“How much longer am I gonna have to wait,” I spoke to myself, but not under my breath. Years on the road, I’d become accustomed to my inner voice speaking outwardly.
Another car passed.
“What is with rich, male, solo drivers always blowing past me? I’m the one supposed to be afraid, not the other way around.”
The rides I got hitchhiking across Mexico never came from a Mercedes. Rich people almost everywhere behaved the same way. They hid from the outside world, protecting their assets. Most of my cars had seen a lot, stained by permanent bruises and fit as an old pair of hiking boots. The people that drove them held a curiosity for my strange presence. And in portions of Mexico, rides came easy.
In Quintana Roo, every day was a remarkable one. My favorite was an older man who grew a long, grey beard and long pony tail of hair, car full of dream catchers and first nation insignia. He invited me to a 5 day holistic retreat. It cost money but he offered it to me for free. I had to keep moving though. We talked long about politics and how Quintana Roo began as uninhabited land until 60 years back when the government offered people 40 acres. If they survived, it was theirs. This resulted in corporations from Europe and North America being able to easily access land and privatize the coastline. While the locals of Quintana Roo brought a celebrated introduction to Mexico for me, the province itself had been exploited almost to its bitter end. Every step in that province, rides became rivers of knowledge for me to understand the trench work of locals based around mass tourism. Foreigners paid far more than needed and in turn, inflation sky rocketed, leaving most locals unable to afford a life.
Oaxaca was another province where the rides moved swiftly in the back of a pick-up. Wind blowing hard through my hair and against my face. I celebrated every day hitching through those provinces. Inland from San Pancho Nayarit, things slowed down. North of Guadalajara minutes became hours. Many locals stared at me from window glass. Some of them smiled, and waved while the sun thumped. There was never enough water as the temperatures rose the closer I got to Chihuahua. The landscape dried out as much as my nostrils.
Despite being used to wait times, I became frazzled and impatient. Every car with a single guy, I had to resist shooting him the finger. Cars and trucks climbed a hill and blew dust onto my clothes before moving past me. I had found a tree stump and used it to relax. I also read my book about the Death Railway in Thailand. Every time one of the cars would roll past and wave from inside, tremors pronounced themselves under my skin.
“Why are you waving. I am boiling out here and I need a ride! Not a smile!”
A decent, clean, new looking Toyota stopped. I jogged ahead to the empty, passenger ‘s side to greet the man.
“Oh God, air conditioning, stroke of luck,” I exhaled once inside. The man returned me an awkward grin, suggesting he spoke minimal English. But it had been nearly two months from Cancun to Zacatecas. I’d learned enough Spanish to hold a conversation.
“Como te Ilamas,” that’s how I always started, right after a fist pump or a hand shake. He worked as a taxi, despite being retired. He transported migrant workers from his city, between there and GDL airport. And he drove twice a week, happy to have some company on this day, thrilled to learn about me and without a second thought of fear.
“Me da algo que hacer,” he told me. He got a small pension, but liked driving and could make extra money. He helped me with Spanish words, responding with patience. He gave me a fighting chance where most spoke as if I was a Mexican. Once we started in about food, he said we’d stop for lunch.
“Gorditas,” they are the best he assured me while at the same time inviting me to eat. An hour later, we stopped at a cute house or a Mexican restaurant painted as a rainbow with a few tables inside. He bought my first gorditas, but in Zacatecas, not my last.
He dropped me at an ideal spot, outside of his town. An hour later, I was inside another car towards Jerez.