In the mist of the Mexican drug war, swine flu, hurricanes, and oil spill disasters, I decided to take a solo backpacking trip though the Yucatan peninsula. After the sudden, tragic death of my fiancé, I learned the painful way that life is too short. At only 27 years old, I decided to live life to the fullest and decided to travel to Mèxico… on my own.
“Stephanie, you are crazy! You cannot go to Mexico alone, it is too dangerous”. My parents protested repeatedly but I didn´t listen.
Without a hotel reservation, guidebook, or a plane ticket back home, I found myself in a place I didn´t want to be.
I arrived in Cancun and immediately boarded a bus to Mèrida, the capital of Yucatan. I stayed the first of my 10 nights in a quaint hostel and met a variety of well-traveled foreigners. The next day, everyone had their own plans, so I decided to head over to the coast to Celestun. After hours walking around the downtown asking in very basic, broken spanglish, I finally found the hole-in-the wall, bus station. The third-rate class bus had broken windows, cigarette burns in the worn, dirty seats, and the raggedy curtains reeked of body odor. The bus was bowing at the seams, full of passengers, and the bus driver closed the doors to seal in the 110F September heat. The rotund driver kept wiping sweat off his forehead with a dirty rag as he made announcements on a screechy microphone to allow women with children and older people to have seats.
A short, dark skinned woman sat next to me, holding her 3 year old daughter and an infant. The woman half smiled at me and passed her toddler onto my lap as she tended to her crying infant. The young mayan child stared at me intently, and “petted” my white arm with her dark chocolate colored fingers. A man standing in the isle next to us positioned a new pick plastic baby bathtub on my head rest. It only took only 2 road bumps later for it to fall on my head.
The bus driver began to talk in a very loud, passionate voice, almost political in nature. All I could make out were the repeated words, police, voice, your Mexico, fight, unite. I thought, was this Zapatista trying to begin a revolution, or was there a revolution going on that I was unaware. Although there was nothing I could do, I silently held the little girl close to me as a security blanket fearing for her as well as me. I looked around to find reactions on people’s face, but everyone seemed to be examining their shoes, or feigned interested out the windows. I thought, “Is this all connected to the pictures and paintings of Che Guevera I saw the night before?”
Once we arrived in the small fishing village of Celestun, there was a truck full of military men with AK-47´s. I turned, but the bus had already driven away leaving me alone in the dust. I headed directly for a sign that read, “Hostel”. I sat in the lobby and waited for someone to greet me. As I sat there, a penciled drawing of Che stared at me, his eyes piercing me and provoking more thoughts about the bus ride and a possible revolution unfolding before me.
An hour later, a woman accepted $5 and handed me two keys, one to a locker and one to the front door. After a sleepless night reliving the bus events, I realized I was completely alone the entire time and never saw anyone from the hostel ever again. As I left, the empty lobby, I noticed a line of dust where the picture of Che stood the day before. I waited anxiously for the only bus leaving Celestun in front of the bus station, clinching my bags on the iron wrought bench. I arrived back in Mérida unscathed, but will never forget the feelings I had, my second day traveling alone in México. To this day, I never understood or discovered what all the commotion was about yet realized there is so much more to Mexico than what is written in the guidebooks.