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.
18 thoughts on “On RVing Time A Grand Mexico Tour”
This is an interesting piece of writing, with some aspects that worry me. I am not sure if it is fiction or non-fiction. As someone who has travelled many times to Mexico and has a hug love for the country and the people, I find the racism in the piece quite distasteful. Casting aspersions on the little girls collecting for charity and suggesting the money will go on a pub crawl was low considering that the people have no knowledge of the strangers on the roadside or what their lifestyle or values are. People who try to help them or are restoring bridges are called ‘ wankers and buggers’. They strike me as a pair of entitled tourists who made bad decisions and then blame the country and the people. Sorry if this seems harsh, but it is how it came across to me as a reader. If it is fiction and this is part of the story and the characters, and is intended, then it worked well.
There are some language expression issues which jarred. You often seem to leave words out of sentences which would help clarity. Some examples…
‘ the paved road veered to a one-way dusty road into a village.’ I have trouble with this. Veered means turned and there is too much going on – it veers, changes from paved to dirt and enters a village, but none of these are quite explained properly. The next sentence says they have entered something, but what? Needs work.
‘The man repeated pacing his speech’. repeated what? Should read ‘ the man repeated his words, speaking slower this time.’
‘The odomoter is registering eight miles’. I don’t understand what this means. Do you mean eight miles an hour? In which case, it should be spedometer. I don’t know what else it could mean.
These are just a couple of examples.
I thought you built the tension well in the paragraph that starts ‘drivers impatient with our speed’ – that was the best paragraph.
I wish you all the best with the piece and hope my comments are helpful.
Thank you for your critique, Jennifer. The submission is creative non-fiction. (Ellen was kind of enough to allow me to participate.) I read your comments and my mouth dropped open. If one person thinks the way you do, it’s one too many so I’ll rewrite the scene. That’s my husband’s wacky English sense of humor for you.
My husband is English too, so ‘Bollocks’ was quite familiar to me. You certainly captured the horror of the situation you found yourselves in. I would definitely take another look at the racial comments, but bear in mind that in a short piece like this, we have no context, so you may have built the personnalities in previous chapters in a way which would change how we’d view them in this piece. I simply said the way they came across to me in this piece – doesn’t mean that was what was intended. If it helps to see it from an outsider’s point of view then great. No offence was intended, I hope none taken.
None taken Jennifer. I’m glad you were honest.
I like the detail description, it gives a much better feel for the journey than an assessment like “it was a precarious windy road”. But the writing is a bit pedestrian (“flung us about like a boat on unruly seas”) and awkward (“close to the threshold of the mountainside “) and I thought more suspense about the dangers of the road could be experienced through the narrator’s eyes (“I saw the car pivoting then me dropping through the windshield like…”).
As far as any stereotyping of Mexicans or Europeans or whoever goes, fiction writers have licence as far as I am concerned. Readers can decide whether a character is bigoted or true to type or not, it’s all grist to a novelist’s mill. A Politically Correct novel is almost a contradiction in terms.
Thank you for your critique, Johnsonofdaw. As I said to Jennifer, this is creative non-fiction and if one person thinks this is racist, it’s one too many. That’s my husband’s wacky English sense of humor for you. Question to you. Would you rewrite this scene?
I’ve never been to Mexico, but for what it’s worth I don’t think I’d rewrite it. Even if it’s non-fiction you want it to be colorful, as I thought the “smiling brown-skinned girls dressed in white blouses and checkered print skirts … brandishing Red Cross tin cans” were. And I think writers have to present their honest perceptions, if you try to avoid offending people your readers will soon sense that they are reading a sanitised version, and you might offend for different reasons, such as patronisation, anyway. As Jennifer suggested, if this excerpt gives a false impression of the narrator’s attitude it will likely be corrected or mitigated elsewhere.
I don’t think it matters if readers didn’t know what “bollocks” means, not when it’s inside quotation marks. But I’d be inclined to restrict it’s use so it didn’t sound repetitive, or increase its use to make it a humorously repetitive signature of the character.
I agree Johnson. When I was critiquing it, for some reason I had it in mind that it was a non-fiction, road trip book. But I agree that if it is fiction, there is total license for the characters to be racist and objectionable and in that case, they came across as intended.
In your short explanation before your excerpt it sounds like it’s real. You say “our forty-foot fifth wheel” I think that’s what made me think, like others, that it was a non-fictional account of a road trip.
I like the tension build and it sounds like a really interesting story.
Can John use another expletive? In this short scene he uses “bollocks” three times.
Thanks for your critique, Allisonnewchurch. John is English and blurts out “Bollocks” like we blurt out “gollywogs or “crap” or ” #$%^&”.
You hooked me in the setup to the scene. Having been a log truck driver many years ago, it was easy for me to visualize the particulars of what was going on. I’d like to read more of it.
The title is puzzling to me–not sure what it means. I also stumbled on your use of “bollocks” (had to look it up to understand what it means). I too wondered if it was nonfiction, but assume it’s fiction based on something you experienced (or was told about).
I’d like to know the larger context of the story, and so I’d be interested in reading more.
Good luck as you continue writing and developing the story.
Thank you for your critique, Jim. Did you travel into Mexico?
Answers to your questions. This is a creative non-fiction submission. The Title: On RVing Time (The Series) This is the third E-book in this series. We pulled a 40-foot fifthwheel,….which is an RV (recreational vehicle) Sub-title: .A Grand Mexico Tour We hauled this beauty all around Mexico and it was “A Grand Mexico Tour”. Bollocks….my explanation to Allison …”John is English and blurts out “Bollocks” like we blurt out “gollywogs or “crap” or ” #$%^&”.
I’m hoping to release my e-book January 31, 2016. If you’d like to tag along for the book launch journey, check out my website at http://www.onrvingtime.wordpress.com..
Haha, I had no problem with ‘Bollocks’ as it is my husband’s favourite expletive. It is very English and a commonly used term in the UK.
Right on Anonymous!
You must have struck a cord with this piece, because it lingered on my mind, and I’ve just realised why. It’s the hook at the end. Suddenly finding you’ve driven yourself to where you can’t go forward but can’t go back is the stuff of nightmares. Maybe you can use that nightmareish mood.
Welcome back Johnsonofdaw. Add to the feeling of being trapped, we are pulling a 40-foot fifthwheel. It was a nightmareish situation. Could you give examples to how you’d use a nightmareish mood?
I have had childish dreams where I’ve found myself at a crossroads and I don’t know how I got there and every way onward or back or sideways looks scary. Maybe you could make something like that up and say your situation reminded you of it, or imagine someone coming across your stranded car with sunken corpses in it, or you could use the state of the weather to create an ominous mood, or have the two of you arguing with competing scenarios of the most dire consequences of going forward or back. Or maybe the situation as you describe it is enough 🙂
I love your ideas Johnsonofdaw. . Thanks for your comments