by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
El Gran Hotel de Mérida – Yucatan – August 11, 1970
One Summer In Mexico – Part 30
My first encounter with sex trafficking, before I knew the word.
I arrived at the Mérida International Airport at about 9:00 AM. A Mexican businessman on our mini-bus recommended the Gran Hotel. When the bus dropped me off at the entrance, I almost kept on walking. It was indeed a GRAND hotel. I could not afford to stay there.
Fortunately, I continued to the front desk and was told that a room with a single king size bed was only 25 pesos or about $4 a night. That was equivalent to about $28 a night in 2020 dollars, which included an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. I was fully expecting my room to be a tiny dump, but was at this time committed to staying there for at least one night, so I thought I would just grin and bear it.
Kate Harris, one of the girlfriends from high school, who wrote me in Mexico, then had a giant heart shaped bed, with a red velvet cover, surrounded by burgundy velvet padding around the bed and black velvet wall padding, like the ones above, on her walls. The wall padding prevented sounds from the bedroom being transmitted through adjacent party walls! The bed frame and wall padding also prevented injuries during acrobatics . . . so to speak.
I later learned from a retired British professor, who rented her suite at the hotel by the month, that my room rented by the hour for 100 pesos. That is four times what I paid for a entire day. Apparently, the fees paid by prostitutes, who lived and worked there, made possible the cheap rooms, which tourists like me enjoyed.
The rates were also low because most Gringos avoided “old-timey” looking hotels and instead paid North American prices for staying at establishments that looked like the Howard Johnson’s Motel in their hometown. In fact, the busiest hotel in Merida in 1970 was a very mediocre-looking Howard Johnson’s MOTEL!
Because Dr. Piña-Chan had changed my syllabus in order to immerse me in Mexican culture, I was now able to communicate in Spanish. I didn’t know the grammar very well, but both the Mexicans and Indians understood me. I had no trouble “getting around” and shopping in stores.
There was a knock on the door. It was the hotel maid with my fresh linens. Surely, there had to be a catch somewhere. There was no way that the management could survive on such low nightly rates and excellent room service. It was the friendliest and most pleasant hotel, I have ever stayed in.
On her name tag was the name “Carin.” That was not a typical Mexican first name, but two year later, I would learn in Sweden, that it was a common Scandinavian name. Carin was taller than most mestizos in Mexico and gracile . . . she looked like a Creek Indian woman. She had a sparkle to her eyes and rapid locomotion that was like an airline stewardess. In the previous two hotels I stayed in, the Indian maids moved slow and had a “dead” expression on their faces.
Of course, at age 21, Carin looked “old” to me. She was actually about 32 or 33. Nowadays, I look at her photo and see “a young, sweet thang.” Actually, in my golden years, Carin looks right pretty. LOL
I asked her in Spanish, what Indian tribe she was from. She said that her mother was Maya, but her father lived in Europe. She seemed surprised that I was so friendly and egalitarian.
Carin glanced at my INAH photographic ID, the camera case, sketch book and archaeology textbooks on the dresser. She asked if she could see my books and asked me why I was in Yucatan. I told her that I was an architecture student in the United States. I didn’t know the word for “fellowship” so told her that I had won an academic prize to study all the ancient cities of Mexico. She smiled and said that she would love to see the rest of Mexico and that I must be very intelligent.
As she thumbed through the photographs, a big smile came to her face. She told me in Spanish that her father is an archaeologist and she remembered looking at his books, when she was a little girl. She smiled again and then told me in Spanish that she would return soon with refreshments.
About two minutes later, Carin returned with two bottles of carbonated tropical fruit juice, two glasses and a bucket of ice. She looked around the room. ¿Donde esta tu esposa? I answered, “No estoy casado.” (I am not married.)
Carin then asked, “¿Dónde esta tu novia?” I answered: “Vive en la Ciudad de México.” (My girlfriend lives in Mexico City.}
Puzzled, Carin then asked, “¿Por qué tu novia no vino contigo a Mérida?” (Why didn’t your girlfriend come with you to Merida?)
I didn’t know how to discretely express an answer, so I said: “¿Su madre no la deja dormir conmigo? ” ( Her mother won’t let her sleep with me.)
Carin’s eyes widened in shock. She responded, “¿Qué? ¿Qué edad tiene ella? (What? How old is your girlfriend?)
