When hitching a ride you just don’t expect there to be boxes of coke and weed in the back seat…
Still shaking from the stress of a night sleeping rough on the streets of Morelia, Mexico, I set off down the street toward the other side of town. The need to be on the beach drove me forward. After a long walk through the morning light and a quick stop for a breakfast of bananas and bread, I arrived at the crossroads where the road continued on to Patzcuaro.
I wrote the name of the next town, Uruapan, on my scrap of cardboard and held out my thumb, trying to make eye contact with each driver who passed. I waited for a few minutes before a black minivan screeched to a stop directly in front of me. The driver was wearing a demon mask, like those for Halloween. Indeed, this wasn’t so strange, as the date was the 30th of October.
The side door opened and a grinning Mexican in his early 20’s beckoned me into the van.
“Hi, man!” he spoke to me in perfect English, “Hop in!”
“Where are you headed?” I asked.
“Right on,” I said, climbing into the van.
We immediately took off down the road at high speed, weaving in and out of traffic as if we were running from something. There were also two young women in the car, one in the front seat, and the other sitting just behind me.
“Where are you from, man?” the young guy asked me.
“I’m from the U.S.”
“Yeah!? Me, too, man!” he seemed extremely excited to see me. “What the fuck are you doing hitchhikin’ in Mexico, man. You fuckin’ crazy!”
“You’re from the US?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m from LA, man. But I’m Mexican. I live here now.”
The guy in front let out a crazy laugh.
“What the fuck are you doing hitchhiking in Mexico, dude?” he asked me with a thicker Mexican accent than the young guy.
“Well, I’m trying to get to the beach,” I explained. “I’m trying to get to Playa Azul. Have you ever heard of it?”
He took off his mask and looked back at me, still driving like a maniac, blindly cutting through traffic.
“No, man, hahaha,” he said in a deep voice. He was in his mid thirties with long hair and dark skin. “I never heard anything about that place. We just go from Morelia to Uruapan… I’ve been to the states, man. Lived there a long time…”
“Where’d you live?” I asked.
“Georgia State Penitentiary, mostly, haha.”
“Hey, man,” the younger guy interrupted, “I bet you smoke weed, eh?”
“Ha, yeah, I do, why, do you have any?” I asked him laughing.
He smiled back at me. “See those boxes at the back?” he motioned to a pile of boxes behind the back seat. “They full of weed and cocaine.”
“Really?” I asked, not sure if I should be scared or excited by the idea.
Everyone in the car broke out in laughter, even the girls, who hadn’t spoken before.
“¿Hablas espaÃ±ol, guey?” the young guy asked me.
“SÃ,” I answered.
“Well, this here is my fiancé,” he told me with pride as she moved forward and sat in his lap. “We’re getting married, man! Can you believe that shit?!”
“Congratulations,” I said.
“Yeah, man, we like you white guys,” the driver said. “The black guys in the states are the problem… I always had problems with the black guys in the pen.”
“Why did you go to jail?” I asked.
“Ha, they caught me smuggling 200 kilos of coke, and they gave me 13 years. I did 8 before I escaped and ran back to Mexico, haha. Now I just stay here, you know. Making my run from Morelia to Uruapan and back. Mexico’s easier, man.”
I gulped hard, realizing that these guys weren’t kidding about their profession.
“You’re really smuggling drugs?” I asked.
Both guys laughed out loud, but didn’t directly answer.
“Hey, better hope the cops don’t stop us or you’re goin’ to Mexican prison, man!” the young guy said.
I sat back in my seat and contemplated it while the van rolled along the two lane highway at at least 85 miles an hour. I had no control over my destiny at that point, but could relax somehow. I had done nothing wrong to deserve punishment. I believed in karma and justice and was confident that nothing bad would happen to me.
“We’ll be alright,” I remarked confidently.
They laughed at this, and the young guy smiled at me. “You crazy, eh? You half Mexican, I think, haha.”
“I’m getting there, I suppose.”
We rolled along the road for another two hours talking about life in the US and Mexico, before arriving in Uruapan. We turned off the main highway, passing a Wal-Mart, and arrived at the hotel. It was the kind of sleazy dive where Mexican drug smugglers could do business well out of the eyes of the police.
As we stood outside saying our goodbyes, the older guy shook my hand and leaned toward me.
“Hey, man, you want work?” he asked matter-of-factly, in a lowered voice.
“Ahh, thanks man, but I think I’m gonna keep on going to the beach…”
He smiled and waved, as did the others, and I found myself walking through a seedy little town at the heart of the Mexican drug war. Trash littered the streets and old VW beetles sat languidly in the late morning sun. I walked along, solitary and shaken by the strange nature of my life. For the first time I allowed myself to realize how far I had gone, and how far there would still be to go. Eventually, there would be nowhere to turn except North and back to my home, but for now, all I could think about was sleeping on a beach.
I grabbed a bus over the mountains and desert and eventually arrived in a humid bus station in the dirty, wild-west town of Lazaro Cardenas. Within a few minutes I caught a minibus to Playa Azul, a small town that sees virtually no foreign tourists. I asked some locals where the beach was, and they smiled to see me, pointing down the street. Within a minute I could hear the waves crashing against the beach and could feel and smell the sea breeze wafting over the last row of huts by the beach.
When I finally reached the beach and saw the ocean in the night, I dropped my pack, stripped down to my underwear and ran madly into the dark waters of the Pacific Ocean.