Travel: Catching the bus in Mexico

Let’s be clear, THIS IS NOT A BACKPACKING BLOG.

If you, discerning reader, are like me (I hope you’re not), you would assume people couldn’t give two rooty-tooty farts about you pottering about the globe attempting to bond with the locals and not washing one’s hair. Or maybe you do care, but I am cursed by an enduring commitment to not looking like a wanker – a neurosis that inevitably makes me a total and utter wanker – and so while certain experiences on this trip have compelled me, I cannot, CANNOT, write a backpacker blog.

I’ll try not to be a total wanker about the whole ‘travelling’ thing, and leave out the boring in-betweens. Fuck, i’ve written a blog about buses, haven’t I…

Also, I’ve done my nails at least twice since I’ve been away and have packed four lipsticks, in mood-reflecting shades and I DON’T EVEN CARE.

To sum up, my boyfriend and I have sacked it all in to backpack (YAH) around Central and South America for the next year or so. We’ve been away for 28 DAYS and haven’t split up yet, despite spending 24 hours in each other’s company FOR 28 DAYS and me threatening to tear the pages out of his book one particularly fraught evening. I didn’t because I remembered in time that it was my book on lend. After a quick howdy-do to New York, some family-time in the South, and a week in Austin over ACL weekend, we’re now in Mexico.

Mexico seems to scare the cojones off most people.

Well-intentioned family and friends spent the first few weeks before we crossed the border sending ‘be careful’ messages, with barely-concealed warnings mainly extricated from ‘Ross Kemp’s Extreme World’; “You will get hijacked if you catch the bus” and “You will be raped if you get in a taxi”. Not to mention those pesky drug cartels, who, while I wouldn’t mess with them if they were running away from me on fire, are possibly a little busy being elbow-deep in the drug trade to be messing about with two pale Brits in bum-bags and flip-flops. NB: I can’t actually bring myself to use a bum-bag, even though I packed two.

The drug war is not isolated to certain places in Mexico, though there are areas that are not safe to travel, like Ciudad Juarez on the US border, and Acapulco in the south. Cartel murders and drug-related violence are a problem all over the country. But I am in no position to give commentary on the impact the conflict is having on the lives of innocent Mexicans. I can simply speak as a newly-inaugurated traveller here.

Naturally, some of the cautionary ‘advice’ hit a nerve, because I refused to catch a bus from San Antonio across the US border on a road with a recent increase in hijackings, and booked a flight instead. Probably for the best. Just before setting off on a bus from Mazatlan on the Pacific coast, to Guadalajara, we were warned by a family member of narco-blockades on the highway we were heading on. Advice had been given on the US Embassy website some months earlier not to travel, but given that we are English, we decided the cartels wouldn’t be remotely interested in us or our travel plans and cracked on.

Our first stop in Mexico was Monterrey in the northern state of Nuevo León. Google ‘Monterrey’ and the first news hit is ‘Monterrey police find 49 bodies’; 43 men and 6 women decapitated, mutilated and dumped by a roadside. Or, perhaps, don’t. My advice having given myself the willies over Mexico: don’t let media stories influence your travel plans. Do your research, check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office‘s travel pages for official warnings (from UK government), and if you can, find out from people who have travelled recently or who live there. I’m no expert, but violent crime can affect tourists in any country. Just look at that poor Malaysian kid who was hospitalised after visiting London during the 2011 riots. That London that sees millions of foreign visitors every year. Those murdered in Monterrey were not tourists.

Actual sunset in Mazatlan. Actual wankers!

Having bussed yesterday from my favourite pit-stop yet, Guadalajara, we are now in Mexico City, staying with the family of a friend, having cul-de-sac conversations through two phrase books and a Spanish-English dictionary, being fed copiously, and making plans for Dia de los Muertos. Mexico is SMASHING and every bit as great as the Mexico I hoped it would be before I left.

Everyone who has sent warnings about travelling on buses has done it because they care about us, but it did almost scare me out of travelling on them. Now, the buses are my fourth favourite thing about Mexico, behind the food, the people (who can’t help you enough in getting places and finding things, but I think that might be everyone else but Brits?), and the tiling (I don’t think i’ve ever been so excited by tiles). Huge seats, air-con, super clean gender-separated toilets and free refrescos on non-expensive first-class services; believe, you can learn to love taking the bus in Mexico. Fuck the banditos.

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