Authored by Justin Carmack
Leaving Guatemala at the end of January 2015 was a tough decision, as I really loved it there, though after spending a week at Lake Atitlan with my now girlfriend Claudia I was so head over heels that, before she left towards Belize, we agreed that we would meet again in Mexico, a couple weeks down the road.
Though we would eventually meet, it would be one hellish journey for me. And, after having been locked up in an Egyptian prison on a previous journey abroad, my standards for an experience to reach “hellish” are far from a soft cry.
The day of my move started out well, as I left Antigua for the Mexican border. Though by the end of the long journey I was overcome with motion sickness. The worst driver in all of Central America was in control of my bus, and I was certain I was going to vomit. Things could not get worse, I thought. Though every time I have said that I’ve always been wrong.
Right as I went to take a Dramamine, the bus hit a bump and the tiny vile pill went shooting down my throat and got stuck. No matter how much I drank, that pill was lodged in my throat, slowly dissolving. It was the most nauseating, toxic taste I’ve ever experienced and if anything it even made me much more sick.
My throat and tongue had swollen to the point where I thought there was a very good chance I could possibly die. Death may have been my easiest option if I had known how the rest of the day would play out.
Once Upon a Time Near Mexico: My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
The Border Crossing
Having survived this drama, you can imagine the elation on finally arriving at the border. I was in a vile mood by then. What else could happen to me? Well, my burst of bad luck was not over yet.
Never exchange currency on the black market. Never make eye contact with the men who hound you at every border across Latin America. I should have known better.
I knew the exchange rate, and this guy offered an even better one. I calculated the rate myself based on how much Guatemalan Quetzals I had, and he agreed. He counted it out in front of me, I took it and got on the bus.
About 20 minutes later I counted the money again and noticed a big difference. Somehow he had been short changed, even though I watched him count it: he somehow managed to steal $30.
The Military Invasion of Our Bus
I wasn’t even mad, I was so tired and sick by then. The thought of sleeping the rest of the night and waking up in Puetro Escondido, my final destination, made me feel much better. By that stage I was dreaming of kicking back in a comfortable resort like this one.
Though it wouldn’t make for half as great a story if my experience just ended just like this, right? Indeed, instead of waking up in 8 hours at my destination, I was woken up EVERY hour, as the military chose our bus to stop and search.
Each hour a soldier would board, instruct us to exit the vehicle and take all of our stuff. Passengers were incredibly cooperative considering it was the middle of the night. All but one old lady that is, who, every time we stopped, pitched a fit and refused to get off the bus.
This woman would yell and scream at the young soldiers, who knew not how deal with a hysterical old woman throwing a two year old tantrum. She would sometimes get off and sit in the road. And scream. So our 20 minute stops all turned into an hour each. Just to throw in some more entertainment on an already eventful ride.
The Bus Driver Falls Asleep
After the last stop and search, I did manage to finally fall asleep. When I woke, it was morning and the bus was stopped. I was relieved that we may have finally arrived. Passengers throughout the bus started to also rise and we all disembarked the bus. But we weren’t on a pristine beach in Escondido. We were on the side of the road in the middle of the desert. I was confused.
We had no idea what was going on until the bottom compartment of the bus opened up and the tired looking driver crawled out. He explained that we had stopped as he was informed that up ahead there was a massive demonstration blocking the road and we could not get through. So when hearing this, instead of consulting with the 50 passengers, he felt it a good idea to say nothing and crawl under the bus for a nap.
We asked how far we had gotten. He then told us we were only 2 hours from the border, and still 6 hours from our destination! We were all in shock. We thought we had arrived, though our trip had barely even begun!
The driver, who did not care to answer any more questions, shut the compartment and went back to sleep. We tried to do the same though the Southern Mexican heat made sleep impossible. I would sweat until soaked for 5 more hours on the side of the road, as one bus after another joined us and parked too. It was a nightmare.
The military and the police were there, though claimed they couldn’t stop the demonstrations or clear the road. They had no estimate of when we could leave. We had nothing to go on. But we all knew there was no way we would spend another day on that road. Then one police officer told us it could be 2 days!
I took out my map, and with the English guy I had befriended on the bus, we couldn’t believe what we saw. All around us were paved roads spreading into the desert. The demonstrators might be blocking the highway, but they could never be so many as to block the dozen side roads. So we took my idea of taking an alternative route to the group of drivers who were huddled over some tequila by a bus. None of them wanted to do it – after all, they got paid no matter when we arrived.
They showed no sense of urgency and were prepared to stay there two or three days if needed. We begged and pleaded and cussed and threatened, but apparently not a single driver of these giant buses had a radio or phone to contact the buses that were surely stuck on the other side of the blockade. Nobody wanted to make an effort. It looked like in Mexico, simple solutions got in the way of indifference and siestas. But finally, after basically saying we would take the bus ourselves, the drivers agreed to try alternative routes.
As one giant caravan of 12 buses, we turned around and found a side road into the desert. We passed houses and fields, and a string of shocked stares from the locals who had never seen such a sight. We managed to make our way back to the highway, about 10 miles north of the barricade. On that highway, even ten miles from the demonstration, all cars going south were lined up and stopped for good. The line of vehicles went on for miles. They must have thought it very strange we made it through, when none of them could. Why no one else turned into that road we came from, I’ll never know.
Though wait, there’s more! This story is far from done. 60 minutes down the line we hit Salinas Cruz and stopped on the side of the road once more. The driver said that another demonstration was blocking the road right outside the city, only on the way to Escondido. So, we turned around to go to the bus station in the town that we had just passed. This time, even though we were in a much more urban area with more road than before, the driver could not be convinced to go around.
Neither the drivers OR the station had radios or phones or any form of communication to reach the buses on the other side, so they were unwilling to try and see if there was any way around. They could give no answers. They struggled and said “wait an hour and we will know”. The police had no answers. They would lean on the wall, shrug, and say it could be anywhere between an hour or 3 days. We were told to sit and wait. By then we were considering starting our own riot!
After another 5 hours in the station, being continually told to sit and wait, my English friend and I had had enough. After some harsh arguing, we forced refunds for our tickets and headed out to find a hotel. We checked into the only available hotel in town, and were so tired and beat we didn’t mind having to fight with cockroaches over the bed. We did however turn down the offer for hookers and heroin along with our towels.
Even though we declined, a few staff members would check with us throughout the night to make sure we hadn’t changed our mind.
We spent two nights with cockroaches in our bed before eventually giving up. We learned that the roads weren’t blocked to Oaxaca, so we finally decided to forget about Puerto Escondido and go there instead.
But it wasn’t over for me, yet.
I met Claudia in Oaxaca, and we only had one day together before I fell seriously ill. She dragged me kicking and painfully screaming to see a doctor who diagnosed me with chicunguya, which has all the same symptoms as dengue, but it also gives you bad joint pain for months. They said it takes the sickness, brought on by a mosquito, 3 days to show any symptoms, meaning I was bitten in the cursed Salina Cruz, where I shouldn’t have been anyway!
As I jumped in the water for some 20 dives in Yucatan, I realised I could only accomplish them by taking a good dose of painkillers first. It looks like the nightmare isn’t over yet.
To this day I still don’t know if Mexico hates me, or if I’m just cursed. Though I do know one thing for sure – this was definitely my most terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day abroad to date.