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A 1909 Adventure through Old Mexico

By Clara Schell

The Wonders of That Wonderful Land Interestingly and Attractively Told. An Inner Peep Into the Home Life of Our Southern Neighbors, With Their Joys and Sorrows, Ambitions and Heartburnings; a Land Where Gaunt Poverty and Overfed Wealth Jostle Each Other on the Highway of Life; the Advantages of the Country; its Picturesque Attractions and Unlimited Possibilities.

It will no doubt be interesting reading to many of your readers as well as hundreds of our friends in Tucson and Southern Arizona to get an insight into the real Mexican life below Sonora. We traveled off the railroad after leaving Guaymas to towns of some pretensions.

Every town has its plaza and Catholic church. The plazas are usually well kept and are enjoyed to the fullest extent. Many of the little pueblos have music two or three times a week when great crowds, especially of young people, promenade or sit around. Many are beautifully gowned and present a very pleasing picture as well as being a treat to the ears as the music is usually very good.

The churches are always well patronized, especially on the saints' days, of which there happened to by many during our stay of nearly four months. While at Alamos, our first stop after leaving Guaymas there was a religious celebration. The entire top of the church was outlined against the dark sky by hundreds of lighted candles. It was rather a breezy night too, so it kept a couple of men busy on the church top keeping the candles lighted. Skyrockets were sent up at intervals for two or three hours, during which time the band played in the plaza directly in front of the cathedral, and the people promenaded in gala dress. There were in Alamos many strikingly beautiful young ladies who were rapidly adopting American ways and who spoke English very well. They seemed to enjoy the society of American young men, too.

Our next stop was El Fuerte, which is almost three miles from the station with the short line running from Topolobampo to El Fuerte, with San Blas as the junction point for the Southern Pacific extension running to Culiacan. This is called the Kansas City and Orient extension. Nothing of special interest occurred during our brief stay here but we had a very pleasant time as the hotel was good. I should say nothing of special interest excepting an amateur baseball game which was more fun than any other I ever saw. Both teams were mixed--old men and young men. Americans and Mexicans, professional and business men. They were short a few players, so among others, my husband was pressed into service, and he hadn't played for twenty years. Talk about fun; how I laughed. I never saw such fanning of air and stealing of bases. It was a comedy of errors. You can guess what kind of a game it was, for the score was 14 to 9. I laughed until I was nearly sick.

Further down the railroad at a little station called Guamuchil, we took the stage driven by a typical Mexican cochero and one of the finest specimens I have ever seen. He was clean and good looking and made a grand entry into town with a rush and a roar so dear to the stage driver's heart. He had strong animals to drive and showed them some consideration, so we too rather enjoyed it. The distance to Mocorito of about twelve miles, we made on the baggage coach in preference to waiting a couple of hours for the north-bound train for which the passenger coach had to wait. We were a little surprised to find ourselves installed with a dozen or more fighting cocks and their keepers who were being send to Mocorito to take part in the grand fiesta held there during the Christmas holidays. Each cock was in a little cage, similar to the cane coverings to demijohns, with an opening at the end to allow the prisoner to stick out his neck with convenience; the other end had canvas carefully stretched across below the beautiful feathers of the bird.

On the road we met several old fashioned carts, with great oaken wheels (without spokes) pulled by oxen, sometimes six or eight although some only covered a few hundred pieces of cane. However , we saw some carts loaded heavily with hundreds of cases of beer etc. to be consumed during the holidays.
The meat sold at the market place looks very unappetizing. I suppose mainly because it is handled so differently from what we are accustomed. The meat is apparently sold by the yard, it being thoroughly boned before being placed on sale. The butchers don't waste any paper in wrapping up the meat. People market with baskets usually and the meat they buy they put in their baskets without covering. I have often seen men, women and children carrying big pieces of meat home in their hands. Of course the wealthy people have their servants do this for them.

