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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
- Fire juggler in San Pedro de la Laguna, Lago Atitlan, Guatemala
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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 - Page 2
Written by Tyler Cole | 01 June 2010
8:00 am. Carlos wants me to meet his mother in the morning. Over weak coffee and moist, chewy bread I chat with her and a cousin about, well, nothing really. Where I've been, how it is in the Mexican countryside; it was just morning wake up talk. She had nine children, and she lets me know that women are better off nowadays not having so many. They want me to stay a few more days, but I tell them my impending trip consists of thousands more miles and there isn't much argument. They suggest that I should head towards Queretaro directly from near Puebla so as to avoid Mexico City, and I wholeheartedly agree. They were about 5 minutes away from the road and tollbooth that heads towards there, and at around 10am they leave me at the tollbooth, the whole family deciding to come along to see me off.
I don't have to wait long before another car stops, and they make quick time getting towards Queretaro. They aren't going all the way, but after a Too Fast Too Furious-style rally while weaving through cars and trucks, and stopping to try to exchange a bird cagewith bars too wide apart, they leave me about 50 kilometers south of Queretaro near a tollbooth. I'm starting to really like tollbooths for hitchhiking, but after an hour of waiting I'm starting to see this one is an exception to the rule.
I'm getting quite discouraged that no one is stopping given the volume of cars when an old VW Bug taxi in reverse comes from behind my view and the driver asks in broken English where I'm headed. They're going towards Queretaro so I get in. Glancing down, I see the meter ticking and double check that they're aware I'm hitchhiking. They affirm they don't expect money for the ride. It's free because I'm an American, they say. It seems that Mexicans seem to be fond of solo guero wanderers. The couple turns out to be going all the way to San Luis Potosi, which earlier in the morning I had set as my unlikely goal for the day. My morale is high as we're cruising along through the dryish backbone of Mexico in the passenger seat-less, dilapidated Beetle, my backpack sitting where the front seat should be. I have my legs quite comfortably resting on the bag, Maria sitting to my left, Jose driving. They have been married for 17 years, both with kids but from previous marriages. He drives his taxi in the D.F. while Maria stays home and does odd jobs, and they're heading to San Luis for her aunt's funeral. They are in a pretty good mood considering the circumstances, so I presume she wasn't a close aunt.
We stop in Queretaro where some of Maria's family live and have dinner. We continue with Maria's well-fed sister in the car, which makes the ride a bit cozier, all the way until San Luis. We only stop for bit of fuel, and Jose has me tighten up the bolts on the bumper (they are stripped) due to some back problems. Jose used to be a truck driver, so as we arrive in San Luis he takes it upon himself to pull into the truck stops and use this as leverage to see if he can find me a ride. With the sun just peeping over the horizon and no promising results from his inquiries, we all agree that a gas station about 3 kilometers north of the city will be a fine place to pitch my tent for the night.
There is an attached restaurant where I get an egg burrito and sip on the Gatorade that Maria gave me as a parting gift, after which I check out the field across the road for sleeping potential.Crossing the road a horrid stench hits my nostrils, and below appears a dark colored drainage ditch with what I presume to be sewage running. I am careful hopping over the ditch, fearing a feces-marinated backpack and clothes. Immediately on the other side of the ditch is a barbed wire fence, and I dexterously place my hands between the barbs to pull myself away from the excrement moat. It is clear that someone had been in the same position as I find myself since the wires were pulled apart, allowing me to easily slip through to the other side. I walk a minute or so out of sight of the road and pitch my tent on the dry ground for the night.
7:30 am. Surprisingly refreshed after a good night's sleep, I get out near the gas station and quickly snag a pick up ride 100 kilometers north of the city. And not about 100 kilometers, exactly at the 100 kilometer mile marker. There isn't much around except a gas station across the street, and the traffic is light. It's still early so the sun isn't strong and the breeze is mild, so I'm not too worried if I have to wait a long time in the fairly barren region of land that extends for miles all around me. The next goal is to get to Monterrey, and from there the border isn't too far.
