“San Pancho, San Pancho, San Panchooooo!” sings out the colectivo taxi driver as he circles the main boulevard, in search of additional riders. The door is cranked wide open, and we are going slowly enough for passengers to jog up alongside and leap into the moving mini-bus. We make an abrupt stop and two older Mexican ladies, sweating in the noonday heat and laden with market goods, struggle to climb aboard. The scent of bananas and guayabas creeps into the air as we bump onto highway 200 and race toward our destination San Francisco, affectionately known by the locals as San Pancho.
After 45 minutes of flying down the two-lane highway, windows wide open and hair whipping around, we finally turn off. I breathe a sigh of relief, not just because we are off the highway, but also because I am home in San Pancho. We cruise down Avenida Tercer Mundo, crossing a bright pink bridge with lampposts that remind me of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Right around this very spot, I always feel a surge of positive energy.
A two and a half foot Virgen de Guadalupe, nestled into the side of a building, welcomes me from her perch and reassures me: “You belong here.” According to my landlady, Dona Emilia, this area near the highway used to be known as Los Angeles – literally The Angels. The buena vibra of San Pancho begins at the crucero, and does not end until you leave.
Brightly colored buildings line the main street and cordially acknowledge my return. We pass the polo field, shops and homes, the grass soccer field, and turn onto Calle Africa. All the streets in town take their names from third world countries and continents.
San Pancho is a small town with a unique history. Like many other towns along this coast, only a small number of families called this farmland home, living off coconuts, fish and livestock. That all changed in the early 1970s when the Mexican President at the time, Luis Echeverría, came for a visit. Don Luis, too, felt the allure of San Pancho and adopted it as his own.
After building a vacation mansion for his family at the southern end of the beach, El Presidente set about realizing his pet project: a self-sustaining “model town”, an example for the entire third world to follow. Echeverría brought infrastructure to San Pancho: electricity, roads, schools, a university, several factories, and a hospital. His dream was for students from third world countries to study in his model town.
I asked my landlady what the townsfolk had thought about Echeverría taking over. “Cosas buenas y cosas malas,” replied Dona Emilia, daughter of one of the original-founding members of San Francisco. “He took our family’s land but he gave us opportunity.”
When the President’s term ended in 1976, he abandoned San Pancho. The factories shut down in the mid-1980s but the hospital and schools survived and still operate today. Although San Pancho did not become the town that Echeverría had envisioned, it is my model town.