Saturday, July 19, 2008

Never a Bad Day in Mexico

So there we were. Cruising down the highways of Mexico in our buggy, embarking on what we believed to be a 20-25 minute drive.

About 15 minutes into the trip we saw a sign that indicated we were not close to Playa del Carmen. I don't remember how many kilometers away we were, but it was more than 10 minutes worth.

Trey asked, "Do you still think this is a good idea?"

"It'll make a great story," I replied.

And we drove on.

Soon I was distracted from the shaking and the roar of the engine by a distinctive sizzling sound. I began to look around me, and that's when I thought maybe I smelled fire. Something was definitely cooking - what could it be? Upon further inspection, I learned that something was, in fact, cooking.

It was us! (Okay, maybe I was exagerrating about the sizzle and the smell.) Our exposed skin had started to turn red and even purple as we cruised. Trey's face was glowing, and his forearms glistened with sweat and fifth degree sunburn (if that even exists). The tops of my legs felt like they were going to boil, and I fully expected to see a scene from Alien when I looked down at the tops of my feet - I knew I would see the skin puckering and rising from my bones.

As Trey drove on, he noticed my concern from the corner of his eye, but he said nothing - resigned to our fate.

"At least there's a the wind on our faces - it's not really too hot," I offered, trying to salvage the trip.

And then we got stopped in traffic. No wind. Complete stillness exacerbated by the smell of tour bus exhaust. It was as if we were sitting in a crock pot. I fully expected some giant heli-monster to come bounding over the buildings to pluck us up and pop us into his mouth for a mid-afternoon snack, like we were in a B movie horror flick.

It was at this moment that I chose to ask what could be the most important question of the trip. "Do you know where we're going?"

He shot arrows in my direction as he replied, "I think we turn by a Walmart."

I was struck by the reality that we were baking in a bright yellow dune buggy in Playa del Carmen looking for a Walmart. Somehow, that lightened the tense mood.

We had been traveling 45 minutes or more and we knew we were in Playa. After we saw no Walmart, we decided to go ahead and hang a left toward the beach. We traveled a few blocks and then decided that it would be best to park and walk. So we parked on a street darkened by the overhanging trees, hopped over the side of the car, and took off down the broken asphalt.

We sweated and we walked and we sweated and we walked. We passed a building surrounded by construction workers, but those were the only people we saw. We walked more, and still no people, just dilapidated buildings and the occasional mariachi music spilling from an open door. This was no tourist site, there was no open-air market. We dejectedly decided to head back to the car.

I told Trey I was going to summon all of my Spanish skills and ask for directions. We knew we wanted to go to fifth street. We knew we wanted the market. So we entered the convenience store on the corner.

"English?" I asked the man, praying for a yes answer.


"Okay, I can do this," I thought. I repeated my new mantra: "I am a Spanish speaker. I am a Spanish speaker."

"Donde esta calle cinco? Mercado?" I timidly asked.

Fast, unintelligible Spanish followed.

"Que?" I asked, hoping my puzzled look would slow him down.

The man thought for a moment, then he said, "Blocks. Diez blocks." and he pointed.

"Gracias!" I exclaimed. I almost hugged him! We were going to make it to our final destination! I am a Spanish speaker! I am awesome!

Trey bought two ice cold Diet Cokes from him and we practically ran to our buggy. Less than five minutes later we spotted the familiar market, parked our car, and (still sweating) traipsed triumphantly down the street. I was feeling good then - I am a Spanish speaker, remember? After we walked a short way I stopped a random person on the street and asked "Donde esta Tequila Barrel?"

"Two more blocks," the man replied in perfect English, obviously not too amazed at my bi-lingualness. So we trekked on.

Then we saw the round barrel shaped chairs and knew we were there - at the restaurant that saved our honeymoon. We sat down, ordered bottled water and margaritas, and started checking out the menu.

Guacamole. It sounds simple, doesn't it. But the mere word guacamole doesn't begin to describe what they serve at the Tequila Barrel. I'd be lying if I said I didn't consider lifting the bowl and licking out every last drop before we left. The enchiladas and margaritas were likewise delicious. I was giddy. The ridiculous car, the sweltering heat, the baking sun were all worth it once we arrived.

Here we are at the Tequila Barrell:

Beside us sat a young man and young woman - early twenties, perhaps. Trey began making up their story - and I love when he does this. His story this time was quite probable - she was there with her parents and little sister, but had met the guy the night before in a Mexican bar. He had come to Mexico with friends some time ago and somehow stayed on there, working occasionally and drinking his days away on anyone else's dime he could find.

The facts from their conversation were these -

1) He kept ordering drinks and putting them on her tab.

2) She went on and on about how she can't stand girls who get by on daddy's money, and then she spoke at length about her sorority adventures.

3) They traded war stories about all the times they had ever been injured, or broken bones, or had stitches, each time one-upping the other. Classic "we don't even know each other" conversation.

4) She told him that she and her boyfriend agreed before she left that what happens in Mexico stays in Mexico. Sounded like a really strong relationship - and eeewwwww.

Also of interest was the large man who walked very closely past us wearing only a very tiny speedo. I'm sorry we didn't take a picture. Or maybe you're welcome.

We ate, we reminisced, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there. On the way back to the car we decided we should buy something cheap to cover us up on the way back so we wouldn't continue to sunburn. I paid five dollars for a sarong to wrap around my legs (which was actually just a piece of fabric cut from the bolt), and Trey got a great deal on a burlap-esque pullover that brandished the word "MEXICO" across the front and a boasted a giant iguana across the back. Just what he's always wanted.

And we drove back to our hotel, passing the Playa del Carmen Walmart as we turned out onto the highway. Happy. Full. Accomplished. As it turned out, the dune buggy was kind of a cool car. It took us on a great adventure. Here we are just before we turned in the car:

Once again this proves that seaside in Mexico, there is no such thing as a bad day.

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