I had an itch. I needed to be alone. I needed to get away. I needed to meet myself again.
My corporate job gnawed at me every day. My life in suburban monotony was boring me.
Luck would have it that I was invited to a wedding in Mexico that had just gotten cancelled. Crazy! I cried at first, feeling like my sister and I would have to say goodbye to our little trip to central Mexico, a time in which we could have shared and reminisced, that I had been looking forward to so much. However the itch was there. And I needed to scratch it.
Determined, I researched a part of Mexico that I had never been – the peninsula including Yucatan and Quintana Roo. I booked a new flight, to append to the original going into Leon, to fly into Cancun. I went balls to the wall and booked a rental car. I found a little beach town, secluded, remote, that looked perfect for being with myself. It looked perfect for escaping the needs of other people.
I went balls to the wall and booked a rental car.
You see, I had, up until recently, taken my management career very seriously. The problem with management of others is that it sucked the life out of me. Working for a corporation means that you have to do it their way. For an introverted, creative-minded rebel like myself, it was proving very hard to maintain the integrity I value so greatly in a professional atmosphere and maintain my soul at the same time. I had to hide somewhere in the middle of supporting corporate demands, nurturing employees that actually cared and pretending to nurture/discipline the ones that didn’t, and meeting the goals of my own vision for the center of which I was caretaker. I was feeling hollow.
The word “Cancun” used to make me cringe as it reminded me of all the American high-schoolers that use it as an excuse to get wasted after graduation or the all inclusive mega-resorts that prevent picket-fence vacationers from actually experiencing Mexico but allow them to exist in an alternate reality on the beautiful beaches of this land while never getting a whiff of a street market. Now I know I can fly into Cancun, choose any number of directions to go from there, and still experience lindo Mexico.
I knew the high likelihood that road construction would be signaled with a boulder.
Getting the car rented proved more stressful than I had expected. Even though I speak Spanish, I didn’t escape the white-knuckled phone call to my bank about why my card was being declined. Come to find out, the less insurance you get on the car, the higher (exorbitantly) the deposit is. While this is logical, I didn’t expect it. So I decided to up the daily insurance I was paying and put down a deposit that I could handle. The reality of renting a car, for which I was solely responsible, in Mexico for this solo jungle road trip became heavily apparent. I well know the condition of roads in this country, the number random animals that could be on the road, the high likelihood that road construction would be signaled with a boulder, and so on and so forth. I had never traveled the highway I was about to drive on. This was an adventure in every sense of the word.
It was about 4pm, and I was just setting off in my little Chevy Matiz south towards Belize. It took about 15 minutes for me to get used to the clutch. I had already mapped my route and had that on the passenger seat (#papermapsarethebomb). My phone was off because that’s just too expensive so GPS was not an option. I had also used Google Maps Streetview to look at the highway before I made the decision to drive it. I can tell you, Google is a Godsend. I knew that there were a couple of towns to go through (the touristy Playa del Carmen and Tulum then the small town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto) but other than that it would be vegetation on either side of the road. I had a 5-hour drive ahead of me.
I have to say, I was impressed by the Orlando-like feel of Cancun. Playa del Carmen is startlingly built and bustling – definitely not the “hole” that my mother described from my parents’ trip in the 1970s. When I got to the exit for Tulum, I wanted badly to drive over and see the ruins and also visit an old German friend who lives there now, but I could see that the sun was getting lower in the sky, and I was getting a bit worried about arriving. I powered on, equipped with a large bottle of water and a bag of chicharrones I picked up at an Oxxo (a recognizable chain of convenience stores in Mexico).
The highway was surprisingly well-kept, and I was able to push my little car to 80 mph much of the way until the sun set, which is good because highway 307 has no streetlights. Most of the traffic was of local or tourist buses. I passed through Carrillo Puerto just at dusk, which was a bit hairy and got me turned around a stitch, but I refused to let myself get mired in worry. I knew I would be fine. I knew the car would be fine. I knew I could find the highway again. And I did. Then the sun set.
With nothing but the glare of my hatchback’s headlights, I drove on knowing there was pure jungle vegetation all around me but realizing I knew nothing about the ecosystem. Meaning if one of my tires exploded at this point, I would not know what animals would be around me, what sounds I would be hearing, etc. Scary? YES. My mantra became, “Just keep going.”
The turn-off for the little town of Mahahual, where I would spend the next 4 days, was not marked or lit of course. Once I found it, this road was gravel most of the way. Gravel and super dark. Two lanes. The gravel kicked up dust that made the journey even spookier. I slowed down to about 50 mph and was eventually passed by a taxi going about 70 mph. I decided I would use him to tell me what was ahead so I sped up and tried to follow him, watching as he went around curves, bounced over bumps, and hoping he would hit anything that could be on the road first before I had the unfortunate chance of doing so. This road, by far, was mentally the longest part of the journey. It seemed to last forever. Where was I??? I talked to myself the whole way.
After an intense hour of gravel and leaf shadows, I finally arrived in Mahahual, and it felt magical. I was transported into a tiny village with cobblestone streets and empty hotels. I rolled the windows down and smelled the saltwater. It was easy to find my hotel as the town was about 5 blocks long on a one-way circle (which I found out the following morning when I drove the wrong way on it). I got checked in by the sweet girl at the front desk and cranked up the air conditioning in my room. I turned on my phone, linked to their wifi (gotta have wifi), and sent my family a text that I had made it safely. Sleep was good.
This was the scare I needed to remind myself I was alive. It was the defibrillator that jumped my heart back to pumping and reminded my soul that I hadn’t given up. It was a 5-hour meditation that cleared my mind of past and future. Whatever I would wake up to the following day and observe with the light of the sun, would be whatever I woke up to and observed. Simple as that. After the day’s journey to this remote place, even if I never made it back to my suburban house in the US, I would be alive on this Earth, in this spot, and that would be that. I was finally present.