We arrived in Mexico welcomed by standing water that had closed lanes and a few scant beams of sunlight puncturing an otherwise stubborn cover of cloud. We came in on the heels of Hurricane Ingrid which looked to only have just passed moments before. During three days on Quay Caulker in Belize we’d been disconnected from the internet and therefore any source of news. While we huddled in our beach-front bungalow under torrential rains, both Hurricane Ingrid in the east and tropical storm Manuel in the west had caught Mexico in a vice, killing scores of Mexican citizens and causing millions of dollars in damage. It was into the aftermath of the two storms that we naïvely wandered, wondering out loud why the puddles were so large and if it was going to clear up in time for us to hit the beach.
It did not.
We checked ourselves into a rare bit of luxury, an actual hotel paid for with points from our credit card, and took advantage of some slight clearing to walk around Tulum Pueblo. The first stop, as it should be in Mexico, was a Mexican restaurant. Having been traveling in Latin America for 9 months and being a fairly ignorant person, I believed that up to this point a larger portion of our diet would have included tortillas and quacamole. Instead, a good percentage of our chemical make-up is now derived from rice and beans. We have more in common, genetically, with rice and beans than we do with chimpanzees or even other humans. So imagine how emotional I became when plates full of delicious tacos and a frosty bottles of Sol were placed in front of us. For a time we forgot the impending dark clouds beginning to roil with the coming of dusk and savored the taste of Mexico.
At night it rained. It began raining as the sun set, lightly at first, and then with a steadily increasing drumbeat that drowned out all other noise. Our fancy hotel room sprung a leak. The TV had been exposed to too much moisture. It only received a green picture signal and gave no sound. When the alien creatures onscreen spoke, nothing came out of their mouths but the sound of torrential rain. During the night we woke to the pitter patter of raindrops pooling in a hotel towel we’d placed under the leak. Lightning flashed outside of the curtains and great sonic booms rattled the furniture. If anything the intensity of the deluge had increased. I looked out of the window to see orange streetlights rippling in a newly formed canal. Eventually the power went out.
In the morning we left our room and climbed down the stairs which were acting as an impromptu cascade, filling the courtyard with run-off. Wearing rain jackets and shorts, we waded through knee-deep water through the restaurant and up to the slightly higher ground of the cafe. The floor here was just barely above the waterline, but was flooded every time a truck pushed its way through the inundated streets. The concierge, who doubled as the waiter, gamely tried to go about business as usual, sweeping the water out with a broom whenever a fresh wave poured in from beneath the door. When I suggested actually putting something in front of the door to block the rush, he shrugged and said it had been raining like this for three weeks, what was to be done?
This turned out to be his stock answer for everything. Despite his town slowly being slowly submerged, his hotel springing leaks causing the televisions to malfunction, he merely leaned on his broom and stared wistfully out at the storm. We asked him if he could do something to stop our leaking roof, but he shrugged and reminded us it had been raining for three weeks. I was starting to think he’d gone a little crazy when a large bus, submerged to its hubcaps, pushed a tsunami towards us. It rolled up against the glass doors and washed in beneath it. We raised our sandals while the concierge sighed and began to sweep again.
Not knowing what to do in a developing emergency, we sat by the window of the cafe, drinking coffee and eating croissants while floodwater lapped at our ankles.
In the afternoon, the downpour changed for the first time in 12 hours from torrential to a mere trickle. More vehicles began braving the streets, some stalling on the corner as their engines drowned. We started wading towards the center of town, watching small cars practically disappear into massive potholes hidden beneath the oily water. The water stuck to our legs and itched vaguely, so we sloshed back to our room and hid.
When the courtyard had drained and the street outside had only a few inches of standing water, we asked the concierge if by any chance the Tulum ruins were open, given that they were on a hill overlooking the beach. He said yes of course they were. I asked him if he could call the only major tourist attraction in the area and find out somehow, but he shook his head and said sadly there was no way to find out. I suggested the tourist information office and he sighed and picked up the phone.
Whomever he called reported that the ruins were open, so we splashed through the quickly draining streets and found a taxi. The driver (predictably) confirmed that the ruins were open and we made our way there. As we pulled up though we passed an entirely empty parking lot and a profoundly shuttered looking group of souvenir stands. Rolling up to a closed barrier a guard walked out and gravely wagged his finger. The road to the ruins, he said, was flooded. We suggested we could wade through it, as we’d done earlier in the day, but one short sentence in Spanish extinguished all hope:
There are crocodiles.
We might be foolish enough to stumble into the still fierce remnants of a hurricane, but not enough to wade through crocodile infested floodwater just to see some ruins. That the only road to the area’s biggest attraction and some of the most beautiful Mayan ruins in the world wasn’t built with better drainage, and that it was prone to infestation by man-eating reptiles, actually made sense in the current context. What were they supposed to do, we shrugged, apparently it had been raining for three weeks.