05 June 2009

Day One, 3 June 2009

San Miguel de Allende

Now as I write, I am living in an absolutely charming city and enjoying perfect weather for the second consecutive day here. But I must briefly describe the disaster that was day one. Then I can put it behind me, and chalk it up as an education.

The disaster occurred because of two simple facts. First, I had no Spanish. Second, I was alone and without the assistance of anyone, whether he spoke Spanish or not, who had crossed the border in an automobile before. In Reynosa, that hell hole, the Mexican personnel who man the border do not speak English. This is not a bilingual deal. They speak Spanish. Period.

I had two issues to deal with in crossing, one of which I had already taken care of. I had successfully secured a Temporary Import Permit for my truck and camper trailer. The other issue was the tourist visa. After crossing the international bridge I “talked” with this uniformed lady here at this booth about the temporary import permit and “talked” with that uniformed man there at that booth about the visa. And drove on, promptly making a wrong turn. This was not the fault of Mexico Mike's instructions. This was my fault.

I was assailed by about eight drunk or coked up street hoods who sat on my truck and trailer. I got rid of them successfully, and in the process got myself lost. I was driving around the mean back streets of Reynosa. That hell hole is right out of a Federico Fellini movie or an Hieronymus Bosch painting. There were starving horses, skin and bones, loose and grazing by the canal. The odor in that part of town is overwhelming. The place is teeming with people, some deformed and begging, some mentally defective and washing windshields, and on and on. I did not take photographs of that.

I ended up heading right back into the customs area as if I were going back across the bridge into the United States. So I made a U-turn. A Mexican army squad armed to the gills thought I was turning around to avoid a check point ahead. They descended on me and stopped me in the middle of the street. They did a complete search of my truck and a complete search of the camper. It was 95F. in the street, and I had to crank that fuckin' camper top up. In the vernacular the Mexican army tossed my truck and tossed my camper trailer. They were respectful but very grim. They did not want to hear anything I had to say. They just wanted me to follow orders. They found nothing and let me go. I did not take photographs of that.

I was stopped for speeding on the way out of town. I was speeding. I just wanted to get the hell out of the city of Reynosa, that hell hole. The two traffic cops needed a bribe in order not to write a traffic ticket. They quoted me a bribe of $200.00. I paid them that amount, which I had just liberated from the ATM that morning before crossing the border. I then had about fifty bucks left and no pesos, by the way. I know I should have negotiated with those police officers, but I wanted out of Reynosa immediately, and so I paid the price quoted. I did not take photographs of that.

I found my way to the main highway toward Monterrey. At the border of the state of Reynosa, down the road about 20 miles out of town, there was a check point. The police officer there checked my papers. I had no valid visa. But here is the more amazing part. Somehow, I had persuaded the lady back at the border to cancel my Temporary Import Permit for the truck and trailer. I kid you not. It had been voided. I had no visa and no papers for the vehicles. This policeman laughed. I think he was laughing at me, not with me. He made me turn around and sent me back into the city of REYNOSA, THAT HELL HOLE, back to customs at the bridge to get a new Temporary Import Permit and a valid tourist visa. That took a long time in rush hour traffic. I did not take photographs of that.

I did eventually secure valid papers and hauled ass south and drove until I could not drive anymore. I hit a toll booth with no pesos. They did not take U.S. dollars. I had to swap a U.S. twenty with an ambulance driver on the side of the road for a 200 peso note, an exchange very much to his advantage. But he was a nice, nice kid. Saved me. I did not take photographs there.

I had to learn how to buy gasoline at the Pemex stations after finding an ATM and successfully obtaining a few pesos. You cannot shove a card into the pumps. There are attendants at the pumps who fill the vehicle for you and expect cash in pesos and a tip and only speak Spanish. I took a picture of a Pemex station the next day.

Fascinating photo, huh?

In the dead of night at Linares, I took a hard right turn into some spectacular mountains. Those mountains smelled glorious. It was like perfume up there. I do not know what was the source of that aroma. At about 2:00 a.m. on day two, I pulled over onto a wide spot in this mountain road and went to sleep in the cab of the truck. I took no photographs in the mountains until sunrise. And it was at sunrise that I first became aware of what a terrifying mountain road I was on. I was way up in the air. There were sheer drop offs on one side. . . . . . . .

Day one was a full one, and here is the way I look at it. You might as well find out right away if you can handle the bad part of Mexico. I faced it all with the one exception of narcotraficantes, and I probably was in close proximity to them in Reynosa without knowing it. I know I can go toe to toe with Mexico now if I accomplish one thing. I must learn to speak Spanish. . . . . . . . .now! I am grimly determined. I am in a total immersion program of my own devising to learn to do just that. No person in history has ever learned to speak basic Spanish as fast as I am going to learn to speak basic Spanish. Next time I will negotiate the amount of that bribe in Spanish.

The mountain town of Iturbide at dawn.


Lynn said...

Congrats on making it through Reynosa (twice... or was that 3 times?)! I'm so glad to hear you aren't rotting in a Mexican jail... yet.

Best wishes on your immersion into Spanish. I've studied it three different times (grade school, jr hi, and a semester in college) but I wouldn't want to tackle a trip like yours on my own.

Señor Steve said...

Thank you so much for your best wishes, Lynn. Now that I am out of the border area, I'm okay. . . . .I think. I am having a wonderful time where I am now anyway.

Sheila said...

Wow! You survived! Wwell done! What a tale! i did tell you only to say you have a copy of your drivers license, right? It was advice from our driver when I was there, the scam is to ask for your license then ask for money to give you it back. Don't hand it over.
Anyway I;m impressed you are tackling this without any Spanish, for somereason I though you had some.
Now did you ever get to Zacatecas? if not take a visit - old silver mining town, great folks, great music, street parties, architecture, museos, ..... I remember a good time there.