Friday, August 15, 2008

Down Mexico Way

So Mexico. Reynosa, Mexico.

Fair warning that this post ain't all sunshine and butterflies. Just sayin'. I went to talk to people, observe, and learn whatever I could.

Looking for Bucho

The original plan was to cross the border, find people to talk to about the place, scope out the scene, grab some tacos, and cross back over.

Crossing over was no problem whatsoever. No customs, no checkpoints, nothing. I guess if you're coming into Mexico to spend $$$ then they are happy to have you.

The change was almost immediate once we were in. We had traveled under 5 miles from Hidalgo and were suddenly in the middle of a third world country. There were some businesses that were doing OK mixed in with tons of crumbling buildings mixed with the stench of well......just stench. It was kinda like being in Detroit. Only here you deal with a beggar trying to sell you chicle or kids just running up to you holding out their hands palms up.

It's very obviously to everyone including yourself just how foreign you really are. Luckily, we met a dude who also speaks pretty fluent Spanish on top of English. There enough people in the group that it would've been somewhat of a challenge to kidnap all of us. We walked towards the hotel and passed a woman operating a taco bar. 7 little tacos and a glass bottle of coke for $3. Not bad. Since the hotel was a few steps away, we order up some tacos and went to check into the hotel while they were being prepared.

In the hotel there was a bunch of younger Mexican dudes just kinda hanging around eyeing us up as we walked in. Our plan was to get two triple rooms right next to each other (on of the things I learned that tends to happen in Mexico is hotels will try to spread you out as far as possible if you're with a group. Easier to rob ya/do whatever if you're not in your pack). Needless to say, the guy claimed there were no more triple rooms. The doubles we were going to get would be two on one floor on opposite ends of the hallway, and the other room one floor down. Shady.

We left to think about it over the tacos. Dayum dems was some good tacos! The big difference with Mexican food close to the border or in Mexico as opposed to other parts of the country is the tortilla. Those things are made fresh from scratch, yo. The taco bar had this bowl of super spicy lemon sauce that was killer. And coke just tastes better out of a glass bottle. There was something different about it too. In Louisiana, you can get Dr. Pepper made with pure cane sugar instead of good 'ole High Fructose Corn Syrup. I'm pretty sure the same is true in Mexico with Coke. I'm guessing maybe from Cuba or something since they don't have the embargo kickin'? Whatever the case, it was awesome.

We decided to stick with the hotel since it was the closest one to the border. The nearest alternative was about 12 blocks away. The rooms were by no means 5 star but considering where we were, they weren't all that bad. We slipped our passports under the TV so we wouldn't have them accessible for pickpocketing while we were out and they wouldn't be in plain site in the hotel room. P.S., the Gideons never made it to Mexico.

Upon exiting the hotel we walked up a bit to hail a cab to take us to our destination. We passed a Pharmacy and it was explained to me how they work: It is a real pharmacy, you just don't need a prescription for all. Everything is available for cheap: Valium, Percoset, Oxycodone....anything. Nothing's illegal in Mexico. Yikes. Well....except maybe spitting. If you spit on the ground and the cops or military see it, you'll probably get arrested.

Anyhoo, we hailed to cabs and set off into the night. Apparently there are no traffic laws in Mexico. It's just drive and swerve through the narrow dirt roads winding through the city. Our translator was in the other car and the 4 years of Spanish I took and high school had completely escaped me. We waved the other cab next to us and they explained where we were off to (I still had no idea where we were really going expect for the name: Boy's Town).

The gate we arrived at required a $2 fee to pass through. The cab ride was like $7.

This place made the neighborhood where our hotel was look like Sewickely. There was one bumpy dirt road that eventually turned right and lopped back around. The basic layout was a couple of square blocks. The crumbling buildings on either side were continuous one-story structures partitioned into rooms with a couple of bars in line here and there. The smell had intensified quite a bit. Outside any of the open doors was a girl dressed like it was Halloween in the South Side. All in all within the compounds I'd estimate there were 100-150 rooms? It started to sink in where we were. The business transactions were simple. $10 for 20 minutes. Welcome to Boy's Town. I was close to turning right back around but thought better of walking by myself back to the hotel. I just followed along, talked to people about the place, and observed. Here was the education I was looking for.

I was told the complex is run and regulated by the government and run by the police so it's one of the "safer" places to long as you don't walk around flashing cash like a dumbass in front of cops. Another game they like to play in Mexico is to find a larger group of Americans and arrest everyone but a couple people in the group and throw them in jail. The other two have to hit up the ATM to pay "bail" to spring their friends. No charges. No questions. Just $$$. The really sad part is that a lot of the girls had been sold by their parents to this place when they were just kids. Others were saving up $$$ to leave and go to college. Others still just went there to earn $$$ after tucking their kids into bed. A different world indeed.

We made our way to one of the bars where an English speaking "guide" worked. If we wanted a bottle of water, he'd dash off down the street somewhere and come back with a sealed fresh bottle. If someone wandered problem: you can give him like $4 and he would follow whoever had strayed and make sure that nothing happened to them. He was a good dude to have around. The whole vibe though was just surreal and very hard to put into words. I was replused and intrigued that these places actually exist. Believe, entering into a business transaction never crossed my mine. Disgusting but also sad. It was both amusing and odd to watch the patrons run back and forth in and out of doors like it was a Scooby Doo chase sequence. You could almost hear Benny Hill music playing in the background.

