(OK. I really do apologize for the song title for this post, but it’s a great story today, so push on.)
I arrived in Mérida about the time the sun was setting.
I had caught the bus in from Playa. First Class & Even More Premium Than First Class! buses in Mexico give you more legroom than Business Class on your average plane. Seriously. Why don’t they put these things in the sky. They’re modern, clean, spacious vehicles with AC, TV and toilets. On some, apparently you can get snacks. And they’re stupidly cheap per kilometer.
Anyways, I had stuffed a wadful of pesos in my pocket, as I’d started dozing, and thought the money would be safer on my person than in my bag in the open overhead compartment.
When I got to the hostel, I realized I’d lost the money. All 1200 pesos of it.
Now this currently exchanges to AUD$95, so it’s by no means, the worst thing that can happen. However in Mérida, its possible to get a bed, meals, and a beer for 250 pesos, so 1200 pesos could in theory, stretch out to just under a week.
Also, 1200 pesos comes in at just under the minimum monthly wage in Mexico. For a bus driver, it’s roughly a weekly wage. Folks live very simply here. So, it’s a lot of money in this context. I spent the rest of the evening kicking myself for my carelessness.
As I laid down that night, I had the recollection of a blonde lady walking down the aisle to talk to the driver, mid trip. As ours was a direct, no stops route – this led me to conclude that she had little reason to speak to the driver (for example, to ask how long til the next stop). Maybe she’d found my money and handed it in. Maybe.
I went back to the bus terminal the next day and was sent to a different terminal… It was more like a depot. I spoke to a guy through a tiny security grille, who had little English and even less interest in my story. But he went and got another bloke who had perfect English (despite him telling me he only spoke a little… They all do that over here. Un poco, pequeña Engles. And then they’re practically fluent.) Joel was also a good listener.
I told him what had happened, what I thought the blonde lady had done, and that maybe the driver had my money, and if so, maybe he would give it back… I asked if there was any way we could call the driver to ask.
My reasoning was: if you were given a bunch of money and didn’t know who it was – you’d might just think it was your lucky day. If you did know who it was, then you’d give it back, right?
I was told the driver had continued on, on a long distance journey and would be back 9am Friday. Come back then.
It continued raining quite heavily on and off for the next few days, so I didn’t see as much of Merida as I would have liked – but I did wander the streets quite a bit. It’s a simple city with a slower rhythm, a pretty enough Zocalo, and a great marketplace.
The food in Merida is just delicious. More Mayan influence, and so a lot more interesting spices and flavors. The Chaya drink is a must try. (Maria from Guadllarhara, who i lunched with, told me you have to talk to the leaf, but i was a bit skeptical.) And Merida has been to date, the only time I haven’t completely suffered through frijoles (beans). In fact, I quite liked them.
I took a bus out to Chichen Itza (which I want to call Chicken Bitsa) and I gotta say, these ruins shat all over the one I saw on Cozumel. It’s the real deal here. A big fuck-off Mayan temple with lots of other surrounding buildings, including the largest and best preserved ball court in the world. One of the things I found interesting were the jaguars guarding it; they reminded me of the Chinese lions. Anyways, it’s a must see if you’re in the area. Go early to avoid the busloads coming in from Cancun. Expect 100s of vendors all hawking the same souvenirs. And all for just 100 pesos, would you believe it.
So, back to the story of the lost money. By the time Friday morning had come around, I had almost forgotten about the money until Maria greeted me with a cheery, “I think today is going to be your day, Michelle.” So off I trotted to the bus depot to meet my helpful man, and hopefully the bus driver. When I got to the security gate, Joel was there to greet me with a big firm handshake. He promptly went and got the bus driver. The driver and he had a very animated conversation in rapido Spanish, none of which I took in. Joel explained to me that the woman had found the money and had waited around the terminal for a while, for someone to claim it. I assumed that meant that she had taken it. Fair play to her.
That was that, then.
Then all of a sudden, the driver pulls out 1200 peso from his wallet and handed it to me. I just looked at him. Literally gobsmacked. I couldn’t speak. I just started spluttering out chopped up versions of what, why, how. None of which would be particularly meaningful to someone who could understand English, let alone someone who didn’t. I just couldn’t believe it.
Tears started welling up, and it wasn’t at all about the money by now, but about the ridiculously incredible thing that had just happened. Everyone who’d I spoken to about losing the money told me to forget about it. Including the dude at the hostel desk when I left for the terminal, just 30mins earlier. When I did the conversion, I really didn’t know why I was bothering.
But there was just something compelling me to go back to see this driver.
And he had come good for me. Not on the money. But on my, sometimes wavering but mostly solid, belief that people are good.
There had been 3 people who had made this beautiful little story possible. The unidentified blonde lady who found the money and handed it in. Joel Novelo, my helpful man and the driver, German Palma Montero. How incredibly fucking cool is that.
I naturally immediately gave a good portion of the money back to the driver. And tried to give some to Joel, who just flat out refused. I gave him a big hug instead which is probably going against all sorts of Mexican customs, but i don’t care. I’ve undertaken to give 1/2 of the money remaining to someone who really needs it, when I happen upon them. A pay it forward kind of thing. I also intend to write a letter – en Español – to the CEO of the ADO bus company to let him know how fortunate he is to have two such incredibly decent people working for him. I don’t know if that will make a speck of difference to anyone, but if nothing else, it’ll be a good exercise for me.
So many of the guidebooks will tell you Mexico’s a dangerous place with a very high crime rate, blah blah blah. And look, I’m sure it can be, and there is. But I sure as hell ain’t seen any of that in the month I’ve been here.
What i have seen, is a country that is so geographically diverse and so incredibly beautiful. The people here have the biggest smiles and hearts to match. They are genuinely interested to get to know you. I’ve had so many Mexicans give me their phone number, telling me if i needed anything, i could call; stopping to help me (even when I didn’t ask for it); and waiting patiently while i try and splutter out a sentence like a complete retard in my terrible Spanish.
And then this happens. I feel incredibly lucky to have this tale to tell, and intend to tell as many people as I can. Feel free to do the same, by hitting the share button below.
PS Hostel I stayed in (Nomadas) was one of the best so far: hammocks, a pool, relaxed vibe… the girls in my room reinstalled my faith in my ability to do dorms; plus there were free salsa lessons with a hot instructor. Perfecto!