June 5, 2009

Monday, March 3, 2008

I packed up the car at my motel in Sedona and drove to the Phoenix airport to catch my plane to El Paso for the Elderhostel — a quick, uneventful flight.  The flight attendant making the usual announcements added some of her own humorous text.  She said, “In the event that this flight turns into a cruise, your seat is a flotation device,” and “If the oxygen masks drop down, be sure to put your own on first before helping children or those acting like children.  Women, fasten your own masks before assisting your husbands.”  I wonder if that’s FAA-approved!

I had smiled at an older woman on the plane and found myself face-to-face with her waiting for the complimentary shuttle pick-up from our hotel, Camino Real.  We greeted each other there, determined that we were waiting for the same shuttle and that we were both going on the Elderhostel trip.  She is from Calgary and had been up since 3 a.m.  She appeared to be in her mid- to -late-70s and told me she’s been on over 40 Elderhostels, including Africa, Chile, and Easter Island, on a small cruise boat on several different rivers in Europe, cross couontry skiing, biking in Holland, etc.  None had disappointed.  She said that after her husband died, over 20 years ago, she just decided that Elderhostel was the way for her, as a single woman, to travel.  I couldn’t agree more.  I expect that by the time I’m her age, I’ll have many trips under my belt; at least I hope so!

Our shuttle driver told us that El Paso has a population of 700,000 and is growing.  We arrived at our beautiful hotel, which is on the National Historical Register.  It was built in 1912 and has a drop-dead gorgeous Tiffany stained-glass domed ceiling, under which is a bar and lounge.  The rest of the cavernous room is in art deco style, with large gold chandeliers.  There was a different type of immense lighting fixtures in the reception area, as well as an art exhibit, including three Picasso lithographs from the 70s and two Dalí prints.  As the elevator stopped at the first floor to let me on, a real character emerged:  a man wearing bell-bottomed, camel-colored suede chaps, a long flowing coat, and the requisite cowboy hat.  I didn’t catch his footwear, but you can bet he was wearing cowboy boots.  I wish I’d had my camera at the ready.

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My room is almost as big as my home living room and dining room combined, and was furnished with real furniture, not hotel issue.  There is a 6′-wide mirrored armoire  with a drop-down secretary desk in the middle, and a TV behind doors just above that.  On a beautiful 2-poster bed with no bedspread is a long, bright, multi-colored length of silk laid over the white sheets near the bottom, and would you believe, I have the identical piece, which I use as a table runner.  There is another table which could be used as a desk, and several lovely, comfortable upholstered chairs.  The bathroom is immense. Gone are the days when Elderhostel trips housed their travellers in dorm rooms and had them eat in the cafeteria!  I read that there was a pool on the 10th floor, so I happily changed into my suit and took the elevator there.  The joke was on me, as it was an unheated outdoor pool and the ambient air temp was 49 degrees.  I got one foot wet, and went back to my room.

Before coming here, I had gone online to see what I could do all day tomorrow before the program began at 5:00 p.m.  All of the El Paso web-sites I looked at were completely lame and seemed to give the impression that the city’s best feautre was a Border Patrol Museum, the only one in the country.  Turns out the El Paso Art Museum is directly across the street from the Camino Real, and the history museum ione block away.  They have many other interesting museums, such as one for the Holocaust, an archeology museum, a Chihuahuan Desert Museum, International Museum of Art, and Railroad & Transportation Museum.

Tuesday. March 4

I had a whole day to kill before the orientation meeting for the Elderhostel trip at 5:30 p.m.  I had breakfast with H, the woman I’d met the day before while waiting for the hotel shuttle, and we discovered amazing similarities in our family histories and lives in spite of our age and geography differences.  I walked across the street from the Camino Real Hotel to the El Paso Art Museum.  The first interesting thing of note is that it’s free!  They had a most intriguing exhibit of Chicano art, donated by Cheech Marin, of Cheech and Chong.  I never thought much of them, but I have to say, my opinion of Cheech has definitely changed.  The art was charming, primarily brightly-colored; a few were political (“The Virgin of Guadalupe and Other Baggage”), “Lover of Women” (tough guy with tattoos of the Virgin, his wife, presumably, and a whore).  There was also an exhibit of non-traditional sculptures, including one by Louise Nevelson.  An intricate one called “La Migra” (the Border Patrol) was very moving. In the American section — much of it from the Southwest in the Tom Lea Gallery (one of the most famous artists from El Paso) — was a painting by Henriette Wyeth of Peter Wyeth Hurd as a teenager, and then later, a work by Peter Wyeth Hurd himself!  I recognized the name of Henry Tanner, and I overheard a curator telling some VIP visitors that a panting by Frederic Remington was “one of the most valuable paintings in the museum.”  I saw one of Gilbert Stuart’s 70 portraits of George Washington.  Another really exciting exhibit was called “Text as Art from the ’60s Onward,” and included the iconic “LOVE” by Robert Indiana.  I skipped pretty quickly through the European collection, as it was mostly religious art, but I did see the names of Tintoretto and Van Dyck.

