Transportation in the Yucatan

by Randy Munch

A number of years ago my wife and I joined another couple to spend time in a vacation rental on the Yucatan Peninsula near a tiny village that was essentially free of tourists. Being removed from traditional transportation corridors we had to make do with whatever we found. Circulating for two weeks through remote villages and the Mayan jungle we experienced a transportation infrastructure totally foreign to us but loaded with fun.

 Daily trips during our first week involved grabbing the local shuttle service to the nearest village where we could buy groceries and other staples. Each trip started as the shuttle rumbled along the narrow, poorly paved, road skidding to stops and screaming like the jungle monkeys – we were unable to tell if it was the brakes or a slipping fan belt that made that horrifying noise. Finding such a ramshackle rusted out van would necessitate a search in the junk yards of a North American city. Gears were shifted but the transmission seemed to refuse to cooperate until it had barked and growled like a junk yard dog. Had there ever been a concern for passenger safety it was clear that that ship had sailed. I actually had to grab the arm of a little old lady to keep her from sliding off the seat and out the door that had swung open as we traversed a sharp turn on one of our trips. Jamming on the brakes and the door slammed shut and to our horror she smiled and politely thanked me as if that was a normal occurrence and I had merely assumed the responsibility of all riders on the inner seats.

Kudos were in order for every rider who scrambled for a seat from their road side “casitas” of which many resembled the tin shacks of a Rwandan ghetto. Like they were all on their way to a dress up affair they were each dressed to the nines in clean, colorful outfits free of even a single wrinkle. Many a rider carried the fragrance of ivory soap. Noticing each occurrence of that fresh and clean odor, we would glance at one another and smile. Outwardly we must have appeared trustworthy which may have explained a strange occurrence on one of our return trips.

Pivoting to view his riders, the driver yelled something as he slammed on the brakes. Questions as to our unscheduled stop were put on hold when the lady next to me sat her little boy on my lap and scurried out of the bus and into a roadside shop. Raspberry Mr. Freezie in hand, the little guy seemed unconcerned as he sucked away. Saturation of my pants by the melting droplets was my immediate concern. The wait seemed endless but eventually the boy’s mom returned to the bus with a large bag of groceries, retrieved her child from my lap, smiled, and thanked me and off we went. Undoubtedly we were experiencing transit infrastructure protocols unlike anything we had ever known.

Visiting the many attractions throughout the country side clearly required more reliable transportation. We rented a Toyota sedan. Extenuation by the sales agent did little to answer our questions as to where and when the Toyota had been manufactured. “Yesteryear” should have been stamped next to “Toyota” on the grill in that the car lacked virtually every standard convenience of any modern automobile. Zigzagging across the Mayan countryside on narrow side roads we travelled in a roll down windows, key only door locks, standard transmission, radio-less and sans A.C., unique, late (?) model Toyota and always in perpetual fear of even a minor breakdown.