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Taking Risks on the Road to Zihuatanejo

A week ago a couple from Utah were shot execution style in the resort town of Petatlán along the Pacific coast. Apparently they failed to stop at an unofficial checkpoint and were chased down. Their 12 year old son survived.

A news-site reports:
"Just yesterday in the municipal seat of Petatlán, citizens marched to demand the federal government restore order in their municipality, because of the lack of state government and the control that armed groups maintain for the control of drug traffic such as cocaine and methamphetamine."

I'm guessing that most of you reading this already know about the incident, because, let's be truthful, however much we, as Americans, sincerely regret the shooting deaths of Mexicans, when gringos start getting killed we really sit up and take notice. (Paul Nielsen, the husband, was from Utah, while his wife, Janeth Vázquez, was a US citizen, born in Puebla.)

The day before yesterday there was an extended shoot out near La Lejona apparently between the military and a cartel. Many, many shots were fired. Yesterday, in an incident in Independencia, two police were killed. Now, if you are like me, those facts, even so close to home, don't move you in the same way as the news of two Americans killed in Petatlán does. Americans dying strikes a different chord in me.

Paul and Janeth were killed at 3:30 in the morning while driving from from Acapulco to Zihuatanejo. My first question is, why would anyone be driving from from Acapulco to Zihuatanejo at 3:30am? Everyone knows it's dangerous to travel Mexican roads at night. Would you drive back from Celaya after dark? Heck, I get nervous traveling back from Atotonilco at 10:30pm. More simply, why would anyone be traveling anywhere at 3:30am? Isn't that suspicious in itself, even without the danger?

Just imagine those trigger-happy outlaws manning the checkpoint, made even more edgy by the methamphetamine they've been using to keep themselves awake: "Here comes a car!" And then the car refuses to stop!

Now imagine what's going on in the minds of Paul and Janeth: "We'll just outrun these bad men with their automatic rifles; us in our compact car, them in their SUVs." One ought not to speak badly about the dead, but, come on. And don't tell me that they panicked because it all happened so fast. However naive, they must have considered the possibility of armed men stopping them.


Yesterday, I messaged on Facebook Mirabai, a young lady I know from my time in Vermont, the sister of my dear friend Chris. I learned, almost a year ago, that Chris disappeared. That was almost a year after he disappeared. Yes, I've been out of touch. Yes, it's taken me this long to begin to ask what anyone thinks might have happened to him.

My land in Vermont was just up the mountain from a former hippie commune, Mad Brook Farm. (We opened up the old road one-half mile through the woods at the top of Mad Brook to get to my property. I called that stretch "my driveway.") Chris introduced me to my land, "#9," as it was called on the original town maps. One hundred and fifty three acres, with ridges, cliffs and caves, surrounded by thousands of additional acres of wilderness, #9 was Chris' "backyard" when he was a boy. It, and the great forest extending from it, continued to be his favorite playground when he became a man.

I remember, before we built my house and cabins, coming down off the ridge, alone, and meeting an artist associated with the commune, one David Bradshaw, who was reconnoitering what would become my lower pasture as a site to create some of his explosive sculptures. Bradshaw was the alpha male back in the day. Summertime each weekend the 30 members of The Farm were overrun by a hundred or more people came to let loose and party. It was up to David to eject whomever went too far. (Going "too far" on a hippie commune must have been "too far," indeed. Far out!)

David was a real gentleman as long as you weren't behaving like an ass. That day, coming off the ridge, when I called out to him, he gave me a big hello. A moment later, when he noticed that I was not wearing a gun, he smilingly remonstrated with me, "Naked in the big woods, eh?" (We were just 20 miles from Canada.)

What happened to Chris? Nobody knows. (At least the officials don't know. We'll see what Mirabai has to say.) My guess is that he was "naked in the big woods" and got too close to a bear and her cub. He told me a story once: He was on the wide trail that left my pasture and headed up to the fire-tower on Bald Mountain. The trees were dense on each side of the sunny trail. There was a noise off in the woods. Chris froze, keeping still to listen and to remain unheard, unobserved by whatever it was. The noise increase, coming closer... and closer... and closer, yet. Suddenly a bear crossed the trail 20 feet in front of him. I say "suddenly" because a bear crossing the trail 20 feet in front of you is always a shock, whether or not you know it's coming.

Chris was relating this story in front of a few other people. He was an alpha male himself. (David Bradshaw was a male role model for a lot of father-less boys back in the free love era.) I asked him, provocatively, "We're you afraid?" He replied without pause and with emphasis, "You're damn right I was afraid."

At 20 feet a surprised bear is not going to stop and evaluate whether or not you are a threat. It's going to attack. You'll never get within 20 times 20 feet of a bear if it sees, hears or smells you first. (Chris had been downwind of the one who crossed his path.)

Those woods in Vermont aren't anyone's "backyard." They are a dangerous wilderness area. If you are going to go around playing games with bears, then, when you find yourself in a losing position, you'd better have a firearm to defend yourself. Chris was a wild, mountain man. For him, getting mauled by a bear (it would be quick), would be a good way to go.

Anyone of any nationality driving from Acapulco to Zihuatanejo at 3am is looking for trouble. If you are going to go around playing games with heavily-armed desperados... well, then you're just crazy. (It makes me wonder why they didn't stop, what they had in the car with them.) A bullet to the head, on the roadside at 3:30am isn't a good way to die, but at least it's instantaneous.

Most people prefer to stay away from both the big woods and cartel violence. A lot of gringo tourists and even homeowners have put their vacations to San Miguel on hold. Me? I like the adventure, both of the big woods and, excluding the cartel violence, of Mexico itself. Still, I am going to stay off the roads in the middle of the night. Then, I'm going to do whatever anyone, man, woman or child, with an automatic rifle tells me to do. And, if I hear a bear coming towards me through the forest, I'm going to make some noise.


photo: Alessandro Bo (cropped)

Dr. David welcomes you to San Miguel Sunday. Anyone with any interest in contributing articles is heartily encouraged to contact him at the email below. The "Best City in the World" deserves a good Lokkal magazine.

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