Sometimes life has a mysteriously beautiful way of sharing its special gifts with us. We never know what to expect and when to expect it. Many times we are unaware when we are living that gift; that special moment that we are being allowed to experience. Sometimes we realize the beauty of such moments at a much later time in our lives if we look back to remember and reflect. Nothing is more beautiful than that realization when you are living the moment it is happening
I am part of a family, in Austin, Texas. The family is Kalpulli Teokalli Teoyolotl. Our family lives the ancient traditions of our Mexihka ancestors. My main connection to the Kalpulli is Danza Azteca, apart from the various ceremonial aspects that our family or Kalpulli shares in. Our commitment to that tradition is Danza Xochipilli. Our Danza is under the instruction of our Capitana, Tonantzin Fernandez, who lives in Tlaxcalancingo, Puebla. It is from her that we receive our danzas and instruction. We have received the blessing of being able to go there and learn from her so that we can take on more responsibilities to preserve our tradition of Danza.
Quiahuitl with our Capitana, Tonantzin Fernandez, taking the Paso de Cortez.
Volcano Popocatepetl is on the background.
In September, 2009 I was granted permission by the Jefes of our Kalpulli to go to Puebla. The mission was two-fold. To bring more instruction from our Capitana in the form of Danzas and to receive a new heartbeat for our group in the form of a Huehuetl, a drum. To us the Huehuetl or Huehuetzin, is a grandfather or abuelo. We call him abuelo because he is just that in his original form, a tree. The trees to us are abuelos; ancient grandfathers whose feet or roots are firmly planted into the Great Mother Earth and whose arms are outstretched towards the cosmos praising the opportunity of every passing day. It is from the abuelos that we receive the air that we breathe, the breath that gives us life. It is from these abuelos that our heartbeat or drum comes from.
My stay in Puebla was almost a month. I had to stay that long in order to wait for the carver to finish the drum. The wait was worth it! It allowed me to accompany our Capitana and be a part of various ceremonies, danzas, and velaciones. Three weeks had passed when Capitana took me to her parents’ home where the huehuetl was dropped off. He is beautiful! He carries the symbols our Kalpulli represents and more specifically who our Danza venerates: Señor Xochipilli; guardian of medicinal plants! Every detail was carefully carved out of a pine trunk. Xochipilli sits upon an altar bearing all the medicinal plants on his body. The other side of the huehuetl shows a sacred house (Teokalli) with a sacred heart (Teoyolotl) in the sky. Both sides of the Teokalli are protected by Mayahuel, the maguey. I couldn’t wait to take the abuelo back to our family in Austin so that they could see the beautiful work the carver put into our new heartbeat!
As life would have it, I did not have enough money to make the journey home. I ran out of money paying for our drum! I knew that I would be left with little money and decided I would jump on an idea I got from our Capitana in one of our conversations. She told me how she used to hitchhike with truckers to Mexico City when she had little or no money to meet her obligations at the various Danzas there. I really had no choice but to jump on that. She told me that just down the street is a small stand that serves food where truckers stop to eat. Maybe I can ask one to get an idea of how difficult this venture may prove.
Life is beautiful and without coincidence because everything happens for a reason. That day I met Gerardo Acosta, a trucker, who agreed to take me up north from Mexico City. I just had to make it somehow from Puebla to Mexico City. I would meet him at the Central de Abastos where the traileros load their trucks to make shipments. I planned everything out so that I could make it there by Sunday. That left me only four days to make all the necessary arrangements!
The next day, which was Friday, I saw the veneration of the huehuetl at danza practice with our Capitana’s group. The abuelo stood among the other abuelos during the entire danza. Our Capitana presented the huehuetl to the entire group making it clear that he would not be used until he reached his destination in the north. He would simply be there to receive the energy of every danza offered during the practice as well as the energy of the abuelos so that the connection we have with them in Puebla is established. At the end of the practice I had to carry the drum to each of the four directions. I chose to hold the abuelo upright in my arms and not on my shoulder so that he would be standing.
When it was time for me to present him to the Cosmos, I was surrounded by the group. I was on my knees hugging the abuelo against my chest. Capitana instructed me to hold Abuelo up as she resounded La Invocación al Padre Sol. It seemed to last forever: her words echoed throughout the building shaking the walls with a determination that resonated in my heart with confidence. I had to be as strong as her words, with my arms stretched to the sky holding abuelo up by his feet. Capitana’s sahumadora, Mazatl Quiahuitl, blessed the abuelo with the sacred smoke of copal as I brought him down for the final invocation that would finally reconnect him to Mother Earth. The ceremony ended as every danzante formed a line to give the grandfather drum a blessing in the form of a hug or a kiss. Several other danzantes kneeled to one side and offered him cantos. He now carries the energy and blessings of our Capitana and her group, Tonantzin Coatlicue, so that we share it wherever we take him in our Danzas!
