Mexicali Blues: The First Trip, From Maine to Mexico
"We found a location, we signed a lease, (but) we had no goods, no connections, and we didn't really know what we were doing..." - Eric
From Maine to Mexico City
In January, a few weeks after renting a shop in Portland, ME, the “Three Amigos”, Eric, Pete, and their friend Dave arrived in Mexico City with a few dollars they changed for pesos, and without a return ticket. On the second day, “There was an earthquake and we all had a bad case of the “Tijuana Two-Step (if you know you know). We were staying in the cheapest place we could find, and were all sharing a bathroom.” "Fortunately," reflects Pete, “We all lived in a s#%thole apartment on Grant Street in Portland. The typical 5 room 5 dude apartment… actually it was a 4 bedroom with a landing, and I rented the landing”.. Their living situation in Portland had prepared the Three Amigos for these initial travel trials and they were able to remain in buen humor (good spirits) despite the initial tremors and tribulations.
El que busca encuentra.
In Mexico, there’s a saying, “el que busca encuentra”, or if you search you will find. Eric and Pete started searching the markets in Mexico City for groovy goods, and the more they searched, the more they found. Eric remembers that they first sought out the help of a government organization that helped connect artisans and exporters.
"We were cruising around, we did a little research and met with government officials who brought us to some small scale producers... we saw them blowing glass, I actually still have some in my house today," remembers Eric.
“We wandered around and found hand blown glass, lacquered baskets, Oaxacan black clay, and ceramic masks,” says Pete, and 35 years later… “We actually still have a (handpainted) Oaxacan mask in the Portland store that was one of the first things we ever bought.”
Proxima Parada, Guatemala
They wrapped up their time in Mexico, and all of the groovy goods they had found which they sent back to Portland. Three Amigos then said adios to Dave, became the Dos Amigos, and flew to Guatemala. From the capital, they made their way to the UNESCO preserved city of Antigua, which was once the capital of Central America during Spanish colonial rule. The cobblestone streets were reminiscent of Portland Maine, if not for the semi-active volcanoes surrounding the city, and the sprawl of ancient Spanish architecture.
From Antigua they took a bus out to a small village in the Guatemalan highlands. Eric remembers that upon arriving Pete wanted to offer the locals their PB&J sandwiches. "These were real basic huts with dirt floors and open fires with no chimneys," recalls Eric, "They looked at the sandwiches, looked at the fires in their homes and said (with a combination of expression and body language), how about we make lunch for you?" They all ended up sharing a casera (home cooked) meal together and afterwards Eric and Pete loaded up on some of their indigenous textiles and other artesanias.
Los Primeros Pantalones
Back in Antigua under La Iglesia la Merced, a rebuilt church that was twice destroyed by volcanoes, they purchased their first clothing, a pair of drawstring pantalones or pants that would forever shape the future of Mexicali. “They didn’t really fit right. When you put them on they seemed like they were backwards,” says Pete, “Fortunately, we’ve turned it around since then.” It was en el mercado bajo La Merced that they also found their first friendship bracelets, and worry dolls, which have forevermore become symbolic staples at Mexicali Blues.
On their way back to the states with many pairs of backward pantalones and thousands of friendship bracelets in their backpacks, “because… we had a lot of friends.” They decided to separate going through customs and meet up on the other side. Out of all of the people in the airport, Eric and Pete ended up meeting back up in a small room, being searched, and being interrogated before re-entering the US, I guess they looked the part.
El Principio… de Algo
Upon arriving back in Portland they worked at Mexicali in their spare time but they both still worked two other jobs for years, Pete delivering sandwiches and selling real estate with Doobie, and Eric working in restaurants around the city. Mexicali as we know it was but a dream, but at least now they had memories, baskets, friendship bracelets, and some backwards pantalones…