About that road trip in Quintana Roo–
I asked the attendant for directions to Tulum as I picked up a rental car in the airport in Cancún. The plan was to camp in the jungle across from the beach in Tulum, a not-quite-hour-and-a-half drive south. But I wouldn’t have consistent data service to use my GPS.
She smiled and said, “There’s only one road to Tulum. Just go south.”
About three-quarters of the way down, I stopped for a coffee from XOXO, a quick-stop gas and convenience store. I used cash, a few pesos. Then, I realized I need to get gas. So I backed up the rental car to the pump.
“Echale full, porfa,” I said. Fill it.
The pump-attendant woman, in a yellow and red XOXO uniform and hat, shoulder duster earrings and dark-liner, red lipsticked lips put the pump in the tank.
After the tank was full, I reached out to give the attendant my debit card. She swipes it.
“Declined,” she said.
“Try again,” I told her, confused. I had just used it for the car rental. Had I miscalculated the exchange rates? Was my account at the limit?
She tried again. Declined again.
“Qué hago yo?” I asked, a knot forming in my throat. I was immediately aware of my inability to explain my situation: no cell service, no map, no cash, middle of Quintanna Roo. Why would anyone do that?
“Go to an ATM. Get cash.”
She mentioned that the nearest one is in Tulum.
Right. So there I was, another 20 miles out of Tulum, full tank of gas to be paid for, but no cash. I had no way to explain myself.
“Give me your ID, and go get cash,” she said. “I’ll return the ID when you get the cash.”
I declined. My ID? No way. That could be so many levels of bad. I didn’t know what to say, but I didn’t feel threatened in any way.
“Give me your phone then.”
The feeling of a knot in my throat went away at the voicing of this suggestion.
So I agreed.
It felt as natural as getting on a one-lane-each-way road and going south.
As I pulled out of the tanking station, I looked hard at the XOXO. I told myself to remember this particular one. There was a particularly showy arrangement of white flowers at the entry turn. Remember that.
I made it to Tulum on the one road south; but, the card is declined at the ATM in town, too. I asked at a cafe where I could make an international phone call. I was directed down an alleyway, through a door, into a back entrance of a house-hostel thing. I had only a handful of pesos–enough to make a phone call to the issuing bank–and and that’s how I found out that it had frozen my card after the car rental. A security measure, the bank representative says. Apologies for the inconvenience. I said politely, “Fuck you. I arranged for this card to be used internationally. I’ve been making large purchases abroad for weeks now. Fuck you very much for the inconvenience.”
The card was un-frozen–but I have to wait a half-hour for the change to take effect. So I took the rest of the pesos, used them to grab a sandwich, and then I jumped back in the rental car and started the drive back up to the XOXO gas station. I passed a few others; each time, my throat froze. Wait, were those the flowers? Was it that one?
I finally saw the white flowers in the arrangement I had taken a mental picture of–the correct XOXO–and my body relaxed.
I paid, got my phone back, and drove off. No questions asked. End of the this transaction.