Home>>Blog>>Alex Castillo – Baker City – Traveling with my Father
BlogNeighbor Stories

Alex Castillo – Baker City – Traveling with my Father

“My father owned an apple orchard in Guatemala. It was big and he had several workers. He would sell apples at the Mercado, the market in the town of Quetzaltenango. My dad had his orchard and his business to take care of so he traveled back and forth between Guatemala and the United States frequently. He bought a refrigeration truck in California and took it across the border because he wanted to sell fruit in different places where apples didn’t grow. But he didn’t want to travel alone. I was born in California and I traveled with my father the first time when I was three years old. I don’t remember too much about it, but I do remember that I wanted to go with my dad. I went again when I was four, and I don’t remember much about that trip either. But when I was five, I remembered a lot more. We would leave Quetzaltenango and drive the truck all the way down to Panama. We would sleep in his truck and we would travel to beaches and lakes, into Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, just these beautiful locations. I loved it. They were really long trips, three months, a whole summer. Each time we left, it was an amazing experience because my father was always in a good mood. It was a happy trip because he was always excited to be on the road.

My father would ask a lot of questions and talk to me like I was an adult. I would tell him the things that I didn’t understand and he would say, ‘That’s okay. You will understand it one day.’ And he was right. One day we were driving into a new town and there were a bunch of people gathered in the street. There were two men fist fighting. He told me, ‘What do you think they’re fighting about? Go and ask somebody what they’re fighting about.’ He helped me get out of the truck and let me go by myself. I asked in Spanish, ‘¿Qué está pasando?‘ What’s happening? Then I went back and told my dad, ‘They’re fighting over a woman.’ And I asked him, ‘Why? Why would they fight?’ And my dad would tell me that they both probably want to be with this woman. At the time I didn’t really understand, but I knew there was something to it. There were a lot of things that he would ask me. ‘What’s that? What’s this? What do you think is going on there?’ And sometimes I would know and a lot of times I didn’t know, but my dad would say, ‘That’s okay. You’ll figure it out later.’ I appreciated that he didn’t talk to me as a little kid. He talked to me as an adult and what I didn’t understand, he didn’t force. He said, ‘One day you will understand.’

At the apple orchard in Quetzaltenango my dad had ten Indigenous workers. Their whole families would come in to prepare lunch. Many relatives, grandmothers, and kids, maybe 30 or 40 people. They would bring a big metal plate and light a fire. The women would have fresh corn maize that was smashed up and boiled black beans and tomatoes and cilantro. The women would start making tortillas and they would smash up the beans with lard and add flour to give it a little more stiffness. It was like a spread and they put different salts and spices in it. They made salsa with fresh tomatoes and cilantro, herbs and onions. It was delicious. My brothers all ate in our kitchen at home, but I told my dad that I wanted to start eating my lunch with the workers everyday. The next day, he brought a big sack of black beans, tomatoes, and a bunch of corn. He took it to the lunch area and told them, ‘My son wants to eat with you on a daily basis when you’re working.’ I got to know the workers and their wives and the whole family. I learned a lot of their traditions. I even started wearing some of their Indigenous clothes. They would buy me a shirt and the little pants that they had. It always felt like a festival because they were having fun and I loved participating. I got to play with their kids. I got to know them and to eat their food. And they were all really nice to me.

During our travels we would go to visit exotic places, like the beach of El Salvador. I remember my father parked the truck and he went into this little hut and he talked to somebody. Then we went out to a table and there was a big bucket of fresh water and a brush. My dad grabbed the bucket and told me to scrub the table down. And he kept adding water as I scrubbed. I didn’t really know why. We sat there for half an hour just enjoying the beach and running around. And then I saw two people carrying a big bucket with steam coming out of it. They dumped it on the table. It was shrimp. My dad and I went to town on them! We would crack them and eat them till we got so full! And another bucket had two beers and a watermelon soda that was my favorite. Afterwards we would lay on the beach for hours and just soak it all in and let the food digest.

Another thing that we would do, which I liked a lot, was going to bakeries. They made a sweet bread in all kinds of shapes. I loved the smell of it and the bread was so delicious. I was given a plate full of this bread and a big glass of milk. Then my dad would disappear. It was the only time he left me alone. We would spend the night there sometimes too and there were always other kids and a lot of women and they would play with us and we would sleep on the floor. I enjoyed it because I got to play with kids. And eat bread and milk.

Traveling with my father was good. He developed friendships along the way to Panama so a lot of people knew him. They always welcomed us into their houses and gave us food and and we got to play and back then it was safe. There was hardly any crime so my dad let me run around in the streets and he wouldn’t worry too much about me. He checked on me quite a bit or had somebody come out and check on me. On the way back, it was the same thing. We weren’t selling any apples, but we were on our way home. My dad was never in a rush. We never had a certain destination that we had to be at. If we were out on the road and there was nothing around, we just slept in the cab. I would sleep on the floorboard and my dad would sleep on the seat. The weather was always warm. It was tropical so we wore minimal clothes and slept during the night very comfortably. And then we would get up in the morning, find some water to wash up, and we were off. We would travel two hours or four hours or six hours, whatever my dad felt like doing. And that was basically what we did for four years. I went again when I was six and that was the last time. It was unfortunate because I could have kept on traveling, but my dad decided to move back to California. And so that was the end of that.

My memories never went away. I remember the roads and the people. I remember when my dad would send me to go find out things, to go into a store and ask for a certain thing, and to talk to people. He made me not be shy around people and to be more of an adult and to speak to people properly. He taught me to listen and find out what’s going on. That’s one of the things I am really grateful to my father for doing. I think that it helped me in my life. My dad was always curious about what people were doing. And it made me curious. When it finally came to an end, I missed it a lot. And after a while my dad would talk with me about our trips and I knew he missed traveling too.

As a teenager, I went back to Guatemala and I remember smelling the bakeries and the sweet bread. I had lots of memories of those bakeries and it was comfortable and nice and they always treated us well. I was with some friends and relatives and we were driving down the street. I smelled the bread and I said, ‘Oh, let’s go get some bread.’ And they were all hesitant. They said, ‘We can go to another store.’ And then finally they asked me, ‘You know what those bakeries are, don’t you?’ I said, ‘No, they’re just bakeries.’ They told me that they were houses of prostitution and that the women supplemented their income by baking bread. And then it all made sense to me. I realized what my father was doing. He traveled, sold his apples, and went to these houses of prostitution and that’s why he would disappear sometimes. I finally understood. But I wasn’t angry. I thought, well, he loved to travel and he loved to bring me along. And I loved those times traveling with my father.”