It had been an absolute blast from Puebla in Mexico. I had started off at 7 on a Thursday morning. Even though my body clock was a churn of time zones ranging from IST to GMT to CDT, I was as sharp as a tack.
The adrenaline in me was flowing strong and it was being pumped by what I was driving — the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. A thoroughbred race car scaled down just enough to make it street legal, the SLS AMG is the spiritual successor of the legendary Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. And I was driving it on a road where a prototype of the 300 SL had won a great victory in 1952 in the Carrera Panamericana, a gruelling 3,100-km race across Mexico.
But, I am a traveller who thrives on driving holidays and this car suited me so well. Its 6.2lt engine brought on a sense of exhilaration and the way it cornered, true and fast, inspired confidence and doled out dollops of exhilaration. In short, the SLS AMG was a sweet temptress that urged me to go around corners at a blistering pace and then reassured me by behaving itself around them.
I remember blitzing past little Mexican villages connected by sinuous roads that were bordered by flamboyant cactus plants. Little donkeys stood by the road grazing at places and were unperturbed by the loud proclaiming aural note of my cars exhaust or its lovely retro shape.
Not so with the locals though. Everywhere I stopped and opened the iconic gull-wing doors locals flocked to have a closer look. Out came the cell phones and also a barrage of questions in Spanish.
That is how I met the grandfather at Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán a village very close to Oaxaca to where I was driving.
I had seen the imposing structure of the Templo y Ex-convento de Santo Domingo (Temple and former convent of Saint Dominic) and had parked at the base of the grand flight of stairs that led to its front porch. There were a few people there and after they had come and taken their customary posing pictures with the car they dispersed leaving just an old bearded man.
He spoke fluent English and told me that Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán was founded by Dominican Frairs 10 years after the Spanish arrived in Mexico. The temple that you see in the background was built in 1541. I didn't even have to know its origins to guess its Spanish design. It is so tell tale. The grandfather told me that while it had stood tall to the ravages of time, it was undergoing restoration so that it stand strong a further 500 years. He offered to show me around and we walked up the steps and he pointed out that the central relief was of the Virgin Mary who is holding her mantle over and protecting St. Domingo and St. Catherine of Siena. Around her are reliefs of other Saints. He led me inside and I was shocked by the height of the ceiling with its single nave and ribs running towards the wall. You could build a four-storey building inside that temple. The main altarpiece is a work of art, though there was a lot of renovation work going on inside it too.
I spent about an hour with that elderly gentleman and he regaled me with stories about the region.
Best of all, he remembered the original 1952 race. In fact, it was he who pointed out to me the striking resemblance of the grille of the SLS AMG to that of the 300 SL.
That chance meeting with him and impromptu tour with him of the Temple and former convent of Saint Dominic enhanced my exciting drive from Puebla to Oaxaca.