I confirm with the gas station man the road to Chamula, which is on the way to Oventik, and up I start. I see towns and people and steep cliffs and lots of water – all things I couldn’t begin to see yesterday when we headed down this road.
I pass Chamula and Larrainter, as Sylvia has instructed me. I THINK I am on the same road I was on yesterday but it is very hard to tell.
Suddenly, there are about 20 or 30 men standing on either side of the road, leaning on shovels, milling about. As I get closer, they put up a string across the road and stop me.
I stop and greet them. They are asking for money. I am confused. These look like able-bodied men, they don’t look particularly religious either.
I have been stopped a couple of times by old and infirm, disabled; by young, desperate children, and womyn who seem religious.
I have few pesos to make it up the hill and these men are demanding $20 pesos, almost half what I have left.
I shake my head and tell them no, I don’t have any pesos. They are incredulous I will not spare what is less than $2 u.s. dollars, one jovially points out to me.
I cannot understand all they are saying. They point to the broken road in front of me, again demanding $20 pesos. I have to pay to cross potholes?
I ask them if this is the way to Bochil. I do not know if they are Zapatistas, or friendly to the Zapatistas, so I do not ask for Oventik.
And I don’t want them to track me down to extract $20 pesos at some later date!
In unison, they tell me I need to turn around, I am not on the road to Bochil. The men somewhat begrudgingly but making jokes and admiring my driving skills and narrow turning radius I am sure, help direct me in the right direction – if I can believe them!
As I drive back through the line, they ask me for my glasses, to which I reply in fake horror, NO I’ll be blind. They jokingly ask for a tire or two, the baby seat, for me to open the back. I try to give them a CodePINK hat, which is worth $20 u.s. but they don’t want it.
Finally I am through the gauntlet TWICE, and I head back the way I came, thinking I must have missed a turn. Stuart did say if was hard to explain how to get to Oventik, but I didn’t know if that was because he didn’t know/trust me, or because it really is so difficult.
Before I know if, I am back at Chamula, very close to San Cristobal. I am sure of this first stretch of the road, but now I see one other road to go down. I stop and ask the womyn working in the tiendas there where is the road to Bochil?
They don’t know, so I ask Oventik? I cannot tell if they are not so friendly or if it’s my imagination, but they shyly shake their heads no.
I proceed into Centro, the market just beginning to be set up, and with steeled determination, ignore the amazing smells, curls of smoke, and piles of fruits and veggies being presented for the Monday morning shopper.
I ask a couple of taxi drivers where the hell Bochil is at and they direct me back up the road from which I just came.
I am crushed. Did those men misdirect me simply because I couldn’t pay them? I HOPE not.
I return the way I came, scouting out possible turn-offs. I REALLY don’t want to encounter 30 angry men demanding money in a language I don’t understand completely, on the road again.
Unfortunately, I return to the same place where the men are ready and waiting to pounce on me, it feels like. I try to tell them it wasn’t nice to send me in the wrong direction. But I don’t remember the word for ‘wrong’.
They seem guilt-free as I try to ask them why they are not nice. I tell them I STILL have no dinero. They are not having it. My toll, ignored but not unnoticed by me, has gone up to $40 pesos.
I try to shine them on and start my truck forward, shaking my head no and putting up my hand, only to be stopped by a swell of yells and a rocking of my truck.
They have placed boulders, tools, and other debris in front of the wheels of my truck. I protest loudly. I jump out of the truck to be eye to eye with them and to show them, I HAVE NO DINERO!
I cannot give them everything I have. I don’t understand why they are standing there demanding money from me. Several other cars are allowed to go around me, toll-free.
I am creating a huge traffic jam on the little 2 lane road with no shoulder. A man works his way through the crowd of men surrounding me to talk with me in limited english to make sure I understand they want pesos.
I demand to know why they are being so unkind. I tell him I have traveled for three months in México from California, and not once, has anyone stopped my truck like this.
He repeats what I’ve said to the men. I think he says exactly what I said but they seem to understand him and not me.
He asks me if I have anything at all, 5 or 6 pesos, 1 or 2. I think of my ashtray that might have a few small pesos hanging out in it, but stubbornly say no. I offer them $2 worth of quarters that are in my door. They laugh and tell me they are worthless.
I feel myself getting angry. I ask them, is this their work, to stand all morning with a rope, stop people and demand money?
They back off a little and then inform me I can proceed. One of the men tells me Bochil is back the way I came. I told him that is not nice, I’ve already been there twice.
I drive on and on, released from my toll, and happy that I still have time to make it to Oventik before 10am, I HOPE!