Panda was looking at a picture of the Mexican flag on Mom’s laptop.
“Dude,” he said, as if to nobody in particular. “It looks like this serpent got picked up by a giant eagle and brought to the top of some nopales! Just like what happened to me with the giant condor when we went to Peru!”
“I kind of know how he feels,” he continued. “Being picked up by a giant bird was a scary experience!”
“You’re right, it was,” I replied. “It was a good thing you’d done so well on the obstacle course at basic training or you might not have been able to climb out of the condor’s nest and across that rock.”
Panda agreed. “Hey,” he said as he jumped onto the windowsill, “now that we know some Spanish from our trips to Argentina and Peru, maybe we could go somewhere else where we can practice. Are there any more Spanish speaking countries?”
I gazed thoughtfully out the window. “Mom said she took Spanish classes in Durango, Mexico when she was seventeen, so I’m guessing Mexico is a Spanish speaking country.” Panda nodded in agreement. “Maybe we could go there one of these days. Hey, let’s see if there are any pictures of her trip on the laptop!”
We were able to find a few of Mom’s photos from 1976. They looked pretty old, and the color wasn’t that good. But then, back in those days they didn’t have iPhones to take pictures with, so I guess they were better than nothing.
By the time we had looked at all the photos, we were excited about our trip to Mexico! It wasn’t long before we were packed and ready to go.
We actually passed up Durango by mistake, but we were just happy to be in Mexico, so we kept heading south. “Wow!” Panda exclaimed as we soared over the city of Guanajuato. “Mom would love all those colors!” I agreed. “It’s too bad we couldn’t convince her to come with us.” Panda laughed. “Well, even if she could fit in our travel tunnel with us, I think she would have been too scared. You know there’s always an element of risk!”
After we checked our travel tunnel at the airport, we decided to walk through the park in the center of town. We were amazed to see a group of men dressed in brightly colored outfits near a tall pole with ropes hanging from it. “We are voladores. That’s Spanish for fliers,” one of the men explained, as Panda approached them to get a better look. “We’re going to do a demonstration from the ancient Nauhatl culture. Would you like to join us?” Just as I was about to say “No, thank you,” Panda accepted enthusiastically.
I watched in horror as Panda climbed up the pole with the men. I’m not going to lie, I was scared to look. I had heard them say they didn’t have enough ropes for Panda to have his own. “Just hold onto my hand and you’ll be fine,” one of them said. “Be careful, Panda!” I called. Panda waved confidently. “It’s fine, Bro!” he called back. “These guys do this all the time!”
“Well maybe they do, but you don’t,” I muttered, but it was too late. Suddenly the ropes swung down and the voladores soared though the air in a circular motion around the pole. “Whee!” shouted Panda. “This is so exhilarating!” I barely uncovered my eyes for a second. “I can tell you weren’t raised by Swedes,” I responded somewhat irritably. “Mom would have a fit if she knew you did this!”
There were a lot of activities to do in the park. After the harrowing experience of watching Panda and the voladores, getting on the paddle boats was nothing!
When we left the park we decided to go see if we could find a souvenir for Mom. Knowing how much she likes handcrafts, we stopped at all the booths where the local artisans displayed their wares. Imagine our surprise when we heard a scuffling sound from inside a basket and out popped our hamster friend from Bariloche!
“Wow!” the hamster exclaimed when he saw us. “What are you guys doing here?” When we recovered our voices, I replied that we were looking for a present for our mom. Then I asked the obvious question. “What are you doing here?”
Over a delicious snack of street tacos, our friend filled us in on the events leading up to his coming to Mexico. After having helped break up the chocolate stealing ring run by the men in orange jackets, he had been hired as an undercover agent by the Bariloche police department. “I’m on special assignment,” he explained. “There is a piñata that the Bariloche police think was smuggled into Mexico. They believe it’s filled with valuable antique books instead of candy. Some of them could sell for thousands of dollars on Amazon!” I shook my head, incredulous. “That has to be one heavy piñata,” I remarked.
“Was it the men in orange jackets?” Panda asked as we stood in line to pay for our meal. The hamster shook his head. “Not this time,” he said. “They’re still locked up in the Bariloche jail.” Then, lowering his voice, he added, “Unless they’re the brains behind the operation.” We nodded. “That could be,” Panda remarked. Panda and I looked at each other, then at our friend. “We’ll help you look for the piñata!” we exclaimed in unison.
It wasn’t long before we had formulated a plan. We decided it would be best to split up and take separate taxis. That way we could cover more territory in our search for the piñata and the antique books. “Foster and I will take one side of town,” the hamster instructed, “and Panda will take the other side. We’ll meet up here in three hours.” Before we knew it, we were speeding away through the city.
“If you were a book thief, where would you hide your stolen books?” the hamster asked from the front seat as our taxi drove around town. I pondered for a moment before speaking. “Hmm, I don’t suppose there are any libraries or bookstores nearby that they could use for a cover?” The hamster nodded. “That’s a great idea!” he replied. Then, to the taxi driver, he said, “A la biblioteca, por favor!”
As we were speeding toward the library, Panda was having an adventure of his own. He told us later that he had decided to leave his taxi and search the streets on foot. He saw a nice lady who was selling handcrafts in front of a building and asked her if she had seen anyone go by with a suspicious-looking piñata. She hadn’t, but she promised to keep an eye out. Panda gave her the hamster’s cell number so she could let us know if she did.
He also stopped at every shop that sold piñatas, but to no avail.
Finally, he came upon a building, which, thanks to his Spanish-English dictionary, he realized was the public library. Unbeknownst to him, the hamster and I were already inside.
Needless to say, we were overjoyed to see him. “This was a great idea,” he said as he climbed the ladder in the antique book section to join the hamster. Our friend nodded. “It was Foster’s idea,” he said modestly. “We thought a book thief might try to use the library as a cover.”
We decided to split up again and continue our search. Panda and I scoured two aisles without success, and then we heard our friend’s voice from the other side of a shelf. “Hey guys!” he whispered excitedly. “I think I might have found something! It looks like paper from a piñata!”
He was right! Upon further investigation, we saw a piñata that had been tossed carelessly into a large paper bag! “See if you can hand it to down to me in this box,” I instructed as Panda and the hamster climbed up on a nearby ladder. The librarian was so busy at his desk that he didn’t even notice us. Soon we had the piñata safely in the box and made our way out of the library as quietly as we could.
Once we were safely outside, the hamster texted his supervisor and let him know the piñata had been found. We waited in front of the library for the officer to arrive. He inspected the contents of the piñata and was pleased to find that the missing antique books were inside.
“Thanks for all your help, guys! We’ll get these books back to their rightful owner,” the officer said as he loaded the piñata onto his motorcycle. “I’ll give you a ride to the station,” he added, motioning for the hamster to jump up beside him. “I’m sure you’re anxious to get back to Bariloche and fill out your report.” We waved goodbye and promised to keep in touch, then headed back to the airport to pick up our travel tunnel.
Author’s note: The background photos for this adventure are from Unsplash.com and Pixabay.com, royalty-free photo sites. Whether or not they are all from Guanajuato is anybody’s guess, but you get the idea.