I am the man who misses things when travelling. I am the man who has to leave the day before the music festival, and who arrives the week after the basketball festival. I was at the other end of town in Halifax when the Seaking Helicopters did a flyover for their 50th Anniversary celebrations, and got the wrong way on the subway and so missed the Toronto Gay Pride festival. So it should have come as no surprise that, while staying in Guanajuato, Mexico, with a student hosting me and on the night of the biggest student party of the year, I should find myself sat at the top of a multi-storey car park, watching people leaving a massive party which I missed.
Guanajuato is a remarkable town; not only does it have statues of Don Quixote everywhere, despite him being a fictional character from Spain, but it also has mummies which they discovered when digging up dead people whose living relatives could no longer afford to keep them in the ground. Apparently there is just something about the soil in Guanajuato that means dead people survive with no embalming, even their eyeballs.
It also has one of the largest student nights in the country, being primarily a university town. So, when my host Erick suggested that we go to one of these parties, I was interested. I am not, by nature, a huge partygoer; I usually have a good book on the go back in my room, and hangovers are no longer the masochistic badge of honour that they were at university. However, when travelling you have to go to events of interest if they are on; it’s an unwritten rule. Furthermore, given how rarely events of interest and I happen to be in the same town, to turn it down would be thumbing my nose at fate in the worst way possible. I had no desire to do that in a town filled with mummified people.
However, by the time we had mobilised from Erick’s house on the outskirts of town, caught the bus into town, and wandered around town looking for the party, they were no longer letting people in and instead were letting them out to sit on the steps outside the front gate before processing through the multi-storey car-park and out into the night-life of Guanajuato.
I looked at Erick. He looked at me. We both looked at the party winding down before us.
“I will call my friend,” he said.
“Sounds like a great idea,” I replied.
We took up positions on the steps outside the front gate, and after another 20 minutes, Erick’s friend did indeed emerge from the party. After much congenial handshaking that seems standard when meeting strangers in Mexico, we retired to a local bar where a live rock band was playing. While that turned into a pretty agreeable night of beer and playing pool, there was still the feeling of having missed the main event of the evening somewhat. The magic was further spoilt when I was a bit overzealous in tapping the top of a beer bottle belonging to a rather attractive girl I was talking to, so instead of the beer foaming up over the bottle neck (and general merriment ensuing) the bottle instead slipped from her hand and smashed on the floor.
After that, we called it a night and went home.
The next day was spent engaging in more tourism, but this time aided by Erick’s ex-girlfriend, which meant that seeing tourist things was now laced with social tension. I can report, from this experience, that social tension does not add much to tourism.
The afternoon was dragging on, an art gallery merging into a university merging into me sleeping on some steps outside some sort of theatre. Then, as we wandered through a market set up on one of Guanajuato’s cobbled streets, Erick’s Ex noticed someone she knew. The man in question had a straggly beard, numerous bracelets and a rucksack from which numerous pairs of shoes hung. He was chatting to a tattooed person in rapid Spanish (as pretty much everyone in Mexico does), until we were all introduced, whereupon he started to converse with me in English.
“Hi!” He greeted me with a large grin, “Where are you from?”
We went round the usual exchange of pleasantries, and he revealed that he too was travelling, though only through his own country. He had been on the go for the last six months, which did make me feel a little paltry with my three weeks of travelling experience, but I will admit that I liked the chap. He had bracelets, and a beard, and better still I would have said that my beard was actually superior to his. I definitely liked this guy.
We all decided to head to a local coffee shop, eating or drinking being the go-to choice for Mexicans when they run out of things to do, and sat back chatting about this, that and the other. I will confess that I was slightly nervous when this chap recounted a tale to me a hitchhiking tale where he got on a bus and immediately was offered weed, but I put this down to my natural English prudishness. Although I was travelling, and had told myself that I would be open to whatever new experiences came my way, I still reacted to being offered even a cigarette in much the same way that people do when being offered a live python.
The conversation progressed, and I decided to get a bit of blogging done while my three amigos sat chatting in Spanish. Eventually, our new friend, who had written down his contact details in my journal as “Capt’n Sajaro Pulos” popped off to the bathroom, and I decided that the time was ripe for a little bit of feedback on the guy.
“Well,” I said, “He seems like a nice guy.” Erick leaned forwards across the table, a slight frown on his face.
