Last night, at around 10:30 PM, at the very end of a movie we were watching called Everything Is Illuminated, all the lights went out. Think about it. What are the chances of that?
With a big pop, the movie ended and we were plunged into darkness and silence. No fans whirring, no refrigerator humming, no computers…nada. This is not entirely unusual here in the Yucatan. From time to time, the Commission Federal Electricidad (known as CFE) will occasionally replace a transformer or a borracho will run into an electrical pole, and two or three blocks of the city are without power for a few hours. And when we first moved here four years ago, there was a multi-statewide intentional and staged apagon , that was purposely created somewhere in Chiapas to protest rising electricity rates.
Wondering what the situation was this time, Working Gringo climbed up onto the roof (el techo), to survey the extent of the blackness. To his surprise, the darkness extended as far as the eye could see, with the exception of Telmex’s communication towers and one or two hi-rise hotels with generators. And there was the eerie and moody lights of car headlights, moving through the labyrinth of streets that is downtown Merida.
Always up for an adventure, the Working Gringos donned their adventure clothes (shorts and tshirts) and ventured out into the night. It was Saturday night, so our plan was to walk to the Zocalo (the main plaza) and see if perhaps someone had started the Revolucion without us.
As we approached the Zocalo, the streets which had been closed to traffic for the usual Saturday night festivities were still closed. Tables and chairs were out in the streets and people were still drinking and dining in hastily-provided candlelight. One of the first people we talked to was our old friend from the Peluqueria who was standing outside his darkened barber shop, sipping a Bacardi and 7up next to a burning candle stuck into the ubiquitous Coke bottle. He sold us a pack of cigarettes and informed us no hay noticias (no news) about la apagon de luz (the blackout).
Next, we encountered our favorite waiter from Peregrino’s, one of our favorite restaurants downtown, and he was walking his bicycle on his way home, earlier than usual. He told us that he had heard the blackout extended throughout the entire Yucatan Peninsula. We marveled at the thought of the lights out from Merida all the way from Campeche to Playa del Carmen, and then we wished him Buenas noches! and continued toward the Zocalo.
Although there were several bandstands out of commission, one had gamely assembled an acoustic arrangement to entertain the dining tourists and residents.
The police were parked at various spots around the Zocalo, illuminating the streets with their headlights. People were peacefully milling about, seemingly enjoying the novelty of the event, though waiters and hotel workers were scrambling a bit. It seemed like every hotel guest at the Casa del Balam had been given a flashlight and were milling about inside like fireflies trapped in a jar.
The Working Gringos decided that for the first time in four and a half years, it was a perfect moment to sit themselves down in those white concrete chairs that are unique to the Yucatan and known as confidantes. These chairs are designed to face each other for easy conversation, but with a thick concrete “arm” between the two inhabitants, to make it difficult to get physically intimate. They were surely once the bane of every chaperoned young lover in Merida, and they are found in most plazas in the Yucatan.
As we sat there, Working Gringo remarked that it would be something to be sitting there, in the center of the Zocalo and in the center of this city of a million people, when the lights came back on.
And ten minutes later, much to Working Gringa’s de-light, they did! Everything was Illuminated!!
According to this morning’s Diario de Yucatan, the apagon was indeed throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, from Campeche to Chetumal, due to a failure at a substation in Chiapas (where something like 70% of the nation’s electricity comes from). Apparently in Cancun, a number of hotels still recovering from last years’ hurricane did not have their backup generators up to snuff in time to respond to this event. Campeche was the first to get their electricity back at about 11:10 PM, Cozumel reported in a few minutes later, and Merida was the last to be illuminated sometime just before midnight.