August 06, 2006 GMT
Robbed Twice

So which story do you want to hear first? The one about the two pickpockets, or the one about the corrupt Mexico City cop? Both clever in their own way, they share two things in common as it turns out: first, get the "walking wallet" to a secluded spot and distract him from what's really going on; secondly, play a mind game on him so he actually contributes to being a victim.

First, the cop story. After leaving Oaxaca at 2 in the morning, my KTM truck driver drives for eight and a half hours like we are being chased by terrorists. I try to sleep. I must stop thinking about what an ironic way to die this would be. When we hit the north end of Megacity Mexico (bigger than Los Angeles), miraculously we are still in one piece! Maybe there is something to denying reality. We unload Katie and I am thrilled to be heading out of town before noon. Until a cop stops me - catches me going the wrong way on a one way street. Costs me a 200 pesos bribe to get on my way again (the fine, according to him, was 1000 - but he'll take 500 because he is such a nice guy). He is nice enough to lead me to the autopista though so I do get some value for my money. And I remind myself I was breaking the law.

Did I get any photos of Mexico City? No. Kinda busy. Besides, it's tricky trying to get half the planet's population in one picture.

In my biggest travel day yet, Katie and I cover over 800 kilometers today. We make it all the way to unique Guanajuato. Unique and unusual in that it has an ingenious tunnel network under the city that helps overcome the traffic problem caused by building the city in a rugged ravine. Why build it there? Because that's where they found silver in 1548. The dons thought, "Hey, let's build our mansions right next to our mines, saves on commuting time."



So, being proud of myself for having made big miles and surviving the infamous Ciudad de Mexico (well, almost got away clean), the next day I decide to do the tourist stroll around "Mexico's most famous silver city" and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take some artsy pictures, have the best cappacino and best cheesecake I've ever had, stare at urban details like I'm Inspector Closeau - all at 10 in the morning - and just be another extranjero.


But I look a little too much like a tourist. I sit on a wet bench in Parque Union for a bit then stroll over to examine the tequila bottles in a speciality store. Two men rush up to me in the store and point out I have bird shit on the back of my jacket and pants. I think it is from the park bench. They help me find the washroom and with toilet paper, "help" me brush it off. Being a clean freak, I join in the frienzed activity. What a strange yellow colour. I smell my cuff. Smells like mustard and something else. Suddenly my helpers are gone. I realize immediately what has just happened. I feel my back pocket. There is a lump there but it is the wrong size. I run to the front of the store. They're gone, of course. As I return down the hallway to the banos I realize there is a floor polisher and mop blocking the hallway entrance. To isolate the scene of the crime so they won't be disturbed while robbing me. When I report the theft to the store clerk he acts strangely unaffected. Makes me wonder if he was in on it.

Luckily for me they only get away with my dummy wallet, day money (about $60) , a photocopy of my driver's license and two expired credit cards. In exchange for my crummy cordura wallet, they give me a much better one. On the bright side, I guess I have just bought a nice leather wallet for 650 pesos. Probably what it would cost in Canada.

So, two robberies in two days after travelling "dangerous" South and Central America for seven months. But in spite of the unfortunate incidents I remain very positive about travelling in Mexico: the overwhelming majority are genuinely friendly, helpful and honest. And as much as I am mad at myself for not catching on sooner, I am still safe and healthy. Important things to consider for un viajero viejo like me.

Meanwhile, back on the streets of Guanajuato, the transactions of money changing hands takes on more conventional methods. Market life and business goes on as usual. A farm truck arrives loaded with produce, bumper dragging as it climbs the shallow curb. The street markets will be selling lots of new stuff today.


Guanajuato's streets, built up out a steep, crooked ravine and up into the bald hills, have a narrow bent to them. Legend has it some streets are so narrow lovers can kiss from opposing balconies.


Necessity being the mother of all battles, no, wait that was a quote from some Iraqi guy. Necessity being the mother of invention, narrow streets call for narrow delivery trucks. And we all know how necessary cerveza is to the meaning of life. Especially for U of Guanajuato students who work up a thirst from classes close by.


After sampling the mixed charms of Guanajuato, it's time to move on to Puerto Vallarta. But first I must head west through another major city, Guadalajara. As Katie and I rocket along the fast but furiously expense toll roads (it is possible to pay $50 to use cuota carreteras for a day), I watch as a thunderstorm fills the western sky. Slowly our two paths converge. It's time to find an overpass. Just in time we pull under one. Big, warm but very wet drops begin to fall, then pick up the pace to a thunderous roar. I do minor service work on Katie to pass the time. I look out from my concrete shelter and see it'll be a while. Might as well get comfortable. Put my green Seal-Line bag up against the cement embankment, pull out a Nicaraguan cigar and write in my little diary book. Perfect. Well, except for the occasion blast of road spray from passing triple trailers. Minor thing though and I pass the hour peaceably enough.


As the sun peeks out from low in the sky, Katie and I race for the tiny town of Zapotlanejo. There, as grey twilight mixes with spattering remnants of today's storm, I find the clean, new and great value-for-200-pesos Hotel Western (not to be confused with the Western Hotel chain). A hot shower, then a walk downtown, umbrella overhead, to find supper and an internet tienda. Life in Mexico is good.

Posted by Murray Castle at August 06, 2006 06:58 PM GMT

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