Stranded in Punta Sur

What is it about Mexico?

Disaster of some sort is to always be expected, but magical wonderment seems to trail me whenever I’m there. Case in point: I had a premonition about renting a car in Cozumel. The premonition told me that something was going to go down; yet my feelings weren’t entirely too grave to halt my plans, so I pressed forward with the rental arrangements.

The man at the rental agency zipped up in my shiny automatic car: “Perfect for a woman,” he joked. I rolled my eyes.

So I can’t drive stick. Sue me.

Our car came furnished with a t-shirt wrapped around the driver’s seat. Mexico!

Off Stacy and I went, headed to the ecological park of Punta Sur, at the southernmost tip of the island. I’d been wanting to visit this park, which is home to Faro Celerain, one of the island’s three (I think) faros, or lighthouses. The man at the gate warned me sternly that the park closes at 4 p.m., and that we must be out in time, or else we’re locked in. I nodded, and headed down the long gravel stretch to the beach.

The water was calm. I was newly thirty. Thirty.

A few couples pranced on the beach, but mostly the place was deserted. Some haphazard docks drifted in the water for swimmers to latch onto, but the water was pretty shallow even far out. Perhaps it was the desolation, of the calm at hitting a milestone age — but while the landscape was without a doubt beautiful, it all felt a tad peculiar. Not the first time I’ve felt this eerie sensation in Mexico.

Punta Sur is now a turtle sanctuary, with a resonating stillness that’s far away in location and in contrast from the scooter-laden bustle of San Miguel and the cruise ship terminals of the northern coast. I don’t think I’ve visited any place like it in my multiple trips to the island.

But until I decided to tour the lighthouse, I couldn’t quite name what exactly I was feeling.

“This place is haunted, you know,” said a man behind me. “Call me Jorge,” he said, extending a hand. He wore an official parks workshirt and his English was flawless.

Haunted? My ears perked up. “Tell me more!”

“Oh, I couldn’t begin to tell you all the phenomenon that happens here,” he said, leading me around the site.

The official tour de Jorge had begun. There was no going back as he whisked us down the sandy aisles to the Tumba del Caracol, a Maya site dedicated to the ancient goddess IxChel, and there would be no hard answers about the so-called hauntings. Jorge was exhilarated to finally have an audience, and so we indulged him, listening to his colorful renditions of the park’s history and commissioning his energy to orchestrate a full-on Punta Sur photoshoot.

We were momentarily lost in our frothy fun, but the afternoon was winding. Echoes of the park ranger’s warnings about closing time hung overhead. So we bid Jorge adieu and pitstopped at the famous crocodile zone before making our way home.

Entering the zone, I said hello to an older gentleman lingering around the site. I thought nothing of it and readied my camera for some crocodile footage.

But when we returned to the rental car — it was deadsville. Not a sound cranking from the motor. In the two-minute ride from the lighthouse to the crocodile zone, we’d unknowingly participated in the death of the rental car. And I realized that my premonition, it turns out, wasn’t a false alarm.

“Señor! Señor!” I called to the man I’d seen by the crocodile zone. He was waiting for the employee bus to come claim him. The park was closing. It was nearing 4 o’clock.

“Mi carro está muerto!”

He tried to turn the car over — nothing. He radioed the ranger that we were stuck. “Call the rental agency,” he told us, as the employee bus arrived, taking him with it, and leaving Stacy and I alone, to fend for ourselves.

The last thing the man had told us before leaving? “Be careful of the crocodiles; they come on shore at night to eat.”

Not to mention the wild boar in the area. Stacy and I took stock of what we had. Two iPhones with no reception in the wilderness; half a bottle of water; one Cosmopolitan magazine.

I took a chance and phoned the rental agency. The phone worked, and someone answered! Qué milagro!

The anonymous rental car agency voice promised to rescue us in 30 minutes, but in Mexico time, 30 minutes sometimes means never.

The shadows grew long, and the sun began to fade. A norte was brewing, a cold wind that sweeps down from the north, and it was actually turning chilly. It sunk in that we were alone, truly alone.

After an hour spent entertaining ourselves, and rationing our water supplies, a man from the rental car agency finally pulled up. Thankfully, with another automatic car to hand over.

We hightailed it out of the park and back toward town, just in time to hit La Hach for the sunset, which was glorious.

I may be a girl who can’t drive stick, but our Punta Sur stranding proved that my intuition is strong. And in Mexico, sometimes that’s the only tool you need.