Friday, July 9, 2010

Mexico - Day 1. The trip (July 9)

We actually started last night, at 8 pm, when Chico picked me up for the ride to the Sacramento airport. Maya was all excited, savoring the adventure to come. She was dressed very chic, with cargo pants,sandals, and a tee-shirt with the legend “I am BORED . . . with you”. We arrived in good time for our midnight flight from Sacramento to Houston, sat in Houston for four hours, and finally took the short commuter flight to Laredo. It was warm but overcast, the best conditions for crossing the border on foot.

I looked for the driver of the only taxi, who turned to be a middle age woman speaking in her cell phone who simply waved us in. She waved three other people in, and without breaking the cell phone conversation she jumped in and started driving out of the airport. We had just been delivered unto the hands of Nora Madrid, taxi driver extraordinaire!

Somewhere in between cell phone calls from old clients, calls to dispatch other drivers to pick fares, arranging the installation of a new air conditioner, and calls to several friends to borrow the money to pay for the AC, I managed to ask her to take us to downtown. She blissfully ignored me and started driving out of the city, as she text messaged at terrific speed “Don’t you worry, my friend, I will take you to Nuevo Laredo as soon as I drop off these other two people” she explained, in heavily accented English. I made the mistake ofanswering back in Spanish, and the floodgate of her pent up emotions poured as a torrent of stories about her 16 years as a cabbie in Laredo. We had plenty of time for conversation, because after she dropped off the two “trockeros” and the truck depot she explained she had to swing by her house to talk to the AC man, but not to worry, because she would take us to Nuevo Laredo immediately after that. “No,no”, I said, we only want to the border crossing on the US side. She looked at me seriously and asked (all this between cell phone conversations): “But you want to go to Mexico, right?”. “Yes, but we are crossing on foot”.

“Oh no, you cannot cross on foot, the pedestrian bridge is closed and you can only cross by car”. I told her I didn’t believe her, and she offered a bet of $2,000 that she was right (exactly what she needed to pay for the new air conditioner). I felt she was trying to take us fora ride (literally and figuratively), but she was so earnest that I finally gave in and agreed to the fare (under the threat of grievous bodily harm if I found out she was lying). So we took the car bridge and—Oh, my God! –saw that the Rio Grande had flooded its banks and was on the brink of flowing over the pedestrian bridge! So, dear Nora Madrid had been right all along, and I had to eat humble pie. If you ever need a wild ride through Laredo make sure to give her a call at(956) 645-5890.

OK, so now it is noon, and Nora has left us at the bus station. I walk confidently in—followed by a slightly shaken Mayita—and find out that there are no buses out of Nuevo Laredo! The Rio Salado had flooded, cutting off all roads out of the city. We were stranded!

I tried checking with other bus lines, and looking for private cars that could take us to Monclova or Monterrey, but got nothing, nada, zip. By this time we had made friends with the owner of a little tacoshop, who very kindly had sent his helpers to inquire from Pedro, and la Sra. Gonzales, and el Grupo Senda, and . . . the local travel agent. And it was from the latter that we got a small ray of hope: Why not fly? Why not indeed? Nuevo Laredo has a perfectly good airport, and for a goodly consideration he managed to get us two tickets in the7:30 pm Mexicana flight. Thank God for the Visa Platinum card! :)

Having arranged our escape from this besieged city, Maya and I went for a walk through downtown, got drenched by a summer downpour, and hot and sweaty, finally decided to take a taxi to the airport, where we sat for another four hours waiting for our flight. Fortunately I was able to connect to the local wireless network (I love my new netbook), alerted my friend Raul about the change in plans, and he was able to pick us up at the Mexico City airport. It was a long travelday, but we are finally here!

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