A Missed Storm in Mexico

“Let us arrive already” ran through my head on repeat. We were on a local Mexican bus going from Puebla, 130 km south of Mexico City, further south to Oaxaca. The third movie played on the television screen overhead; I knew we had to be close. A short while earlier, when it was my time in the window seat, my three-and-a-half year old son, Moses, and I marvelled at the cacti resembling hundreds of telephone poles randomly sprouting up from the barren hills. Now I saw more signs of life: more fields, houses, and trees.

Moses lost interest in the scenery when he made a friend. Daniel, only half a head taller than Moses, stood in the aisle beside where my husband Theo and Moses sat, grabbing at Moses’ toy monkey and turtle. “Chango, chango, chango” chanted Daniel. Darwin, our 18 month old, was squirming on his father’s lap, screaming to be released. My mother’s intuition anticipated Moses, now shrieking and laughing at Daniel, would soon start wailing for his monkey. In my mind we were at a critical juncture. Family peace depended upon a timely end to what would have been a pleasant four hour bus ride back when I traveled as a single woman⁠—without kids. Tense and impatient, I regretted our decision to travel by bus with capricious tots in tow.

“Mommy, we are here”, said Moses as the bus ground to a stop. While I wanted to share his optimism, I knew better. “It’s probably a little traffic jam, Mo”, I said as I looked out the window and saw trucks stopped in front of us. We waited as the minutes ticked by. Theo could no longer restrain the three boys who now raced from the back to the front of the bus. I watched in horror, afraid they were disturbing the other passengers. The bus driver, who had stepped out to determine the source of the problem, boarded the bus and held up five fingers. Five minutes? I listened carefully to the other passengers discussing the situation. From what Spanish I could understand, I learned the source of delay would not be cleared until at least 5 p.m. It was only 3:30. I could feel my blood pressure rising. “Can I take the boys off the bus while we wait”, I asked the driver in broken Spanish. “They are tired of sitting.”

Once outside, we were hugged by the warmth of the afternoon sun, its heat tempered by the altitude. The blueness of the November sky instantly diffused some of the tension in my back and I felt a partial sense of calm. “It’s so quiet out here,” said Moses. Soon Daniel, his grandmother and most of the other passengers vacated the bus as well. It wasn’t long before Moses and Daniel, communicating through the language of play, resumed chasing each other amongst the stopped trucks while the other passengers and truck drivers gathered to chat in small clusters. Theo and I took turns pursuing Darwin who, in his 18 months alive, had yet to develop any sense of caution. As Darwin ran to the other side of a semi before I could catch him, he was corralled by the other passengers. I let down my guard a little more, content to watch my kids having fun, knowing that a whole bus load of people were looking out for them.

As the sun sank lower into the mountains, there was still no sign of movement from the trucks snaked along the highway ahead. The boys continued to play as Theo and I wondered how long it would be until they realized they hadn’t eaten in several hours. We had long depleted our stash of snacks. “Do you know when the traffic will start moving again”, I asked the bus driver. “First they said five”, he responded “and now some people say it will be at seven, but others are saying it might not be until midnight”.

We watched as a few of the passengers asked to have their luggage retrieved. “You are walking?” I asked one on them. She told me it was about 2.5 kilometres to the problem. From there you could take a taxi into town, only about ten more kilometres. Theo and I discussed our options. In our family I watch for storms; Theo sees the calm. True to his ever patient nature, he thought we should do what some of the other passengers had already done⁠—order pizza (delivered by motorcycle from town), hunker down in the bus and wait it out. I convinced him we should walk.

Like refugees we dragged our suitcases and carried our kids down the highway. “Buena Suerte” yelled out the passengers who chose to stay with the bus. “Adios amigo” was the last we heard from Daniel.

“Chicken truck, cement truck, car carrying truck, bus, pig truck…” called out Moses as we walked, relishing in the moment. As we trudged along the highway, he was Dora the Explorer and we were her entourage, all embarking on an adventure. For a moment even I got caught up in his excitement and almost forgot to worry.

Within 20 minutes we reached the front of the line of stopped trucks and buses and discovered they had been blocked by a political protest. Dozens of taxis, whose drivers had anticipated the business, were waiting to take victims like us into town.

Our taxi swerved through congested traffic alongside low buildings painted in bright colours, blackened by pollution. We passed tire stores, small hotels, taco stands, stalls selling belts, pharmacies, and a variety of other enterprises that I could not identify before leaving them in our exhaust. As the taxi pulled into the bus terminal, I recognized my error forecasting yet another storm. All my anxiety over when and how we would arrive at our destination was unwarranted - and unshared by the rest of my family simply enjoying another warm and sunny day.

As I opened the taxi door Moses said, “no, Mommy, I don’t want to get out. I am not ready to get there.”

“Moses”, I said, “The bus and taxi adventure is finished. It’s time to start a new one.”