If there’s one thing I cannot stand, it’s people telling me how dangerous Mexico is. Especially people who’ve either never been there, or only visited in the reclusive, fenced off all-inclusives that have nothing to do with real Mexico. Every time I head back to visit the town I lived in for two straight years, the town my brother lives in, the town my friends live in, I get earfuls from people telling me how dangerous it is and how I’m brave for going and taking my kids.
Let me tell you something, as an ex-pat living in Mexico, I followed North American news while witnessing the goings-on in Playa Del Carmen. When articles about how Playa was becoming a haven for drug cartels and a hot bed of gang violence appeared in the gringo papers, I walked the peaceful streets by myself feeling safer than I did doing the same in Vancouver. When the Washington Post and New York Times were publishing diatribes on the severity of the swine flu in Quintana Roo, I knew that there had been zero cases reported in the state outside of one Canadian who had passed through the Cancun airport on his way from Mexico City. I also knew that the tourism industry in Playa was destroyed by those articles, leaving the already poverty-stricken locals in Colosio even worse off.
For some reason, the developed world likes to make Mexico out as some lawless new wild west, with shootouts and kidnappings and murders all day long. They like to dehumanize Mexicans and belittle Mexican culture. So, before I start in on my story about a Mexican cabbie, I’d like to make a little disclaimer:
I lived for 2 years in the gorgeous state of Quintana Roo, and not once was I robbed (with the sole exception of having my wallet stolen by a guy from Indianapolis – never trust a Colts fan). I never saw any violence, and in the entire two years, two homicides occurred. I’ve been back to visit 3 times since I moved away, and this past time was the first that anything like what I am about to tell you has happened. Mexican culture and life has it’s ups and downs just like any other. I can tell you that when I had my son, it cost me near pennies for 11 months of care from two doctors and a team of 9 nurses. My hospital room was private, immaculate, with state of the art technology and comfort for me, my newborn, and my husband. When I went to get my son’s Mexican passport, we applied, and 3 hours later had the document in our hands with the same security features as a Canadian passport. We could hit the street for a delicious meal that would feed 6 of us for $9 bucks. We could buy beer for next to nothing, we could take a cab anywhere in the city for $2. There were plenty of things about life in Mexico that are far, far better than life here. Yes, there are extremely dangerous places in Mexico, but most of them are far, far away from Quintana Roo, and are generally dangerous due to American drug and immigration policy. Mexican people are, generally speaking, kind, funny and extremely laid back.
So, when this incident with a Mexican cabbie happened, it was, let me make very clear, an extremely isolated incident and makes no statement on the nature of Mexicans or Playa Del Carmen, or the great country of Mexico as a whole.
It was our third day there. The last time my son had been to Playa, he was about 2 so he didn’t recall anything. My stepdaughter had never been before, at all, so naturally, my husband and I wanted to show them as much as we could of where we used to live. On this day, we decided to take them to a cenote.
What the fuck is a cenote, Godless Mom?
It’s a sinkhole, if you must know. It’s like a big open sinkhole filled with part fresh water and part salt water. There’s catfish and birds and bats usually living in and around them. They’re connected to the ocean as a network of underground caves and perfect for cave diving. You can jump off cliffs into the water at some, some have a zip line into them, others are great for snorkeling. We just go to take in the stunning sights, and cool off in the Mayan Riviera’s only truly refreshing water. We took the kids to Cenote Azul:
After a couple of hours floating around in the cool, refreshing water there, we headed out to the highway to catch a Collectivo back to town. The ride was short, but we had some walking to do on the other end and it was beyond stifling out with over 85% humidity. We trudged through the stew-like air, all 4 of us pouring sweat. We were absolutely not going to make it without cooling off again somehow, so we detoured for the beach, where we bobbed in mildly refreshing warm waves for about a half an hour. We decided to get out of the water and dry off a bit, so we could take a cab home, none of us wanted to walk all that way in the heat.
In Playa, the cabbies don’t like to take passengers who are wet and sandy. It’s understandable, but at the same time, they’re in a tourist town with the main attractions being the beach and bars on the beach. Living in Playa, we always did our best to dry off and dust the sand off before getting in a cab, but were usually still damp. Sometimes, the cabbie would say no and we would wait for another, and other times, we’d get in with no problem. This time, we were picked up by a cabbie, climbed in and told him where we were headed. Halfway there, he asked Godless Dad if we were wet. We all answered no, as we were all but bone dry at the time. Godless Dad’s and Godless son’s shorts were only slightly damp. I didn’t think anything of it. He’d let us in his cab, knowing full well we just came from the beach and only asked halfway through.
A moment later, we drove past one of the many churches and cathedrals in the town, and the cabbie crossed himself and touched the rosary hanging from his mirror, as they always do. We arrived at the condo building we were staying in shortly afterward. We all poured out of the cab, and Godless Dad handed the driver 20 pesos, the going rate for rides within town. The cabbie took it, and promptly felt the seat Godless Dad had been sitting in. It was slightly damp. Now, it’s important to note here that when I say it’s slightly damp, I mean slightly damp, like the way everything is in Playa at all times due to the humidity. It’s slightly damp because there’s no way a single thing in that town is bone dry because the air is literally like soup. It’s one of the reasons I will never move back, I have severe intolerance for dirty clothes and poorly done laundry and in Playa, nothing ever dries properly, so everything ends up smelling mildewy. Godless Dad was that sort of damp. Not fresh out of the ocean wet, but mildly, mildly damp and the car seat was even less damp. The very same level of damp it probably was when we got in.
