The Drug Mule

Or a trip from San Antonio to Piedras Negras

Eagle Pass International Bridge

Exclusive to MeierMovies, February 20, 2024

Sitting in a holding room in Eagle Pass, Texas, detained by Homeland Security on suspicion of being a drug mule, I surveyed my surroundings. Worn-out immigrants slumped in worn-out chairs. Potheads stuck in time. And a Texan or two, fresh from a dental extraction in the border burg of Piedras Negras, because they couldn’t afford the safer surgery in America.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, for them, or me.

I had started my vacation of privilege in San Antonio two days earlier, on November 4, 2013, in splendor at the Menger. Naively, I had hoped to see ghosts of the past wandering the haunted halls of the historic hotel. But the only specters on this trip would be the aforementioned ghosts of the present.

Piedras Negras Gran Plaza

Determined to add cultural meaning to my sojourn, I drove the two hours from the Alamo City to the Mexican border, past regal ranches and bleak but bracing vistas, finally reaching the Rio Grande. The tour books and websites had advised me to avoid the more dangerous Neuvo Laredo and instead pay a visit to the supposedly quaint Piedras Negras, which they said had somehow avoided the horrors of nearby towns. They were wrong.

After parking my rental car on the American side, I crossed the Eagle Pass International Bridge on foot, with trepidation. I was greeted on Mexican soil by a single sentinel, holding aloft an assault rifle. He didn’t ask for I.D. He didn’t make eye contact. He stayed silent. I continued.

It became immediately clear to me just how wrong the tour books had been. The Gran Plaza was devoid of life sans the beggars who approached me for spare change. The town’s main museum was closed, its door and windows shattered. Militia in black masks with machine guns patrolled the plaza in the back of pick-up trucks. And they were the good guys.

Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Piedras Negras

My only sanctuary was the Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe church. Finally, I had found beauty and normalcy. Perhaps my fears were unwarranted and I was guilty of overreaction, or of responding the way most Americans would, accustomed to safety and plenty. Perhaps.

But I could never shake the feeling that I just didn’t belong. Speaking little Spanish, I found no one willing to utter a word in English. Or assist me in ordering food. Or give me directions. My only joy came with a delightful discovery of a stereotypically touristy street filled with quaint carts offering handcrafted gifts themed to Dia de los Muertos. I bought a couple of figurines, thankful for something resembling a genuine Mexican cultural moment.

If I had been braver, or dumber, I would have ventured on. But after an hour or two of roaming, I decided to play it safe and again traverse the bridge. It was then I encountered the American authorities, who somehow doubted my claim that I had ventured into another nation simply to buy a souvenir or two. Surely my plans had been more devious and I was involved in a narcotics ring of some sort. So there I was, in that dusty waiting room, held for 30 minutes (or what felt like two hours) while they investigated my claims.

Street in Piedras Negras

I felt bare, stripped of my passport, car keys and drivers license. But somehow I never felt threatened, confident my story would check out and, if they doubted me, I would be able to defend myself from a position of wealth, advantage and U.S. citizenship.

Finally, the verdict came down: “OK, you can go.” I did.

A travel article is supposed to offer happy advice, like see the Alamo, the Riverwalk, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the San Antonio Zoo, the San Antonio Botanical Gardens and the batshit-crazy Buckhorn Museum, and stay at the legendary Menger. Yeah, you should do all that. But that guidance seems shallow in the face of what I witnessed in Piedras Negras. I guess my only solid counsel is to not visit the border – for another century or two.

© 2024 MeierMovies, LLC

Photos are by Cameron Meier and may not be used without written permission. (Click or tap to enlarge.) For more information on San Antonio, visit Wikipedia. And to learn more about Piedras Negras, also consult Wikipedia.


Photos of San Antonio

The photos below are of the Alamo, the Alamo Cenotaph and San Fernando Cathedral.