The boat dock at El Naranjo THE DAY BEFORE our departure, Ernesto’s father steps outside to leave for an evangelical revival in Santa Ana, five hours away. When I ask him how far it is, he replies “muy lejos” very far. He would not return in time to see Ernesto leave. As he walks off, he and Ernesto do not even exchange a glance, an awkward moment even for Ernesto. “It hurts his father’ s pride to know that he cannot give his family a better life,” says his mother. I ask Ernesto how his father feels about him leaving. He replies simply, “A mi padre, el viaje es solo un aventura” To my father the journey is just an adventure. No words of encouragement. No words of wisdom for his second son. Ernesto is nervous about the route we will take. He wants to avoid the more popular crossing points into Mexico, such as Tecun Uman where travel is more difficult due to increased army surveillance in Chiapas. Instead he chooses to head north to El Peten and cross into Mexico at El Naranjo. He sleeps fitfully his last few nights at home. Up to the last minute he is unsure about whether to cross through Belize or simply run straight up through Mexico. Ernesto plans to jog most of the whole way from El Naranjo to Tenosique. But on the morning we leave, his older brother Oscar has a better ideaan old BMX bicycle. “No one will suspect a mojado on a bicycle,” he jokes. My chances of being with him for the duration are slimthere is only one bike and I doubt I’d make it anyway. He will travel some 100 km on dirt roads from where the boatman will leave him off to Tenosique. On our way to the bus station the next morning, Ernesto points out his old primary school and his father’s church , “Even if it weren’t for Angelica, I would go back,” he says, “there is nothing for me here.” But it is obvious his feelings are much deeper. There are tears in his eyes as we leave the bus station for Guatemala City. I am concerned about how little Ernesto has prepared. I’d heard from Casa residents that Central Americans will often pay for Mexicans to coach them on Mexican culture and idiosyncrasies such as the colors of the Mexican flag. When questioned by the INM, if you say “rojo” for red you are finished. The third color of the Mexican flag is colorado. Any Mexican would know this. From a friend of Ernesto’s I had heard the U.S. government was paying $100 to the Mexican immigration authoriican. A Mexican consulate official denied knowledge of any such agreement. But a July 1993 report in the New York Times alleges that the U.S. Congress had been appropria t in g $350,000 annually for Mexico to cover the costs of deporting Central American immigrants in Mexico. There is no way this is going to be easy. After 36 hours on Guatemalan buses, we reach the literal end of the road at a border town on the San Pedro River called El Naranjo. The river also serves as a waterway for smuggled goods and tourist services. Dwarfed by a Guatemalan army training camp, there is not much to El Naranjo. Once a day, the launches, long, glorified canoes with 45-horsepower outboard motors, trundle out of the slips beside the wharf and head for for La Palma, Mexico, 30 km away. When Ernesto steps off the bus, his contact, an acquaintance from Jutiapa, greets him. He introduces Ernesto to the boatman who will transport him to a point somewhere in this swampy no-man’s land. From there Ernesto will peddle his dirt bike to Tenosique. They bargain for what seems like ages as I try to occupy myself learning when I can get a tourist boat to Mexico. At last Ernesto walks back, visibly shaken. They negotiated a price but it was very high: 250 Quetwill leave immediately in order to find the road before dark. Though Ernesto has decided to make the trip without the aid of polleros, who provide passage for undocumented travelers in Mexico, he still needs this lanchero who knows the river. Ernesto knows how much polleros charge and what they are capable of. Polleros are known to charge as much as $3,000 for the trip from border to border. With only $250 for the entire trip, Ernesto can’t afford one anyway. Often the initial fee is just the beginning, Ernesto said. “If they can, they will take all of your money and leave you in the middle of nowhere. They have no problem leaving you to die.” I help him load his bicycle into the boat appropriately called “La Fortuna.” Giving me his money and Guatemalan I.D. he says he’ll be in Tenosique by morning, 100 km to the north. He wants me to give him two days at the most to reach Tenosique. I plan on giving him four. ENOSIQUE IS ABOUT a 30 minute drive from the dock at La Palma, Mexico. I immediately check into the Hotel Azulejo and leave a message for Ernesto, who is traveling under the alias Arturo and who I am expect to arrive at any moment. I am to be informed whenever he arrives. Expecting to have at least a day to wash my socks and take notes, I go out to get some dinner at Ei Side*cilk restaurants ttli3 T8X148 0i3StlIVM4 4 1
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