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How did you end up here?
And why don't you just leave
Yea, how did I get here?
QUICK VERSION: I got broadsided and flipped my van and totaled everything but I walked away. I got dropped off in this nothing town and was on foot and in shock. There are more dogs here than people and they are all strays. And there’s no vet or care for them. And since I was stuck and they were in need, I figured it was a sign. So I started pulling ticks and giving water bowls and food and brushing. Pulling sand spurs from paws, using what was left in my suitcase of antibiotics and eye drops to clean up some infected faces. Walking miles on a deserted beach near the house I would step over dead dogs find starving dogs and walk with a group of 6 that turned into 20 by the end of the shore. What IS this place?
I left the US in 2021 at some point because I sold my farm in 2019. It’s more than that but for sure I wanted a grand change. I had driven cross country twice. Rented 2 apartments, in two cities, twice. Hated everything, was tired of renting crappy apartments in crappy towns. I had been on a 7 acre homestead for 14 years waiting for the Apocalypse, which never came, so I sold the farm and lightened my workload. I’ll downsize, it’ll be easy! Sure I was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars but I had waited long enough for the 2008 “collapse” to right itself. I feared I’d go down with the ship. Everyone who wants that homestead chicken organic barefoot life doesn’t have any money to buy your overly renovated gentlelady farm…and people who do have that kind of money know better.
In the midst of lightening my load, I realized prices were sky high, renting was for 25 year olds, big corporations were buying up all the foreclosures days before they even went on the market. I started prepping for van life. Let’s have an adventure. Everything stopped right after I launched. You’ve got to be kidding. I’ve been canning and farming and chickening and hoarding water for over a decade and NOW the world shuts down? But not all states were the same. Small town rural? Never happened. Big city liberals? Hazmat suits and everything is closed. My guess was that office job people who could work from home and order everything to be delivered could make a bigger drama out of the “pan demic” and poor working class folks had to go to work and earn a living so there was no worry there. Hilarious. Having an unknown future of solo lockdown as a freelancer vagabond when most states were closing grocery stores and more, I decided I’d rather live in my van and be free. Red state blue state people went nuts. Toilet paper hoarding, panic, all the protests that people forgot why they were protesting, I couldn’t take the ridiculousness. I just kept driving South. Let’s see what happens.
I drove all over interior Mexico from Veracruz to Oaxaca and then west up the coast through Sinaloa and north headed for…I didn’t know. I stayed in a river town in Veracruz that was perfect until the mosquitos and malaria risk make Rona look like a picnic. Oaxaca in the mountains was cooler and beautiful but the government who likes to keep most of the indigenous ignorant was doing a good job at scaring people. Surely I was typhoid Mary. People who were afraid to walk across the street and here I was thousands of mile from where I came from. But it sucked everywhere, at least I was learning stuff and eating good food.
My minivan was getting great mileage and my experiences were mostly fun, delicious and easy. The weather was mild everywhere I went. I enjoyed squash blossom fritters in Tepotzlan, orange blossom gelato in Morelia, Tlayudas in Oaxaca, fresh raw milk cheese and great roadside seafood in Veracruz which felt like 80s Miami. A few bouts of road belly aka cultural change parasites. My biome meets Mexico’s biome had me camping in the toilet for a few days here and there. Also a little altitude sickness in Puebla but it was a beautiful drive. High end hotels were dirt cheap because there were only a handful of people traveling. Admittedly, I was getting road weary and that happens. I needed a couple weeks in the same place to rest. Do proper laundry. Buy some sneakers. Get an oil change. My brakes gave out on the hills from Mexico City to Morelos and I had already had those worked on.
In other states I’d had a few lousy Airbnb experiences and a few towns that I thought would be awesome that were not for me (I’m talking to you Lake Chapala and Mazatlan) so I decided it was all hotels from here on out. It’s so much easier. The novelty of finding that most civilians don’t know anything about hospitality and proper bedding, door locks, chairs, lighting or cleaning, had turned me off to the Airbnb experience. One apartment had water ankle deep on the floor and no one knew, one had all the furniture stolen, one place didn’t exist. I’m done. Give me a midrise 3 star hotel with a doorman, proper bedding, room service and a parking garage and I’m in heaven. A city park across the street for dog walks and I’ll stay forever. One place in Boca del Rio, Veracruz had us twice for two weeks at a time. Expensive for Mexico but monthly all inclusive luxe hotel with a view of the Gulf of Mexico for $900/month is hard to leave. I kept thinking though that I need to see MORE.
