Ten Years Later
[NL]—Almost ten years ago I bought a one-way train ticket to Mexico. I had envisioned traveling until my funds ran out, and I had no idea exactly how long that might take; so I quit my job, too. I just up and went. It turned out to be the catharsis I was looking for. I traveled the edges of Mexico for over two months, and every day was one of the best I have ever had.
I entered Mexico by walking across the border from El Paso to Ciudad Juarez, which cost me a quarter. I can still remember the fascination I felt walking over that bridge, the confusion I had trying to find the immigration building where they would issue me a tourist visa, and the trouble that I later got into when it surfaced that I had never managed to get that important slip of paper. From there I had stayed up a very long day: waiting for the train to take me through Chihuahua and on down the Copper Canyon to the little town of Creel. In Creel, I finally got some sleep.
During the months that followed, I rolled around Mexico on a whim, staying or leaving places at random, picking little hotels full of expatriates and caged birds by the way they looked to me when I passed them on the street. I left my travel guide on the train in Los Mochis; for someone who wanted it more than I did. All I needed to do was meander.
Still, through most of my wanderings, I had some primitive idea of my route. After numerous little beaches, and jungle towns, and Mayan ruins, I found myself in a bus station in Veracruz, deciding on my next destination. Recently, I had been pulled off a bus in the middle of the night by machine-gun toting border patrolmen, where I had it explained to me that I needed more than a passport to be this far into Mexico. I feigned ignorance, all the while slapping myself on the forehead, months too late, for not getting that tourist visa right over the bridge from Texas. These men had written me a note to give to the immigration office in Veracruz, and put me back on the bus. They let me off easy. I followed their instructions; and finally, I was a legal alien. But instead of moving on to the next interesting Mexican town (which would have been Guanajuato), I noticed Brownsville, Texas on the schedule and bought that ticket on a whim. I headed home six days before Christmas.
The punchline to this joke, I guess, is that for the near decade since I returned from Mexico, I have remembered that there were places that I had failed to visit. While I have longed to return to the markets of Guadalajara, or the deadly beaches at Zipolite, it is Guanajuato I knew I would return to Mexico for. Or: Durango, San Luis Potosi, San Miguel, Teotihuacán. Never at any time was there a plan to visit Monterrey, Nuevo León.
Why? I don’t really know. Monterrey is the second largest commercial center in Mexico, and the third largest city by population. It is modern, industrialized, and many say it is as American as Texas or Southern California. Monterrey is hard at work being the apex of wealth and economy for all of Latin America. The photos I have seen make it look pretty utilitarian, if not downright ugly, and while the towering mountains that surround it offer a scenic backdrop full of nature excursions, I am just not really that kind of tourist. Mostly, it seemed to me to be a big, bustling, modern city, and I just wasn’t interested.
Of course, now my job is to make myself interested. Soon I will be quitting my job and getting a one-way ticket to the border again. Soon I will pay my quarter, and slam into the confusion and personal evolution that comes with summary change. I had better be finding out that there are things to love about Monterrey.
Like, for instance, what other towns are close.
Click here to read the entire text of this post.