The Trip to Matamoros

Tom and I had an adventure last week. A Mexicano, with flawless unaccented English, started a business that ferries three people at a time in his Nissan Kick to Brownsville, Texas for booster shots.

It was eight hours up and eight hours back with an overnight stay for recuperation and a little shopping. It was only Tom’s second trip back to the States in twelve years. Before the virus, I had four or five trips to Austin to meet with writers I know.

Our driver, Lino, is a resident of both Matamoros (the Mexican half of Brownsville, or I suppose los Mexicanos would state it the other way around) and of San Miguel. He had worked in the US, customizing sports cars for wealthy patrons and had lots of experience driving those cars to distant destinations around the US. Navigating the twisting roads through the Sierras, as we drove through the state of Tamaulipas, was, for him, a cinch.

The scenery was stunning. I grew up in Colorado and knew the Rockies and have seen the Alps, but these Sierras were a different mountain. There is no snow, sparse vegetation, and rounded shadowed surfaces which contrast with sharp rocky escarpments. The highlight was a slow-moving cloud avalanche.

Lino and his friend Reyna, who rode in the front seat, knew the geography, geology, and people of the area, pointing out lava fields where the plants differed, and making quick stops—in the middle of nowhere. “Nowhere” was the place to pick up a dozen of “the best taquitos in Mexico,” from the lone Señora sitting on her lawn chair, cooler before her, wrapping our lunch with calm and grace.

At another stop, Lino bought us fresh little donuts that were perfect. At another cooler on another empty stretch of highway, we bought some just-made Manchego and Oaxacan cheeses.

Reyna had loaded a thumb drive with ten hours of classic rock. For the entire trip, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Credence, and others—from the catalog of greats from our youth—kept the mood upbeat, even though butts got sore and backs a little tight.

The most interesting thing I found about Brownsville was the only English I heard was among the four of us. Brownsville used to be part of Mexico until the US swallowed it up. It’s between 90 and 95% Hispanic, yet so USA: it was strip malls and fast-food chains. However, when you crossed the border into Matamoros, there was color and more to see of interest than you could take in.

If any of you have watched Narcos: Mexico on Netflix, you’ll recognize Matamoros as the headquarters of the infamous Gulf Cartel. Two years ago, no drivers would have taken us through the then notorious Tamaulipas. Now, under the new president, security stations line the highway and the new headquarters of a Mexican army battalion is prominent, as are frequent checkpoints along the way. It felt safe and friendly. Tamaulipas is intent on regaining its sovereignty.

I’ve gone on a lot, I know. But it was an adventure.

As promised, here—to my regret—is the one photo I took of the entire trip from the car window.

The beginning of a cloud avalanche:

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