by Edward Wilkinson Latham

Globe and Mail Travel Section

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

I strolled round a street corner in Chihuahua City and narrowly avoided bumping in to a large man in jeans and a camouflage jacket leant against the wall. He stood talking to a young woman in red jeans and a tight pink top embroidered with a rhinestone horse. His smile dropped and hers rose as they both checked me out from head to toe. Apologizing for my clumsiness I continued to walk down Calle Ocho hearing a few words of insult thrown in to the air behind me.

I could see the sign of the hotel I was trying to find, now only half a block away. In between, the street was a carnival of microcosmic activity. Outside a bar crammed with men in stetsons stood a family street band made up of a father and three children, aged roughly from eight to thirteen. The father’s stubbly cheeks inflated to near bursting as he abused his trumpet, while the eldest daughter thumped an oversized base drum strapped to her slight body, her thoughts far away. On saxophone was a small skinny looking boy, his eyes concentrating intently on his finger work. The youngest daughter stood not far from the band wearing a white dress and holding her father’s worn Stetson, collecting money from patrons with a coy smile. Their music wafted through the street like a smell; a soundscape of ranchero ballads reminding these residents of who they were.

Girls in high heels and brightly coloured clothes stood around in small groups, smoking, laughing and replying insults across the street, while men darted from the shadows on one side of the street to the other. A little further down, an old man with over sized black sunglasses, sat in a wheel chair with a blanket over his knees, holding a black umbrella. A piece of cardboard sat propped up on his lap advertising a go on his weight scales for a peso.

Turning down an invitation of a guided tour from one girl in highly static looking silver leggings and matching crop top, I quickened my pace and darted inside the hotel. It resembled what one might expect if you had constructed a Turkish steam bath with Mexican hacienda building plans; with white tile running uninterrupted from floor to ceiling.

The reception desk was vacant and on the counter laid a stack of white towels and soaps the size of dinner mints. On announcing my presence with a few taps on the bell I heard high-pitched barks in reply. Looking down the corridor to the right of the reception desk I spied in the shadows, two Chihuahua dogs yapping at me excitedly, with tongues lolling out the side and their paws frantically trying to get some traction on the polished tile floor. One of them at last got enough traction and sped off like a toy car up the corridor towards me, yapping a cry of charge. The other one got going not long after and followed rapidly in hot pursuit, excited by the his partner’s sense of gusto.

Still amused by the comedy of what I was seeing, I didn’t realize the danger I was in until they were at my ankles. Like two Doberman pinchers on a manhunt then tried to outflank me, each in competition for who could draw first blood. Kicking them away seemed to have no effect, only making them keener. I got behind my backpack using it as a shield as one decided to take flight off a small couch beside the reception desk. Rebounding him off the bag, I then quickly turned to trap the other in the corner but it outflanked me lunged into my ankle. In the mist of the struggle I heard a woman’s voice below from behind me. I stood with bag aloft ready to be dropped on one or hopefully both of my attackers, when I saw a small stocky woman walking towards me. After a struggle she managed to get the hound on my ankle to release its hold and then kicked both of the Chihuahuas down the corridor from where they came.

Without any remark, not even a joke of what had occurred, it was straight down to business. For some reason I handed over enough money for a couple of nights stay, too preoccupied with checking out the damage to my ankle and wondering when I last had a rabies shot. She gave me a tablet of soap and a towel and asked if this was my first time to visit Chihuahua City. As she waited for my reply, I leant over and peered down the corridor to see the two miniature assassins lurking with intent. “Si. Mi primera vez”, I replied.

By Edward Wilkinson-Latham. EWL© 2005. Mexican Diaries © 2002