Only this night -- the one I’m writing about -- was only dark. Not just dark but pitch black. The kind of black that sets your nerves on edge because you can’t see anything.
Missing the turnoff
We were driving ‘home’-- that is, to Valladolid from Mérida in the Yucatán -- at night. A two-hour drive along the toll (cuota) road that used to be easy with a divided expressway but no longer. With the ongoing construction of the new Maya train route that parallels the toll road, the once fairly fast and smooth highway is now an obstacle course by separating the traffic lanes with orange barrel dividers embellished with other roadwork materials, equipment and machinery. All with flashing lights.
Mind you, we didn’t do ourselves any favours. Darkness comes early this time of year even in the Yucatán; we didn’t give ourselves enough time to drive back to Valladolid in the light.
“Watch for the sign to Valladolid,” cautions Norm, my husband, hunched over the steering wheel squinting through the windshield “…I’ll concentrate on the road.”
Of course, we (I) can’t see any signage. Double trailer trucks ahead of us, beside us, around us, make peering into the blackness difficult, almost dangerous. Especially with their blinding headlights/tail-lights/side panel lights.
Since we can’t see any landmarks, I follow our progress via the GPS on our cell. The blue dot (us) is moving. But I still can’t determine the exit to Valladolid except that we are moving towards it.
Suddenly, Norm utters a low groan. Between clenched teeth, he mutters, “I think we just missed the exit.” As we stream past the truck that veered off to the right, I barely catch sight of a mini sign:‘Valladolid’ inconveniently stuck on the off ramp.
“Aaaagh!” I reply in anguish. “You’re right. Only saw it after the truck pulled ahead!”
Something wrong with our GPS? I should have seen the exit coming. Glancing at the blue dot on our cell GPS, I see no movement. “No connection,” I mumble. “We must be out of range.”
Meanwhile, Norm continues to fight ongoing night blindness from oncoming truck headlights. Beyond their brightness, blackness covers the land and sky like a dark blanket. No visible stars.
Glancing at our cell, I see the blue dot moving again but it shows we are far past our turnoff. We are heading towards Cancun, a two hour drive away.
“Um,” I venture. “We’re going to Cancun.”
“Maybe we should spend the night there?” I suggest, “instead of driving back on this dangerous road?”
“That’s ridiculous. I’d turn around but there’s nowhere to do that,” he says, as we continue to hurtle along the highway in the dark: orange fluorescent construction barrels on one side and oncoming blinding lights on the other. “Can’t believe there aren’t any exits or a place to turn around….I’ll keep watching…”
“NO!” I panic scream. “BIG drop on this side!”
And so our hellish night drive continues towards Cancun, farther and farther away from Valladolid. No place to exit. No place to pull a u-turn.
And, like a heavy velvet curtain covering a window, the sky remains black.
The Blue Dot is closer
Once more, I glance at the cell…watch the moving blue dot as it continues its progress to Cancun. The resort city is closer now than if we turn around and drive back to Valladolid.
Suddenly, without warning, Norm pulls a u-turn in the middle of a wider, semi-lit construction zone with no oncoming or following traffic.
I hold my breath.
He did it! We are now heading back to Valladolid…despite the night blindness and the distance!
“Here!” we both shout.
At last, we are on the overpass, only visible from the highway below by headlights on the bridge.
Finally…we are on familiar roads. And then, back in our Valladolid casa. And it’s only 7 p.m.!
Much later, exhausted, we sit outside on a bench in front of our casa under the canopy of a starlit sky. Someone must have punched holes in that black velvet curtain.
No matter. We are safely back, sipping a smooth mezcal and solemnly swearing to follow our own advice: foreigners should never drive at night in Mexico.