“Be careful, it's dangerous there!" We know the statement. People warn us nearly everyday. It is a villager who talks about the next province or an urbanite who has taken something from the news. It are our parents, relatives and friends who tell us to be careful when we enter a new country that has often been in the European news before. We have been traveling around the world for two and a half years on bicycles and have proudly demonstrated and experienced that there are many more good than bad people.“ If there is one villain is in an apartment building with 100 residents, then all 99 others have to put extra locks on the doors" is a man’s answer, who disagrees with our statement that there is more good than evil. "That is indeed what happens," Zoë says, "but don't forget that all town residents will think that the entire flat, the entire village or even the entire country is dangerous, although there are 99 good-natured and only 1 bad guy walking around in the flat". Our worldview has changed. Although we are always alert and careful, we learn that the news is generalised, that positivity pays back positivity and that fear is one of the strongest emotions. We trust people and feel trusted. Every day of our trip is a new confirmation that the world is full of hospitality and heart-warming welcomes. We have become carefree little birds who may react a little stubbornly to a danger warning. People quickly see danger on the other side of the road, but once on the other side they will say the same. We hear it almost daily and we reject the negativity by stubbornly only believe in the good. To keep it safe, we make an appointment with ourselves. We have to listen to the advice of the local on location, the local in and about his own environment. To the advice from "here" and not to the advice about "there." Our tactics work and lead us past unknown areas and unknown people full of goodness. Until we arrive at Anna’s place one day and we put our own advice in a box. ‘Why do we do that?’ are we now wondering. The free carefree birds become a bit too free.
Anna receives us just like everyone else with all her heart. Anna is not a warmshower host, we get to know her through a Facebook group and we are the first to pass her house. She is a sweet person and takes us everywhere. She looks after us but is very distrustful to anybody outside the house and vigilance radiates from her tongue. She tells us that is dangerous “here”. Cars have no respect and there are drug dealers in the area. Our feelers are pointed to the word ‘here’, but the seriousness escapes us. Even if the horror stories come out. She says that the Narcos, the drug gangs, come to collect money on a monthly basis and that nurses disappeared a while ago. She says that she has been chased and that her neighbor's thumb has been cut off. Our feelers go up but not on active. Probably because her own parents disprove her stories with opposite reactions and because we see an over-concerned mother. The father tells us confidently "We don't collect any money" and "I'm not afraid, anyone who doesn't get involved will stay outside.” Maybe the alarm bells do not go off either because we did not see or feel anything of danger, everyone is so friendly and helpful. Anna seems to be a worried mother. We decide to change our route on the advice of Anna, but opt for an inner road that describes her father as "tranquilo".
We cycle on the country road and are happy that we don't have to do everything on the main road, that would still be 400 kilometers. Our fun soon gets killed when a car stops in the bushes. The man gestures to stop and warns with the words "it's dangerous here." "Why" do we ask? To be sure it's not about traffic. "The gangs rule in this area," he says. "When I saw that you were a woman, I had to warn you," he now speaks to Zoë. "They take women. You better cycle on the main road, there it is "tranquilo" he advises us. Zoë feels the warning down to her toes. "We are going off the road now and we are going to follow the main road!," she says firmly. "We've played enough with the rules, we are not going to take any risks just to skip boring roads." Our plan changes straight away and we ‘safely’ cycle the last 400 kilometers through Mexico along the main road. Not exactly how we had expected it to be, so to keep it fun we start the competitive engines.
We cycle 146 kilometers the first day. That is a record distance on the entire trip. We have an average of 24 kilometers per hour when we stop and enter a "rancho" far from civilization. A rancho apperently is not just one big farm like Zoë aways thought, but a mini village of 300 people, if they are there. We say ‘buenas tardes’ past a high fence and the dog does its job well, a younger man appears with his father. A old cowboy. They are suspicious and curious at the same time. After some questions the old man says "my wife and cousin have been shot in their cars, since then I have little faith, but I see it in your eyes. You are good people ". Father and son need to whisper to gain confidence. We give the time and meanwhile we talk about how they can see in our eyes that we are good. The man turns with open arms and says "pasale" "come in, come in!". The gate opens and a sleeping spot under the carport quickly becomes a bed in the chic and expensive house of the sister who is not at home. They cook us lunch and are invited later in the evening to a neighbour in a much poorer house to eat egg and beans. People are so hospitable, but clearly also on their guard. When we ask if it is dangerous, they shake their head assured of themselves "no, no, tranquilo." We relax and gain confidence, no danger here. The next at least five persons asked to make a photo with us, but when we look for a place to sleep along the main road that evening, the landlord tells us from behind the fence with sturdy locks “I don't know if I can trust you , I would really like to help, but how do I know if I should trust you? ”We are a little perplexed. You don't see it in our eyes, Olivier thinks accused. Of course the man is right and has al right to stay what he says but it is a hand in the face we haven’t experienced yet. Off course we prefer to tell the man that we can be trusted, but that only sounds lush. "So you can't help us" Zoë asks for confirmation. "That's right". Fortunately, Olivier keeps hope on the only other house for the coming kilometers. He turns to it as if his heart has not just gotten a dunk but an energy boost. This friendly boy and his girlfriend can't be left alone along the road. The farmer let us stay the night on his field. We hang our hammock on an old rusty container and have recovered with the warmth of this man.
