…Or how I spent my Sunday afternoon.
So we’re cruising along somewhere about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta at 65 mph. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The traffic was moving along nicely. We were returning from a wonderful three days respite living at the beach in PV, and the conversation in the car was lively.
All of a sudden I was jamming on the breaks. A long line of cars and buses is stopped ahead. We started asking ourselves the obvious questions. What could the problem be: was there an accident, a broken down car; how long was the back-up
Little did we know that five miles up the road, a small Mexican town was protesting the disappearance of one of its own a week earlier. More succinctly, they were protesting the lack of response from local officials and police. How does one get attention of the police? They blocked the main highway that carries traffic to and from Puerto Vallarta.
Apparently, this is how small towns and indigenous people get attention when the police and politicians ignore them. I have a friend who has spent a bit of time in Chiapas, which is a state in southern Mexico where the indigenous peoples were in open revolt against the Mexican government. She says things have recently gotten dicey there because promises made haven’t been filled. Randomly blocking major highways is a favorite attention-getting tactic.
These blockages are different from the publicized gang roadblocks and shakedowns in several Mexican states. Gang shakedowns are one of the reasons why the U.S. State Department warns against travel in several areas of Mexico, and travel at night, in general.
According to an article on a local website, the “manifestacion” we came across started at 9 am, and we stumbled upon it around 2 pm. Apparently the demonstrations attracted the Federales, state police, and the local constabulary.
We dutifully waited our car with the air conditioning running for a half hour. Cars started turning around. As each car turned around, we inched up a little more.
For us turning around was not really a good option. There really was no alternative route. We would have had to travel an hour back to the turn-off for the carraterra libre (free road). Once word spread (I don’t/can’t listen to local traffic reports), that road would be no piece of cake either. In another 70+/- kms, we would be cruising on 4-lane toll road. We’d take our chances.
My friend was getting a little antsy, so she decided to take a walk in search of an answer to the question going through everyone’s mind: “What’s going on?”
She disappeared down the hill, walking along the line of busses and cars that snaked around the curve ahead. Fifteen minutes later she arrived back with at least three rumors of why the back-up existed – one of which was the real reason. Who was kidnapped, however, wasn’t exactly clear. Some people reported it was the village’s mayor. Other rumors circulated that there were narcos in the village and the police were disarming the villagers, or having a shoot-out. We saw some firepower pass us in the other lane, but it was unclear whether they were good guys or bad guys.
Now this may sound a little scary, but truthfully it was a pain in the ass. It wasn’t how I expected to spend Sunday afternoon, watching men and children pee on the side of the road (I don’t know what the women did), families pick mangoes from roadside trees, and twenty-somethings break out 6-packs of beer and have a picnic. Thank God the bugs were taking a siesta.
Finally, about two hours after becoming entrapped, the line started to move – steadily. As the police waved us by the lane they cleared among the demonstrators, you can see what we saw in this article’s pictures.
As we drove by, my friend took a few photos. “Stop,” she pleaded. “I want to get some more pictures.”
“Are you kidding,” I answered. I could just imagine what the police would think of a car with U.S. plates stopping, and a gringa jumping out and snapping pictures.
The rest of trip was uneventful until we got onto the Guadalajara – Chapala highway. We were almost home, encountered a major downpour. Once again, traffic ground to halt. About one kilometer before the airport, a tree was knocked down on top of a hapless VW, blocking two lanes. 9 hours after leaving PV we arrive back in Ajijic, a trip that should have taken no more than 51/2-6 hours.
Postscript: It was a good that we didn’t turn around and take the free road from PV. When the toll road ends it merges with the free road just before Guadalajara. The free road was backed up as far as we could see.
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