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No To the Tolls! Cuota Protest Near Los Mochis, Mexico

There’s an edge to Sinaloa. In less than two hours we go through three security checkpoints – military men with rifles, dark sunglasses and crisp blue uniforms sizing you up to determine whether or not you must get out of your car for further questioning, or simply wave you on for the next 50 KM. These checkpoints are on top of all the tolls, construction and gas stops we must make. We don’t stop for anything else.

This is the way to get through Sinaloa- as quickly and unnoticed as possible.

We’re getting closer to the Pacific Ocean, you can smell it in the air and the heat is different. It’s no longer dry and dusty, it sits under your armpits and above your upper lip. I put my hand above my brow to protect from the sun when I get out for gas. I try to talk to the gas attendants asking them what’s up ahead, any trouble, any news. The light is more direct, blinding. You’re exposed.

We drive past Los Mochis and the corn stalks start to grow in small patches and then entire deep green fields brushed by the wind and reaching as far as the base of the Sierra Madre foothills where the border with Sinaloa and Durango hangs. Closer to the Golfo de California I imagine all the fishing villages, Las Arenitas, Boca del Rio San Lorenzo, places that stand as a time capsule, a life lived as a farmer, a worker, a fisherman, the old man, the sea.

Two hours from Mazatlan and while I can’t say we’ve taken our shoes off yet, we’re definitely well inside. The road resonates, the imprint manifests from the last two trips, intelligent genes pumping their DNA into our blood streams as we inhale the landscape like air itself.

Small sunflowers grow among the corn and eucalyptus trees line the road on both sides. It’s hard to tell what lays at rest in their shade – fruit vendors, a man fixing his motorcycle, a family waiting to cross the road, a man sleeping against the trunk of the tree with his sombrero over his face, arms crossed against his chest and his legs entwined like roots. There’s nobody on the road except a few tractor trailers, and newer vehicles with completely opaque limousine-tinted windows like us. The toll roads remind you of the privatization of things that should be public infrastructure. I shake my head at the insane costs of the roads as we stop at yet another cuota. A large crowd of people in white t-shirts suddenly surround the toll booths before we reach the front of the line. Their t-shirts read “No a Las Casetas, Si a Las Libres.” No to the tolls, Yes to the public roads. The cars line up and idle as the crowd of 100 or so gathers in the lane next to us, then march over to overtake our lane.

Mainstream TV news camera crews film every car that passes without paying and I wonder what time we’ll be  the news tonight. When it’s our turn to pay, I reach for my money, look at the group of protestors, then at the toll collector and I don’t know what to do. Finally the toll collector lifts the gate and waves us through. Everyone cheers and claps. In the United States we would get  ticket in the mail. Here in Mexico, I honk my horn in solidarity and drive on to seamless road.

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