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At the appointed hour, I went to the room for the Elderhostel orientation.  We were 7 couples and 4 single women, two rooming together although they were strangers (Elderhostel can match you up with someone to room with if you so desire).  One of these women was a recent widow; she and her late husband had planned to go on this trip together last year, but he became ill.  She said at the farewell dinner that she was very fearful that this trip would be too much too soon for her, but indeed, it was not.  She had a wonderful time.  In the case of the two roommates, it turned out to be a happy match and they palled around together the whole trip.  That left H and me, each in our single rooms (I cheerfully pay the single supplement!), and we became fast friends.  More on this later.  Hector Olminero (‘beekeeper”), our guide, told us that these trips usually take 25-28 people, so we all felt very fortunate to be travelling with a smaller group.  Hector, a 61 year-old Mexican from Chihuahua City, told us that he had been in the travel business for 40 years.

The next morning, we ate breakfast at 6 and were on the bus by 6:40 for the five hour trip to Ciudad (City) Chihuahua.  We had an almost laughably easy border crossing at Juarez, probably due to the early hour.  We lined up with our passports and some kind of form Hector had given us to fill out the night before.  The Mexican agents never even looked at our passports and just stamped our forms, which we were told to keep to turn in on the return trip.  There was one bit of harassment that I must report on.  We each had to unload our bags from the storage area under the bus and carry them to a low stop light where a Mexican border guard stood.  One by one, we took our luggage to the stop light and pushed a button.  If it lit red, your bag was searched; green meant you got a free pass.  What a Mickey Mouse system.  The first two of our group got red-lighted and the rest of us lucky ones put our bags back under the bus.  The look-through was perfunctory, so we were soon on our way.
We entered the state of Chihuahua, one of 31, plus a federal district (Mexico City), which make up the country. Chihuahua is the largest state and has the smallest population density, primarily because  it is made up mostly of desert and mountains.  In fact, “Chihuahua” means “dry and sandy” in the language of the Tarahumara Indians (indigenous people in Copper Canyon).

We stopped for a delicious lunch in a small seafood restaurant just outside of Ciudad Chihuahua called The Lighthouse (this in the middle of the desert!).  We didn’t have any seafood, although we had delicious (and welcome!) tilapia that night for dinner in our hotel’s dining room.  At The Lighthouse, we had pecan ice cream for dessert that was to die for.  We’d passed pecan orchard after pecan orchard on the bus ride and I found out that Nogales, a Mexican town bordering Tucson, which I’ve visited, means “pecans”  (who knew?).

We pulled into our hotel, a Quality Inn, in the city of Chihuahua.  All to myself, I had a king bed in a mammoth room with a large, flat-screen TV on the facing wall.  After a short rest, Hector took us to a cambio shop to change our dollars to pesos.  The going rate is 10.5 pesos to each American dollar, which everyone rounds off to 10 for ease of commerce.  We then strolled to the Government Palace, where Hector gave us an abbreviated Mexican history lesson from some of the many murals there.  We strolled the pedestrian mall and gawked at the cathedral, which was far less ornate inside than others I’ve seen elsewhere in Mexico, but still lovely.  There were more shops selling zapatos (shoes and boots) than anywhere else I’ve ever been, and they all seemed to have exactly the same merchandise.  The latest fad is cowboy boots in pastel croc for women and for men very long pointed toes that turn up in the style of an elf or a jester shoe.  I found them quite comical and didn’t think any Mexican man would actually be seen dead in them, but I did see some on male Mexican feet in that city.

