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For two smaller-than-average, wide-eyed-and-trusting, farm-fresh, cheeky-as-fuck, highly vulnerable white girls travelling alone and cheap-cheap-cheap through the dodgier areas of Mexico and Guatemala, it was all going suspiciously well. My sister and I had not fallen ill with any glamorous yet incurable tropical diseases; no Columbian drug ring had held us hostage; we’d been impregnated by not one Seedy Sanchez; and we hadn’t even been classified as a threat to US Homeland Security. It was almost embarrassing. My guardian angel, I decided, possessed a highly impressive work ethic, and had clearly never done an arts degree.
We’d made it to our last stop, Isla Mujeres. It’s a little island off Mexico’s Caribbean coast – white sand, palm trees and touristy as. Prices were in American dollars; signs were in English first, Spanish second; we were certainly not in Guatemala now, Doctor Ropata. The only foreseeable hazard was succumbing to the temptation to buy a fluoro souvenir t-shirt dress, gain about a hundred kilograms, and drive round everywhere in a golf cart to avoid the chafing.
However. In order to get the feel of the place, and really assimilate into the culture, my sister and I decided to hire mopeds, rent cheap American accents, and zip round the island waving at poor people from a healthy distance. At the hire place, the guys told us very quickly how to start the vehicles, warned us there was no insurance, and left us to figure things out. And aside from a few qualms about driving on the wrong (right) side of the road, it was all still going suspiciously well.
But I’ve never been one of those people who is overly concerned about the technical aspects of, well, anything. And this utter lack of technological nous was probably reason I didn’t realise that the more I the more I squeezed desperately on the brake, the harder and harder I was revving the accelerator on the handlebar, which was almost certainly the reason the scooter and I got propelled at high speed off the end of a wharf into the sea.
Fortunately my guardian angel, much like a mature Languages student, had been doing all her homework. Almost immediately I was rescued by a throng of bored valets, sailors and taxi drivers, to whom the dual prospects of a)saving, in true machisimo Mexican style, a Damsel in Distress, and b)getting to Fuck Around with a Motor, was an opportunity not to be missed. Within a quarter of an hour they’d got it going and told me the best lies to tell the hire company, and I was off on my merry way.
Making mistakes and getting away with it is a wonderful thing, except when you blatantly refuse to learn from them. Reasoning that there was no way I could have two spectacularly retarded moped crashes in two hours, I navigated the streets with a newfound confidence and ease. However, an hour and a half later, there I was, in the middle of busy intersection, doing exactly the same thing, charging up the kerb and managing to take out an impressive chunk of it as I went. My guardian angel sprang into action again, providing me with another eager rescuer who, standing casually in front of the dodgy stretch of kerb, convinced the arriving policewoman that everything was fine and to let me go. Pretty shaken by now, I prepared to make a hasty exit. I managed instead to lose control again and almost smash into my sister. At this point my guardian angel gave up, chucked in her halo for a Bachelor of Tourism, and handed me over to Karma, who was by now pretty keen to get his hands on me.
I was banned from riding a moped on Isla Mujeres ever again. The policewoman confiscated the vehicle and began pushing it back towards the hire place, realising as she did so that the stand was broken and the steering was fucked. I was escorted there and made to pay for repairs – my tears, pleas of “no tengo mucho dinero”, and extreme utilisation of cleavage all proving quite embarrassingly ineffective.
It wasn’t so bad. Being cheap-labour old Mexico, it came to about $150 NZ; compared to some of the disasters I’ve caused in my Dad’s ute here in New Zealand, it was piss-all. Besides, I was pretty much just a noble philanthropist helping out the struggling Mexican economy, wasn’t I? More importantly, I had some exciting bruises to flash around, and heaps of people felt sorry for me and bought me drinks. And even though plenty of other things happened in Mexico and Guatemala that were nice and pleasant and fun and make me sound like a lot less of a munter, this one’s still my favourite story to tell.