Mexico, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

How I Got to Mexico and What I’m Doing Here

The morning after my kayak expedition I was a new man. When Ken had gone to bed I was shivering, unshaved, salty, soaked and smelling like expired barnacles. Now I was groomed, packed and dressed to travel.

“You’re a real quick change artist,” he said.

He made us a terrific breakfast and then dropped me at the bus station. Online, Greyhound offers a ticket from Corpus Christi, Texas all the way to the city of San Luis Potosí, Mexico. But in person at the ticket booth that line doesn’t exist. It makes me wonder what would have happened if I’d paid for the ticket on their website.

Undeterred, I just asked for a ticket as far as Brownsville, the border town. I’d already been assured by a Mexican bus company that I could pick up one of their buses the rest of the way (this would also turn out to be a lie).

Me above the Emerald Gates. Photo by André.

Me above the Emerald Gates. Photo by André.

I was in fair spirits that morning. It would have been nice to go the full distance on kayak, but I felt good about my decision. It was the best decision under the circumstances. Now I have a new mission to pick up from Riviera, Texas when I resume my self-powered adventure—either by kayak or bicycle.

And this is something that people don’t get about adventure. There’s this idea that adventure is about taking dangerous risks, the biggest risks possible. Maybe that’s true for thrill-seekers but to me adventure is about minimizing risk. You’re choosing to do something challenging and unusual that will require planning, determination and endurance—why make it even harder? It’s hard enough out of the box. An adventurer’s most important skill is risk management and risk avoidance.

When I got deep into south Texas I had to transfer buses to continue on to Brownsville. I really liked the station in Harlinged because it felt like I was already in Mexico, right down to the family vending street food inside the bus depot.

Finally I reached Brownsville. The station is a giant multiplex of different bus companies. I quickly found out that no one offered direct tickets to San Luis Potosí (or anywhere); you take one bus to cross the border and then you do your bus shopping on the other side.

Well, okay.

That went well enough. No one in this station—the Texas station—spoke English, which gave me a good preview of what to expect ahead (jokingly I wondered if that meant all the station attendants on the Mexico side would speak only English, in a kind of cultural cockblock exchange, but alas international relations have not evolved that far). I grudgingly stocked up on pesos, hating to pay exchange booth fees but not wanting to risk being penniless if there was no ATM on the other side.

And I ate a giant sub sandwich. It would be my last American food for some time, and my only food break before a very, very long bus ride.

Illegal Alien

Eventually we loaded up and went over. Crossing the border was very easy and low-key. So low key in fact that no one stamped my passport. I didn’t realize it till after we pulled away, and then it was too late. All that happened at the border station was we waited around while people said they would search our bags but, as far as I can tell, did not do so. When a guard saw my US passport (the only one in the bunch) he told me to get back on the bus.

This all felt like a weird repeat of Haiti, like I’m in a pulp series and my schtick is I never go through customs right. I’m now living as an illegal alien in Mexico, I suppose.

(I could easily get work teaching English here, meaning I’d also be stealing their jobs.)

Looking out the window at the border town of Matamoros really lifted my heart. I recognized Mexican brands like Oxxo, which flooded me with nostalgia; even better, I could see home-made things and craftsmen’s shops and street food cooked by grandmas and brightly colored cement walls everywhere I looked.

At the Matamoros bus station I quickly put my limited Spanish to work: No, no taxi, thank you. No, I don’t have a ticket. San Luis Potosí. What? Wait, what? What? Speak more slowly please. Oh, you do? How much? One please.

Several hours later I boarded an express bus which would make a single all-night run down Highway 101—the most dangerous highway in Mexico, the US Department of State assures me—with Narco country on both sides.

But at least they give you a snack on the way.

Bushwhacked

Sometime around 1 a.m. I woke up, probably because of the narwhale-like snoring of the man in front of me. Staring out the window, I admired the empty scrub desert in the dark. There are no towns out there, no light pollution. It’s pretty.

The bus stopped.

I tensed up. There was no stop sign out here, and no traffic. Not even police lights as far as I could tell. I rapidly consulted my dictionary for how to say, Take the snoring man, he is very wealthy.

Then the bus tried something I couldn’t have expected: it turned around.

Bear in mind this is a two lane highway with high embankments on either side. There’s no side road or turnabout to use. The bus just sort of ground one end into the embankment, made a rocky little pivot and zoomed back out of there.

I spent the better part of the next half hour wondering what had happened. Did the driver see something? Did he get word on the radio that there was trouble ahead? Worse, is he selling us out? And even if not—then where the heck are we going to end up?

We reached a junction with another endless two-lane highway and turned onto it. I realized, then, what had happened: the driver took a wrong turn.

Chaaaale.

