2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Martyn Goddard

Before dawn the next morning, we met Clint McDonald, sheriff of Terrell County, which covers 2358 square miles and has about 1100 residents. Funding increases have allowed the sheriff to expand his force, adding a fourth deputy, and to purchase night-vision equipment and a four-wheel-drive pickup. "We've got a lot of rugged terrain," he said. "These cars can't get in." Looking at the FJ Cruiser parked nearby, he stipulated that only a pickup would do for his purposes. "Unfortunately, we have the chore of picking up deceased individuals." Most of them, it was revealed, drown in the river.

We were leaving the desert, and the next afternoon, in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, tropical vines and palm trees grew in the lovely plazas. Men pedaled freight-bearing tricycles between shops, and horse-drawn carts rattled through downtown streets. The carefully swept sidewalks were crowded with well-dressed people. We ended up having an audience with municipal tourism director Jose Luis Cercevo, who was dressed for winter in a corduroy sports coat over a turtleneck. He spoke of efforts to restore and beautify historic structures. "What we're trying to provide to the visitor," he said, "is the atmosphere of late-1800s Mexico, so they don't have to go into the interior."

Continuing fifteen miles east on Route 2, we passed grazing herds of goats and arrived at the beach at high tide. The trip odometer read 2171 miles. The FJ sat by a palm umbrella, sparkling where it wasn't mud-caked and exhibiting justifiably high self-regard, despite having achieved only 16.5 mpg according to the trip computer. We had interviewed everybody from Ricardo Rojas, a woodworker who had just been kicked back into Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila, to David Kimble, known to most every car enthusiast for his see-through illustrations, in Marfa, Texas. We had glimpsed javelinas and roadrunners. I'd devoured the best breakfast burrito in Texas, which is served at the Seminole Cafe in Comstock. We had narrowly missed out on interloping with armed smugglers. Pretty overwhelming, all of it, but if we could have turned south for Tampico and Veracruz and slid those eight zeros through customs, we might still be on the road.

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