A tale from Mexico
I’ve been in Mexico for 12 days now.
It was one of the countries when I was planning the whole trip that gave me the most concern. Reading the Foreign Office travel advisories about specific states and cities to avoid; the American State Department advice (don't go), and their not allowing American diplomats to travel unless accompanied by security in certain parts; comments from friends, acquaintances and fellow travellers. If I was lucky I might get out alive. If the drug cartels didn’t get me, then someone or something else would.
So it was with a fair degree of trepidation that I crossed the border from the USA, obtained my visa, paid the importation fee and deposit for the bike and headed south.
The first day’s riding frankly, did little to allay these concerns. The difference between the USA and Mexico is stark. Imaging a land border between the UK and say, rural Turkey and you get a flavour of the culture shock that occurs in the 200 odd yards after leaving no man’s land on the border. Having got away from the border I ran into a pack of wild dogs that wanted pieces of me, some aggressive prostitutes and a road block set up by some disgruntled lorry drivers that I was able to weave through. The road blocks became a theme over the next few days; if it wasn’t the Police – Urban or Federal, it was the Army or one of several other agencies . None of these were difficult, and with my basic Spanish I could explain where I’d come from, where I was going and that all I was carrying was clothes for me or parts for the bike.
Then there was one that was a bit different. As I was leaving one State and entering another there was a road check point which one man waved me through, before another, wildly gesticulating, told me I had to stop. I did, got off the bike and went over to see what they wanted. It was mid-afternoon and swelteringly hot, so I took off my helmet, jacket and back pack, and walked over to them. The main issue seemed to be whether Chelsea would prosper under Mouhrino, and whether Moyes was as good as Ferguson. They were all incredibly friendly, and walked me back over to the the bike where I kitted up and rode off. I’d gone no more than 400 yards when I realised I didn’t have my back pack on. The road was a dual carriageway with a central reservation, and it was about 3 miles before I could turn around and go back. I asked the guys about ‘la bolsa rojo’ which I’d had but they just shrugged. Now, having been warned about these road side scams and corruption, it’s obvious what had happened. Everything I'd been told and had read about Mexico was true. Whilst they had been distracting me, one of these guys had lifted the bag, further distracted me whilst I was getting back on the bike, and I’d ridden off without realising they had it. And at the time this made absolute sense, because of course I was in Mexico and this was always going to happen.
The bag had nothing essential in it like passport or V5 for the bike, just things I could easily enough replace like a mobile phone, spare credit cards in case the primary ones failed; copies of documents backed up onto the cloud; so, I put it down to experience and rode on cursing myself for being so easily suckered.
Except, of course,that wasn’t what had happened. True, I had been distracted by the guys at the checkpoint, but only because they were friendly and wanted to talk football. This meant that I’d left the rucksack perched on the back of the bike, ridden off without putting it on and it had fallen off about 100 yards down the road.
I know this now because the same night Judith had a strange phone call from someone who spoke no English. It ended in obvious frustration on both parts, and Judith put the phone down worried about what had now happened to me, having spent a couple of hours cancelling credit cards and putting a block on my phone.
Three days later she had another call; this time from a young Mexican girl called Carla, who spoke really good American accented English. The story was that the first phone call was from her Grandfather, Sr. Almodovar. He had been waiting at a bus stop near the check point, seen me ride off and the bag fall off the bike. It had skidded to a halt at his feet. He had taken it to his house and was very concerned to return it to me. I was now about 550 miles further South, but this seemed to be the stuff of great travels, so I turned round, and over the next two days re-traced my steps.
This is Emigdio Ruiz, the village where Sr. Almodovar lives
Here are Carla and her Brother outside their Grandfather’s house
And here is the ceremonial handing over of the bag – not a great picture of Armando, but a true gentleman, and a real privilege to meet and spend a little time him.
So the moral of the story… well, if you’ve read this far you’ve been able to work that out for yourself, and it’s probably got words in it like trust, kindness, prejudice and honesty. For me it’s been a humbling, and shaming experience which has made me reflect a lot on not believing everything you read about a people and a country. I've met nothing but kindness and civility from Mexicans I've come across, from coping with my stumbling Spanish to helping me pick the bike up when I dropped it for the first time a few days ago. This is a country with a lot of problems and challenges to deal with, but the good heartedness of the vast majority of the people is not one of them.