Cordoba, Veracruz, Mexico
I'm on the spine of La Bestia. My enthusiasm is slightly tempered, however, as I am super nervous that I will need to bathroom. Thanks to Allah, so far I am OK. I'm trying to envision the scene if I have to ask Jose and Paco to hold me as I pee off the top...
It is hard to describe the exhilaration one feels riding on top of moving freight through the pictoresque mountains and valleys of Mexico. It's not a normal sensation that as a kid you desire, yet it is one of the most enthralling experiences. I recommend it. The biggest surprise about being on top, aside from constantly having to hold on, are the tree branches. The train passes at medium pace through what seems like endless tree farms. I guess that's nature for ya'. You have to keep a watchful eye ahead of you at all times otherwise you can loose an eye, or, even worse, be thrown from the train. It feels like an Atari game. Every few seconds someone yells, "Ramas" or "Aguas" and you must duck. By the way, "Aguas" means Waters. So, in Mexico when there is impending danger, you scream WATERS!!!
Check out these train videos. They don't doesnt paste as a link, so those of you that are computer challenged, get help immediately, it's 2011. Copy and paste each individual link into the task bar.
What's it like on top of the train, you wonder? Whatever happens on La Bestia, stays on top of La Bestia. You are in a constant battle with the elements, ie, heat, sun, wind, cold, rain, bees...you name it. There are people sprawled out everywhere, huddled very close together, some sleeping (how the hell can you sleep this thing???) others joking, some on guard keeping an eye out for bad people and some seem pensive. I'm smiley. Nevertheless, I am trying to exercise caution because the truth is...you never know with whom you are talking. Hondu who, to his word, seems harmless and docile even weak, may be working for organized crime. You must be very careful not to disclose too much information about yourself. It may come back to haunt you later.
I, of course, stand out like a seal in a sea of great whites. I am inadvertently attracting a lot of attention...not exactly my style. Not sure if it's my Yankee hat? or my Lucky Charms shirt (new pick up in Guatemala)? Or is it my big, goofy smile? my cameras? or my whiteness? Probably a little, or alot, of everything. Anyway, we are riding in the middle of the car, just because that's where we ended up. I chat up the folks in my immediate vicinity that seem trustworthy. They, along with Wilson and his boys, have the same worries that I do, yet they assure me that they will protect me if need be. One Salvadorean woman sitting next to me is traveling with her husband. She is pregnant. At the front of our car there is a young kid crying uncontrollably. He is two yeas old.
As La Bestia slowly trudges along and each hour passes, the crowd is becoming more and more interested in me. While it is great opportunity to film and photograph, the attention is somewhat unsettling. People are coming up to me, while the train is moving, mind you, to chat. This is where I meet a diamond in a rough. His name is Richard Nixon Gomez. Yes, that is his name. Nix, as I like to call him, is a charismatic character born with the gift of gab. I have been interviewing him for over an hour, while we are standing upright on the train and dodging tree branches. Nix is so excited to be talking with me as am I excited to talk with him. I feel safe with Nix.
At one point La Bestia comes to a screeching halt. Everyone is looking over the left side of the train, so I look over the left side of the train two cars ahead of us. Four, sketchy guys appear from the brush and jump on. They are carrying machets. This is everything I have heard...and feared. This is how it happens. The conductor is on the in, stops the train, and bad people board to do bad things. I am trying to photogragh them as they board and there is a sense of panic. I hear, "Hide the numbers." A reference to phone numbers which the Zetas covet. Hondu is scurrying around. As we pass through the trees, men are breaking off branches as weapons. I want my own bed. Two guys bust out machetes out of their backs. I'm planning my escape route, as I recite the book of Matthew, chapter 7,verse 1. The next hour everyone is on edge. The only thing my car of Hondu has going for it is that there are many bad-ass looking dudes with us. We can take them.
Nothing ever came of the sketchy characters...
It is getting dark. I am starting to wonder wtf I am I going to do. Do I stay on for the long haul? Do I jump off? Do I start crying and hope my mommy will come resue me? And to make matters worse, my camera batteries are almost spent. Honestly, without batteries, I have no business risking everything...for nothing. At 9PM, 5 hours into our journey, the train stops. We are told we have a few minutes to buy tamales. It is fascinating, everything is a business. There are locals selling food to the train Hondu. My first goal is to wizz, otherwise I wizz in my pants. One guy, Edgar, tells me to follow him. He will help me...not help me pee but help guide me off the train car.
I take all my belonging with me and in the darkness of night, lower myself down a ladder on the side of the train car to the ground. I wizz. Feels good! Now our entire train car and the 200+ people must switch cars we are told. Our car is going to stay behind. At this moment, it's hard to see anyone's face and everyone is yelling for me to "subete guero", hop on with us Honky! Unable to discern faces and feeling unsure for my safety, I start imagining the potential danger I will face riding the Bestia all throughout the night without stopping. What if I have to bathroom? What if we get robbed? What if someone decides to do bad things to me? Every scenario is running through my head. We are stopped in a small village, so what the heck can I do.
As I walk up and down the trains tracks to cat calls, like a hot girl through a Mexican construction site, and unsure of what to do, I stumble upon a gentleman that is taking pictures of the train. He seems legit. I approach him and explain my story. His name is Marco Polo and he is a photo-journalist. I can't make this shit up!!! At this point, it is 9:30PM and I haven't eaten in 24 hours and only drank .5 liters of water. Feeling regret on one hand for being a chicken shit, I decide to take the more prudent approach and accept Marco Polo's offer to drive me to Villahermosa, a 1 hour drive. He opens up his car and the cooler of cervezas in back and we drive to Villahermosa as I explain to him the swimming pool game, Marco Polo.