Sunday, September 10, 2006

Mexico: Free rides and rides of all kinds

After more than a month in this land of lime and chillies, Mexico can still surprise me. And, a few days ago I was taken for a ride I will not forget.

We started in Palenque, a jungle community in the middle of nothing but green and wilderness, spiced with ruins and the occasional poisonous creature. My friend and travelling companion, Christina, slept with a cobra in her room the night before, and the Howler monkeys roared continuously, nearly as loudly as the bullfrogs. Beautiful indeed, but the area was riddled with rich-hippies and pseudo-Hare Krishnas, so we opted to flee to the beach - partly so another friend could enjoy her last few days here under the sun before returning to the land of snowstorms and salted streets, and partly so our new friends, travelling Mexican artisans, could sell their wares. They make beautiful jewellery, and I'll be wearing some home.

We opted to hitchhike because collectively the 500 km trip would cost $500 USD, and catching "un ride" here is safe and certain, especially with two Mexican guys and five of us together at all times. We expected to spend the day on the backs of pick-up trucks, but ended up stranded at gas station about 80 km from our starting point.

No worries, though. Gas stations sell beer. Or, as our friends say: Very problem? Beer more. The longer we waited the drunker and more silly we became - harassing all those refusing to drive us. Then, with our minds properly lubricated, a transport truck pulled in to fill up and our fate changed.

During the next 5 hours, we rode backwards, drunk, for hundreds of kilometers. We really did. The transport truck drivers, you see, were delivering brand new cars to Mérida, for sale at legitimate dealerships.

And, I can now answer the age-old question: What happens to new cars before you buy them? Well, in Mexico anyway, some of those cars see plenty of rides before they ever reach the buyer. Rides of all kinds.

It began when one of our Mexican friends convinced the drivers to let us travel the entire way in a shiny new Camry, secured backwards on the bottom level of the enormous truck. We stashed our bags and climbed in. Bouncing down highway, my friends with the strongest imaginations pretended to drive, while the rest of us dozed in the back. Soon though, it became hot and stuffy in the Camry. As if they knew, the truckdrivers pulled over and came back to offer us a jug of water and the keys to the car. There was no reason, they said, that we shouldn't turn it on and use the air conditioning. I could think a few, but kept my mouth shut. There we sat in a running car on the back of a transport truck with a nice cool breeze, no longer sweating away that new car smell. We waited while the drivers siphoned gas from all the bottom level cars to sell at the corner store for a "cheap price". This side profit, we later learned, was slated for entertainment. One sin feeds another.

Off we drove, stopping only once more at a truckstop after dark, with the driver kicking us out of the Camry telling us he'd be done in 15 minutes, and disappearing into the vehicle with a plump truckstop prostitute. True to his word, we were ready to go in no time. God bless Mexico.

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