The Princess in the Desert

Puerto Vallarta

After two months cruising the southwest Mexican coast, picking up poco espanole and John, I was ready to go home.

We caught the ferry at Puerto Vallarta and landed before noon on the tip of the Mexican Bahas. We planned to catch the bus to Juarez, then San Diego. I had two heavy suitcases and a bulging backpack.

As John went for drinks, I dragged my luggage towards a dog and a man. He wore an oversized baseball cap, T-shirt and jeans. Excuse me, where can I get the bus to Juarez? Two miles thataway, he pointed, I’m heading that way. Wanna a lift?

When John returned, we piled into the cab of the blue pick-up, me in the middle. My gear and the dog went into the back.

Randay. That’s my name. Our driver said. Pronounced Ran Day. Accent on Day. I’m meeting my partner around five at the ferry… bought a hotel in Vallarta… going up the coast now… for supplies. You want, you can come with me… save time… catch a bus at San something or other.

We didn’t refuse. We were on the road with sunny skies, awesome cliffs and infinite ocean blue.

Randay bragged ..biggest dope grower in Northern California… gonna run my own hotel now… change my life…

He chattered on. The truck sped down the empty highway, accelerating as we approached an intersection. Desert on the left, ocean on the right … a blue horizon dead ahead.

Suddenly a small car containing four people pulled in front. Our truck rear-ended it and Randay screamed, don’t have any ID… no license.

He jerked the steering wheel and we swung full around. At top speed he drove into the desert until the coastline disappeared… forced to a halt when the tires spun hopelessly in the sandy soil.

Randay shut the engine, jumped out. John and I followed him around the truck. He rubbed the dent in the front fender, trying to erase it. We have to disguise ourselves, he said and jumped back into the cab. He came out wearing a different T-shirt, his dark hair shoulder length around his face.

Gonna scout there, he pointed to a slope, See what’s around.

He scrambled up and disappeared.

John, I think Randay’s gone. What should we do?

Change our shorts for pants… sandals for shoes. Watch out for mesquite, cactus…rattlesnakes.

But what should we really do?

Head towards the highway.

I climbed into the back of the truck. I changed my clothes and after wrestling on the heavy backpack, I hefted the two large pieces of luggage, one in each hand.

Leave them. It’s high noon… might have a long walk.

I was outraged. My souvenirs, my gifts, my clothes, my suitcases. I was not dumping them because some idiot had driven us into the middle of the desert and, leaving his truck and dog, had completely vanished.

As I struggled to unload them, we heard an engine.

John, What do we do now?

We put our hands up.

As I clutched my suitcases, three gunshots blasted the silence. A federales car roared up. Another car shrieked behind. Five men jumped out, guns at shoulder height. They surrounded John and me, leveling their guns at our heads. We had our hands in the air. I had finally disengaged myself from my luggage.

Two cops removed my backpack, frisked me and John, while the other three examined the truck. The dog was booted away.

As more cars raced up, they questioned me.

I carefully explained, We’re Americans, Canadians… we hitched a ride… As I spoke in faltering Spanish, the chief directed his men who disappeared over the rise that Randay had disappeared over. Shots were fired and when the cops returned without Randay, the federales escorted us into a car.

What about my luggage? My bags had been thrown heavily to the ground.

Hands up, get in the car, sit, shut up. They shoved us into the back seat. We roared out of the desert straight to the police station.

They removed John’s belt and put him into a cell behind a steel door.

The cops sat me in a corner of the room and ignored me for four hours, refusing to let me have water or to use the bathroom. Cops circulated through the station, guns strapped around their bellies… guns in holsters. As they talked, pointing at me, looking at me, I learned that someone in the car we had hit, had been hurt, was in the hospital.

It dawned on me that perhaps, my luggage was not the priority. John, the only person who knew where I was, he was behind a steel door.

Five hours later, two cops sat down near me. In Spanish they said, You’re in trouble. I said, How big in trouble. They said, Very big trouble. I said, How much. They said, One hundred dollars. I said, For both. They nodded. Okay, I said. American dollars, they said. I have travellers cheques, I said. They said, No problem, a hotel will change them.

In one minute, John was out the steel door and we were in the back seat of the cop car.

John said, I was afraid you had left. I said, I wouldn’t leave anyone there. John said, Yes, but I was behind the steel door.

As we rode to the hotel, one cop said, the price is now two hundred dollars. I said, okay.

At the hotel, I ran to the exchange counter. Can you change two hundred dollars?  I’ll check, said the clerk, then, I’m sorry, we don’t have enough cash. You don’t have two hundred American dollars? Oh, she said, I thought you wanted it in pesos.

I signed my travellers checks and she gave me two bills. I returned to the cop car and handed them over. It disappeared like Randay, the truck and the dog.

They drove us to the town’s bus station and courteously opened the back car doors for us. I was thinking, where’s my luggage? but I didn’t ask. As we entered the terminus, one cop said, wait, and opening the trunk, he handed me my bags.