Thursday, December 01, 2011

Michoacan on a Prayer

Was it all that driving over rocks and rivers? Or was there a bit of subterfuge involved? Our exit out of the state of Guanajuato was delayed by a flat tire.

"There's a tire shop right up there," pointed out the window washer dude (who pointed out our flat tire after Big Dog laughingly brushed off the dude's offer to wash our car with an "It's a rent-a-car.")
"A little too convenient?" I wondered. "If I had a tire shop that wasn't doing much business, wouldn't it be great to find an out-of-state car parked all night just in front of my shop? And wouldn't it be great if in the morning it had a flat tire?"
"I don't think they're that devious," said Big Dog. He is always assuming the best in people. Some self-proclaimed misanthropist he is!

The tire shop being right there WAS convenient, though. 20 minutes later we were back on the road, on our way to "Don't Go There!" Michoacan.

"It's home of La Familia, one of the biggest drug cartels!"
"There are shoot outs all over Patzcuaro."
"They block the roads with buses and start shooting."
"The mountains are where they hang out."
"Driving the coast is equally dicey."
"It's as bad as Ciudad Juarez."

Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike had warned us from going through Michoacan. But it's our favorite state! The mountainous regions are gorgeous, the coast is desolate and serene, the colonial cities are massively impressive and the indigenous towns are too cool. All that talk of how dangerous it was kept us from going last time we were in Mexico, but this year we decided to risk it. It was the year of earthquakes and tsunamis and nuclear disasters, after all, not to mention our own truck collision, and strange medical moments. There were risks everywhere. You could stay at home to avoid it, and then slip in your bathtub and break your neck.

Still, I gripped my little Mitra amulet while on the road and maybe it was my guardian deity's powers that kept things peaceful the entire time we were in Morelia, Patzcuaro and on the coast. We only encountered one strange incident.

"Look, there's Che," said Big Dog as we approached our first toll booth out of Patzcuaro.
Huh? Che?
I looked ahead and not only was there a giant banner with Che Guevara's iconic face draped across from one booth to the other, there were big trucks, masked people and cars jammed up. Uh-oh. I gripped my amulet harder.

As we approached the toll booth, we realized that this was not a narco roadblock but protesting students who had taken over the toll booth. (Some students had been killed, as well as arrested and harassed, in a demonstration that took place a year or two ago and this was one of the actions commemorating the victims.) One of the bandana-masked boys handed me a tiny flyer explaining their mission and waved us through. It was almost a party.

"They didn't take our toll. I would have donated the fare for their cause," I mentioned as we passed through. I am such a sucker for causes. "But I wonder what they did with the regular toll collectors?"

We'll never find out, nor will we find out the fate of the protestors. As we drove towards the coast, a convoy of heavily armed military trucks were heading back towards Patzcuaro and the hi-jacked toll booth. Mitra in my hand, I said a silent prayer for peace. Peace for the protestors, peace for Patzcuaro, for Michoacan, for Mexico and the world.

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