Delving further into Mexico was like starting a relationship with a woman. At first Mexico was unreadable; I didn’t know her patterns, when to wait, when to approach, or even what to say. Reynosa and the area around it was harsh. Vegetation was limited to thorny bushes and dry grass interspersed with the occasional set of trees. There was mostly farmland that, even after being tilled, had clearly been wrung of every ounce of nutrients. I slept on the freshly turned land a few nights and every time was amazed that it was capable growing things in at all – it was like planting in rocks.
Five days after leaving Reynosa I made it to the small and charming city of San Fernando – perhaps a first date. The land surrounding San Fernando was green and as I entered the city it was raining which brought out the colors further.
San Fernando was smaller, more manageable than Reynosa. The sidewalks were flat so I didn’t have to weave and juke and sidestep. There were flowers and palm trees. The shops were painted in bright colors. People milled beneath tarps and covers, sipping colas or eating tacos.
I set my cart under an awning and tied Savannah to it. Then I asked a young woman sitting beside a grill smoking with bisteck if she’d watch my cart while I went into the super market. She said she would. Savannah looked up at me, her hair a pointy mess because of the rain, and her eyes seeming especially wanting.
I was only a few minutes. The supermarket consisted of five long rows. They didn’t have everything I wanted, but I got the ingredients for The World Walk special; peanut butter, jelly, and bread – breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Back outside the woman watching my cart smiled and said Savannah was cute. I thanked her and pressed on down the main drag in the rain. People watched the gringo with the dog and baby-carriage, some women giggled, some men stared. Rain pattered on my rain-jacket.
One of the streets was flooded to the curb with water. I walked down the street until there was only a few inches of water and crossed there. Water soaked into my shoes. On the other side of the street I could feel my feet sliding around in my socks. Normally I would have put on my rain shoes, or would have been more concerned with my feet being wet, but only a mile ahead was a two-hundred peso hotel room waiting for me.
Smoke swirled off of flattops, wafting into my nostrils and turning my stomach on end. I was hungry, I decided. Actually, I was really hungry, it was three and in my desire to get to San Fernando I hadn’t eaten since seven that morning.
I parked my cart in an open-air restaurant, poured Savannah water, then approached two women in aprons.
My Spanish is good enough that with time to think I can say just about anything. But it isn’t good enough to process the speed at which native speakers talk.
I was able to order four tacos and explain where I’d walked from, why I was walking, and what was in my cart.
Seated in a red plastic Coca-Cola chair, I opened each taco, placed lettuce and picante sauce on them, then chomped through the warm tortillas in three bites. After twelve bites, I ordered four more tacos.
And when I was finished I leaned back with my hand on my stomach and looked out to the restaurant across the street and watched a couple eat.
It was the first time I’d actually stopped in a restaurant. Until that point I was in too much of a panic. I wanted to get further away from the border. I often stopped at tiendas (little shops with chips, cold drinks, water), but stopping at a restaurant seemed too strange a gulf to cross.
But at San Fernando it felt as though I was in a new part of Mexico. She was warmer. Maybe I’d finally been able to understand her ways slightly, or maybe San Fernando was just welcoming in a way that Reynosa wasn’t.
The women who’d put together the tacos came up to me and asked for a picture. They laughed when I made slow, broken conversation. Then the men who cooked at the flat top came over. They kept saying “Es una aventura.” And one of the men, a pale cowboy hat snug on his head, slapped me on the shoulder and said, “Faldas cortas allí” and pointed down the street.
I nodded, said yes to him, but had no idea what he said until ten minutes later when I was nearly at the hotel and his words clicked into place. “Short skirts there.” Must have thought I could use a companion.
The hotel cost me two hundred pesos and Savannah fifty. There were about forty rooms in a ‘U’ shape, set back down a long, flooded driveway. I walked barefoot.
There was only a maid there. She was about sixty. Short, plump, and with a single bottom tooth. When I opened the door to my room she approached me and spoke far too quickly for me to understand. I smiled, nodded, and said I walked from New Jersey.
The hotel room didn’t have a lock so I parked my cart in front of the door. It was sweltering inside and I had to move the single light bulb from the bathroom to the bedroom at night to see, but for fifteen dollars what more could I want?
The next few nights I camped. Savannah, with no prodding at all, began been sleeping outside. Which was fine with me, meant she’d be a better protector.
I slept with my head near the opening of my tent so I could look up at the stars. Outside of the Mexican cities the stars shine through like holes from shotgun blasts to the sky. There are always thousands overhead. Faintly, the Milky Way is brushed against the sky too.
Gazing at the stars a strange feeling grew in me. The first night I couldn’t exactly place it, I only continued to look up. But by the fourth night after San Fernando I was watching the stars and what I was feeling coalesced into a thought. It was almost out of body. I could see myself from above. I couldn’t believe where I was, camped out in Mexico. This was my life. This was actually my life. What a strange, strange thing. How exploratory. How random. I was in the middle of my dream, on una adventura, it was as though I were falling in love.