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Wednesday, August 23, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 66, Issue 3 

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Adventures in scenic Mexico

Tom Carpenter

While down in old Mexico studying Spanish this summer, everybody in our little troupe got to have a four-day weekend that was our golden coin to spend any way we liked.

Most of the group packed up and set off for Acapulco and a little fun in the sun.

Drinking tequila sunrises on a white beach and parasailing over the Pacific did sound like a pretty good way to relax from the rigors of the classroom; and believe me, we were ready for some in-country R&R.

Five of us wanted a little more excitement and adventure than lying on the beach. 

Torrential rains kept us from going to examine the ethereal ruins in Tabasco and Chiapas, two Mexican states west of Yucatan and north of Guatemala.

In an effort to learn more about the people and geography of Mexico, we opted for some hair-raising bus rides up into the beautiful Sierra Gorda Mountains to visit the pueblos of San Joaquin and Jalpan, and the tiny village of Concá.

Screeching around hairpin curves with the tail end of the bus dangling dangerously over one bottomless abyss after another provided plenty of excitement.

When the bus had a blowout going around a sharp curve as we neared Jalpan, we were actually relieved, but that's another story.

You can imagine how our excitement increased the third day of our adventure when warning signs saying "peligroso," which means "danger" in Spanish, began appearing just before our bus hurtled into another screeching, twisting, roaring turn as we dashed through the mountain passes toward Concá ... and vehicles pass each other on those treacherous curves!

Concá is a jewel; a beautiful, shining, precious village deep in the heart of Mexico. The land surrounding Concá is extraordinarily fertile and the entire valley was one big garden. With the confluence of two rivers in the mountain valley, the people of the tiny village and the farmers of the valley have no shortage of water, which makes Concá very attractive to developers.

When we arrived at our hotel, the magnificent Mission Concá, one of our dauntless adventurers (for modesty's sake I'll call him the "Mysterious G") had a slight digestive problem and was badly in need of a laxative.

The gallant Susan King, fellow UH student and traveler, and her erstwhile sidekick, me, volunteered to hop aboard two bicycles and race into Concá to purchase some medicine for our beleaguered fellow traveler.

It was about a mile and a half ride to the village of Concá. There was one long uphill slope and one not long enough downhill slope to get to the village turnoff. 

A cobblestone road about a quarter of a mile long led to the village from the highway. Boy, was that something to experience on a bicycle.

We spotted a small drugstore on the main street, leaned our bikes against a tree and mounted the wooden steps and went inside.

A very young girl was behind the counter when we entered. When she couldn't answer our questions in English we proceeded to dazzle her with our Spanish.

We saw the little girl's eyes widen and her mouth drop open as her face turned a little red.

Susan and I looked at each other, started laughing ourselves in an embarrassed sort of way, and kept trying to ask for the laxative.

In all of the Spanish classes Susan and I had alertly attended, the word for "laxative" had never appeared in any of the text books, or come up in any classroom exercises.

There was never one of those self-explanatory pictures in the book with a person sitting on a commode with a tortured look on his/her face in one frame, then a relieved smiling face in the next frame with the word "laxative" used in a conversation balloon over his/her head.

It didn't take the young girl long to go get her mother.

The lovely mother didn't speak English either, so Susan and I began a half Spanish, half pantomime, and totally confusing description of what we wanted.

Somewhere along the trail through Mexico I'd managed to increase my vocabulary with a smattering of colorfully descriptive words they don't teach you in the classroom.

I was real hesitant to utilize that segment of my vocabulary, although I knew the woman would immediately understand what we desperately wanted.

Susan threw me a dirty look, punctuated by a frown, when I suggested demonstrating my flair with Spanish to end the communication gridlock.

Susan flashed me another frown, accompanied by an almost violent shake of her head, when I volunteered to mime a version of our difficulty.

It took us a minute to recover from the laughter that image produced while the poor woman behind the counter smiled questioningly at us.

Susan continued her entertaining barrage of Spanish while I searched the labels of the medicine on the shelves for something that looked vaguely familiar.

I figured since Susan had rejected my greatest communication skills, another approach to our dilemma was in order.

I spotted a bottle of Kaeopectate and immediately used the word "opuesta," which means "opposite," and pointed at the bottle. I finally got something besides a frown from Susan as she smiled and said, "Hey, good idea!"

A red veil momentarily swept across the woman's face as it dawned on her what we wanted. There's just something slightly embarrassing about asking for a laxative, even when it's for someone else and you're in a foreign country where no one knows you.

The woman gave a little sheepish chuckle and said, "Ah, si!" 

Everybody broke into relieved laughter when she grabbed a bottle of medicine from the shelf and put it on the counter.

When we returned to the Mission Concá I grabbed my dictionary and looked up "laxative." Wouldn't you know it, it's a cognate, laxitivo.

Carpenter, a senior journalism major, 
can be reached at dccampus@mail.uh.edu.

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