The desert expands off into the horizon and the sun is a heavy presence. In the distance an enormous train cargo train eases along the landscape. There has been next to no traffic… only two cars have passed in the last hour. We´re just two lonesome, pale, bearded foreigners lost in the desert. These are the moments when doubt creeps in. Someone will pick us up, someone always picks you up, but cold hungry nights in the middle of nowhere are starting to wear thin especially now the girls have left us. I gesticulate frantically as the pick-up truck speeds passed us and Benji starts berating the driver for leaving two young men to toast in the desert. Which he must have heard, because he stops in the distance and reverses all the way back up to us. This moment, of excitement and elation after a long desperate wait, is a characteristic of this part of the trip and one of its highlights. We spent a lot of long, hot, dry afternoons to get to the most northern part of mexico but we lived to tell the tale.
That same day we spent another five hours in the desert of San Luis Potosi until a guy stops at sunset to apologise for not taking us and offers us some marijuana. As we politely decline and chat to him about our trip he decides we´re harmless enough and takes us away. The next morning we had one of those revitalizing road moments that gave us energy for the whole day; a truck driver we just met bought us a breakfast of delicious gorditas (bean savoury crepes sold on the street in this state). When we finally arrived in Durango, I was browsing a magazine in a coffee shop when I found an article that cited the route we had just done as one of the most dangerous in the whole country; famous for its hi-jacking and armed robberies. So THAT´S why people looked so afraid of us. We stayed only a night, but we got a private tour in the back of a pick up courtesy of our host Pedro who also gave us a valuable perspective on his identity as a Chicano – an American born Mexican.
To get back to the coast, to a town called Mazatlan, we had to cross “the Devils Spine”. It wasn´t far but the condition of the winding mountainous roads meant that it took several hours to cross. We were becoming accustomed to the fear on motorists faces, but our first lift of the day was totally fearless. He used to be the hired muscle for one of the largest cartels in the area. He very honestly and candidly told us about what his job entailed and when he was expecting his second child he became part of a Cuban pagan church and decided to leave, which was a very long, dangerous and difficult process. He also reassured us that the narcos would have absolutely no interest in us as tourists. After another dull and extensive wait we were putting on our warm clothes for the nigh we were saved at the very last minute by a really loveable trashy family in a pick up. We had been told that the Devils Spine was long, cold and dangerous but no one had mentioned just how stunning it is. From the back of the truck, with a 360 degree panoramic view and the wind on our faces we weaved around the enormous monoliths, cliff faces on our one side and steep drops on the other as the sky went through a cacophony of colours. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
We awoke the same night in Mazatlan, dazed at the change of scenery; the lights, buildings and city grime. We walked for hours to find an internet café only to end up sleeping on the beach. Another of those testing walks where I reached my point of exhaustion and surpassed it. In the morning we spoke to a street rat, market vendors and strangers who stopped us on the street – the people of Mazatlan are incredibly warm and welcoming. We were joined by Yazmin, a friend who teaches architecture in Puebla who had taken a sabbatical to come with us to California. We were looking forward to flowing lifts again. We went on to walk all over the city with our back packs until we collapsed at the fire station.
On the way out of the city we got one of the best rides of the trip, with two teenage truck drivers. Despite being so young the pair had done a lot of living in their time. One of them was on the run because three days earlier he had knifed a gangster in his neighbourhood who was threatening his family. He couldn´t go back because both the gang and the police were looking for him and he was having to adjust to the idea of spending the next few years away from his family, friends and girlfriend. He talked to us about the loneliness he was facing and it was difficult not to be moved by this personal tragedy. He is a really intelligent and connected kid whose life had been destroyed by being born in the wrong place.
That night we camped near to the truck and got caught out by a down pour (in dry season?) that sent us running to the petrol station until the boys started driving again at 4am. In Hermosillo we experienced something truly magical we never had before; we were walking towards the centre when a car pulled over and a young guy shout s to us in Spanish; “Where are you off to chumps?”. Daniel is a young architect and a traveller, and without thinking twice he offered us lift, invited us to his family home for lunch and then to stay the night. His family didn´t bat an eyelid at the fact he had just picked us up off the street, were extremely welcoming and made great conversation. We left stunned and slightly incredulous at the level of hospitality in the north.
The following morning Daniel took us out to a toll booth on the motor way. In a dose of cosmic karma one driver dumps us 5km from a military check point because he is too scared to take us through it and I do my knee in walking on the side of the motorway. Then a couple of truckies pick us up who were pretty pumped on something, to the point where when we go through a police check point, one of them asks a fed if he wants to be his boyfriend. By the side of the check point we are once again putting on our warm clothes at sunset and looking at where to camp when Marcos stops. And he´s going all the way to Tijuana.
When truckies stop for you, it´s really a big gesture because they are inviting you into their home for an indeterminate amount of time. We spent 24 hours with Marcos and as we passed the giant sand dunes of Sonora, which become unique beaches when they meet the sea, he stopped to let us get out and take pictures.
Unfortunately he drops us off on the very outskirts of Tijuana at night in a bit of a weird neighbourhood. We end up squatting an abandoned house, which was exciting and terrifying at the same time; we had no front door, next doors dog didn´t stop barking at us and the moment we turned off the light some local kids threw a home made fire cracker threw the window at us. We tried speaking to them but they ran off… probably not believing that we just wanted to talk.
When we finally got to TJ our friend Rosel let us stay in her dads charcoal and egg storage warehouse for a few days. We managed to recycle a load of food on the first afternoon so we spent the next couple of days hiding out watching crap TV on our egg carton sofa. It was a well needed rest before crossing the border in the states.