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Before dinner, we had a presentation, accompanied by slides, on Chihuahua’s geology and anthropology from a local university professor.  Following dinner, we had a drop-dead fabulous dance presentation by students from the school of the Ballet Folklorico.  They did dances from about six different regions, complete with exquisite costumes.  My favorite was danced with glasses of water balancing on their heads, requiring them to keep the utmost in erect carriage.  They were charming, attractive, and talented young people and we all applauded wildly and threw some of our newly gotten pesos into a sombrero they had set up on the floor.  Some of us bought their DVDs, also.

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Thursday. March 6

We had a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call.  Cookies and coffee were served in the lobby to keep body and soul together until breakfast was served later on the train.  By 5:20, we were all on the bus for the ride to the railroad station to catch El Chepe at 6 a.m.  This group never complained about an early call (of course we knew going in that there would be some of these) and no one was ever late.  It was a really simpatico group with no clunkers.  We had a full breakfast in the dining car on the train, which was a lot of fun.  The food was surprisingly excellent.  I had about the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten.  Five and a half hours later, we arrived at Creel, the “Gateway to Copper Canyon.”  An old school bus with the words “Parador Motel” painted on the side transported us to that motel.  Our luggage followed in a pick-up truck.  We could have easily walked from the RR station to the motel, and on the return trip, we all elected to do just that.  I had another mammoth room to myself, this time with two double beds with a nearly 12′, hand-carved wooden headboard spanning the two, a mural on the wall, and a beautifully-tiled bathroom.  A rustic table and two chairs and a mirrored bureau rounded out the furniture. This was the first place we were advised not to drink the water, not even to use it for brushing teeth.  Individual bottles of water were in every hotel room and offered with every meal and on the train and bus.

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We had a fabulous lunch in the Parador dining room.  We then boarded a different old school bus for the trip to the Tarahumara Indian school, about an hour away.  The Tarahumara, like many indigenous people the world over, live in extreme poverty and suffer from high unemployment, alcoholism, etc.  You all know the shameful list. Some of the Indians live in shacks and other lodgings of various descriptions.  We actually visited two different families living in caves.  The fascinating thing is that these caves and shacks have multi-million dollar views of the Copper Canyon.  The Mexican government is trying to help these people.  They have to pay only 1/4 of the going fare on the train that runs through the Copper Canyon.  In Creel, a special clinic has been set up for their healthcare.  The school we visited is run with federal money.  The Tarahumara are known for their ability to run long distances and, like other indigenous people I’ve known about, often compete in extreme contests. Wearing their traditional sandals of the simplest design, the soles now made of tires and laced up their ankles with natural fibers, the men run relay races for 24-48 hours kicking a carved wooden ball. They put on an incredible week of dances and ceremonies, a combination of their old pagan ways and their interpretation of Christianity, during Semana Santa (Holy Week).  Tourists book their train tickets and lodgings a year in advance to observe this spectacle.

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At the school compound was an old mission church (from the 1700s) and a museum filled with religious art from the same period which the priests at that time used to teach the Indians about Christianity.  The paintings had stayed in the mission church with all the vagaries of weather and extreme temperature differences for 300 years. Recently, the Catholic Church in Mexico paid to have the paintings restored.  There were photos of the “before” condition accompanying each newly-restored painting.  But they were re-installed right back where they had come from!

There were women and children sitting on the mission steps selling their crafts, primarily baskets made from Apache pine needles (about 18″ long) that the men travel far and wide to find and bring back, but also from two kinds of agave fibers.  They also had little carved wooden animals and dolls, woven shawls, belts, friendship bracelets, beaded jewelry, and some pots.  The mission sisters have obviously helped them to create items that will appeal to tourists.  I mean, a friendship bracelet?  We all bought.  The crafts were well done, they were cheap as dirt, and how could we not support these people.  (Hector had told us not to bargain with the Tarahumaras, but to pay the prices they asked.)  Some of the Tarahumara children also beg, but I decided not to give pesos to them, but to buy their crafts and give a few pesos anytime I received permission to take their photos.  At this compound were the scruffiest dogs I’ve ever seen in my life, but none threatened us in any way or showed any kind of interest in us.

