Saturday, January 2, 2010


The last thing the Yucateco cab driver said to me before exiting his taxi to go talk to the Federales (the notoriously-corrupt federal police force in Mexico) was to tell ‘em that I was his cousin.

Eh, yes. The green-eyed, sorta-blonde, freckle-faced gringa sitting in the back of your cab is obviously your cousin. Ob-vi-ou-sly. The feds are totally going to buy this one, buddy.

But we hadn’t done anything wrong. There was no reason to worry, yet for some reason I started to sweat, sitting in the back of that taxi watching the machine gun-clad Federales approach in the rearview mirrors. Maybe it was the hot Yucatán sun.

The whole thing started out innocently enough: I flagged a cab outside of the airport on the first day of our vacation to the Yucatán Peninsula, the sticky-out southeastern part of Mexico that is home to well-known cities like Mérida, Cancún and Playa del Carmen. We’d decided that a quick trip to the region would be just what I’d need before heading back to frigid Illinois for the holidays. After all, my tan (or resulting sunburn) would be the envy of all of my friends back home.

Now, in all of my travels to the many corners of the world, I’ve found that one thing usually holds true: The first couple of minutes in place have a way of setting the tone for the entire stay. Foreshadowing, if you will. So if this constant were to prove true in the Yucatán, getting pulled over by the cops within 10 minutes of landing in Mérida was the universe’s way of saying that our little vacation was going to kind of suck.

And it kind of did.

But our trip wasn’t nearly as lousy as that cabbie’s day.

He got pulled over for picking up passengers outside of his permitted zone. It was mostly my fault. Sweaty and suitcase-laden, and not knowing the traffic rules in Mérida, I’d flagged him down on the sidewalk just outside of the airport. Being a nice guy, he’d stopped to give us a lift to our hotel. We hadn’t driven more than 100 meters before those damn Federales honked and flashed their lights and pulled him over. That’s when he told us to tell them that I was his cousin. And that’s when I thought this violation was going to be a bit more serious than a zoning issue.

We waited in the taxi as the cabbie walked over to the police car, showed his license, and handed ‘em a fistful of money. Then the cops walked over the cab and proceeded to question the mismatched pair in the backseat. I, super nervous, suddenly Spanish-less, and obviously not the cab driver’s cousin, diverted my eyes and let my Mexican novio do all of the talking: Yes, he was the cab driver’s cousin. (Lie No. 1.) Yes, the cab driver was a good guy, just doing us a favor. (Lie No. 2.) Yes, we’d just arrived in Mérida, on vacation from Mexico City. (Lie No. 3.)

No, he couldn’t actually verify the cab drivers’ name, despite the fact that they were cousins. Oops.

The Federales had a good laugh at that one, and much to my surprise (and relief), let us off the hook. The cabbie came back to the car in surprisingly good spirits. Just a matter of bad luck, he said. These damn Federales are really cracking down on this zoning stuff, he explained. No need for this little incident to ruin our vacation, he assured us.

We zipped our way through Mérida and arrived at our hotel, where the cabbie parked along the curb. We generously tipped him to help offset the fine he’d received on our behalf. He helped us get our suitcases out of the trunk and told us to have a nice day.

And that’s when a bus rounded a corner and smashed into the back of his cab.

Thankfully nobody was hurt, but the words the cabbie yelled to the bus driver aren’t really repeatable, seeing as how as this is a family-friendly blog. The novio and I looked at each other and backed away slowly, escaped into our hotel, proceeded to check-in, go to our room, and unpack our suitcases. Forty-five minutes later, we could still hear the commotion in the street from the hotel lobby: The cabbie and the bus driver still exchanging heated words, and the honking of nearly an hour’s worth of backed-up traffic.

So the cabby had a pretty rotten day. And we had a pretty rotten vacation. After being pulled over by the cops and nearly crushed by a bus, things stayed kinda lousy for us in the Yucatán. I got sick. My camera got wet and stopped working. And it rained for five of our seven days there. I didn't get a tan (or even a sunburn), which, as you'll recall, was the whole point of this trip in the first place...

But we did salvage our time in the Yucatán with lots of laughs, a run-in with huge iguana on a pyramid, a visit to the region's cenotes (underground swimming holes) via horse-drawn railroad car (you have to see it to believe it), a frigid snorkeling tour, a beach bike ride in the rain, and lots of pictures, courtesy of the camera on my novio’s cell phone. We even had, like, 45 minutes of sun on our last day on the beach.

If you’re ever in Mérida, look for my “cousin,” the cab driver. He’ll be the guy with the smashed bumper and the Federales on his tail. And given his bad luck with us, he could probably use the extra fares.

NOTE to all my beloved Gringa Culichi readers who have noticed the nearly month-long lapse since my last entry: No, I haven't died from the swine flu. I've simply been über busy, hosting hippie biker friends here in Huajuapan, wrapping up work at the university, taking the aforementioned worst vacation ever, and celebrating the holidays state-side. Thanks for your emails; I'm glad to know my entries have been missed. Here's hoping that 2010 is your best year yet!

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