The “Memorandum to Family and Friends” first page submission I submitted foreshadows the following chapter.
John has been told by two Canadians driving a minivan that the Highway 175, the quickest route linking the Sierra Madre Mountain Range down to the Pacific Coast, will handle our forty-foot fifthwheel. They failed to mention how grueling the drive would be.
I inhaled the aroma of fresh coffee, wiped the sleep from my eyes and walked into the kitchen.
“What time is it?”
“I want to leave here by daylight.”
I heard the anxiety in his voice, so I didn’t challenge him and prepared breakfast. After our showers, John emptied the tanks, finished outside while I prepared the fifthwheel for travel. By six-forty, we exited the Oaxaca Trailer Park. Far from the City urban sprawl, we were lulled by the scenery of sun-kissed agave and corn fields. The highway bypassed villages known for their black pottery and textiles.
“I hope we return one day.”
“If we survive this mountain trek, I’ll bring you back to Oaxaca.” He breathed in deeply releasing the tension in his shoulders. “Now this isn’t bad, is it?”
No sooner had the words slipped from his lips, the paved road veered to a one-way dusty road into a village.
“Bollocks. For some reason, we’ve left the damn highway.”
Two men, shocked by our entrance, signaled for John to stop. He reached for the map. “This road isn’t even recorded.” He rolled down the window. “Señor, the highway to Oaxaca, por favor.”
“Si.” One of them said. He rambled off a litany of Spanish words and gestured for John to circle around and cross over a rickety wooden bridge.
“Despacio, Señor,” I said.
The man repeated pacing his speech and sped up his finger pointing.
“I get the impression we’re in for a bumpy ride.” John nodded. “Thank you. Gracias, Señor.” He pulled away churning up the dry sand. “Although I don’t feel real confident, I’m afraid it’s the only way out of here. Why can’t the Mexicans properly mark their roads? I’ll never understand why.”
Anxiety rose in my stomach, and I pushed it down. Leaving the one-lane town with a “Return to Mihuatlan” overhead sign behind us, an impressive mountain range came into view.
John fidgeted in his seat. “We’re starting the rollercoaster ride.”
I rolled down the window halfway. “Look at the pine trees. There’s a dramatic drop in the temperature, too.”
John’s voice elevated as we climbed. “Bollocks. These turns are really tight.”
For the next three hours, switchback mountain curves flung us about like a boat on unruly seas. The inclines were so steep, the odometer dropped to fifteen miles an hour. I winced every time I thought he might hit the mountain, and the best we could hope for, we didn’t run into an onslaught of oncoming vehicles.
A scream jolted me out of my seat.
“I’ve lost power.”
He grunted and clenched his jaw tight, and pressed the gas pedal to the floor. “Bollocks. The odometer is registering eight miles.”
I screamed equally as loud. My head ached. “Oh my God! Will we roll back?”
My pleadings for compassion reached a spiritual ear because a secret gear kicked in. The truck lurched ahead in slow motion.
John bit hard on his lip. “If this gear fails, we screwed.”
We climbed to the next plateau. My stomach churned at the premonition of death becoming reality. Remember, only John’s skill and our Ford truck brakes were stopping twenty-thousand pounds from careening off the escarpment.
I bit down hard on my fingers. “Geez. The drop is thousands of feet down.”
He squeezed close to the threshold of the mountainside to avoid a pothole the size of a car. I almost lost my breakfast.
“John, half the road is missing. Slow down. Move over.”
“I’m doing the best I can, Sharon.”
“Be careful. Slow down. Move over.” The words slipped from my mouth every minute.
High-pitched squealing of overheated brakes coupled with the stench of burnt rubber filled the air. A car swerved to avoid a pothole. John swerved to miss the car.
He sucked in a deep breath. “Have you noticed there aren’t any trucks or buses? They’re not stupid, are they? I should never have listened to the wanker.”
My rib cage hurt from squeezing so tight. “Oh God, what have we got ourselves into?”
He let out an uneasy chuckle. “We only have seventy miles on this hellish mountain. Hold on. We’ll soon be coming out of this.”
“I’m worried you’ll suffer a heart attack.”
I’m okay. I promise.”
Drivers, impatient with our speed, overtook us. Chunks of rock, from massive boulders, teetered precariously overhead. The curves were progressively sharper forcing John to move to the center of the road to prevent the fifthwheel wheels from leaving the pavement. Added to my anxiety level, I spotted skull and crossbones signs nailed to trees every hundred feet. Had the locals forgotten to remove the Halloween decorations? Did Mexicans even celebrate Halloween? John jammed on the brakes inches from crashing into a braided-woven rope positioned across the narrow road. Four smiling brown-skinned girls dressed in white blouses and checkered print skirts, walked towards our rig brandishing Red Cross tin cans. The empty cans clanked as John threw in a handful of pesos. Overjoyed with the donations, the rope disappeared, and the girls waved us along.
“Do you think the pesos will reach the Red Cross?” I asked.
The girls flapped their hands in the air as we passed them.
“I haven’t the foggiest idea. I bet the pesos will be spent on a pub-crawl, not a charity.”
“I want to reach Huatulco before sunset.” He checked the clock. “We have another four hours of daylight.”
“How much longer are we on this road?”
“I’m hoping we’re over the worst.”
And to our shock, we climbed again. I hadn’t noticed John’s drenched T-shirt until now. We climbed another ten minutes and descended a severely eroded part of the road to an impressive Church and a row of wooden houses perched on the mountainside.
I cupped my hand over John’s white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. “Thank God. I’m sick of mountains. We must be really close.”
We paralleled a meandering river which calmed my nerves. I reached for my notebook to record the day’s events. John scrunched his shoulders to release tension.
“We’re over the mountain range, Sharon. I’ll be curious to read how you describe today’s . . . Bloody hell.”
My eyes followed his pointed finger to a hand-drawn detour sign redirecting traffic through a muddy pass. Around the next bend, John brought the truck to a dead stop. His pasty pallor and loud gasp sent shivers up my spine.
“Just what I didn’t need after a horrific drive so far. The bridge is out, and the buggers have constructed a make-shift contraption.”
He slammed the back of his head into the headrest a couple of times. “Bollocks. Are they kidding me? Do you realize what I’m being asked to do? Frankly, I’m scared. The bridge under repair is one thing. However, crossing on two planks is stark raving mad.”
“What choice do we have?”
“I’m seriously thinking of turning back.” He swung his head in the direction we came from. “Even if I wanted to, I can’t. Reversing out and returning to Oaxaca is not an option. I can’t reenter the mountain range from this angle.”
Beads of sweat trickled down his cheek.