I sheepishly answered, “Alicia tiene casi 20 años.” (Alicia is almost 20)
Totally astonished, Carin shot back, “¿Qué? ¡Ella es una mujer! Su madre está loca. Ella es una mala novia. Necesitas encontrar una nueva novia. ¿Te gustaría una mujer bonita? ( She is a woman. Her mother is crazy. You have a bad girlfriend. You need to find a new girlfriend. Would you like a pretty woman?)
Because I did not know my Spanish grammar very well, I thought the last sentence meant,”Do you like pretty women?” I answered, “Sí, me gustan mucho las mujeres bonitas.” (Yes, a like pretty women very much.) [Except when they arch up and spit me in the face.]
She smiled and exclaimed, “¡Bueno! ¿Por esta noche? Te traeré sus fotografías y precios.” (Good! For tonight? I will bring you their photographs and prices.)
Oops! Now I know what she meant. I told her that being with a prostitute would make my girlfriend unhappy and that I could not afford a prostitute. She responded, “No tienes novia. Tienes una chica-mujer que toma tu dinero y no te da nada.” (You don’t have a girlfriend. You have a girl-woman, who takes your money and gives you nothing.)
At this point, I should explain that the Mexican Consul in Atlanta had warned me three times to stay away from the prostitutes in Mexico. He said that traveling alone would make me very vulnerable to being beat up and robbed, while I was with a prostitute. If that didn’t happen, I was likely to catch a disease, because the Mexican men know who are carriers and who aren’t. I wouldn’t know that. The consuls secretary told me that if I wanted an “American Style” girlfriend in Mexico, I should find a young divorcee. The only option that divorced Mexican women had for marrying again was finding a Gringo Protestant. With a wink, she added that Mexican divorcees would treat me very, very nice!
After supper, Carin popped into my room yet again. I know this story is sounding increasingly weird, but by this time we had developed a rapport and really liked each other. She was so intelligent. In the United States, despite being illegitimate, she would have become an archaeologist like her father.
Carin said that she was just checking to see if I needed anything else. There was a female behind her, dressed in all white, looking into the room also.
I responded, “Not really.” Carin looked down at the floor a bit and then asked if I wanted a man. NO! Did I want a teenage boy? NO Did I want a young teenage girl? NO Did I want a little boy or girl? Hell NO! She then said that it was so sad that I was sleeping alone. I was a nice young man, who deserved a good girlfriend. She then said goodnight and quietly closed the door. From listening to their footsteps and door shut, I learned that Carin’s apartment was only about 40 feet from my room.
The next morning Carin came up to my table, while I was eating breakfast before taking the bus to Chichen Itza. She offered me a proposition. If she found me a “good girlfriend” here in Merida, would I let her read my archaeology books? I said “Si, por seguro.”
Later that day in Chichen Itza, I saved the lives of three Quebecois school teachers, who were well on their way to croaking from dehydration, due to dysentery. (See Part 29). That evening the three mademoiselles and I sipped wine in the atrium and listened to a traditional Yucateca band then they went back to their hotel.
Just before I was about to hit the sack, Carin knocked softly on the door. She was holding three pillows. She told me that she was very happy for me and had three pillows so my girlfriends would be comfortable and would be able to have more fun. I explained to her that they were only friends and would never sleep in my room. Actually, I never asked them about that, but . . . Carin grinned ear to ear and told me that she would be back in a minute.
She was back at my door in less than a minute and asked to come inside, so no one would see her. With great pride, she pulled out a wallet size photo and announced that here was my beautiful woman. She added that this woman was already in love with me and was heartbroken when she saw me with the three French girls. She wants to be in my arms tonight.
Lordamercy, it was old high school photograph of a future Miss Universe. On the back of the back of the photo was printed: Escuela Secondaria Agustin Vadillo Cicero, Merida, Mex. Even at that young age, though, the woman had been beautiful. I certainly couldn’t afford her.
I told Carin, “Sí, es la mujer más hermosa que he visto en mi vida, pero no puedo pagarla.” (Yes, she is about the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, but I can’t afford her.)
Carin looked shocked: “¡No señor Ricardo, está libre! Ella es tu nueva novia.” (No Mr. Richard, she is free! She is your new girlfriend.) Running out of excuses, I told her that I did not want to catch any diseases . . . thinking that the lady was high priced call girl, who wanted a free ticket to the United States.
