Greetings from the past: south to Mexico city

Recently, we received an unusual “mature” material about Mexico – an article written by Wilbor Gerret (WE Warrett), published in August 1968 in the American The National Geographic (vol. 134, no. 2).

The material entitled “South to Mexico City” is dedicated to traveling on a motor home on northwest Mexico from Ciudad Juarez to Mexico City.


At first, the path of Gerret and his family, consisting of Lucy’s wife, and two children, Mike and Kenny, lay across the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Nayarit, along the Pacific coast of Mexico, and then was taken to the Urals, Michoacán, Guanajuato and Mexico.


We decided to make a short retelling of this article, which caused a storm of emotions in us, after 46 years from the moment of its writing. Many of the places described by the author have just gained popularity for international tourism, the infrastructure has left much to be desired, and the service was not ideal, now it is the first-class resorts , the development of which has brought significant economic success to this part of Mexico. But first things first.

At that time, the author was an assistant editor, and twelve years later he was  appointed  editor-in-chief of National Geographic, which he held until 1990. It is noteworthy that it was in 1968 that many foreigners discovered Mexico for the first time, after all, at that time the country’s capital hosted the XIX Summer Olympic Games. Mexico could not hit the dirt in the face, because at that time (and at the moment too) it was the first Olympiad in Latin America.

They crossed the entire Copper Canyon  from the city of Chihuahua to Los Mochis, but not by the train CHEPE, which modern travelers do, I go on tours to the Copper Canyon , and by self-train  autovia. 


Autovia in the Copper Canyon

By the way, the famous 650-kilometer railway route, passing through 89 tunnels and 31 bridges, was built only in 1961, before that only mules used to cross this mountain system.

The family saw the life of the Tarahumar Indians – the most primitive people of North America – they still live in the caves of the Copper Canyon, which protected them from the conquest, and lead a nomadic way of life, cold winter hiding in warm caves, and in summer moving to a plateau for caring for corn plantations . Without clearly designated rulers and any hierarchy.


Indians of the Tarahumara

On the one hand, they did not succumb to the influence of the Spaniards, they kept their way of life and traditions, on the other hand they feel the whole burden of the traditional way of life: high infant mortality, illiteracy, lack of immunity to diseases brought from the Old World and so on. The delicate balance of the Tarahumara society can not survive without support from outside – in the canyon, and then, and now, non-governmental and charitable organizations function.

Then the family’s way lay in the direction of the Basaseachi waterfalls , and the canyon of Urike, near which they found plantations of orchids, oranges, mangoes and avocados, and among the local fauna there are pumas, jaguars and parrots.


A long road along the mountain chain finally reached the coast of the Gulf of California, the largest city on which was Los Mochis , founded in the early 20th century by American businessman Benjamin Johnston as a transshipment point for sugarcane transport, the newly constructed railway breathed new life into this town. The representative of the Development Office of Mexico described the rapid growth of the city: “Our city is like a little boy who grows too fast – his pants are too tight … for example, the city is served by four airlines, but we do not even have an airport – we use a strip of sugar factory” He continued : “Almost everything that you see here – asphalt roads, hospitals, hotels, banks – has appeared in the last six years.”


Wilber also visited the headquarters of the local farmers’ cooperative, where he was once again convinced that the region’s economy, if not prosperous, is moving in the right direction. There he was promised that in ten years Los Mochis would become the largest city on the West coast of Mexico (this was not to be realized).

The author of the article notes that in 1968 tourism brought Mexico (and this before the foundation of Cancun) about 1 billion dollars, which accounted for almost half of all currency earnings entering the country.

Then their path followed along the Pacific coast, to Mazatlan , which was called “the queen of the resorts of Mexico” (“the king” in the article is the most famous at the time the resort of Acapulco , to which the author of the article never reached). As in our time, noted the relaxed atmosphere of Mazatlan and excellent waves for surfing. We were very surprised by the sad fact of the history of the city – during the civil war that raged in Mexico in 1914, it was bombarded from the air – this was the second such case in the history of mankind.


Photo published on the network to mark the 125th anniversary of National Geographic

In addition, they visited only the growing popularity of Puerto Vayart . The American man in the street saw this wonderful place in the famous film “The Night of the Iguana”, which was released on big screens four years before. According to one of the local entrepreneurs who built the first modern hotel in Puerto Vallarta in the late 50’s, the donors gave quite a lot of help to the builders, without whose draft power nothing would have been possible – because then there was no electricity, no modern highways, no proper equipment.


Panorama of Puerto Vallarta

The visit to Guadalajara was short-lived due to the fact that not long before, National Geographic had already dedicated a report to this second-largest city of Mexico.

Then they arrived at Lake Patzcuaro and visited the village of the same name, as well as the home of most local fishermen, the magical island of Khanitzio, one of the most interesting places in Michoacan, which we visit as part of the Heart of Mexico tour . For catching fish they use special nets, at the moment of casting they resemble the silhouette of a butterfly. Casually the author touched the ceremony on the occasion of the Day of the Dead , held on the island – she is one of the most spectacular in all of Mexico.


Market on the island of Hannitsio

The final part of the article tells about the preparation of Mexico City for the Olympics: hasty work on the construction of facilities, the construction of the underground, during which every day it was possible to find and catalog the excavations found belonging to the Aztec civilization.