travelog 50

Just like in the movies...

Dazzling muzzle flash, then a bang. A wild chase starts, two cars race over a dirt road, drag a huge dust cloud behind them, a man leans out of the passenger side window of the pursuing car and fires away wildly, bam-bam-bam, a hit. An action movie? Wide off the mark!

James Bond, Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, everybody knows these heroes from action movies. They shoot out of racing cars - and always hit the target. Very thrilling if you're watching it on a screen, comfortably leaned back into the pillows, with a cold beer and some peanuts on which to nibble.

This time we want to tell you about our own personal action movie:

On our trip northwards to the American border (our visa for half a year was expiring beginning of July), we think we should follow the coast of the Mexican state of Sonora to reach Caborca on less travelled roads. A part of our way would lead us through the Seri Indian reservation, from Bahia Kino ("Kino Bay", an American exclave with many high-class bungalows built in the sand) towards the north and Desemboque. Two years ago we already stayed near Desemboque, camped in peace for a few days in a deserted bay, a place for which we had wonderful memories.

In Miguel Aleman, the capital of the region, passers-by warn us that our way through the Seri reservation is not a very good idea because these Indians would not be very well-disposed towards strangers. But our positive memories let us turn a deaf ear to their warnings.

The next day we want to explore the area around Bahia Kino and we drive northwards along the coast. At an open gate that indicates that we're entering private ground, we ask a local who is passing through the same gate too, if it's possible to go any further. He's an employee of a small seafood factory and he warns us about armed robberies by shady characters. The nice beaches north of Bahia Kino are pretty safe during the day but we should never dare to stay overnight because the area is more than unsafe and even the locals have been assaulted again and again. He warns us most urgently and we take it seriously. Although the next bay we reach is deserted and ideal for camping, we turn around and spend the night in the middle of the village of Bahia Kino on a public parking.

Since there is not much to do in Bahia Kino, we set off northwards the next morning, on June 27. The dirt road is wide and very uneven, the weather is perfect, and so we start our way through the Seri Indian reservation over Punta Chueca (the Seri "capital") towards Desemboque. Julia's driving slowly and at a leisurely pace, partly because we want to see something of the vegetation, and partly because the washboard dirt road is really bad. After about 4 miles we pass a big sign (with the usual bullet holes) greeting us on the Seri Indian territory and asking us to respect their customs. Certainly an understandable request.

After a short break for taking some pictures, we are chugging through the capital of the Seri reservation, through Punta Chueca. It's a collection of about 100 modern huts, built by the Mexican government in rank and file after they moved the Indians under dubious pretext from their home on Isla Tiburon to the mainland. The windows are long since broken. A water tower visible for miles around, a soccer field with a small stand, dusty pickups next to some houses, a lot of garbage, and young guys loafing around - all of that in a fantastic scenery with the azure water of the Sea of Cortez and the outlines of Isla Tiburon in the background. Young men greet us and we wave back. Without stopping we drive over the main square and leave the town northwards.

After another 2 miles we reach an idyllic bay and we decide to look for some seashells. No sooner had we parked PocoLoco, our little rolling house, than a new silvergray pickup parks behind us and two Seri Indians of the older generation get out and greet us. We ask them if it's ok for us to stay here. They introduce themselves as the owners and guards of this area and warn us urgently against armed assaults. Word for word they say: "Members of our community who live in our village regularly attack tourists and rob them! It's not a good idea to be here and we ask you to leave either back to Bahia Kino or to leave the reservation near Desemboque in the north. We also don't recommend to spend the night elsewhere on the reservation because the criminals look for fresh tire tracks and would certainly find you even if you're not visible from the road." That's why we decide with a heavy heart to continue our way and we leave towards Desemboque.

Some 500 yards later Julia hears a rhythmic returning hissing noise. We stop and find out that one of our rear tires has a 2 inch long cut on its side and looses air with every turn. That's brilliant! With our central tire inflation system we can still balance out the loss of air but we really don't want to drive 40 miles with such a bad tire. Also, the risk of having to change the tire in the middle of this dirt road, is too great. That's why we turn around to Punta Chueca where we want to change the tire in the middle of the village. No sooner have we turned around than a wine-red closed pickup GMC Jimmy is passing us. The heavy tinted windows don't allow us to see how many people are in the car. We're just a little bit astonished when the same vehicle overtakes us again shortly before the entrance to Punta Chueca.

