See my full Yucatan travel guide here.
You know when you meet a soul mate and you instantly click? You can both laugh at the really off-color Family Guy clips on Youtube until tears stream down your faces. You agree the best food in the world is probably ice cream, followed closely by tacos. You feel like you’ve known them for years even if you’ve just met hours ago. In the same way, I felt an instant connection with Mexico, my soul-country. I felt it probably years before I even went to Mexico in the way I’ve lovingly filled up a notebook with phrases like “Chingate, guey!” that I picked up from my Mexican and El Salvadorian friends and co-workers. I felt it when I discovered the most paisa taquerias in the heart of Fruitville and tried my first tacos al vapor. I felt it when I loaded up my playlist with reggaeton, Alejandra Guzman, and even the occasional corridos.
So when I first stepped foot in the Yucatan two years ago, it felt like I’m finally meeting in person a friend that I’ve known for a long time. We landed in Merida, the capital of the Yucatan, and made our way down to Tulum by bus, an ambitious road trip for two women. Along the way, we stopped by dusty villages and towns that charmed me with their colorful old buildings and friendly locals. I was introduced to the specialty tacos of the region which had the unlikely combination of hardboiled egg, turkey, and relleno negro–an ink-black sauce made with burnt chiles–all served on a handmade tortilla. The most memorable part of the trip was probably my first swim in a cenote. Thousands of these freshwater sinkholes dot this region. Each cenote is different, some are completely underground in cave, others are completely exposed like a pond, and still others are a combination of the two. The water is crystal clear you can see dozens of fish swimming around the underwater stalactites.
With the memories from my first trip still fresh in my mind, I happily returned to the Yucatan this month with Richie and Ellie. For this trip, we decided to take it easy and spend the majority of our time beachside in Tulum and take a quick overnight trip to a picturesque town that I’ve loved, Valladolid. I didn’t realize until this trip that Tulum can be quite a spendy destination with it’s beaches dotted with posh eco-resorts and expensive boutiques. I do know that Tulum and the Yucatan can be enjoyed on a small budget. Check out my guide on places to stay, my favorite restaurants, the best beaches, and the most beautiful and off-the-beaten-track cenotes.
Our Car Ran Out of Gas on the Highway
We made so many great memories on this trip. It was a perfect week filled with good food, sunshine, lots of swimming and lots of laughter. It’s hard to believe things would take a turn for the crazy on our very last day on the way to the airport.
It started with us getting on the super highway without knowing it has a toll. Then when we reached the toll station, we realized we did not have any pesos left and the toll lady would not take our US dollars. Finally, the stations police came over and said that the only solution is for me to ask people if they would exchange my $20 US dollars for pesos. I found myself standing awkwardly as a line of cars inched past me, the security officer kindly did the asking and explaining for me. Unsurprisingly there were few takers and I was just about to give up when someone finally agreed to exchange my twenty.
We were back on the road but running low on gas. Another thing we were unprepared for was that the super highway is like an express way that cuts through the jungle and does not pass any towns. So gas stations were no where to be found. With 11km left to the nearest gas station, our car puttered to a stop at the side of the road. We sat there shocked as the heat from the afternoon sun started to creep into the car, an impatient baby whining in the back seat and dense jungle surrounding us. My phone ran our of data, but can still call, but without the internet we had no idea who to call.
Not listening for a second to my husband’s idea of walking, I got out of the car and stuck my thumb out for the next passing car. I told my husband to bring Ellie out because if they won’t stop for some random Asian tourist at least they will stop for a baby. Sure enough, within 5 minutes a car pulled over and we met Eugene, the dad from New York with three daughters in toll. They took us to the gas station, where the attendants had to empty out a large liquid soap container so we can fill it with gas. The dad made us a funnel with an empty coke bottle. Then, even though we said we can try to get a cab from the gas station, he decided to bring us back to our car. It was no easy feat as there were also no where to turn around on the super high away. Overall he drove probably 20 miles and spent almost an hour with us, even though he was supposed to picking up his mother at the airport. We cannot thank him and his sweet daughters enough for their kindness, and as he graciously suggested we will definitely be paying it forward.
So we miraculously made our flight that night and I look back on our crazy adventure and felt so much gratitude towards all the kind people that made our trip end on such a high note, from the security guard at the toll station, to the gas station attendants, to Eugene from New York. Thank you for reminding me why I love to travel.