Deranged in Durango with Pancho Villa
I’m in Durango. What the hell do I know about Durango?
“It is a mellow, pleasant cowboy town,” Lonely Planet tells me. Lonely Planet and I are estranged, but I hold onto it like a lover I’m afraid to let go of. I still have hope that it will stop sugarcoating things and tell me the truth.
Apparently locals are known to the rest of Mexico as Scorpions from Durango. I like to picture them skittering sideways, tails raised, looking for a fight.
My days mostly consist of bumbling from one location to another, bemused by the (almost always) charming locals and eating food of dubious origin before crashing into a bed (almost always) infested with something suspect.
1pm – I get into a taxi chauffeured by a 14 year old boy. He takes me a super crazy long way out of Zacatecas, hooning up mountain roads and screeching down corners. Surreptitiously check doors for an easy escape. Some might call this paranoid; I call it prudent.
Fortunately, 14 year old is not the maniacal rapist child of my nightmares; rather he turns out to be sweet and normal once I engage him in conversation. Rule #1 of hostage situations: Humanise yourself and tell your kidnapper fun things about you.
“I’m Australian!” I chirp. My bags and I slide into the door as we take another corner at speed.
Have noticed that Mexican men have a tendency to look like terrifying gangsters when not smiling, but once you break the ice are completely charming and not at all sleazy. Cultural sterotype shattered: #487.
The 14 year old drops me off at the bus station and even smiles as I stagger away. Relief.
6.30pm – Arrive in Durango. After much wrangling I negotiate to leave my pack in the station until my midnight bus. Get a local buseta into town for a wander.
The driver’s right hand is completely bandaged. There’s an enormous, strangely-bent vacuum cleaner hose protruding from a rough-cut hole in the floor. Realise it is the gear stick. Driver impressively both steers the bus and shifts gears with his left hand. Jerky stop-starts are minimal.
In front of me sits a guy with wavy hair that is completely slicked up to resemble black corrugated plastic. It ends with a flourish of curls at his neck. He also has a thin line of carefully-maintained facial hair that connects both sideburns under his chin like a helmet strap. Would be interested to know what proportion of Latino gross national spending accounts for hair gel.
It seems that all Mexican men under forty have bouffant of well-tended black hair. Men over forty all wear cowboy hats and have oversized novelty moustaches. I like this Maginot age line demarcation.
7pm – Mexican girls might dress conservatively in theory – legs and boobs are covered – but they compensate by wearing the tightest, brightest, glitteriest of everything. This peacock tendency of superlative excess results in rippling mountains of muffin-topped flesh crowding the footpath. They are scornful of my less-than-skintight jeans and daggy cardigan.
7.15pm – Durango’s not pretty but I like it – the way everyone stares at me you can tell that they don’t see too many foreigners. In a restaurant, taco waiter asks where I’m from. “But what are you doing here?” he asks, mystified. Excellent question, my bewhiskered amigo. I wander the streets asking myself the same thing.
9.40pm – Get a cab back to the station. “Are you a gringa?” is my cabbie’s first question. No! I’m from Australia. “Traskala? Que? What’s Traskala?” He shrugs at me as though I’m mad.
AUSTRALIA, I enunciate. “Do they speak English there?” Yep, I tell him.
“Soy Mexican loco!” He suddenly bellows. “AHAHAHAHA! I used to live in Omaha, Nebraska.”
Realise that Australia is not the only geographic hole in his knowledge. I am not an American.
“Your name is very beautiful,” he tells me. Oh, thanky— “Pancho Villa is a Mexican LEYENDA! Do you know who Pancho is?” He cranes his head to stare at me and the cab veers into the next lane. “He was born in Durango! He is an escorpion! What is stealing burros? Bah! He is our greatest hero!”
Mexico’s great hero was once arrested for donkey thievery and assault.
Realise am not expected to participate in the conversation, and allow myself to be educated by this onetime resident of Omaha. What do I know? I’m from Traskala.