James knew his Combi. James understood Mexico’s roadways. James was our captain. No one even suggested another helmsman until days later, when midnight fatigue and brazen overconfidence corrupted basic judgment leading to our new navigator (Chris) having a close encounter with an approaching semi!
Considering our pace, further NASCAR references would be silly. Our bright yellow, early 70's, air-cooled Combi sputtered into the mountains late Thursday morning with Maarja’s uncle (Jan), Chris, and I on the rear bench seat; silently staking out our unspoken assigned seats. From then on, whenever we boarded we assumed the same spots: Jan at the left window, Chris in the middle, and I at the door. Up front, Maarja had the passenger’s seat, and her aunt, Eevi, sat on a pillow atop a customized middle console that doubled as a hidden safe. There was little spare room but it was perfectly comfortable.
For our risk...and effort...we were rewarded with stunning, 360-degree views of the lush green valley, high jungle, and wall of ragged mountains, including those we spent the afternoon crossing. From the top, Toniná is as beautiful as Ocosingo is nasty; I sensed, perhaps even felt, why this group of Mayans built their city here.