My first trip into Mexico by Katherine C. Kirkland

I was excited! I had been invited to go down to Mexico to visit my best friend Sarah’s family farm. I called my grown nephew Adam to see if he would be interested in taking an excursion to Mexico. The bait I dangled before him was the idea that Sarah had some cute eligible sisters. He, like myself, had never been to Mexico; so curiosity of what life there would be like, was a big motivating factor.

That evening, we left southern Utah, taking the freeway via the Las Vegas route. We got into Phoenix at about 3:30 AM. We hardly ever made it down to the Phoenix area, so this was a rare treat to get to pay my brother Joe a visit at his home. As Joe drove heavy earth-moving equipment for a living, he was already up and he greeted us. We ended up talking with him for about two hours. To my surprise, my brother had many erroneous assumptions concerning the way things are in Mexico. He strongly urged us not to go through with our plans to travel into Mexico, especially without any guides, and more especially without knowing the language. He then began to cite his real concerns: “Here in the U.S., Mexicans are planning to hold a nation-wide strike, by not showing up to their jobs, on the following Monday. Furthermore, they are going to hold large protest rallies in the larger Mexican cities and along the border towns, to show their anger at the U.S. government concerning immigration restrictions.” He reiterated: “Now is not the time to be visiting Mexico. In their current agitated state, the Mexicans won’t play nicely with U.S. citizens crossing into their country.” He went on to state that we would have no rights down there, and there would be next to nothing the U.S. Government could do if we were to be arrested, harmed or looted for any reason. He ended his rambling with, “…and don’t be calling me to come and rescue you, because there is no way in hell that I’m crossing over that border for anyone, and I don’t care who you are.”

Adam and I just smiled at each other, with that knowing look, ‘cause we knew that Joe was famous in our family circle for embellishing stories and loved to be the center of a group conversation. He also had a flare for dramatics; both in his stone-serious or devil vs. angel facial expressions and in his verbal expressions such as “I’m serious as hell,” and “I kid you not! It was just like I said. I mean…” He stated his sources as, “It’s all over the news!” — Despite Joe’s concerns and warnings, Adam and I let him know that we felt all would be okay.

In Mexico

We were literally riding along billions of gray, jagged 6-inch rocks. (It reminded me of riding on top of lava flow beds similar to the ones we have locally, in Ivins, Utah.) Driving southwest of the border town of Agua Prieta, in Sonora Mexico now for 2-1/2 hours, and having crossed paths with no one coming in the opposite direction, in this forsaken land, we were adventurously meandering snake-like, taking winding curve after winding curve. There were no road signs or paved roads on the path, and we had little idea of where we were going, except through using the directions that Sarah’s brother Jimmie had given us: “Whenever you come to a fork in the road, take the left one.” He had also told us that he could get to the ‘farm’ in 2-1/2 to 3 hours once he crossed the border.

Adam and I were having a fun time laughing and joking as we went along, despite the constant bumping and jerking of the vehicle. I told him in greater detail what I knew of Sarah’s sisters. We were now coming onto the second area called a ‘wash’ where scrubby trees provided some shade. “I wonder if we’re getting close to the farm. The trees remind me of the ones I have seen in pictures surrounding Sarah’s family farm.” We had been driving in this wash area for about five minutes, when in a completely secluded, dipping area of the road, a scene unfolded that was the last thing on earth I had expected to see….

About thirty feet off to the left of our vehicle, a jeep was parked under a tree. What happened next as my acuity zeroed in, caused my blood to run cold. I, in an instant, became penetratingly numb, and seemingly weightless. My mind had truly gone into hyper-drive and I found my thoughts racing with sheer terror. In another sense, my thoughts had jumped into the realm of ‘slow motion’.
As I witnessed young Latino men in khaki camouflage soldier’s uniforms, and all carrying rifles, jump up off of the jeep and swiftly surround our vehicle, I had mental thoughts of coming face-to-face with the possible reality that I could be moments from death. Because we had run into these men in the middle of absolute nowhere, I couldn’t help but view them as an extremist party, and what horrors they might bestow next were completely out of my control. It was the most humbling and stone-cold feeling I had ever experienced in my life. Not only had my ‘number’ been called, but I had gotten Adam into this as well…Horror gripped me. – [Images I couldn’t stay from my mind in that split moment were of Adam and me being dragged from the vehicle (without having any fluency in speaking Spanish) and being forced to kneel upon the ground with our hands behind our heads, as they searched us and our vehicle for loot, and then interrogating us briefly without success before placing the rifle behind our heads and shooting. I also couldn’t help but think of the fact that my husband hadn’t really wanted me to go in the first place. The summation of my life brazenly flashed through my mind. A profound sadness enveloped me as I felt so helpless, and drunk with the idea that it could possibly be unalterably over — turning instantly as it were on-a-dime, and Adam and me possibly being about to be sent into oblivion.]

