“12 Hours in Tijuana: Trafficking Narcotics in Mexico” by Bettina Mangiaracina

Photograph by Bettina Mangiaracina: Painted wooden cutouts advertising tacos in front of a restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico January 2015. 

12 Hours in Tijuana: Trafficking Narcotics in Mexico (A Road Trip Gone Very Very Wrong)

By Bettina Mangiaracina

 January 15, 2015: 

A slow amber was dripping over my eyes. Lashes heavy with sand or oil or maybe it was this Mexican sun. It all just started to droop. A Tijuana dust screen I was silhouetted behind. Handcuffed and chained. Retained on the border of U.S.-Mexico. Interviewed on crime. Gave birth, date, name, weight, all the facts — for a crime I didn’t even plan to commit this morning: transporting marijuana across the U.S.-Mexico border.

I suddenly became, well, I was classified as a…a drug mule. A non-smoker being sexually felt up by a female admiring cop, whispering in my ear Are you high right now? You can tell me. You high now? You just smoke? I promise I won’t say anything…A non-smoker being charged for a smoker’s crimes.

My best friend Ry, his car, our In & Out trays, and that little bit of “stuff” he had left over in his medical marijuana package. Shit. A bad day. His backpack. Our scattered junk. Empty pill bottles. Half full ones of pressed tablets, XR’s. Little Italian jars bought and brought from our trip together in Florence (or maybe it was Lucca…we can’t remember) filled with the rolling beads of exposed adderall — pinballing. A fucking reincarnation of Fear and Loathing. We were zonked, but everything was legal. Until our road-trip along the California coast turned into an accidental drive right into Mexico, and we couldn’t just, hey oye, out of there.

Va! Va! Va!  A traffic official was shouting at us to keep moving, because Ry had stopped in the middle of the California highway realizing that the sign we saw a minute ago for “LAST USA EXIT,” was meant to be taken very seriously. The traffic was pounding, honking in our ears, a thousand cars speeding into Tijuana on a zip-line, no checkpoint in site. Eight years of mandatory Spanish, Catholic school, Florida, eluded me, and I forgot everything.

I rolled down the window of Ry’s old-school, white Mercedes, determined to get the attention of the traffic official. “Hey! Sir! Hey, excuse me! We don’t want to drive in.” But he was focused on the direction of his arms, each one signaling to each car where each one was to go, so Ry drove us a little closer. “We don’t wan’a drive into — um, we wanna turn around, back into the States.” And then one of his spinning arms came to face me, and with that, he replied:

“Habla español?”


But then Ry tried.

“TURN. Quiero TURN.”

And Ry made large circular movements with his arms, big enough to signal a car turning.

Ah, no no no no, va derecho,” the official said, leaning into the car’s window, and turned his head to the right, pointing forward, and he kept doing that, his head and his finger flicking like that at the same time, like he had a twitch or something.

So…into the country. Into the place that felt like it would be our walk-of-plank, our sweet suicide, our hand-held jump off the mountain cliff, where the road ended and there was no more pavement covering that crater of earth lying below.

“But…Ry,” I said.

And he looked at me. And he looked like he was about to cry. Because he knew. He knew. You can’t forget about Mary. You feel her there, even when she’s hidden under your seat, at the bottom of your beaten-up backpack, you feel her, you feel her like that throbbing pain after pain has left you. And then the official, not understanding why us two gringos were stopped in the middle of his border crossing, one: American girl freaking out, two: Asian kid about to cry —pulled us over.

We were directed to pull into a lot and park behind another car, in an area labeled “Secondary Inspection” — our passports were taken, marked, and placed under the car’s windshield wipers, a red cone placed on top of the roof — where we waited for two hours.

The next installment of this story will post shortly. Follow DriveAwayWithMe to get notified and find out what happened next. 


Bettina Mangiaracina is a creative writing student from the Hunter College class of 2015 with a minor in women and gender studies. Mangiaracina is also a two-time Semester at Sea alumna. This piece is an account of events that occurred when she was road tripping from Los Angeles to San Diego to (oops) Mexico. Stay tuned for her next piece on DriveAwayWithMe and follow her original content on her website as she embarks on a film career in Goa, India: http://antidotesandesires.com/


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