My grandfather is a rather unconventional person. A mix between Mexican Indiana Jones and some sort of low key James Bond, he has certainly accrued a wealth of experiences over his 82 years of life.
He has always been an eager learner: he taught himself a lot of skills, from carpentry to welding. Mechanics has always been a great passion of his –by age sixteen he had learned how to fix diesel engines– and to this day you can often find him in his workshop at home working on his latest invention, repairing or modifying some vehicle, machine or tool of some sort.
My grandfather always had the heart of an adventurer. He loves going to remote places in the countryside, walking –or rather driving through– the less traveled path and most importantly, sailing. Sailing is another one of his passions and he has taken us on some rather thrilling and crazy rides both at sea and through rivers in Mexico.
He is interested in all modes of transport and boasts about having driven all sorts of vehicles during his life, save for a submarine and a hot air balloon. When he was younger, he used to have a small light airplane and fly to whatever location his adventures required.
Childhood with my grandfather
Since I was little, his way of spending time with me was to ask me to come along and then start some lengthy explanation about how some machine worked or about some topic related to history, geography, anthropology or science.
When I was a kid, I used to dread these encounters, as I was usually bored to tears listening to stuff like the political details of the Mexican revolution and its repercussions in the country’s economy, the agricultural techniques in ancient Mesopotamia, the Franco-Prussian war, etc. which are not exactly child-friendly topics of conversation for someone that at that age just wanted to watch Sailor Moon and go to the arcade to play Street Fighter.
He was always teaching me about practical things like how machines and vehicles work, how to cook things with limited resources, how to orientate myself using the stars and the Sun (which I failed at miserably), how to make nautical knots… you get the idea.
Preparing for the Apocalypse?
Things started getting pretty intense when I was about 12 years old and my grandfather really bought into the fear of the Peak Oil.
In case the madness didn’t hit you back then (late 90’s, early 00’s), this was a sort of mass hysteria were some people thought that oil was about to get exhausted as a resource and was going to completely run out on a global scale in about 30-50 years time, which would cause a quick decline in the safety and quality of life of the human population and send us on a downward spiral of Mad Max-esque survival madness.
Thus, my grandfather started educating me accordingly. He ramped up his lessons on survival and tried to teach me everything from how to start a fire (which is a lot more difficult than you can probably imagine), how to fish, how to make maps, record positions, make routes and find locations, crafting and finding make-do weapons to use, etc.
He showed me how to aim and shoot. When I showed an interest in firearms around age fifteen, he went ahead and bought me an entire collection of firearms magazines; when I said I wanted to learn a martial art, he was happy that I would learn some self-defense and also taught me some dirty fighting tricks. He even crafted himself a heavy bag for me to use and a pull up bar so I could train at home. He also got me grip trainers because he said it was important to have a strong grip.
But the most outrageous episode of the “preparing for the apocalypse” era was when my grandfather decided that another skill I could not do without was being able to kill, clean and cook an animal for eating. For this purpose, he bought me a couple of full-grown chickens and asked my grandma (who lived in a farm when she was young) to instruct me on how to kill them with my bare hands.
To achieve it, basically you had to grab the chicken by the legs with one hand, grab their neck with the other and, while positioning your thumb in the space between the cranium and the spine, dislocate them by pulling the animal lengthwise in one powerful, firm motion.
It was awful. Long story short, I could not do it. I always hesitated at the last moment so I ended up just hurting the animal and then my grandma had to intervene and kill it. I did learn how to clean it, cut it and cook it, though.
The Indiana Jones years and the route of Hernán Cortés.
As the renaissance man that he is, my grandfather had a great interest in archaeology and especially the events that took place since the Spanish arrived in the new world for the first time, up to the fall and conquest of Tenocthtitlan, the biggest city of the Aztec Empire.
He started doing research into all the preserved accounts dating from that time and made it one of his lifetime projects to find the exact route Hernan Cortes followed on his way to Tenochtitlan.
This ambitious project required not only a lot of bibliographical research, but also many field trips trying to follow the signs described, finding the ruins of ancient settlements or other constructions they alluded in the chronicles, pinpointing locations and paths the Spanish explorers followed based on the descriptions. My grandfather was part of the organizing team of an all-terrain vehicle club and they would usually go into these expeditions following the route of Hernan Cortes.
These were long, arduous trips where you were always in for a surprise. Crazy things happened all the time while on the road or exploring into the fields, from being attacked by cows at night while camping on what we thought was an empty field, to a pretty spectacular accident where one of the jeeps came tumbling downhill after failing to go up a steep muddy incline (no one was seriously hurt, fortunately). Mostly, however, it was about getting covered with ticks while traversing outgrown fields and trying to cross rivers without any of the vehicles in the caravan getting stuck.
I think the most surreal experience I had happened while we were searching for the remains of a certain “wall” that was described in the chronicles and my grandfather had been unable to locate. He had a few educated guesses about the location and, after talking with the locals discussing what he was looking for, we set on an expedition to go on a small mountain that supposedly had some archaeological ruins near the top.
A local man in his fifties, named Margarito, volunteered to guide us to the place, but holly hell, we had no idea what we signed up for: the ascent was steep and difficult, like a very tricky hike. While we were getting short of breath, our guide just kept talking nonstop –and I mean nonstop– about some local legends and folklore regarding some caves located in the mountain and the surrounding hills.
He claimed that at some point in the early 20th century, reports of a “feral woman” roaming the area started to spread. After the sightings became more conspicuous, some local rangers decided to start a search and capture her, and so they did; they claimed that she was covered in fur like an animal, had no language and was living by herself in a cave in one of the mountains.
He repeated this story over, and over, and over… one by one, the people from our small expedition party were being left behind, exhausted by the difficult terrain (and maybe the repetitive nature of our guide’s never ending commentary), until only I was left with the guide advancing towards our goal.
Margarito kept saying “we are almost there” “it’s just a little bit further up” meanwhile I was exerting myself so much I started to feel nauseous. He just kept going, and going, no signs of tiredness, that old man had some incredible stamina. He seemed completely unaffected by the steep, difficult and long hike and kept going on about the hairy woman. I was reaching my limit (even though back then I was at the peak of my Taekwondo fitness) and even though he kept saying that we were almost there, I had to bail.
The trips were long and hard sometimes, but I also got to see some of the most amazing landscapes and incredible things I didn’t even imagine existed. I learned that people from the countryside were usually extraordinarily hospitable, friendly and kind, willing to help and assist you if you are in need.
Sometimes I feel that he did all of this partially because he expected me to overtake his big project in case he wasn’t there anymore to fulfill it. His original idea, was that we would make the entire trip, in the form of a big expedition with a caravan of vehicles to commemorate the 500 year anniversary of the event. This will happen in 2019. So far everything is mapped out to the best of my grandfather’s ability, every step of the path has been documented and taken notes of for easier navigation.
He is still around though, older and a bit more tired than he was fifteen years ago, but still strong willed, confident and proud. If you question his fitness he will show you how he can still squat and lounge deep – on the spot!
He does not stop, he never gives up on himself or what he believes in. I am proud of being his granddaughter, and will be honored to follow him into this wonderful journey of a lifetime, shall it happen as he dreamed it.