Friday, September 18, 2020

Arriving in Mexico During Covid-19

Even though I grew up 8 miles north of the Mexican border, and I've traveled extensively throughout the country, I still find new surprises every time. Add to that, the special circumstances of traveling in the time of Covid, and it becomes even more of an "aventura."

I had invited a Mexican friend of mine who lives both in Tijuana and Chula Vista to accompany me to the small village of El Limón, Jalisco where I had spent a delicious month from mid-June to mid-July, swimming every day in a spring-fed public pool, hiking, avoiding Covid (there were zero official cases in El Limón at that time) and working on video and photo projects. Cecilia and I go back 24 years, to the time when she helped me look for a baby to adopt in Tijuana. Several years ago I invited Cecilia to join me and a tall German friend named Tanja to travel 3-weeks on the Copper Canyon train and visiting friends in Chihuahua, Durango, Zacatecas, Nayarit and Jalisco. As expected, Cecilia was excited to join me on another adventure in Mexico.

However, about 10 days ago, Cecilia told me she wasn't feeling good. At the time, I just said, I hope you get better in time for our flight. However, a few days ago, it was clear that she and her teenage granddaughter have all the symptoms of Covid-19 and are isolating from the rest of their family. I dropped some food off for them (from a safe distance), and Cecilia looked miserable, even though her fever was gone. She couldn't describe the pain, but something like the skin on her face was burning. She had a dry scratchy cough, loss of taste, nausea, trouble sleeping. Needless to say, we decided it best I go alone this time.

I have never used the $16 Cross Border Express (CBX) before. A taxi from San Ysidro is only $10 (if you speak Spanish and can bargain), and especially if you are traveling with several people it's much cheaper. But since I wanted to get to the airport by 7:00 a.m., and with the possibility of Covid restrictions for entering Mexico, and because I usually stay with Cecilia's family in Tijuana but that option was out, I decided to try CBX.

The bridge was pretty empty, so it was easy to avoid contact with other people and get through the process quickly. You need to fill out a health form which basically asks if you've had any symptoms of covid or exposure to anyone with covid. There's an immigration form and you pay $28 for a 180-day single-entry tourist card, even if you're Mexican-born but traveling with a US passport. And they take your temperature before entering the airport to be sure you don't have a fever.

Within an hour I was all checked in and at my boarding gate. My Volaris flight from Tijuana to Guadalajara was super smooth and lasted just 2 hours and 20 minutes. Everyone onboard was required to wear a "mascarilla." Many opted to use face shields as well. Hand sanitizer, called "gel" in Spanish, was available throughout the airports, as well as public service announcements educating the passengers about covid protection. "Use it," says the mask. Many seats have stickers that say, "Do not utilize. Maintain a safe distance."

My friend Manny had already arranged a ride from the airport, directly to where I'm staying in El Limón for 400 pesos (less than $20). If I'd gone by bus I would have to change 3x and pay basically the same price. The only downside was I had to wait five hours in the airport (an hour and a half longer than I'd been told), before my ride showed up. May (pronounced Mai and short for Ismael) sent me this "scary" photo of himself so I would recognize him when he showed up. Manny gave me the info on May's car: a wine-colored Nissan Tiida.

Finally, around 7:30 p.m. (my flight had arrived at 2:35 p.m.), I got a text from May saying he would arrive in 10 minutes to drop off a passenger and pick me up. Sure enough, in 10 minutes a wine-colored Nissan Tiida pulled up right in front of the OXXO convenience store where I told him I'd be waiting. Luckily I realized it wasn't my ride before I hopped in. A few minutes later, I heard someone calling my name. It was May, in a WHITE Nissan Tiida. The car was as nice as an Uber. May and many others like him run unofficial shuttles between their village and the airport. Google maps says 3-1/2 hours, but somehow May made it in 2-1/2 hours, including a taco stop. I felt very safe with him since he claimed never to have a speeding ticket or an accident.

May's favorite taco stand wasn't open, so we stopped a bit earlier than planned (great, because I was starving) in the town of Cocula, "Cuna Mundial del Mariachi," which literally means "World Cradle of the Mariachi."

I saw another statue, of a mother and two children, in front of the health center. Probably inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this little baby is holding up his fist, as if to say, "Babies' Lives Matter."

Luckily, when we arrived and ordered, the place was not this busy. I asked what their vegetarian options were. All of the employees looked puzzled. Finally one guy said they could make me a quesadilla (which they deep fry -- yuck). I spotted a picture of a torta on the wall and asked if they could make one without meat. The guy grilled the bread with mayonnaise and cheese, then I filled it up with toppings.

Not too bad for improvising. I stuffed the grilled cheese bread with nopales (cactus), frijoles (beans), cilantro, and salsa fresca.

Another first for me, a restroom with separate men's and women's stalls. Notice the men's stall on the far end, with a customer inside and the door ajar.

Even though it was only 8:30 p.m. (California time) when we arrived at 10:30, I curled up in the dorm bunk and fell right asleep...until Gabriel, Manny's brother, came in and turned on the light. It was midnight in El Limón, but we stayed awake a few hours catching up on everything. I love El Limón. I call it "Me Time" because I have no obligations other than achieving the same two goals as last time: get in shape, and work on my YouTube videos. In the morning I was woken up by my favorite roommate -- Baui.