My first hitchhiking day in Mexico : From Cancun to Chichen Itza

Since we had a 3-day layover in Cancun, I thought it would be a good opportunity to go to the pyramid of Chichen Itza, one of the new 7 wonders of the world.

Cancun is approximately 200 kilometers away from the UNESCO site, perfect for a day-trip. We quickly ruled out the possibility of going all together, since my 6-week-old kid was definitely not ready for the heat and the sun. Also we’re probably not ready to handle this situation.

Before arriving in Cancun, we just decided that we will take turn, I’ll go one day and then she will go the next. We would prepare some breast milk to feed him when she wasn’t there. We also thought it would be a good opportunity to do one of the things we enjoy the most : hitchhiking. That was the plan but you know, once you’re there plan always changes. In fact in our first full day we spent most of the day sleeping and relaxing after the long journey. We had just taken a flight from France to Mexico with a 5-week-old baby, so we definitely needed a rest day after that.

So it left us with only one full day. I offered Hiu Ying to go, but of course I knew she would not leave our baby for more than 2 minutes. It was not surprising that she refused. As a young selfish father who was attracted by the opportunity to see one of the 7 wonders of the world, I decided to go.  Being a caring husband, I prepared some food for her lunch the night before and after a good night of sleep I was ready to go!

I left in the morning and decided to save some time by doing something I hadn’t done for a while when hitchhiking : taking a bus to get to the outskirts of the city. I studied a bit on Googlemaps before deciding which road I should go through. The last problem was I had no clue which bus to take. I started to walk towards a nearby supermarket and asked locals. One guy indicated me the way, and there I was, waiting for the bus. I did not really know where it would drop me, but I was confident enough I would recognize the main road.  In the end I took a little minibus, paid 8 pesos (0.35€), waited for it to get to the main road, and asked him to stop when I saw the driver getting off this road.

And here I was, walking along the road, with this feeling I haven’t gotten for a while. Despite all my experience, I was actually feeling very shy and embarrassed. I felt like I didn’t belong, I just took a plane and spent a lot of money to come here, and here I was, waiting for someone to give me a free ride to go to an expensive tourist attraction. To me, hitchhiking is and will never be about money, it’s simply the best way to meet locals from all walks of life.

After walking a few kilometers along the road, I noticed a spot I like, a spot with some space behind for a car to pull over and not many people watching me. I turned back, and put my thumb up. It feels good. But I felt being judged, what are these people thinking when they see me? Do they understand what I’m doing? Do they think I’m weird? It’s actually funny to feel that way now, a few months ago I was feeling completely unstoppable and could not understand why any car would not stop for me.

All these moments of doubt finally stopped when after 20 minutes a guy waved at me and stopped. I ran to him, and told him I was going in direction of the next city, Valladolid. He told me to jump in and we started to speak in Spanish. Despite the fact that I worked in Spain for 6 months, my level was really not that good, I didn’t speak any for 3 years. But there’s another reason why I love hitchhiking so much, that’s always a good opportunity to practice languages. I remember trying really hard to make the conversation, because when someone stops for me I hate these awkward silent moments. I even started to talk about football at some point, and when I started to discuss it, it’s because I already used every other subject I could think of.

After jumping in his car, he asked me “no drugs?”, I felt the need to show him my almost empty backpack, composed of a bottle of water and a banana, in other words my lunch. While passing by a village, he decided to pull over in front of a local small restaurant where a shiny car of the police federal was parked.

Was it a test? Anyway we went out together and he asked me if I wanted anything. I answered him no and saw him ordering. His plate came with a coke and a pack of chips. Watching him eating, I felt it was a good opportunity to do something I’ve never done before: Inviting him for lunch.

Despite hitchhiking around 70.000km over the last 2 years and a half, I can never recall a moment where I invited a driver to eat. Did I finally grow up? I guess you can call it “the father effect”. At the moment where he was about to pay I reached out and handed out a bill. The driver did not react much. He was definitely not the nicest person I’ve ever met, but well, I needed to reward him from all the kindness I’ve been receiving over these years. It did feel good, then we went back in the car.