Even more exasperated, Carin responded: “¡No, señor Ricardo, es mi hija! Ella es casi virgen. ¡El médico dice que está muy sana y que ahora tiene la píldora! Le daré el documento del médico que dice que está sana y no embarazada. (No Mr. Richard. She is my daughter! She is almost a virgin. The doctor says that she is very healthy and she now has the pill, so there will be no babies. I will give you the doctor’s paper that says that she is healthy and not pregnant.)
I was stunned, “¿Su hija? ¿Qué edad tiene ella?” (Your daughter? How old is she?)
Carin responded,”Mi preciosa flor ahora tiene 16 años. Es entonces cuando las mujeres mayas comienzan con los hombres.” (My precious flower in 16. That is when Maya women start with men.)
I didn’t know how to say “illegal in the United States” so I only told her, “Ella es muy joven para mí. “(She is too young for me.) She thought that I meant that her daughter was too inexperienced for me. The truth, like most Georgia Tech students, I was quite naive at age 21. We had to work all the time and there were very few females on campus. So, we could not participate in all the wild things that Liberal Arts students of that era were famous for during the Hippie Era.
Carin then stepped back to confer with her daughter, who was just around the corner in the hallway. She came back in and informed me that she had always liked me, but because she was 32, I would think her very old. Carin then offered to be my main girlfriend while I was in Yucatan. Her daughter could watch and learn from her, then practice with me with Carin giving instructions, so her daughter would be ready to accompany me around Mexico. Carin then told me that her daughter was very intelligent, made top grades and wanted to be an architect . . . so she would learn quickly.
Being so naive, I viewed the situation of simultaneously having a mother and daughter team as my lovers too bizarre to comprehend. I didn’t know how to explain in Spanish that I had taken an oath on a Bible to always be honest with Alicia. I just kind of babbled a “let’s just all be friends” response.
The young girl began boohooing loudly like a school girl, because she was a school girl. She had another year of high school to go. She was shouting, “Él cree que soy fea. Cree que todas las chicas mexicanas son feas. Haré mi cabello rubio como las gringas.” (He thinks I am ugly. He thinks all Mexican girls are ugly. I will make my hair blond like the Gringas.)
I peeked around the door and she really did have a 21 year old woman’s physique, plus was taller than either her mother or Alicia. Obviously, she really did have an adolescent crush on me, just from watching . . . but geez, she was 16!
Two days later as the three French teachers and I were returning from Uxmal (a Maya city) we walked past Carin’s daughter on the plaza, next to the hotel. She was again wearing a white dress and was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She was much prettier than the year-old high school photo – and like the Ark of Covenant, I wouldn’t even want to touch her . . . she was such a work of art. She said, “Hello Mister Ree-chard.” My gosh, the girl knows some English. She then gave me a painful smile, because it was obvious that her companionship had been purchased by a beer-gutted man in his fifties, smoking a big cigar. He looked just like Boss Hogg on the 1970’s TV series, the Dukes of Hazzard, except that he was wearing a black cowboy hat. The Montreal gals asked me how the girl in the white dress knew me. I told them that she had seen me in the hotel.
Early the next morning, the Montreal gals were eating an early breakfast with me at my hotel before we took off for Mayapan and Tulum with our Maya guide. Boss Hogg was checking out of the hotel. Marcelle Rondeau jokingly said, “Richard, now that the pig is leaving, why don’t you ask that pretty Mexican girl up to your room tonight. She might do all sorts of things for you because she was so happy that the pig is gone.” Little did she know.
About the time that we were getting to the Maya guide’s car, we heard a girl screaming, “Mamá, Mamá, Ayúdame! (Mama help me.) We looked toward the side entrance of the hotel. Boss Hogg was leading two Mexican cops. In back of the cops, two rough-looking Mexican thugs were dragging Carin’s daughter toward the taxi next to us. The girl was carrying a small, beat up suit case that apparently contained her worldly belongings. The tourists looked up in horror. All the Mexicans on the street and plaza were intentionally looking the other way.
The Montreal gals and I were absolutely stunned to see what was obviously a kidnapping being led by policemen. As Carin’s daughter got close to us, I could see bruises on her face. Her lip was cut and bleeding. Her mascara was running down her face and her hair was disheveled. Blood was spattered on her torn white dress. Just as the thugs were going to push the poor girl into the taxi, the she jerked her head to the right and looked me straight in the eyes. She screamed, “Por favor, Ricardo en el nombre de Jesucristo, ¡ayúdame!” (Please, Richard, in the name of Jesus Christ, help me!)
