I left Compache very early, about 6 am. I started hitch hiking and four lifts and sixteen hours later I arrived at Vera Cruz. A distance of approximately 1000km, slightly over 600 miles. A personal best. The longest lift was with two English guys travelling around Mexico and the USA. They had a very different approach, and very different funds, from me. They arrived in the USA and bought a second-hand car, which they will sell before they return home. So they drive in a civilised fashion from place to place and when they arrive they take a room in a proper hotel. They found a hotel in Vera Cruz. The rooms were well out of my price range, so I left them there and went and found a cheaper place to stay.
Vera Cruz is another typical Spanish style town. It has a large tree lined central square where all life seems to gather. There is also a promenade by the sea. Again it all seems very Spanish. It was nice to have a day here, but tomorrow I am going to try to get to Mexico City. I do not intend to stay there, It doesn’t have a good reputation, so I will then press on to the USA.
I left Vera Cruz and had a reasonably successful day, about 400 km, but ended up getting a bus the last 60 km into Mexico City. Good grief it is freezing here, so much for the tropics. In fact it is so cold that I actually saw a Mexican wearing both a poncho and a sombrero, Hollywood, I forgive you. I must admit my impressions of Mexico City are not favourable. The people I tried to ask for directions just gave me weird looks and carried on walking without saying a thing. In my travels I have not heard much favourable about Mexico, and especially the city. The general opinion seems to be the only people who love it are those who have not been further south. it doesn’t seem to have anything that countries further south can’t give, and they give it with a smile and at half the price. Oh Well. It is too late to look for a hotel, so another night in a bus station for me. Sleeping bag required.
Today is the last day of my 21st year. It has certainly been quite different from those preceding it. Later today I am going to start my journey to the USA. I intend to cross the border at Cd Juarez, which will put me in El Paso in Texas. There is a direct coach from here. It takes 24 hours and is quite expensive. I am going to use it, but only as far as the first reasonable sized town. It is difficult to hitch hike in a big city, so I will start hitching from there instead.
I got the bus yesterday as planned. It took about an hour to get to the first town which is where I was intending to get off. The stop turned out to be about 5km off the main road, so I asked the conductor if they would drop me at the road as that would be easier to hitch hike on. The two drivers and the conductor said it was fine. On the way they had a conference and decided to take me all the way to Cd Juarez free of charge. The trip was going well. After a few hours I got chatting to a couple of people on the bus and told them in the early hours of this morning that it was my 22nd birthday. It was all very jolly. Then things start to go wrong. First an inspector got on the bus so I had to pay for part of the journey. Still I got the whole ride for about a quarter of the price it should have been. Then we arrived at the border and things started to go seriously wrong. I signed out of Mexico and tried to sign in to the USA. They wouldn’t have me. They wanted either a lot of money and a ticket out, or for me to post a bond of $2000. Not very likely. I turned around to go back to Mexico, and, with the money I have left, they wouldn’t have me either. I asked what I was supposed to do, and the Mexican border guard waved his arm in the direction of the city and said I can stay here. It seems Ciudad Juarez is a kind of no mans land between the two countries. It appears I am stuck. I suspect this may be the end of my journey. I just need to figure out the best way to get home.
I found an English speaking travel agent today and sat down with her to try to work out what my options are. My plan up until yesterday had been to enter the United States, make my way across to the Miami area, and look for a boat heading towards Europe, England ideally. That is no longer an option. To get back into Mexico proper I would need to get some more money. I don’t have enough saved so I would have to borrow some. Then I would still have to try to find some way home. If I couldn’t find a boat I would have to borrow more to fly home. The same thing applies going in to the United States. To get in I would need to borrow a lot of money, then try to find a boat, or borrow more for a flight. I would be allowed into El Paso without funds if I go straight to the airport to fly out that day. That really seems to be the only sensible option. I will still have to borrow money for the ticket home, but that will be all. An internal flight to Miami, then from there to London seems to be the cheapest route. Just hope Mum and Dad have the money and are willing to lend it. It is really annoying. I have travelled really cheaply so far. I think the whole trip has cost about £400. The ticket home will be a little under £300.
I have written home explaining the situation and asking for help. Just a matter of waiting for the post now, possibly a couple of weeks. The city actually seems quite nice. Like many cities around here it is very Spanish, at least I assume it is, I have never been to Spain. It does seem to be very expensive though. One thing I discovered on the way here. The Mexican equivalent of Greyhound buses are Chihuahua buses. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. We actually went though Chihuahua on the bus. Disappointingly the only dog I saw looked like a mongrel.
Cd Juarez is an expensive place. Today I found out the reason why. I went to a handicraft market quite near the border. There were some quite nice things for sale, but the prices all seemed very high. I stopped at a jewellery stall where there were some lovely pieces, but they were priced way beyond anything I could afford. I chatted to the stall holder who asked where I was from. I told her I was British. I also said that she had some lovely jewellery, but that it was too expensive for me. She laughed and said they were ‘American Prices’. If people from the USA want to visit Mexico, this is the first place they come to. Things are priced accordingly. If you are Mexican it is hugely cheaper. Even if you are just not from the USA the price drops significantly. Still too much for me though. On the subject of American tourists, they seem to be the only people wearing movie style ponchos.