He looked at me with a smile and say “So you’re going to Chichen Itza hé?” And we were back together. He still did not talk much until the end, where he eventually became very interested in English, mentioning it was important for his job. He asked me how he should start to learn. I gave him some pieces of advice I could think of and gave him my Facebook page in case he wanted to have a talk. We took a selfie and he let me go.

Selfie with me and the driver
And of course the selfie!

He chose not to take the highway, and therefore we did 150km in about 3 hours (including lunch). I was feeling a little late, but I had only 40 something kilometers to get to my destination. Boiling under the warm sun, I quickly hitched another ride, and got dropped at the entrance of the highway.

Surprisingly there’s no toll, and I started to walk on the ramp with my thumb up. This highway confused me a little, there were 2 entrances and 1 exit, I decided to walk to the end of the last entrance and wait there under a little shade. I noticed quickly that there were not many cars. Maybe a side-effect of the gasoline crisis that fired up the country a few weeks ago. Most of the cars seemed to be driven by foreigners, expatriates or tourists.

Minutes went by under the warm sun and still no one stopped. It made me think again. What am I doing here? The time continued to run out and nobody seemed to be interested in helping a hitchhiker. I started to doubt, should I really go to Chichen Itza? What if I could not come back on time? What if she’s getting worried not to see me come back, with no way to contact her?

Suddenly I just decided it’s enough, it didn’t worth it. All of these questions were blowing my mind, and I didn’t feel I would enjoy visiting the place, with the fear of not being able to come back at night. I started to walk back on the highway, and a few minutes later when I arrived where the exit was, a car suddenly stopped.

I wondered why, since I did not even raise my thumb. One man was driving and was accompanied by a woman sitting on the front seat. They are young, about my age. I noticed the rest of the car was empty. The woman asked me in Spanish “Do you know where is Chichen Itza?” I couldn’t believe fate, I was not even hitchhiking, but a car stopped right besidw me and asked me the direction to a place I was dreaming to go to this morning. I answered in English and pointed to the obvious sign a 100 meters away indicating Chichen Itza. The woman gave a look at the map on her phone and still seemed confused. I continued by telling them that Chichen Itza was just 40 kilometers away and they needed to go straight because this exit was going to another city. They nodded.

I could not let them go without asking for a ride, could I? I believed a lot in destiny, there must be a reason why they stopped. I explained to them that I’m a French guy, trying to hitchhike to the pyramid and would like to know if they could help me to go in that direction. They looked at each other, and the girl answered me in not-so-great English, “Well, we are supposed to pick up some friends, and I think there is no place for you.”

Alright, I love this kind of answer, it is the kind of excuse that equals to “I don’t want to help you, but I’m too scared to tell you the truth.” I got this a lot in service stations in Europe. For example, a single guy in a car, almost empty, tells me how he might not have enough space for me to be comfortable. Then you have some Asian countries where there are already 5 or 6 in the car, but still find a place to give you a lift.

Anyway I answered them that it would be great if they could give me a lift a bit further, then they could just drop me where they pick up their friends. I still didn’t get a positive answer, so I just wished them a nice visit and kept walking. After that I understood it was just not the day. I should come back with my family to have more fun. I crossed the highway and found some shade to hitch a ride, back to Cancun.

I felt very good hitching in the opposite direction. I was glad because I knew I was going to see my kid soon, I was glad because I knew there is more than enough time to come back. It’s about 3 o’clock and 150km to go. But despite being on the other side I still didn’t get much attention. There were barely any cars. A worker on a bicycle picking up some woods came to talk to me. He told me it’s quite hard on the highway. I believed him totally, so I decided to walk back on the national road.

After walking for about 2 kilometers a car finally stopped. Great, I was about to be roasted. We started to talk together and he eventually insisted not to let me go before showing me around one of the most beautiful cities in the world, his hometown, named Valladolid. It’s about 15 minutes from where he picked me up, so the discussion was short but intense. My Spanish kept getting better. He dropped me in the city center. I still had time to be in Cancun before the sunset. I could see I was far from being the only tourist, I learnt later that this is usually the place where people sleep when they go to visit Chichen Itza. The first monument that striked me was the massive cathedral, right in the city center, named San Gervacio.

