14ymedio, Alejandro Mena Ortiz, 29 April 2022 — On the third day in Villahermosa, in the state of Tabasco, they prepared a bag for us with a snack and explained that the bus trip to Mexico City was going to be a bit long. We would have between 15 and 24 hours ahead of us, depending on how many checkpoints we had to clear. We carried sandwiches in bags, plus fruit, an energy drink and water, in addition to what we bought ourselves: cookies, Doritos, energy bars, chocolates, things like that, to stave off hunger.
At around 7, they had us say goodbye to the family, turn off our cell phones and hand them over. They took us out of the house in several vehicles, because there were about 50 of us, and transported us to a place on the outskirts of Villahermosa, in the middle of a grass field, where they put us against a concrete wall in an abandoned building. There were three buses: the first two were full of people who came from other warehouses, and we would occupy the last bus.
Added to the uncertainty of being incommunicado was the Mexicans’ lack of friendliness. “Get down, get down! Get close to the wall, closer!” they shouted. This was because if a drone flew by, we could be seen. According to what they told us, the authorities manage to know how many people are in a vehicle by the number of turned-on cell phones they detect, and that is why they took them away from us.
We were there for about 15 or 20 minutes in total darkness, until they put the women and children on the bus. While we men waited on the ground, other vehicles kept arriving with more people, up to two or three cars, with 18 or 20 people. In the end, there were a lot of people on that bus. Three women sat in seats for two (because they had to be seated) and the men sat on the floor, some wedged into each other’s legs. After 20 minutes, my butt was already hurting and I thought: how am I going to last 20 or 30 hours like this!
Suddenly, the alarm went off because the air conditioning was broken. Although they tried to fix it, they couldn’t, so after being idle and ready to get started, it couldn’t be done. The cars that had dropped us off came back and picked us up, and the next day the story repeated itself.
When I got off, I felt as if my legs, my spine and my neck had been hit with a bat, and my eyes were swollen
Except that we were the last ones that time, and, when we were going to get on the bus we didn’t fit. Half of us were put in the suitcase compartment with others who were already there, about 15 people packed down there, and they put me on the bus with another four guys. They managed to get us in and close the door while pushing, shoving and screaming.
That’s how we had to make the 17-hour trip to Mexico City, like animals. Among us, there were two pregnant women.
We had no phones; we didn’t know what time it was and we couldn’t open the curtains. I was trying to joke and some people laughed, but we had 17 hours standing ahead of us, tightly packed, with leg cramps and sleepy.
Around 10 in the morning we arrived at the Mexican capital, which is a very impressive city. I was surprised by its sheer size. They took us to a warehouse on the outskirts that did not have even the slightest facilities. There were not only the 130 or 140 who came on that bus, but an additional 60 others arrived.
When I got off, I felt as if I had been hit with a wooden pole on my legs, my spine, my neck, plus my eyes were swollen. I ordered coffee, but they only had what they call “American,” not espresso, which is what I wanted, so I had to settle.
They gave us back our phones and I was able to talk to my family. On the other end of the call, they were crying and getting emotional, but I just told them: “I need to rest, let me rest.” When we got to the bedrooms, we got hit with another bucket of cold water (another nasty surprise): there was a large space and they had thin, dirty, very dirty mattresses on the floor. So much so that I wondered how I was going to sleep there. I was so tired that I finally slept four hours, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I thought then that it was time for a bath, but there were only three bathrooms for more than two hundred people. There were lines for everything: to use the toilets, to bathe with freezing cold water. I was afraid of getting sick, because the children began to run fevers and get diarrhea, and many adults too, so I decided not to bathe. I bought wet wipes and with that, I scoured myself.
I would tell myself: “OK, that’s it, it is what it is, this is not a tourist trip.”
I slept with a sweater on, with the coat that I had bought in Guatemala with a hood, pants with socks, and I covered myself with the blankets that they had given us, but even so, it was not enough and I woke up with cramps. It was extremely cold in that place.
Also, the food was no longer so generous. I didn’t like the Mexican tortillas, which is what they gave us. A little chicken with a tortilla, a little meat with a tortilla, some spaghetti… with a tortilla. And I couldn’t even eat. Luckily, they also had things for sale, so one day I sent for a Burger King Whopper. It was the first time I was going to try the famous Whooper, and when I did, I thought: Wow, incredibly delicious. It’s like the TV commercials or the series on El Paquete*. I ate it with great pleasure, it settled in my stomach and, at least that day, I ate well.
While we waited to leave, I met a man who lived in Nicaragua, not too bad, but he believed that because of Ortega the whole country was being destroyed and that there was no way back from that situation, so his wife, who spent three months in prison at the border, went first. And now he was going.
I also struck up a conversation with two brothers from Ocotal, although one lived in Managua, who left because one of them got into drug problems and they no longer had anything to do there. One had taken part in the 2018 demonstrations, something similar to what happened in Cuba on July 11th, and he told me that many people were hoping that Ortega would eventually leave. Since in the end there was no change, he decided to leave because he did not want to live in a dictatorship. And that was the only Nicaraguan I met on the road who said something like that to me. The others didn’t make mention of politics at all.
I didn’t want to say that I had a fever, because in that case, they would not allow me to leave, but a Honduran noticed: “Hey, are you feeling sick? Do you need something, can I help you?”
I started to feel very sick: I had trouble breathing, I felt pain in my chest. They told us it would be two days, but we had already been there four or five. I even called my cousin in the United States and told him: “I can’t, I don’t think I’ll be able to. This is not normal. There are a lot of people here, it’s very crowded.”
One day I started with a fever and had to buy medicine. We were very afraid that it was COVID, in very crowded conditions, with more than 200 people together, but it turned out to be a stomach infection.
I didn’t want to say that I had a fever, because in that case, they would not allow me to leave, but a Honduran noticed: “Hey, are you feeling sick? Do you need something, can I help you?” I explained to him what was happening to me, but the worst thing was that I was beginning to have a panic attack, and he told me: “Hey, pal, don’t… don’t feel that way, come on right here,” sit like that, lie down here.” And that gave me great encouragement. My attack began to subside – your mind plays tricks on you – and all thanks to this Honduran friend, who I continue to be in touch with today.
One fine day they came and told us that, at dawn, we would leave for Monterrey, without explanations of how it was going to be or anything. I took out the last 250 Mexican pesos I had left and bought medicine, cookies and Electrolytes. They woke us up at 10 that night and took us out in some vans, one of those little buses that can carry around 18 or 20 people. In a place quite close by, on a very dark street, they quickly allowed us to get off, we threw our backpacks in the trunk of the bus and, running, we got in.
That time, I thought we weren’t going to be overcrowded, but I was wrong. More and more people kept coming in, too many. And it was that way the whole trip to Monterrey, 15 horrible hours of travel.
In Monterrey, each cartel assigns a code to its migrants
*Translator’s note: El Paquete, or The Packet, delivered once a week for $6.50, has become the primary way Cubans receive illegally recorded American media, news and entertainment.
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