Adventure in Mexico

Jenny Lee McGinn

© Copyright 2020 by Jenny Lee McGinn

Mexico welcome sign.

Ever been to Mexico?

It was an unplanned, completely out of the blue side excursion a few years ago, and I am happy to say that we lived to tell the tale…otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this. In fact, it is quite possible if events ended differently, the incident most likely would not have made any front page news, and certainly not in Mexico.

It began rather innocently when I traveled to New Mexico for a two week business trip to train police officers for an instructor course. Most of the team arrived Sunday while I arrived on Saturday along with another colleague, also a dear friend, in order to set up the classroom ahead of time. I was especially grateful for the early arrival as this was my first time flying in nearly thirty years and I did not want the additional stress of not only flying but settling into my hotel room and preparing for a two week training all in one day. I enjoy the setup process not to mention the extra time with my partner whom I do not see often. She and I are like two peas in a pod with many similarities and interests. Some parallels include sharing the same middle name and birthday. She has a twin sister and I tell her I am her other twin just two years younger. Where we differ slightly is in adventure. Although I am all for and welcome spur-of-the-moment trips, sometimes I like a little advance planning. Lindsay, however, likes those that simply reveal themselves organically on the spot without any serious thought.

After landing in El Paso and greeting each other, we loaded our luggage into the rental car Lindsay had already acquired. We were hungry and ready for our first adventure- lunch. Being in Texas so close to the Mexican border, we wanted to have authentic Mexican food, so naturally we selected a very non Mexican sounding restaurant, “Good Coffee” to celebrate our arrival. Food ordered and served, we discussed various sightseeing options in the area prior to driving north to the training site in New Mexico. I commented that I wanted to see “the wall” separating Mexico from Texas. I had never been this close to Mexico and we were sitting but a few mere miles away. Lindsay took it one step further and suggested we see it up close and personal. “Why don’t we just drive to Mexico?” she suggested. I was hesitant but relished the thought of seeing another country right at my fingertips. She sensed my slight balking at the idea as I said I really wanted to see the wall, but she reminded me that I recently renewed my passport and should put it to work. A year prior at a training in New York we took a side trip to Niagara Falls but couldn’t see it from Canada as my passport was expired. Thoughts quickly ran through my mind about being so close to another country and this time having legal documentation to go. Images of actually driving across the border was exciting, adventurous, and spontaneous. I was in.

 Lunch finished, which was a delicious Mexican entrée, we entered our car and drove the few short miles to the border. It was amazing! There it was--a large sign welcoming us to Mexico! We weren’t stopped to show any identification and that baffled me; we simply drove across the border into another country. I had been to Canada many times growing up and although passports were not necessary back then, we were stopped at the border every time in both directions. We decided to do a self-guided tour in the car with no plans of getting out to walk. Snapping photos as we trekked around on main roads, I took in as much as I could. It was the first time I saw speed limit signs in kilometers. We briefly discussed driving to the city of Chihuahua because Lindsay had friends there, but it was three hours away and we still had a drive north to the training location.

We were impressed how clean the streets were, free of debris and trash. We observed several fascinating performers, undoubtedly, to separate tourists from their money. One very talented young man juggled multiple balls while riding a unicycle in the middle of a traffic intersection. When his lane turned green, he expertly dismounted and trotted into the medium to wait for the next opportunity to display his talent. Not everyone traveled around town in a car. Of course, there were motorcycles, trucks, and bicyclists, but one fellow used an unusual vehicle. He was not a tourist but a local. We knew this because of his mode of transportation. He operated a decked out electric wheelchair, complete with a triangular reflector and break lights, and he was in a traffic lane no different from the automobiles. He was prepared for all types of weather with a makeshift plastic covering to stay dry. Upon initial observation while stopped at a traffic light, my first thought was he was a local performer or vendor. However, on closer inspection of his vehicle, I realized I was most likely wrong. Hanging along side of him was a colostomy bag in serious need of emptying. I immediately felt bad for him but simultaneously applauded his ingenuity to remain independent.

One of the more beautiful sights were all the family oriented parks with plenty of open space and playgrounds. It was impressive how many there were. Several horsemen with matching ponies stood throughout the parks, possibly offering tourists rides for a small fee. The horses and ponies were beautiful in various shades of brown and tan. At nearly every intersection were vendors offering snacks and drinks, some of which were made with fresh fruits and vegetables. I wanted to purchase a local beverage but we didn’t have a chance to stop as traffic moved along swiftly.

