Border Crossings

Puerto Iguazú, Argentina
November 2011

The visa officials at the Brazilian consulate in Puerto Iguazú turn us away with instructions, forms to fill out, photos and bank statements to obtain. At best, our visas will take 24 hours to process. For this we were unprepared, despite the call to the Miami consulate before our departure. There’s a note taped to the desk in English, “It is not our fault if you did not plan your trip better.”

The one official who speaks English says it’s harder for Brazilians to enter the U.S. For one, the U.S. requires fingerprints. I’d sympathize, but what transpires from this point on sets off a three-hour odyssey through torrential rain — photos in one place, a frantic hunt for a cyber cafe with functional printers that’s actually open (signs saying open at 8:30 a.m. mean nothing here). The only one that’s open has a faulty internet connection that keeps knocking us offline just as we are submitting the forms. Karimé felt the urge to stab someone until calmed by a beer at 10:15.

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Colonia del Sacremento, Uruguay
November 2011

Colonia del Sacremento is where wealthy Argentines go for the weekend. An hour by ferry across the River Plate, it is a little coastal city of cobblestone streets, fishing boats, yachts, ancient city walls, and a lighthouse built against the ruins of a Spanish convent. In daytime, the city has some tourist-trap qualities, as many people come for the day and leave on the last ferry. There are lots of lunch places catering to day-trippers with poor food and indifferent service, t-shirt shops and bars advertising “happy hour” specials, and tour buses parked along the back streets.

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El Ombú
San Antonio de Areco, Argentina
November 2011

Some schedules are worth keeping: bus schedules to outlying places, for example. But hangovers play havoc with punctuality. Karimé and I are moving slowly.

The Retiro bus terminal is several blocks behind the sprawling train station, which doesn’t seem to have many trains. We’ve made bad time, past the helter-skelter sidewalk vendors stretched out along the smoggy avenue, then up the escalator and into the soulless curving tunnels through which you enter the terminal. We have to search for the ticket office we need, then there is a line. Everything is taking longer than it should.

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Why the Maya?

Three decades, three trips along the Ruta Maya. México’s Yucatán; Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize; Chiapas and back to Yucatán. I suppose I should explain.

I owe my interest to my teacher, William Evans. Dr. Evans was a poet, a novelist, and a farmer. In the summer of my junior year of college, he was my creative writing professor. He didn’t hold class per se. Students visited his office once a week to drop off short stories and hear what he thought of what they had written the previous week.

Dr. Evans was critical and encouraging, generous with his time. He always told me to write something every day, to write for at least one hour. Every day I don’t write something I feel I’ve let him down.

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México Coda: Safety

November 2016

People in the U.S. believe México isn’t safe. They hear tales of drug gangs gunning people down in the streets, kidnapping people for ransom, and having shoot-outs with the police and military.

Such concerns made me wary of returning to México for a long time. When you talk to people in México, you learn that the truly dangerous places are well known: the areas in the north of the country leading to the U.S. border, and the Veracruz region along the Gulf of México. Everyone here will tell you that.

I felt safe traveling in Chiapas and Yucatán. People were friendly and tolerant of my rusty Spanish. Even driving around, I felt secure, if not sure of where I was going.

Highlights: Chiapas and Yucatán, México

November 2016

Mérida’s little airport could use some signs. How I could end up with three other people in the wrong part of the A gates is beyond me. In my defense, it was five in the morning.

Terminal 2 in México City is a much better organized departure point than the chaos of Terminal 1 in which I had arrived eleven days before. I had only one hour to make my connection today. I made it with fifty-five minutes to spare.

It’s been twenty years since I last was in México. Much has changed. The airport is more modern, in places. The country is more modern, too. There seems to be a more stable middle class, although there’s still much poverty. Services are better than I recall.

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