Slowly approaching the Mexico USA border, I have been thinking about the first time we were here, nearly 2 years ago.
David and I biked into Matamoros, with a handful of Spanish words to communicate with the people (the people that the vast majority of American citizens told us would surely kill us on sight). Our collection of Spanish at this point (many thanks to Robert in Texas for this) included such treasures as "¿pedemos campar por la noche a lado de su casa por favor?" (Can we camp for the night beside your house please?) as well as the ever useful "no entiendo" (I don't understand). Si is yes and No is no, these words we had down as well as a general understanding of numbers 1-4 and 8 through to 10. As long as I didn't purchase anything that had the dreaded value of 5 to 7 pesos or worse 50 to 70, I pretty much understood what cash was expected of me. We ventured into Mexico with this language knowledge generously provided by the kind people of the USA, also generously provided by the Americans were horror stories of Mexico. This we carried somewhere in the backs of our minds, behind "dos cervezas por favor".
So we went against the advise of the Americans and ventured into Mexico. And into Matamoros at that. We decided to arrive on January 3rd. We'd hoped that anyone with bad intentions for two cycling tourists and their old dog would have a hell of a hangover on this day or be celebrating the new year with their family. Matamoros looked like any other southern USA city, big streets with lots of American super stores, lots of SUVs like their neighbours to the north only there was also obviously people with less. Venturing further into Mexico, the city streets got smaller with more potholes and lots of bicycle and pedestrian traffic. I was immediately charmed by Mexico's lack of zoning and building rules. the houses are mismatched, in varying levels of construction and painted like a bag of skittles. David and I tried to soak in Mexico all while trying not to call attention to ourselves until Matamoros spit us out onto the 101 HWY and it was just us and the sorghum fields. It was a cool 5 deg that day and raining so we were grateful when the sun started to set. About 30kms South of Matamoros, we waited until there was no traffic in any direction, no one that could see us and we quickly (ninja like really) lowered ourselves under HWY101 into a huge drainage duct - like a bridge for a river that luckily for us had only copious amounts of thick brown mud left in its wake. We ate a sidekick and cookies for dinner and relaxed into our dry sleeping bags wearing the dry clothes we had been dreaming about all day.
Once night fell, there was no civilian traffic. There were two variations of sounds that disturbed our light sleep that night including;
wump wump wump wump wump wump wump - military convoy or alternatively Ziiiiiiing!! - Police car.
On January 4th, we awoke before the sun and again waited until there was no traffic before we ventured onto HWY 101 to put in 60kms in 4 deg C and more light rain. Early on our second day in Mexico I approached my first Military checkpoint. David, being heavily loaded with a two wheel trailer and a crazy old dog, was a few metres behind me when I reached the Police officer, wielding a huge automatic weapon made all that more frightening by a face mask and dark sunglasses. "¿De a donde vienen?" He barked... I hadn't learnt this one yet.. Again, louder he asked "¿de a donde vienen?" Ummm "no entiendo" I responded. David caught up with us and the same question was thrown at him. "¿De a donde vienen?" David obviously had taken the same introductory Spanish course as me because his response was the third meek "no entiendo". I guess our friend with the federal police realized that we had no grasp of the Spanish language and gave us a hint "¿where?" He tried, obviously growing a little frustrated. Ahh! David understood. He pointed behind us, to the North and said "Canada". "¿Y a donde vas?" Asked the check point officer. This can only mean one thing. We pointed South and shouted in unison Paraguay! I couldn't see the officers mouth, as I told you he was wearing a terrifying mask but I think I saw stress just under his nose and above his chin indicating that his mouth fell open. "¿De Canada, a Paraguay en bici?" I'm pretty sure I understood what that ment (horrah free Spanish lesson!) "si!" Shouted David and I, happy to understand something "¡pendejos!" Shouted the police officer along with an exaggerated gesture of get out of here, his extended arm pointing South. That night, camping in an abandoned house 60kms or so closer to our destination, I searched in vain to find pendejos in my Spanish-English dictionary. We weren't exactly sure of its meaning but we happily added it to our ever growing Spanish vocabulary.