We both saw him at the same time. At the side of this lonely paved road as we passed in our small white rental car.
Dressed from head to toe in black. Black motorbike. Black helmet. Black visor. Black jacket. Black clothing. He looked menacing.
It is mid morning in the Yucatán where we are wintering and it’s hot. As in sweating profusely, 30 C degrees hot.
Which is where we encounter our man in black. Immediately we are on high alert. Is he a policía ready to pounce and ask for our ID papers? (Never give up your original documents, like passports, to the pólice we have been warned. Always carry a copy.)
My husband, Norm, does not. Through the car’s rearview mirror, he watches the man in black on the motorbike begin to follow us. Norm mentally sizes up the situation: two silver-haired gringos in a rental car, driving alone on an isolated road with no other visible signs of habitation. Hmmm.
After a time, the man in black disappears offroad. Is he taking a shortcut through the jungle to suddenly appear in front of us? How far should we venture along this road into the unknown?
Suddenly Norm brakes the car. With difficulty we turn around.
A cenote is not obvious.
But we are.
Following our map again, we veer off a main highway in the opposite direction. Delighted to notice a crude homemade sign pointing to a cenote. 3 km away claims the sign. At a casual glance, the cenote road looks rough. Sort of a farmer’s wagon trail.
However, we reason, at least this cenote is marked. Carefully, we navigate the ‘road’ and pass a cluster of stick casas. (These provide air circulation in this climate). Few people live here. But those who do wave in friendly greeting. We smile and wave. Then we begin the drive along this rough and bumpy road to the cenote.
Norm carefully, gingerly, repeatedly, braked and accelerated, moving slowly and carefully along this stony, uneven ‘road’ for about one km.
Me? I was getting antsy. What if we hit something and ruptured the undercarriage?! Who could help? Certainly not CAA. Besides, our cell coverage here was spotty.
We passed two more Cenote signs pointing further inland. Looking ahead on the ‘trail’, we could see only more twists and turns on an uneven surface that disappeared into the jungle.
In a melodramatic moment, I insisted we stop. For the sake of car safety.
Hmmm. Here we are. In the middle of nowhere on a rutted trail. Surrounded by dry jungle. Hot. Humid.
“Leave the car keys with me please,” I said.
After which he set off following the pitted, winding trail until disappearing from view. The silence was deafening. After one minute I texted “Come back!” No service.
I looked back from whence we had come. Saw two motorbikes with riders slowly bump their way along the trail. As they rattled closer, Norm reappeared complaining the ‘road’ ahead was more of the same.
Finally, the motorbikes, the first carrying an older fellow, the other two young men, reached us. Stopped.
“Cenote?” we asked, pointing down the impossible trail.
“Si,” smiled the old man showing a wide front tooth gap. “Three kilometres.”
We thought it best to head back. The old man and the young men helped direct Norm’s turnaround.
As we retraced our track, I muttered, “We should have asked for information first.”
In reply my husband casually remarked: “We needed motorbikes. Or a 4-wheel drive.”
We are now driving along the highway towards the next town.
Then bingo! On our left. We see a large sign beckoning us to Cenote x-cajum. No cars or buses in sight! We turn in and follow a well-kept driveway towards a low-lying building.
We turn the bend and --- to our horror --- we count six turista buses parked in front. Hordes of people are milling around. Worse, as we silently curse, a seventh turista bus appears.
We are off on our search again.
Later that afternoon, we arrive at Ek Balam, a Maya archeological excavation. Next to it is Xcanché cenote. And hurray --- because of our timing --- there are no buses! Only a few people.
This cenote is 30 m deep and 15 m from ground level to the water’s surface. With a diameter of 50 m, it is surrounded by green vegetation. If you feel like Tarzan or Jane, grab a rope or long vine to swing out over the fresh water before releasing and splashing into the cool pool below.
…we begin the drive back to Valladolid.
Little did we know we would run into a massive construction zone resulting in a long delay of snarled traffic backed up in long lines.
But that’s a story for another day.