When Luis, our baby-faced driver and guide to the ancient Mayan city of Tulum, greeted us in his beat-up Chevy Aveo at the meeting spot - a dirt lot littered with beer bottles - I shot my husband, Brad, a look.

"Come on, just go with it," he said. "It'll be fine."

We made introductions. Luis was the 26-year-old son of the beach vendor who sold tours next to our hotel. He spoke English well. I came to know that because as soon as we crouched into the dusty subcompact, Brad grilled him. "Is this your day job?" he asked.

"Yes," Luis said.

"Do you have brothers and sisters?"

"Two brothers."

Through my husband's "friendly conversation" as he calls it when I accuse him of interrogating strangers, we learned Luis was married with a child and had another on the way. Brad asked Luis his favorite subjects in school, and he said he liked science. Luis wanted to be a veterinarian. Brad, a physician, shared that he had wanted to be a vet, too.

"I'm warm," I whispered to Brad. "Can you roll down your window?"

"I can't," he said, pointing to the place on the door where the hand crank should have been.

I pursed my lips. I fanned myself with a guidebook. Brad sensed I might be feeling carsick and asked Luis to stop for water.

"Si, Señor. I just need to stop at my house first," he said.

Before either of us could say anything, Luis pulled off onto a gravely road and parked in front of a yellow stucco cottage. He ducked inside and came out carrying a toolbox and jack. He tossed them into the trunk and got behind the wheel. "All set now," he said.

I buried my head in my hands.

I passed the hour drive to Tulum scoping out the resorts and eco parks along the highway. Every 10 minutes, Brad nudged me to drink water. Last year on a family vacation to Costa Rica, he instructed our girls and me to drink bottle after bottle, earning the nickname "Dr. Hydration."

Tulum turned out to be worth the trip. At the picturesque site perched on a cliff facing the sea, we wandered the grounds, taking pictures of the ancient Mayan pyramids and temples and ducking under African tulip trees for shade. At the seawall, we watched boats and bathers bob in the turquoise surf below.

A few hours later, we rejoined Luis and set out for a beachside restaurant recommended by a fellow hotel guest. While Brad and Luis ordered our drinks and food, I headed across the road to the restaurant's beachside hotel to cool off in the ocean. Soon after I returned, the food arrived, and we dug into our ceviche and sandwiches.

"I had to push Luis to order something," Brad said. "He was worried if he ordered food, he wouldn't get a tip."

"I hope you told him he can have both?"

"Of course!"

Luis smiled and nodded in gratitude as he picked up his burger.

On the drive back, full and refreshed, I drifted off. A rattle from the engine awakened me. Steam rose from the hood, and Luis pulled to the shoulder. He shut off the engine and tried restarting. The car puttered and smoked. "Oh, no," he said.

"We're stuck," I said as Luis went to check under the hood. "Let's just call a cab!"

Brad got out of the car to help. My mind wandered. Yesterday, I was ready to book a Mayan Kamnikte ceremony to renew our vows, and now I was ready to throw my husband under an oncoming bus.

Brad returned and grabbed two liter-size bottles of water and one of the fluffy, white towels I had borrowed from the hotel. With his hand wrapped in the towel, he uncapped the radiator and poured water in. Thanks to Dr. Hydration, Luis was able to start the car.

Back at the hotel, we laughed about our day. Brad said we should feel good about supporting the "little guy" rather than the resort's high-end tour company. "With our money, Luis can get a new fan belt," he said, smiling. "And, he brought half his burger home for his kid."

"Yeah, he's a really good guy," I said.

Melissa Sodowick writes from Washington Crossing.
Did a travel experience move you, change you, or give you great memories? Email us how, in 500 words or fewer (include a photo, caption information, and daytime phone number): inquirer.travel@phillynews.com. Put "Personal Journey" in the subject line. If we publish your piece, we'll pay you $25. (Response volume prohibits our returning or acknowledging your submission.)