Rogue Cellar

I made it to San Luis Potosí. My friend Cintain just finished building his new house, lovingly dubbed the Palace of the Emerald gates—a sort of Batcave for a Taoist Bruce Wayne. I’m renting a garden level room for April and intend to use most of the time to write.

My days are slow and pleasant. It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago I was burning 6,000 calories a day and paddling through squalls. But this is the rhythm my life has taken on: short periods of heart-racing adventure interspersed with weeks or months of quiet, peaceful creating.

That’s the life I’ve always wanted.

I’ll be exploring San Luis Potosí over the coming month, and doing my best to document it. What do you want to know about, or see? Is there anything about the city or my life here that you want to make sure I cover?

Also, I’m notoriously bad about taking photos when I find something interesting. Instead of reaching for a camera I just daydream about the stories I can tell (I’m a writer, not a photographer). But everybody loves photos, and honestly I do too. So this Friday I’ll post my first ever Photo of the Week… which hopefully will become a tradition every Friday from now on.

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. It’s about travel, adventure and magic. Get your copy here.

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10 thoughts on “How I Got to Mexico and What I’m Doing Here

  1. ==========
    Per taking those calculated risks, I’m reminded of a gal who was a canoe guide (and writer) from Canada. She wrote a GREAT short piece about this — wish I could find it. She writes that what others consider big adventure was, for her, nothing more than methodical plodding — fully aware that any notion of wilderness rescue is a cruel joke. She barely considered how long a trip was supposed to take OR when they were supposed to arrive. It was infinitely more important to arrive safely — regardless of how long that might take.
    ==========
    In her case, and in those days (many areas are like this STILL), there were no cell phones — no reception anyway — and the odds of a commercial flyover picking up your emergency locator beacon were slim to none. She absolutely was 100% responsible for the welfare of her clients . . . there were no other options. That said, the willingness and ability to embrace a reasonable level of risk is a GREAT indicator of mental health — never to be confused with being fool hardy.
    ==========

    • That article sounds great. If you find it let me know. This really strikes a chord with me:

      “what others consider big adventure was, for her, nothing more than methodical plodding”

      I really enjoy stories of travelers before the digital era. I think it really changed what travel and adventure meant. I’d be really interested in starting an “Analog Adventurers” digital magazine to collect those stories, although I haven’t the time to do it myself.

  2. Alien Mind Girl says:

    How wonderful it sounds – I want to hear everything! (Ok I guess I don’t REALLY, but I am interested in anything you are interested in sharing.) When people travel I always like to ask, “what is the most delicious thing you ate?” I don’t know why but it is a question everyone seems to get enthusiastic about answering, and then they link it to other stories, like a weird experience with the taxi driver on the way to the cafe or the person they met at the bar or even why they decided not to buy anything fancy to eat and what they spent money on instead. But I know you don’t need to think about food to remember to tell us the quirky little things. :)

    My experiences in Mexico are all from fishing trips with my grandpa in the baja, and years ago (most delicious thing? fresh coconut ice cream – although it is the wildlife and the colors that I remember most), so I am excited to hear about your mainland trip.

    I really appreciate your sharing. I love the stories you share.

    • Alien Mind Girl says:

      Ah ha, it’s the little stuff. That’s why I ask people about food. If they visited Paris I don’t want to hear about the Eiffel Tower – I can learn about that anywhere. I like to hear about the little everyday stuff that makes a life, and how that life is different here than there… The little goodies or quirks that says it is not just a change of scenery, it’s actually someplace different (or equally interesting, not so different after all).

    • I’ve never been to the Baja. Have you written up your experiences at all? I’d love to read.

      I think “What is the most delicious thing you ate?” is a really good question. In fact I might make that my standard question for travelers going forward to avoid just asking them the same things everyone else asks them.

      For me it’s such a toss up…. I had a meal on the Mississippi River in Lake Pepin, WI that was not the best gastronomically (I hate that word) but one of the best because of the circumstance… my mom and sister came to meet me in that town, and we all ate together outside in the cafe garden, and the baker of the cafe turned out to be the mom of my couchsurfing host that night. It was a wonderful day.

      Some of my friends in Memphis made a point to take me to the best Memphis barbecue and that was a really special night. I had so many good meals in New Orleans it’s hard to even say which was best. Perhaps the one that tasted the best was when a family in rural Louisiana invited Jessica and I in for crawfish boil while we were biking 60 miles in a headwind, about an hour after I recovered from heat stroke… it was divine.

      • Alien Mind Girl says:

        Thank you for sharing your meal time stories! :) They sound lovely. And I aspire to share in a crawfish boil one day. I consider it an honor that you would use my travel question.

        I did not write about my baja summers; it was 20 years ago and I was not even in high school yet. I feel like I remember it clearly enough to write about (being my first time out of country) but as for a plot to glue the memories together? There was not much of one. It was just a good ramblin’ on…

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