I was glad to find out that some of the hotels at which we stopped bought whole sides of beef or mutton. It seems remarkable that in this hot country, meat is the main diet. We refrained as much as possible, so ate an abundance of vegetables and fruit, many of the latter being entirely new to us. Among our favorites were toronjos (a species of grapefruit without the bitter taste) and the chirimolles (pronounced chirimoy-es) which tastes something like bananas only much better and very juicy. The chirimolles have black seeds as big as castor beans in them and they sell for ten cents Mexican money, more or less. The toronjos are delicious, perhaps a little too tart for some, but my choice of fruits, and they sell from 8 to 15 cents each. We left this place after a very interesting stay of four days. On our way to and from the station, great fields of sugar cane were to be seen with a sprinkling of adobe huts of the trabajadores and the beautiful big sugar refinery in the far distance, making a truly beautiful picture.

We got on our train going south to Culiacan and were surprised to see an up-to-date American woman, who afterward told me she had been the only American on since leaving Guaymas: there are considerably more Americans traveling toward Culiacan and Mazatlan now, however. She said she wondered how under the sun Americans came to board a train at such a little out of the way place, but Americans certainly have a peculiar way of poking into out of the world places as it were.

At Culiacan we were surprised to find a bustling little city. There were quite a good many Americans there, many in good positions for the new railroad, which has recently been finished to Mazatlan. We had the two largest and best rooms in the hotel here and meals were pretty good, served in French style. The hotel help as a rule is not good. We saw several good baseball games played between the Americans and the Rosallis college boys (Mexican). They played very well indeed. We acquired a new pet on the last day of the old year, an armadillo, a very peculiar looking little animal, with an immense shell covering all his body but his head and tail. We were told that there are many in the surrounding country by the man who gave him to us. The armadillo is a very industrious little animal, burrowing nearly all the time. Evidently ours didn't like to be in captivity, for it soon got away.

Culiacan has a wonderful band, composed mainly of incorrigible boys who have been placed in the house of correction. They have nice looking uniforms and are will trained in military discipline, as well as in music. They played very well, and play high class music. We took our constitutional walks around the plaza every evening, staying longer of course on band concert nights, on which nights there is quite a lot of style and beauty seen on the promenade of the plaza.

We left Culiacan for Altata, the seaport town on January 8. We arrived there about noon time, but the fog on the bay was so heavy that the steamer, which was to have taken us to Mazatlan, could not cross the bar, so after waiting several hours outside the bar for the fog to lift, which it did not do, the steamer passed on, leaving a party of ten or twelve of us at Altata, which unfortunately, developed into a long stay of five days. We were disgusted, for Altata is a little town composed of some 25 or 30 thatched-roof houses full of fleas and mosquitos. We sailed, fished, walked and played five hundred, and almost anything else to kill time. Eating three meals a day, such as they were, was the principal break in the monotony. Some of us were inclined to be fussy too.

I had no idea fleas could be so plentiful before. Our cot beds were full of them, and during the night rats or mice played in the thatch roof over our heads, scattering particles of brush down on us. We were finally rescued from this condition by the little steamer Victoria, all of us more than glad to go, for we had gotten over being fussy by this time. Although first class tickets were sold us, first class accommodations were not to be had. I shared my cabin with a lady friend, while her husband and mine made themselves as comfortable as possible on the couch seats of the dining room.

The grandeur of the harbor of Mazatlan must be seen to be appreciated. We saw it, of course, first from the steamer then we took several drives on the beautiful ocean drive not yet completed. About $10,000 is being expended by business men of Mazatlan on this drive. Mazatlan is a beautiful place to visit just at this season.

We were fortunate in getting two connecting rooms on the ground floor of the Hotel Central, which has a beautiful patio and a good dining room. Meals here too are served in courses, on the French style. Strange to say we got very little Mexican cooking, and that was mostly when we went after it. I remember one night after the moving picture show at the opera house in Culiacan, we went to the market place. All along the street Miguel Hidalgo were little tables at which Mexican meals were served. There were ten or more of these, where one or more women had charcoal fires burning to one side, while at the other end of the table were cooked chickens, salads, finely chopped lettuce and radishes, baskets of covered tortillias and sauces, conveniently ready to make up special dishes in a hurry. We wanted enchiladas, which were served to us in less that 15 minutes at the other end of one of these laden tables. In the center of the table was a lamp fitted into a case, similar to a common lamp post. Nearly every table had patrons, many apparently well-to-do and refined people, being seated at the humble stands. During the day and early morning the market, which has similar stands, does business on similar lines, but theirs is chiefly with the working classes.

