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The Ghosts of Alamos

Photo by Tomas Carvalho

The sun is relentless, stalking me along the narrow, cobbled lanes of Alamos, Mexico, as I return to my hotel. I unlock the heavy double doors and walk into the lush, untamed courtyard, where weather-pocked stone cherubs guard a center fountain and rocking chairs sit motionless beneath electric ceiling fans. It’s quiet inside. Quieter, in fact, than any hotel I’ve ever patronized, because I’m the only guest.

Which is not to say that I’m alone.

According to locals, my hotel is haunted by the woman it originally belonged to: Señorita Marcor, a beautiful spinster piano teacher who traversed Alamos only by underground tunnel because the streets back then weren’t cobbled, and she refused to muddy her boots and long skirts.

This doesn’t alarm me. For one thing, I like the sound of Señorita Marcor. For another, I’m traveling with my own ghost.

“I want to disappear,” I told my mother a few weeks ago, giving her a research project. My father had just died so I thought she could benefit from an assignment that would keep her busy, give her a purpose. As for me, I was desperate to escape San Francisco—the endless hustle, the cold summer weather, the impassive faces, and worse, the sympathetic ones. I wanted to retreat with my memories of my father to a place where no one knew us.

“Maybe Mexico,” I said. “Somewhere pretty but not touristy—a quiet village with a couple of small...