I chose to end my El Chepe rail journey in El Fuerte, another of Mexico’s “Pueblo Magico” towns, rather than continue on to the big city of Los Mochis. It was the day before Christmas Eve, and I didn’t want to risk “No room at the Inn” on Christmas.
I was taking a risk by getting off the train with no reservations, but it was a calculated risk. I suspected the finer hotels in town might be full with train passengers departing the next day, but figured there wouldn’t be that many local travelers staying in the budget hotels on Christmas Eve, since Mexico is such a family oriented culture. Besides, in all my travels, never has it come down to not being able to find a place to sleep….somewhere. Even if it meant getting on a bus or in a taxi to the next nearby town.
Several people on the train had recommended Posada del Hidalgo as THE place to stay in El Fuerte, but at over $100 per night, it was over my budget. However, I was met as I exited the train by a “salesman” (hawker) from the hotel, promising a “Christmas Special” for only $65 per night…still over my $50 per night planned budget for this trip, but hey……it was Christmas.
As soon as I walked through the door, I was handed a welcome cocktail, shown the steaming, giant hot tub, and escorted to my room, complete with king sized bed and starched white sheets. After my $10 per night hotel in Chihuahua, this place was a palace fitting of my solo Christmas sojourn.
Christmas Eve has always been my favorite night of the season, as it was typically just me and my parents, with both my brothers off spending time with their own families. It was just a night of quiet, reflective contemplation, the kitchen filled with wonderful aromas from my Mom’s oven as she prepared for her famous over-indulgent feast the next day. So Christmas Eve has always been just “our time,” since I became single again, back in 1993.
My least favorite part of Christmas Day, always considered “for the kids,” came about when my niece, the only child on either side of her family, began to critique her Christmas gifts like the Teen Magazine version of Consumer Reports. They were judged worthy or unworthy according to how closely they matched her order list. Those that were marginal got a scowl and a pout. Those that were off the mark completely just got shoved under the couch and dismissed as “not mine.” Ergo, “Santa’s visit” has become my absolute least favorite aspect of an overly marketed, adulterated consumer-targeted celebration. Best that Ms. Grinch just go off and ride a train through Mexico at Christmas. 😉
So no wonder that my only misty-eyed moment came on Christmas Eve. I decided to treat myself to dinner at El Meson de General, what was reported to be the best of El Fuerte’s only half a dozen restaurants. As I was waiting for my meal, I watched an adorable family seated next to me; grandparents, parents, and two small children, a little girl about eight, and a little boy about 6. Each had been presented with their one token gift; a large “Transformer” for the little boy, and a shiny chrome scooter for the young girl. The restaurant was empty except for our two tables, so the little girl rode around and around and around my table on her scooter, laughing as I would say “muy r-r-rapido!!”
Suddenly, before I could stop them, the tears welled up and began rolling down my cheeks, though I forced a big smile so as to not frighten her. The joy of that little girl in her frilly pink dress, white tights and patten leather boots as she raced around the empty tables was transferred to joys of Christmas past, now lost. I tried to disguise my emotions, but it must have been evident to the family, as they all walked over to my table as they left to say, one by one, “Buen Provecho!” to which I managed to choke out a very broken “Feliz Navidad!” in return. As they walked out the door leaving no one in the restaurant but me and the sweeping waiter, I imagined I could hear Joni Mitchell singing in the distance, “It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees…they’re putting up reindeer…singing songs of joy and peace….Oh I wish I had a river….I could skate away on….”