“Martin, come play soccer with us.”
“No thanks. I’m too bad to play soccer. Besides, they are about to set up the pozole stand.”
Mago, a girl with a slender figure, long black hair, and a pretty face helps her mom to set up the table and chairs outside her house for the vending. I wave my hand as a greeting and she answers with her beautiful smile.
My older brother and his friends, with flared pants and psychedelic shirts, are playing guitar, my brother is singing “Heart of Gold.” It seems that girls his age like it.
Panchito, my cousin, tells me, “Some of the guys want to go tomorrow to the river at the bottom of the Huentitan ravine. Do you want to go?”
“I don’t know, I’ll see tomorrow.”
The next day I go out and there are the boys arguing about whether or not to go to the ravine. I tell them that I have no money to pay for transportation. “No one does,” they answer. “Let’s go walking,” El Búho (the owl) says, “I know how to get down.”
“Well then, let’s go,” El Gordo says.
We get to the boulevard. It is wooded most of the way, which makes the walk more pleasant.
“How long do you think it will take us to get there?” asks Aurelio. We look at each other, a long silence until Victor, El Búho, says, “Whatever. We are going anyway. Two hours? Three? A hundred blocks, three hundred, whatever.”
“Let’s count the red vochos,” Ramiro suggests.”
“Better to count the Ford Mustangs, they are prettier,” I tell them. “Or we’d better count the yellow public transport busses. Ha-ha. They look like giant wasps.”
Now we are where the plaza de toros and the Jalisco stadium are, one on each side of the boulevard. We all remember the 1970 World Cup. I was seven years old and it was crazy at every game, especially when the Brazilian team was playing.
Already near the end of the boulevard, El Búho says, “That way we can go down.” All I can see is a pile of corn plants but he is sure that the road begins there. We cross the muddy field.
Before we start to go down, I stop and look. It looks like a giant crack, as if a huge snake had passed through here and left this footprint. We arrive at a dense area of grass, trees, and bushes where there seems to be a path. In line we enter, but it is difficult to walk because the wet grass and the slope do not allow us to take firm steps.
“We have to hold on to the branches to avoid falling,” Ramiro suggests.
El Gordo says, “Branches, bushes, roots, whatever.”
Everyone laughs but with a certain nervousness. The more we go down, the more slippery the terrain becomes.
“Are you sure it’s this way?” we ask.
El Búho answers, “Yes, I can hear the river.” Certainly, if you pay attention, you can hear it.
Ramiro shouts, “I can already see.”
A murky and muddy river is what we see. The big rocks in the middle of the river make ridges. It’s an interesting view. When I look up, everything is covered with grass and trees, they look like giant green walls.
A couple of the boys get into the river, sit down, and let the water hit their backs while toads and frogs jump over their shoulders.
One of them yells at me, “Martin, get in the water. It feels good.”
“No thanks. I’ll just get my feet wet in a while.”
Panchito is barefoot climbing a big, wet rock. Suddenly he slips, falls, and hits his head against the rock. I run to his aid but I can’t get up. I ask him, “Are you okay?”
He sits up holding his head. I can see blood on the right side of his head. “I’m okay. I’ll be right down,” he answers.
“Do you want us to go back, Panchito?” shouts one of the boys.
My cousin shakes his head no. This situation brings back a sad memory. Last year a boy, about 17 years old, from el barrio died days after being hit in the head by a rock in a fight at a party a block away from our barrio.
We walk a stretch down the river and find a better place to be. Panchito puts a bandana on his head and goes into the river, while I sit on the river bank with my feet in the water. I hear the song of birds that I had not heard before. There is something moving among the trees; could be a squirrel. I look at the sky, birds with huge wings are, like, floating in the air. It gets cloudy and the sunlight dims.
“It would be a good idea to start climbing before it’s too late,” I say to the boys.
“Don’t be afraid, Martin, “El Gordo says.” I just say “ I answer.
