Day 18 - Welcome to Mexico

I could hardly sleep the previous night. I was on a magic carpet flying through all the places in Latin America that I could think of. No, I was not on the stuff César gave me. I was genuinely that excited.

I woke up, showered, had pancakes and waffles for breakfast for probably the last time. They were too good! I said goodbye to my hosts and nervously rode away towards the border.

My amazing hosts in Del Rio

Can you see Mexico in the distance?
There was a Dollar General store on the way. I decided to try my luck and check if they had the HTC camera that I wanted. Nope. But I bought rechargeable batteries for $10. Sensible decision. The guy at the counter was nice enough to ask me if I had the right amount of change for the border toll bridge and tendered the exact change I would need.

I cycled towards the border. On my way, I saw a sign informing that carrying arms and drugs was an offense on the Mexican side of the border. (César's stuff! Metaphorical pee wet my pants.)

After some confusion at the US immigration office (I wanted an exit stamp on my passport. I knew that US does not provide an exit stamp when you leave by air because the airline company provides the data of you having left the country to the immigration authorities. But I was leaving by land. I wanted the friggin exit stamp. But no, they would not provide one.), I finally crossed the Bravo River, i.e. the border! I so wanted somebody to click a picture of me and Brownie entering the border with the sign "Mexico" a few meters away. But with all the huge trucks lined up on the bridge and all the cars whizzing past me, that was not possible.

Bravo River - the highway to the US for so many Latin Americans
The bridge over the river had a wired fence on both sides. "Mexico" on the edifice at the end of the bridge that housed the immigration and border security authorities was obscured by some cement blocks and part of the wired fence. I entered the gate. Alas, no picture of "Mexico" in big letters either.

Now, mind you, everything from this point onward took place in Spanish. So whatever I am going to share with you will be my translation. Some things will get lost in translation.

Seeing me all perplexed, a female security officer came up to me and asked me what all I was carrying on the bike. I pointed out food, water, clothes, tent, sleeping bag, cycle spare parts, etc. While I was speaking, the sniffer dog in the canine basket about 10 feet away started barking. Incessantly! I managed to control the metaphorical pee. She asked the other officers to calm the dog down. They were doing that already. She then asked me to park the bike and get clearance from the immigration officer. She said that she would inspect my stuff after that.

I went inside the immigration office. The officer asked me to fill up a form and pay the fee at a bank located outside. So, funnily, I could get inside the Mexican territory to pay the visa fee at a bank without my passport (I had no Mexican currency so I had to use my card.). No escorts. One of the hot security officers asked me to ensure that I came back. Haha. Anyway, it was not complicated at all. I went back to the immigration office. I got my permit. The immigration officer stamped my passport. The stamp was dated February 11, 2016. I reminded the officer that it was in fact the 12th of February. Welcome to Mexico?

See? I am not kidding!
I went out. The female officer who had initially instructed me was not there anymore. It seemed that the shift of the previous group of officers had ended. I could not see the canine basket either. There was a new female officer. She asked me where I was from. I told her India. I could see her eyes widen with amazement. She asked me to open my backpack. She looked around. I think she was checking if any of her supervisors was around. Apparently not. So she asked me the following questions while she languidly frisked the main compartment of my backpack:
1. Have you got any arms?
2. Any alcohol?
3. Drugs? *wink*

I obviously replied in the negative. I was asked to proceed.

Even though I had left early at about 8:30, I finally managed to enter Mexico at about 11:30.

I had no clue where to go next. In my excitement, I forgot to look up hosts or places to stay in Ciudad Acuña or where to go after Ciudad Acuña. I decided to check out the city first. Two officers of the Federales (the Federal police force) positioned right outside the border post whistled to call me out. They asked me the usual questions. They got quite excited after listening to my plan. They also asked me how India was doing. I think they meant development/economy wise. They told me the way to get out of the city and some other useful stuff. And off I went.

The first view of Ciudad Acuña:

I had just crossed a river, but the world around me had changed. In the streets, there was more colour, more people, and some chaos too.

There were street hawkers selling ice cream and other things.

You see Oxxo in the background? It's the Mexican 7-11.

There were cobbler stands.

This is how it should be. The client should get to sit. Indian cobblers, pay attention!

There was public transport! After New York, I had seen buses in Dallas and Austin. One could walk faster than them! But nothing in towns that were the size of Ciudad Acuña.

My first reaction? This could be Spanish!

Within the first hour, this is what happened. A guy heading in the same direction as me slowed his car down to ask me what I was doing with all that stuff on my bike. I told him. He immediately mouthed some obscenities in Spanish. In jest, of course. The fear gauge was running a little high so I pretended lack of interest and moved on. (Honestly, he looked a little shady.)

I stopped to click a picture of this church:

A few seconds later, another man slowed his car down. He had the same questions. When I told him my plan, he exclaimed, "Orale!" That's a multipurpose Mexican Spanish slang. In this case it meant "Holy Fuck!" Then he stopped his car and got out. Fear gauge was under control so I stopped too. After an introductory conversation, he invited me to lunch! I thought he would take me for a snack or something. No. He treated me to a four-course meal! Welcome to Mexico!

A typical meal during Cuaresma or the Lent

He helped me plan my route for the next two weeks or so. He told me the tourist attractions and the eateries to check out in the towns that I would go through. He offered to connect me with his friends and acquiantances in those towns should I need something.

And then he invited me to his home!

I could not believe my luck.

Several friends and well-wishers, including some of my hosts and friends I had made on the road, repeatedly asked me if I had planned my route and my trip after the US. I hadn't. I know most of them thought I was being stupid. Maybe I was. But maybe, I have a guardian angel. Maybe we all have one. Maybe we unnecessarily try to control the future in the name of planning.

I was also compelled to think about this: this man stood to gain nothing by helping me. Why did he do all that for me?

Anyway, just like that, for the next 1000 Km or so, I had a new friend looking out for me. His name is Carlos. I don't know how I will ever return all his kindness.

Carlos and I


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