Remaining on the major thorough fares, we were stunned at the various forms of outdoor entertainment. Myriad soccer games took place on dirt fields and an actual motocross course was smack dab in the middle of the two main roads. We didn’t see residential neighborhoods but rather small businesses and shops. We passed several side streets that were blocked off and saw people removing the barricades for cars to enter. We heard music and deduced it must be a festival. We couldn’t see any activity, but we heard it.

About an hour into our sightseeing excursion an unfortunate incident occurred.

We were stopped at a traffic light in preparation of a left turn on a street we’d traveled earlier. To the right of us was a police car stopped and I told Lindsay so she knew. Our turn signal was properly activated. After the light turned green and we made the legal left turn, I knew we would be stopped…my intuition was correct.

We pulled over as directed mumbling “oh shit” multiple times and I quickly got Lindsay’s wallet with not only her passport and driver’s license, but her retired police officer credentials. I had mine ready if needed. One officer approached our car while his partner waited at theirs. Stomach fluttering furiously, I attempted to keep calm. Unpleasant thoughts ran through my head, but everyone remained professional. He spoke better English than he led on, and asked if we spoke Spanish, which truthfully, we did not. When asked why we were there we told him we were sightseeing prior to going to New Mexico for business. When Lindsay handed him her identification including her retired creds she said, “And we are police.”

This is exactly what happened next: He took her information, held it up to show his partner, handed it back to her, and said to have a nice day. That was it. We politely thanked him, I put her identification away, and using the turn signal, we respectfully drove off.

Needless to say, we have no photos of this incident.

With our hearts pounding less and fear fading, we decided right then that our sightseeing was finished and we needed to find the way back across the border to the United States. Alas, that wasn’t as easy as getting into Mexico.

Nowhere were there signs to America. We drove around the same roads so many times that we knew our way around. We saw one sign that made mention of the U.S. but nowhere was access to cross the bridge. I finally did see the border wall, two different ones in fact, but from the Mexican side. Feeling less adventurous, after an hour I was about to leap out of my skin. It was getting later and I feared we’d never get out of Mexico. It was about this time we were thankful the city of Chihuahua was too far away.

We turned down a now familiar blocked-off side street to ask for information. After fumbling through our desire to cross the bridge, two men speaking Spanish discussed our dilemma amongst themselves. They nodded at each other then moved the barricade and let us through to the festival…which wasn’t really a festival at all. It was music and performers with lots of people milling around, but they crowded the streets hoping passers-through would purchase something on their way to America. We saw in the distance the bridge to the United States with a long line of vehicles ahead of us, but we were on our way! I was so grateful I told Lindsay that once on American soil I wanted to hop out of the car and kiss the ground.

Unlike entering Mexico, when we arrived at the border, the officer asked us for all of our identification and passports. He eyed us suspiciously and authoritatively asked what we were doing in Mexico. His eyebrows rose questionably when we explained who we were and why we were there. He approached our car and peered into the darkened windows and asked if we had any weapons, which we did not. I reckon in retrospect it must have been a reasonable question about why we were there. After all, here we were, two middle aged Caucasian women driving a fancy black Yukon with Colorado plates…nothing else would have shown we were tourists short of a sign stating such that said, “Stop us, please.” After checking us in and conversing for several moments, we must’ve convinced him that we were not drug dealers or weapon traffickers. We appreciated his thoroughness and only hoped he was as thorough with other people who looked more suspicious of evildoing than we. Cleared, we continued on our way to freedom, which brought on an entirely new feeling of being blessed to be an American.

We made it to New Mexico without incident, and as we drove across the state border I thought about how Dorothy felt when she made it back to Kansas, “there is no place like home.” At the training we shared our tale of adventure and only then did we learn how fortunate we truly were. Several officers local to the area informed us that many Mexican police officers despise American law enforcement and our stop could have resulted much worse, the grisly details of which I will spare. All in all, it was an adventure of a lifetime, however, one I will not take again in this fashion. It was by far a most unforgettable and exciting experience.

Did I mention that the border in which we crossed lead to Cuidad Juarez, Mexico?

 I reside in rural Pennsylvania and enjoy writing poems, songs, and short stories, often for other people on special occasions. I have two faithful pups who are by my side as much as they can be! Spending time with them as well as my family and friends is important and when weather permits, wind therapy on the motorcycle is an excellent way to de-stress and free my soul.

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