Adventure, Mexico, Sea Kayaking, The Great Adventure, Travel

How to Cross Mexico Safely

I was a stranger and this guy had a gun. He told me he took it everywhere so he could shoot whoever tried to mug him.

I told him I was camping out at the County Fairgrounds.

“You’re not gonna wake up,” he told me. “There’s stabbings there every night.”

But the police said I could camp there. They thought it was safe. He laughed.

“Go anywhere else. You don’t know this town. You’ll get robbed!”

I asked if I could camp in his yard instead. Of course not. So I went to the Fairgrounds.

It seemed really nice. I showered, I met the other campers and I slept all night in a windstorm. It was cold but the cold wind never did try to stab me.

That was in Mississippi. A white man named Whitman said I was going to die. He knew all the black people and how bad they all were. They all had knives. I only saw their kids learning to dance in the park and then some of the teens listening to music in cars. I guess they keep the knives really well hidden.

“They’ll cut your head off,” everyone says about Mexico. A lot of Americans tell me that. They sure know a lot about Mexicans.

But the dangers of Mexico are real. The top 200 miles of that country are a war zone. Foreign travelers aren’t really targeted but someone traveling alone on the highways would really stand out. Mexico is one of the safer countries I’ll cross on my journey—safer for an American than the US is—but parts of it are not safe at all.

Options

I basically had three options for how to cross Mexico on my own power.

  1. Bike it. I can make 50-90 miles a day and if I reach hostels before sunset I can just tear through the danger zone. I think this would be a poor way to go because it’s essentially fleeing from one of my favorite cultures.
  2. Pilgrimage. I could join a pilgrimage headed toward the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City. We’d be on foot and I’d be in a large group, with a spiritual purpose, which is probably safer. I love this idea but it would also veer me away from my course toward Yucatán.
  3. Take to the sea.

Guess which one I chose.

Something like this.

Something like this.

Kayaking

Dawn lights up the waves like crowns on enemy kings. The weather report is clear—eat quick! Slam that coffee. Up, to the water, up!

The tide is going out and our little barks with it. We face the surf, those pounding walls of water diving into shore. They want to take us back; we are not going back. Paddles in the water, struggling from the hip, struggling from the back, arms taut and hair drenched in foam. Is this to trade one fomhór for another?

There is no other way: to reach the open sea we must break through the surf.

Out on the open, science is our concern; check the compass, point the bows, re-check the weather; are all heads present?

We go so far we cannot see land. Here the water is calmer. It is slow oliphants, not charging bulls and rams; it is the heaving shoulders of sleepy giants.

20 feet up on the swell; a glimpse of horizon, a blast of wind; drop back to the trough 20 feet below. A few paddle-strokes will do you but stay together mates, stay together.

We go like this for some time. There are snacks at sea, cameras come out of drysacks, distant boats are sighted and avoided.

Dolphins jump beside us. Did you know that dolphins will escort kayakers on the open Gulf?

Perhaps it’s sunset, perhaps the GPS says it’s time to make our camp. A hard starboard and we cut toward land.

Now the surf is with us, that hammering crashing wall will carry us to our beds—but it is not tame, no it is not tame. It is on the backs of bulls now, the churn of the stampede that we ride. Like Pamplona we make our run.

The final hundred yards. What speed! The beach looms pink before us, come in at an angle now, turn it to the side—there is no reason to rough up your boat.

Come aground, stow that gear; who’s scouting town and who’s making camp tonight? We need street food, we need cold agua. Welcome ashore, bold spirits, welcome ashore.

How?

The plan is this: reach Texas. Get a sea kayak. Learn to use it. Kayak 1,000 miles from Texas to Coatzacoalcos (see map), stopping every night at a different town or beach.

Considerations:

  • I will be a fluent Spanish speaker before crossing the border,
  • I will cross legally and abide by the 6 month maximum stay in Mexico.
  • I will train extensively in sea kayaking before making the voyage.
  • Assume I will procure all reasonable navigational and safety equipment.
  • Some cartels have boats, however as one experienced Gulf kayaker said: “Kayak jackings are distinctly less common than carjackings.”
  • I would prefer not to go alone.