I have said a number of times that this is a very expensive place. Fortunately I have found a small restaurant away from the American tourists. The food is good and reasonably priced. The people seem to be mostly local regulars, and I seem to be becoming one. I am greeted as an old friend when I turn up, despite only being here for a few days. I think I have seen most of the sights of Cd Juarez already, the squares and churches. My days are mostly spent reading and relaxing.
It has been a few days now since I got stuck here. I can start to see the funny side of my interview with the US immigration man. I wasn’t a straightforward case so we went into a side room where he could do the paperwork. When he was no longer hidden behind the counter I realised he had a very large stomach and a very large gun. Presumably the gun was in case someone smudged their ink so badly that shooting them was the only reasonable response. We sat down at a table and he started asking me many questions. where had i been, why did I want to get in the USA, what funds did I have, had I ever been to Cuba. I answered everything honestly. Told him briefly about my travels, told him I only wanted to pass through the States to get home. Showed him all the money I had on me, about $80, and no I had not been to Cuba. He carried on asking me questions for a few more minutes, then suddenly he leaned across the table towards me. Well, he leaned as far as his stomach would allow, not very far really. He fixed me with what he presumably thought was a steely gaze and asked ‘Are you sure you haven’t been to Cuba?’. I haven’t been to Cuba, but if I had lied about it the first time I am not sure I would have caved in under this second attempt. After that he fairly soon wrapped it all up, told me I couldn’t come in, and sent me back to Mexico. Maybe if I had been to Cuba he might have used his gun!
Quite a few of the Mexicans here have dual USA citizenship. As long as you are born in the USA you can claim citizenship. When a mother here goes into labour her first thought, assuming she has the right paperwork, is to cross the border and give birth in El Paso. That way her child can choose.
At my favourite cafe today I was introduced to a student from a nearby university. I gather his family are quite well off residents of Juarez. We chatted for a while when he mentioned that he plays in a local group and invited me to a concert they were playing tomorrow. I must say my expectations are not high, but I have nothing else to do. We arranged when and where to meet and he set off for his lectures.
I met the student as agreed and we walked to the concert venue. The room was not that big and there weren’t that many people watching. The people who were there didn’t even seem to be courteous enough to listen. The group, called ‘Silencio’, didn’t really seem to be playing that well either, it all seemed a bit of a non-event. After about an hour one of their friends came to get me and asked me to come with him. Not really knowing where I was going I followed, and we emerged into a large concert hall where I was shown to one of the few empty seats. After a few minutes there came an announcement over the loudspeakers. ‘Silencio!’. There, on the central stage, were the group I had come to watch. I realised that what I had been watching was a last minute rehearsal. To me they sounded a bit like a Spanish version of Pentangle. They were really good. I thoroughly enjoyed the concert.
Sitting in one of the large parks in Juarez I thought about some of the people I have met over the last eight months. I have mentioned many of them in this blog, but here are some I missed. The French man who tried to teach me how to meditate. The Scottish man who was told by a South American that he couldn’t be British because he didn’t sound anything like me, and I had a British accent. The time I walked back into a hotel late at night and heard ‘Streets of London’ being played by someone. It made me feel quite homesick for a moment. I went to investigate and found the singer accompanying himself on guitar. He was trying to impress a girl with his singing, so I left them to it. The shop owner in the Caribbean whose entire world was a two room hut. The back room was where he lived, the front room was his shop, his livelihood. A curtain separated the two parts of his life. That was all he had, but when he realised I had no where to stay he insisted I stay there. I slept on the dirt floor in the shop and drank tea with him in the morning. I have seen and done many fabulous things on my travels, and I have met many fabulous people.
Money is getting to be an issue again. I have to keep some to pay for my bus fare to El Paso airport, and to pay airport taxes once I get there. It will be a few more days before my ticket arrives, assuming it does, and Juarez is very expensive, so I need to cut my spending. There is a very large park here. I’ll try sleeping on a park bench tonight.
I woke in the middle of night last night, freezing cold despite my sleeping bag. I was too cold to sleep again so I got up and went for a walk. On the edge of the park there was a car showroom with three night watchmen seated around a blazing brazier. I walked up and asked if I could warm myself by their fire. They were bit surprised to see someone wandering around at that time of night, but they welcomed me to share the fire, where I soon warmed up. They asked me what I was doing and I explained I had been sleeping in the park. They talked among themselves for a minute, then one of them beckoned me to follow him. He opened the back door of a large car on the forecourt and indicated that I should sleep on the back seat. I climbed in and slept soundly. He woke me before the day staff came on, I am sure they would have been in trouble for letting me sleep there. I thanked them and walked back into town. I would have to find a really cheap place to sleep, and I would have to buy cheap food, bread and cheese, to make my money last. Later I found myself outside of my favourite cafe, and decided I could afford one coffee. I went and sat at the counter and chatted to the owner for a while. He asked if I wanted some food, and seemed a little hurt when I said no. He asked what was the matter and I said I was a bit short of money, but made light of it. He said ok and left me alone. A few minutes later he returned with a large plate of food and put it in front of me, saying it was on the house. It was an unexpected kindness, but I received it with pleasure and many thanks. While I was eating my student friend came in to eat and sat next to me. The owner and he had a conversation, too fast for me to follow, and then the student said I was to come and stay with him until my ticket came through. Again I gratefully accepted. One of the other regulars, a ‘lady of the night’, jokingly offered her services for free too. We all laughed, I thanked her, but politely declined.