Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Crossing the Border

Crossing the border was a trip. Larry, my cousin, arranged a taxi to take me to the bridge on Stanton Street in El Paso, Texas. The driver dropped me at the bridge, which, on the American side, was under construction. With dirt walkways and barricades, I felt like I was already in a third world country. By contrast, the arching bridge descended into Mexico to smooth new sidewalks. A guy in an army uniform pawed gently through my bags and waved me on. There was no signage indicating how I should get a visa, or even that I might need one. Good thing I knew to ask. There was no cost for the visa (surprise!). The immigration guy asked for my driver’s license, which I had left behind in my wallet at Larry’s house. I certainly won’t be driving in the next month but in retrospect that was probably not the brightest idea I’ve had lately. Now I’ll have to take my passport everywhere with me.

The tiny Rio Grande in Juarez, from the top of the bridge.
Two very poor looking fellows walking along the sidewalk got very excited when I said I needed a taxi. They waved one over and insisted on putting my bags into the cab. I tipped with the four quarters I had in my pocket and they seemed happy even though it wasn’t immediately spendable.

The cabbie was a cute round faced fellow who didn’t speak any English at all, so we had an entertainingly stilted conversation about all the American companies like Wendy’s, Auto Zone, WalMart, Sally’s Beauty Supply, and Lucerne (Leche Lucerna) that permeate Ciudad Juarez. I told him there weren’t as many of those in the south and he seemed surprised.

The tiny, four gate airport was almost deserted. I suppose there are many planes that leave early, then another glut towards mid-day when mine takes off. With three hours to wait, I think my desire to have plenty of time might have been overkill.  But I learned a few things. My visa was not free and in fact I need to go to some/any bank and pay for it, then turn it back in before I leave the country. The man who explained the rules to me was about the fourth person to handle it, and he noticed the slip of paper attached that is apparently the bill, M$250.  He said “You don’t forget to pay now ok?” What a laid back system!

The flight into Mexico City was long but sitting next to me was a lovely young lady whose Mexican parents had raised her in Las Vegas, Nevada. We had a great chat about her recent trip to Argentina, plans for the future, and her desire to get dual citizenship. There are a lot of advantages to being Mexican. For one thing you don’t have to pay huge “retaliation” fees to South American countries when you visit them.  Mexico doesn’t charge an arm and a leg for a visa, so they don’t over-charge the Mexicans in return.

Mexico City's odd concrete airport.
Mexico City literally stinks, and from three or four thousand feet up. My nose and throat were burning before we touched down, there’s so much pollution and smog. We descended thru the brownest cloud I’ve ever seen, and I’ve landed in Los Angeles in the wintertime!! Being inside the terminal didn’t help in the least. To top off the gross air, I kept looking around and seeing concrete. Concrete walls, ceiling, floors….all monstrous thick spans of concrete. I just kept telling myself, the chances of a massive earthquake right now is pretty slim, but I was incredibly grateful to be back up in the air.

I keep meeting people who want to put me in touch with other people. It seems to be a Mexican ‘thing’. The fellow sitting next to me was the Minister in charge of Ecology and ensuring the survival of the wonderfully varied ecosystems throughout the country. He wrote down his name and the names of the directors of Palenque and some river preserve I hadn’t heard about. I’m to look them up and tell them he sent me. I’m not sure what that will ‘get’ me, but heck, it can’t hurt. An insider’s look at Palenque would be incredible.  Just meeting interesting people is fun by itself.

It felt good to be in Tuxtla-Guitierrez. It felt like central Mexico, moist, humid, warm but not sweltering, the buildings looked familiar in their bright turquoise, orange, pink, green and electric blue colors. By the time I got on the last leg of transport, a Mercedes van, it was night. A shame. I would have enjoyed seeing the scenery whiz past, but alas, I took a much-needed nap and woke up in San Cristobal.

A taxi to the Posada, owned by my landlady, to pick up the key, and then another short ride to the apartment, and I will be ‘home’. Could the day possibly go any smoother? Well, yes it could. And it could have, but it didn’t.

Typical room at the Posada, note the sexy photos!
I am now writing this sitting on the lumpiest bed I’ve ever known, in a $6.50 a night room, because the landlady was gone and none of the people working at the Posada knew anything about me, or a key, or an apartment, nada, nada, nothing. I had her cell phone, could they call her for me? My phone was dead. Nope. No telephone.

However, there was a room available. And Wi-Fi. The fastest Wi-Fi I’ve ever seen. Either they have some exquisite new technology down here in Mexico, or I’m the only person using it.So how is it that a hotel has NO phone but super fast Internet?

Bring your own towel to the Posada with its shared bathroom.
The bathroom is down the hall, and the young kid who brought up my bags was very proud of the fact that the shower has hot water 24/7. I sort of assumed it would have hot water, but I guess that’s a recent addition/improvement. Maybe they should think about adding a phone line, it might improve their business.  I may be sharing the bathroom with other people, but I haven’t seen another soul. I haven’t seen the landlady either, and she supposedly lives here.

So I traipsed off down the street to seek out some sustenance since all I’d eaten was a bag of airline peanuts, apple juice, and a couple of beef jerky sticks since breakfast. Several streets appear to be traffic-free, are lined with restaurants and packed with people. Music blared from each open doorway and some customers sat outside on little metal tables.  In the Centro were more restaurants, and an open-air market. Probably fifty vendors sat around on blankets, wrapped up in rebosos and warm sweaters with their handmade linens, hats, scarves, blankets, shoes, handbags, and jewelry spread out in front. I wandered by after 11:00. It was DARK. If a customer showed some interest, the vendors would enhance streetlight illumination with a strong flashlight. And there was no shortage of customers. Mexico never ceases to amaze me….what people will do to earn a living! And how late everyone stays up. Back in bed after midnight, a live band, distant blaring TVs, and the occasional siren serenaded me to sleep.

View from the Posada's roof of San Cristobal.