Day 17 - Last Evening in the US

I woke up to find my host making pancakes and waffles for breakfast (I was sleeping on the couch in the living room.). One by one the family members emerged- the mom, two sons and a daughter. I had already met the dog- Lucy. It was a weekday so they were all busy. Kevin teaches biology at the local university. He had told me before I arrived that his students wanted to meet me. They had several questions for me, including "Is he crazy?" He invited me to be there for his class at 11am. I agreed. But before that I needed to go out and take a walk to clear my head- I had to decide whether to continue to El Paso or get into Mexico from Del Rio. The border was less than 2 miles away from my host family's house. Kevin called up one of his Mexican acquaintances to find out whether it was safe to cross into Mexico from Del Rio. He advised that Mexico, as a whole, had become a safer place.

I went for my walk. I could not resist the temptation to cross the border. But I remembered that I had ordered some stuff on Amazon. It was to be delivered to César's friend in El Paso. It was too late to cancel the order so I logged into my account. Amazon had already cancelled my order! I couldn't fathom why. Was it a sign?

I went to Kevin's class. The students, about 15 of them and mostly Hispanic, were discussing the definition of "animal." In order to illustrate the point that an animal is an organism that moves, Kevin pulled out a snake. Yes, a snake! I had told him earlier that while wild camping, one of my biggest fears is being bitten by a snake. To help me get over my ophidiophobia (why do I remember that word?!), at breakfast, he had shown me pictures of venomous snakes, supplied tips for identifying venomous snakes, and we had discussed fear. I did not expect him to surprise me with a live snake! I freaked out. After seeing his students take the snake in their hands (mostly the girls!), I finally agreed to hold the slithery thing. It was cold (duh, it's a cold- blooded animal). And oddly, perhaps because of having spent so much time in nature, I felt connected to the King Snake. I guess the fact that they're non-venomous also helped.

After talking to the students about my travels, I left. Some of them were touched by the story, especially one of the girls. I would have liked to interact more with them after class but I had a very important decision to make.

I continued walking and contemplating about my next step. I was approaching a Whattaburger restaurant and saw a man eating outside on the floor. As I got closer, I noticed a bike behind him. The bike had panniers. A bike tourist! I went up to him to introduce myself and find out about his trip. He was going from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast within the US. He shared with me his ordeal through the desert stretch that is almost uninhabited. He was like, "Not cool man. Avoid it if you can!" Another sign?

I took that as a sign and decided to change my route. No more El Paso. No more worrying about there being no water between Langtry and Marathon. I was going to Ciudad Acuña! To celebrate my new decision, I went to the Fuddruckers restaurant, which was a few steps away, and treated myself to their famous chocolate malt.

A little while later, Kevin called. I told him about my decision. One of the things I had ordered on Amazon was a HTC Re camera. It's a very cheap substitute for a GoPro camera. Kevin suggested that it may be available at Walmart. So he drove me there. Unfortunately, it was out of stock. We then bought some groceries to make some Indian butter chicken.

On our way back, I learnt that Kevin and his family are Mormons. That day I got to know a lot about Mormons- their book, tenets, and beliefs. Some of the things I liked: their religion prohibits drinking alcohol and tobacco (like Islam!), and even tea and coffee (I later read that what's prohibited are "hot drinks" which is interpreted by their church to mean tea and coffee.) Hah, I come very close to being Mormon, at least, in respect of adhering to their "Word of Wisdom."

That evening, while I was making the butter chicken, and later, at the dinner table, a lot of knowledge was exchanged. Before we started eating, as is their ritual, the family said a prayer. They included me in their prayer and asked for my safety during my travels!

Before anybody else could say anything, I cheekily declared that the chicken was good enough. I think it was. After all, the eldest son had three servings!


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