The local bus company on the road that passes near 10 de Abril is called Lucha Campesina ( Peasant struggle!) but don't be fooled by the name. As we sit in the combi waiting to begin the 2 hour journey to the point of debarkation, the valiant "peasant strugglers" are on the phone to the migration authorities. " They're here, the extranjeros ( foreigners) are on the bus, we've got them for you, come on down!" Their masters at the Migration Office tell them to hold the bus until they arrive. On the combi, the passengers are getting pissed off with the delay. Finally after a half hour, a fat natty character clambers aboard and off we head into the mountains.
The journey through the beautiful valleys that mark the beginning of the Lacandon Jungle, lair of the EZLN, is always wrought with tension. Random army or migratory checkpoints to be negotiated, several pro-government communities to navigate, their drunker representatives known to having a fondness for threatening outsiders on the bus. We 3 peace-campers chat lightly of faraway things and hope to arrive at our destination unmolested.
The community of 10 de Abril is emerging from a very difficult period. The climate went haywire, bringing vast forest fires, extraordinary dryness, and then torrential floods. The maize plant, the central element of the subsistent farming community was battered but after a third re-planting, ultimately survived and bore harvest. People were now feasting on the first harvest of tender young corn-ears. The men had returned from migratory work stints at construction sites at Cancun and the new church and community centre was almost complete - it stood proudly overlooking the fertile glen, the majestic towers, the high brick walls, a powerful symbol of the growing community that was here to stay.
The Lucha Campesina combi wove through the lush hillsides, negotiating treacherous bends and crater-like pot-holes and a variety of stray cattle, horses and mules that wander carelessly in front of speeding vehicles. I thought of the people in the glen , looking forward to arriving and been greeted by demure children and inquisitive teenagers. How Daniel as always, would ask the quintessential question- at what time did you arrive? as if this was the most urgent piece of information imaginable. Every time, for 2 years- at what time did you arrive? Then he would look to the horizon, pondering on the reply with philosophical curiosity; "Bueno pu'" he would say, "hablamos pronto." Ok, we can talk soon, and off he would go without another word.
As the combi descended the final hillside before the point of debarkation for the path to Diez, the familiar skyline appeared marked by the great rectangular mountain towering over the glen to the North. Underneath, some companeros had once told us, lay the ruins of a great Mayan city, they had stumbled across while climbing the mountain. Really! we replied innocently, terribly excited by the idea of digging up lost gold and all the rest of the Indiana Jones stuff. Peels of laughter emanated from the assembled villagers- these campementistas are so gullible!, do they not know anything in the cities?!
We arrived at the point of debarkation, a hidden path leading off into the hills from the tiny abandoned village of Mendoza . We jumped out of the combi and started pulling our bags out of the trunk. The fat, natty character stepped out of the vehicle with a theatrical flourish, Gottcha! written all over his face. "Where are you going?' he demanded with all the authority of the Mexican State, pulling out his credentials.
Fuck. Fuck, I muttered. It was all over. Migration. We had fallen into their trap. Visions of an Aer Lingus flight touching down in Dublin airport danced in my mind. Summary deportation. From the mountains of southern Mexico to the suburbs of Dublin in 24 hours. Fuck.
This migration character was delighted with himself. " We would like you to accompany us to the office." A blue unmarked car had pulled up behind us and two other thugs approached us. The game was up. Ok, we'll go quietly. 'We're tourists" we insist meekly. In the blue car, the other two migration baboons discuss cheerfully the fate of the Norwegians they had "chingar"-ed (fucked) a while back.. We have been separated from our bags, and we're not getting very helpful answers to our questions.
"Where are we going?"
"To the office to check your papers"
"Why not check them here?"
"Because were going to the office."
In the office it's all bureaucracy. Papers, copies, details, dates of births. The fat natty character is the good cop, terribly polite. The buff creep with the ugly moustache is the nasty one. "We don't believe your telling the truth because of your nervousness," explains the nice one helpfully, in explanation as to why he described me as a liar in his account on the citation. "We were nervous because we were suddenly abducted by some strangers on the roadside" I explain with some sense of legitimacy.
The moustached, buff creep steps forward threateningly and thunders " We are here to protect you!" while thumping his ample chest.
I decline a smart-arse response to preserve my good health and he launches into a strident speech on why the locals of this area need to be protected from themselves, by him and his colleagues.
And the military and the paramilitaries?.... and fortunately the 'nice' cop intervened before his buff chum began to protect me with excess force.
"You are not going to be deported immediately" he explains helpfully and with some disappointment, "but you must go to another office for an interview tomorrow".
"We can go now?" I ask disbelieving.
"Yes" he says sorrowfully.
"Out there?" I ask suspiciously, eyeing the road.
"Out there" he says tragically..
Out there turns out to be a sieve-fisted moment of freedom. Not 20 yards from the Migration office we get apprehended by the military. A truck full of paratroopers skids to a halt and the Action Men jump out to stop us in our tracks. Led by the heroic Major JJ Pendejo , the implacable, indomitable knight of Law and Military order. "PARATE!" he screams, "STAND TO ATTENTION!."
At these moments, ones rebellious side always peeps out and wants to say unwise things like " go fuck yourself, cretin" but the testosterone trigger-happy boys behind him inspire a more conciliatory tone.
