“No tango,” I say feeling sorry for the tall lanky man standing before me. My shoulders shrug and my hands raise. I respond to his “request” like I would a beggar in the zocolo with his hand out. His hand is out except this hand is waving a six-inch kitchen knife. “Money,” he said. The only word of English he knew.
The man turns and walks away. “Good thing I know some Spanish,” I think to myself. I watch him stoop and pick something up. A red backpack laying a few feet from Jess.
In one fluid motion, Jess springs to his feet. He takes two large strides, and shoves the downtrodden man to the ground. The bungling burglar is now sitting on his ass with his legs spread in front of him, waving the blue-handled knife like a kid with a sparkler. Jess backs away with me alongside him.
The bungler stands and stomps towards us. The blade of the knife flashes as it’s moved back and forth in his hand. He is angry now, but still only threatening. We back up but don’t back down. Soon, rocks are clenched in our hands; softball-sized chunks of dense granite. “Give me the bag back,” Jess demands through clenched teeth, his face as red as blood. The Bungler freezes. Anger becomes fear as victims become aggressors.
Yesterday in the hostel, Whitey Titey told me of a couple being robbed at knife point on the same mountain. Did I heed the advice of the old wrinkly man dressed only in underwear that sagged in the ass making it look like he shit himself? No. Of course not. And not because of his saggy, white underwear.
Everywhere I’ve been on my bike I’m told of danger. “Don’t you go to da next city now. They’ll kill ya for shur!” Then the next city tells me the same of the other, “Ya mean ya wint der an’ they didn’t kill ya?”
It gets old hearing the same thing over and over. The world is a dangerous place. Yes, I know. Mexico is especially dangerous: for bungling burglars. Learn your lesson well, dammit! Months of riding hardened our resolve. We are determined and we never give up. Besides, we just wanted to work out. It’s not like we were carrying anything valuable.
The Bungler stands above us on top of the hill. He looks confused and frightened. He doesn’t know what to do. Until, of course, that rock whizzed past his head.
“What’s in the bag?” I ask.
“My wallet and leatherman!” The wallet contains his cards. The leatherman was a gift of great value to him.
“GIVE IT BACK!’ Another dense piece of granite just misses the now terrified burglar. He turns tail running faster than I would have believed.
Jess and I pursue throwing rocks even as we run. A pair of running shoes lie forgotten in the dirt beside the ten foot cross where we were stretching moments before. Jess is barefoot. When this is over, his feet will look like he massaged them with a cheese grater and a hammer.
The trail runs along a ridge and ends in a point. In front of us the trail narrows and zigzags down the mountain becoming lost in a mix of bramble. The Bungler is nowhere to be seen.
“Dammit,” Jess fumes staring off the mountain.
“This isn’t over.” I turn and backtrack along the path. I peek over the east side of the mountain, “Too steep,” I think. I’ve been hunting since I was a kid and my instincts take over. I continue back along the path. Tracks. Bent grass and fresh earth lead to a patch of shrubs. Further over the hill runs a dirt road.
“He’s in the shrubs!” I go into a rage whipping rocks and thundering, “I AM GOING TO KILL YOU.” I don’t really mean it; although, I am more angry than I have ever been in my life. Every muscle tenses as I yell. The Bungler runs down the mountain. It is steep and Jess isn’t wearing shoes.
We lose him at the dirt road, but we find his knife. I know he didn’t go right; I could see that direction as we descended. Did he go left? My instincts say no. A valley descends into a village heading the same direction he had been running. I sit on the edge of the hill hunting this man like I would a deer back home. No noise. No movements. He will think we left.
Ten minutes pass. Maybe fifteen. A small bushy tree begins to shake before a head emerges. I release a rock that hits him in the forehead, a glancing blow that sends him tumbling down the steep hillside.
