Puerto Libertad is a notch ahead of Puerto Lobos. At least it has some hotels, and restaurants, too—even an Oriental one, I hear. But I know in my heart the trip’s really over, anyway, because once the rhythm’s broken, then you have to skip to the next act…and that’s LA. So why am I going southeast when I need to go northwest? Chill, Hardie, chill. All is not lost, of course. During that hour or so of uncertainty, standing on the sidewalk, waiting for the bus, I probably chatted with more local strangers than I have in the last thirty-five years—the hardware guy, the hotel guy, the construction guy on the bicycle—just wanting to chat, just like the old days. That was in Mexico, too. Sadly it happens all too infrequently around the world, and when it does happen, it’s notable. If I may riff on a theme: “so far from the US, so close to God.”
“Are you Gringo or Mexican?” the guy on the sidewalk finally asks me.
“Cien por ciento?”“100%.”
Maybe just a little bit pocho?
And genetic theories of language acquisition die another little death, racism in one of its mildest forms, the reverse Lamarckian fallacy in linguistics—acquisition of inherited characteristics—and pitfall of the uneducated. No, language is not coded in DNA. One of the nicest things about Mexico is that so few people speak English…or even care. Good for them; that’s the way it should be. If intermingling with the locals is the highest goal of travel, then passing for one is the Holy Grail. If we all could pass for local all over the world, then there’d be no racism. Racism in its vicious form is hatred—and fear—of the “other.” If there is no perception of “otherness,” then there should be no racism. But besides chatting up the locals, not much else is happening in the metropolis of Puerto Libertad. It’s election time at the local and national levels. At the national level PRI is predicted to win the presidency for the first time since finally losing their “perfect dictatorship” in 2000. On the local level it’s “Nacho” against “El Melon.” I’m getting hungry.
But of course I can’t sleep with a 5 a.m. bus to catch, so that adds insult to injury. I need help from the desk people.
“You’re going to give me a wake-up call at 4:30 a.m., right?
“Si, senor, a las cuatro y media.”
There’s only one problem: no telephone. So next time I pass the desk I try to act my cutest and remind her, “you’re going to call me with a megaphone, right?”
She smiles. “Si, senor.”
Now I know I’ll never get to sleep. I try to remember that Seinfeld episode about the long-distance runner who missed his alarm for the marathon. What did he do? But the concern was all for naught. The night clerk actually did come knock on my door—twice—but I didn’t need it anyway. I’ve got an internal clock that checks the time every hour on the hour all night, and it’s got an alarm, too.
So sometimes the epiphany is in the brilliant mistake, and the devil is always in the details. One of the main purposes of this trip was to see wartime Mexico, and how it’s holding up. I’m happy to report that it’s doing fine. No one is hiding behind metal shutters—no more than usual anyway—and no one is scared to talk to strangers. So I make my morning bus and continue on to Hermosillo, the wrong way to LA, but still holding out my options. We’re going through Seri Indian country now, and they pile onto the bus at several intermediate stops. They certainly don’t look like the bad-asses they’ve got the rep for, quite a handsome people in fact, far more than their fat-ass mixed-blood counterparts. If anyone has diabetic obesity here, it’s not the natives; it’s the overweight Mexican women. A young Seri couple sit behind me, so I listen in on their conversation. The language sounds like somebody gargling…and then swallowing.
We finally get into Hermosillo and it’s hotter than PHX—pardon my Spanish—but I mean Phoenix, of course, Hermosillo’s sister city to the north. If Phoenix had ended up on the other side of the line, this is what it’d look like. The hotel I booked is located five minutes’ walk from the bus terminal, of course, something I didn’t even know at the time. I consider begging them for a refund, but blow it off. I’d probably fare better if I showed up to check-in today, but… naah… I continue to the bus terminal…and the “ruta Sonora” up river toward Arizona is problematic, only three buses per day, and one of them already gone. If I don’t like Aconchi, I wouldn’t want to wait seven hours for another bus OR spend the night in the Godforsaken place. I just did that last night.
So I’ll book onward trans to Tijuana through the night, get there early Sunday morning, then see how I feel. I’d like to see how it’s doing anyway, especially after spending so much time there in the interstices of my two-year “hypertravel.” Everyone asks me about Ethiopia, Yemen, Madagascar, and Papua NG, but nobody ever asks me about Tijuana, and that’s where I spent more time than any other single place. I doubt I’ll spend the night, though, not with an apartment waiting for me two hours away in LA. So this trip’s over…almost. I ask everyone—literally everyone—how many hours it is to TJ: “Twelve hours,” like they’re reciting a mantra that they wish were true. It’s important, not because I want to spend the night on the bus and get psychological payback for the night’s rent I paid on a hotel where I never stayed…but because I don’t want to get into TJ into the middle off the night…especially not on a Saturday night…especially not TJ.
So I decide to go at 8 p.m. since that one’s a guaranteed seat, no wait to purchase after bus arrival and head-count. Of course, the Visa machine doesn’t work for the bus ticket. Welcome to Mexico. And they stop us for “revision” no less than four times along the way. Welcome to Mexico. That should deter any small-timer drug dealers from competing with the big boys. Or do they honestly expect to bore the cartels to death? And there’s no water for the crapper on the bus, so the poop piles high. That’s a bit too much like the old days. Welcome to Mexico again.
Much of the trip to TJ we’re going parallel to that fence that defines and divides cultures and families through the great southwest (Mexico’s great northwest). Anything divided by nothing, of course, is impossible, meaningless infinities, and that’s the way it seems here, like treating the symptoms rather than looking for a cure. Chinese restaurants line the border in San Luis and Mexicali—all looking northward—like pieces in a game of Chinese chess (Go, 圍棋,weiqi), in the process of surrounding their opponent, trying to accomplish with hot woks and hard work what others accomplish with stealth and cunning, grabbing and running. And the trip to TJ is really sixteen hours, not twelve. Welcome to Mexico one last time, on the way out. So I connect straight to a bus north. They allow an hour to cross the border. It takes two. Welcome to Mexico. And the trip to LA is supposed to take three hours. It takes four. Welcome to Mexico. By the time we reach Long Beach I jump ship. I can’t take it any more. I know my way home from here. By the time I sit down half-starved to supper—twenty-two hours and twenty-two ounces of granola later—the sun is going down. Welcome to Mexico…I mean LA.
Afterword: A few days later I pay my credit card bill, so check the details first. There’s that $38.38 charge, except that…it’s not from the Mexican hotel I booked at all. It’s from the Air Asia flight that I booked before I left, albeit thinly documented on the statement itself. So I’ve skipped out on a charge I really was liable for, though I never used the service. So not only did I break even, but I really came out ahead, in effect getting payback for the glitched charge from two years ago. Score one for incompetence. So does that mean that “3838” is my lucky number? Welcome to Mexico.