Wednesday, May 6, 2015

the end of the road

Veo al final de mi rudo camino, que yo fui el arquitecto de mi propio destino. 
I see at the end of my rough journey, that I've been the architect of my own destiny.
- Amado Nervo

I feel pretty comfortable driving in Mexico. Actually, I feel comfortable driving just about anywhere. And I'm almost always the driver. Rental cars don't bother me. I like getting to test drive different cars. Every time I've gone to the Yucatan to volunteer with Proyecto Itzaes, I've rented a car. And the only mishaps I've had have been regarding the actual renting of the car. No matter what time you arrive, the process of filling out the rental paperwork and getting to drive away in your newly rented car takes several hours. I don't exactly know why, but it just does.

This is how much Mexican country-side I typically drive through

But then, while driving through the Yucatan last month, my car rental luck ran out. A rock hit the car's windshield. And at the very most top part of the windshield, half on the plastic that seals the glass to the roof. But just low enough to embed itself at least partly in the glass. But just high enough that I didn't know that was the case. However, once the crack started to spread in a long line down the window, I realized exactly what had happened. In the five minutes it took us to get home the crack had successfully run the entire length of the windshield. And it was only getting longer. I panicked. I didn't know what to do. This had never happened to me before. Not even in the US. I once had a windshield bashed by some thugs with baseball bats in Potrero Hill. But never a rock in the windshield. I guess it was about time this finally happened to me.

I quickly tried to decide what should I do; get an estimate from a nearby mechanic and pay for the repair before the rental was due back? Or break down and call the rental car company, knowing it would be a long painful process. I knew I couldn't drive the car again, so I had to do something. I called the rental agency. They were so nice. Surprisingly nice. With amazing customer service. I had never experienced this before. I was still skeptical this would go off without a hitch, but the nearest car rental depot (not the one we originally rented from) would send a driver out to our home, bringing a replacement car for us. It sounded too good to be true. Especially because I had to head to a village for an appointment and wouldn't be home for a few hours. They assured me they would sent someone in a few hours. It would all work out.

When we go home from Dzemul, there it was; a brand new, identical but red (our first car was turquoise) rental car, along with two patiently waiting agents. Though I had arrived only five minutes past my scheduled time, it seemed like they had been waiting for quite a while. When I asked the rental agents the length of their wait they politely responded that they had been there for an hour. Yet they didn't seem restless. Perhaps they were enjoying the sun, sand, and ocean. Yes, they assured me, the windshield will need to be replaced. ¡Que mala suerte!

So there we were, new and improved rental car at our disposal. Which was convenient. Because we were planning to leave the beach, drive south a few hours to my favorite ruins (Uxmal), and many hours later arrive at Bacalar, situated just south of Playa del Carmen. On the other coast. It was about a six hour drive but we planned to make it into one long day of driving and sightseeing along the way. We set out very early in the morning.

And we were driving along just fine. Highway driving in Mexico is pretty self explanatory. The highways are nice and new, although mostly two lane. Since the speed limits are high (at least 110 kph), it's completely normal to pass slow moving vehicles. When the roads aren't curvy or dangerous. I'm a pro at passing cars on single lane Mexican highways. It takes a lot of patience, but you can always eventually pass.

Which is why I was very perplexed when I quickly came upon seven cars going slightly slower up ahead of me. They were clearly waiting to pass a slow moving van. Wow, I thought, they must have some serious patience to wait so long to pass. But in time, I knew, we would all make it safely past the slow moving vehicle. We had many many more hours to drive; we couldn't exactly afford to drive so slowly for a very long time.

None of the cars ahead of us were going particularly slowly, nor were they inching to pass the slowest car at the front of the line. I thought about it for a split second before heading on to pass the cars myself. There was no use in waiting, after all. Except that the roads through the Yucatan can be windy. So I wouldn't have enough time to pass all seven cars at once. I started passing them two at a time. I passed the first two cars. They seemed content to be where they were. Hmm, I thought, maybe they're driving in a line. I wonder why. I can't be sure, but it doesn't seem as if they are trying to pass the front car. So I quickly passed the next two cars, and then the next two cars. Eventually I was right behind the slow moving van. And that's when I saw it. The giant picture of the Virgin Mary staring right at me. It was posted conspicuously in the rear view window.

It looked like a regular covered truck to me

Because it was a hearse. Carrying a corpse to its final resting place. And we had placed ourselves prominently first in line at a funeral procession. I swallowed hard. Was what I had been doing wrong? Was I not supposed to weave in and out of a funeral procession? Was there some tell tell sign early on in this process that I had completely missed? Or did I not know what was going on until just that moment? And once I realized where I was, was it wrong to try to head out and pass the hearse? So I did just that. I waited for a clear view of oncoming traffic and sped over and passed the hearse. What else was I to do? They were going far and long; but they were also going slow. They didn't need me embedding myself in their mourning processional.

So we drove on. And on and on and on. We were going to take Highway 184 from Uxmal to the Caribbean coast. Highway 184 would meet up with Highway 307, the main road from Cancun all the way down to Belize. We'd hit into 307, turn right, and drive a few miles down the coast to Bacalar. We'd been driving for hours, but we started passing the signs telling us that 307 was just ahead.

According to Google Maps, Highway 184 bisects Highway 307

Which it probably was. But we'll never know for sure. Because we never merged onto Highway 307. We never go that far. Instead, we drove on Highway 184 until the road just ended. That's right, the highway just stopped. So we stopped. And then we looked around. There were people coming towards us on foot. They were walking over with suitcases and backpacks. They were getting into taxis. They were driving away, the only direction the road went - back to where we had just come from.

I found a narrow place to turn around. And then attempted to ask a taxi driver for directions. He and his friends laughed as us. The road didn't intersect with the coastal road, at least not yet. The road would be built, someday. I couldn't believe it. The maps/gps indicated we could drive right on through. Except that we could see right in front of us; there was no actual road. Only a parking lot. The taxi driver drew us a map; we'd have to backtrack for a while, then turn off and pass through three villages before finally hitting 307, south of where we were. But we would hit it eventually. In only a few hours time.

So then I asked about the people coming towards us, from what appeared to be the other, coastal side. No one could answer me. Apparently there was an airport some place nearby. But that didn't explain the cars and people I could see ahead of us, driving inland from the coast to meet us. Except we wouldn't meet. Because there is a strip of highway missing. That just hadn't been built. Instead of continuing on the way we had planned, we had made it to the very end of the road. So we turned around, drove back back, turned off at a random desvio, and ended up in paradise. Because that's what happens in Mexico. Paradise is always just one wrong turn away.


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