“Heavenly Father, — please, please don’t let this be the end! PLEASE! Please help us get out of this predicament without harm!” I said this over and over in my mind with sheer rapidity and desperation, appealing to the One Source I felt could soften these soldier’s hearts and in their own language. I could feel my face was ashen-white as I witnessed Adam cautiously rolling down the window to speak to the soldiers. (Just how much fear gripped him simultaneously I could not tell, but I remember that his back had become instantly stiff and straight, and his senses lighted-up on supreme alert as he had halted the vehicle, and gripped the steering wheel. Miraculously he had managed to keep his demeanor and voice relatively calm.)

Some of the soldiers had instantly jumped into the back of our pickup and were combing through the contents, while the others had gathered around the doors on either side of us. Adam must have known a few of the words the soldier’s were in rapid-succession speaking to him, or perhaps he had guessed… “No speak Espanol.” A moment later he was saying the only thing that could come to his mind, “Donde es Bavispe?” The soldier’s tried to ask him more questions, to which Adam had to motion with his hands and vocally in broken Spanish, “No comprendo,” stating that he couldn’t understand, and then repeating what he had just inquired of them. “Donde es LaMorita? Bavispe?” I then followed his lead, piping in, “San Miguelito?” The soldiers looked at one another. Adam then pointed in either direction in front of, and behind us, inquiring the direction to these places. The soldiers eyed us and then one another. I felt a glimmer of hope when they began to point out the direction to these places, as they confirmed it with each other. Adam followed with, “We need to go back that way, (pointing in the direction we had just come from) to get to Bavispe?” They said, “Si.”, while pointing behind us.

I continued to pray hard; because I was unsure whether the soldiers were just pretending to be civil for a moment while they canvassed the truck to see what valuables we had, or if they were stalling to see if we were anyone important or official-looking before they decided fully what to do with us. After all, we were in an area where there were absolutely no witnesses, and no likely chance of anyone finding us or our vehicle for days or weeks, if these men were to prove fiendish. Furthermore, why were these soldiers out here in the middle of nowhere?
“Heavenly Father, PLEASE let them allow us to pass through in safety, PLEASE!” I prayed as hard as I could. After a moment longer, the soldiers seemed to be done looking through the contents of our vehicle. At this, the soldier closest to Adam motioned permission for Adam to carry on driving. I held my breath. (At this point, I think Adam signaled with his hands his desire to go up the road and turn around, but I don’t recall exactly.) He pulled forward cautiously, stating, “Gracias. — We go to San Miguelito.”

I continued to hold my breath, hoping and praying this permission to move on was for real. Adam, after he had turned the bend in the road and was now out of sight from the soldiers, let out a “Wheeewwww! That was close.” I nervously agreed, “Too close.” I then cautiously stated, “What do we do now?” Adam drove a short way further (about 500 feet), and then much to our surprise we found ourselves intersecting a 2-lane highway that was paved. Adam stopped at this point to look at the crude and drawn-completely-out-of-scale map Jimmie had given us, and also the topographical map of Sonora, Mexico, that I had checked out from the library before we had left southern Utah. After a moment he announced that, “I’m beginning to believe we have gone in a sort of U. We are going to have to go back the other way.” (Adam and I had guessed where we had made a wrong turn, and sure enough, we were right. We had taken the left fork as Jimmie had told us to do, but in reality we should have taken the right fork on this particular fork.) It wasn’t until a moving van driven by Latino men happened to turn off of the paved road at that time, heading back towards the direction we needed to go, that I allowed Adam to go past the soldiers again, tears streaming down my face.
My story doesn’t end here, but actually has another nail-biting, sanity-testing six hours of driving, before finally reaching my friend’s farm. We were fortunate not to lose the shocks on Adam’s truck, or more seriously, to run out of gas due to crossing the rockiest, snake-like, eternal rolling hills I had ever seen. It was like riding a nightmare rollercoaster that would never end; and we had a sense of over-shooting our mark by hours, yet we hadn’t. At one point, I became numb and light-headed again from the fear of running out of gas (or running into more soldiers) …so that for the first time in my life, I was experiencing what I imagined an actual nervous breakdown might feel like. I really wondered if I’d ever be the same again after this trip.
Adam and I had finally reached my friend’s family farm at sundown that evening, having driven nearly nine hours south past the Mexican border — six hours more than Jimmie had told us we would need to. Sarah’s family members explained to us that the soldiers we had come across were called “Federales” and that they were basically harmless young soldiers, set in place to search for drug traffickers.

As I look back on this experience now, I still breathe a huge sigh of relief and feel grateful that this experience hadn’t ended up being tragic after all. As a result of visiting Mexico, I also came away with a better understanding of just how poor the living quarters and houses and towns of the Mexicans are. Likewise, of how spoiled we Americans are, that we have such nice homes, paved roads, sprinkler systems and lawns, and every comfortable amenity and shopping experience we can think of. I now understand why the Mexicans are coming to our land of opportunity in droves, and illegally if they have to. I have since had a strong desire to learn Spanish, so I can communicate with Latin-Americans, here in my hometown in southern Utah. I find myself fascinated by their history and culture, their welcoming friendliness and sense of community, and their love for music and dancing.