“Yeah, but did you hear the part where he said he was a drug dealer?”
I had not heard this. Or, to be more precise, I had heard it but I had not understood it. Quite why Erick thought that my Spanish, which was awful to the point of actually being German, would extend to knowing when drug dealers announced themselves to me, I did not know. However, I felt it best not to split hairs about the issue.
“Oh,” I said. “Well that’s not great.”
This got an approving nod from Erick, and precisely no reaction at all from his Ex. I couldn’t decide if she had known before she introduced, us, two Scouts, to her friend, but she did not seem especially bothered either way. Erick leaned forwards again.
“He has to be in Salamanca soon, for some ‘business’.”
At this point Capt’n Pulos returned from the bathroom break, and I strove mightily to keep my face the same as it had been before. The conversation continued, and I continued blogging, though now my mind was racing. Had he really been going to the bathroom? Or had he been shooting up? What did he deal? Do drug dealers usually use their own merchandise? Isn’t that poor business planning? I decided not to ask him how he had funded his trip; I had funded mine through my savings and donations from Scout groups whom I was linking with groups I met along the way; I suspected that the Capt’n’s story would not involve so many donations and many more transactions. Was he even really travelling? Six months in your own country must get tedious, even in a country with such a rich and varied cultural scene as Mexico; perhaps he had been ‘travelling’ one step ahead of the authorities.
I looked at his bag. Who takes three pairs of shoes travelling? Perhaps they were trophies from customers with payment issues. I looked at my own shoes; they looked quite similar to the ones attached to Capt’n Pulos’ bag, and I panicked for a while until I realised that he would only kill me if I bought drugs from him and then didn’t pay up. I was unlikely to do that; I have never bought drugs, and have no real desire to; I also hate buying things without having the money for them in the bank. So I was safe. Unless he also killed people for trying to tell the police about his shady ways. I wasn’t intending to tell the police – the story of how we had come to have coffee together would probably not be believed – but what if I looked like someone who might tell? Did I look like a snitch? I focused on looking as un-snitchy as possible.
It wasn’t long before we had to leave; I casually mentioned that I had heard he had to get a bus to Salamanca, to which he replied sounding not at all as though he was going to deal drugs (which, when I thought about it later, really shouldn’t have been so surprising). So we pitched up by the side of the road outside another busy theatre in Guanajuato town centre, waiting for the bus that would take the Capt’n to the central bus depot where he could catch his coach.
Time went by, and the bus didn’t show. That is to say, the right bus didn’t show. The Capt’n ran up to one bus, shouted at the driver for a bit, who shouted back, the end result being that the bus was not going to the right place. As we waited, the Capt’n got more and more anxious, worrying that he would not make it to his business dealings (pun intended) on time.
Great. Now I was stuck with a drug dealer who was late. I found myself willing the bus to arrive, praying to any God I could name, if they would just sort a bus out to take this straggly-bearded man away from me. It was a testament to my poker face that I managed to keep a congenial conversation going with him at the same time. In that time he gave me a bracelet, to add to my collection of bracelets that I had been building since my stay in Merida, and we shared some stories about the state of the buses in Mexico. As I learnt later in the trip, the buses in Mexico are actually a damn sight better than the buses in America or Canada, but Capt’n Pulos was adamant that they were terrible, and I was adamantly agreeing with whatever the hell he said.
Finally, Erick suggested that he take a taxi. This suggestion went down well, and it was not long at all before the Capt’n was bidding us goodbye and hopping into a taxi and out of sight.
“Well,” I said, “that was interesting.” I got a fervent nod from Erick. His ex looked as though it had not really been that interesting. I suppose if your friends are drug dealers, then meeting them for coffee probably isn’t that exciting, especially if you don’t get any drugs in the exchange.
As I cast around for a bin to put the chap’s bracelet in (I didn’t need sniffer dogs involving themselves in my crossing of the Mexican border), I reflected that, for all that my coffee date with a drug dealer had been a little on the nerve-wracking side, it was something that had actually happened while I was in town, and that I had been present at. Nobody would be saying “you should have been here last week, Jon, that drug dealer friend of Erick’s ex-girlfriend was here for coffee”. I was there. Something had happened while I was in town.
We made a beeline for the nearest bar; accidentally smashing a woman’s beer bottle sounded like pretty good fun right now.