Juana

photo by aidan lynn-klimenko

"Señorita! Not Señora!"

The rain was relentless as we crawled over the hillsides of Puebla, Mexico, looking for somewhere, anywhere, where we could park the van for the evening. We had missed a couch-surfing connection in the city because we had arrived too late, and now we were in a bit of a panic mode. We jumped at the first decent-looking opportunity: a dirt pullout off the side of a minor highway rolling through the outskirts of town. As soon as we entered it we knew we couldn’t turn back, mostly because we instantly found ourselves stuck in the mud. At that very same moment the sun crept behind the horizon line and darkness surrounded us. We had no choice. This would be our spot for the evening.

To make matters worse, the road we had pulled off of that we had anticipated to be a lonesome back road turned out to be a somewhat major vessel for semi-trucks and heavy machinery. For some unknown reason, the drivers of those vehicles felt it was entirely necessary to drive them up and down the road all night, generously applying their air brakes on the downhill to create a cacophony of sound around us as we laid there, pretending to sleep.

The next day we had a mission: we were going to find much better camping and we were going to sleep like logs. With mud spinning under our tires like crazy, we got the van back on the highway. After cruising all day, we peeled our eyes to the sides of the road, looking for anything that might be workable.

And then there it was: a 300 ft driveway off the main road with a flat cul-de-sac that even had a table and chairs already sitting out. We had clearly found paradise. We bolted for the spot without giving it a second thought. As soon as we did, however, Juana appeared. Juana ran a taco stand right at the mouth of the driveway. She was the boss lady, and we weren’t about to get by without her consent, and her consent required 200 pesos.

We pleaded with Juana. Well, to be more accurate, I watched over Aidan’s shoulder as he reasoned with her in Spanish. My Spanish is basically at the point where I comprehend conversations based primarily from facial expressions and understanding every fifth word or so. At first, Juana’s face was telling me that our chances were slim to none, but I continued watching as her and Aidan sparred back and forth for ten minutes or so, and slowly but surely a smile crept over Juana’s face, and she and Aidan even started laughing. That’s when I knew we were in. We hopped out of the van to snap some portraits of Juana and her compadre Vincente, and as we crawled back in the van I shouted “Muchas gracias, Señora!”

“Señorita! Not Señora!” Juana shouted back with a smile. She was a sassy lady, and had warmed to us. When we awoke from some of the best sleep of our lives the next morning, she had hot tacos ready for us to devour. “Gracias, Señorita!” I cried through the van window, and just like that we were off, with a whole new day of driving and a whole new mystery of where we would camp that night in front of us.