Day one shouldn’t have been a such long one, but because of a certain fail in my usually mad research skills…it was. But it wasn’t a disaster….just… long.
The first part was easy: Fly from Alabama to Houston to Cancun. It was a Monday. The Spring Breakers must fly on the weekend because at one point the flight attendant commented, “Y’all sure are quieter than the group yesterday.”
(We didn’t have to fly into Cancun, of course. There is an airport in Merida, which would have been closer to most of our target destinations. However, the flight times and prices were far better in and out of Cancun. It also seemed to work so we could work Chichen Itza in at the beginning on the way out of Cancun and Cabo and Tulum in on our way in.)
Surprisingly, the second part was easy, too. I had been advised that flying into Merida might also be a better choice than Cancun simply because of the wait at immigration, but that proved not to be the case. Ten minutes, tops, including customs.
*I had read about the gamut of timeshare hawkers at the Cancun airport – it wasn’t bad and took no special skills to navigate. Not nearly as bad as the souvenir hawkers at Chichen Itza and Tulum!
The rental car wasn’t bad either. I’d arranged it before hand, the price quoted and insurance coverage quoted (a sticky point in Mexico) was as arranged, and Joseph watched the man who preceded us in line take photos of the dents in his car before driving away just as I had told his skeptical self I was going to do.
And then…we were off.
Now, I had done enough research to absorb the truth that “There are two roads from Cancun to Chichen Itza. One is long and boring and goes through a lot of small towns, and the other is long and boring and expensive, but doesn’t go through small towns and as such is not *quite* as long – even though it’s more boring.”
Huh, I thought. We have ten days of interesting in front of us. I don’t mind a stretch of boring driving. We’ll opt for the toll road.
Only one problem.
I turned on said toll road and began driving on it. I’d noted – because it was noted for me before we drove away – that in contrast to American car rental practices, I wasn’t given a full tank of gas to start with. No problem, I said. I’ll get more in a few minutes, after I get the hang of this driving thing. I had my son look at the Maya Adventure map.
“It’s got gas stations marked,” I said and jabbed at the map. “I’ll stop at that one.”
He was silent, then ventured. “I don’t….think…you can. “
I scoffed, and now you old Yucatan hands are shaking your heads. I don’t know how my research had missed the cold hard fact that there are, indeed, no exits for many, many kilometers, and even at that first stop – which is in not an exit, but a toll booth – there is no gas.
An amazing beginning to a Mexican adventure, right? Stranded by the side of the road with no gas in the dusk? The possibility began to dawn on me. This could actually happen. No joke.
I watched that fuel gauge creep slowly toward E – and it was so slow, I had some hope. It seemed to barely budge after fifty kilometers. But as it dawned on me that no, there really was no gas until Valladolid, over 100 kilometers down the road, I started to wonder…what in the hell am I going to do? What is wrong with these people? What if there was a real emergency???
I’ve gotten close to E before, but always knowing that a gas station was a mile down the road…but here…there just wasn’t.
Well. This is a nice start, isn’t it? Stranded by the side of a Mexican toll road on a Monday evening?
Well, there’s a toll booth. A toll booth with some refreshments and a sign indicating one could get help for…something. No gasoline symbol, though. Well, I would ask anyway. So I asked the toll booth attendant about gasoline. He shrugged and waved. Nope. Not until Valladolid.
“You need gasoline?
He motioned to his left, on the other side of the road. “Go there. You will get gasoline.”
I obeyed – what else was I going to do ? I had an eighth of a tank left to drive about sixty kilometers. I might have been able to do it, but it was really too risky. I swung around and pulled up to a shabby building with a Cruz Rosa truck in front of it.
The fellow – Nelson, his name was – and I understood each other enough for him to tell me that gas would be gotten for me, and it would take about 30 minutes and 200 pesos. I really didn’t care. Again…what else was I going to do?
So he sent his assistant off, and he hung out, and we attempted to chat. He told me, as I mentioned, that his name is Nelson. I asked him about pronunciation of certain words, especially those with an “X” – in Maya, it’s got an “sh” sound to it, specifically what depending on its placement in front of a vowel or consonant, I guess. We stretched that out for a while. He instructed me how to say, “Valladolid.” I bought the boys water. Nelson talked to me about Chichen Itza. We watched tour bus after tour bus thunder past, away from the ruins and towards Cancun. We waited.
Eventually, the older guy appeared with two rather large containers of gasoline. What I suspect is that they usually have a store on hand – Nelson said that the lack of gas stations on the road was a continual problem – and since it was late in the day, they had run out.
And we were off. Doing what I hadn’t wanted to do – drive in the dark – but it was that blasted, toll road, with plenty of lights, not some windy country road.
Finally – I crawled through the town of Piste, lively with bikes, business tricycles, shops and food stops open to the street – I would not have minded stopping, but we needed to get to our hotel…..MAYALAND…
It was the most expensive lodging of our trip, but I wanted to knock of Chichen Itza early the next morning, and this was the ideal stay for that purpose. The room was large and clean – not even one free bottle of water offered though, which isn’t ideal for a facility which hosts a lot of folks who have been advised not to drink water out of the tap. The grounds are lovely, the food was okay (but again – the most expensive of the trip), and the staff very good. Peacocks perched on the roof near our room, and you could see the ruins’ observatory from the balcony.
And someone….was in heaven.