The International Writers Magazine: Road Hazards in Mexico
Mexican adventure in a glass
Suddenly thrown forward violently, but restrained by my seat belt from being propelled into the seat in front, my first thought was incongruously “For Christ’s sake, I don’t believe it. Now I’m in a bus crash in Mexico!” followed immediately by “Where is this bus going to end up…?” as it slewed out of control and finally came to rest with a screech on the opposite side of the road.
After a moment of shock and disbelief the smell of burning which permeated the bus interior impelled me into action. Without stopping to check any possible injuries I might have sustained, I haphazardly gathered up my belongings and, along with my traveling companion seated next to me, clambered down the steps and onto the roadside, accompanied by the other passengers.
I could almost hear the voice of Big Brother’s speakover bloke intoning in the background… “Tequila Sunrise Mexico Tour, Mexico City to Cancun, Day Five, Overnight bus from Oaxaca to San Cristobel de las Casas. 7a.m”. Where the hell were we? What had we hit? Had a tyre blown? Where was the driver? Was anyone injured? Darkness was just beginning to lift and there was still a grey haze around us. I could not see any sign of habitation close by. As I looked back at the scene I realized that there was a car concertinaed between the bus and the roadside bank. It was clear that whoever had been in the car was beyond any help we could give. It was further clear that, whoever was originally to blame for the crash, the bus driver had probably saved lives by veering over to the opposite side of the road thus crushing the car, rather than swerving over to our own side where there was a steep drop. And, speaking of drivers, where was he? I asked around the people slumped on the roadside in shock. Most of us appeared to be tourists, either in a group travel arrangement or independent travelers. Two people claimed to have seen the driver get out, open the baggage compartment and drag out the co-driver (ensconced in his sleeping quarters under the bus) and then seen both hightail it into surrounding countryside. Obviously concerned for their passengers’ wellbeing then!
My travel companion, Mary, had unfortunately not been wearing her seat belt and had hit her head on the facing seat. In shock and bleeding, we sat her down and applied tissues to her facial cuts. Amazingly, no one else appeared to be injured. Although Mary and I were on an organized tour, it was, unusually, just the two of us along with a tour guide. It was she who had rung emergency services and given them a rough idea of our location. As the sun rose higher giving us some welcome warmth and light a police car finally appeared followed closely by an ambulance and medics who checked Mary’s injuries. Although they did not appear serious it was decided to take her to hospital in San Cristobel accompanied by our tour guide.
I was to wait with the other passengers until the accident crew arrived and dealt with the mangled wreckage. We would then be able to rescue our luggage from the bus compartment and board another bus being arranged to take us to our destination. It was eventually another couple of hours before we were given the all clear to do this. In that time there was little we could do except sit by the roadside, forced to endure a constant stream of goggling passing motorists. If some of them had shown a bit of enterprise and returned with some coffee they would have made a nifty profit! As it was, we slurped water and tried not to watch the grisly scene in front of us as the crew prised the bus away from what was left of the car. Well, most of the passengers preferred to avert their eyes. There was only one character who seemed intent on recording every single aspect of the incident on his digital camera much to our disgust. When we realized that he was also indiscriminately snapping the passengers there was a general none too polite request to back off. I certainly did not relish my image floating somewhere around the deep space of the web – especially as the bags under my eyes were down to my jaw, I was devoid of make up, and it was definitely a bad hair day!
Finally another bus arrived to take us onwards and we were given permission to collect our bags. I had four pieces of luggage to negotiate out of the bus compartment and over to the waiting bus. One of the other bus passengers helped me with one bag, while the band of police and accident crew stood around and watched disinterestedly as I struggled with the remaining bags. I had read about the Mexican “macho man” but that an upside to this was general chivalry shown towards women. It certainly seemed to be lacking now. Perhaps it was a case of “lugging bags around not under my job remit” and to do so would mean a loss of face in front of colleagues. I am not the archetypal weak wilting woman expecting a male to jump to my aid if I drop my tissue. Nevertheless, weary, shocked, and still aching from the sudden jerk of the collision, I was sorely tempted to say something to the ring of dispassionate faces. I restrained myself however as it was extremely likely that the fragile calm I felt might suddenly shatter, resulting in a mad gringo woman shrieking out insults with abandon.
And I don’t believe that help was not forthcoming simply because I was a western tourist. We had witnessed a disturbing incident on board another bus previously. An elderly woman who was seated at the front of the bus went to the toilet situated at the rear. On her return and just as she was about to sit down the bus breaked sharply causing her to fall heavily down the stairwell to the bus exit. The thud of her descent resounded quite distinctly. As the bus came to a halt the passengers rushed forward but it was the driver who unceremoniously dragged her up to a standing position. He then jumped back in his driver’s pit and set off again before she could regain her seat, with the result that she nearly dropped back full tilt into the stairwell. Her husband helped her back into her seat and, from our viewpoint directly behind them, we could see that the back of her head was bleeding. Fortunately the bus was due to stop fairly soon to pick up more passengers and we assumed that first aid help would be forthcoming as soon as we stopped. To our horror, however, the old couple were merely firmly decanted onto the platform where the driver ignored them and sauntered off to the toilet. It was left to Mary to find some kind of office and explain in her limited Spanish what had occurred. She came back with a chair and barely had time to help the injured woman into this before the driver, who had by this time returned to the bus, gestured at her sharply to get on. As she jumped on board he shot off thereby nearly throwing her down on the floor in the process. Yeah, great, two down, 20 more passengers to go. Mary could not help a barbed sarcastic comment to this effect directed at the driver. Judging from his scowl I think he got the message despite its being given in English.
Obviously, nothing is allowed to divert buses from arriving punctually at destinations. Could there be some kind of harsh punishment meted out to drivers arriving late? In the present situation, the bus was not only irrevocably late, there had been a fatality. Even so, I failed to see how running away at the scene of a crash could possibly help in this instance. Presumably the bus company had records and the drivers could hardly hope to evade the authorities forever. Actually, we discovered later that there may have been some reasoning behind their actions. Apparently when any road accident involves a death the driver is taken into custody and is held in prison until a full enquiry can be made. As this can take an inordinate length of time, effectively the driver, presumed guilty until proven innocent, can languish in prison for years.
It was a full three hours after the accident when I finally reached our hotel in San Cristobel. Although probably not the most sensible treatment for shock, two cups of extra strength Mexican coffee and a couple of cigarettes left me feeling rather more stable and I sent up a silent prayer to whatever or whoever was up there looking after me. After three previous visits to hospitals in South East Asia I was only thankful a hospital visit in the western hemisphere had not been added to my CV.
Mary arrived back from the hospital soon after and despite looking, and probably feeling, as though she had just come off worst in the boxing ring, she was still determined to carry on with the trip. And so it was all systems go for San Cristobel and our onward itinerary….Breakfast, shower, Rough Guide – and action!
The local newspaper report stated that the car had been speeding and had come round a bend veering over to our side of the road, hence the collision. The lone car driver had died at the scene. There were no other serious injuries. The report also mentioned a fire which we did not recall at all. Perhaps we were too much in shock or the reporter got a bit carried away?
I don’t generally “do” souvenirs but could not resist taking this newspaper clipping home with me. It does ensure my never forgetting my visit to San Cristobel!
© Michelle Maciejewska March 2011
Michelle Maciejewska <firstname.lastname@example.org>