A bus trip to Mexico in 1975 led an Experimenter to join a rock band

March 28, 2024  |  By Eric House
A vintage photo of two young men standing in front of a bus.

Doug Bishop (left) with his host brother Sergio (right) during his Experiment trip to Mexico in 1975.

It was the summer of 1975 in the United States. The president was Gerald R. Ford, Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” opened in theaters, and high school junior Doug Bishop boarded a Greyhound bus from Boston to Mexico to participate in The Experiment in International Living.

After meeting with his guidance counselor to discuss different ways to strengthen his college applications, Doug was inspired to do a summer exchange program. He came across The Experiment and immediately began raking leaves and babysitting around his neighborhood to pay for the trip.

He remembers that at the time, the program cost $600 for six weeks in Tecamachalco, Mexico, located in the middle of the country. “It was a pretty amazing bargain even at that time, but I wasn’t able to save enough for airfare,” Doug said. “I discovered I could go on the Greyhound bus for about 30% of the cost of a plane ticket.”

After a more than 24-hour trip to Laredo, Texas, an 18-hour layover as he waited to cross the border into Mexico, and then another 15 hours to Mexico City, Bishop finally made it.

“I was pretty bedraggled at that point, but once we were there, The Experiment took really good care of us,” he said.

Doug remembers the well-organized itinerary filled with educational day trips and an initial stay at a facility that served as an Olympic training center. After receiving foundational Spanish language training in Oaxtepec, his Experiment group set off for Tecamachalco where they were greeted with a welcome party by residents of the town.

Each Experimenter then went to their homestays, an experience that had a tremendous impact on Doug. “I was very lucky,” he said. “My host mother, who was recently widowed, couldn’t have been nicer. [The family] was very, very kind and understanding, and patient, no doubt.”

That included his host brother, Sergio, with whom Doug became close. They had a great time together, Doug said, in no small part because Sergio was a guitarist in the town’s local rock band.

A vintage photo of 11 young people standing as a group in front of Mexican landscape.

Doug Bishop (back left) with his Experiment group in Mexico in 1975.

During the summer, the band practiced almost every day in the basement of the local Catholic church. Doug’s job was to write down the lyrics of popular American rock songs for them.

“They had big stacks of 45 records from the U.S.,” he recalled. “They wanted to sing all these songs in English. They were really into Motown, and they also wanted to sing Rolling Stones, Beatles, and John Fogerty songs, but they didn’t know what the words were. So, they wanted me to write down the English lyrics, which I found extraordinarily difficult. You struggle to understand, even in English, what the lyrics were.”

Doug went with them to their performing gigs at parties and weddings all around town. Sometimes, they even got him to get up on stage and sing a song with them. “I was terrible, but I just had a great time,” he said.

It was a true cultural exchange: Doug learned the Mexican way of life by living with a local host family and hanging out with the local band, while the members of the band became well-versed in American rock music thanks to Doug’s lyric inscription.

“The experience did all the things The Experiment sets out to do. You leave with a different worldview after you immerse yourself in a different culture. I’d recommend it very highly.”

When he wasn’t spending time with Sergio and his band, Doug enjoyed the local food and customs. Having never experienced authentic Mexican food in Boston, he relished the grilled corn tortillas his host mother made for breakfast and frequented the humble basement restaurant that made tostadas.

He fondly remembers the local market and its tables full of chiles and peppers, many of which his host uncles would feed him to see how he would react. “It really made an impression on me to experience a much simpler way of life by going to the local market to buy food from local producers,” he said.

But it was the relationship with Sergio that made the longest impression on Doug, who is now a biology professor in Chicago. Still interested in the Spanish language, he and his wife had been recently taking private lessons. When he mentioned to his tutor that he had traveled to Mexico in 1975, she encouraged him to find Sergio.

Doug found Sergio on Facebook and was invited to come visit. Nearly 50 years after his time with The Experiment, the two friends were reunited in Tecamachalco.

Two men standing in front of a red car.

Doug Bishop (right) with his host brother Sergio (left) when they reunited in 2023.

During their three-day stay, Sergio took Doug and his wife sightseeing, helped them shop at the local supermarket, and took them to the best roadside barbacoa restaurant.

“He was just an extremely gracious host,” Doug said. “It was definitely worthwhile to go back, and we’ve been in touch with him since.”

When he looked back on his Experiment trip, Doug reflected on having been just a kid from Boston suddenly immersed in a new culture, a sentiment many Experimenters have in common. “The experience did all the things The Experiment sets out to do,” he said. “You leave with a different worldview after you immerse yourself in a different culture. I’d recommend it very highly.”