Stuck in Xtacumbilxuna’an
Happy Valentine's Day from San Miguel de Allende
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m sharing the story that I will be reading at Literary Death Match later this afternoon. It’s a true story from my honeymoon. (No, not that kind of story.) I hope you like it. We can’t always be with the people we want to be with, when we want to be with them, but we can carry them in our hearts always. I hope your Valentine’s Day is everything you want it to be.
If you’re traveling in Mexico and planning on renting a car, I have one word of advice: never, ever rent from Alamo.
That should go without saying, right?
Well, that’s what Nuvia and I did on our honeymoon, and we paid a price for our folly.
We’d spent a week in Campeche, which is nice, but on the last full day of our stay we got restless and decided we absolutely had to see the Caves of Xtacumbilxuna’an.
We set out from the hotel and drove our rental car 125 kilometers into the jungle.
Did I mention we left our phones at the hotel?
Did I mention we had no cash, no pesos, only plastic?
These details will be important later.
So we drove to the caves and the caves were closed.
In the process of turning our car around, a piece of metal wrenched loose from the vehicle and shot into the jungle.
The car shuddered, then stalled.
I tried to start it up again, and the engine made a sound like a tropical bird being squeezed by the neck.
We were stuck.
We decided to push the car back to the main road and improvise from there.
After a few minutes of pushing, the rain began to fall, because of course it did.
With no money, no phone, the temperature in the 90s and humidity now at 100 percent, we were well and truly screwed.
When we reached the road, a man on a tractor stopped and offered us a ride to town.
He was white man and wore a conical hat and suspenders.
He spoke no English, only Spanish and German.
Nuvia, who speaks perfect Spanish, told me his name was Abraham.
Abraham took us to the village of Bolonchen.
He dropped us off at the police station and hurried away.
The station was housed in a small blue building.
An ambulance and a pair of pickup trucks were parked in front.
Inside the station, the walls were painted a lighter shade of blue and patinaed with grime.
Scattered about the room were red plastic chairs with the Coca-Cola logo.
A balding, soft-spoken policeman with the demeanor of a civil servant invited us to sit.
We set our dripping bags on the floor.
Nuvia explained our situation and asked to use the phone.
The policeman said our calling cards were useless, but he would place the call for us for 30 pesos.
While Nuvia scrounged for the last of our change, I fished the rental agreement out of my overstuffed backpack and gave the policeman the number.
He fingered the buttons on a white plastic phone housed in a dusty wooden box, but he couldn’t get through to Alamo.
My nerves were shredded, my patience a distant dream.
I tried to ignore the impressive stack of pornographic DVDs on the policeman’s desk.
In a darkened room in the back, more cops reclined in hammocks.
As the rain pounded the tarp-covered roof, someone began to howl.
I went from hoping the policemen in the back were watching a scary movie to praying we hadn’t blundered into one.
A sleepy-looking cop with Mayan features emerged from the back.
“We have a Cuban,” he said by way of explanation.
He told us that Bolonchen was a Mayan name that meant place of nine wells.
He taught us how to pronounce Xtacumbilxuna’an (shta-cum-beel-shoo-nan).
He knew everything about broken cars, closed caves and long-distance phone calls, and soon we were on the phone with Alamo who told us they would send another vehicle.
When? As soon as they could find one.
ETA? No say.
The policemen piled into their pick-up truck to check on our rental.
Nuvia and I walked up the street to a loncheria where we met the proprietor’s daughters, Cindy and Erika.
We told them we didn’t have any money but they told us sit and brought us plate after plate of food.
Our arrival had caused a minor sensation in town and Cindy and Erika were delighted to be in the middle of it.
Curious boys rode by on their bicycles.
Girls walked arm in arm, whispering to each other.
Erika explained that because we rode in on Abraham’s tractor, everyone thought I was a Mennonite.
This was not a good thing because, apparently, Abraham was kind of a dick.
But Erika liked my blue eyes, which she thought were muy guapo.
Erika, was 12 but looked 10, and acted 20.
She asked Nuvia if I was a jealous husband.
Nuvia told her no, and Erika said this was good, because it meant I was a calm person.
I felt anything but calm.
The girls peppered us with questions.
Where do you live? What do you do? Was it love at first sight?
The girls were delighted to discover that their mother had spent more on Cindy’s Quinceañera dress than Nuvia had spent on her wedding gown.
Once the rain died down, the cops appeared in their pick-up truck, two in the cab, four standing in the back.
We waved, and the porn-loving policemen of Bolonchen waved back.
When our car arrived, many hours later, Erika slipped a wooden charm bracelet around Nuvia’s wrist to keep us safe on our travels.
Ten years later, Nuvia and I found ourselves back in Campeche, so we returned to Bolenchen.
The loncheria was still there.
But the name had changed.
It was now Erika’s loncheria.
We went inside and there she was, a feisty 22 year old.
Erika told us to sit and we had a feast that turned into a fiesta.
So if you ever go to the caves of Xtacumbilxuna’an near the place of nine wells, be sure to visit Erika’s loncheria and tell them Jim and Nuvia sent you.
Nuvia and Erika last summer in Temozon.