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Then we went to visit the school, which had about 175 pupils, ages 6-14, in about 8-9 classes.  It is partly a boarding school and  those students walk — in most cases by themselves — 3-4 miles through the Canton each Monday morning to the school, stay the week, and then walk home again on Friday.  Other day students live close by.  The Federal government pays for the school, the teachers, etc. as education is mandatory in the country. Many of the students we met were filthy (not from neglect, I don’t think, but from playing in the very dusty yard), with runny noses and much coughing.  We had been invited by Elderhostel to bring school supplies and we presented them to the principal.  None of the teachers speak the Tarahumara dialect, although they’re learning, but rather teach in Spanish. When the students arrive at the school, they know no Spanish, but in a matter of months are speaking it.  The classrooms were light, cheery, bright, chaotic, a bit cramped, but looked like almost any other elementary school classroom.  I was glad.  The teachers frequently don’t stay long as they are quite isolated. Some live in Creel and can commute.

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As we pulled out of the school compound, we observed a woman on her knees, washing clothes in a nearly-dry creek.  As we rode the bus back to Creel, we were all mostly silent, trying to absorb what we’d experienced.   Back in Creel, we had some time to ourselves.  Most of us went into the shops, which primarily sell more Tarahumara crafts.  All have essentially the same things.  The sisters from the Mission run a large shop selling the Tarahumara crafts, also.

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Friday, March 7

This morning we were able to sleep in as breakfast wasn’t served until 7:30.  We were to leave for the RR station at 10:15.  After breakfast, we all went back out to the street to shop some more, and to buy fresh fruits and other items we needed.  The train was to arrive at 11:15, but it was almost an hour late.  As we waited, three horses, which belonged to the Tarahumara, walked down the tracks for quite a way, then stepped off and disappeared.

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Finally on the train, it was a 1 1/2 hour ride to Divisadero, the half-way point in the train ride, which goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean; Divisadero was as far as we were going on this trip.  Again we were transferred to our hotel, the Hotel Mansion Tarahumara, in a funky bus.  We immediately sat down to a late lunch (we didn’t finish until after 3!), then went to our rooms, which were on the rim of the canyon with superlative views.  This was the first place with no TV in the room, and certainly not missed!  Again, it was a spectacular room with a queen bed and hand-carved wooden head board decorated with wrought iron stems and leaves and painted ceramic cana lilies.  This motif was repeated on the two bedside tables and on the vanity and mirror.  At my door (with canyon views), there was a little entranceway with hand-made wooden table and two sturdy chairs and some niches with large urns filled with field grasses.  I had a back door, too, with views to town, where I had a balcony, again with a table and two chairs.

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We hiked down into the canyon a short way to visit one of the two cave families I wrote of above.  At 7,000 feet, I had to stop to catch my breath occasionally, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had anticipated.  This family had an attractive display table set up outside the mouth of the cave to display their crafts, which were for sale, of course. We hiked back up for a one-hour lecture on the Tarahumara people, their customs, exceedingly complex form of government, and relations to other Mexicans and the Mexican government, delivered by Gustavo, a professor, who has moved to the area because of his love of the Canyon and the Tarahumaras.  We were told that the Tarahumara, like the Native Americans, crossed the Bering Strait and settled in the US and into Mexico and South America. There are currently 50,000-60,000 Tarahumaras.  They have many children.  Many are illiterate. Their language is primarily oral.  Mission priests over the years have tried to represent their language with the Spanish alphabet, but it hasn’t totally caught on.  They may live in a cave, catching water that drips through the rocks into a cistern as their only water source, but they overlook one of the most magnificent sights in the world. They eke out a paltry existence on the most inhospitable land you can imagine.  Near the first cave house we visited, perched precariously on a ledge was a small stand of peach trees in blossom.  Everywhere there is a flat patch of land, it is cultivated and planted, but it is the poorest and driest of soils.  They use all of the things provided in nature:  prickly pear, seeds of the manzanita bush, other seeds, blossoms even. Some keep a few goats, horses, or burros.

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Copper Canyon is 25-30 million years old and was formed by tectonic plate movements, whereas the Grand Canyon is 125 million years old and was carved by the Colorado River.  Accompanied by Gustavo and of course Hector, we boarded the bus for a tour to various places around the canyon for great viewing.  We took some leisurely walks and bought more crafts from the Tarahumaras, who seemed to be everywhere we went.  We were then bussed to a spot on a lake, owned by the owner of our hotel, for a picnic lunch.  We were expecting a sandwich in a sack and instead were treated to freshly-grilled carne asada, rice, beans, a big salad, guava, and an interesting rice drink flavored with sugar and cinnamon that tasted like very thin rice pudding without the lumps of rice and no raisins. Again, there were horses loose and walking around, but they never bothered us in any way.  Those who opted to went on a 2-hour very strenuous hike to a spectacular viewpoint.  We saw more Tarahumara residences with $10 million views. One had three burros in the yard.

