As I sat looking at the blockade in front of my car, I should have realized that things were not going to go smoothly on my venture into Mexico.
I crossed into our southern neighbor's jurisdiction in the dark of very early morning. After wishing that the gigantic Mexican flag flying over the border was lighted so I could photograph it, I proceeded towards a series of gates - some sporting green lights - apparently to let you know you should enter "here". Seeing an option open I drove into the stall to the right of a light and realized - as I sat looking at a big yellow and black barricade, that the light must have indicated "enter the spot to the left". Dang.
Well, I didn't relearn to drive in Sicily for nothing. After a moment of panic, I prayed no officials were watching (although there were tons of cameras trained on my car), backed up and drove through the stall to the left of the light. Here, I was forced to stop while the car and I were photographed, then we were moved along to the next series of options - where once again I managed drive into a shoot that was blocked. Dang, dang!
This time, as I sat pondering my predicament, a young soldier walked to the car and asked if I spoke Spanish. Assuring him I didn't, he inquired where I was going. "I'm trying to get into Mexico" probably wasn't the best choice of answers, but he was patient and asked for more specifics and for the purpose of my trip. He then led me through a convoluted maze and left me parked, watching a group of border officers tearing apart a van. Their possessions were all over the pavement. I REALLY picked the wrong gate, I thought.
After conferring with some of his pals and realizing, I guess, that I was starting this journey off with some directional challenges, he returned to the car and pointed to another man saying "follow him". This man led me out of the inspection area and pointed to a sign that read MODULO CIITEV. "Follow these signs," he said, and I drove off, thinking the worst was behind me.
I'd been warned that this part of the trip was through a business area of Nuevo Laredo, but what I hadn't been prepared for were the soldiers armed with automatic weapons that lined these streets as I crawled along. I found myself in the right lane when suddenly there was a sign on the left informing me that I needed to flip a U-turn to go where I wanted to go. "Oh, shit......" I thought, as I passed it and found myself on a divided highway with no legal place to turn around for miles.
Cursing pretty enthusiastically at this point, and expecting those armed guards to pull me over, point out I was in their country with an illegal car and haul me to the pokey, I found a place to make what was undoubtably an illegal U-turn and headed back the way I had come.
The next guard wasn't ready for me at all. Seemed I was headed with tons of other people across the bridge into the US. I explained to this man, who didn't speak English, that I was supposed to go get my car registered for Mexico and I could not possibly go back to the US. Dumbfounded, he called over 3 or 4 other gate keepers until he found one that could speak English. I again explained the problem and they huddled, discussing this problem.
Undoubtedly, the consensus was that if they left me to cross into the US and try entering Mexico anew, they would be confronted with me again in 30 minutes with the same issues anyway, so better to find a solution and let me become someone else's issue.
"Follow him," I was told again, and with lines of cars behind me I was informed I needed to back up. Since I couldn't see out my back window, I prayed I wouldn't run over the guy - compounding my border problems. He walked across 6 lanes of traffic and instructed me to drive INTO this line of cars, then turn and cross all the lanes as he moved aside ANOTHER barricade and motioned me to pass down a hill and under a bridge. It occurred to me this was probably in a guide book as a way to get mugged in Mexico (or any place for that matter), but I was out of options.
Once into a dark area, he came up to the car and told me to follow yet another man. "Tip him well," he said. "This has saved you about 5 miles of driving and going through these checkpoints again." What was I to lose? I was in the middle of nowhere. I followed the new man, my wallet at the ready.
This man walked me down a road and pointed to entrances into a parking lot beyond. "Go. One, two, three. Drive."
The second entrance did the trick and deposited me into a fairly unlit lot. Nowhere did the building show the name of where I was supposed to meet my driver, Luis, and though I walked Arayo in the darkness in hopes Luis would see me and come to my rescue - the only man to approach seemed to be up to no good.
Then, from the street, up walked a man who greeted me and acted like he could be my guy! Hoping I had the right person and wasn't turning my life over to a drug lord, I followed him into the building, we began the registration process and were soon headed away from the border and into the heart of Mexico.