Foreigner on the $olo Road with Strangers

Creative NonfictionPosted by Author Sun, April 03, 2016 14:25:27

I considered myself fortunate. The soft chime of the alarm from my Mexican cell woke me on time. I hadn't relied on such a device for three months now. I rolled out of the bed, groaned a bit, silenced the phone, and jumped into a cold shower. It was 6 am.

The events of the previous night had bore an impending sense of dread deep-down and through my gut. I thought I was prepared for the trip. The infamous procrastinator that I am, I hadn't thoroughly researched the town that I was traveling to. I knew that the house that I would be renting for the next few months was located in a remote village on the outskirts of Mexico City. I knew that the owners of the place spoke fluent English. I knew that the location was close to nature. I knew that the house didn't have internet. The final point didn't sink in until last night. Out of a sense of obligation for an upcoming lack of internet, I performed the research necessary to survive in the absence of technology. I pinpointed all useful locations within the town – grocery stores, bus routes, established banks, etc. I took mental notes along with computer screen-shots for insurance. It didn't take long. Satisfied, task accomplished, still plenty of time to sleep.

I began to move the pointer toward the [x] of the internet window. And then, Google maps surprised me. It provided the option of going from a birds eye view all the way down to the street level. Interesting, I thought, this option wasn't available when I reserved the place. I clicked on the invitation, and my virtual tour commenced.

The dwellings within town appeared rural enough, even though the area seemed more densely populated than I had imagined. Lots of one lane streets without sidewalks. Good so far. However as I continued my virtual tour, along the route leading to my house, graffiti on the buildings appeared. And in a few clicks of the mouse it progressed from worrisome to alarming. Every exterior surface had been tagged with gang activity. Not a single building was spared. My place – a grand-fucking-masterpiece. I pictured myself walking these streets the next day. From every direction, poverty-stricken gang members appear and attack like a rabid pack of wolves, stripping me of all personal possessions. This grew within my mind. . . I could handle a couple, I thought, but firearms? And festered.

My roommate found me outside at 2 a.m. smoking a cigarette.

“Excited about your trip?” he asked.

I broke it down for him.

“Tequila? Why don't we finish the bottle,” he said.

At 3 a.m. I stumbled into a spinning bed.

After the cold shower I packed. At 7 a.m. I was waiting by the front door. My ride from Blablacar texted me. “We'll be there in 15 minutes.” I smoked a cigarette. 15 minutes passed. I watched out the window. I began to consider alternative last minute travel options. If I hailed an Uber cab, I could make it to the bus terminal with plenty of time to spare before the 10 o'clock departure. Another 15 minutes passed. If I booked a flight, I could be in Mexico City before noon. I considered taking a nap. And then around 8 a.m. I heard a vehicle stop on the street in front of the house. I looked out the window. The driver was fingering her phone. I grabbed my bag and left Guadalajara behind.

After greeting my road companions and speaking to them en español, the conversation magically morphed into English. Although I had been immersed in the country for a few months now, the acquirement of a language is a long process and my progress had yet to graduate from the elementary level.

The driver was a world traveler herself. She had many interesting tales to tell. She had been to twice the amount of countries I had visited in half the time. The highlight, or at least my personal favorite detail, was her current mode of physical conditioning. She was training to perform handstands and polestands. “What's a polestand?” I asked. She handed me her cellphone and I watched a video of her hoisting herself on a flagpole and almost reaching horizontal before tumbling down. Another travel companion, who didn't speak English, entertained me with photos of his recent solo wanderings. In one photo, he stood along a deserted highway next to his motorbike. He was wearing camo pants and a leather jacket. In one hand he held a snake longer than he was tall overhead. This combination of boasting leads me to wonder if another species on our planet could undergo genetic mutation and overtake humans Planet of the Apes style. I conclude yes, kick up my feet for now and enjoy the show. The spoils of travel exchange freely in the process of adventure and become part of the tale for the next.

50 kilometers outside of city limits, a patrol car approached and pulled alongside. We glanced over. The familiar Red and Blue flash. We pulled over and waited for the officer to make his way. This was my first encounter with la policía. I had heard stories of corruption, but I was still naive. Surely you can't bribe police officers, I reminded myself of this thought. But before I could say “Hola,” the stories became reality. The officer informed us that we needed a 'visitors permit' to drive within city limits. But, my driver insisted, the car was registered in Jalisco and had all of the necessary nomenclature displayed. The officer didn't care. He explained the law. I caught bits and pieces of the Spanish he was using. It sounded like bullshit. My driver handed him 1,500 pesos. The officer told us that we would be safe for four days. Back on the road, my driver received a phone call from her mother. “You gave him too much!” the phone said.

6 p.m. The house turned out to be exactly as I had imagined when I booked it. The gang markings were gone, perhaps just a figment of my imagination. The lack of sleep and excess of tequila were real. I wished my traveling companions good fortune. Then I proceeded onto the next step of my adventure, right where it had started – la cama.

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