Last week’s post looked at the serious side of our trip to Mexico, an emotional and heartwarming reunion. This week I thought I’d share a more comical take on the cultural immersion experience. Driving in foreign countries is always an adventure. With a baby in tow, driving (or really riding – nice to have chauffeurs!) in Mexico challenged my adventurous spirit.
As it turns out, our initial ride once we reached Veracruz was a nice easing in, you might say. The fabulously generous Gabriel (our brother-in-law) picked us up from the airport. Side note: Neither Jorge or I had ever met Gabriel or really talked to him, so we had to pull up a photo of him on the phone to make sure we didn’t run up to the wrong guy in the airport’s arrivals area. Luckily the airport was tiny! Gabi has a small car similar to what you would expect in the States but maybe smaller. I had plenty of room to put in the car seat that we dragged through airports all the way to Mexico and have Camila sit in luxurious safety. Great. Thus the easing in. The downside – we arrived at 12:25 pm, in the midday sun, in 100 degree heat, and the car had no air conditioning! For two hours, we drove on a highway filled with pothole after pothole. Gabi had clearly made this trip a thousand times, because he knew exactly when to swerve, slow down, and practically drive on the shoulder to avoid insanely deep holes. I received a crash course in how to effectively use windows when you’re dying of heat and need air but the car is driving too fast to tolerate the tornado on your face if you keep the window too open. Again, Gabi was a great guide. Like clockwork, he would roll the window down more when he slowed for towns, construction, extended periods of potholes, and quickly rolled it back up (mid-sentence, by the way) when he hit the gas. For my part, I tried to follow his lead.
Let me just expose my vanity here for a second. I was about to meet my in-laws for the very first time and experience the lovely reunion I wrote about last week. I had imagined this moment in my mind a LOT as we planned this trip. What would I wear? What would I say? Now imagine how I felt to arrive in Casas Viejas for this great moment dripping with sweat, prying the sweat-soaked skirt from my legs, and patting down my tornado-swept hair in an attempt to look at all presentable. Wasn’t what I envisioned, but hey, life rarely is.
With this easing in, it was less surprising for me to find that almost no vehicles we encountered had air conditioning. Mi suegra (mother-in-law) called a taxi one day that advertised having AC as a way of being nice to me really (gracias!!!). When he arrived he said, “Oh sorry. The AC’s not working and it costs too much to fix it.” And that was that. Another side note: the taxi driver was a primo (cousin). Everyone I met in all of Mexico I think was somehow related to my husband.
So no air conditioning and 105, 110 degrees. I can deal with that, I guess. The true adventures were about to begin.
Almost all subsequent vehicles we rode in could be categorized as jalopies. Urban Dictionary definition of ‘jalopy’: an old, beat up piece of sh** car/truck (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=jalopy&utm_source=search-action). Apt description. We routinely crammed 12 or more people into the farm trucks, along with a mountain of stuff, to drive on the bumpy dirt roads to the arroyo (little river) or even to a neighboring town. My favorite jalopy was loving referred to as the “Combi” because it was two different colors, the cab from one truck and the bed from another. Where all the family and stuff was piled in the back, there was no tailgate, so the sides were simply held together by rope. Perfectly safe!
It was in the Combi that we had some of the most excitement of the trip. One evening on our way back from the land, the little Combi couldn’t quite make it up the big hill on the land and instead slid halfway down the hill sideways into the pineapple field. This wouldn’t have been so terrifying (despite that fact that I was sure we were going to flip), but I was in the front passenger seat with Camila on my lap, and of course the window doesn’t work and was stuck completely open. One thing I learned in Mexico is that pineapple plants are really, really sharp. I was just envisioning us rolling, open window with pineapple daggers attacking us. But alas, no dramatic flip. Instead we were rolling with laughter as Fallo (my brother-in-law) had to come with a tractor to push the Combi out of the field. Poor pineapples!
The best jalopy experience, though, had to be on the day trip to Catemaco. Jorge found a primo with an SUV willing to let us borrow it for the day to drive the family to Catemaco. We needed something enclosed. So we go to the mechanic shop in town (the primo is a mechanic) to pick up the Ford Explorer circa 1995. I laughed as the primo went around the vehicle explaining all the things we needed to know. “This door doesn’t open. This one does, but you have to pull up and then turn the handle slightly to the right to get it to open. This window only goes down a couple inches. This one doesn’t go down at all. The back latches, but it doesn’t close properly so there is always a Door Ajar light on.” It went on and on. After the run down, we were like, “Great! We’ll take it. Thanks!” This was pretty par for the course anyway. So next morning, we pile all of us into this SUV, putting down cushions for the kids to SIT IN THE BACK with the cooler. In fact, they loved it. They were sleeping through every bump like 15 minutes into the 2 hour drive. We stopped at the waterfall first and enjoyed the views, a picnic, some shopping, etc. When we got back to the SUV to go to the lake for a boat tour, we realized that now the one functioning door in the back wouldn’t open either. For the remainder of the stops that day, we all climbed in through the front door and squeezed our way back through the vehicle. It looked like a clown car!! But we were grateful for the ride, and I’m sure primo (I kind of forgot this primo’s name 😦 ) now just adds this to his list of things that don’t really work on that car. No biggie.
All of these vehicles either got us to our next adventure or were the adventure in themselves. And I’m grateful for each new adventure!