I had to do a border run and get my papers stamped and figured I’d turn around in Tucson. It was either go to Guatemala from Oaxaca or back north to Arizona. I didn’t have the energy for Guatemala and a whole other country’s covid rules. Mexico was mostly open and doing what they wanted. They’d spray you with some crap when you entered and make you cover your face, but you could do stuff and no one hassled me outdoors. Mostly that’s all I wanted. To be left alone. The idea of going to AZ is appealing sort of but it’s old cranks who don’t live in Florida because of humidity so they go to AZ. A perpetual HOA mentality. I was bored.
The drive north from Oaxaca Mexico is days and days. The highways are not what they appear to be on the maps. There are mountains in there to cross. Lots of roadblocks. Some friendly, some not. There’s roads that cease to exist. Google is often wrong and you’ll just be in some farmer’s back yard at some point. Looking back, I was lucky. Lucky I didn’t get jacked, lucky I didn’t run out of gas. Finally I was in Sonora. I stayed a couple nights in San Carlos, Guaymas. An other worldly desert landscape and rock formation on the Sea of Cortez that was beautiful if not core of the earth hot. It was end of July. I left from there to continue to some small town midway on route to Nogales. My older dog Brady, is 13, and she is VERY road weary. We’ve been doing this a lot of years and these 12 hour days are brutal. I had another rescue dog a smooth coated pointer/border collie I had found getting attacked by a pack of males at a river, I grabbed her and ran…after a few days of rest I had her spayed and she came with us everywhere. She was very fond of old lady Brady and vice versa. It’s easier to travel with dogs in Mexico than it was even just a couple years ago. Like most things in Mexico, there’s always a way. If you pay. There’s a way. They do not care for dogs the way we do North of the Border. But if you pay an $80 pet fee on a $30 hotel room you are welcomed
We left at 9am on a sunny Sunday. We saw one truck after driving 3 hours. Some highway that was going to take me up to the Sea of Cortez was a horrible affair of potholes and nothingness. I couldn’t go faster than 20mph. Glad I got those new tires.
A couple of cows and Saguaro cactus, I saw a gas station but it was closed. I stopped at a stop sign and went forward and everything went into slow motion. A jolting grind of crunching metal and glass. A flip, a spin and finally stopping in a creaking pile. I had been broadsided by an old lady in a Honda who either didn’t have brakes or didn’t think to use them. She was going pretty fast I’d assume because my Toyota minivan flipped and spun out into the roadway. I was hanging upside down in the middle of literal nowhere in 100 degree heat. All I could think was that I didn’t hear anything from the back seat. Silence.
I could smell gas and hear pieces of glass falling. I had plastic crates with belongings and tools that I had bungee corded in the back so it wouldn’t fall over, but the crash proved that to be insufficient. River had been laying on top of a huge basket with blankets and Brady who was 12 was laying behind my seat on the ground as I had taken all the mid row seats out. I called for the dogs. Nothing. I called for anyone. Help! Ayudame!
My seatbelt was cutting me but likely saved me from going through the windshield. I don’t know, I’ve never been in a car crash. I was hit on the driver’s side so maybe not. A face appeared in the window with a chile pepper printed mask on. “Dame to mano”, he said. I felt embarrassed, which felt odd. I collapsed my diaphragm to push the seat belt button and in one motion he whisked me out of a broken window as I fell to the ceiling. I’m not sure which window, thinking back. All of a sudden there were people everywhere. The lady who hit me walked out with her whole family and said, “Didn’t you see me?” she asked in Spanish. Didn’t you see ME? I thought. I ignored her and started yelling for the dogs. A bunch of strangers said, lady there’s no dog. And I said, yes! There’s 2! And one guy broke a window to get inside and pull everything out. Broken lamps, clothes, duffel bags, art, tools, all my bougie food and fancy salts and olive oils and a bushel of granola that was everywhere…I had downsized a whole house into this van and had downsized more in each city of my trip giving away things and having mini sales in Texas hotel rooms, Florida parking lots, giving camping gear to homeless people at the border. Take it. Take it all.
Oh wow, you have such cool stuff! Folks would say. A lifetime of collecting, antiquing, family in the estate sale business, cool gear from restaurants I had owned, farm stuff. Most stayed with the house I sold. Things I thought I’d need on the road I kept and a lot of stuff that was just in the way like Persian rugs and an antique reverse painted lamp from my great grandma dated 1898. A Dyson cordless. A juicer. Some large canvas paintings. It didn’t make sense to get a storage unit as I didn’t know where I’d end up. It’s some high level editing when you change your life. Now all of it was scattered on the highway. The van now empty and no dogs in sight. All the Mexican men (workers from local farms) looked at me like, oh, no. She’s in shock. Or crazy. Or drunk. Everyone just stood there staring at me. There’s no dogs. That’s when I lost it, and assumed I was dead too. Can you see me? I asked a cab driver who stopped.
