• Playa Ventura to Oaxaca – Mexico

    Posted by Murray on January 28, 2011

    The Night That Was….

    Disclaimer: A combination of fear and inbuilt body defense mechanism may have clouded the recollection of the authors. Steel Horse Tour accepts no responsibility for information that may appear incorrect or misaligned with the individual encounters.

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    Murray’s Encounter

    “….As I peered through gritty eyes out my hurriedly unzipped tent flap, the moonlight glinted hauntingly off the long curved machette blade as it rested loosely across the chest of the semi naked unsmiling Mexican hombre…..”

    It was a pleasure to point the bikes west and head up into the hills again for a break from the heavy heat of the tropical coast. The destination was Oaxaca, rightly titled as one of Mexico’s most dignified cities. Certainly not a place for 2 scraggly bearded unshowered Australians ready to swap their dusty motorbike clothes for civvies for an evening of dignified culture?

    There was an hour of sunlight remaining as we accelerated from Puerto Escondida and started ascending the towering mountain range to the west. Following a bout of sensational curves on a road surface that had not seen a maintenance crew since 1959, we pulled in to a small road side stall with the hope of adding something of nutritional value to our proposed meagre rice dinner and also some breakfast supplies. The shirtless owner was up for the chat and happily advised that we would find a campsite no problem a few minutes up the road. After passing several festy gravel sections on the side of road cuttings complete with 15 years worth of rubbish and a few dead chipmunks, we discovered a narrow gravel track meandering off into the hills, which we promptly took as the sun was almost spent. A few kilometres later, a creek crossing and passing a half naked elderly gentleman with more firewood strapped to his back than I would have thought humanly possible, the track transformed into a grassed flat area, fenced either side and overlooked the moutain range. Perfect for camping!

    I chose a semi flat grassed area for sleeping quarters, the end of the track and evidently used for a cow path based on the dung, even a few recent steamers. Loren slipped through a barbed wire gate and set up on another flat area, about 20m from my tent. I must admit, I was secretly experiencing tent location envy as Loz set up his bed for the night. In hindsight, whilst looking great for a campsite at sunset, the morning light revealed a mini holding paddock for the cows peering curiously over the fence between mouthfuls of mountain grass. The paddock adjacent my tent was a few metres away and was heavily stocked with bovines. The 4 paddocks surrounding Lozza’s tent appeared harmlessly void of livestock…. at sunset.

    Midway through tent setup, 2 local hombres rocked up. Both held machettes, very dark skinned, dark eyes and dark hair… on dusk. “Buenos noches amigos, como estas?” These guys appeared friendly enough and after some conversation we established that the older bloke was the owner of the brahman cows adjacent my tent and of the land. No problem to camp here, go right ahead he said. We shook hands and they went on their way.

    Fire crackingly and some water borrowed from the local cow trough boiling away, we soon had some mexican beans with cajun pepper and rice on the go. Both weary after the days riding in the heat, we headed off to our respective tents for an early night – Loz into his “holding pen” and me into my “cow path”.

    I had read for a while in torchlight and was in a semi state of sleep, you know that point where your body is asleep but mind is part awake. Around 11pm, this floating stage was intruded by voices shouting “Es la Policia, Policia, hola, es la Policia.” Fumbling for my headtorch, I flicked it on whilst mumbling some spanish words (“hang on mate while I grab my torch”). As I peered through gritty eyes out my hurriedly unzipped tent flap, the moonlight glinted hauntingly off the long curved machette blade as it rested loosely across the chest of the semi naked unsmiling Mexican hombre. A further glance revealed 2 more machete wielding Mexicans and 2 uniformed police crowding around my tent entry like I was a criminal with a bounty on my head. Harsh flashlight beams made it difficult to fully assess the situation, as did the fact I was twisted up in my sleeping bag, half asleep and mind racing for clarity in this bizarre moment. It was quickly apparent that our uninvited guests were heavily armed and was clear that the machine gun in the hands of one policeman was not a cardboard cutout. Little did I know that another policeman had slipped into the holding pen and had covered off Loren’s tent with a short barrelled machine gun. The semi naked Mexicans didn’t talk. Unfortunately we had consumed all the rice and beans and as a rule we don’t carry instant coffee so I was unable to offer the gentleman any beverages. Nor would they have been keen to chew the fat around the now smouldering ashes with a half asleep Australian clad only in jocks. Besides, it was clear that this was a business trip.

