SMr Road Trip Mississippi to Nicaragua
Day 3 - October 5th - Victoria, TX to Brownsville, TX
That pretty much sums up the mood of our trip from Mississippi to Managua, in a 1982 VW named Shaky Shakira thus far. I originally saw Shaky Shakira as a pleasant old woman, but now view her as a chain smoking B%^ch! We are constantly shadowed by a trail of black diesel smoke, which gets all over the gear in the trailer and is beginning to stain all of my clothes. I fear I will look like an orphaned hood rat when I finally arrive in Nicaragua. Shakira is full of surprises and on the eve before we enter the "danger zone" ie. Northern Mexico, I am beginning to feel quite anxious.
Before the trip even began, Shaky was revamped, rebuilt (first and second pictures below). However, here is Eli on the side of the road (third picture below) using whatever resources he has to make a quick fix to the emergency brake that we believe caused us to run out of fuel.. again. We now have a feeling we'll continue to make alterations and quick fixes for the entire duration of the trip.
We arrived in Brownsville, Texas, a moderately sized border town on the southernmost tip of Texas. It was only about 4pm, but we had to stop because we wanted to get an early start at the border the next morning as we planned to heed the warnings to stay off the roads in Mexico at night.
We pulled into a cozy little Best Western with a "harmless" cricket infestation complete with signs advising us to pick them up and place them outside if they were jumping around in our room. The front desk attendant, Tule, was a curvy Mexican mother of four with kind eyes who was knitting pink booties for her expectant sister. She greeted us with a shy but beautiful smile, saw Shakira and the trailer through the security camera, and asked us about our trip.
"Están locos," she said "Why don't you fly?"
Definitely a valid question! We asked her for tips about crossing the border.
"You don't want to take anything with you that they would want," she recommended.
"They" referring to organized Mexican criminals.
"Take a look at that," Eli proudly pointed to shabby Shakira, "I don't think that will be a problem!"
Tule took another look and clicking her tongue on her teeth pointed to the motorcycle.
"I don't know," she said "They may want that."
Another good point! Eli cringed because Amanda and I had already grilled him about the liability of taking his nice motorcycle on the trip, which he had staunchly and firmly defended. Upon leaving the lobby to our room, Tule spoke privately with Eli in a sharp whisper and said
"Never leave her alone."
Referring to Amanda and not so subtly implying that the first two hundred miles into Mexico were not safe for a sola American female.
At 7pm the sun went down and smooth Mariachi rhythms came drifting into our hotel room from the neighborhood across the parking lot. The photojournalistic hairs on the back of Eli's neck rose as Amanda and I continued in our "border crossing hyper-planning" mode. He urged us to come, but Amanda rolled her eyes,
"Don't you think its a good idea to find a map and decide on our route for tomorrow?" she asked.
Digging in his heels Eli left the room, camera in hand, seeking to experience the Mexican-American culture of Brownsville. Amanda and I staked out in the room planning for our safety into Mexico. We printed and analyzed maps, read accounts from travelers who had used the route we planned to travel, and obtained road-side assistance and emergency phone numbers for the Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Laredo. We didn't find many first hand accounts of the route, but instead the same strong State Department warning repeatedly emblazoned on different sites all over the Internet. "Dangerous Travel Area. Do not travel alone or at night"
Eli came back to the hotel later in the night elated after experiencing a top-notch Mariachi experience North of the border. He was fed delicious food, took some great photos and even led one of their songs.
Eli has an acute taste for experiencing culture, and cool-natured ease that allows his subjects to feel comfortable around him. It is a fine art of a photographer. He has a phantom way of almost going completely unnoticed so he can swift in and out of a scene and capture the essence of a memorable moment.
There on the border, where the southern tip of Texas melts into Mexico, Eli captured the heart of a community and warmth of celebration. We didn't even have to go to the party, for his pictures took us there instead.
*Photos by Eli Baylis*