That guy was so helpful, he asked if I had money in the van and to gather anything important and put it in his trunk before people started going through the vehicle. Yes, money stuffed in all kinds of hidey holes in case in case in case. If you get robbed you only lose one pile. I got my phone, passport, someone asked for insurance papers to call the company and did I have anyone who could come get me? The police were on the way. All such a blur. I did not know anyone in town. Where are the dogs. I’ve never been in Sonora. The dogs! I don’t care about the stuff. The dogs!! Brady! River! Some people started walking around calling out Blaydeee! Reeeverrr!
An ambulance came. The lady who hit me was complaining of broken ribs, she did not have insurance as is the norm, I’m told. “Lucky her, to wreck with the gringa…” said the cab driver. I didn’t see any blood on me so I waived the ambulance check over. I had insurance of course in Mexico and the US. As you do. I’m prepared for everything. Road flares, canned fish, back up water, first aid, tools, fix a flat in a can——BUT I hadn’t prepared for this. When you sell your house and go on an RV style adventure and the rig is totalled, what then?
The police came and were wholly incompetent and unhelpful. Of course. The Mexican police don’t even investigate murders when there’s a literal head mounted on a flagpole, they could give two shits about a car wreck on a Sunday with a middle aged white lady. They said it was my fault because I pulled out in front of the lady. But wait…she hit me? There was a stop sign. Yes, I stopped. Yea but she didn’t have a sign. It’s down on that side. It’s just the way it is. Plus she has no insurance, nothing gets paid for by her. I didn’t even care. I had the cab driver call the Airbnb host where I was headed in some midway town. He said he would be there to pick me up in an hour. That seemed really nice for someone I didn’t know.
I was so distraught over the dogs I gave the Dyson vac and an air compressor to the cab driver and $50. I considered just walking away until I dried out and died in the Sonoran sun. You need to put a hat on lady, get in the shade, this sun is strong. I’ll be honest and say that this whole trip felt like a last tour of the world. I wasn’t feeling hopeful. Menopause, depression, family deaths, real estate fails, rudderless career destiny. Apathy. The world going nuts over a coronavirus. The only thing that seemed relatively soothing was feeding the starving street dogs everywhere I went in Mexico. Nothing mattered. Do you want to call your husband, lady?
I don’t have a husband. I don’t have parents. Siblings who are still living I haven’t a clue. No family whatsoever. Certainly no one in Mexico except for friends I’d made on the way who were now thousands of kilometers away. My friends are in Florida or Georgia. That’s a big ask. Hey, are you busy? Can you drive 3000 miles to the Mexican desert and pick me up?
You’re alone? Driving? Just you? No Kids?
I’m alone. No address even. Just me. All I had were the dogs and that van...
The stranger who picked me up drove me to this town. He was tall and lanky with a vest and a long sleeved shirt and amber aviator glasses and a Panama hat. Handsome and native looking in his mid 30s. Ridiculously casual when he picked me up…Hey are you hungry?
I stayed in a hotel that first night in Hermosillo. By some miracle someone called me from a tag on one of the dogs who had run to a town miles away from the crash site. How? The fat one was cut up but both were just stressed but okay. The stranger picked me up and we got the dogs. Then he drove me here. Puerto Libertad, the Port of Freedom. The name seemed like a good omen. Oddly however, there was nothing here. Houses built of pallet wood, lean tos, a few roads that led to the Sea of Cortez . It’s weird as an American to even see any ocean front property that hasn’t been developed, fenced, marked as private and closed off.
“I can’t stay long, it’s a long drive back to the city” said the stranger, “it’s getting dark. It’s 3 hours. That road is treacherous so here are the keys and everything is good. Call if you have any questions” and off he went. Adios.
I had tons of questions, mostly, where are the stores, restaurants, why are there 25 dogs on the front porch? Are they yours?
Nah, he said. They are all just strays. They have a problem with stray dogs here, no one takes care of them.
I’ve been all over Mexico and the street dog thing has been a deal breaker for 20 years of my travel, to be honest. But this is the worst I’ve seen. There are hardly even people here. And there are thousands of dogs. 3 legged, tick covered, missing eyeball, starving dogs. All standing on the porch of this house like they had been waiting for me all their lives. And likely they had.