The roasting sun sank in the sky and the late afternoon set into the fillet of the day. The valley was still half filled with golden light. A 35 yo pick up truck rumbled ahead of us, backfiring, coughing a blaze out of the tail pipe every 3 seconds, to a count. Our windows manually rolled down, the hot air whipping through my dirty hair, passing green agave, massive cacti, dead brown brush, and wondering wild goats. We were arriving at Huajuapan de Leon. At this point in the road trip Dad was narrating all the road side signs in both spanish and english. I made a jab at his ridiculousness.
“Hey son, did you see that one? It said PELIGROSO: Danger, if you don’t just shut up and drive” -Dad
We decided on the first restaurant Huajuapan had to offer. Terezza, a cafe as good as any to rinse the dust off our crowns, and down espresso dobles. Their baño was broke but I fixed it. Within 15 minutes we stretched, reset ourselves in the vehicle and took back to the road. The sun had fallen to a low hover above horizon.
More than once we were warned not to drive at night. But, we needed to make time and we had a jolt of caffeine. Besides, if the next roads were like these last, it would be an easy ride. Our eyes were fixed on the route’s next bold face: Asunciòn Nochixtlàn. Friday evening crowds wandered through the center of town, causing us to slow to a dilapidated iguanic* crawl.
The twilight faded. Big mountains stood before us, tops disappearing into the darkening sky. A fat plop of rain dropped onto our windshield, either a challenge we accepted or an omen we ignored. Wasn’t sure.
Dusk was submitting to the night. Memorials stood on most of the road bends, usually Marie in pastel blue, no guard rail behind her, just the dramatic drop and infinite tumble. We ever-so slowly wound up into the Oaxaca Sierra Madres Mountains. I drove at speeds that created my own parade. White streaks of lightning ignited, flashing the blackness into a dim denim grey. Flash, flash flash! Like God got a new goat’s horn, Cuerno de chivo. CRACK, thunderous cries from the wide black yonders above, stirring the adrenaline, pouring on the ambience.
Sheets of rain assailed, the wipers frantic at full speed, my fists gripping the steering wheel. Leant fully forward I searched for the road through the windshield, like searching for a sock through a washing machine window. Pounding rain, jarring cracks of thunder, and my thoughts racing. Red lights flash flooded my mirrors. An emergency vehicle crept up my tail and I tried to pull over, hoping I wasn’t driving the car into a dive off the mountain. I honestly couldn’t be sure. It was too dark and too loud. The ambulance, belching it’s sirens, swung around the curve, and the grim reaper sat perched in the front passenger seat, with half a cynical smile, and winked at me. I swear it. Does that mean “not today” ? Or, “see you soon” ?!
Hail now hammering down, bouncing off the road, steam rising up off the hot pavement, a shallow bed of mist. Hail, in Mexican mountains?? What does that mean, volcano? I calmly tell myself “You are going to die”. Time to just accept it. I look over and my dad has casually fallen asleep. He’s snoring. We are about to die and he falls asleep?! Very well, a peaceful death for one of us. How will the “How we died” conversation play out on the other side? He’ll be chill, I doubt he’ll blame me. I make my peace and continue to force myself to accept the impending death. It’s natural, dying, leaving earth, it’s always been the plan. I tell myself I’m ready to die, I don’t want to, but I’m ready.
But then I freak out again. I summons the heavens on my death-to-be. I re-work my demands as prayers. I ask to be fully killed. No paralysis, no vegetative states, no permanently physically disabled. “God!” I cough out, insisting on his attention. We have a deal, God and I have had this deal for a long damn time, where it’s a clean kill. I don’t know for sure if he has outright agreed, but this is the damn deal. He respects me. He’ll kill me clean. Ok, so this is how it ends, I reiterate in my head, with my pops by my side, in a foreign country, on a mountain with rock on the radio. Not that bad, honestly. But something doesn’t feel right, I’m losing faith I the reaper’s re-emergence. This isn’t my death. Ok, that’s good, too. Just as quickly as it began, the the sky cleared and the stars reigned gleamingly through the clearance. Loved ones in the high sky, reminding me I didn’t survive alone, almost goofing on me for maybe forgetting. Their spirits burning as fiery stars in distant galaxies, I can feel their grace, the gravitas of the divine. The lightning now muffled by far-away clouds and tranquility restored.
I was ready to get out of the car, have a coffee and kiss the ground. In the next town, San Pablo Huitzo, we’d rest. I liked the vibe, connected with the energy, it was nice to finally be here. Dad did’t jive with it as much as I did. We bought an auxiliary cord and walked through the park, passing taco trucks, one after another. Teenagers joked, couples courted, but most of the town was asleep. 10 PM. We drove to the recommended San Pablo Hotel, which should have been a walk. Dad decided San Pablo Hotel was totally out of the question, without even slowing the vehicle down to look in. Something about bugs, I think. We hit the road again, and I sulked inside. I was ready to tap out for the night. But, plugged in we rambled on with Zed, Jimi, Freddy and other dead friends.
A couple hours later we made it to Asunciòn Nochixtlàn. An old town, in the region of Mixteca, first founded in the 900s as a military zone. Asunciòn Nochixtlàn. It was a one streetlight town and the streetlight didn’t work. -Dad. It was nearly midnight and we needed food, or coffee, or a bathroom… something. For whatever reason, a pizza shop was still open. I thought I’d order a personal pie. Dad decided we’d order two family pies and 2L of orange soda. Neither of us drink soda… We must have been delirious. We ate a little less than half of one pie. The coffee from the kitchen next door tasted terrible. I don’t know how she made it. Maybe she scooped up a roadside puddle and had an old diseased donkey’s crush the beans with its fungi-hooves. There’s no getting a hotel here… What the hell do we do now?
*this is a made up word Iguanic: of or related to iguanas.