Twenty-one and restless, sound familiar?
It was late fall and I had just finished my junior year of College in Abaline, Texas. My roommate John had suggested that we go to Mexico after Christmas and the idea had taken root.
We would skip school for three months and return in the spring for a summer job, hopefully. But as fortune would have it John backed out. As for me, I was hooked, I would go without him.
A decrepit, 1950 Chevy was purchased, a few things packed, including my 8mm camera and I headed down to Laredo. When I crossed the border into Mexico I had $50 in my pocket. I know it sounds crazy, but to me the planning was solid and nothing impossible. Hay, I was resilient, like a blob of mercury on a marble top table: hard to pin down.
Budget travel, I was doing it. I would sleep in my sleeping bag next to the car, plus gasoline was only 10 cents a gallon. I had marshaled my funds carefully and had visions of covering many miles, which I did and it was fun and exciting.
Often I would awake in the morning and start driving before breakfast. Sometimes it was late in the day before I would purchase any food. The price had to be rock bottom before I would relinquish any of my coins. A stalk of bananas cost about a nickel, that’s a smart shopper.
My adventures were too numerous to mention in this piece, but would like to mention a few. It was late March, in Acapulco and I had run out of money. A few people wanted to buy my car and some offers were substantial. But, the car represented freedom and a home, so I gave up my radio for $20. Maybe that would be enough to get me home.
Leaving Acapulco I heading north, along the coast. The road soon turned into a two-lane cattle trail, and it was rough. At one spot they had laid two logs across a creek, spaced for a wagon - or auto and I crossed.
I found a secluded beach surrounded by coconut trees and I was elated to find hundreds of coconuts. On steep rocks at the ocean’s edge there were snails, larger than my fist. Yes, I was hungry and feasted on snails and coconuts.
As a native Texan I didn’t have much experience with ocean tides. I had parked my car on the beach and was sleeping next to it. In the middle of the night I awoke, water was washing over my sleeping bag and I panicked. The incoming tide had reached the hubcaps of the car. I threw stuff into the car, cranked it up and just managed to escape.
The next morning I drove to Mexico City, There I treated myself to a hotel, it had a huge tiled bathroom with shower and it was my first. I had been bathing in creeks and streams for three months. The room cost me $3 for the night.
In the city I met three other young fellows who had hitchhiked across the U.S. and then down into Mexico. They too were on their way home, to New York.
We pooled our funds and made it to the border at McAllen, Texas where they split for home. I continued north toward home in Abilene. I was now dreaming of barbecue and hamburgers and was down to 119 pounds. I was literally starving by degrees.
I drove onto a huge oil lease in south Texas one evening to find a place to camp. There were sheep grazing nearby: food. I managed to catch a small one, slew it with a stone, dressed it on the spot, built a small fire, and had roasted lamb on a stick. For two days I sat by that fire roasting and eating mutton until every scrap was gone.
Arriving home, Uncle Sam’s invitation was waiting. Mess hall food in Basic Training would restore almost 50 pounds to my body, bringing me back to a normal weight in a short time.
Although it only cost me $50 and a radio, "Budget Travel" was priceless. It was a three-month course on survival. I’m still trying to stay on the trail and out of the woods. Dale Johnson Trailwood Films”. <www.trailwoodfilms.com>