Letters & Safety

Bus Hijacked
& Robbed

by Sean P.


¿Que onda viejo?

I have an...um...interesting Mexican cultural experience to report. Yes, it has finally happened to me. My bus was hijacked and robbed by highway banditos!

I was riding the Pacific coast highway of Oaxaca on the night bus from puerto escondido down to Tapachula 10 days ago, having just finished watching a very bad Harrison Ford spy flick about an hour south of Huatulco in a full-to-capacity brand-new Mercedes 1st class Cristobal Colon pleasure coach when suddenly we were boarded by very agitated masked men waiving pistolas and machetes. Fun!! It was pretty much exactly how you might imagine it -- a couple guys stopped the bus with some kind of roadblock, then once the bus was stopped, the others came running out of the trees waiving guns and yelling. The driver had no choice but to open the door and the bandits came running onto the bus shouting and brandishing.

Everyone just kinda sat there in shock as they yelled at the driver forcing him to divert onto a really bad sand road. We spent the next 20 minutes driving farther and farther back into the bush, kinda comical in retrospect because the bus was just being banged to shit ... very surreal. So finally we reached a place where a couple more guys were waiting and we were filed off the bus row by row. They then stripped everyone of everything they could find (they missed quite a lot, really). I handed over all the cash in my pockets. Many more surreal moments... I remember one bandit grabbing a little box out of some guy's pocket, found it was full of toothpicks, and stuffed it greedily into his own pocket.

Then there was the grandmother instructing her granddaughter to keep her hands in the air, the little girl not understanding what was happening, but dutifully walking down the bus stairs with her hands straight up, seeming quite proud of herself to be doing her part in this, yet another incomprehensable adult social ritual. They then sat everyone on the ground by the side of the bus and we all had a front-row seat as the bandits opened up the luggage hold and totally went to town on everyone's luggage like it was some kind of frenzied rummage sale in the twilight zone. They dumped and tore and grabbed for about a half hour, holding up the stuff to flashlight beams, deciding what to take, while the leader bandit banged his machete against the side of the bus repeatedly, barking out instructions, enforcing some kind of order on his companeros.

Everyone remained very calm and whispered quietly as we sat there... Mexican fatalism in its finest moments... I chain smoked cigarettes and couldn't help admiring how beautiful a night it was, the wind was blowing the trees fiercely and the stars were out in force. Surreal!

Finally, when they had grabbed all they could (weird stuff!.. I remember one young bandit holding a giant gaudy crucifix made of seashells between his knees while he stuck an oversized pair of diving flippers under his arm) they for some reason told all the women to get back on the bus, then gathered up their (our) things and walked off into the night.

Wow. So we all looked at each other, deciding it was now safe, and everyone ran back onto the bus to see if the ladrones had found all the stuff we had hidden before we came outside. Stuff was scattered everywhere, all over the floors, but much of the hidden things were still there, stuffed between seats, in the luggage racks, behind the curtains... some people very happy, others very sad, as we searched the floors with lighters and matches. I found my travellers checks and passport scattered on the floor.

So we then went about the business of shoveling all our scattered belongings back into the luggage hold and attempted to get ourselves turned around and back on the highway... a typical scene with many Mexican men whistling and thumping as the bus further self-destructed, tearing out trees and bushes trying to get turned around in the dark sandy woods.

More hilarity back on the main highway as we continue along a few minutes and come to an army checkpoint, where our driver informs the commander of what has transpired. They do nothing, but are quite dutiful in their routine prefunctory sweep of the bus -- searching for, I can only presume, armed banditos. We arrived in Salina Cruz sometime in the middle of the night and after some consultation with the bus terminal personnel, we were driven to the comandancia and once again file off the bus where a crack squad of bleary-eyed policia sprang into action with an avalanche of emergency paperwork. Many, many more cigarettes. Finally, after taking a report from *every* * last* * passenger* they let us into the chaos of the luggage hold as we, los pasajeros, quite delirious at this point, attempt to sort out whose socks were whose, etc. Nobody claimed the loose condoms.

Back to the bus station where the local Cristobal Colon people inform us that our bus is no longer highway worthy and we are to be sent another, much better bus, and, lucky for us, it will only take four hours to get it to us. And it was a good thing we had this extra time too, because there was a whole new round of reports to fill out, this time for the bus company. It is times such as these that a serious nicotine habit comes in pretty handy. More reports from everyone, and this time, quite prudently, they required a thumbprint from each of us ( I refused, claiming I was allergic to ink.)

The most fun was repeating the story over and over to the occupants of each new bus as it rolled into the station -- the drivers found it particularly amusing, admiring our wrecked bus, laughing at the part about turning the bus around, wanting to know how much I lost (about $80 US cash, a shortwave radio, a belt, and, somehow, a sachtel full of books in English)

That's about it. Other than that, I found a job working on Zipolite beach, living the good life, serving liquados to naked Norwegian girls, hammock vegetation, etc.

How's life on the lake?

Sean P.

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