While I was working in Mexico in August 1998, our Russian boat DSV Umka was ordered into the port of Dos Bochas for urgent upgrades of conditions, from awful to acceptable.
Things on board since the beginning of the job had been appalling. Chronic overcrowding because the Russian crew, from Capt down to AB insisted on single man cabins for themselves, whilst subcontractors were crammed four into two-man cabins, all sweltering below decks. Barely working toilets, never working TV (during the World Cup) hardly ever working air-conditioning and permanently working (round the clock) rodents, cockroaches and flies were among the many defects affecting that benighted hulk.
The crew remained on board during the works, but all subcontractors were taken off and housed in hotels in the nearby and pretty little town of Paraiso.
To take advantage of the cessation of work, for reasons other than our defective equipment, my Italian boss decided to send a damaged electronic component back to the manufacturer in Italy. So he asked me to take it in a hire car to the nearest DHL depot in Villa Hermosa, a small city about 70 km away.
Hertz delivered a white Toyota Camry to my hotel on the evening before I planned to go, and at sunrise on the following day I collected the package from the boat.
The boss was already there and he had wrapped the coil in cardboard and Impresub tape. He had also typed out the details, weight, measurements, consignor consignee, and full contact details. On a separate sheet, there was a map and directions to Villahermosa. The directions stopped at the outskirts of the city, so I guessed that it was up to me to find the DHL depot.
My car was a sedan, something about the same size as a Ford Escort.
The coil was in the boot, I had my paper work, I had a full tank of gas, a full pack of cigarettes, the sun was up and I was wearing sunglasses. There was only one thing to do; so I hit it!
Highway 186 heading for Comalcalco was the one I needed, and almost as soon as I left Paraiso I picked it up. Once on the main road, I opened the window turned up the radio and cruised, that is until I hit my first ‘Topes’ speed bump.
Driving in Ireland, one is used to encountering speed bumps on residential roads, and we are also used to seeing signs warning us to slow down.
I discovered that day in Mexico that, sometimes there are signed warnings, mostly not, and the authorities are quite happy to have these speed ramps, on what we would consider major roads, but not motorways.
I had less than a second to react once I had seen it, so I did slam on the brakes, but way too late to avoid an uncomfortable jolt amidst the smoke and the squeal of tyres.
My equilibrium was upset for a few moments, but I quickly recovered and resumed my journey a little more tentatively.
Highway186 bypassed Comalcalco, but as I drew near to the town, I saw touristy type billboards by the roadside, advertising Mayan ruins, quite close by.
There was a photograph on the signs of ‘a partially reclaimed from’ the jungle, stepped pyramid and buildings surrounding it.
How very exciting I thought, something to visit on the way back perhaps?
On I drove through virtually flat green countryside, with jungle very close by on both sides..
The large green fronds of the tropics dominated, impenetrable, and I wondered what treasures lay waiting to be discovered behind that thick green curtain.
Some way further on from Comalcalco, similar roadside billboards appeared advertising those amazing Basalt Heads, encouraging tourists to visit the museum and La Venta Park
OMGosh would it be possible to see some of those incredible artefacts that I first heard of through the books of Erich von Daniken, in which he erroneously claimed that the sculptures represented extra terrestrial beings, who visited Mesoamerica to instruct the natives on how to build their stepped pyramids and temples, and to ‘tractor beam’ heavy bits of rock around as necessary. He and his adherents refused point-blank, to believe that the incredible architectural monuments left behind by the Olmec, Mayan and the Mexica were built by humans; humans with vision, expertise and slaves, lots of slaves.
My package would be dropped off first, but I thought to myself, as soon as I make my delivery I will find that Park and the museum.
Villahermosa was indeed picturesque as the name implied. I found the centre quickly and drove around the parque twice. It had the typical raised square, with seats, shade trees and the Iglesia dominating one side.
It was a busier town centre than Paraiso; also it was a bigger square and church.
In those days before GPS, one had to ask for directions, so after my double circuit of the centre, I stopped on one of the corners, intending to ask a shopkeeper for directions to the DHL office.
It was unlikely that I would find an English speaker this deep in Mexico, so I went over the Spanish that I needed “Disculpe, ¿podría decirme la dirección de la oficina de DHL por favor?” a few times in my head before leaving the car.
I figured that even if I got it arseways, I would sound lost and polite,.
There were three roads leading off from where I was parked, and on one of the corners there was a music shop, selling all the latest CDs. This was just one of the many thousands of small music emporiums, working tirelessly to assuage the seemingly insatiable musical appetite of Mexico.
I had witnessed this phenomenon in Carmen during my stay at the Acuario.
Each store plays music a from speakers outside, and I fully expected as I turned my radio off and swung the driver’s door open, to hear Juan Gabrielle singing Asi Fui , his latest runaway musical success.
But, what I heard was the Corrs ‘Give me a Reason’.
Well I couldn’t help having a little smile to myself, so I sat with the door open listening, waiting for the ubiquitous diddly idly di bit.
I saw it as an omen of good fortune, a sort of blessing on my little trip of exploration.
I just had to seek directions from the tiny little girl, almost lost behind the CDs, hanging on the walls and ceiling in prodigious profusion, and piled high on the counter of the tiny record store.
The shop was more like a big stall, which I imagined would be folded up at night, thrown in the back of a pickup and driven off somewhere.
I had to bend almost double to go in, and even so, the see-through cellophane packages of CDs and tapes, trailed along the back of my head and neck.
I sort of blurted out my pre-rehearsed question, which she ignored until the polite pleasantries were dealt with.
She stretched out her olive coloured, bangle bedecked arm in welcome and said “buenos dias alto, cómo estás?” I stuttered my reply as I took her hand and she gently shook it, smiling up at me.
Pleasantries out of the way, she released my hand and said
“Ah si, La oficina de DHL está a Dos cuadras arriba a la izquierda, she gestured casually in the direction of the ‘Dos cuadras’ (two blocks)
Then she asked “Gringo?” “¿Eres Americano? (are you American?)
To which I answered “No, soy Irlandés, de Irlanda.”
She looked at me quizzically, “Irlanda? Inglaterra?”
“Proxima Inglaterra” I answered. (near England)
“Ah, bueno” she said.
I felt that I should reciprocate the favour in some way so I asked her for a CD of Juan Gabrielle, which I had wanted to get anyway.
She produced from behind her counter, a double album, which cost me eighty peso’s, about eight dollars.
The huge hit, Asi Fui, was on it along with a collection of his music, some tracks were live
“Celebrando Veinticinco Años”, but most mostly they were studio recorded, all of which were to become dearly loved by me over the intervening years.
The actual double case with discs is somewhere in a box, but I have its ghost in my I tunes music collection and in the cloud.
Songs from it come around every so often on my ever playing shuffled playlist, and when I hear one, in my mind I can I see the sleeve art with the now dead singer, flamboyantly swirling across the stage, mic in hand, thrilling the crowd at the Opera House in Mexico City.
I recall instantly buying the album, the tiny record store on the Parque in Villahermosa Mexico. I remember the Corrs, and as I backed out with a “muchas gracias adios” her farewell, Adios Irlandés” (goodbye Irish.)
The DHL office was indeed two blocks up and on the left, so I delivered my parcel, got a copy of the waybill, and headed off to see the massive Olmec heads.