We will complete the last part of our journey to America with confidence. We are still following the main road, or thats what we think. The GPS shows a nice dark orange line up to the border, which tells us that we are on the main road, but when we turn left the road is very small. It is quiet and there are few cars. That must be due to the fact that no one crosses the border, we think. The road, both left and right are full with oil fields. Along the road there are dozens of signs with information about the wells. “ strange, what that man is doing over there," says Zoë. A man stands useless in the grass on the roadside. "It must be an oil worker," says Olivier. When we approach him, Zoë feels uncomfortable. "He has a walkie talkie," Zoë says without conclusion. We kindly say hello to him, as we always do. "Hmmm" moans Zoë. “Don't you trust it?” Olivier asks in a tone as if there won’t be anything wrong with the guy. "It will be prejudices," she replies, but in her head all the details light up and silent alarms go off. “I don't know, it must be prejudices but his appearance? How his hair was. And the way he said goodbye? There was doubt, it was different. And what about the postage? " We remain silent and the questions remain in the air. "Yes, it will be nothing," we think, just as there is a second guy there. "It must be prejudices" Zoë shouts uncertainly to Olivier when we are past the man. This time Olivier also starts to doubt. "This was really a type," he says. But what are they doing here? Before we have our heads in order there is a third pawn that clearly signals that we must stand still. We cycle on, frightened by the uncertainty and assuming that we always say goodbye to everyone in a friendly way. As soon as we pass it, it goes fast. A red jeep is approaching us with a man who opens the window and very emphatically shows that we will stop. What must we do??! Zoë almost cries. "Stop!" Says Olivier. We have just passed the car when we hit our brakes and Olivier realizes that we should not play games with these people. Just like yesterday, he goes with all kindness to the car as if a new friend wants to come and say hello to us. It often happens to us that a car stops us because they are interested in our story or want to help us. This man is anything but interested and wants to know how these foreigners dare to fight his country. He asks questions that any other friendly passer-by could have asked, but we knew better by now. At least, we do not know who those guests are, that it is better not to drag them along because our gut feeling has clearly told us. "Where are you going", "Where are you from", "What are you doing here", "How did you get here?" They are not friendly questions, they are orders that must be answered. The man is looking at us. "Pasaportes" he says while gesturing with his fingers that they may come quickly. "Of course" says Olivier kindly. Zoë understands the role but think ‘No, not the passports Olivier! How stupid'. Without really thinking about it, she stammers "but you are not from the police." Oh God what am I saying now, Zoë thinks. Of course they are not from the police, but how else should I save our passports! "Phu no, that's not how it works here," says the man with a grin of disbelief. "We are the boss here, passports." "Here you have them," says Olivier. He handed over his identity card. Oh how smart! Zoë thinks that her jaws are stiff with tension. If they drive away now, we will only lose our ID and we can just cross the border. "So you're from Belgium," the man repeats three times. "Yes, just look" Olivier proves with his iD that he is no more than an innocent tourist who just wants to cross their terrain.
"Okay, you can go," the man says, giving back the identity card. "I let my men know that they should leave you alone," he says, pointing to the hand-free radio in the Jeep. We kindly thank the man as if we had a pleasant conversation, "Adios!" We wave back and we continue our journey in silence. A silence that has never been so deep. Zoë knows what Olivier thinks and Olivier knows what Zoë thinks. "This could have turned out so differently" says Olivier after a while in disbelief. "They could have done anything with us and nobody had ever known it." "They didn't even rob us." To take the load off our hearts, we say with a sarcastic smile, "we have been welcomed by the narcos," "the drug gangs have let us walk on their territory." Can you believe that? We cycle as fast as we can to the next village and say goodbye to all pawns, who all know who we are. They don't know what to do with our greeting. Once in the village, the emotions have to go out. We want to know what just happened to us, who they were, how serious the situation is and much more importantly we would normally look for a place to sleep here, but when we enter the village we don't know who to talk to. It feels strange. We don't trust anyone. People are either so scared that they won't tell us the truth or they are part of the gang and would rather let their chefs know that they have two afraid cyclists here. By coincidence Zoë enters an vet shop and when she sees the man she knows she can trust him. She sees it in the eyes. When she asks him if it is safe and explains what just happened, Oscar says a little unbelieving "and they let you through ?!". It is enough to break the high voltage. Zoë falls in tears. The tension continues to flow out. Oscar does his best to put us at ease but is clearly totally uncomfortable himself. He always gets out of sight when he says something and speaks softly. He nods his head to the side. Informants sit on the bench outside. Oscar explains the whole situation to us. The area has indeed been taken over by a drug gang. There are all kinds of gangs with their own smuggling routes. They fight each other and kill each other. Ten years ago it was a war here. "Just like you see on TV in Iraq," he says. People got up with guns and after six you couldn't go outside anymore, then it was a war zone. "Don't people live in fear?" Zoë asks. Oscar answers the question with a nod and grim jaws. "It is now tranquilo" but it can erupt any moment. He knows several people who have disappeared. We are amazed. We have a different understanding of "tranquilo," says Olivier. Oscar understands but reassures us "you are now allowed so they won't hurt you anymore." We think it has been nice, we explain to him and ask if he can help with a lift to the village just before the border. Oscar has it so well, he and a friend drive us the last 20 kilometers through Mexico and drop us off safely at the church. We are incredibly grateful to Oscar and tell him that we will remember his kindness and hospitality. And we will emphasize our home front, just as he did with us, that Mexico is not bad. Not all drug gangs. He wants us to see the good. And we do that. Two years in South America, two months in Mexico and almost 25,000 kilometers away. Nothing ever happened to us, nothing ever happened to us. Although we have now had a very unpleasant experience that has wobbled the wings of the birds a bit shorter, nothing has happened to us yet. Nothing, we and you will remember that, hopefully. Because this 40 kilometer is the only bad guy in the flat building and all the other 24,960 are the good guys. Mexico was very exciting, we enjoyed her.
The last night we sleep in the classroom of the church, with our mats on top of the table, far away from our biggest nightmare: the cockroach.