We attempt to pursue but have no hope. Cactus and thorny plants with spines as long as my finger and sharp as a syringe slow Jess’s barefoot progress to a crawl. Besides. As committed as we were to retrieving the backpack, that man rolled down the damn cliff shredding his skin. Was it worth it?
Our screams had drawn a crowd in the village far below by the time Jess spotted the Bungler running along the road. “Robado,” he hollers with hands cupped to his mouth.
“Where is he,” I ask unable to see the hobbling man. I am lower down the mountain.
“Running up the road through the village,” he says.
“I see him!” He’s running down a flight of steps. He is far away. We know it’s him because of the line of young men pursuing him.
“The villagers are chasing him!”
“They have your bag! Common, let’s get down there.” It takes a long time to descend the mountain. Jess can barely walk.
An elderly woman wearing a red rebozo (the traditional scarf of the indigenous people here. They are worn as clothing accessories, but, more importantly, are utilized as a tool to carry anything from goods for sale to little children) greets us with a grin and hands jess a backpack.
“Is yours in there?” Unaware, the young men who captured the Bungler took his bag.
“Yes! Muchos gracious!” He shakes hands with each excited individual standing in the dirt road. “Muchos gracious.” He removes his red pack then gives the Bungler’s away to a boy of grade-school age. We are given water from a pink bucket – most likely drawn from a nearby spring – then led back up the mountain.
The path back to the cross is little more than a goat path. It is rocky. Cactus are everywhere.
“Take my shoes,” I say passing them to Jess. “You need them more than I do.”
As we walk up the trail, a young man of about 17 years of age points at the ground, cactus for me to avoid. He continues this the entire way.
They tell us the story of what they saw: a man running down the mountain, us throwing rocks, the Bungler tumbling, the blood on his head, arms, and leg.
At the top we thank the young men once more and make our way back down the mountain. I hold a rock in one hand just in case we run into more trouble. Fool me once, the saying goes, shame on you. Fool me twice? Prepare to be pummeled.
This story was a success for one reason: we were determined, we knew what we wanted, and we refused to give up; to be beat. These lessons we learned through the challenges faced on the road during months of riding a bicycle across foreign lands. Through rain and through hail; through thunder and lightning. Up mountains and down canyons. Facing tarantulas and mosquitoes and large biting ants.
These traits became stronger with every obstacle we overcame. With every mile we rode when every fiber of our being begged us to stop; to quit. “No more. Please. Stop! I can’t. I just can’t.” We scream back, louder and sometimes audibly, “SHUT THE FUCK UP! Yes, yes I can. I WILL! I MUST!!!” No quit. That is our motto. Our mantra.
As for Mexico being dangerous, it is and not just for the bunglers of the world. Mexico is dangerous for the people who live here. Cartels terrorize local villages and cities. People who speak out against the government disappear. Foreigners living here are sometimes kidnapped and held for ransom. For the tourist however, most of Mexico is as safe as anywhere else. Tourists spend money filling the pockets of corrupt officials. If tourist are harassed or harmed it draws unwanted attention. Therefor, they tend to leave us alone. Thieves and pickpockets won’t, but they are easy enough to deal with by following these rules:
- Don’t carry cash and cards all in one place.
- Carry a “fake” wallet – a wallet with old, expired cards and some cash. I emphasize fake because mine is my daily wallet. I pay for everything with cash anyway. When the cash runs low, I add a few days worth of currency. My debit card is stored elsewhere as is my passport. I also keep small amounts of cash hidden in different places in case of emergency. The goal here is not to lose everything in a worst case scenario.
- If you know a place is sketchy, avoid it! If you can’t, stay on your guard. We let our guard down and went to a place we knew was sketchy.
- Clip bags and purses to yourself or to something solid – like a chair at a restaurant or a bench in a bus station – so a thief can’t grab it and run.
- Above all, use your head and make intelligent decisions. I’ve heard many stories of problems. Most,I could have predicted beforehand from the character of the individual. Most also include drugs and/or alcohol.