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About Gail Howard's Mexico Travel Adventures

Even before she turns 21, the indomitable Gail Howard throws caution and language barriers to the wind as she heads off to Mexico City (and points beyond) by bus, boat, and foot. Miss Howard begins her 1957 Mexico adventure with a three-day bus ride wherein she gets her high school Spanish upgraded with private lessons from a white-haired señora, who also happens to be a boxing and wrestling aficionado.

When the bus breaks down, Gail Howard is asked to be a globetrotting Eliza to an English lawyer’s Henry Higgins, but ever the independent spirit she spurns this “no obligation” offer and opts instead for the hospitality of a pet baby squirrel owner who introduces her to his family and takes her to Cholula, home of 365 churches, each open but one day a year! Explorations of the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the gorgeous city of Puebla seal Gail Howard’s love of the Mexican people from beggars to street vendors to penitents crawling in fine tailored suits until their knees bleed.

Making every penny count, Gail Howard and her sister Terry spend luxury time at San Jose de Purua, a health spa; eat crispy worms (well, Gail does); chomp whole fish at Lake Chapala; see the murals of José Clemente Orozco at the University of Guadalajara; visit the hand blown glass factory in Tlaquepaque; buy pottery in Tonalateca and hand-loomed fabric in Ajijic; and Gail exhibits her bargain-savvy ways picking up rough opals for cheap in Queretaro.

Further travels take the sisters to the mummies of Guanajuato, the ruins of Mitla and Monte Alban in Oaxaca, and to the Tule Tree, believed to be the oldest living thing on earth. Gail and Terry pass through the matriarchal city of Tehuantepec on their way to San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas to stay with archeologist Frans Blom and his wife, the very colorful, Trudi Duby Blom. The Bloms are famous for exploring Palenque and uncharted territories and for befriending the Lacandon Indians.

Gail Howard and Terry decide to enroll in the University of Mexico where Gail takes up silver work with a fellow student who becomes a world famous cartoonist for Mad magazine. At the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon in Teotihuacan, Gail makes a shocking jade discovery. Later Gail Howard and her sister Terry decide to sleep through a deadly, world-headline-making earthquake and then catch a ride from Veracruz to Progreso in the Yucatan on a boat filled with rotting cabbage thus providing early evidence that Gail’s courage knows no bounds! How she wished she had stayed at the Hotel Ruiz Galindo in Fortin de Las Flores with those bushels of gardenias floating in the pool every day!

In the Yucatan the adventurous ones visit Mérida and the Mayan wonders of Chichen Itza, as well as the House of Nuns (otherwise known for sacrificial virgins) in Uxmal. With funds low, Terry flies back to California while Gail Howard trips over to New Orleans to hawk milk and transcribe autopsies. Advised to do more rewarding work, Gail Howard says bonsoir to the Crescent City soon after Mardi Gras 1958 and heads for Miami only to immediately answer the siren call of Cuba just before the victory of Fidel and Che. She tours Morro Castle, a cigar factory, a rum factory, shops, and dines at the famous restaurant called Sloppy Joe’s. And at the famous Riviera in Havana, she lets the infamous one-armed bandits gobble away her last dollar!

Gail Howard's Travel Adventures in Mexico in 1957

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For two days I sat on a bus bound for Mexico City, eager to practice my two years of high school Spanish. Sitting next to me in the front seat was a fragile-looking, white-haired Mexican lady. Though she spoke only a bit of English, she kindly agreed to be my Spanish teacher for the trip. To assist us in this endeavor, I borrowed a magazine from a fellow traveler. The magazine was about boxing and wrestling—subjects in which my little Señora was quite well versed. She told me the life story of each fighter we read about, and when she explained boxing terms I was not familiar with, her little fists punched mean holes in the air at an imaginary opponent.

Around midnight, the bus broke down, and we were transported to the nearest pueblo, Montemorelos. For the next three hours, I chatted with an older man, a lawyer from England. He was learned and intelligent, and seemed thrilled to meet someone with the same yearning for travel. The more we talked, the more he was convinced that I should travel with him to the Yucatan, down the length of the Amazon, then to the Orient. He saw himself as Henry Higgins to my Eliza. He said he was tired of traveling alone and wanted a companion. He also guaranteed the trips would be obligation-free. Not for a moment did I consider his generous offer. I wanted to experience the world on my own terms. I never wanted to be dependent on or obligated to anyone—I treasured my freedom and independence.

It did not take long before those of us on the bus journey felt like a family. At various stops, passengers bought me the most amazing array of fruit, with flavors I had never tasted before. A fellow passenger, Ricardo, bought a baby squirrel from a street urchin. I petted the precious little thing and carried it on my shoulder. Soon I had a circle of wetness on my dress. Behind me was a mother traveling with three small children. I held the baby for a couple of hours, and behold, another circle of wetness. The bus was a lively scene, with everyone switching seats, visiting one another. Ricardo came to sit beside me. We called each other “Mama” and “Papa” because of our “niños.” For several hours I spoke almost no English and none to Ricardo. All I had was my little dictionary to bridge the language gap, and it was getting quite a workout.

When the bus pulled into Mexico City, Ricardo insisted that I go to his house and meet his family. He said they would help me find a room. Ricardo’s mother was beautiful, warm and gracious. She insisted that I take a hot shower and spend the night in their lovely home. The next morning I was introduced to my new landlady, Señora Serrano, who could not speak a word of English other than “Mees” (Miss), which was my new name here.

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