Shakedown in the Jungle…

March 29, 2010 in Mexico, North America, Travelogue


Ezra in the jungle

“Are you going to San Cristobal?  I’ve heard there’s been some trouble in those hills…” My mother’s words rang in my ears a day late and more than a dollar short.  It had seemed like a good idea, making the half day drive from Palenque up into the mountains to visit Agua Azul, swim in the waterfalls, camp in the hills and and enjoy the last of the jungle before heading north.  It seemed like a very good idea; turns out, it was not.  I mentioned, casually, to Tony that I’d be taking all but fifty pesos out of his wallet along with our credit cards and tucking them into our secret place, “just in case.”  He raised one eyebrow and asked, “In case of WHAT?!”



We didn't photograph the Zapatistas, but we did photograph the flowers!

We encountered them, first, on a quiet bend in a jungle road, Zapatistas, cunningly disguised as women and children.  The robust Mama pulled taught a vine across the road with red flags tied to it and raised a hand in a stern, “Stop!” that needed no translation.  We were immediately besieged by her young counterparts, seeking to “sell” us five pesos worth of bananas for twenty pesos.  I smiled my best “I recognize a shakedown when I see one” smile and said to the girl.  “But we don’t need all those bananas, we only have four kids… we only need four bananas.  How much for four?”  “Twenty pesos,” she replied, without a smile.  “I’ll give you ten, no more.” I kept smiling.  She hacked the four smallest bananas off the bunch and snatched the ten.  “What’s that in your lap?”  She asked, pointing at my breakfast.  “Give me those cookies,” she demanded.  I handed her the cookies, still smiling.  Another girl, hanging onto the side of the van pointed at the front console, “Give me those pencils,” she demanded, also not smiling.  “Nope.  I’m not giving you the pencils,” I replied, still smiling.  Tony saw the vine dip just an inch and he started forward, causing the stern matron to think better of it and drop her roadblock completely.  The girls leapt off the van and we barreled off.  “Why didn’t you give them the pencils, Mom?” Elisha asked.  “Because they’d have just asked for something else.”



At Palenque

What followed was a nice discussion of the Zapatista movement and what would motivate someone to become steal from people as a form of political revolt.  In the meantime, we passed through three more local “check points,” one of which had scored an entire tour bus and the fellows inside were, presumably, making out like the bandits they were.  I noticed Tony shifting in his seat.  The icing on the cake was the hand painted sign as we headed into the next town.  Roughly translated, it read:  “You’re in Zapatista Territory, We’re the law around here.”  Within a mile, he made a U turn and we ran the gauntlet back out of the jungle, avoiding any further donations to the cause.  In spite of the jokes we made about the Zapatistas needing better marketing for their cause and how, perhaps, a better way to make money would be by selling t-shirts with catchy phrases like, “Future Zapatista” on baby onsies, or “Jesus died for Zapatista’s too!” since religious items sell like hotcakes down here, it made us a little twitchy. Even safe in Villahermosa, almost 200 km away we lay awake in our little tent listening for the sounds of men with machetes in the darkness.  “I’m happy not to be camped in the Chiapas,” I whispered in the dark.  “Me too.  I don’t like Zapatistas,” came his quiet reply.