At Mazatlan we met the American consul and his brother and amiable daughter, Mrs. Friedberger, who were very hospitable and showed us many courtesies. We also spent a delightful evening at the Lotus Club on an evening devoted to music and dancing. Many excellent pieces were rendered for both the ladies and gentlemen members of the club.

We left Mazatlan by stage for Villa Union at 5 o'clock on the afternoon of January 13. It was a hard ride--lots of jolting and dust. It was thick upon us when we arrived at 9 o'clock. We had difficulty in getting a room suitable; had to put up with what we could get, for the room and meals are below the average here. The phonograph in the bar-room could be plainly heard until nearly 1 o'clock and started in again at 4 the next morning. How they do enjoy it!

I was visiting with a very nice family by the name of Gonzales after a walk to the cotton factory where they manufacture twill and khaki goods, when a crowd soon gathered about us. A land-owner was giving a fiesta to all his hands, mozos. The beer, wine and other liquors were brought to his yards next door to where we were sitting. After they indulged considerably, some were patriotically inclined and insisted upon spouting poetry to the ladies sitting out next door. The speeches were directed mainly at Miss Gonzales and myself which was a decidedly new experience to me, but I was willing to wait to take a cue from the young lady next to me, thinking if she could stand it I could. Imagine some 50 mozos standing around while one of their number was spouting beautiful language at us, even though it kept them a little longer from their drink. Fortunately the dueno had the grace to take them away, when it was becoming too tiresome, to a spot down the river where he had all their liquid refreshment served too.

We saw a very good moving picture show here. Among the pictures was one of the bull fight, which was too realistic to suit me. After two days spent in Villa Union we went to Rosario, leaving at 8 p.m. and arriving at 8 a.m., going at speedy gait all night. At midnight we arrived at a place called Agua Caliente, where we were surprised to see the plaza full of people, the band playing and stands all around the plaza doing business. Some had cakes and candy, others had gambling tables where the bets were from one cent to a quarter. The little restaurant stands were doing a rushing business, there being a fiesta on here. We had to wait over a half hour anyway while the mules were being changed, so we walked around the plaza a few times and had a delightful lunch at one of these tables I mentioned before. The ride from Villa Union to Rosario was the hardest so far, but we found out there was more to come.

We found the hotel of Beatrice at Rosario to be clean, pleasant and home-like and met many nice Mexicans here who hold good positions with the Tajo Mining Company. We caught a couple of small alligators here and had a pair of low shoes and a belt made and sent on to me. The hotel at which we stopped fronts on the plaza and the beautiful old cathedral is on the other side. We left Rosario at 2 p.m. and arrived in Escuinapa at 7:30 the same night. The plaza was lighted with hundreds of miners' oil lamps, there being a fiesta on here too. The band played and nearly all the townspeople were there in gala dress. The inner walk was used mainly by the better class, while the outer walk was used by the working people. The young ladies were mostly bareheaded, while the older women wore rebosas. It looked specially interesting to see the hundreds of extra large Mexican hats on all the men. Nearly all were wearing very good ones too. It was rather cool and we had difficulty in getting enough bedding to be comfortable, as the hotel man said they have so little cool weather it doesn't pay to buy it.

We left next day for Acaponeta where we arrived at 6 a.m. after a very hard trip. Acaponeta was decorated with fancy colored paper flags and lights, and had a very gala appearance. It developed that the occasion was the visit of Gen. Rinz, governor of the territory of Tepic. Acaponeta is on the extreme end of the territory. We were invited to the big reception given to the governor at the municipal building that night. We attended and carry many memories of courtesies extended to us, also of the up-to-datedness of the affair given in such a little out-of-the-way place. The patio was beautifully decorated and canvassed overhead and under foot all over. Sandwiches, olives, wines and champagne were served by competent waiters. The people were modishly gowned, men in full dress mostly. They were very hospitable and seemed very desirous to be sociable and amiable to us. The governor too, showed us special attention. I had the pleasure of a promenade and dance with him and was pleased to find out that my poor efforts at Spanish speaking seemed to be perfectly understood. Generally I had little trouble in understanding most of the conversation addressed to me. As we were very tired from our hard stage ride, we left about 2 a.m..although the festivities continued until 4:30. The plaza was a scene of great festivity, where the trabajadores enjoyed themselves. Music was good and the plaza beautiful and sweet-smelling from hundreds of well kept plants and flowers. We left after three days, in the afternoon, for Santiago Ixcunitla. We had supper at the second post while mules were being changed. Supper consisted of tortillas, frijoles, eggs and black coffee. We got quite a little sleep during the night in spite of the jolting, which was surprising, but one can get used to almost anything. Surely ours was a trip of ups and downs. We hit the high places, but also the low ones too.