A picture of San Gervacio
The Cathedral of San Gervacio featuring the warm sun of Mexico

I walked around, took some pictures, then continued my road. I even went to the tourist office (there’s one!!) to pick up a map, just because I love to collect maps. The woman behind the desk recommended me a few sites in the city. Just a couple of blocks away located a “cenote”, this is an underground sinkhole, or in simple terms, an underground swimming pool. I managed to spot some chameleons and a mini-version of Chichen Itza there, so I guessed my aim of the day was achieved.

A miniature version of Chichen Itza
Better than the real one?

I was done with my visit of Valladolid. I walked in direction of the main road with my thumb up. No luck until I arrived on the main road, where a pick-up quickly stopped. He couldn’t speak English, but seemed quite friendly. He told me that his destination was just before Cancun, and he stopped because he saw me a few hours ago on the other side.

The guy is a boxer so I guessed he must not be so worried about safety issues when he picks up a hitchhiker. He’s telling me that he often boxes against foreigners, and he would like to fight abroad soon. He’s actually quite funny and we had a nice conversation, I tried to explain him my story, that I had a son & a girlfriend waiting for me in Cancun and we just arrived in Mexico to live here. At the moment where he explained me that he struggled a lot to keep his weight down to box because the Mexican food is just too good, he turned to a side road and stopped to buy some Mexican pastries. These were cakes, called “Pan de Elote” and “Pan de Queso”.

Pan de Queso
Pan de Queso

The first was a cake made with corn, and the second was a cake with some shredded cheese on it, both were sweet. Very tasty!

Earlier in the ride, when we started to talk about food, he told me he just bought some very nice sausages in a local shop. In order for me to try, he gave 4 of them to me. This particular kind of sausage is named “Longanisa”.He told me these ones are special because they are made with less fat. Back at home, I shared them the same night with my little family before our flight, and we were very impressed by how good it was!

A picture of Longanisa
Longanisa, grilled

I had nothing much to offer except a banana, my lunch! Gladly he accepted it and we kept talking. Another moment was when we got stopped by the police at the checkpoint. It took us 10 minutes to go through. My new friend then told me how corrupted the police is here. He was making fun of them by telling me that in France, cops are often well-trained and in a good physical shape, but here it’s the other way around, they all have a massive belly because of all the beers they drink with the money they get with these checkpoints!

We kept on talking about Mexico and travelling. Shortly after we arrived to the moment where he was going to exit the main road. It was very close from where I lived, maybe 10 kilometers. A bus would have cost me maybe 20 cents. He pulled on the side of the road and asked me if I wanted to come with him to his work, because he could just bring me home with his motorbike. Honestly a ride on a motorbike is difficult to refuse, but out of politeness I asked him if it was no problem for him, because I could easily take the bus. He said he was happy to bring me there and started to go. His workplace was very near the airport, the place we were supposed to go the next day.I waited a bit for him and he came back on a motorbike, Harley Davidson style. He drove skillfully through the chaotic Cancun traffic before eventually arriving to our temporary Airbnb home.

It was already dark, and I invited him to come inside to see my little family and eat something. He told me he had to go, I did not really understand why, but I eventually shook his hand, took the habitual selfie and told him to contact me on Facebook some days. I thanked him another time, and that was it, the end of my first hitchhiking day.

My girlfriend was happy to see me again, even though she told me “Hum, I was expecting you much later!”. I kissed her and my baby, and started to tell her everything that happened during the day. To be honest she was quite surprised I didn’t make it to Chichen Itza. We’ll go together another time, I promised. The sausages were ready not so long after that and I could not agree with my new friend that, the “longanisa” is really quite good.

The moral of the day? I probably doubled my Spanish level and never before did I feel so good not reaching my destination.

Maxime

A young father following his dream of travelling the world, now joined by HiuYing, his wife, and Darian, their first son.

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