As soon as they cross the border, MJ and Nelson quickly drive through Matamoros, the Mexican border town, and pass two checkpoints on the route south: a military one---fierce-looking young boys bearing machine guns--- and an Immigration stop. The latter official checks their papers, grunting in English… “enjoy yourselves”. They decide this checkpoint is the equivalent to the Texas Border Control on the U.S. side.
MJ starts to breathe normally. She can’t believe she is in Mexico and begins to take in her surroundings. The landscape is surprisingly cultivated, unlike its counterpart in Texas. Small homes (casitas) are colourfully painted in shades of chartreuse, turquoise, blue, and gold. Chickens scurry about the dirt; burros and donkeys are tethered close to the road where they crop the grass. Herds of cattle, goats and sheep roam the fields near the road. Suddenly a truck with a small open trailer pulls onto the road in front of them. In the trailer is a pregnant ewe. As the trailer bounces along the highway, the ewe must keep her balance while the trailer vibrates over the road. No easy life for even an animal, thinks MJ sympathetically. At first the Canadians are confused. The map indicates they must follow highway 180. In reality, the highway signs are 101. “Go figure,” mumbles Nelson.
They pass a cemetery with beautiful erect statues at each shrine. Each statue is decorated with brightly coloured flowers on a pastel background. These shrines are well taken care of for tomorrow and the next day, November 1 and 2, mark the Day of the Dead when Mexicans pay homage to their departed relatives, visiting and picnicking at their gravesites.
They arrive at a fork in the highway. Which way to go? The map is not clear. MJ shrugs and Nelson sighs.
Not far from their stopped car sit four Mexican workmen on a break, watching them curiously. As MJ and Nelson mumble and moan over the map, one of the older workers wanders over to help. He cannot speak English and they cannot speak Spanish but they understand his sign language and follow his advice with a ‘muchas gracias”.
By now Nelson feels his body’s fatigue; MJ knows she is exhausted. All this unfamiliarity saps their physical strength yet they push on through an endless landscape of green, low lying bush.
Every so often they pass a lodge for wingshooting: hunting geese, ducks, quail, white-winged and mourning doves, all birds that migrate from the north through this area. They see a Beefmaster (artificial insemination) station and pass a town called El Milagro (the Miracle).
Traffic is light. Two army panel trucks loaded with soldiers roar past. At 2:20 p.m., they cross The Tropic of Cancer. Just beyond they pass a runner carrying a lit torch…is it the Olympic Flame? She is accompanied by a decorated float from which blares a voice on a microphone, police cars and a small crush of curious onlookers. The face of the runner with the torch is flushed, radiant with pride.
Finally they arrive in Tampico, a noisy seaport on the Gulf of Mexico and their destination for the night. MJ accidentally gives the wrong directions ---“it’s hard to read this map!”--- while trying to guide them downtown.
“Here’s a spot to pull over,” she says. Not! Nelson must turn sharp left into oncoming traffic while more traffic roars behind them. The “spot” is a significant drop from the road and they hear the uh-oh scrape of the Sunfire’s underbelly on the pavement’s edge as Nelson plunges into the unknown. Luckily the car lands in a sandy space barely in time to escape colliding with a truck. The engine stalls; the silence in the car is ominous. Is the overworked car okay? Has the entire undercarriage shattered?
Slowly a fatigued Nelson gets out to assess the damage. After a visual examination he faces the worried MJ and reports they are lucky. The little Sunfire appears unscathed except for a bad belly scrape.
Please click here to see their route. This is the same route the author and her husband followed for four years while researching the book. The accompanying photo shows us with the same car, a 1995 white Sunfire, that MJ and Nelson use for their escape.
Next: Tampico Part 2
* Notes from my draft novel, Dare to Escape
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