At some point in the night, we unintentionally made a new "friend". This Mexican dude comes up and starts in:

"Oh man, it's so good to finally speak English to someone. Can I hang with y'all blahblah. I just came here from Florida, sold my car, blahblah, live around the corner etcetc."

My instinct said the guy was half sincere/half hustler. He followed us around for hours. He wouldn't learn our names and instead coined monickers for us:

"Who's that singer guy that died?....I can't remember his name..." And so on

"Uh, Kurt Cobain"

"Yeah! You look like Kurt Cobain bro!" We had to remind him a dozen more times of the name.


"Oh's Biggie Small's yo!" Yeah.

Ok. Long story short with this dude. The guy was with the Latin Kings or someone comparable in Florida. He had all these gang scars and kept subtly slipping in that he could sell us crack or anything we wanted. It was best not to offend the guy so we declined his offer but didn't tell him to get lost. It was really transparent what he was after especially since he kept saying:

"Hey man, I just want you to know I just wanted to hang with y'all. I'm not trying to hustle you or anything or go fuck you up anywhere. I just miss speaking English".

We eventually headed over to the bar 'Lipstick' on the corner. It was like jumping though a portal again as the place was really quite classy and very clean. It was just a drunk and silly time at our table (with the constant interruptions of our buddy yelling "Hey! Heeeyyyyy! take my picture! I don't want y'all to forget about me!")

He kept trying to get our phone number and find out if we were staying the night and where in addition always trying to get just one of us to come off and "go across the street, man" with him.

He followed us back out to our home base bar as well.

We were hanging out in the street when the convoys rolled by. Two jeep truck things filled with extremely heavily armed soldiers rolled by. We were told they roll through a couple times per night just to make sure that no one is fighting or causing any trouble. The one thing you never ever do with these guys is make eye contact. One dude told the story how he happened to glance and catch a soldiers eye. He immediately looked down at the grown and after a few seconds looked back up to find soldier still staring him down as they drove away. If you hold eye contact there is a good chance the convoy will stop, the soldier will jump off and come up to you. You might here something like "That's a nice chain." YANK. "Empty your pockets". SNAG. And if even show signs of putting up some kind of resistance they may very likely gun you down in the street.

"And THAT's why you never make eye contact with a Mexican Solider."

At some point in the night, there was a old guy with no teeth and a horrendously out of tune guitar singing Mexican songs to the group next to us. We decided we wanted a song or two and since the other group wasn't tipping at all and we were, he came right over. He opened with what was quite possibly the funniest version of "Oh What a Night" I've ever heard. He didn't get to finish though as the group of Mexican guys next to us and gone over to the jukebox and started blasting out music. Apparently we had offended them by stealing their musician. The lady at the bar promptly went over and yanked the cord out of the wall and basically threw them out. It pays to tip in Mexico, haha.

He continued into a broken English version of "Hotel California" and closed his set with Let It Be. It was a pretty fun moment with everyone in the bar.

After a while we ended up back at 'Lipstick' and were treated to the funniest site all night. There were these three young Asian businessmen back on one of the VIP couches, each with a girl in his lap. The dude next to the wall had his head tilted all the back, jaw open, and snoring away. The dude on the other end of the couch kept doing the slow head droop snap back up thing that used to happen during boring classes in High School. Eventually he couldn't snap his head back up and was out. The ladies were not nearly as amused at this sight as we were.

It had gotten to be pretty late so we piled into one tiny cab and headed back to the hotel only to find the door locked. After a split second of panic we flashed our room keys to the dude at the desk and they let us in. He spoke English and asked if had a good time, where we were from, etc. He started half joking/half serious asking which one of us was the cop. It was funny at first but started to feel a little odd so we just said goodnight and headed up to the rooms.

Since I had not initially planned on staying the night we had to get in our beds with the invisible layer of....I don't know, just Mexico still on us. And to reinterate: our curiosities were not even close tonagging us THAT much so no we didn't partake of anything in Boy's town besides some Corona's. Asssssss ifffff. Bleh.
*felt it was very important to make sure we are all clear on that point!!!

It was after 4 by the time we were in our room and we were up at 10 to start heading back to the US. As easy as it was to enter Mexico, it was rather convoluted to re-enter the us. We had trek up this weird curvy ascending pedestrian bridge that seemed rather pointless that eventually led to customs. During the final leg this Mexican dude comes up and he and the one dude had the best conversation ever:

"Give me a dollar"
"Give me a dollar"
"Give me a dollar"
"Give me a dollar"
"Give me a dollar"
"Give me a dollar"
"Give me a dollar"


I had never gone to customs so wasn't sure what to expect. I started to head towards the dude with no one in line but he yelled "You're with 4 that means you go in 3!!!". Uh.....what? I just kind of nodded and joined the group in the same line. After an easy passport swipe we were back in US. The post Mexico shower was by far the best ever.

It was an experience not soon to be forgotten. At points it felt like a vivid dream. I'm glad I went to experience it but am not anxious to go back.

It's definetly important to see something like that first hand to really appreciate the life you have. I'm not doing bad at all right now.

Again Mexico Pictures and the "Let it Be" music video are HERE.

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