Urrea imagines Mendez waking up on the morning of May 19th—the day of the Wellton 26’s walk through the desert. The Saturday morning is hot, and Mendez nurses his hangover with a breakfast of beans. He says goodbye to his girlfriend, Celia, and heads out onto the stinking street. He goes to Maradona’s house and tries to rouse him by knocking on the front door, but cannot. Mendez calls El Negro to tell him that Maradona is either gone or so drunk he can’t be woken, and El Negro calls Santos and Lauro to fill in. Urrea notes that “it says a lot about Maradona that he has to be replaced by two other polleros.” Mendez boards a bus and heads downtown.
As Urrea imagines Mendez’s morning on the day of the fateful walk, he allows his audience to bear witness to Mendez’s life and routine free of judgement. As Mendez sets out to collect Maradona and is unable to, the variables that will eventually lead to disaster seem to be falling into place, unbeknown to Mendez. With so many variables in play, Urrea seems to suggest that circumstances may have been different had the more experienced Maradona been along for the journey.
At the safehouse, the walkers are beginning to wake up. They eat a meager breakfast, then Mendez, Santos, and Lauro arrive. The polleros advise the walkers to go over to the store and buy water. Mendez tells the walkers to meet him at the bus station. At the corner store, the walkers buy waters along with candy, chocolate, and sodas.
The walkers seriously underestimate how brutal conditions would be—and what kind of provisions they would need. No one steered them in the right direction, either—the fact that they brought candy and sodas rather than real food and copious amounts of water shows both that no one had prepared them, and that no one was looking out for them.
At the bus station, Mendez urges the men to “look normal” while he bribes a bus driver. The walkers must pay fifty pesos each for passage to the border, and the bus driver takes their money without a word. Mendez warns the men that they will soon arrive at a checkpoint, and that if any of them are questioned as to their destination, they should say they are headed to San Luis. After successfully passing the checkpoint, Mendez instructs the driver to drop them off in a sandy spot just south of a rest area. It is one thirty in the afternoon, and the border is less than one hundred yards away. The men get off the bus and run through the sand to the border, where they step over a rusty barbed wire fence. Mendez welcomes them to the United States.
The beginning of the trip goes off largely without a hitch, and the men arrive in the United States via an abandoned border crossing where everyone—drivers and officials—seem to be open to bribery and looking in the opposite direction. The magnitude of the human trafficking business desensitizes all involved, it would seem, to the plight of those who stand to lose the most out of the exchange.
After five minutes, Mendez stops the men and tells them they are going to take another ride. Mendez walks down a road and disappears—he comes back a few minutes later in a van driven by El Moreno. Later, Urrea writes, the survivors will give differing accounts of what kind of van it was, and differing accounts of how many men piled in—some survivors claim at least seventy men had been in their group.
The many steps of this journey have been engineered by the smuggling gangs, it seems, in order to disorient walkers and make it more difficult for them to identify anyone involved, or to accurately remember the circumstances of their journey.
The men endure an uncomfortable ride that lasts a total of ninety minutes, though some survivors would later claim it took over four hours. Once the van arrives at a “big rock” which signals entry to the path they will walk, they disembark once again. Mendez briefs them on what their trip will hold: he promises that they will walk only at night, and only for a few hours at a time. They will wait out the sun in whatever brush they can find. Mendez tells the men that each of them is responsible for his own water, and once again insists that it is just a few hours’ walk to their next pickup spot.
The exaggerated statements about the time the men spent in the van, as well as how many men were packed in, demonstrate the how the traumatic journey impacted the memories of the people, who were deeply uncomfortable and mistreated. Mendez makes the journey seem like it will be an easy, straight shot, though it’s unclear to what extent he believes this himself.
What Mendez does not tell the walkers is that they have arrived at the big rock a couple hours ahead of schedule—normally, they would arrive just as the sun was going down, and walk into the night, but now the men face an extra couple hours of exposure to the triple-digit heat. As the men set off on foot, Urrea writes, “their Pepsis [are] already warm.”
The first hitch in the journey has been met, unbeknownst to the walkers—because they are starting out too early, they are at a disadvantage as they begin baking in the heat early on in their walk.