After about 15 minutes an Astro van comes to a stop beside me. I say I'm going to the border, and he says he's going all the way to Orlando. Orlando?! Like Florida? Yes. Ideas start going through my mind as I get in the car. Should I just go with him to San Antonio and then split off? My aunt had offered a few days earlier to drive back to Michigan if I could get to Atlanta, and that seems like a good option with the new developments in my migratory situation. I decide to just figure it out later on, and if Jose seems alright I'll continue with him until Northern Florida. I-75 cuts right through there and hits I-10, which Jose is going to take all the way to Florida from Texas.
Jose had been driving since 5am from just outside Guadalajara where he is building a retirement house and was already several hours into his trip back to Orlando, where he has been living for the past several years. He tells me how he snuck into the US 20 years ago with the help of a coyote and moved around California, Chicago, New York, and eventually found stable work in Florida in construction. Ronald Reagan, he informs me, was the best president the US ever had since he approved an immigrant amnesty program a few years after Jose had crossed the border. The conversation is infrequent and a bit forced. Apparently American and Italian foremen on construction sites are good to work for, but Mexican ones are all real pricks. He makes lots of passing references to God and being a good person, yet has no problem telling me about the stolen goods he buys in Florida and that he is maintaining not just his house but also a mistress in Guadalajara (but they don't have sex in the master bedroom, because that's reserved for his wife and just plain wrong). It doesn't seem strange to him that his mistress is about the same age as his teenage daughters. He gives me a Spanish spelling test and decides that I am competent to respond to his mistress' saucy texts for him while he drives. I must admit there is a voyeuristic appeal to sexting in Spanish for someone else.
It's very warm out and conversation drifts in and out until we get close to the border, at which point he gets slightly moody and suspicious that I'm some sort of fugitive trying to sneak into the US. I have to suppress laughter at the irony. That stage passes after he sees all my documents are fine, but he is still touchy and impatient at the border, constantly swearing under his breath. The border was more secured and organized than I was expecting, if not particularly fast moving. After passing through Mexican customs, the American customs pick our van to be examined and we park it, get out, and are instructed to wait to the side; instead of a hand inspection they use a massive X-ray machine attached to a truck that slowly travels along the line of cars, all unoccupied with the passengers to the side, stopping intermittently to do a second pass. However, reaching our van, they do a third pass, and then a fourth pass, and I'm a bit worried. They open up the back and look through the coolers and yank out large white bricks. Shit. Jose isn't near me but starts approaching the car. He talks for a little while with the customs officers and walks back. What the fuck was that? Chesse. He's carrying 15 kilos of cheese, and if they catch him again it's a $300 fine.
We get across around 7pm and stop at a Burger King for a dinner, at which point his moodiness hits its peak. When we park he starts fiddling with his god forsaken cheese, and he asks me to order a Number 2 sin queso for him. Yeah, no problem. Yet when ordering I realize there's only a few dollars that I changed at the border, barely enough to get a few value burgers. I just order for myself planning to explain to him that I didn't have the cash, but when he comes in and sees only my order he throws a fit before a chance to explain. He claims I am selfish and unappreciative for the ride. I am able to sneak in edge-ways that I didn't have the cash, but he corners me when he says I could have used my debit card. Damn it. Now I really look like a prick. I had been using only cash for months and completely forgot about using my debit card. I try to explain that to him, but he says I should just wait outside and threatens to leave me at the border. It's not particularly threatening considering I'm hitchhiking and I've already made it past my goal for the day, but I still don't want to lose the ride all the way to Florida. When he comes out I try to explain that I wasn't trying to be stingy and truly forgot, but he doesn't want to hear it. I tell him I'm taking my stuff and going to road, and I thank him for the ride that he gave me.
Walking away, he calls me and says I forgot some papers. They were trivial and I didn't need them, and he starts backtracking and asking why I forgot about the debit card. He sheepishly says to get back in, tacitly recognizing his overreaction. I consider not doing it, but I know he wants the company and I want the ride. We ride in silence, which I prefer over forced conversation, until San Antonio where around 10pm we get a motel (with two beds) for the night.