Things are bad in Mazatlan. The streets are flooded. There is debris everywhere. The roads are littered with downed trees, power lines, billboards, canopies, and just tons of crap. There is no electricity. Which means none of the traffic signals work so it’s like bumper cars. You come to a busy intersection and just hope the people in the other lanes aren’t also going to attempt to cross. There are no policemen out. So driving is just pandemonium. And because there is no electricity, the gas stations are all closed. And you have only enough fuel for maybe another thirty or forty miles. But you keep going.
Because almost all the road signs have been blown over, it is almost impossible to tell where you’re going. At one point you realize that you have taken a road going east, towards Durango, and have to backtrack. The rain is worse. The wind is worse. The car rolls back and forth like a boat on high seas. When a truck goes by in the opposite direction, it throws off a wave of water five or six feet high, hitting the windshield like high surf, blinding you for a few treacherous seconds. Just when you start to think that you are for sure going to run out of gas and really be fucked, there is a PEMEX and, miracles of miracles, they have power. You tell the attendant in the yellow storm suit to jam as much fuel into the car as he can and he keeps pumping it until gas starts spilling out of the car.
And for some odd reason, getting gas makes the ENGINE LIGHT go out. Was the gas cap not on tight? Vapor lock? Water in the fuel? Who knows. But at least now you won’t have to stare at that cyclops light anymore. You get through Tepic, where the jungle really starts, and even though it is still thundering rain, you allow yourself to think you’re going to make it.
Following less than a hundred feet behind another car, the two of you weave and dance your way through the jungle. It’s an unbelievable scene. Hillsides have come down, blocking at least one and sometimes the better part of both lanes. There are distressed vehicles everywhere. Trucks left abandoned right in the middle of the road. Cars in ditches. And everywhere there is debris, mostly huge tree limbs but also sometimes the whole tree. In a few places there are work crews, out in the rain with chainsaws, trying to get crap out of the road. If you’re lucky there might be a guy standing in yellow rain gear in the middle of the road waving an orange flag to slow you down, but sometimes you just come around the corner and SHIT! there’s a tree in the road or four or five guys trying to push some limbs into the ditch.
And just as you’re starting to think that the Virgin of Guadalupe must be watching over you, keeping you from crashing, you go around a corner and there is a fallen tree across the road. The car you’ve been following slams on the brakes and starts spinning around and around, like it is on ice, until it slams sideways into the rock wall of the mountain. Of course, you jump on your brakes as well (not a good idea) and start spinning as well. And it’s all like a slow-motion dance. You somehow avoid the crashed vehicle sticking out into the road and then spin to the right just barely avoiding an on-coming pickup. And then your car stops. Sideways in the middle of the road. Untouched.
Everybody stops. Everybody gets out. The family in the crashed car is okay, although the little kids are crying. Some of the other drivers take off their shirts and start waving them to slow traffic and keep people from crashing into you. And then there are a bunch of men, again appearing out of nowhere, and they somehow manage to lift the crashed vehicle out of the ditch and back on the road. The side of the car is beat up pretty bad, but the front is okay and the engine starts. People get back in their vehicles and everyone goes off on their way. As if absolutely nothing had happened. So you get back in your car and leave as well. What else can you do?
You drive five, maybe six miles, your hands shaking on the steering wheel, before you realize that there’s something wrong with the car. It won’t accelerate. Even with your foot all the way down on the accelerator you’re only doing twenty, maybe twenty-five. And you can smell something hot and burning and rubbery. Whisps of smoke rise up from beneath the hood. Fortunately, there’s a PEMEX station before long. When you stop, clouds of acrid white smoke billow out from the side of the engine. It smells like burnt rubber. The gas station guys come over and say it’s the brakes. They say there is no mechanic here, that you will have to go into the campo, five, maybe six miles ahead.
So while the car cools, you tell them to fill it with gas while you stand in the rainstorm thinking about how close you are. Maybe only an hour away. Why does this have to happen now? When you finally get the courage to start the car, it rolls okay again, although there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of brakes. But what the hell. You have to keep moving forward, finish the drive even if you don’t have any brakes. So for the next hour, up and down the mountainous jungle road, in a tropical storm, you push the beast through the jungle without once using the brakes. If you go around curva peligrosa, you just hang on and hope you’re going to make it. If you start to pick up speed going downhill, you pray you’ll slow somehow before coming to the next curve. It is, to say the least, incredibly nerve wracking.
And then you make the last curve, come out of the jungle, and practically roll to a stop in front of your house. Eleven hours of driving, fourteen inches of rain, forty to sixty mph winds, car crashes, downed power lines, geese through windshields, no brakes—but you are here.
You sit on the balcony drinking the largest margarita imaginable, watching the lighting and the rain over the Bay of Banderas, feeling the thunder when it rattles the windows behind you. Just holding the drink in your hand gives you a charley horse in your thumb or the back of your hand or your forearm. Places you didn’t even know you could get a charley horse, the result of gripping the steering wheel a little too tightly for a little too long. And you can’t stop shaking. It is like you have a high fever. So that you have to use two hands to bring the drink to your mouth to keep from spilling it. You’re watching the lightning and you keep seeing images of the power lines sparking on the highway and the wild bird going through the windshield of the car in front of you and you miraculously spinning around and around as your car danced it’s way past the crashed vehicle against the side of the hill. Forgetting all about dinner, you make yourself one more drink and then fall into bed with your clothes still on and when you awake the room is hot and steamy and sun is streaming through the gauzy white curtains. Thirteen hours of sleep. Nevertheless, you roll over and close your eyes. And fall back into a narcotic-like sleep. For hours.