Highway 101: A Trip Down One Of Mexico's Most Dangerous Roads
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We're about to visit one of the most dangerous roads in Mexico in one of the most dangerous states in that country. Interstate 101 stretches the length of the northern border state of Tamaulipas. It's long been a favorite of international smugglers. Today, kidnappings and carjackings are so frequent, federal police officers escort drivers in armed convoys. NPR's Carrie Kahn ventured out on Interstate 101 and she sent us this report.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Cars begin to line up in front of the federal police station on the outskirts of Ciudad Victoria, the state capital, for the 7 a.m. departure.
ELIUD VILLAREAL: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Eliud Villareal pulls his tan SUV into the front of the line, his wife next to him. His daughter and grandkids are in the back. They used to live in Victoria but moved to Texas where it's safer. Janine Villareal says they came down for a family gathering but wouldn't dream of driving back home alone.
JANINE VILLAREAL: Always, always - we never come without the convoy.
KAHN: Arif Gallindo pulls up in his silver Cadillac with his wife, baby daughter and a neighbor. He buys used cars near the border and brings them back to sell. His wife crosses into the U.S. to buy perfume, also for resell here.
E. VILLAREAL: (Speaking Spanish).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Despite the lineup of cars, there won't be a police escort this morning. No reason was given. Several of the drivers, however, decide to make the 250-mile ride to the border together. Six of us head out.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO PLAYING)
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).
KAHN: Ranchero tunes and the lush green landscape set a deceivingly tranquil mood for the trip. Two powerful cartels, the Gulf and Zetas, fight a violent battle for control here. Nearly 200 murders and 41 kidnappings have been reported so far this year. Just hours before our impromptu caravan hit the road, one of Mexico's soccer stars, Alan Pulido, was abducted right outside Victoria. He managed to escape, but not before a massive police force scoured the region for him. Maybe that's why a patrol car wasn't available for our caravan.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Speaking Spanish).
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Reynosa.
KAHN: At a fork in the highway about a hundred miles short of the U.S. border, half the caravan heads east and we say goodbye. There's only three of us left continuing on to Reynosa. English stations start to pop up on the radio.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO PLAYING)
BILLY IDOL: (Singing) Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah...
KAHN: One of the drivers says this last stretch can be the most dangerous and to be on the lookout. He wasn't wrong. Soon after, we fly past three young guys on the side of the road, all wearing baggy shorts and baseball caps. I watch them through my rearview mirror as they step out onto the highway in front of a car.
They seemed to surround this car while he was in the middle of the road and pulled him over to the side - did not look very good at all. And the convoy just keeps going on.
It was a tense ride for the last 30 minutes to Reynosa. Once in the city, the family from Texas turns off the highway. I follow the remaining car with Arif Gallindo and family. They take us to an aunt's taco stand for breakfast. With a plate of eggs and tacos in front of them, I thought Gallindo would be more relaxed. But he lowers his voice and talks about how he was kidnapped two years ago and held for nearly a month. His wife turns to me and tells me her father was kidnapped four years ago and hasn't been heard from since. I asked them why they keep traveling the highway. We have to make a living, they both say - and keep living. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Reynosa, Tamaulipas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.