Summer of Adventure

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


A summer to remember when a group of school kids spent ten weeks in Mexico on their own.

Submitted: May 02, 2018

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Submitted: May 02, 2018

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When I was 13 years old, I spent a summer in rural Mexico with no adult supervision. Yep. Fact.  It was a school sponsored trip.  I know that seems farfetched, given the current concern for protecting our youth from every danger known to social media. It seems the world of 1971 was much farther from the present than the intervening 47 years would indicate.  I cannot testify to the thought process that went on in the minds of the adults who surely knew about this and approved of the general concept.  I can only say that in late May, 1971 a group of 7th through 12th graders piled into, and drove an odd assortment of passenger and utility vehicles and headed south to our great adventure.


I started with the bold statement that we had no adult supervision.  At its most fundamental meaning, that is true – there was no real supervision. Now, for full disclosure, we technically had one fully grown adult teacher and likely several participants who were legally adults since they were eighteen years old.  I can assure you that the eighteen-year-olds provided whatever the opposite of supervision might be –bad suggestions, bad examples, risky suggestions?  The teacher who came with us was a native of the region we were headed to in Mexico.  He had come to America as an undocumented youth in the late 1940s and had later become a citizen and teacher.  His mother and family still lived in the region and for the entire summer, he stayed about two hours away, rarely supervising any of our activities.


The noble purpose of our trip was to set up a summer camp program for the youth of a very impoverished border town, Agua Prieta, in the state of Sonora.  This town is a border town just opposite Douglas Arizona.  Back then is was a very small agricultural town with little to offer its youth in enrichment during the summer.  Our teacher had coordinated with the town government to make the school available to us for the summer and that is where we set up athletic and art programs for all ages of children.  Our teacher also had arranged for us to take over a small motel who charged each of us fifty cents per night for a room that slept 3 to 4 kids.  We ate most of our meals in the Copacabana Club, a bar that was next door.  Once we arrived, set up the venue, checked in to our motel and scoped out the bar, our teacher departed for the summer.


The next two and a half months were filled with lots of exploration, connections with the youth of the town, taking risks, surviving risks and actually making an impact on the town. The summer program was fairly organized for something that was the product of a bunch of kids.  It ran from 8am to noon.  We had the participants divided up into four or five grade level groups.  The younger kids spent more time in art and music activities with a little time in simple athletic games like kickball, jumping on a trampoline we brought, hopscotch style games and lots of jump rope.  The older kids spent most of the time using our various athletic equipment to organize their own games of soccer, basketball and baseball.  I think the real value we brought was a place for the youth to gather and give them a focus for their social interaction.  There was not a lot we were really teaching them since many were our age and they were a lot better than us at most of the activities.


The program schedule gave us a lot of time to get in trouble and although a lot of us tried no one really succeeded.  In the afternoons, we hopped in the various vehicles and drove around the area exploring the desert, driving to nearby towns or occasionally heading back into the States for a swim at the YMCA.  And then there were the evenings with nothing much to offer us for excitement so a lot of drinking started to happen.  I am not sure exactly what alcohol consumption laws were supposed to be because I saw no evidence of their impact.  Any of us could go into a bar or store and purchase unreasonable quantities of liquor.  There was a lot of evening drinking, but no one drove after drinking and no one left the motel compound, so wicked hangovers were the biggest penalty we suffered.


I mentioned that we occasionally crossed the border to swim at the YMCA and over time, the US Customs and Border Patrol officers observed that we never seemed to have adults with us.  Several times they took a lot of extra time to inspect our vehicles.  Once, they discovered a bunch of empty beer and liquor bottles that we had collected to use a chess pieces on our checkerboard-like motel room floors.  Upon hearing our explanation, they shook their heads skeptically and proceeded to give all of us a lengthy lecture about the various legal entanglements we could find ourselves in if we weren’t careful.


The most memorable adventure we had that summer was a weekend of riding the rails on a freight train with our summer camp students, following them to a basketball tournament in a town several hundred kilometers away.  None of us Americans had a clue what to do or when to do it.  The Mexican kids, explained the strategy of getting on and off a moving train and demonstrated it like they were seasoned instructors.  After graduating from this quick school, we started running and hopped on box cars for an overnight trip into the heartland of Mexico.  We arrived the next morning and explored the city – a colonial capital with lots of great plazas, churches and cafes.  That afternoon we cheered on our friends and one or two of our better athletes joined in on the fun.  That evening we all camped out on the grass in a small park near the center of town and watched an amazing show of bats hunting for insects around the plaza and buildings.  The next morning, we all headed in to the rail yard to find a train back to Agua Prieta.  The train had a caboose, but no staff were riding in it, so the engineer offered to let us ride back in comfort in and on top of that caboose.


To this day I have no idea how this adventure was even possible.  I learned so much.  At the end of the summer I had gained a confidence that set me up for success in my future life.  I had become fluent in Spanish which didn’t last quite as long as the confidence.  I had an adventure that likely will never be possible again.


I recently had my class reunion for the school that sponsored the trip.  That school is a prestigious private school with very rigorous, current policies on student activities. Several of us who participated in that summer adventure had an opportunity to share our experience with the current headmaster of the school.  Upon hearing our accounts, he said he wanted to believe we were making most of it up and was hoping we were not.  Even my Mother is certain she never would have approved that I participate in such a trip and that I must be mistaken about the lack of supervision.  My response is that as a parent of 4 grown children, I share her disbelief… but it really did happen and likely there is more to the tale that I have forgotten.


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