She'd been up for nearly 24 hours, it was horribly hot, and she still had to walk five blocks to the Greyhound station for the early morning bus that would - after three days of travel - deliver her to a job in a crab packing house on Maryland's Eastern Shore. But she was jubilant.
"We know our jobs are ready, and sometime we will get to Maryland," she said.
For Tovar Tovar, her sister Dora and three dozen other Mexican workers who traveled together, arrival here marked a tangible end to months of worry about jobs that are as important to them as they are to the Maryland seafood industry.
To enter the United States, the workers need a temporary visa from a program known for its citation in the law, H2B. Tovar Tovar and hundreds of other Mexicans with jobs waiting for them were at first denied visas because businesses in other parts of the country had used up the nation's quota of 66,000 workers.
But supporters of the program, led by Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, got emergency legislation through Congress that paved the way for the Mexicans to return for several months of work in seasonal positions in tourism, landscaping, seafood and other jobs.
The wait for congressional action meant Maryland's crab pickers are getting here about six weeks later than usual. But the timing turned out to be fortunate. A cold, wet spring meant fewer crabs, and fewer crabs meant there wasn't much work to be done - until now. In the past week or so, the harvest has started to pick up.
"It worked out good," Terry Vincent of Lindy's said yesterday, happy that workers for his plant were finally en route. "It's going to fall in place," he said.
For the Mexicans, getting to Laredo shortly before midnight Wednesday meant overcoming setbacks such as higher fares, new customs and border-crossing fees, a charter bus that was never booked and being temporarily stranded in Mexico's most violent city.
Before sunrise, 150 or more workers had already gathered in a small park next to the U.S. consulate in Monterrey. Most had arrived after six-to-eight-hour bus trips from the their home villages, including the tiny town of Palomas.
They waited for word from the recruitment companies that helped them get their American jobs, such as the Virginia-based Del-Al Associates, and lined up for State Department interviews.
Under close scrutiny from security officers, the first of the day's 350 interviews began as workers trailed through a back door and into a twisting line of temporary dividers. Interviews seemed perfunctory. Many lasted 10 minutes or less.
Maria Agular Valdez, 46, is returning to a job for seafood processor Virgil "Sonny" Ruark Jr. This will be her first crab season after a 10-year hiatus caring for her elderly father.
She expects to clear less than $200 a week after U.S. taxes are withheld and rent is paid for a house she will share with 10 other women. Good pickers can dig out 40 or 50 pounds of fluffy crab meat a day, earning 10 times what Agular Valdez could make at home in her mountain village of 600.
"In Mexico, I can't even get a job at my age," she said. "It will take me some time and practice to get my speed back, but I am happy to be here."
Nancy Gomez, 22, said she was happy to leave Durango to earn more. At home, she worked nine-hour shifts in a factory that makes electrical cables for cars. There, she earned 400 pesos a week, a little less than $40.
After sailing through their consulate interviews before 8 a.m., the workers from Palomas and Durango were told they would get their visas by 5:30 p.m. and be on a bus to the border.
Many ate breakfast at a nearby cafe, La Confianza, - the trust. The owner offers a quick photo service for visas and has a restroom. La Confianza is one of scores of shops, street vendors and other businesses that cater to workers who must kill time waiting for visa paperwork.