Now it was time to return to the north in Texas where a new home awaited grandfather. Saturday afternoon I wrapped the abuelo in several blankets and placed in his hollow body 5 pairs of ayoyotes that our Kalpulli bought. I also placed several poster boards that contained patterns to make our trajes. He weighed even more! It was then that I realized that the abuelo was going to put me to work in a journey I would never forget! With some extra cash Capitana lent me, I took a bus to Mexico City Sunday morning. I got there around 7 am and immediately took a taxi to the Central de Abastos where I would meet my new friend, Gerardo. I only wondered how the trip would be to Monterey in the state of Nuevo Leon. I prayed that everything would fall in line as I would imagine it, but I knew that was asking too much!
The taxi driver dropped me off at the warehouse where he said I would find the loading dock. The Central de Abastos is a market place open to the public where truckers unload or pick up goods to be shipped throughout Mexico. Gerardo had told me to meet him at Warehouse X, where I would find loading dock 86. There I would see many trailer trucks bearing the name of the company that he works for: Hertrucks. I wasn’t told that the loading dock would be at the end of the giant building that seemed to extend at least one mile. I made that walk with the abuelo, passing all the fruit stands and tiny restaurants, as he pierced my shoulder and bent my collar bones. I took breaks and let him rest in between the sweats I kept breaking. Halfway through I found a small restaurant where I ordered a juice. I savored every drop of juice as if it was going to be my last. I explained my situation to one of the men that worked there. I told him I only had to find a trucker that was in the other half of the marketplace. He agreed to watch over the huehuetl and my tote bag. It was time to track Gerardo down.
I called Gerardo from a payphone to let him know I made it. “I’m already in Monterey,” is what I heard on my end of the payphone, “they sent me on an emergency shipment last night!” He told me not to worry. If I would give him the numbers of the trucks bearing the company name at the loading dock, he would call one of them to see who would take me up north. I waited half an hour and called Gerardo back. He told me, “Go to the driver of truck 47! His name is Jose Alberto, we call him Takexi. He’s short and chubby and looks almost like this Japanese man in a TV show. I told him you’re my friend and he agreed to take you to with him to Monterey!” I told him “Thank you Gerardo,” and hung up the phone.
I found a group of men wearing t-shirts that read Hertruck. They stood in a circle talking and laughing near their trucks. When I approached them, I greeted them in the friendliest manner possible. “I’m looking for Jose Alberto,” I asked. Sure enough a short stocky man spoke up. I put my hand out to offer him a handshake. He studied me up and down. I could tell he was wondering what type of a person he would be taking on the road. I introduced myself to all of them, as “un Tejano Danzante Azteca”. I wanted them to understand that I was on a mission with the huehuetl for our danza group and that I was not some freeloading “bum” out for an adventure only! I know they got a kick out of me judging by the looks on their faces. After some conversation with ‘Takexi,” as they called Jose Alberto, I went back for the huehuetl and my clothes bag. I thanked the workers at the restaurant and let them know I found my ride.
Jose Alberto Ramirez, “El Takexi” from Mexico City, Distrito Federal
When I got to Takexi’s truck he let me load my things in the sleeper cabin. Abuelo was happy: he was able to lay down and rest on the mattress in the sleeper cabin! I sensed some inconvenience on Takexi’s part and noticed a bothered look on his face. I offered to pay for his lunch. I want him to know I wasn’t going to freeload. I had to be on my best behavior and better be one hell of a good road companion. I didn’t want to be a nuisance in any way so I started thinking of good conversation topics for the road! We went back into the Central to meet up with the rest of the guys. Lunch lasted over an hour before it was time to hit the road. I couldn’t wait for the ride!
We climbed into the giant truck and Takexi started the engine. The truck growled smoothly as he pushed buttons and turned his CB radio on. I stared at all the gauges on the instrument panel wondering what they could be for. I looked out the window at the cars that passed by below us. I felt I was on top of the world! He shifted into first gear and the truck pulled on its trailer hard, ‘We’re off!’ Takexi weaved through the Mexico city traffic like nothing. He had the confidence that no one dared to get in his way. Who in their right mind would like to have their car thrown aside by several tons of steel and cargo? We got onto the freeways and finally made our way out of the city.