    First thought – ” Are they fake cops?” Answer – “I have no idea but was in no position to roll out of my tent in my jocks and singlehandedly take down 5 armed guys, 2 of them trained with military weapons” Conclusion – “Do what they say until Lozza comes barreling over the top of my tent and we do the old 1-2 on them.”

    The encounter did not begin friendly. The interrogation was not friendly. However, after the first few questions I realised the police were legitimate. I imagine, by the way the weapons were lowered, they too realised that I was not a wanted fugitive with a tent full off semi automatics rifles, plastic explosives, narcotics and grenades. In fact, in hindsight, to see the ridiculous figure of a jock clad tourist stuck in his sleeping bag and half hanging out the tent probably would have rated high on their amusement scale. It didn’t register on mine. After fumbling around for my laminated passport copy and then also handing over my original passport whilst repeating that we are simply camping one night in a grass paddock, we established even ground. The locals weren’t convinced. They didn’t talk. Just clung onto their hideous machettes. Following more discussion about our journey, motorbikes, who we were, where we came from, where are we going, how long will we be here, they eventually came around and expressed their concerns that they may want to drive herd of cattle through there. 11pm at night. Uh-huh, roger that, over and out. I decided I would hedge my bets and move when and if the stampede occurred. The police were happy with that and had no problem with us rolling out at first light as technically we were not breaking the law.

    After a full round of handshakes (me still in a semi propped position half out the tent) and the police wishing a safe and pleasant journey, they retrieved their vehicle which had silently approached and returned back out the goat track and 20kms back to their base where no doubt the locals had rang them to advise they had 2 motorbike riding drug smugglers camping in their cow paddock.

    Back to sleep……. thinking thoughts of a machette slashing my humble tent to pieces and then being overrun by a mad mexican cow stampede.

    2:30am

    Bolt awake. Fear gripping my chest. The silent night pierced by a deep roar coming from the inner depths of a 900kg Brahman. The heinous sound rocketing through the valley and reverberated in and around my tent like a boom box. Close. He was very close. The roar was on par to an upset male lion voicing his opinion I once heard in Africa. But this time it is in Mexico, it is a bull, it is big, it is is close and very very unhappy.

    First thought – “This is not good. No me gusta. Bring back the Mexicans.”

    Answer: “Ok, play dead. He might smell me. Hmm..not good”

    Conclusion – “Continue to play dead. If I take a peek out he will have a piece of me and the fight will be one sided. Not good.”

    I remembered the tree adjacent my tent and calculated that I could be out the tent, clear the barb wire fence and up the cactus infested tree in a jiffy. If Plan A failed – which was to play dead.

    Then another roar. From the other side of my tent. Loud, deep, horribly scarey but not quite with the same power as the first one. Ok – so there is a bull in the cow paddock a few metres adjacent my tent. He sounds upset but may be able to do a deal with him. Talk him around. The other one – where is he? He sounds a nasty bit of gear – a no deals type of guy.

    WHATABOUT LOZZA? It clicked with me then. The big fellow must be in the holding pen. Visiting Lozza. Saying G’day to my travel buddy. My tent location envy disappeared instantly. Yes! There is a fence between me and the bull. A dismal loose 3 strand barb fence that wouldnt stop a three legged bambi. He will be fine – Lozza took wrestling at high school and I knew he was carrying bear spray. Does bear spray work on big angry bulls? Should I rescue him? Should I do the clown thing like at the rodeos? All I have is a pair of jocks and a silk sleeping bag liner.

    The fear subsided a few % when I realised that the big fellow was simply stamping his ground and out looking for a tussle with the other younger bull adjacent my tent. At 2:30am.

    Finally the old bull moved off, still letting out the occassional awful bellow, probably frustrated that the smelly tourists didnt show any sign of fight, nor did his real opponent.