I leave New Orleans in late June, and will arrive in Corpus Christi, Texas around August 7. I plan to practice on kayaks until late 2013 or early 2014, then begin the voyage.

I invite you to join me. 

The Open Call

I believe the myths are real. I believe we can do great things.

Adventure is my path to that. Adventure tests me, frees me, shows me to shatter past my limits. We are capable of great things: to adventure is to breathe them every day.

It’s not always pleasant. It’s not always safe. The adventurer shies away from unnecessary risk, makes every precaution, but when risk is unavoidable—we grin into the wind.

But it is to live, it is to know, it is to know the self, it is to know the self triumphant.

Often I say: there is no call to adventure. There will be no owl with your invitation letter; no wizard will abuse your door.

Today I prove myself wrong.

I invite you to adventure. I’m giving you notice. The true call is silent, it is urgent, it is in the blood: you feel it if you have the call. You must decide for yourself.

But today, one adventurer is reaching out to you. Come with me. Meet me in Texas, we will find you a boat; we will train together; we will do something great. It may not set records, it may not change history, it will challenge every limit we have, we will throw ourselves to that challenge because—

To adventure is to experience myth.

If you feel a call don’t put it off. Email me to discuss it; whether it’s right for you, individually. We don’t need to make a firm plan just yet. Let’s just talk options.

I’m drew@roguepriest.net and I would like to adventure together.

If you’re a new reader you may enjoy the report on the adventure so far.

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Adventure, Sea Kayaking, The Great Adventure

The Danger of North Mexico

I find myself back on US soil and there are only 3 months till I start the Great Adventure. It’s time to make decisions.

One of the most troubling segments of my trip has always been northern Mexico. Mexico as a whole is a very safe, friendly country (in my opinion) but along the US border the drug war rages on and it can be extremely dangerous to foreigners.

My planned route takes me down the Mississippi River. I start in mid June and aim to reach New Orleans by Hallowe’en, allowing a leisurely pace. I expect crossing the US to be relatively safe, with “relative” being the crucial word.

After dallying in New Orleans I’ll head down the Gulf coast through Texas. In this area, if all goes well, I’ll meet up with fellow adventurer Mitchell Roth. (That’s right, if the Great Adventure becomes a video game it will have a two-player mode.)

And after New Year’s we’ll cross to Mexico.

By following the Gulf Coast we won’t hit the very most dangerous spots, but we’ll go through some bad stuff. Friends have begged me to take a bus from the border to Tampico or San Luis Potosí, effectively cutting 500 miles off my walk. I know there has to be another way.

So Mitch and I brainstormed.

Bear in mind that the rule for the Great Adventure is that everything needs to be powered by my own muscles. That doesn’t strictly mean walking-only. In fact, I plan to bike part of it, because biking is fun.

So what about paddling?

The vision that Mitch and I now have is to buy two sea kayaks. We’d have to take some time on the Texas coast to be trained and put in a lot of practice. Then, when we’re ready, we’ll sea kayak along the Gulf—always in sight of land—all the way to Veracruz.

We’ll still need to go through customs when we cross the border. There should be a way for small vessels to enter port legally; if it doesn’t apply to kayakers we’ll need to find a way to cross by land at Matamoros. These are the kinds of details we’ll work out a hundred miles from the border.

In a way we’re trading one set of risks for another. But the dangers of the sea can be tempered by gear, training and attention. There’s something about it with a powerful appeal: every afternoon we put ashore in a different pueblo, find a place to sleep, and enjoy the beautiful evening. In the morning we go out with the tide, or take a week to bask on the beach before going on.

That’s the plan. Two kayaks, salt in my hair and the final tan I’ll ever need. My readers are my brain trust, and if you have thoughts or suggestions I’d love to hear what you think.

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