As I am writing this, Mom, Wheat and I are on an Estrella Roja direct bus from Puebla to Benito Juarez airport in Mexico City. The “Davinci Code” is playing on the drop-down TV screen right beside me, but I am not in the mood. I am really tired, but I can’t seem to get comfortable, even though the bus is only about 1/7th full and there’s plenty of room to stretch out. I am going to try and catch up on the past past couple of days, starting with Saturday, the travel day from hell.
On Saturday, Wheat and I were leaving Morelia and going to Mexico City to meet Mom at the airport. We packed – well, I packed – the night before and had our landlady call a cab to be there for 7:30 AM. We were traveling a little bit heavier now, because I bought an extra duffel bag to carry my purchases home. Wheat was great about helping to carry that, and we also just went ahead and tipped a guy with a cart at the bus station to lug it for us to the ticket desk and out to the platform. We got there in time for the 8:15 bus, scheduled to get into D.F. at 12:30.
The ride was uneventful – we rode ETN, which has the biggest and fewest seats, so I was able to doze a little during the first movie. I think it was called “Fly Home” and was about a girl who nursed a flock of orphaned geese. I may rent it later. We arrived at the Poniente bus terminal in good time, and went out to take a taxi to the airport. Mom’s flight was coming in at 2:09, and plan A was to try to find out what gate she was exiting from and meet her. Then we would all take an Estrella Roja bus to Puebla.
Well, I checked on the flight and the only flight from Atlanta was a Delta flight. Mom’s reservations said she was coming in on AeroMexico. Since both flights were Delta partners, we assumed that the Delta flight was hers. In that respect, we were right. I located on the arrival screen what gate out of customs she would be coming out of. Gate E3, the monitor said. So, I left Wheat with the bags, and set myself up at the gate, jostling for a good view with the scores of other people waiting for arrivals.
I looked for too long, because people kept coming out, and I was transfixed – I was so sure that that was the right gate. But, I finally saw a lot of people asking the gate guys questions, and went to ask them what was up. They said that the monitor was wrong, and that the flight was exiting from E2 – way out of sight from where I was waiting. I returned to Wheat, who was wondering where I was. Since plan B was for my mother to meet us at the Estrella Roja counter across the street in ground transportation, we headed there. Yes, she was there, and had only been waiting about 20 minutes.
We were able to get on the 4:30 bus, but I had to pay 30 pesos for having one bag too many. Was this a sign of things to come? We were happy to be on the bus. The only sour note was that we were supposed to call our friends from the bus station in Mexico City so that they could be there to meet us at the bus at 6:30. Wheat had this phone card he had purchased for just such an occasion. But, after a couple of unsuccessful tries, and an angry conversation with a customer service agent, we just had to get on the bus. We could just try and call from Puebla and wait.
Then, the traffic jam happened.
We were headed slowly out of town when our bus came to a complete stop. What we thought would just be a small delay turned into a two hour crawl that covered no more than 10 miles. We watched while cars stalled and pulled to the side of the road. Road sales people got rich off of the slow moving traffic to hawk everything from pistachios to Shrek headbands. People hung out of the windows of second and third class busses, reaching for drinks, fruit, and chips. Of course, since we were in an air conditioned elite bus, there was no window opening for us. There were only movies, the on-board toilets, and our snack pack, with consisted of a package of cookies and a drink of our choice. As I witnessed a woman running with her little girl to the side of the road, then holding her while she squatted and relieved herself, I guess I should have felt lucky!
We didn’t arrive in Puebla until 8:30 – and by then we were all fighting to get off the bus! Wheat, by some miracle and a sequence of numbers he did not think he could re-create, was finally able to use the phone card to get through to the Maurers (our hosts). A decision was made for us to take a cab, since it would take too long for someone to drive out, collect us, and return to Atlixco.
There was one problem – we were really hungry, and we didn’t know exactly what kind of food would be waiting for us. Mexicans generally eat a very light dinner. We decided to go and get a bite to eat before going to Atlixco. I went to ask whether or not the station had a Guarda Equipaje, which is a place to leave your things while you were away from the station. We found out that there was only a bank of large lockers outside of the building. You had to go and pay 30 pesos for a token. Then you put the token in a slot on the locker. This released a key that you kept until you returned.
Alas, there was one tiny drawback. If you put a coin in a locker that didn’t work, you could not get your money back. Since we were going to need at least four lockers, this made things difficult. We finally had to enlist the lady who sold us the tokens to help us find a four functioning lockers. She also was the snack counter lady, so she had to leave us periodically to make sure that she didn’t lose any customers. After finding one locker that worked, we spent a frustrating 20 minutes trying to find another. One coin got lodged in the slot. Finally we made a group decision to hire a taxi and pay him to wait outside a restaurant with our luggage in his trunk while we ate. Then, he would drive us to Atlixco, which is about 20 minutes from Puebla.
I immediately told our driver, after we had negotiated a price, that I needed three things in a restaurant. It needed to be fast, close by, and accept credit cards. He suggested a couple of restaurants, and we decided on one called Los Sapos. We piled into the cab, and breathed a sigh of relief. Then, it took 20 minutes to get to this nearby place. All the while, we passed KFC’s and other fast food restaurants. But, we had a plan, and I did not think we should waver from it, so I stayed silent and did not tell the driver to stop at Burger King.
When we finally arrived at Los Sapos (the toads), there was a band with live music playing outside, for which we were charged a 25 peso “cover” each. We moved inside, even, and the charge held. I ordered a hamburger, Wheat ordered chicken fajitas, and Mom ordered Caldo Tlalpeno, a soup. My hamburger was laced with jalapenos, Wheat’s “fajitas” were basically chicken fingers, and I am sure Mom was being nice about the soup. After our meal, it took another 20 minutes to leave town and head toward Atlixco.
Then, we had a flat tire.
Luckily, our driver was a pro at changing tires, and got it done quickly while we waited at the Pemex station. After wandering around Atlixco for a while, trying to find our friends’ house (San Mateo is famous in some circles, but most taxi drivers don’t read “Casas y Gente”). When we got there, it was about two hours from when we had called Pablo and Lisette to tell them we were coming. They had waited up and had dinner waiting for us. Por supuesto (of course!).