12 Peso Hold-Up

On our bus ride from Palenque to San Cristobal
Our bus, along with all the other cars on the road
Was stopped by the people of a local community
Who demanded a toll to be paid.
story to come….

We walked out to the road
It was 6am – more than enough time
To get into Palenque to catch our bus.
The bus was late
The bus station was not announcing
The arriving and departing buses
We had to keep asking at the counter
The status of our ride.

This did allow for time to purchase
Some of the juiciest, tastiest tamales
I have ever eaten.
They were a mix of masa, chicken,
Poblano chilis and salsa mixed in
Then steamed in banana leaves
Incredibly moist and a perfect breakfast.

Most of the travellers were from Europe.
German, French, Dutch, and a few English or Americans.
Being that it is only about 190km  (about 120 miles) to San Cristobal
We couldn’t figure out how it could possibly take
Five hours to arrive in San Cristobal,
But we were about to find out.


You climb up out of the jungle to a higher jungle
Then to open rolling mountains
Where coffee is grown.


There are hundreds of little communities
Living in open areas like this
Farming and ranching in these isolated highlands.


Out of nowhere you will see a roof
With a large brick oven
Women cooking, men gathering wood.


There are shops like this along the road
Selling shirts, blouses,
Children’s clothing
And every elaborately embroidered dresses.


It opens out on to vistas like this
Over and over again
Many layers of mountains
Falling into each other


At this particular community
There were two boys with a long string
Holding it across the road
Urging the bus to run right through it
Which we did.
The family in the photo
Was watching
And laughing


A little further on
We see this concrete monument
Which says:
16 de Enero
Chiapas Mexico.
Zapatista territory.


Just beyond this sign
Traffic occurs
Covered trucks filled with young men
Have blocked the road.
There is a line up of cars
Coming toward us.
Behind us there is another line up of cars.
An official looking man in blue jeans
A black shirt and military style hat
Walks toward the car in front of us.


At first we couldn’t see what was going on
But we saw cars going by one at a time,
The other direction.
Then one at a time the cars in front of us.
As we came up to the number one position
You could see that they had a board
Which was filled with nails sticking out
A man on either side with a rope attached to it.
The military looking man came up to the bus
Told the bus driver that he had to pay.
The bus driver, with a straight face
Serious demeanor and absolutely firm,
Stated that he does not carry money with him
On his bus route, that he has no cash.


The man tells him that without money he cannot pass.
“I have no money,” says our driver
“I only bring my lunch with me”
This goes on for about ten minutes
The military looking man,
Who is anything but military becomes more insistant.
The driver sticks to his story.
At no time do we see weapons
Other than the board full of nails
A very effective tool to stop a car.

There is a general restlessness of the passengers
I spend the time listening and taking photographs
Which Zoe can’t believe I am doing
But I do it anyway.
None of it feels dangerous to me
But in the end, even I begin to wonder
If they might storm the bus.
After all,
The bus driver may have no money
But the passengers, who are tourist
Certainly do. 

There came a point that I started to wonder
If it would get more serious
So I moved my passport and money
In between the seat of the bus
At the same time, the bus driver
Struck a deal with the people.

12 pesos was given over
It was all the change in the bus driver’s pocket
The board with nails
Was pulled off to the side of the road
We were allowed to pass.
I put my passport and money
Back in my purse.

 Not five minutes later
An ambulance with sirens blaring
And a military van filled with soldiers
Who were carrying machine guns
Passed us.

We assumed
That someone who had gone before us
Made a call to the police, or military
About what was going on.
Of course, we can’t be sure,
But it makes a good ending to the story.