Within a few hours of my entry into this country, my first impressions had already swelled to a mental bulk that I can´t well compress down to a size I can write here in the time I have to write it now. Maybe they´ll boil down over time. Here´s what I can summon in the moment.
I´ve been realizing that, in the mass consciousness of the USA, going to Mexico is like falling out the bottom of the world. It can feel that way at times; the trash that blows around in the dusty wind has the seeming of stuff that slipped between the cracks, like what collects under bleachers. For me, going to Mexico has so far been more like reaching the byte overflow level of Pac-Man: it´s the same game as before, but suddenly everything makes much less sense. Switching from miles to kilometers, from dollars to pesos, I still feel like I´m riding 120 miles every day and paying fifty bucks for a cheeseburger.
The greatest difficulties are language and water — two things which are curiously alike.
The book says you can make due here without knowing any Spanish. The book is written for RV drivers and tourist bubble people. I sure as hell wouldn´t want to be here if I knew any less than I do; enough to get police clearance to camp in public parks, enough to explain what the hell I think I´m doing when I pass through military checkpoints, enough to ask where the ATM is without knowing the phrase for “ATM”. Sometimes I feel like some kind of young Harry Potter, trying to cast spells I haven´t nearly mastered. I´m waving some mental wand and saying “Donde puedo acampar!” and hoping it miraculously saves me. It seems like some people have no idea what I´m saying and others think I´m totally fluent, which makes it that much worse trying to understand them. It all makes me feel like I have some kind of brain damage.
The people in general have been as warm as the weather. They honk to urge me on and say keep on truckin. They wave and give me little power fists. (The peace sign is still a good thing here, right?) Small children stare at me. I smile, they smile, and all is right with the world.
The landscape is sometimes as you might imagine it. Sometimes it can be Martian. Mountains upon mountains of red dirt, scoured dry by the blistering sun, things visibly carved out by water when there´s no water in sight for hundreds of kilometers. Endless flat plains where the slightest trace of shade is rare and beautiful.
Between Tijuana and Ensanada, you keep seeing these improbable skyscrapers looming in the distant dusty haze, indistinct. One after another they roll by, orders of magnitude taller than anything else I´ve seen in the entire country, and they all turn out to be isolated luxury condos with tiny slit windows, as if they´re designed to repel and/or dispense machine gun fire. Their billboards are all in English, with white models.
More when I can.