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“Right now. They’re at the Migrant Resource Center,” said Phil, hanging up his phone.
I was supposed to catch this bus Friday, but it was a holiday…then Monday, but it was full…and now it was Tuesday, three hours before I was supposed to leave, and I was running errands on the U.S. side of the border.
I turned south and started power walking towards the port of entry into Mexico. I turned it down a few gears to stroll casually past the immigration guards, then bolted the last stretch to the doors of the MRC.
“Ay! Lo siento! I…ahh…”
I don’t do well in Spanish when flustered. I stood before Betto, the Mexican coordinator of the MRC, and the shuttle driver, unable to find the explanation I needed.
“She doesn’t speak Spanish?” the driver said to Betto.
“I can understand what you’re saying right now,” I chimed in.
“IT’S. O. K. WE. NO. LATE.”
“Thanks,” I sighed, realizing I’d set the precedent for how we would communicate for the entire ride to…wait, where were we going?
I was apparently taking a bus to Mexico City (more commonly called “D.F.”), the same bus that offers free trips home to migrants. But I was hopping in a shuttle, driven by Martín, toward the city of Nogales, in the opposite direction.
I buckled my seatbelt in a van full of migrants I had met over the previous few days in the center and asked Martín why we were heading to Nogales.
“BUS. NOGALES-TO-CATCH-BUS. YOU. GO. D. F.” he yelled in a broken Spanish with accompanying hand gestures, ending with a big thumbs up and the word, “UNDERSTAND?”
“Sí, Martín. Couldn’t be clearer.”
We drove somewhat manically through northern Sonora while Martín continued to yell two word snippets of Spanish at me and sacrifice holding the wheel for signing. Eventually, we pulled into a busy bus hub, met by some woman looking for “the volunteer.”
“Oh. That’s me!”
She put me on a bus. I squished my backpack in the overhead area and sat in the open seat up front with the short leg space.
“Is this bus going to D.F.?” I asked the driver.
“It’s going everywhere,” he said tiredly. “You should change seats. There’s not a lot of leg room here. You’re tall.”
“I’m fine,” I assured him, taking note of my four foot ten seat buddy.
Where Are We?
Everywhere? Okay. I decided not to worry about it and focused instead on finding a comfortable place for my knees.
The first night was a blur of impromptu maintenance stops, military checkpoints, trips to public restrooms for varying rates of three to five pesos and scratched CDs of Mexican classic ballads. Sometime in the morning, we rolled into a bus station and disembarked for a “one hour break.”
By the end of three hours, most of us were congregated around the bus, watching the driver run back and forth from the bus to a garage carrying various parts and tools. I plopped down on the cement underneath a shade tree under the curious watch of my fellow travelers, all wondering how this American girl ended up on this bus.
Eventually, two men who recognized me from the Migrant Center in Agua Prieta joined me under the tree. We chatted about the journey and about my intentions to visit Mexico City alone.
“Laurita,” said my new friend Pedro, taking on a very serious tone, “please be careful. There was this family that went on vacation. Somebody kidnapped them and sold their organs.”
“That’s a horrible story,” I said.
“I know. It was in Brazil. It was a movie, but I think this happens often.”
“Pedro,” said Angel, cutting the lesson short, “you should just tell her to be careful.”
After another hour of waiting, two trucks full of Mexican authorities dressed in black, faces covered, carrying rifles stopped on the street in front of us, breaking our stupor of the heat and exhaustion. They jumped out of the vehicles without making a sound and began swarming the house behind us.
“Um…should…wha??” I stuttered, Spanish failing me once again.
“Yes. Things are very bad here in the state of Sinaloa,” Angel told me, watching the scene calmly.
Of course. Sinaloa. Also not quite on the path to Mexico City. After six hours of waiting and a SWAT raid, we re-boarded and hit the road…not sure which road, but at least we were moving!
Ya Llegamos! (We’ve Arrived!)
The next night passed similar to the first, as well as the next day—except with no bathroom or food stops to make up lost time. At about four in the afternoon, we pulled off the highway.
“D.F.?” the driver yelled across the bus.
Six of us collected our things and stepped out onto the pavement, surrounded by open fields and produce stands…not exactly what I expected to find in one of the largest cities in the world. I looked at Angel, realized he seemed to be fine with whatever was going on, and relaxed.
We waited while the driver flagged down some shuttle, explained that we weren’t paying and told us to get in.
As we rode along, the open fields changed to store fronts and crowds. At every stop a different vendor hopped on with peanuts, chewing gum, popsicles, batteries, mangos or sodas—a welcomed surprise after a day without stopping for food!
An hour later, we pulled into a hectic parking lot full of local shuttles and haggling vendors. I waited for the now familiar command of “get out.”
Two days, three vehicles and countless military checkpoints later, I’d arrived—and now in the company of a new travel companion.
“Angel,” I asked, newly energized by the city, “which way to downtown?”
He looked at me with confusion, then laughed.
“It’s very far. We’ll have to take the metro!”
Naturally. I cinched up my backpack and headed underground for part 16 of the epic pilgrimage to D.F.
I’m sure there would have been easier options for embarking on this journey south—but hey, who needs a four hour flight when you can spend two days ping-ponging around the countryside of Mexico with less than optimal legroom, but the best of company?
In case you every find yourself in the same situation, remember to pack snacks and carry plenty of spare pesos for the bathroom.
About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.