Back in the late sixties I was traveling with some friends along the coast road from Puerta Vallarta to San Blas. We had the road to ourselves and the stars were just coming out as we wound through the jungle. I had just repaired my Pre-war Indian and for once it was running well. I had hoed weeds all summer to earn it from an old man who had it setting in his barn (a story in itself). We were moving fast enough to cool us from the sweltering humidity when we came upon a tree blocking the road.
I was the first to stop and investigate. As the rest of our group came to a stop, a small group of armed men and women stepped out of the jungle and surrounded us. The leader pointed an AK-47 at me and demanded money. I was intimately familiar with this weapon as I was just out of the military. I could tell he was uncomfortable and surprised when he realized that we were all gringos.
Immediately, I took exception and told the leader that he couldn’t take all of our money as we needed to get home and, further, my girlfriend was expecting. This threw the whole group into a whispered discussion. Now, I admit I made the part up about my girlfriend but the rest was true. We had all stretched our spring break, which was designed to be a week long, into several months. Our parents (especially my girlfriend’s) and the college officials did not see the humor in our change of vacation plans.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the leader nervously asked me how much we needed to get home. I replied that we only had a $125US between us and we needed a least a hundred to get home. I pointed sympathetically to my girlfriend. We bartered for a good hour and finally settled on us giving them $25US and cooking them dinner.
Everyone relaxed and the AKs were set aside. It was a communal affair with us sharing what we had for dinner. This being the sixties in Mexico, the women cooked while the men shared a bottle of tequila chased by macho stories. This was the birth of one of the recipes in the one-arm cook book, Chili Mac. They loved it.
The evening wore on as many of us nodded off. Our impromptu campfire died down and as silently as they stepped out to meet us, they drifted back into the jungle like sleep walking ghosts.
After moving the log I commented that it was the politest robbery I’ve ever heard of. I learned that evening that sometimes when you step into a drama and you just have to play it out. Besides, there might be a story in it.