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- Marathon hitchhiking: Southern Mexico to Michigan in 7 days over 3,400 mi
- Mango Surprise: Being the victim of a random, delicious act of kindness
- Legendary Vagabonder Rolf Potts with priceless advice on travel
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- Kazakhstan Pt. 3: Almaty, where kids watch pole dancers, and joining the family
- Kazakhstan Pt. 2: Astana, WTF? Diagnosis: major inferiority complex
- Kazakhstan Pt. 1: Whoa Aunt Jemima's!, the Darth Vader Mosque, and a failed haircut
Marathon hitchhiking: Southern Mexico to Michigan in 7 days over 3,400 mi
Written by Tyler Cole | 01 June 2010
5:30 am. I'm leaving my hostel in San Cristobal as the sun breaks, already reminiscing about the cool weather, good people, and nice local markets stocked with fresh produce every day for pennies. I have left myself two weeks to hitchhike back to Michigan (click here to see the route). After talking with a few of the dread-locked, unicycle-riding sort on the street last night about hitchhiking, I decide to take colectivos up to Villahermosa since hitching in Chiapas is supposedly fraught with long waits and suspicious people. Another big plus is that the main highway to Mexico City passes through Villahermosa. I hand over my 40 pesos and arrive in Palenque after passing through Ocosingo before noon, and quickly catch a larger bus to Villahermosa. After being profiled on the bus at a security checkpoint, I get off the bus in Villahermosa sweaty and cursing the spirit-sucking heat. The highway turns out to be right near the bus station, but it doesn't look too promising for hitching since there is heavy traffic and not much space to pull over. Brief online research basically billed Mexico as a hitching paradise, but I'm sensing I'm going to have to walk outside the city limits to really find that out.
Indeed, an hour and a half passes of stopping a little and thumbing, getting discouraged, wiping sweat off, and then walking a little more. Right when I put my bag down on a median to get some water, a beat up work truck parked on the side of the road emits a voice that asks where I'm going. I recognize it as passing a few minutes earlier. He's going West, so I get in. After a few minues it is evident that Carlos is very drunk, but he drives straight and slow so I'm not really concerned. It's Sunday, and Sundays are drinking days. From the cans strewn over the floor, it look like his weapon of choice is Negra Modelo. It's a bit concerning when he says it's actually his dad's borrowed truck since he had already totaled two cars. I don't ask if there was alcohol involved in the accidents, nor do I want to know. He goes on about his tumultuous marriage, not seeing his kids very often, and wishing he was working in the US. He takes a right off the highway without really warning me, and says he wants to show me where he grew up. I triple confirm with him that he'll get back to the highway, and I go along with it since I'll easily be able to handle any sort of drunken smooth move he might try to pull. Plus, he's offered me a beer.
More life problems and inane sports talk and we eventually get to the Caribbean coast, which isn't as impressive as the image that pops into mind when you think "Caribbean coast". His eyes are glossy with memories as he sucks on his cigarette, I would bet his 20th since I got in the car. We then double back and head toward the highway. It's a nice drive, but not it's really getting me any closer to where I need to go. Three hours since we left the highway and we're back, 0 kilometers traveled. We start down the highway, and as it starts to get dark he stops at a restaurant and we get some food. He insists on paying for the oreja de elefante, or elephant ear, which was a large, thin piece of grilled beef with enchiladas. We go about 10 more kilometers and he says he's getting tired and wants to return to Villahermosa. Villahermosa? As it turns out, he wasn't heading west for any good reason, just going on a drunken joy ride and he wanted company. I say he can just leave me in a calm spot off the highway, and he obliges. I walk a bit to find a good place to crash, and a slash-and-burned piece of land looks moderately inviting. When I click off the headlamp, I see Pemex oil fields burning in the distance as my nightlight. They flicker like candles over the horizon.
6:30 am. The next day starts a bit moist after a storm at night, during which I have to scramble to put the rain fly up. I pack everything up around sunrise, still damp. I get out to the highway and with a few rides in the back of pick ups and one long ride in a luxuriously air conditioned car (in which I fall asleep almost immediately) I wind up in Veracruz around noon. At the tollbooth I wait a little bit in the dry heat, comparatively comfortable compared to further east, when a civil engineer in a nice American pick up takes me to Orizaba, about halfway between Veracruz and Puebla. He is clearly very proud about the Mercedes SUV he recently bought. I say thanks for the coffee as he leaves me at another tollbooth about 2 hours later.
I get some Tampico juice and peanuts to refuel and wave my thumb as cars leave the tollbooth. Eventually Yumani and Carlos stop, and after a brief and cheerful chit chat they immediately put my translation skills to test on the their favorite 80s American Top 40 hits, none of which they can understand. They also really like The Barbie Song (like, the one where she is A Barbie Girl in a Barbie World). I say they can just leave me in Puebla, but over roadside tacos Carlos insists that I come back and stay with his family . I find myself enthralled with a full stomach and a real place to stay for the night. The relativity of what "happiness" is strikes me again as it repeatedly has over the past four months.
We get to their village, and the whole family welcomes me since Carlos has told his wife over the cell about the guero guest they are to have. The kids are fascinated by my tent, and his wife basically forces me to let her wash my clothes despite the fact that only one tank top and pair of underwear are really dirty enough, by traveling standards, to wash. They vacate the master bedroom and I crash after thanking them profusely.