Speed bumps

They wore bandanas. The bandanas were pulled up to conceal their faces. Well up, onto the bridges of their noses. There must have been a couple dozen of them on both sides of the road.
They were watched bemusedly by four or five times their number. The audience sitting along the roadside as if there for an entertainment. No one looked unhappy.
Rounding the corner, it seemed to be just another of the endless things that can slow one down in Mexico. Nothing we hadn’t seen many times before. Stopped vehicles or military checkpoints or police checkpoints or a family with a string across the road trying to get you to buy three cobs of peeled corn in bag or car swallowing potholes or a gap on the edge of the lane where the road had fallen down the mountain side.  
Or maybe, and most likely, it was another tope – the ubiquitous, inexplicable, but extremely effective speed bumps that keep your average speed below thirty kilometres per hour on a one hundred sixty kilometre drive. Topes appear out of nowhere and anywhere, and can be spaced a few metres apart in towns but normally are about every seventy metres in town.  
And this road, the road from San Cristobal de Las Casas to Palenque was a slow one anyway. A long caminar sinuoso through the mountains of the state of Chiapas, home to the ELZN – the Zapatista rebels.
Around this corner, just before the town of Ococingo however, it was none of these. The masked people had drawn two spiked boards, one for each lane, across the road. They were demanding that doors be opened, and were handing out white sheets of paper. A car full of indigenous people passed us laughing. It was funny, to them, whatever was going on.
Phones, tablets, electronics, wallets, and money. Paula was frantically stuffing all of these into any hidden nook or cranny she could find.
The truck in front of us was released and we pulled up. A masked crowd swarmed Paula’s window. The spiked board blocked our way. A woman yelled “dos cien, dos cien!!” They wanted money. 
We played dumb. “No entiendo.”
“Dos cien!!!” Two hundred.
We paused. We looked at each other. Paula didn’t reach for either of our wallets, which she had hidden. She instead reached for our back up stash in the sunglass holder.
She pulled out ninety pesos and thrust it through the gap in the window saying in English “This is all I have!”
The woman gave it to the masked man beside her. He nodded to the masked people with the spiked board. They pulled on a rope and removed the board from the lane.
I released the clutch and began to shift.

4 thoughts on “Speed bumps”

    1. It was a bit nerve wracking, especially after spending a few days in San Cristobal, where it was obvious that the Zapatista movement has plenty of sympathy.


    2. Have you folks stopped using your Mex phone for texting? The DRONE still hovers above. Lake Bakalar looks fantastic from 1000 feet and the road alongside the lake is the best looking real estate the Drone has seen so far in Mexico.


  1. I also ran into the same banditoes (small bandits??) a week and a half before you. I was about 5-6 vehicles behind so I also had time to stash stuff. I cranked down the passenger window just enough for a punk to squeeze his head in and take a look around. I am a pobre tourista. I gave them the leftover change from the toll roads before they removed the spike boards. Keep on eye out for the striking teachers, they closed the road between mexico and guate for 2 hours, them opened it up for 20 minutes to let the traffic through then they start all over again. Mark from Teotihuacan.


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