We arrived at Santiago Ixcuintla at 5 a.m. Got a good room at once. I had bought a little parrot at Rosario which we were carting around with us. We made him as comfortable as possible, and were by this time enjoying his company very much. We were getting acquainted. Santiago was very similar to the other towns but had no fiesta on at the time. We left at 4 a.m. a few days later. On our way over our cochero got off and brought me a few dozen lemons he picked off the ground. People don't seem to market the lemons as they do the other fruits. They were rather scarce in town. We saw many parrots flying from tree to tree and as we passed through great palm groves, coconut palms and date palms, and in places through which the road passed from either side we saw tropical underbrush so thick as to be impenetrable.

At Tepic we got a very large room at the Hotel Bola de Oro, on the plaza, with the cathedral across to our right. Tepic has two pretty little plazas and one big beautiful alameda. I never saw such beautiful bougainvillias in my life as here. There are two beautiful arbors completely covered with the purple flowers. To listen to the excellent music in so beautiful a place, was almost divine in its exquisitiveness. We rode all over town and through the parks several times. Every town boasts several very good carriages, the hire of which was very reasonable. We stayed in Tepic four days, returning to the junction called Navaretta, where the stage from San Blas, Tepic etc. meets the one from Santiago and Tepic City. From here we went over to San Blas after breakfast, arriving in San Blas at 4 p.m. Getting up at 2:30 a.m. to leave Tepic was a hardship, but it had to be done. San Blas is a little better than Altata. Perhaps I should say a great deal better, but unfortunately we had to wait a few days for a steamer to go back to Mazatlan. We ate oysters right from the oyster beds here which was the first time we ever had that experience and likely will be our last of the kind.

We sailed on February 20 for Mazatlan, or rather steamed away. We arrived the next day and found the big fiesta in full swing, so we hurriedly got located at Hotel Central and got right into togs to see the fun. The parade in the afternoon was very good, a great deal of time and money having been spent on the floats and costumes. We rented seats in the grandstand at the plaza and bought a liberal supply of confetti and serpentinas, and proceeded to have as good a time as anyone else. We had made a number of friends before going south to Tepic, so with new acquaintances we entered into the fun and fun it surely was. You would have thought an immense evening party was turned loose. Everybody seemed to be having fun. Rich and poor alike mingled, threw confetti and serpentinas until they could scarcely wade through it.

We were invited to the big dance in the evening but did not go, being too tired from our long trip. The festivities were carried on somewhat lighter on Monday, but on Tuesday it was resumed with interest. We went to the dance for a little while in the evening after enjoying the sport at the plaza from our seat in the grandstand. One of the floats which especially appealed to me was called the "estudiante". A lot of young ladies and young men were playing mandolins and guitars and were dressed in students' caps and gowns on this. They had learned several popular pieces which they played from time to time during the parade, and in off times they serenaded friends at their homes.
While at Tepic we went to a local talent performance, the proceeds of which were to go to the carnival fund at the Profirio Diaz Theatre. The play was rather heavy but was well played. The singing was very good and all partaking had good stage presence. One of the oddest sights was the advertisement for the cock fights here. Two carriages, one containing an orchestra and the other with four lady singers go all over the principal business streets. They stop occasionally when a selection is rendered by the ladies accompanied by the orchestra. The orchestra sings too, but it is rather queer music.
After leaving Mazatlan, on the special for Governor Canneda, we had a very pleasant trip, making good time, arriving in Culiacan in less than eight hours. We stayed in Culiacan three or four days more, and from there came back direct to the United States.

We enjoyed the trip immensely on the whole, but would not want to go again below Mazatlan before the railroad is finished to Tepic, for at present there are too many hardships. We feel that it was worth while though to have seen all this country off the railroad in all its primitiveness.

Mrs. H. A. Schell

Sunday Morning ; Tucson, Arizona - April 11,1909

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