After an hour or so on the road, I began to feel the pressure of all the water I drank. I had to use the bathroom! I only wondered when Takexi would make a stop! That has always been a problem for me. My bladder does not serve well for holding back whatever I drink for extended periods of time. Just as the feeling began to intensify, Takexi pulled over on the side of the highway. He stopped! What a blessing! I knew I was cruising with the right man because Takexi had to use the restroom just as often as I did! It seemed as if we were synchronized. Every time I had the urge to use the restroom he stopped to use the restroom as well.
It was in Hidalgo that I realized most of the other traileros were on the same route to Monterey. We stopped at a small restaurant-truck stop to eat together with his friends that were on the same route. The restaurant was called “El 99.” It’s a humble restaurant owned and operated by a humble family trying to make a living. The men work outside washing the trucks and the trailers while the women work in the kitchen serving the food. We stayed there at least 2 hours eating, drinking coffee, and smoking the time away. I got to know the other guys more intimately as they shared their stories. I rolled tobacco for them to smoke while they recounted adventures in their travels. A couple of them even lived and worked in the U.S. We exchanged experiences about the hardships of working in construction. They stayed and worked in various cities I visited and eventually found their way back to Mexico in the trucking business.
Behind all that conversation I kept wondering about crossing the border. I don’t have a passport because I can’t afford one. Last I heard was that they were enforcing passports on American Citizens who wanted to reenter the United States at any of the several border checkpoints along the U.S./Mexico border. I didn’t want to verify that: I would try to cross playing ignorant to the government’s rules and regulations. How was I supposed to know?! One of the lines I was preparing to use was, “I don’t watch TV or listen to the radio, and I never received any notification by mail!” Let’s see how that gets the customs agents at the bridge. That was fear trying to seep inside. I gave up. I will let our Creator decide if I can cross with Abuelo.
I pushed that to the back of my head and kept talking with my new friends. When they were advised that their trucks had been washed we made ready to leave. Takexi paid for my coffee. It was good to know that it was the same price regardless of how many cups one drinks! We hung out outside the restaurant and chatted a bit. I took out my camera and used the last two frames left on pictures of me with the traileros. I knew that this would be an unforgettable journey and I wanted to save the faces of my new friends on film.
At “El 99” in the state of Hidalgo.
We were back on track. Hours passed on the road as Takexi calmly shifted gears and passed the slower cars. Every now and then he pulled the CB microphone down to check in with the other drivers. Everyone was doing well and we were rolling on time.
We crossed several states quickly. He’d tell me, “now we’re in Queretaro,” or “now were in Guanajuato…” We stopped for gas in the middle of the desert. I didn’t have a clue as to where in Mexico we were at. He came back with a pack of cigarettes, gum, and sodas for both of us. One of the other drivers gave him a large bag of grapes from the trailer of his truck. All the drivers were carrying fruit and produce in the refrigerated trailers that would eventually find their way to the markets of Monterey.
On the road, Takexi and I talked about life and about our families. He shared a beautiful story of the memories he has about his father who had passed away. It made me think about my family and the time I still have with my father. How crazy would my dad see me if I were to tell him that I hitched a ride through Mexico in a diesel truck, carrying a drum for the group of Danza Azteca that I belong to? “Jefe, soy Danzante Azteca. Como la vez?” I won’t tell him any time too soon! But I will tell him that if it wasn’t for Takexi’s words, I would not be counting the blessings to have my Dad around. I told Takexi how I had an obsession with diesel trucks when I was a child of only 6 years old. I thanked him for this experience because now, 30 years later on the eve of my 36th birthday, I got to ride in one! He wished me a happy birthday and shifted into another gear.
En el desierto de San Luis Potosi.
I’ll never forget it: turning 36 on a highway in the State of San Luis Potosi! The moon colored the desert in silver. The shadows of mountains lined the horizon in the distance. Inside the cab of the roaring truck me and Takexi smoked cigarettes and chewed gum endlessly. The soundtrack to the ride included Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante, Javier Solis, and Vicente Fernandez. I had the window down and the cold desert air bathed my face. I could only take deep breaths, refusing to blink, while recording the comfort of the desert’s solitude. Have you ever experienced a moment where you have to step out of what is going on all around you and pinch yourself to make sure you are not dreaming? You have to wake yourself up and realize that what is happening IS happening! I better commit this passing moment to memory, never to forget it because it may never happen again. Tlazokamati Takexi! You and the experience you made possible are not forgotten! Keep on rolling through the night upon the highways. Keep passing the cars my friend while I turn the volume up on the rancheritas!
…To be continued!
Part II “From Monterrey to the Border, and Home sweet Home!”