Twenty some years ago I had the most frightening experience of my life. My wife and I were in Villa Hermosa, the ironically named centre of the Mexican petroleum industry. It was a way-point between Palenque and Merida and we had spent a night and most of a day. We were having a quick beer in a bar near our hotel, luggage stacked by our side, when we were suddenly joined by four well-dressed oil engineers – who wanted to practice their English.
They were slamming back double scotches while we sipped out Coronas and pretty soon they were suggesting that Merida was a boring place and we should stay there drinking with them. One even proposed we come back to his place for the weekend where his wife would be glad to cook us supper while they kept ‘practicing their English.’
They may have been well meaning but we were a little nervous and when two of the most aggressive ones wondered off to the can we made a hasty departure. Our bill was already paid so we grabbed our luggage and hit the street, doing the one thing they say you should never do in Mexico – hail a cab off the street.
The guy stopped on a dime, threw our luggage in the back and headed off. In Spanish too rapid for my anxiety addled brain to decipher he said something about airport, toll road and extra charge, Good? I nodded yes and off we went,
Everything was fine until we passed to signs that said Aeroporto and kept on driving. Even so, we weren’t worried until he turned off the main boulevard onto a side street, and then an even narrow road. It was getting near sunset but only a few of the street lights had come on.
My wife and I exchanged glances; her face had gone completely pale and we tried to communicate without saying anything. I thought briefly when we slowed at a stop light to push her out of the car but figured that would not be a real solution to the problem.
As we turned into a yet narrow street I tried to think if there was anything – a nail file, sharp pencil – in my pack that would serve as a weapon. The driver turned into an alley way and I considered trying to throttle him when I spotted two burly men at the end of the dead end way. They were standing in front of a chain link fence. This is it I thought and whispered I love you to my wife. Then the men reached down and pulled the fence to one side. The cab roared through the opening and up a bank onto the high way.
Then the linguistic centre of my brain kicked in and provided a perfect translation of the driver’s statement. There is a toll road to the airport and I’m going to avoid the extra charge. Good?
There is no moral to this story except perhaps: Fear and misunderstanding leads to more problems than the actions of others.
But that’s ten minutes.