Yesterday's Train: A Rail Odyssey Through Mexican History
Terry Pindell crisscrosses Mexico by train, and in doing so he weaves a travel classic, one of those books that manages to combine the sights and smells and colors of today's Mexico with a fascinating, erudite analysis of Mexico's political, economic, … see full wiki
Planes, trains, and automobiles (and buses) take Pindell and translator/traveling companion Lourdes Ramirez Mallis on a coast to coat and north to south tour of Mexico. This book is a companion (disclaimer: I haven't read the others) to his previous trips across Canada and the United States in similar style.
Pindell provides a useful thumbnail of Mexican history, geography, and culture, alternating between descriptions of the current-day trip and historical events that occurred along the way. Because of the vast scale, difficult geography, and piecemeal condition of Mexican passenger rail service (it sounds like something akin to the worst of American passenger trains in the immediate pre-Amtrak years), the trip is actually several trips over several months, punctuated by flights to remote starting points and back home to the US, and bus trips connecting lines and regions. I was surprised at the the duration of the rail trips, being cursed with the American ignorance of foreign geography and assuming that since Mexico looks so much smaller than the US on a map that it must be take just a couple of hours in any direction of the compass to cover the landscape.
I was disappointed that Pindell sometimes seemed to fall prone to the tourist's romanticisation of environments and people which seem strange to them. I wasn't expecting that from an author working on his third book in the genre. Also, because the book is now 15 years old, the current events of the time are outdated and of little interest today to anyone other than experts in Mexican political history. However, the general trends toward violence and disintegration of the political system that Pindell noted then have been both confirmed and accelerated in the years since. Mexico today in many places is indeed no country for old men.
If you are a Mexican political history expert, or have an interest in train tourism, Yesterday's train is worth catching. If not, you can catch the next one.
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