Friday, July 11, 2008


It's midnight. We've just finished a satisfying dinner on our first night in Cancun. The rain was fallen steadily all night long pausing only briefly here and there and then suddenly breaking loose in long ropes filling up the streets and turning puddles on street corners into ankle deep traps of murky water. We strike off on foot during one of the pauses. Both of us are feeling recovered from the flight, the airport ordeal, the disappointing weather. We're together in a strange place with only one ambition, to look around.
Together we attempt to reassemble the information we have that will enable us to get back to our hotel, a 25 minute bus ride. Here's what we think we know: the guide book says that buses run 24 x 7 to the hotels; the concierge said the same thing; a kind stranger who told us where to get off the bus and gave us directions to the restaurant said something about making a loop to get back to the place where we could catch a bus to the Zona Hotelera. Finally, both of us vaguely remember a giant sculpted clam shell on the median strip of the four lane highway coming into Cancun.
Armed with that intelligence we set off. We're wet but the air is warm. The streets are pretty deserted, in retrospect something of a clue, and as we near what we hope is the same four lane road we started on, we notice only a few buses going by and their signs are no longer lit up. We keep walking. Nothing seems familiar; rather, everything sort of looks the same. We are on a main road, there even some local Cancun hotels along this route. Here and there we see people standing in the middle of a lane hailing taxis. We decide to cross to the other side thinking that is the direction the buses to the hotel zone will be traveling. We continue walking in the same direction as before, against traffic, looking for a bus stop. We come to a decrepit looking bus stop with a bench that sits under a shelter that once had a rooftop but no longer. Beth eyes it suspiciously and seems to want to continue walking. It is our first moment of divergence.
"Where you going?" I say.
"To find a bus stop," she says.
"This is a bus stop."
"I don't think so."
"Look," I say pointing at the sign which is nearly completely obscured by darkness. I also point a bit more confindently to the bench and the skeleton of the shelter.
She lingers a few feet away, holding steady at that distance I think of as her tractor beam range. "Maybe we should look for a stop that's more..."
"More what?"
"I don't know...valid."
I feel dangerously close to becoming disputational when a bus rumbles up. It's sign is also darkened, but I thrust my hand out to flag him down. He stops and opens the door. I can see passengers inside looking blankly through the windows. "Zona Hotelera?"
The driver shakes his head and points across the road. "Otro lado." The door swings shut and the bus roars away.
We cross the street once more but we can't seem to find a bus stop. Worse, not a single bus goes past us while we walk. Neither of us has to say it. We're lost. Still despite the minor hiccup over the bus stop, we're both in good spirits. And then we see the giant clam shell. We walk quickly toward it. Our first view of the clam shell had been rather fleeting. As we look at it now we are confronted by a kind of clover leaf of merging roads, none of them with sidewalks. It's impossible to judge which one goes to the hotel zone. We spot a Pemex station on the far side so we make our way toward it.
Crossing these streets is a bit dicey since the lanes are curved and it is hard to see traffic coming from any distance. Cars come around the curves at breakneck speeds and what with the darkness and the rain and our distinctly different perceptions of risk Beth and I find ourselves struggling to cross the roads together, sometimes going hands clasped together, other times halting or releasing the other to make a break for it. It almost seems more dangerous going together than simply taking it at our own pace and meeting up at the other side.
Finally we are at the station. There is a taxi fueling up there and as we trudge by he says, "Where are you going?"
"The Zone Hotelera," I say.
"We're catching a bus," Beth adds.
We keep walking through the lights of the station and into the shadows beyond. The road extends into the night bounded on both sides by grass medians by no sidewalks. I am skeptical that this is a good place to catch a bus; I'm also worried that it may be the wrong direction. Beth is similarly worried. We stand on the grass together and collect our thoughts. The road is practically deserted.
Suddenly the taxi pulls up and stops at the curb. The cabbie rolls down the passenger window and leans out, "I take you there, ten dollars."
"We're taking a bus," declares Beth.
The taxi driver shakes his head. "No bus. I take you there, ten dollars."
Even though I'm sympathetic to idea of taking this taxi, I want to get to the bottom of this bus idea too. "They told us there are buses to the hotel zone."
Again he shakes his head, "Si, but now it is too late. It's after midnight. No buses from Cancun. You must take taxi."
Beth presents another piece of our precious intelligence, "They told us the buses run all day and all night."
The taxi driver drops his head. All we can see is his wavy dark hair. When he looks up again he addresses Beth directly. "Lady, there are no buses from Cancun after midnight. In the Zona Hotelera si, but it is long from here."
I look at Beth and say, "He may be right. Maybe they meant in the hotel zone." I can see that she already grasps this. She is thinking of something else.
Beth regards the taxi driver and smiles, " Five dollars."
This causes the taxi driver to laugh out loud. "Lady, it's long!"
"The bus only costs 85 cents!"
"Lady, there is no bus."
Beth pauses. I watch. I've seen Beth in this mode before, ten years ago when we traveled and lived in Chiapas. It's a side of her that her American friends probably never imagined.
"Seven dollars, the two of us."
As I watch this negotiation I'm struck by two things. First, how untenable our situation is. We had no leverage out here on this deserted and dark road in the rain with no buses running and literally no idea where we are. Second, the smiles on both their faces, Beth and the driver. Beth's smile is, I know, kindled by a kind of innocent relish for haggling. The driver's smile strikes me as indulgent and good humored.
The driver looks at Beth, then at me, then at Beth again. He speaks more slowly this time. "Lady. It's long."
"Let's take it sweetie." She nods still smiling.
"OK!" I say barely able to contain my joy.
"Where are you staying?" the driver says as he gets out to help us.
Beth laughs and waves him back in the car. "The Ritz. We haven't got any bags."
"I am Enrique," he says as he gets behind the wheel.
In a few seconds we're rattling around the cloverleaf and hurtling off into the night. I've completely lost my bearings and am completely happy to be wherever I am. Beth strikes up a friendly chat with the driver in Spanish. He, not surprisingly, turns out to be a thoroughly amiable and engaging man. Beth and the driver sort through finally the bus situation. We have a good laugh about it.
"We were lost and in the rain," says Beth.
"You are lucky you met me. I'm a nice guy," he says earnestly.
Beth regards the passing hotels and discos and shopping malls. "It is far."
"Normally, to the Ritz it's 16 dollars. I told you lady; it's long."
"Tell me Enrique, will it rain tomorrow."
"It rain this morning and tonight. Tomorrow it no rain. Not tomorrow." We cling to his words as if they are oracles.
He pulls up the gate blocking entry to the Ritz. An attendant peeks inside and requests our room number. As the gate lifts up in the air, Beth laughs and says to Enrique, "Aqui es muy seguro." (Here it is very safe.)
Enrique chuckles and adds, "Si, no qualqien gente puede entrar." (Not just anyone can get in here.)
I wish I could speak Spanish well enough to tell Enrique how happy I am to have spent twenty minutes in his cab, to have been delivered from an uncertain and unraveling night to the very lap of luxury, and to have been captivated by his personal charisma even to the point of believing that tomorrow the sun would chase the clouds away.
It was a lovely end to a thoroughly unscripted first day in Cancun.
The next morning, when I parted the curtains and looked from our terrace out over the Carribean I couldn't help but laugh.
It was pouring rain.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm remembering the last time you were both in Mexico. You kept a journal, not online, but on actual paper- haha. I'm glad you're still journalling! Love and hugs to you both~ Love, Erin

5:10 PM  

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