The Field Trip: A True Story (Chapter 4)

That was a miserable evening.  Most people did not bring extra food (plus we all had one more night after this one, so I’d have to make due with hand-outs again, and I didn’t look forward to that).  But I did manage to piece together enough snacks and fruit to get by. There wasn’t a lot of time for my clothing or sleeping bag to dry out, so I was cold and damp myself all evening.  Consequently, I was fairly miserable.  All the while, the Professors, particularly Professor Silver, and anyone else who had purchased Tequila was having a grand old time getting drunk and laughing, and that certainly didn’t help with my mood.  I never had a chance to study for my French exam, but we still had 2 days to go.  I was taking the class pass-fail, so it wasn’t like I needed to get an A.

The next day, at least, was a day of sightseeing for most of us, and things were a lot less eventful.  We visited the site of a prehistoric mudslide — when volcanic ash mixes with water, you can have conditions that will result in the burial of lots of wildlife, so we went to this location where we tromped around looking for fossils.  I found the fossilized remains of a mollusk and its longish ‘foot’.  It was a very cool souvenir.  And later that day, we walked along a rocky coast, explored a cove that you can only enter at low-tide.  We got a lecture on the tiny animals that only live in the briny pools there.  I know there was more to it, about the fossil record, and so on. But remember, I’m trying to recall this from about 37 years later.

We got back to our camp and the other group had actually managed to set the car back on its wheels, on the roadway.  I had to beg a bit more for food, but at least my backpack was dried out by then.  We got back so late though, that it was dark, and I knew from experience that trying to study from the light of a flickering lantern is kinda tough.  I read little but not much.  I also was starting to feel a bit ill.

The next morning I was feeling a whole lot worse.  Most of that day was a blur to me.  I know we made at least one stop for sightseeing, for the benefit of the people who had missed the previous day’s explorations and lectures.   After that stop, and I don’t know what exactly had transpired, but Professor Margulis was ejected from the car with the rest of the Professors.  As I said, they didn’t get along to begin with.  She ended up being swapped for someone in our car.  One other thing that did happen was that one of Dr. Silver’s bottles of Tequila broke on the bumpy road as we headed home.  His car stank of Tequila.

I wasn’t feeling well to begin with, and Professor Margulis insistence on lecturing us during much of the trip back only made me feel worse.  As I said, it was a bit of a blur, but I imagine that Gingko Tree sperm had to be a big topic of discussion.  But I could not tell you in any detail about whether or not any more cars got stuck in the rivers as we crossed them in the other direction — whatever it was, we got through it.

Eventually, we reached Tijuana at the same time as it was getting dark.  We must have lost a bit of time, with the extra sightseeing stop, and with the traversing of the flooded areas, because I knew we had been scheduled to get back home in the early evening, and it was now early evening, and we were still in Mexico.  And as I said previously, that town was a maze of construction and detours.  We got to the long lines of cars to cross back into the U.S., and noticed that two cars were missing.  But there really wasn’t anything that we could do about that.  We figured they had gotten lost, and they would eventually find there way through.  As it turned out, they got home just fine, about an hour after we did.

The first car in the convoy was Dr.Silver’s and when they asked him if he had anything to declare, he stupidly said ‘No’.  And, of course, his car simply stunk of Tequila.  So we had to wait while the border guards searched his care thoroughly, and they found two more unopened bottles that he had bought, and he had to pay a fine.  When it came to our turn, again, they asked us if we had anything to declare, and we said no the guards just looked at us funny and said ‘you know your professors lied to us — you didn’t buy any Tequila also did you?”  “No officer, no Tequila”.  And they let us go without further ado.

I don’t remember what time we actually got back to the dorms — it probably was after midnight.  I know I was feeling incredibly ill by then.  But I also knew that I had a French exam due the next day, and there was no way I could stay up another 2 hours to take it, much less study for it.  Friends of mine who were awake and sympathetic to my situation helped me find the Professor’s home phone number.  I literally woke her up in the middle of the night to beg for mercy.  And she gave it to me.  She knew I was on a Geology field trip because I had missed Friday’s class.   She gave me an extension and told me she hoped I felt better and that was that.  I was worried over nothing.  She didn’t even complain about being woken up in the middle of the night.  But things like that, apparently happen all the time at the school, so I’m sure i was not the first student to do so.

By the next day, the stories of the trip were already legend.  Following years, when I’d meet a new student, they’d ask me if the stories were true.  Of course they were true.  I was there.  And I should know.  I’ve told bits and pieces of the story before.  But it’s been over 35 years since I’ve told about the whole thing, from beginning to end.

One thing that does come to mind though, and I didn’t know it at the time, but I found out after the fact — the rocks and fossils that some of us had collected on the trip — I did not know that we were not permitted to bring them into the country.  I have no idea what the border guards would have done, had they actually searched our car.  Is there a penalty for trying to smuggle a cheap rock across the border?  I have no idea.

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