We found a hotel relative quickly with secure parking and checked in. I wanted a room in the back where it was more quiet. Jaimie was still on his adrenaline rush, I think, because he wanted a room on the front facing the river and the busy street. I gave in because this was his “great adventure” and just a necessary journey for me.* So we got to listen to traffic noise all night, along with those horrible black birds that nest in the trees and screech at each other continually.
Jaimie on the patio of our hotel
We cleaned up and went to dinner, consumed more cervesas (beer) than we probably should have, but had a much needed and earned relaxing, good time. And, more to the point, I had no problem falling asleep despite all that noise going on outside.
Town square and church in Tuxpan
Town square and church in Tuxpan
The next morning we were up and on the road early. I didn’t want to spend another night on the road driving. I was determined to get as far as possible but yet stay in a large city. I had my sights set on Veracruz.
We drove along M180 with nothing unusual happening. At some point we started seeing signs for the ruins of El Tajin. I wasn’t really interested in taking any side trips, especially to see ruins, and did not want to leave the relative safety of M180. But when Jaimie gently and politely asked if we could maybe make a side trip so that he could them, how could I say no? So when the sign told us to leave M180 and head to the ruins, that is what we did. Surprisingly, the signs were everywhere and we had no trouble finding El Tajin.
We parked in the very hot parking lot and Jaimie arranged for one of the youngsters hanging about to watch the Jeep for us. Making our way through the maze of vendors and hawkers, we paid our fee and entered the ruins. Suffice it to say, the ruins were impressive but one of the hottest places I have ever visited. We didn’t tour the whole site. That would have taken over two hours. Time I did not want to spend. We climbed around on the main pyramid, saw the ball court and visited some lesser buildings. After about an hour we had both had enough.
Leaving the entrance, I wanted to turn right, retracing our path and getting back onto M180. Jaimie had been studying the map and insisted that it would be shorter to turn left and catch M180 again a bit further up the road. I should have double checked this but I didn’t. I had hired him to navigate and I was trusting him.
We drove for what seemed like hours without finding any trace of or signage for M180. Whenever we would pass through a village, Jaimie would yell out the window and ask for directions. It seems to me in Mexico that people just want to be polite. Even if they don’t know the answer, they will tell you something. As a result, we took many a wrong turn and got ourselves hopelessly lost. I tried to consult the map but, since I had no idea where we were, I had absolutely no hope of finding our route back. I was silently cursing myself for listening to him earlier. At one point, we asked an elderly gentleman for directions. He told us to take the next right, then the next left and we would run right into M180. So that is what I did. As I proceeded forward through the impossibly narrow streets of this mountain village, I suddenly had to hit my brakes and come to a full stop.
The road directly ahead of us had vanished! Or so it seemed. Actually it made such a steep drop we could not see it. We got out and looked and I was not at all pleased at the thought of having to drive down this steep, narrow street. It looked like a 180 degree incline to me. There was no room to turn around, it would have been impossible to back up for several blocks so we only had one option. Straight ahead. I always drive with my seatbelt on and for the first time on the trip, Jaimie fastened his before we took off. I knew he was a bit anxious about this hill when he also grabbed the “oh shit” bar on the dashboard. This is the bar one holds onto when off roading. So in first gear and my hand ready to pull the emergency brake, down we went. It seemed like it took forever because I was being so careful not to gain any speed. Oh, did I mention that smack in the middle of the road at the bottom was a cement block house? The road made a 90 degree left turn in front of it. I had visions of brake failure and crashing head long into that house. We made it down safely of course, but were both drenched in sweat and my hands were almost raw from gripping the steering wheel so tightly.
Once down and safely around the corner, I pulled over so we could catch our breath. I remember remarking that I hoped that was our scariest moment on the trip. If I had only known that there was to be a much scarier time waiting in our future!
*at this point in his life, he had never been outside of the Yucatan.