He whips out a camera and attempts to photograph us. We hide our faces and try to side-step him. In his unfettered rage to block us he fumbles and drops his camera. One of his boys steps forward as if to strike me with his weapon. OK, hands up, we're staying, take our photo if you must. Major JJ Pendejo shakes and spits and rants and generally comes across as a unbridled lunatic. He appears to be greatly confused as to who we are, what we are doing here, and where we are going. The Great man does not appreciate confusion in his juristriction. Our touristic responses do not satisfy his blitzkrieg interrogation.
A bizarre thing happens. One of us pulls out a camera and starts taking photos of them. Suddenly, they all rush back onto their truck, the Major barking at their heels. Off they zoom in a cloud of dust. We are alone once more, dizzy.
"Lets get out of here." A taxi passes, we wave it down and pile in. The driver is smiling.
" The military fucking you?" he asks. Immediately we recognise a friend.
"We've got to get out of here."
"OK, let's try, "he says.
Unfortunately the Testerone Squad has had a change of tactics. They are fanning out across the next intersection, combat positions again. The Major resumes his screaming. He orders the taxi driver to leave, cursing him as "a 'pinche' zapatista from Morelia". We are lined up against a wall, the highway outside Altimirano. Images of a airplane touching down at Dublin Airport return to my troubled mind.
Some uniformed acne-ridden youths are tearing apart our bags while their Major barks away at them, then at us, then at the assembled passer-by's who've stopped to watch the spectacle. More and more people gather, and after a while there's at least 100 spectators. The proliferation of locals on bicycles that have suddenly appeared becomes clear- these are Zapatistas here to observe what is happening, possibly alerted by the taxi-driver.
They smile at us, and a complicity is apparent. The Major is distracted beyond belief by their presence and curses them and mutters angrily to his lieutenant. It is a relief to have them here, and it's ironic- the zapatistas observing the international observers, the zapatistas monitoring the military violations against the international monitors.
The bold Major has discovered some rubber boots and combat trousers in our bags and is apoplectic with joy.
"Ha! Equipo de guerrilla! (Guerrilla gear!)".
He points at me and designates me "the 'jefe' of the guerrilla unit" (!).
He snatches a journal and starts scrutinising it for clues. "A guerrilla diary!" he exclaims with excitement, only he's not certain as it's written in German. He summons one of the boys, obviously the clever one, and together they search for Insurrection plans amongst the travel memoirs of one of the detainees.. Things at this stage would be quite scary except we're all giggling uncontrollably at the absurdity of the situation. The Major begins spelling out German words over the radio to base. Great suspense as he awaits the translations. Such disappointment as it appears to be love poetry to a missed girlfriend.
The spectacle continues for hours. More vehicles arrive, military intelligence, migration again, various scum and scar-ridden undercover bozos, all whispering conspiratorially into radios and scribbling urgent notes. The Major has been trying to coax us into accompanying him to his military base or back to the migration office. We have discovered his Achilles heel: every time we ask him is he detaining us, he replies stringently that this is NOT the case. That we are all mere "having a chat", that we are not being arrested or detained, but that we are "Resting". So, we say, can you get out of our way and may we leave and can the boys stop pointing their weapons at us?
"No", he replies, "we're having a chat, and now your coming to the base with me."
"No, senior, we are not. We are hungry and tired and need to use the bathroom and it was a pleasure to meet you and your merry band but now its getting late and we must go.."
It was late afternoon and we did not want to be trapped here in the dark.
The fat, natty migration official re-appears on the scene, now dressed in his uniform. Maybe he really is a nice guy, for he appears to be calming down the Major and telling us, its OK, we can leave. Now the Major wants to video us. The military-video squad arrive and start videoing us filmatically, getting different angles, testing sound bites, asking us to stand here, or over there, yeah, that's it, perfect, beautiful, catch the sun dramatically behind you....
The Major starts talking into the mike, postulating his outlandish fantasies about who we are and why we're here, "equipo de guerrilla', " plannes para la organizacion guerrilla" and other nonsensical musings.
Then he turns to me, as guerrilla leader of the team and demands I announce to the camera that we have not been detained, whatsoever.
We have been detained here for 3 hours and we want to leave, I said and the Major did not look happy. We picked up our "guerrilla gear" and made to leave. Surprisingly nobody attempted to stop us, although one of the giddier boys looked like he might take a pot-shot at us just for the thrill of it.
The assembled crowd of onlookers thronged around and accompanied us along to the road to the town. Some smiling campesinos started giving out about the malgobierno and the pinche militares and then an unmarked military car pulled up and the occupant offered us a 'lift" back to San Cristobal ." No thanks". So they trailed behind us from a distance. We found a combi willing to bring us back to San Cristobal, but not before yet one more military checkpoint wanted to pull us off the bus and "check our papers". Fortunately, our fairy god-mother, the fat, natty migration "good-guy' appeared again mysteriously and waved us through.
There's a happy ending to the tale. The next day 2 of the international observers arrived without hindrance in the peace-camp at 10 de Abril to continue the vital presence that alerts the world to the bellicose military occupation of Chiapas by 60,000 government troops. Daniel ambled by on his horse and asked them at what time did they arrive. Satisfied with the answer he said "Bueno pu', hablamos pronto" and headed off on his business. Whatever happens to foreigners in Chiapas, it will be 10 times worse for Daniel and his companer@s . The international presence must continue, we must ensure that the zapatistas are not left alone at the hands of the like of the psychotic Major JJ Pendejo and his band of armed delinquents; this is our task.