Wednesday, November 9, 2016

3 Days of Hell

O.K, maybe one day of hell and two, highly unpleasant aftermath days.

New rule: No more big cities. We intentionally avoided LA on our way out of California, but we neglected to route ourselves around all the major Mexican cities. Our most unpleasant driving experiences have been in or around those cities.

As is typically the case, the gals, Penelope and Laurie, were wise enough to call it a night relatively early our last evening at Don Pepe's. The boys, on the other hand, stayed up drinking and talking politics until 1:00 a.m. Even though it hurt the next day, it was worth every painful moment. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Ian titled these shots, Boys being naughty at night and dogs.

We rolled out of Don Pepe's pretty early on Saturday morning. We ended up giving Ian and Pen a ride into town so they could catch a cab into Mexico City. I had easily spent 3 hours the day before pre-driving our route in virtual reality land. It was the most complex route yet. Interchanges on the freeways were convoluted, at best, and I was pre-stressed out before we even began driving.

Less than half an hour into our journey, just as we're exiting the primary freeway into Mexico City, we get pulled over by the police. While the officer spoke nearly no English, he managed to relate to us that we, as foreigners, were not allowed to drive on Saturday. I found this to be hard to believe until researching it later, but, nonetheless, he's a cop and we're visitors. The one English word he did have a very solid grasp of was "dollars," as in $5,000 DOLLARS - the fine he told us we were on the hook for for driving two vehicles, illegally, on a Saturday, through Mexico City. Without belaboring the point, we ended up paying him off with about $150 and he escorted us to the Puebla exit.

We made it through one more toll before being extorted again. The second time, my frustration and anger outweighed my 6 hours of sleep, my hangover, my inexperience with being held up, and the stress of anticipating a long, convoluted day's drive, so cop number two only got $12. Unfortunately, these early day experiences totally ruined our day. We were completely paranoid for the remainder of our drive. For over an hour, I intentionally drove at about 40 mph just to avoid approaching another police car we saw ahead of us on the highway.

Pulling into Cholula, a suburb of Puebla, we got a bit lost, as usual. The Google Maps Gal took us in circles a time or two until guiding us in the back way to Trailer Park Las Americas - the only RV park in this area. One of final turns was so tight two locals had to guide us as our front bumper scraped the base of a street light pole, just clearing the turn and avoiding yet another unhooking of the truck and the resulting traffic jam.

Las Americas is a basic, small, but nice park - more hotel/hostel than RV park. I found the only spot out of about 20 sites that had a plug (dangling from the wall) a water spigot and a waste drain access. Once again, we were the sole occupants of the RV portion of the park. The setting was grassy and nice, but our mood was foul. This was compounded by the fact that as we were pulling in, the large explosions began just outside the gate. It felt like we had entered a battle zone.

Christians in this country love to set off explosions in conjunction with their worship services, and this town takes the practice to the extreme. The whole time we were there the explosions began before sunrise, started again later in the morning, mid-day and again in the evening. Poor Tess barely left the RV. When we could get her out of the bathroom, she curled up in a corner and quivered the whole time. Even though we could have used a third night of rest and recovery, the constant explosions were just too much to take, and we were sick and tired of being cold every night for the last week and a half, so we left early morning after our second night.
Having to wear a sweatshirt in Central America? Really?

We had to depart via the highway just north of Puebla so it was big city traffic again. Thank God for the Google Maps Gal. We would have never been able to navigate out of the city on our own. We had a pretty smooth drive and after a couple hours of driving we started into the cloud forest. It was stunningly lush with vegetation, and totally beautiful, but it amounted to a 7,000 foot descent on the smallest, windiest roads imaginable and we got stuck behind brick boy - a full size semi truck loaded, stem to stern, with cinder blocks. Given the angle of descent and the narrowness of the turns and the lanes, he should have never been on this road, but that's my limited, American perspective.

A sideline on Mexican driving:
While everyday life in Mexico is slower paced, driving is full-speed ahead and chaotic. Road signs mean nothing. You don't stop or yield or refrain from passing when it's dangerous. If there are 50 cars at a 4-way intersection, all vehicles are within a foot of one another and constantly jockeying for position. No one courteously lets you into traffic - you must make your own hole. If you are not as aggressive as everyone else, you will not get anywhere. All this being said, the whole, chaotic mess is accepted by everyone and amazingly civil. No one seems to get pissed and honking is usually an indication of them taking a certain action - not expressing anger. I, however, still shout profanities from time to time and Laurie periodically freaks with the occasional, "holy shit."

Back to brick boy. Visibility on this entire stretch of road never gets more than a few car lengths, but this doesn't stop every - single - driver from passing. Every single driver that is, but us. Now, we're the idiots because we refuse to throw our lives to the fates and pass brick boy. After we were about 2/3 down the mountain, my brake pedal was literally at the floor. Finally, we found a spot big enough to pull over and unhook the truck to take some of the strain off of the RV brakes. I dropped it into the lowest gear (which still had me going faster than I was behind brick boy) so I barely had to use the brakes and we completed our descent - me in the RV, Laurie in the truck. I no longer had the advantage of Google Maps Gal, but fortunately, I recognized this stretch of town from my virtual pre-drive and we successfully made it halfway through town before encountering - yep - brick boy again. Christ.
Brick Boy's Butt

Anyway, we pulled over a time or two to let the 20 or so accumulated cars behind us pass. A courtesy, I might add, the likes of which had never before been witnessed in Mexico. Toward the end of our jaunt along this long, slow stretch, we had a yet, even slower truck get in front of us traveling at a stunning 15-20 mph. Finally, we hit more open road and were able to make it to our destination on the east coast of Mexico in the northern part of Veracruz.

We're staying at Coco Loco. It's not an RV park. Martin, a European expat, has run this place for 25+ years. It has about a dozen rooms, a couple of larger cabanas, a few camping spots, and a restaurant. We've run an extension cord from the beach-side palapa and are filling our water tank from the hose. There is no sewer hook up so I'll do it by hand for a few days.

Need I say it? We have the place to ourselves and Martin is a dog lover so our kids have the run of the place. We're right on the beach. Given the three prior days to our arrival here, we had already determined we were going to roost for awhile. Martin's place is rustic, quiet and comfy. I'm writing this Wednesday morning. It rained last night and today is cold and gloomy. A fitting atmosphere given the news I read this morning. More reason to sit tight and try to bolster our spirits before moving on. I suspect there are more of you who are now seriously considering joining us in Belize.

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