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Danger on the Road to San Miguel de Allende

by Pat Hall

In 1999 for our second trip to San Miguel, Merv and I decided to drive. Our friends and family had nervous fits. They could not understand going, let alone driving, to wild, dangerous Mexico, home of banditos, drug cartels and highway robberies.

But we persevered and soon the travel day came. With the assistance of the Alberta Travel Association, we had our travel route plotted out and were armed with lots of maps. They recommended crossing the border at El Paso / Ciudad Juárez, and, not knowing any better, we accepted their advice.

Full of enthusiasm and optimism, after a few days we arrived in El Paso. Our plan was to cross into Mexico, follow our maps to a safe hotel (think Best Western) on the outskirts of Chihuahua City and pass the night.

We were unlucky enough to arrive at the border at the moment when Mexican customs was changing over from typewriters to computers. The lines of people crossing the border were barely moving.

After three or four hours in the line-up, we despaired of reaching Chihuahua City before dark. We had certainly been warned by everyone not to drive after dark in Mexico.

By this point most of the people in the line were our good friends. We learned from some fellow Canadians of a hotel outside of a small town, Villa Ahumada, just 10 miles south of the border. They said that it looked OK.

At dusk we were finally through with customs and off to Villa Ahumada. In the dark, just as we entered the town, a male figure dressed in a black uniform jumped out into the road in front of us, holding up his hand and waving us down with a white flag. He was very insistent, pointing to a parking space just in front of us. We were petrified.

Merv was driving and he said, in a low, tense voice, "I'm not stopping." We crept along the street without stopping. We seemed to have made it away from the uniformed man. He didn't attempt to follow us. Whew!

Just as we were counting our blessings, another man wearing the same black uniform, jumped out in front of us. Our hearts sank. The first officer must have radioed ahead and warned this one. Oh, no! Just as before, this one was waving a white flag to a parking space on the street, with his hand up to stop us. Again Merv drove right past him and we held our breath in fear.

We made it away again, only to have another officer dressed in the same black uniform with the white flag do the same thing to us again. We were shaking.

As we drove through that small town, just as we escaped one officer, another would appear and imperiously flag us down. We drove on steadily.

After some terrible moments going through that little town, we spied the motel and drove in, fully expecting that the police would follow us into the motel parking lot. We cautiously got out of our car and went into the motel. We arranged for a room and went back out into the parking lot for our luggage, sure that we would be surrounded by federal forces. Nobody was there but us. We went to bed that night without supper. There was no way we were going back into town to eat.

The next morning we drove away from the town, looking behind us, but not seeing anything threatening. Stopping for gas after a few hours, I went into the small store to buy some bottled water. Going to pay, I fumbled with the unfamiliar coins. The clerk counted out what I gave him and gave me back half. He was kind of a bandito in reverse.

After being scared to death that first day, the rest of the trip to San Miguel was a breeze, arriving just in time for comida.

***

The next year we followed the same route, breezed through the computerized Mexican customs, and passed through Villa Ahumada around noon in the broad daylight.

As soon as we started down the main street, a black-uniformed man jumped out into the street in front of us. He put his hand up to stop us, waving us over to the curb with a white flag. All through the town, similar men jumped out in front of us. By the time we left the town, we were laughing hysterically.

This time we could clearly see that they were waiters, dressed in black uniforms, waving large, white serviettes. That was their way of inviting us into their restaurants.

Having survived the “dangers of Mexico,” experiencing problems with the police or perhaps fake police dressed as waiters, and a bandito in reverse, we've never looked backwards and we've never ever paid any attention to the media and their negative influence on public opinion concerning Mexico.

**************


Pat Hall is a retired Canadian who has been visiting San Miguel for the past 21 years. Many years ago Pat worked at the University of the Américas in Cholula, Puebla for three years where she also studied Spanish. In Canada she worked as a language teacher (French, Spanish, German, Latin, and English as a Second Language). The last 10 years of her working life were spent as a translator, translating official documents from Spanish to English and from English to Spanish. She is currently writing a book about her adventures traveling and pursuing her passion for languages.

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