The Great Depression

We’d blown our first attempt at riding a freight through the Copper Canyon. Now we had a second chance… and it left from a freight yard on Mexico’s Pacific Coast called El Sufragio.

We’d already spent one night in Sufragio… avoiding the many thieves, soldiers, police and mosquitoes that reside there, but no train had departed.

Thinking back to my beautiful new screen enclosure back in Florida… damn mosquitoes and critters. Shout out to for doing such a good job with that.

So we went back for a second night.

When we got there, the scene was the same. Dozens of Central American tramps were hanging around in the shadows waiting for the 9 p.m. Mexicali train. They called out to us from the dark in terrible English… “How are ju?” “I speekee English… you have moneee for me?”

If you want to sneak into the USA, you want to do it in New Mexico or California, especially if this isn’t your first time (we met some Mexicans who had been deported 40 or 50 times and were still going back.) This is because the jails in New Mexico and California are full to capacity, and judges won’t send illegal aliens to jail. (Texas is different. You get caught three times, you go to jail for 180 days.)

So the majority of the tramps want to ride the Mexicali train to California, not the Copper Canyon train to Chihuahua.

I asked a worker what time the Chihuahua train was leaving. “It hasn’t been called yet,” he told me, “but if you buy me a soda, I’ll wander over to the tower and see if I can find out what’s going on…”

I bought him a soda, and anxiously waited for him to come back with the information. He never came back. I talked to a few other people. General consensus was that there’d be no train to Chihuahua for the second night in a row. So when the Mexicali train pulled out, we jumped it instead.

Imagine a clock that reads ten minutes to two. Mexicali would sit at the end of the minute hand while Chihuahua would be at the end of the hour hand. Mexicali was in completely the wrong direction for us, but we took the train anyway because we had to get out of that yard.

We rode a grain car all night. I couldn’t sleep because I was worried we’d be robbed. Every time the train stopped, often in the middle of nowhere, I’d hear voices and footsteps on the gravel and I’d think they were coming for us. Then we’d start moving again, and I could relax.

We stopped at Guaymas at around 9 a.m. A worker told me the train wouldn’t continue north for 8 hours, so we got off and started wandering over to the store. And that’s when we saw them…

Dozens and dozens of hobos were filing off the train. And large groups, some more than 20, were walking beside it. It was quite a sight, and something you’d never see in an American freight yard.

We talked to some of them. Many had been on the road over 40 days, with little food and no possessions. But they were close to the USA now and soon everything would be better, they told us. They all planned to cross the border on foot, walking through the desert with the help of either friends or coyotes.

I realised something too: these people weren’t thieves; they just wanted to get to the USA with as few hassles as possible. And I bet 99.9% would make it too, if not on this attempt, then on the next.

“This is how it must’ve been during the depression,” said Bo.

We didn’t feel like waiting 8 hours for the train to continue north, so we got the bus back to Sufragio.

Third time lucky?


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