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Gustavo told us that he had just run out of water at his house in town.  The rainy season doesn’t start until June. He didn’t discuss how he’ll handle this.  We all hoped that the lack of water will control the growth of tourism in the area.  Hector felt that only one more hotel could be accommodated.  Also, the roads are pretty iffy.  We all agreed it would be tragic for the Tarahumara’s culture if Copper Canyon became like Grand Canyon.  If you have any plans to see it, do it now!  Before 1961, there were no tourists in Copper Canyon because the railroad between Chihuahua and Los Mochis (at the Pacific Ocean) was not completed until then.  In 1863, they started at both ends, but stopped because of the Mexican Revolution.  When work started again, it took 10 years to finish.  It is actually impossible to imagine how they did finish it, considering the terrain.  On the complete trip, the train travels over 36 bridges and through 87 tunnels.  Then, when it was finished, there were no facilities at the Canyon, so the entire trip (12 hours) had to be made at once.  Gradually, a few hotels appeared.  Now there are about four.  We returned for dinner, serenaded by two singing guitarists.  Very festive!

Sunday, March 9

After a 7 a.m. breakfast, we boarded our bus at 8.   We were all very sorry to leave the Copper Canyon.  We passed more acres planted in apples than I’ve ever seen in my life — golden and red delicious and galas on both sides of the road as far as you could see.  The interesting things with these orchards was the presence everywhere of furled nets.  Hector explained that the nets were used to prevent hail — a frequent occurrence, evidently — from damaging the fruit in its various stages of development.  The intensity of labor involved in positioning nets over all of those trees, and then rolling them back and securing them seemed overwhelming to me.

At noon we stopped at a Mennonite family’s home for what was billed as a “light lunch.”  This consisted of a good-sized bowl of chicken noodle soup with, I think, homemade noodles.  There were platters of liverwurst and cheese and rolls to make sandwiches.  There were homemade pickles and pickled hot peppers, two kinds of jam, both homemade.  Then for dessert was the most amazing array of home-baked cookies I’ve ever seen — one dozen kinds — and an apple cake, plus beverages.  This Mennonite family built basically a hall onto their home in order to serve meals to tourist groups like ours. The daughters in the family who served us, wearing the simple, dark-colored clothes we’ve all seen on the Amish, were uniformly plain and actually not at all attractive.  They spoke to us in accented English.  The Mennonites (who are Anabaptists) originated in Russia and crossed into Canada around the time of WWI.  They stayed only about six years, due to a dispute with the Canadian government regarding the draft (the Mennonites are strict pacifists and wouldn’t join), and education (the Mennonites do not educate their children beyond the 6th grade and the Canadian government insisted they go to the 12th grade).  A delegation from the Mennonite community visited the U.S., Argentina, and some other countries to see if they could settle there.  None would accept them.  Meanwhile, in Mexico, John Randolph Hearst had a huge ranch in northern Mexico.  He actually never went there, but had overseers working it.  (Hector told us that he was born in one of the buildings owned by Hearst, that his father had been a mechanic on the ranch.)  When Hearst died, his land was broken up and sold.  At this same time, the old hacienda (feudal) system (patrons and peons) was being broken up for a redistribution of the land.  Mexico welcomed the Mennonites as they badly needed farmers to work the land.  The Mennonites were awarded huge areas of land.  Around 5,000-6,000 came in the 1920s. They now number 60,000-70,000 and some are moving out as they’ve run out of land to farm.  The original settlers were very much like the present-day Amish:  no electricity, no mechanized farming, education only to the 6th grade, huge families (average number of children in the early days was 12 — to help out on the farm).  They divided themselves into campos, of which there are now about 80.  We visited Campo 2A in the “Manitoba” area. Another nearby area is called Swift Water, named after the area in Saskatchewan they came from.  The Mennonite area looked extremely prosperous.  They are now all primarily dairy farmers and produce a widely-loved mild cheese (similar, I thought, to American cheese).