    Back to sleep…… thinking thoughts of bulls horns slashing through the side of my tents like it was a wet paper bag.

    A night to remember…..

    The following morning, as we mounted the steel horses, Loz alerted me to another gun-toting local that appeared above our campsite and stood leaning on his double barrelled shotgun smiling as we broke camp. Man, what sort of joint is this?

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    Loren’s Encounter

    “She took the number 66 bus back. At Medbordgarplatsen she saw a woman waiting for the bus. She did not recognise her at first……”

    “POLICIA!!!”

    “POLICIA!!!”

    Was my Stieg Larsson book coming to life? Were the yells of Policia in my head, or had I actually heard them? We are camped in the mountains of Mexico, down the end of a goat track that was barely accessible on our motorcycles, it is pitch black and has been for two hours, and I am curled up in my tent, reading, ready for another day in Mexico to end in blissful sleep. Surely the only noises we should be hearing are rumblings from cows, as the grass digests through their four stomachs. A bright light shining through my yellow tent, and faint, panic stricken crooks of “buenas noches” from Murray’s direction confirmed that this was reality, and not my book coming to life. A squeek of “hola” transmitted from my lips, and I did what any self respecting travel companion would do: I killed the light, and laid flat on the ground, making myself thinner than my thermarest.

    An exchange in Spanish between Murray and the many voices outside my tent ensued. There wasn’t much I could add to the conversation, but decided that at least I could stick my head out of the tent and make sure the odds were at least 1-8, Murray against the enemy. Besides, I might get to use my pepper spray. As I started to unzip my tent, lights from a vehicle lit up the night, and the crunching around the perimeter of my tent was revealed to be a gentleman quite clearly holding a machine gun. My hand involuntarily rapidly removed itself from the zipper, my breathing temporarily ceased, and I resigned myself to being an inactive participant in the exchange.

    After what seemed like the passing of a blue moon, the conversation seemed to be centered around “temprano manana” or “early tomorrow”. No gun shots had rung through the valley, Murray, should his throat have been slit, was still able to speak, so I started breathing again, fossicked around to find my camera so I could video and thus record the conversation as evident should something happen. Camera on, video ready to roll, I released the shutter, only to have the flash go off, momentarily blinding me, and ensuring our location was clearly visible from Google Earth. They must have been focusing their attention on beating Murray, as gunfire didn’t rip through the walls of my tent, and videoing of the gun totting warrior outside my tent proceeded.

    Voices had calmed, pleasantries appeared to be spoken, and noices dimmed as members of the assault team rejoined the transportation, lights faded as the vehicle began the painstaking journey backwards down the 2.2 km track. When darkness and quietness once again descended, I stuck my head out of the tent and said “Murray, was someone just here? I was sleeping”. Thus ended our evening.

    Or so I thought.

    When all should be peaceful, calm and still my eyes and body went from complete, deep sleep to 100% awake, alert and heartbeat that pounded my ears. I had awoken to a noise that should I ever hear again, it will be too soon, the roar of a very, very angry brahman bull that sounded like it was inside my tent. When it wasn’t roaring and snorting, I could hear it breathing, so knew it was very close. I dare not move. The previous experience with the police hadn’t actually scared me, as I assumed being police and all, it would be fine. But the noise of this bull was terrifying. It doesn’t take much to figure that tents offer no protection, and visions of being trampled and gouged were very much in the front of my mind. Murray was in the next paddock, and had a barbed wire fence between himself and the bull, but I had the same piece of tent that was to save me from the machine gun blast. The bull roar on the right of my tent was joined with another from the left, and I had a cacophony of fear to serenade me into the night.

    With the slowest of movements, I opened my tent and stuck out one eyelash to see what was going on. Not 4 metres from my tent was the largest bull I have ever seen, and he was stamping and roaring and throwing his head around and was showing all the signs of being displeased. He might not have seen a bright orange tent shaped cow before, as he decided to slowly take his roaring slightly up the hill, and I made a sprint for the relative safety of the fence. The chorus of roars was a result of a second bull in the next paddock, which was also 4 metres from my tent. I had managed to get right in the middle of two bulls that wanted a fight, one of which had ready access to killing me. When he finally went far enough away, I found a rickety barbed wire gate to keep him away, and attempted to sleep, something that isn’t terribly easy with the sound of a bull roar still ringing in your ear.