Raindrops start to fall. It’s time to go back. Nobody remembers the point where we went down, so we have to improvise. We go diagonally up the wall of the ravine. The light is fading and it smells like rain. El Búho goes first and the others follow. The climb is slow because of all the mud and the lack of a clear path. Two steps and a slippery slope, we have to hold on to a branch or grass to avoid falling. The slope is very steep, like climbing a wall.
The rain begins and El Gordo is the first to slip and fall. Fortunately, a tree stopped him in time before he continued to the bottom. The despair begins. El Gordo does not stop complaining. “We are not going to get to the top before the light goes out. What are we going to do? We are going to fall and die.”
“Do not say stupid things,” Aurelio tells him.
I try not to think, only to walk and make sure there is something to grab on each step.
Now we try to go more vertically but the rain water runs stronger. Suddenly we come to a cliff face. We have to go back and try somewhere else.
Lightning lets us see for a split second where we are standing. I feel like someone or something is watching me. In the darkness two round lights shine like luminous eyes of fire. It looks like a dragon. Is it my guardian angel?
Ramiro slips and falls a few meters until he grabs something that stops him. We make a chain holding hands and take off our belts to reach him to help him up.
El Gordo keeps babbling. He’s tired like everyone else, he’s scared like everyone else, but he expresses it the most.
Someone shouts, “A light!” I see a light up there.
“It is not the moon?” another says.
“It is cloudy. It must be a lamp, maybe from the park at the end of the boulevard.”
We accelerate the pace until we reached a flat clearing. It is a lamp. We have reached the top.
We all celebrate with shouts and nervous laughter, but this is not over. There are still kilometers to go and the rain continues.
Soaked and muddy, we start the return to the barrio. The city is quiet. On Sunday night some families return to their homes after visiting grandma. The puddles reflect light on the streets.
El Gordo continues complaining. “My shoe is broken. Tomorrow I have to go to help my dad in the workshop and I have no other shoes. My dad is going to scold me.”
“We will all have problems if we are late,” I say.
A truck stops at one side. An old man wearing a hat drives it. “Where are you guys going?”
“Near the Morelos Park, sir.”
“Get in, I’ll pass by there.” We get in the box and sit down. The rain is disappearing. “Let me know where you want to get off.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you.”
“You said you knew the way, Búho,” Aurelio says. “I can see that they call you Búho for your face, not for being smart.” We all laugh.
El Búho says, “Shut up.”
“Sir, at the corner we get off.” We all jump out of the truck. “Thank you, thank you.”
We walk two more blocks and turn the corner. It feels good to get home. El Gordo, with his shoe in his hand, and all of us are dirty and wet. The girls from the barrio are the first to see us. “What happened to you?”
“Nothing. We couldn’t get out of the Huentitan ravine,” someone replies.
“Holy cow. You look terrible,” Mago says.
They all start asking questions. One of my sisters sees me and says, “Look at you. There is hot water ready. Go home and take a shower.”
“Yes,” I replay.
I look at the boys, happy that we were able to return.
“Panchito, tell my aunt what happened to you so she can cure you and maybe take you to the doctor.”
“Yes, I will tell her,” he says.
“See you later,” I say and go straight to the shower.
My mom is busy in the kitchen. After showering I am ready to go to bed. I am tired and with pain all over my body from many scratches and small wounds, I slept restlessly. In the middle of the night, I jump, still struggling not to fall down.
I wake up after midday. I go out and sit on the sidewalk next to a lamp post. A neighbor turns on the radio. “It is a beautiful day in La Perla Tapatia with a clear and clean sky.” Must be a joke, I say to myself.
Mago helps her mother get chairs and tables out for the sale of pozole. I greet her and she smiles at me. What a beautiful face.
Doña Maria looks out the door, side to side; there is no news for her report today.
I sigh deeply, happy to be part of another ordinary day in the barrio.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com