Andrew Evans is traveling by bus from D.C. to Antarctica and just recently passed through Mexico into Guatemala. After stopping to sleep, he got the chance to describe crossing over the U.S./Mexico border.
The driver made all announcements in Spanish–I was one of only three Anglos on the bus: a red-haired mother and her young son got off in McAllen. She’s lived within trick-or-treating distance of Mexico her entire life but told me that she hasn’t crossed to the other side in over 20 years.
Borders are always fascinating places for me. With its huge strip malls, busy parking lots, and white-lined overpasses, McAllen, Texas, feels like Anywhere, U.S.A. The difference is that it’s in the middle of nowhere–a place that gains most of its meaning and purpose from the line that divides it from the other side.
We stayed on the same bus to cross into Reynosa. The bus driver made a final announcement that any traveler with a permit to return to the United States needed to show it to him, or else. There was a slight feeling of tension as we drove over the International Bridge at Hidalgo. Nobody spoke–there was total silence except for the windshield wipers clearing away the drizzle that had started to fall.
It was just getting dark, allowing me a view of the long, stationary line of yellow headlights waiting to come into the U.S. But for us, there was no wait–we just drove right in, not even braking as we passed the Mexican flags and uniformed guards. We pulled over briefly at a customs building, the driver exited and returned within two minutes, then we pulled away and headed into town.
That was it.
Nobody even stamped my passport–wait, nobody even LOOKED at my passport. Legally I don’t even have proof that I was in Mexico, but I was. In five minutes, I had jumped from one world to the next–a world of dark, narrow streets, colorful hand-painted signs, clay-tile roofs, and masses of people all carrying big bundles.
It was very cold at the bus station in Reynosa. Digital signs announced destinations across northeast Mexico: Monterrey, Chihuahua, Tampico. The bus I was supposed to get on was packed (even ticketed passengers are seated on a first come, first serve basis), so the agent sent me back in line (where I discovered a man hiding a cute Chihuahua mix under his leather coat), and I was put on the 9:00 p.m. bus headed to Coatzacoalcos.
Once on the bus, I feel asleep immediately, only to wake up a few hours later in total darkness. If there is one stark difference between what’s north of the border and what’s south, it’s electricity. Whereas Texas was lit up like a carnival, in Mexico, the night is as black as having your eyes closed. I stared out the window and couldn’t even see the road, let alone any distant lights. Only around midnight did we make a quick stop in a patch of cold and barren desert. All the other passengers were asleep but I jumped off the bus to stretch and have a look around. What I saw were the still-burning coals of a fire, and a tiny food stand where my Mexican bus driver was getting something to drink.
For me, northern Mexico at midnight delivered a whole new feeling of remoteness–where every horizon was pitch black and all distances from that point were infinite.
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Photos: Above, A Mexican cowboy hat; left, the Americanos bus; right, the stowaway puppy. By Andrew Evans.