The cabbie, however, saw an opportunity to make more money off a family of “gringos” whom he probably thought was like every other tourist family he drove around Playa. He had no idea we’d lived there. He had no idea we knew how shit worked there, so he tried to pull a fast one on us.
He burst out of his car and stood in front of Godless Dad. He said, “Sir, you told me you were not wet. My car is wet now”. Godless Dad felt his shorts, and disagreed. I leaned in and felt his shorts – mildly damp like everything the cabbie himself was wearing.
“Sir, I have to clean my car now, you have to give me 200 more pesos”
We laughed and started walking to the gate of our condo building. Imagine saying that to someone, that their mildly damp shorts are going to cause him to have to clean his entire car and it’s going to cost him 20 bucks to do so.
The cabbie followed us though, and got in front of Godless Dad. He stopped and said, “Sir, I need 200 pesos to clean my car”
Godless Dad, being the patient and kind man he is, offered the man 30 more pesos. It was all we had on us.
The cabbie became flustered and demanded 200 pesos. He pulled out his phone and said he would call the police if we didn’t give him the money. He was standing extremely close to Godless Dad as GD and I both said in unison, “Go ahead”. We knew well enough that the police, who were paid nothing in this town, wouldn’t waste their time on this. The cabbie knew this too, which is why he never called them and just waved his phone around threatening.
Godless Dad tried to take a step toward the gate at this point, and the cabbie physically got in his way. I heard crying suddenly, and turned. My stepdaughter was crying hysterically. She never, ever cries, so for her to do that meant she was beyond terrified. Her first time in a foreign, developing country with rules and laws she didn’t understand, and a man is threatening to call the police on her father. I looked at her shaking and trembling, my son’s eyes wide with fear as well and I snapped. I turned to the cabbie, fire in my eyes and said as calmly as I could muster, “Señor! No! Mira mi hija! No es bueno! No tenenmos mas dinero. Desapareces ahora!” In my simple, awful Spanish.
Quickly, I ushered my kids into the gate of the condominium building and saw my Dad. I called out to him to come help, as my Dad is a large man who can be intimidating. Everyone else heard me, and the security guard for the building and several other tenants came to see what was going on. When I turned the corner to see what was happening, I saw several more people had crowded around Godless Dad and the cabbie outside the gate.
If my Spanish sucks, Godless Dad’s Spanish is all but non-existent. He had no way of communicating effectively with this man who spoke broken English. So, another man who lived in our building came to Godless Dad’s aid, while I had taken my kids out of sight. Another had begun filming the incident on his phone. I kept hearing the cabbie insist he was going to call the police but never actually doing it, and I decided that I would hang back and let the building’s security guard and the several tenants who were clearly on our side help Godless Dad clear this up.
Just as I started to feel like the guy was going to back off though, Godless Dad tried to take a step toward the gate and the cabbie put his hands on him to stop him.
My mind went red. All I could hear was ringing. I saw nothing but the cabbie, as I stormed at him, bowling through the crowd, and grabbed his collar. Shaking a fist in his face, I said in hushed English, “I’ll hit you, you cocky motherfucker, if you lay one more hand on him”. I wanted to so bad. I had to use up every ounce of willpower I had not to hit him. I knew we’d done nothing wrong, but if I hit him, that wouldn’t be the case anymore. I was trembling with anger and I wanted nothing more than to crack the sniveling little bitch in the jaw. I didn’t though.
Godless Dad pushed his way between us and stood, towering over this short man, and said calmly, “why don’t you assault me again and see what the police say about that”.
I was in awe of Godless Dad’s patience. I absolutely would not have handled his position in this the same way.
Surprising all of us, my mom popped out of the gate and, in a moment of absolute genius, asked which car was the cabbie’s. The cabbie turned to show her, and my mom pushed us toward the gate. We hopped through and slammed it locked behind us.
I’m not particularly proud of how I reacted, but the guy had two strikes against him. He made my 12 year old stepdaughter sob in terror on her first trip ever out of her own country, and then he put his hands on my husband. I could see nothing but red.
We watched as the cabbie spoke to the security guard for a while longer, threatened us with the police a few times and then trudged, defeated, back to his wet cab in wet playa, adorned with a holy rosary. We were told he was headed to the police station, but we knew that was bullshit. In the time it took him to go to the cops and have them tell him to bugger off, he could make twice what he was asking for from us.
In all the time I’ve spent in Playa, this is still the worst thing that’s happened, and it’s only happened once out of hundreds and hundreds of cab rides. While I could never live there again, it is certainly not because the town isn’t safe. It is. There’s a just few jerks in it, like any other place on earth.