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Southbound on The Oaxaqueño

—Lorraine Caputo

Southbound on The Oaxaqueño

          13-14 November 1988

          El Oaxaqueño (Mexico City to Oaxaca), 1ª numerada


I arrived at the train station with ten minutes to spare, running around to find the Oaxaqueño’s platform, nervous with the anticipation, with the worry of missing my first train ride. Gene, Raúl & Rosario, their children Miguel & Joana, fared me well at the gates. Their son kissed me on the cheek.

I settle in. Three men in brown leather jackets walk through. We are told to pull our shades because of rocks. Not resisting temptation, I peek under the corner of mine & see the eerily lit shantytowns.

I pass the time sketching the old man across from me. Upon this page I capture his high forehead, high cheekbones, long Roman nose, his thinned hair. He reads a small book with a magnifying glass.


At the blue-tiled San Lorenzo station, a young man with headphones on sits in the office. In front of him are four old-fashioned telegraph machines. The leather-coated men walk back & forth along the train. One has a crowbar. Another holds a walkie- talkie. He walks into the station office.

Off in the distance is a string of city lights. Beyond them are mountains. The altitude aches my head.

~ ~

Just about everyone else has fallen asleep. I look out the window. The edge of the mountain is near this train. Pine trees silhouette against the night. I hear the strained chug of the engine up ahead.

~ ~ ~

By the middle of the night it has become unbelievably cold. I wrap my wool blanket about me. All the other passengers are asleep, bundled in this unheated car. The train personnel walk through, wearing parkas.


In the coming light of morning, more becomes visible. The mountains are heavily forested with green curtains occasionally worn thread-bare brown. Below falls a meandering river. Branches scratch the side of this train.


We pass by a cemetery nestled in the woods.

A campesino stands behind a large gate, his arms behind him.

Orchards of papaya trees, a few palms … & banana saplings.

We cross over an orange trestle bridge.

Through a town where people watch this train go by. Others go on with their daily lives.

~ ~

The river thins & boils with rapids as we near its source. The mountains reveal their faulting & tilting.

Forests of saguaro cactus cut their own tree line across the heights.

~ ~ ~

The train winds & winds through this range. The sun is beginning to clear its peaks.

& after a while that sunlight brightens this valley. A couple walking along the sandbars waves at our train.

~ ~ ~ ~

A boy leads a burro, boxes hanging on either side. An old man walks behind.

A teacher stands at the schoolhouse door. The children look out the windows.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As we reach the heights of this montaña, I see the top of the valley below & rows upon rows of mountains unfolding beyond.

We click through rock passes.

& frequently stop at towns for a few moments. The ratchet of a jack echoes from between the cars.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We clack through rock passes shielding us from the mid-morn sun. Through the spaces of this stone landscape, valleys spread between mountains. & we are descending, descending towards our final station.


LORRAINE CAPUTO is a wandering troubadour whose poetry appears in over 400 journals on six continents, and 23 collections of poetry – including In the Jaguar Valley (dancing girl press, 2023).  Her writing has  been nominated for the Best of the Net. Caputo has done literary readings from Alaska to the Patagonia. She  journeys through Latin America with her faithful knapsack Rocinante, listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth.

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