San Cristobal is amongst the most beautiful cities I’ve been lucky enough to see. It’s calm, collected, and serene. Yet, for some reason, it is also home to some of the most debaucherious, anti-social, corrupt and downright dangerous behavior I’ve yet seen on this trip. Not all those that wander are lost it is true, but some certainly are. They are lost, escaping, running, shirking responsibilities and at times self-destructing and pillaging, leaving a people and places scattered in their tumultuous wake. You meet these people everywhere, but for me, thus far, San Cristobal has packed the most into just a few short days.
Perhaps it all starts with a pox. No, not a curse or ill will but Pox, the local corn-based distillent, pronounced “posh” for reasons I can’t quite make out. Based on its deleterious effects however, it might be exactly those things.
I find myself sitting in my hostel lobby, enjoying a BBQ with some new friends, Americans, Danes, Brits, Mexicans and more than a few characteristically drunk Australians. A mid-30s Brit with bleach blond hair, the bubbly personality of a 20 year with the complexion of 40+, sits next to me. She’s working here now, just started. Cool I reply, what inspired the move? “Nothing really, well, actually, I lost my ID, my passport, my computer, my phone, actually my whole bag, all my stuff” she replies. “I can’t get a passport for three months, and my visa is almost expired, so I’m staying here till I can get it all worked out. The Embassy won’t help me, and that’s their bloody job you know”. O, I reply, well at least you’ve found yourself in a beautiful place. “Ya, its great actually, I used to be a proper piss-head back home so this will be a good new start” she says as she splashes about eight ounces of strait Pox into a glass with so much exuberance it bounces off the bottom spilling all over the table. She is by all indicators, properly drunk. It’s 4pm.
A glass of wine later I’m in a deep conversation with a LA born Korean-American writer who lives next door. He’s on a year-long motorcycle trip from Patagonia to Alaska and full of insight and mirth. The Aussies and our new employee who we will call Mary are in the corner pounding shots and chain-smoking something fierce. Two hours later the Aussies are sleeping, their ceremonial two-hour nap to prep for another 6am night. When they awake, off to see the local candyman.
It’s 10pm now, we are all getting ready when one of the Aussies emerges from the kitchen a fresh jalapeno in hand. “Is this hot?” he asks. Yes we reply, especially the seeds. Downstairs he goes. 10:15, we are all assembling to go see a friend’s band play. I walk into the dorm room to grab my wallet. There stands the Aussie, half a jalapeno stuffed up each nostril, seeds smattered around his nose. “What.... the hell are… you doing?” I ask. “My nose is all clogged up ay; I’m clearing it up, right”. Oh my god I think, your shoving a jalapeno up your nose to clear the way for more cocaine, this is seriously not ok.
After a pleasant concert complete with jugglers and fire-dancers we find ourselves at a quite salsa bar called Revolution. I hang with a few people eating tacos outside. The Aussies are inside. Mary stumbles about trying to sell homemade Jello Pox shots out of a plastic wicker basket to passerbys. She looks to inebriated for life, she disappears then reemerges ten minutes later from the front door. Without hesitation she walks out across the street, stands not two feet from a man, back to wall, squats, and pees. When she stands up it becomes obvious she’s not even pulled down her pants, just unbuttoned them, two dark streams run down the inside seam of her jeans on both legs all the way to her feet. A bridge to far. A friend, Becka and I, decide we are going to walk Mary home. No questions asked.
We approach her and convince her it is time to leave. We each take a side like bumpers to her clumsy bowling ball containing her wobble. Four blocks down the road three cops sit on a bench. They see us coming, they shout out querying us as to whether or not we are with Mary. They begin to posture, one pulls out a Taser, the electric current snaps and crackles. “No, no” we say, trying to maintain course home while keeping distance from the cops. They back off, settling back in their seats. We make it a half block past them when Mary sits down. O no, not now, not now I think. Then, inexplicably, she gets up, walks back to the cops, sits down not five feet from them, and again, pees. Seriously. Becka and I look at each other in amazement. Shocked, appalled, yet struggling to contain our laughter at the lunacy of what is unfolding.
We turn to walk back to get her, out comes the Taser again. Mary gets up and begins walking towards us. I turn around; the Taser goes away, Becka, as a girl not a threat to the five-foot-two police officers continues. Becka and Mary meet and start to follow me. The cops catch up. I watch from a distance, letting them talk but ready to step in if need be. I don’t need to be tased and put in Mexican jail, but I won’t leave them to themselves. The cops encircle the girls on three sides, the wall behind forms the final barrier, no exit. Five minutes later the cops leave, Mary sits down on a stoop and starts crying.
I approach, “what happened?” “They took everything”. The cops had stolen everything, all Mary’s money and to my astonishment, they had even absconded with her little wicker basket filled with Jello shots. Let me repeat that. Three armed policemen stole by threat of Taser and jail, Jello shots in a little wicker basket. The image of them skipping away to show their mommy what they found is forever burned in my memory.
Mary is beside herself. “They stole everything! I have no money, no ID, I have nowhere to go and no money at all”. This goes on for what seems hours though its likely a minute. Neither of us can get a word in edgewise. Becka tries to reason with her, Mary fires back “Shut up! Shut up! You don’t know what it’s like, I have nothing!” I’ve had enough; I put my hand on her shoulder, looking directly into her eyes. “Look, what happened is terrible, but it’s done now, you can’t do anything about it. But you’re sitting here, like this, makes it much more likely it will happen again. There is one person in the whole world right now who is here for you, trying to help you, and you are telling her to shut up. That is NOT ok. You need to stop. You need to get up and we need to leave.” To our amazement she snaps to, looks up at Becka “your absolutely right, I’m so sorry, so sorry, that was wrong of me,” then, like nothing’s happened she gets up and starts walking.
We get her home, give her water, and tuck her in. The next morning I find her stumbling around the kitchen, splashing hot oil on herself trying to make eggs. She seems to be mumbling, “If you know anything, don’t tell me”. Apparently the struggle bus is a full day ride, not an overnight affair. The Aussies are fast asleep, dreaming of tonight’s adventures no doubt. I’m off to a café to do some work, and chuckle, in astonishment, about last night.