roads in Mexico as "caminos burros". We thought he meant that they were crummy roads or that they had been used by arrierros in their deliveries or whatever. Later, he and my father explained that during the building of the new modern paved roads (starting in the 1930s), there were always big city engineers who would come out and plan and design and really work up a good attack at getting over this or that mountain range.
      Then the rustics would show up to request work on the highway, and ask about the overall plan and schedule. The smart Mexico City engineers would say, " In a couple of weeks we'll have all our plans drawn and then about a week after that we need to start excavating."
 An arrierro with his remuda de burros.   El Gringo Viejo
has seen this scene countless times in the mountainuos
parts of rural Mexico.   While the artist might be a slight
bit generous with the quality of the animals and the  fine
hat and attire....we add quickly...Not much.   The remudas
were frequently fine, and the men were, although rustic
quite highly regarded, usually preenish with well trimmed
mustachios, and very fine hats during market days.
      Then the rustics would say, "But why sen~or, do you plan with the papers? The Burros, they know the route that you want."
       After much laughing and hooting and howling, the engineers would say, "How is that possible? You are all just a bunch of dumb, rural, Mexican Indians. You know nothing about engineering such a difficult transit, and yet you confide in Burros. jajaaajjaaa jajaaajjaaaa"
      The the Indians said,"Sen~ores, do you want this road to go from here to Mitlalchitepec?"
     "Yes, of course, that is the only pass that can be used to build the paved highway through to San Lorenzo." responded the engineers.
     "But Sen~ores, if you want to have a highway for trucks to San Lorenzo, you have to use the Camino del Burro. Please take your trucks and load the Burros and us upon them, and take the Burros and us to San Benavides. Then you can follow us back to here and then you will know the route you must take to Mitlalchitepec."
     The Indians seemed sincere, and the distance wasn't that far, so they loaded up the eight or nine mares and two jacks and six Zapotec Indians and drove them about 16 miles to San Lorenzo on the old unserviceable road.    The Mexico City professionals and their Gringo sub-contractor smiled knowingly and thought they were being very accommodating to the rustics by entertaining their foolishness as though their idea had any merit.
      After an hour and a half they arrived and unloaded their living cargo. The Zapotec rustics set about organising the return, calling loudly and sharply,"Arre! Arre! Maria, Arre! Consuelo....Arre tu!! Napoleon. Arre!...and off they went. "Hasta la casa, sonsas! hasta la casa!!! Arre!  (getty-up! Maria!!  Getty-up Consuelo...getty-up!! Get thee up!!  Napoleon, getty-up!! "Until the home, silly girls!! Until the home!! getty-up!)
     The burros began to canter into the chapparral, weaving here and there, but cantering fairly slowly all the while, just fast enough to where the men had to walk a bit briskly to keep up. The engineers followed, having sent the truck back around.    They had been going for about an hour when the engineers said, "When does this end?  Are we going to camp out here overnight?"
      The Indians laughed, and pointed to the summit just ahead, about 300 yards away. "We have arrived. Just over the 'ceja' (crest).    And then we are there."
     "You Indians are either lost or lying, because we have only been walking for an hour, and we have only covered 2 miles at the most."
      But about that time three burro colts came running up to meet their returning mothers, a soon after that the entire party arrived and looked  down where they had left, by truck, about 3 hours ago.    It was, indeed, a two-mile walk back, and it was almost totally level ground except for one 400 yard stretch of a slight incline.
The new paved highway to San Lorenzo was built where the donkeys had told them to build it.
(and yes, there really is a Mitlalchitepec  [I believe it means "Corn field full of (weeds) (wild flowers) of the mountain" in Nahuatl/ Oaxaca.])
     And that was one of many, many stories from Agustin Salinas that kept me spell-bound from age 0 - 6....a long, long time ago in a never never land on the Mexican border.  His stories all turned out to be true, or at least reasonable understandings of what he knew to be the truth.
(Excerpted from email exchange with an OROG, who served multiple tours in Afghanistan in forward areas and who is something of a son/nephew/brother figure to El Gringo Viejo, and who was a chum  of EGV's daughter and a member of her graduating class in High School.  The original email was amended, editted, and smoothed out a bit, and made more accurate in some minor detail.
     We had been talking about things, and then the topic veered into horses [I think because he knows that my father was a "real live" horse cavalry trooper back in the late 1920s and early 1930s.]  So, I signed off this email to him with, " Thanks for your observations. Sometimes they bring back memories.")