Divine intervention intervened. I think it was pretty clear from my replies to comments in the post from Mexico City that I was wavering in my resolve to drive to Mérida. After all, it was another 1,400 miles of driving on a trip that has frankly been more physically challenging than I had anticipated. Croft warned me of the endlessly rutted road. And I knew that there wasn’t a lot to see along the way. I also wondered about the sufficiency of my air conditioning. But the gods were to have none of the wavering and doubt, and so they hurled a thunderbolt at exactly the right moment.
Joanna, of Writing from Mérida, normally reads my blog (and I read hers), and we’ve become buddies since I reviewed her novel, The Woman Who Wanted the Moon. However, she had been on a self-imposed deadline to make some material progress on another book, and thus sequestered herself away to focus and write. No blog reading. No commenting. So what happened? She came out of hiding on Saturday night, and decided to catch up on my blog. She left a bunch of nice comments, and then delivered the coup de grace in the form of an e-mail.
How ever you get here, you will be in good hands. Jorge and I know our area extremely well and would help you get wherever you want to go – with or without your own wheels.
You could stay with us if you like. We have a cool pool and still-colder beer to keep the heat at bay. Steve Cotton was in town a few weeks ago and we introduced him to the panucho place at the end of our street. Lee Steele and other bloggers who have also visited us agree they are the best in the whole world.
I do apologize again for my absence of late… if you make it to Merida, I’ll show you what I’ve been working on and you’ll see why…
So keep on truckin’ on Kim… we’ll make Yucatan worth your while.
After such a gracious invitation, what else could I do? I hopped into the truck and set sail for Yucatán.
The drive itself was fairly unremarkable. From Minatitlán, I headed west to Villahermosa (“beautiful town” in Spanish). Though it’s not really fair to judge a place from the highway, it didn’t strike me as particularly beautiful, and it’s not on the coast either. Unfortunately, there’s no ring road leading around town, so the “highway” becomes a four-lane city street with lots of traffic, stop lights, and weird turns to keep on the same route. This is the case with many Mexican highways, so if you’re traveling, you have to consider that some 5 mile stretches will take you a good 45 minutes to cover. After breaking free of Villahermosa’s grip, I headed north toward the Caribbean. Fortunately this time I had written down my route on a scrap of paper, including three cities immediately north of Villahermosa, figuring that at least one of them would be on a road sign. This worked well, and kept me from getting lost. Soon I was at the coast, with turquoise waters of the gulf twinkling off to my left side.
The area is very Caribbean in every sense of the word. As the highway skirts the coast, one can alternately see white sandy beaches with turquoise water and scrubby jungle. The beaches range from open expanses of lonely sand, to places with hammocks and palapas, to rather large and posh beach houses with garages, awnings, and wide frontage to the water. Ciudad Del Carmen lies on the southern tip of the Isla del Carmen, and appears to be a typical Caribbean backwater — poor, but brightly colored. As I cross the bridge into the town, the highway temporarily turns to dirt and there’s a toll booth, but one unlike any I’ve ever seen. A man without a uniform mans a very small stand, like a colorful lectern powered by a portable generator. He wants 65 pesos as toll, and I have an internal debate as to whether I should pay him or not. On the lectern, there’s a faded state emblem. I root around in my pockets for money. This is the most informal toll stop I’ve ever experienced in my life and my internal skeptic is raging. But there’s lots of cars behind me, and I figure that the path of least resistance is to pay. Sixty five pesos lighter, I’m on my way.
I pass through colorful subsistence territory. There are topes every 100 meters, and the going is slow. Two chickens dash across the road ahead of me, and I cannot help but think of the old joke. As I pass by to look at their escape route, they’ve disappeared into a backyard. Many signs along the road advertise “pulpa de jaiva.” Shelled crab meat, either to eat or to use as bait for octopus. Typically crab in Spanish is spelled “jaiba,” but perhaps the “v” is a local variation. People have boat docks in their back yards. In one front yard, a woman cuddles her daughter as they catch a siesta in a hammock. Curious little three-wheeled vehicles ply the roads. I feel like a visitor from another world, as I drive through in my airconditioned cab, iPod playing Tina Turner’s concert in Germany. The whole scene is colorful and interesting, but I’m averaging about 20 MPH, and I grow impatient.
Fortunately, we get out of “town,” and I’m able to get back to 60-70 mph again. After another couple of hours, I arrive in Champotón, Campeche, a turquoise-tinged dot on the map which hugs the Caribbean coast. There’s no more “pulpa de jaiva.” We’ve now entered “cocktel de camarón” territory. Exhausted, I spot the new “Lua Hotel,” and decide to spend the night. Despite being in what I would consider pretty much the middle of nowhere, they have wireless internet, LCD TVs, and are building a pool. The hotel is right next to what appears to be the best restaurant in town, so I pull in. I am not disappointed. The hotel is new and nice. The a/c unit in the room is beyond adequate, and I later have a terrific shrimp dinner at the restaurant next door.
The next day I finally drive to Yucatán. Joanna had emailed me a set of very clear directions to get to her house, and those directions worked flawlessly. At about 3:30 PM, I pull up to her house, and there she is, welcoming me with open arms. I jump out and give her a hug. I can’t believe it. I’m finally here! Four thousand, five hundred and sixteen miles later, I’ve finally done it! Boston to Mérida! Inside, Jorge her husband is preparing me a margarita. What a welcome! I felt so incredibly blessed. We hang out in their house, have lunch, take a dip in their pool, and then Joanna and Jorge take me for a tour of the centro, their university, and the Paseo de Montejo, Mérida’s response to the Champs Elysées.
After we return, they show me the guest room, and I go to sleep thanking my lucky stars for a couple of wonderful new friends, and another amazing day on my road trip through Mexico. I am truly blessed, and this fact reasserts itself every step of the way. Thanks to everyone who has made this trip simply amazing.
Sorry for the lack of photos, but my connection is crashing every time I try to upload them. I figure text is better than nothing. Saludos.