Over the years there were several schisms in the community.  One was over teaching Spanish and later English in the schools in addition to the low German that they speak.  With each schism, families moved away, some to South America.  In the 60s, the group divided into the conservatives (who kept everything the same.  The kids were taught the 3 Rs:  reading, ‘riting, and religion, using only the New Testament as text.  No electricity, no mechanized farming, no Spanish).  The liberals embraced the latest farming implements and techniques, bought cars, got electricity, had mandatory school through the 12th grade, taught Spanish and English, plus German. Recently, a very few have gone to university and produced a doctor and several nurses for the community.  Also, several Mennonite men have married Mexican women and they are welcome in the church, as is anyone in the larger community, where services are conducted and hymns sung in both Spanish and German.  Our tour leader told us that years ago, a Mennonite man married a Mexican woman and he was shunned for years.  Obviously, this is a community in flux.

We re-boarded the bus for the short ride to the Mennonite museum, where I learned most of the information shared above, from a docent from the liberal faction.  The museum held items from the original settlers:  trunks, implements, furniture, plates, tools, sewing machines, etc.  When the Mennonites originally came to Mexico from Canada, they hired an entire train and packed everything they owned, plus enough wood to build houses for all of them upon arrival.

We finished off the day on the bus, ending back at our Quality Inn in Chihuahua City.  We immediately set off on foot for the Pancho Villa Museum, formerly his home with the last of his 25 (!) wives (no explanation on how he pulled that off).  Villa had a total of 25 children with these wives.  The last Mrs. Villa remained in the house until her death in 1981.  Her only child with Villa died when he was two.  She maintained the house as a museum during her lifetime, and those were the only funds she had for her maintenance.  She refused money from the government for her support.  Hector told us that as a child, he lived nearby and his mother knew Mrs.Villa.  He had met her several times and really didn’t know how to act around her or in Pancho Villa’s house as he’d been taught in school that Villa was a bandit.  Revisionist history paints him as a hero of the Revolution, but Hector isn’t quite buying it. On display was the car in which Villa was riding (with 3 bodyguards) when he was ambushed and killed.  You could easily see many bullet holes.

Right across the street was a lovely Mexican crafts shop and in the back we had a demonstration of the making of the world-famous Mata Ortiz pottery by a couple who make the pottery for a living. When they showed us what it takes to make the pots (and they said they frequently lose 50% of the product in the firing process), one could readily appreciated the high prices they fetch.  I bought two tiny pots for $15. each.  The black-on-black one is particularly exquisite.

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For dinner that night, we had an incredible treat.  We were divided into three groups of equal size and attended home-hosted meals.  I went to the beautiful home of Jesus and Blanka Jurado.  Jesus is a mechanical engineer who works primarily with Honeywell and Blanka bakes cakes at home for weddings, quinceñeros (very lavish 15th birthday parties for girls, comparable to our Sweet Sixteens), and other parties.  They have three grown children and a grandchild.  Luckily for us six, Blanka spoke quite good English, Jesus a little less, but I think he understood everything.  We had a memorable experience.  The bus came for us far too soon.
Monday, March 10

We boarded our bus early for the final time for an all-day drive to El Paso.  Sack lunches were provided.  We arrived at the Camino Real Hotel again a little after 4 p.m. and gathered for our Wild West El Paso tour. Remember that duded-up guy I saw upon arrival at the Camino Real a week ago?  Well, he was our guide/story-teller.  He had been leaving the previous group’s tour when I saw him first.  Quite the character! Nearly knee-high riding boots with “spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle,” and packing two pistols in a holster.  He walked us around a two-block area for 1 1/2 hours, spinning stories of when El Paso was the most dangerous place in the West, tales full of saloons, gun slingers, madams.  We also learned about the many historical — and in most cases quite beautiful — buildings in the area and the architects who planned them.  There’s a major move afoot to restore the buildings to their original grandeur.  Our tour guide is the chair of the county historical society, so had his finger on the pulse of the redevelopment movement.  Already two or three old hotels have been bought with the express purpose of recreating the luster from their hey-days.

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We had our farewell dinner minus about five members, who had become ill (I not among them).  Toward the end of the meal, we turned in our evaluation forms (I gave nearly everything a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, and an overall rating of 10), then we each stood up and said what Hector’s leadership of the tour had meant to us.  I said, tearing up, that Hector had made me believe in my ability to speak the Spanish I’d learned decades earlier in high school and college.  He was an extraordinary guide and a warm, caring, thoughtful, informative, helpful person. I cannot imagine the trip without him.

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