    I awoke in the morning to “hola” with a non-Australian accent, so assumed it wasn’t Murray. I stuck my head out of the tent to see two men walking up the hill, one carrying a gun.  Upon packing up and getting on our bikes, another moustached farmer appeared toting a shotgun, a new weapon to add to the numerous ones seen in the prior 12 hours. I was fairly certain that old mate wouldn’t shoot me in the back on the way out, but was very happy to see pavement, and to twist the throttle. So much for a secluded camping spot. Tonight, we are staying in a hotel.

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    The critics were right. We loved Oaxaca, a vibrant city with a rich history and dignity. We fitted right in. Ha!

12 Comments | Leave a Reply

  1. Donna on January 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Murray… you should know Loren once held a boy in a half-nelson during recess break in primary school… so he’ll protect you next time troubles arise. As for the bull… Loren.. you must have your camera always at the ready. A video of a jock-clad Aussie waving his silk sleeping bag ling at a bull in the Mexican hills is sure to go viral on YouTube.
    PS… I see the FBI agent flossing his teeth!

  2. Mumma Pamma on January 29, 2011 at 10:35 am

    My hair is still standing stiffly on end after reading your gripping account of your quiet? camp out in the bush in Mexico……Horripipation! What is going to happen when you get to Sth America?

  3. Loren on January 29, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    You have be be able to move to use the camera – my limbs were failing me. The FBI agent was trying to set his lock, not flossing his teeth

  4. Anna B on January 29, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    This will definitely go down as one of your most-retold stories!!! No doubt it was terrifying at the time, but in our nice warm loungeroom free of machine guns, machetes and mad bulls, Ben and I cackled quite a lot while reading this. :D Thanks for bringing the moment to life with your colourful (yet entirely accurate, of course) story-telling skills!

    • Murray on February 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm

      Great, thanks for your comment guys :)

  5. Ted on January 30, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    most excellent account… Keep the stories coming! Love all the pictures too.

  6. Dave on January 31, 2011 at 9:48 am

    ‘ A squeek of “Hola” trasmitted from my lips’ So clearly there was someone in the tent. I held a table at flying fish captivated with this story for a good 5 minutes with this one lads……..
    Take ‘er handy…..

    • Murray on February 7, 2011 at 12:38 pm

      Thanks Dave, I knew my travel buddy was there for my backup if things got rough……. after he finished squeaking….

  7. Louise Page on February 1, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Mooorrraaaaiii!!! Are you okay? Am posting over some meatball & porkchop no doubt you will be needing the sustenance to recover from this ordeal.
    P.S This time please share them :)
    Love Loueth xx

    • Murray on February 7, 2011 at 12:36 pm

      Thanks Louey, I knew you would come through with some comfort food. Trouble is that the someone bribed the mailman so all we got was the leftovers.

  8. Louise Page on February 1, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Lozza, have you stopped shaking? Am posting you an old sock I found behind the washing machine…thought it might be a good peace offering or distraction for any future encounters while you make a quick exit….or you could always wear it?
    Hugs Lou

  9. Jan and Stef on February 3, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    FINALLY a terrifying enough account to keep Thelma intrigued. Granny is in hospital with a fractured pelvis Muzza and she’s going to luuurve this.
    Oh Man….what was I saying about Mexico making me nervous in my last email….?
    Boys, Stefman says what you two need is one of those fur-lined denim jackets each, 2 ratted out Sombreros and a nice thick moustache to detract attention…..however….we’re not sure that either of you are doing awesomely in the facial hair growth department…….and Lozza has a colouring issue. Ghostbusters it is then, I guess.

    The fresh faced squeaky clean boys leaving Seattle seem to now have a certain gritty wisdom etched all over their faces.
    Oh and your photos are fabulously incredible.