As far as tandem couples in the Foreign Service go, we’ve gotten pretty lucky. Juarez isn’t terribly far from DC, and since the husband is also going to Qatar, eventually we’ll sync up and be in the same place at the same time. But as we like hanging out with each other, we’ve tried to see each other every 4-5 weeks these past few months and lucky for us, between US and Mexican holidays that hasn’t been terribly difficult.
For MLK weekend, we met up in Mexico City, rented a car, and drove up to the little town of Santiago de Querétaro. Querétaro city is a UNESCO world heritage site. That is not a typo. The entire town is a UNESCO world heritage site and it is incredible. But before I even talk about the town I have to tell you about how we got there.
Flying in to Mexico City from Juarez is pretty uncomplicated. The terminal is huge, but it’s easy to find your way around and everything is pretty clearly labelled. Flying in to Mexico City from the U.S. is a bit of a different story. We tried for weeks in advance to find out which terminal we’d each be arriving in, but we weren’t very successful. All domestic flights arrive in Terminal 2, but only most international flights fly into Terminal 1 and there’s not really a good way to tell where your flight is going to end up. Neither the airport nor the airline website mentioned arrival terminal so we just made plans to meet at the hotel shuttle stop and take it from there.
We arrived in different terminals and didn’t figure out how to find each other until the hotel shuttle had all but stopped running. Actually, we never did find each other in the airport, we just ended up taking different shuttles to the hotel and meeting there, which in retrospect was probably a smarter plan all along. Unfortunately, I had misread the dates on the hotel reservation and had accidentally made it for the previous night. The hotel had rooms available, but they insisted upon charging us anew, which was fine because it was entirely my fault, but the price of airport hotels in Mexico City is insane, and this single night in DF ended up being the most expensive hotel room I stayed in my entire 2 years in Mexico. Lesson learned: reading is fundamental.
In the morning, we took a shuttle out to the car rental terminal to pick up what was supposed to be a compact, automatic, 4-door vehicle. We reserved it online through the Mexican affiliate of a very popular American car rental company and thought all was well. Unfortunately, car rental “reservations” in Mexico literally mean nothing so the rental place tried to give us a manual SUV. I have never driven a manual with any regularity and the husband hasn’t driven one in years. Plus we were going to be driving out of Mexico City in Saturday morning traffic AND Querétaro is in the mountains which sounded like a terrible combination for a rusty driver of a standard transmission. We waited an extra half hour for them to find an automatic that fit our request and then we waited another half hour for their system to come back online from a small outage (more on that later). Finally, with car keys in hand, we headed out of town: optimistic about beating traffic (it was only 9:00) and excited for a beautiful drive through the Mexican countryside.
We paid extra for GPS but it took a little getting used to, so we missed a turn early on and ended up having to take city streets for part of the trip instead of taking one of the many highways that circle the sprawl. That added on a bit of time, but traffic wasn’t terrible and driving in DF was super fun (read: terrifyingly awesome) so we weren’t too worried. We finally made it to the outskirts of town and to the road toll where of course, there was a long, crazy line of cars waiting to pay.
We pulled up behind a small truck and stopped and not 3 seconds later, the engine sputtered and the car completely shut down. The battery was dead. Fried. Completely. I called the rental company and requested help and a new car, and we pushed the car to a median area to wait for help. But apparently, loitering in the median is not allowed, because the Federales came over no fewer than 4 times to tell us we needed to move. Finally, the last time, I said “Officer, we would love to move. That’s why we’re in a car. We want to be traveling somewhere, not sitting here. Unfortunately, this car is dead. I’m not sure what you want me to do about that…” He laughed at my sarcasm and helped push us through the toll to a safer shoulder where another Federale repeatedly told us to move. After explaining the situation to him approximately 23426365323412325 times, he got it, wrote our names down and license plate number, and said he’d tell everyone to stop annoying us (his words, not mine).
Nearly 3 hours later, the rental car company showed up and brought us a new car. By this point I was STARVING as we hadn’t really eaten breakfast because we were planning to eat a big, tasty lunch upon arrival in Querétaro. So there we were: both exhausted from arriving late and leaving the hotel early, hangry (hungry + angry), and annoyed at the rental car company for taking SO LONG to get to us. We dug out some gummy bears from the husband’s emergency stash and decided to stop complaining and make the best of it. Well ok, he wasn’t really complaining to begin with, that may have just been me…
The rest of the road trip was gorgeous though, so the pretty views and good company made up somewhat for the dramatic start to the trip.