I imagine the day will bring nothing to write about, but it does. When you put yourself in a vulnerable position, something’s bound to happen.
I have a leisurely breakfast, savoring my last day at Hotel Carolinas. I enjoy chatting with the manager and desk clerk, both of whom remember me from my trip down. I am packed and ready to leave by nine.
I think because of the mileage that I would reach the border by 11, but the desk clerk tells me three hours, mas o menos. I can’t interpret her explanation for the longer time. I also miss a warning shot across my bow when the desk clerk tells me she can’t take dollars—other than a 50 or a100 dollar bill. She says that’s all they will accept at the bank. We work out an exchange with the quetzalis I have, plus my credit card.
The bank is right up the street. Remembering my difficulties coming down, I think about stopping in to exchange dollars, but I am a little worried about reaching the town where I have planned camping, so I drive on. It doesn’t take me long to reinterpret the desk clerk’s time prediction. The potholes are frequent and halfway to China. They are even worse than the road from Pedasi to Venao. I hit one that was so deep that for a moment I was stuck.
The ride is mostly dodging potholes. In spots, the traffic is backed up—a sure sign of serious potholes ahead. I think again about the logic of travel. My mind is fully on the road. I have no room for anything else. There are times when I let my mind slip and I slam throgh a pothole dangerously. My Prius survives.
I have one strange incident: About halfway to the border, I want to take a photo of an incredibly high volcano with anactiv sister volcano underneath it. I pull over into a gas station on my right to get out of my car to take a picture. A soldier with his AK47 comes running at me. He makes it clear that no pictures are allowed and that I am to drive straight through to Mexico. I don’t try to get more of an explanation. I thank him and move on, taking my pictures later. I am glad that I didn’t try to get the previous soldiers to pose for a picture under the hanged effigy.
I take a couple of wrong turns (so much better driving with maps), but I find the frontera by 1. The Guatemalan side is a snap. I have a guide; it takes us 15 minutes, max. I give him 5.00.
The Mexican side is a bit more confusing, but I go through by myself and it takes about two hours. The officials are polite and helpful. There is some confusion over the stamps on Lola’s documentation, but I seem to get a pass. I am proud of myself for the way in which I negotiate this crossing—essentially my last for a foreign country. The ease is in some way a material representation of what I have learned.
Getting out of Hidalgo isn’t easy. I remember my trouble getting in. But I ask questions, and I get on the right road. In a way, I like getting lost. It’s part of the adventure—and the play of language.
I drive north when I would rather go west. And then the time change confuses me. I thought it was 4:30, and it was 5:30. We’ll ignore here the ethics of time zones.
It doesn’t take me long to realize I’m not going to make the camping ground outside Tonala, and so I start looking for a landing spot. Dark clouds obscure the mountains—I can see that a hard rain is coming.
I try Esquintia. Here’s an important note for travelers: if you’re looking for a hotel, don’t keep looking for dog-friendly hotels on the major highways. Drive into town and you will find them. Pero es necesario que hablar un poco de espanol.
This is one of those squeezed in little towns. Suddenly, the rain hits—hard. Like God turned the ocean upside down on this pueblo. I get in the center of the town and ask about a hotel. It doesn’t take me long to find one: the Hotel Toledo.
I park in the street, a river flowing around me and go into the Hotel. A
young girl tells me, yes, hay un habitacion and accepto un perro, but there’s a problem. They don’t accept dollars. And she needs to be paid 280 pesos (about $15.00) up front.
Ok—she tells me about a bank down the street—this is in the pouring rain, Noah’s ark again. I get back in the car, drive to the bank, get out, soaked, and approach the bank. The eternal guard with his sawed-off shotgun meets me: Si, the bank is open, but they don’t change money.
El Banco Aztec changes money. e
He starts to tell me where Aztec is when another man, who has been listening, says he’ll lead me to the bank; just follow him.
So I say, gracias, and get back in my car to follow this apparent man of good will in his large, somewhat damaged white truck. A few blocks later, he pulls over and signals that I should pull next to him, and we talk through the windows through the rain: he tells me there is a long line at the Aztec. It will take me a half hour to get to the window. He has another solution—just follow me, he says.
This doesn’t sound good. It’s late—about 6:00 pm. God is serious about flooding this town and me with it. But I follow this apparent Samaritan into a parking lot a few blocks later on the outskirts of town. He signals that I should get into his truck. I do, and the negotiations ensue.
He says he has a 500 peso bill. Well, I have only 20s—his 500 peso bill is equal to $30. He wants me to give him $40 for his 500 peso. There is a lot of back and forth on this until I say, no, gracias, I’ll take my chances with the Aztec. Then he wants me to pay for his gas.
I say hasta luego and try to get out of his truck. Guess what? The door handle is gone. There’s some kind of wire where the door handle used to be. I try to pull on the wire to open the door; he says, espara. I don’t know what I’m esparing for, but I don’t like this, and I’m looking for some kind of gun in his pants. I keep pulling on the wire and get the door to open. He says follow me, I’ll take you to the Aztek.
I get back in my car. He drives out and turns left, leading out of town. I drive out and turn right, going back into town—but the wrong way on a one-way street. But I don’t care: I’m just going to look for the Aztec on my own.
A few blocks later, he catches up with me and signals (remember, this is Noah’s rain) to pull alongside him. He tells me the bank is back a block and to the left. He’ll take me there.
I say thanks, but I’ll just park here and walk back to the bank. He starts to protest, but I roll my window up and pull over to park any old where, and get out, find an umbrella in my car (not easy), and head out in search of the bank. I am thoroughly drenched; looking for the umbrella was a senseless move.
I don’t know where my Samaritan goes. But I ask people on the street donde está el banco Aztec?, and I find it after a couple of rain-soaked blocks.
He was right. There is a long, long line. I push through the line and ask one of the bank officials if I can change dollars aqui. He says, yes. I ask do I get in the long line for that. He says yes.
So I get in the long line. This is a kind of moment. Does one whine about the moment or hang loose and experience it?
I hang loose and experience it. I’m pretty sure the room will still be open. I start a few conversations about the rain and the long line in order to practice my bad Spanish.
After I have been in the line for about a half-hour and am half-way to the window, I remember my previous Mexico experience: I know the clerk will ask my for my passport, which is in the car.
You can see the dilemma: do I get out of line, go back to get my passport, or stay in the line, pretend ignorance and hope that the money changer will let me go back to get my passport and come to the front of the line to change my money. I bet on the latter, and that’s what he does. So I change $100.00, get back in my car, and find the hotel, and give the young woman $15.00 worth of pesos so that Lola and I have a place to sleep tonight.
The town by his time (8:00 PM) is largely closed down. No place to eat. The young clerk says I can take a three-wheeled taxi to a place on the edge of town, but I know what Lola would think of that. I say thanks, go back to my car, drive it into their garage, bring Lola and my suitcase in, and we’re ready for bed. We’ll think about tomorrow tomorrow.
Goto Day 17: Although My Head Is Bleeding