We wake at 7:30. I take care of a few emails, correct some things in my last night’s blog, walk Lola, and we’re off by 9:00, our usual time. No restaurant at the hotel, so I’ll find a place on the road.
I expect an uneventful day. The drive north will be mostly flat and with mesquite dominating the landscape.
In a way, I am looking forward to the day, the end of my Mexico/Central America trip, but in a way, I am not. I really like Mexico. Many parts of Mexico are beautiful, and the people are gracious. I love talking to them. And in contrast to the rumors one hears about the police and military, they have without exception been friendly and helpful. So I am sorry to be leaving.
I am surprised by the landscape. It is generally flat and full of mesquite, but this landscape has its own magic. There are rises and to the west, I can see the high mountains. But here’s what’s best: I have taken a road not often taken by gringos. This road goes through uninhabited country. I rarely see a car or truck. I am by myself, the land, the sky, and Lola and I moving through it by car. In the car, I am fixed: it’s the landscape that changes, like a movie. I think of Einstein again: Everything depends on what you imagine as a fixed point. I suppose we all imagine ourselves as the fixed point and it’s everything else that changes.
My movie changes after about an hour. I merge onto 101, and there is a lot of traffic. It’s kind of like people got into my space, and I don’t like that too much. But the time moved swiftly, too swiftly because I don’t want this part of my life to end.
But it does. I hit the border at 12:30. Borders come on you quickly. Suddenly, you have military checkpoints every few miles. The military rarely ask for any identification. When they see my bikes and hear that Lola and I have driven from New Jersey (I always say Philadelphia) to Panama and back, they want to know more about what I’m doing. And I invariably end our conversation by saying, me gusta mucho Mexico. Es un bien pais. And we leave each other with smiles.
Then the border is suddenly there. I measure what I have learned by the lack of any anxiety when approaching the border. I chose the Hidalgo over the Brownsville border because of all the stories about Brownsville, but I doubt that there would have been any difference. The border is a snap. The Mexicans give me a couple of stamps and point me toward the gringos. There is a bit of a line at the USA side, but I spend my time looking for a camp site. Like everyone else, the Americans are surprised that I have driven by myself (with Lola) through Mexico and Central America. One young woman, the border officer asks “And nothing happened to you?” She means kidnapping and extortion. I say, no, not even close. (Well, I did have to pay a couple of bribes.) But violence? Not a chance. This is the difference between what we hear about things and what they are, which you can know only when you try them out for yourself.
I am a little foolish: I have 70 miles of gas left and I just want to get out of McAllen—I really don’t like cities—before I stop for gas. But suddenly I am in Texas country, and in south Texas, there is nothing leading to nothing. After about 40 miles and no towns or gas stations, I go into my oh shit mode. I dial back to 50 mph to get better mileage. I pass one 300 hundred citizen town and no gas station. Finally, I hit an inspection station and I ask the young officer (I have noticed how everyone is young) if there is a gas station ahead. I think I say, hay un estacion do gasolina Adelante? I have a hard time remembering that I’m in English speaking country. Whenever I meet someone, I say Hola.
Yes, thirteen miles up the road. That is good. I have 40 miles of gas left.
I guess I am on the downside, leaving Mexico. I hit the gas station and everything goes wrong. I try three pumps and various things are wrong—like I can’t read the instructions or the machine won’t accept my card. On the third station, the machine doesn’t let me extract my card after inserting it.
I go into the store, and the clerk says, yes, some of the stations aren’t working. A man comes out with a pair of pliers and extracts my card. I give the woman my care to pay from inside and fill up my tank. I am momentarily happy.
I buy some junk food and leave. There is a huge desolate area in back of the station, so I drive there and let Lola out while I decide where I might camp for the night. I see Lola playing around in the weeds and then peeing and pooping, and I a few minutes later, I see here rolling around on her back. In the sand, this is OK, but in the weeds, this is never good news. I call her and she comes, but boy does she stink. I don’t know what kind of shit or dead stuff she was rolling around in, but it stinks.
I very stupidly get mad at her. I blame her for rolling around in shit. I take her over to an adjacent car wash and put in two quarters and can’t get any water. I try another station with a quarter and nothing happens. Three women are washing their truck in an adjacent station, and I ask them how this works—like I want to douse Lola because she really stinks. They tell me you have to put in 1.25 to get it to work. Well, I don’t have 1.25 in quarters and the store is a long walk away. I see a sink with a water faucet, and I consider trying to put Lola in the sink, but the sink is more like for a kitten. I turn the water on and see that the water just pours out of the sink underneath, and I make Lola stand underneath the drain while I wash her with a towel that I will throw away. I am still blaming her. She wonders why I’m so angry. She thinks, all I was doing was rolling around in shit that smelled so good.
I get over this. I know there is a message here—and there is.
I study my map and find a campsite an hour away—near Mathais, Texas. We get there by six, and it is beautiful. I pet Lola and ask her to forgive me. She probably thinks maybe I should try rolling around in someone else’s shit.
After we have put up our tent and settled in or the night, I begin writing, Lola lying in the grass beside the picnic table on which I am writing. Lola loves to camp. If I could depend on her not to wander off while I’m writing, I wouldn’t have to leash her, but we haven’t got there yet. She doesn’t go far, but I need to get her so that when I say lie down, she’ll do that and stay there until I say it’s time for a walk. She’ll get there. She has come a long way since I first got her.