It was nighttime on the local, speedbump-laden and dog-ridden highway from Chichen Itza back to the airport and we were in a rental car. There were three of us, my ex and I and a vegan guy named Chuck who ate mostly almonds the whole time we’d been in Cuba on a sponsored bike trip.
We had rented a car from the airport in Cancún upon arriving back from our trip to Cuba, our clothes stinky with bike trip sweat and misty Caribbean mornings. We decided to rent a car to drive out to Chichen Itza, the complex of pyramids and cenotes and not a small amount of tourist-oriented woven clothing, wall hangings and giant, impractical sombreros.
On the way there, we’d sprung for the touristy highway, with its smooth ribbon of asphalt and its high pricetag (a toll that cost something like $30 US). On the way back, we decided to take a local road so we could stop to eat somewhere, and chose Valladolíd, where we went to a white-tiled market and I had soft black bean tacos with tomatillo salsa and crumbled white cheese. After dinner, we kept our sleepy eyes on the road as we drove slowly so as to avoid dogs and both topes and túmulos, two kinds of speed bumps on the Mexican roads.
And then the traffic stops began. Vegan Chuck was asleep in the back, I was the one with the best Spanish, so I was on high alert. The first stop had to do with the fact that we had only a rear license plate. The police flagged us down, explained to us that we were missing a license plate, and we explained it was a rental car, that this was how it came. We presented rental papers, licenses, passports and hopeful smiles. They told us to tell the rental company of the oversight and sent us on our way.
The second stop had them looking for drugs. It was another type of police, and they had us get out of the car while they did a quick search of the car, the footspace, the middle console. They didn’t check our pockets or our luggage, but if they get paid by the find, I think they quickly figured out we were among the most boring of tourists, none of us had even had a beer at dinner.
By the third stop we were getting a little nervous. It seemed everyone who could have stopped us already had, and this was a roadblock, with flashing lights, and guards in military uniforms. We were ordered to get out of the car, and a guy who looked about sixteen recited a memorized statement that went something like this: “InthenameoftheMexicanmilitaryandinaccordancewithsection54321oftheMexicancodeoflaw thisstopistocontroltheillegalimportofarms” And then he took a breath. And I translated for my two companions. He and another guard walked me over to the trunk, presuming that I was their sole point of communication. Open the trunk, they said. So I did. Show me your luggage, they said. So I did. From back to front, we went over the car, with them instructing me to open, close, unzip, etc. And I did all of it. And then came the guantera.
“La guantera,” he said. It sounded like lawantera. I scanned my brain. wantera wantera, what the hell is a wantera? I had nothing. So I repeated it back.
“La guantera” I said.
“Sí, la guantera” he repeated.
As the guantera standoff went on, I wondered what would happen if I didn’t or couldn’t comply with his request. And then I mustered my best subjunctive and said to him,
“La guantera, que quieres que haga con ella?” (What would you like me to do with la guantera?)
“Open it”, he said. The only problem being, I didn’t know what it was. So I asked him if he’d open it. But then he got suspicious. “I’m not opening it, I want you to open it,” he said.
And here’s where I had to admit my car-related vocabulary weakness. I had no idea what a guantera was. I told him I would gladly open it, if he would just tell me what it was.
And then he pointed at the glove compartment. You know, gloves, like guantes. As in guantera.
And I opened it, and there was no gun inside, and off we bumped, over topes and tumulos to return the car, full of tacos and green salsa and I, for one, a word richer.
From a trip to Cuba and Mexico in November 2000.
Esta cuenta me gusta. And I’d like a side order of some tacos with salsa verde, pofa.
yes, tacos! tasty! There are tacos to be had in Chile, but sadly, not nearly as tasty!
So much for smile, nod and pretend you know what’s going on 🙂 It’s lucky that he was only asking about a glove compartment – I wonder how many people with less vocabulary get themselves in a bind by responding with a blithe ‘Si’ to a question about possessing drugs or arms or something. I would be willing to bet a large beer that someone, somewhere, found themselves in deep trouble because of that somewhere in history.
yeah, sometimes I think not speaking Spanish might be an advantage, but in this case it all worked out in the end. Though I do have the song Guantanamera going through my head now.
Driving down to southern mexico, we had the same thing happen to us- ATLEAST 6 stops by the police. Luckily, I was with a mexican family so I never ran into a linguistic challenge like this 😛
so very many stops! I was wondering what else they could stop us for. And glad Chuck the vegan didn’t have any mysterious vegan supplies with him.
La Guantera!!! Sounds like an underage cumbia star. I don’t understand why it is called that..either in English or Spanish. But those experiences are fun. I got stopped and searched near the border of Venezuela and Colombia (on Hugo’s side) by some soldiers and they were very focused on the oil for my beard trimmer. Thought it was something that could get’m a bribe!
they’re fun when they end well, that’s for sure. Glad your beard trimmer oil wasn’t particularly interesting in the end!
I’m sure I would have just blurted out that I didn’t know what he was saying–but then would have walked away without a story! (will keep that in mind for future story-reaping exploits)
Colin–guantera–as in glove compartment! (or glove box in some places).
I would have been tripped up by “la maleta” and probably would have handed over a suitcase instead of opening the trunk!
He had a really big gun. Maybe that’s why I kept trying to keep him happy!
Margaret..yup the good ol glove compartment. But do you know anyone who actually stores their gloves there? I pick someone in the 1930s driving a two seater getting their gloves out. Since then its for the registration or whatever else (like a gun in Eileen’s case). At what point can we modernize a term?
like a gun in my case? Hey, I am gun-free. Oh, you mean my suspected case. For what it’s worth, I have never rented a car in my life. Nor shot a gun. Maybe I should make the anti-bucket list, of things I’ve never done and never want to? Also, if you get that time machine working, I will totally put my gloves in that glovebox/compartment/guantera.