In December of 1982, my father suggested we take the train from Nuevo Laredo to Mexico City to meet some friends and to celebrate the New Year there. The trains in Mexico are a lot of fun if you’re not in a hurry ( I guess the same could be said of Amtrak.) What’s neat about the Mexican trains is that they are old models the United States sold to them, maybe back in the 1950’s. They run fine, but it makes you feel like you’re in an old cowboy movie.
The scenery is rustic of course–the never-ending Chihuahuan desert, interspersed with small hamlets or individual shacks, with the ubiquitous burro and perhaps an old rusty pickup truck. You might see a mule team pulling a wagon, or a young man riding a horse bareback, with his wide-brimmed sombrero. The train just clippity-clops along, wobbling like a ship on a choppy sea, and its nice to hear the wheels kerplunking across the rails. The train stops for a few minutes every now and then, and in the morning vendors appear to offer breakfast. Little Indian ladies carrying baskets pull back the hand-woven cloths to reveal—“gorditas” (little fatties) my favorite—a thick corn tortilla stuffed with meat, cheese, and onions. Then the ladies get off at the next stop, presumably to wait for the homeward-bound train. Soon we are becoming eager at each stop to see what vendors will appear—they might sell packaged snacks or drinks, or maybe a cup of sliced Jicama with lime and chili powder. I’ve never been a smoker, but I bought a pack of Mexican cigarettes for a quarter, just to puff on while standing on the landing between cars, jostling around in the open air.
Mexico City was marvelous, and not nearly as smoggy in 1982 as it is now. Our hotel was in the famous Zona Rosa district, and we enjoyed riding the modern subway to all the sites. We ate in fine restaurants and brought in the New Year toasting with Negra Modelos. I was truly amazed at how far a dollar could go in such a world-class metropolis. Besides the train, I think that was what made the biggest impression on me.