DISASTER. ROBBERY AND DISASTER

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Bo Keeley´s Ford Contour is unlike any other car, but you wouldn’t know it until you peeked inside. From the outside, it might look like the sort of car a middle management administrator might drive, or an undercover policeman… four doors, white and boring. But inside, I´d describe it as a salvation army dumpster with a driving seat. All the seats have been ripped out, as has the partition to the boot. Not only does this gives Bo plenty of room to store all his junk, but he can stretch out and sleep after a long day on the road.

All the usual gubbins you might find in a car of this type has gone… the overhead sun flaps, the rearview mirror (he uses the wing mirrors) the seat belts, the glove compartment, the buckles and the light fittings. Then he´s plastered masking tape all over the interior… to hide the permanently illuminated warning lights on the console, to protect the electric window and lock switches, to tidy away a variety of electric cables…  (one electric cable runs from the car´s battery, out from under the hood by the wind shield, into the interior by the passenger door hinges, and onto a spare battery he charges up while he drives.)

But it runs well, and it doesn’t smell too bad.

Bo cleared out a space for me after we met at the Pheonix Greyhound station. I sit on the passenger side, with my bum on a couple of padded blankets, my back against a plastic crate and my feet on the dashboard. I asked Bo about the remains of a giant squashed insect on the ceiling near the top corner of the wind shield… It looked like dried vomit.

“Chinese takeout, I think. I should clean that up. Or maybe you’ll get hungry? It`s vegan-friendly if I recall correctly.”

We drove for two days, hugging the border on the Mexican side and then plunging deep into Mexico´s interior beneath Ciudad Juarez. At night, we pulled off the highway and slept in the fields. Bo slept in the car, I beside it, careful not to set up my sleeping bag beneath the back right window where Bo empties his bottle of urine each morning.

The border towns are always special, but Juarez takes the biscuit. I felt intimidated as we approached it. It felt so seedy, evil and lawless. My contrarian instincts were tingling. Taxi drivers offered us cocaine and women wherever we walked. There were no other gringos and everyone stared at us as if we were immoral Americans looking for sex and drugs. I felt immoral just being there. I should buy property…

My bag was pinched in Chihuahua. We’d gone to get tacos and when we came back, my backpack wasn’t in the car. For a moment, I worried that I´d left it in the street, because there were no signs of robbery… no broken windows, forced locks, nothing. But then Bo noticed a bag of his had gone too.

“We’ve definitely been ripped off,” he concluded after a few minutes of shuffling. “My crate of soda pop is also missing.”

I felt lucky. I still had all my money, all my documents and the expensive digital camera Kate and I received as a wedding present. But everything else was gone… my sleeping bag, bedroll, clothes, wash kit, maps, cell phone, my library book, the lot… even my shoes!

Bo quickly stepped up to the plate with a new bag for me, a tarpaulin and padded blanket for my bedroll, some clothes and a pair of shoes. We shrugged off our misfortune and drove over to the freight yard as planned…

Now I felt like a real hobo… streamlined and improvised.

There is a passenger service that runs through the Copper Canyon, it runs twice daily in each direction from Chihuahua to the Pacific Coast, at Los Mochis. For those interested in useless trivia, there is only one other passenger service remaining in Mexico, also for the benefit of the tourists. It´s The Tequila Express out of Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco.

But the passenger train is for tourist sissies and it costs $60.  I use freight.

Earlier that day we`d scoped out the Chihuahua freight yard and asked all the pertinent questions. Now it was just a matter of waiting for the train, which, we had been told, would be leaving for Los Mochas sometime around 3 a.m.

We dozed in an empty gondola, my bare legs really feeling the cold of the metal floor. I was shivering.

After a few hours, the units came and hooked up to a string in the siding next to us. Departure was imminent. We should have walked down the train and bagged a ride right then, but instead, we crouched in the shadow and waited for the train to come to us, which it did, with a massive roar of acceleration.

After the units had passed, we leapt out of our hiding place and stood by the track waiting for a suitable vehicle to come past. The train was accelerating surprisingly quickly and I started to panic.

Not a moment too soon, a trusty grainer appeared around the bend. We took off together, and running as fast as we could, we grabbed the handles and leaped on.

Then came that wonderful feeling of elation I feel every time I ride a new train. “We´re on. We´re safe and we´re moving in the right direction,” I always think to myself. “In a few hours, we´ll be surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery on earth. Mission accomplished.”

I wrapped myself up like a burrito in the blanket and relaxed with the train´s vibrations, content that nothing could go wrong.

I should have known better. Disaster lurked just down the track. It came out of nowhere, in the middle of nowhere…

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