“I didn’t have a driving licence of any sort. In fact not to put a too fine a point on it (and it was something I had only half admitted to myself), I didn’t know how to drive.”

– Hugh Thompson, Getting Lost in Mexico

Tequila Oil is a frank account of Hugh Thompson’s 18 year old self driving through Mexico. His adventure is sparked by a brief encounter with a fellow passenger on his flight to Mexico City. He is told that good money could be made by buying a car in Mexico and selling it in Belize. The idea seemed a perfectly good one and despite not having a driving licence, he decided to do it.

Hugh’s travels start in the state of Chihuahua and is peppered with good stories, great scenic portrayals of Mexico, many literary and musical references and some good laughs. It also reveals a deep understanding of Mexico’s ancient civilisations.

His adventure, as perhaps you might expect, follows a rather teenage rationale; making one reckless decision after another. In fact, it does not take long for him to question what he has taken on:

“The full enormity of it was just beginning to dawn on me. Mexico was a surprisingly big country – surprisingly because I had always thought of it as small in relation to the United States.”

 

He raises many a smile (or disapproving frown) with the stories he recounts, but you can’t help but share in the thrill of his adventure, provoking my own a nostalgia for the feeling of teenage invincibility.

“The driving was a breeze. Now there was nothing but highway, I could drive the car as fast as I liked. The speedometer wasn’t working too well, but the power underneath me felt enormous. I headed for the dwindling horizon. I felt terrific.”

In contrast, the final chapters where he returns some 30 years later provide a rather melancholy conclusion. The free spirit of the young Hugh no longer reigns, reflecting perhaps how age and life experience can weigh heavily. The independence of travel which once guided his journey, was no longer apparent.

It is however, the characters that Hugh Thompson brings to life; the friends he makes along the way and the refreshing generosity of strangers that really resonate. Whatever the age, the place or the time, it is the people we meet and the relationships formed that make travel experiences so special and are still very much at the forefront of travel today.

Beyond the grit and the often misconstrued Mexico Tequila Oil shows just how easy it is to fall in love with Mexico, again and again.

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