Saturday, March 10, 2012

Big Mexico: The longest night

I haven't posted for over a month because I've been traveling through Mexico which will be documented in a series of Blogs with "Big Mexico" in the title.

The trip almost didn't happen at all.

John and Mike came back from Palenque at the end of January with horrible colds. In our tiny house in San Cristobal, Chiapas, I ingested enough germs to take down an elephant.

Three days before the flight to Chihuahua, I came down hard. Both guys said the third day was the worst. The third day? That's when I would be flying!! Lots of sleep, fluids, kleenex, cough drops, nasal decongestant, and chicken soup couldn't stop the malaise. Time for a flight change. Oh happy days, it only cost half the price of the original ticket.

I knew the tour group from the states would be in Chihuahua until Saturday morning. I could reschedule and fly out on Friday, and still meet up with them. After that, all bets were off. They would be with a guide out in the boonies of Chihuahua, deep in Copper Canyon without any way for me to get to them. Friday was it.

Thursday I felt somewhat better, and decided to take a bus to Tuxtla and stay in a hotel so I could get up in plenty of time to catch that early flight to Mexico City, and then the second flight to Chihuahua. I didn't want to run the risk of missing either plane. But, being ill, fearful, a bit impoverished, and not thinking it through very well, I asked a cab driver to take me to the nearest hotel to the airport that was cheap.

Thus began the worst night of the trip.

There are no towns near the airport. There is a vaguely motel-like building, off the main road, out in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly where the airport is. The cab driver took $400 pesos and sped off leaving me with my bags in the hands of a ten year old boy in a dirt parking lot in front of a two story building with metal doors leading to monk cells. A man upstairs yelled to the kid to put me in room five. I went into a room that was as barebones as it's possible to be without actually being a grave.  The bed was a single thin mattress on a concrete slab elevated by four concrete blocks. There was no furniture. The TV was in a cage mounted high up on the wall. I couldn't have reached the on-off button without jumping. There was one plug next to the TV, also higher than I could reach. The one and only light was a single bulb hanging from the ceiling by a thread, or maybe a bare wire. A metal door led to the bathroom which was behind a six foot wall, open air above to the room's ceiling. I opened the door. There was a single sink, a toilet with no seat, and a garden hose spigot mounted on the wall where one would hope a shower head might be. And a gaping hole in the wall to the outside. Four concrete blocks were missing creating what can only be considered the bathroom window. Any slim guy could shimmy through that hole and into the bathroom.

I went outside and called up the fellow upstairs. "There's no window in the bathroom." I said. He sent the kid back downstairs to take me to a different room. It was identical to the first, except that the bathroom window had a wooden frame inside it with a bug screen stretched across. Someone had pushed it almost entirely out of the block frame. I showed it to the kid, and said "This isn't secure." He promptly hopped up onto the bare toilet, grabbed the wood on the frame, and wrenched it back inside. "It's ok now" he said.

Oh dear.

On the positive side, the bathroom door locked from both the inside and the outside. I suppose a burglar coming through the screened-in window would make some noise and then would have to scramble over the tiled walls into the bedroom. That just might give me time to escape.

More on the positive side. It's out in the middle of nowhere. With lights off, and hardly a soul staying there, which room would a burglar chose to invade? And what is the likelihood there is a burglar out here anyway? It's not like there are bunches of other great places to break into and get stuff.

I was too sick to think any more positive thoughts. It was just one of those times when you must have faith that nothing bad is going to happen, and let it go. All I wanted to do was sleep and get up the next day and get on a damned airplane.

The room was very clean and except for the sheer poverty, it might have been in Switzerland. The bottom sheet was so thin the label on the mattress could be read through it. There were two pillows and a top sheet. No blanket, no towels in the bathroom, and just enough toilet paper, carefully arranged in a neat folded pile, to poop once.

Oh dear.

I got into bed and drifted off to tolerably loud Mexican banda music coming from the bar next door. Sometime in the night dogs started barking. I tried to go back to sleep but then more dogs chimed in. Listening carefully I counted twelve distinct dog voices ranging from Chihuahuas, a schnauzer, the rolling rrrrrrr of a beagle, to the deep throated bark of a German Shepard. Suddenly it stopped. Oh good. Back to sleep. Thanks to the glass-free bathroom window the room filled with skunk smell. Strong, pungent, biting. I buried my nose in the pillow and fell asleep an hour later hoping the oily stench didn't penetrate my clothes. Some time later I woke up cold and dug through my bag for a sweat shirt, long pants, and the towel which was large enough to serve as a blanket. Asleep again. Awakened by a tremendous roar. Apparently my hotel near the airport was VERY near the airport, maybe even at the end of the runway. Fortunately the Tuxtla airport is small and has only ten or twelve flights a day.  Just drifting off when there was another series of loud roars as three giant trucks went by, grinding their gears on the hill. Will these interruptions ever stop? Drifted off again.  I was awakened by a light that came on in the room and a strange static noise. OMG, someone was in the room with me and had turned on the light!! I came shooting out of bed to discover the TV had come on all by itself. It's not enough that animals and people contrived to keep me up all night, now here's an evil spirit  turning the television on?? I grabbed a pen out of my purse and jumped up and down poking at the plug until it came loose from the socket. No devil is going to turn on the friggin TV again if I can help it. Then more mad than tired I finally drifted back to sleep........CockADoodleDoooooooo!!!! The roosters started in, one after another, each trying to outdo the guy in the next yard.

Fine. Fine. I was done with this nonsense. Time to get up and take a shower. Oh, right, only cold water and no shower head. Grin and bear it, there's no other choice. I was ready to go at 5:30 when there was a knock on the door. The fellow upstairs had called a taxi for me and it was waiting. I guess the cab driver had asked him to do that. He was very sweet, even asked me if I'd slept well......

Seriously, what did I expect for $200 pesos a night?