I had the physical power (and still do) to knock the thugs away and was going to do it. Several angry male Gringo tourists were also headed toward us to help. However, I looked over to the cops and they were holding their pistols, ready to shoot. They would have killed me, the girl and probably my French Canadian friends. Nothing would have been accomplished. The taxi quickly drove off to a rendezvous with a privately owned airplane at the Merida Airport. She probably was being taken to the United States or Canada, but we will never know. Likewise, I will never forget that poor girl’s last words and face as long as I live.
Needless to say, the morning’s trauma put a real damper on the visits to Mayapan and Tulum. Just looking at the slides of Tulum brings back horrific memories.
Dinner with the British history professor
That evening, I had dinner with the retired British history professor. We could hear Carin screaming and moaning from her apartment the entire meal. She said that the custom of pretty teenage Indian girls, wearing white dresses, goes back to the earliest days of the Spanish Conquest . . . really Medieval Spain. During the Middle Ages, Visigothic lords had the right to be the first man for all commoners in their domain. This custom supposedly originated in ancient Sweden.
In Mexico, it took a slightly different form. When an Indian or mestizo girl turned 15 . . . later, 16 . . . her parents would auction her off to the hidalgos (Spanish nobility) near by. The purchased girl would be given a white dress. Her brown skin would be coated with white whipped cream and then she would be ravished by the winning bidders. After the Mexican Revolution, the girls started wearing the white dresses until they had their first baby. Teenage prostitutes, wearing white dresses got top “pesos” from Mexican men and they still do.
She then tried to explain the situation with Carin’s daughter. The professor said that the Merida Police ran the sex industry in northern Yucatan. The police frequently auctioned off the prettiest Indian girls to an international market, but the victims were usually abducted in the night from their homes. She had never seen an abduction in broad daylight at the hotel.
What the professor heard was that Carin had gotten wind that the Merida Police were auctioning off her daughter to foreign buyers. Her daughter was going to bring a great deal of money into the police coffers. When Carin saw my INAH badge that said that I was an official guest of the Mexican Department of Foreign Relations, she knew instantly that her daughter would not be touched by the police, while in my company. I had MAJOR connections in Mexico City. All her trips to my room assured her that I would treat her daughter like a princess . . . and I would have. Therefore, from her perspective, having her 16 year old daughter sleep with a Gringo architecture student was a gift from God.
I told the professor that I would have indeed been kind to the girl, and probably felt terribly guilty as I enjoyed the pleasures of her company, but the fairy tale could not have a happy ending. I could not return to the Soto House with a 16 year old girl at my side and there is no way that US Customs would have allowed her to enter the United States. They could have actually arrested me for violation of the Mann Act. The professor agreed, but said it was still a tragedy that the girl was not allowed in my room for a week. “You know, almost all young men would have jumped at the opportunity!” I told her that I might have relented, if I had known the actual situation, but Carin never told me.
The last time with Carin
Just as I had finished packing to leave Merida, Carin shuffled into my room and slammed the door. She looked like hell. Well, she had been through hell. She wrapped her arms around me and began sobbing uncontrollably. I could not understand most of what she was mumbling, but apparently, her daughter wanted just to walk in my room and drop her dress, knowing that it was highly unlikely that I would throw her out. She was right . . . but I probably just knelled on the floor and bowed down to her as as a goddess. Artistically, she was so perfect. I could not have resisted very long. Alas, though, there was no correct moral answer to the question and I did not create the problem.
Almost instantly the passion of Carin’s weeping changed to powerful kisses. Lordamercy, she could have taught lessons to Alicia. However, this emotion was obviously coming from her heart, not from past professional experiences. Nevertheless, that lady did know how to turn on a man instantly. Next thing I know, she had unbuttoned my shirt and unbuckled my belt. The truth is that the best medicine that could have been given to her was the nurturing from a kind man.
Alas, I had a bus to catch and an appointment made by the US Navy at a small Maya village on the east coast of Yucatan. The village was named Cancun. No one in Merida had ever heard of it. Had I not had that meeting scheduled, I probably would have stayed with Carin several days until her emotional strength returned. It was time, though, to turn the page to another chapter.
But yet her daughter’s face, filled with horror, will be burned in my brain for eternity.