We can't find anybody in the village who is willing to help us. We park between the houses, get rid of women who want to sell us souvenirs, keep the noisy kids at long range (while the air escapes noisily from our tire), and try in next to no time to get our jack from the roof and under the axle. Quickly we lower the spare tire from the roof, a little bit slower we change it, but after an hour we're done. During our work we see our friends in the wine-red pickup at least two more times. They pass us slowly and we can see that a few young men observe us. This time we wonder from where these guys get the money for the expensive gasoline. They must be sponsored by the government or they rob innocent tourists, we joke...

Then we leave Punta Chueca towards Bahia Kino from where we want to take the paved road through the interior and around the Seri reservation. Also this time Julia's driving and we're still proceeding very slowly because of the bad road. We're not surprised that the wine-red car overtakes us. Two other cars are oncoming and we approach the southern border of the reservation. Suddenly the wine-red pickup overtakes us again from behind and that makes us suspicious. These guys must have waited somewhere along the road when we passed them. We pass the border and are now again on Mexican territory.

Then Julia sees the above-mentioned car to our left, parked behind some huge cacti and she says: "Here we have our friends again." As soon as we're at the same level they are, she sees one of the guys running towards us, hears a bang, and sees the muzzle flash. She only says: " I don't believe it! They are shooting at us!" and she pushes the pedal to the metal. Because the road goes uphill a little bit it's difficult to get the truck running at full speed. Suddenly we couldn't care less about the washboard and at a certain speed we run smoothly and the big tires fly over the waves. Then we see them behind us. With the headlights switched to full beam and the blinking orange warning lights they probably want to show us that we should stop. But after the shots we absolutely don't feel like getting better aquainted with these guys. But that's easier said than done! After all we have to move much more weight. Finally we reach the hilltop and from then on we drive as fast as we can, with about 60 mph over the dirt road. In the rear-view mirror we see the passenger hanging out of his window with his rifle, shooting at us. We pray that he doesn't hit the tire and go as fast as we can. We hear a dry bang, obviously caused by a bullet into the back of our poor PocoLoco. Zigzagging we race southwards and reach more dusty areas. The silt saves us! It's powder-fine dust which forms an impenetrable dust cloud when driving over it. Not even the strongest wind can blow it from the road. The dust jet we drag behind us is gigantic! At the same time the waves in the road get deeper. This is no problem for our unimog but can be a big problem for smaller cars. And that's where the crooks probably get stuck!

After another 3 miles we reach Bahia Kino where we go to the police instantly to make a report. On the basis of our description, the policemen seem to know exactly who these guys are. But because these people retreat to the reservation which is outside the Mexican legal system, it is difficult to capture them. The Seri police won't do anything about this bad situation, the police tell us. The chief of the local tourist promotion office advises us to drive the 30 miles back to Miguel Aleman the next day to make an official report that something could happen.

This time we camp in the middle of the vacation resort, lock all doors, devour two chocolate bars and empty half a bottle of mezcal that we still had in our fridge. We sleep very well and without any bad dreams, but the next day we have a terrible hangover. Fortunately we can sit at the commissioner's office while we make our report. The office is small, most of the space is used for boxes with beer bottles and bags of fertilizer that were confiscated and now wait to be claimed back by their real owners. The employees work in between, take reports and answer phone calls. They promise that this matter will not disappear in a drawer. We're eager to see...

The damage on our PocoLoco is not that big, however, the experience we take from it is all the bigger! Four inches above the tire (where the crooks probably wanted to hit) a pretty strong projectile went straight through a plastic plate, the outer "skin" of 1 inch thick fiberglass, two approximately 5mm thick steel plates and then distorted a steel tool drawer significantly. There's not much left of the bullet (see picture). American friends with whom we extracted the projectile from the behind of our PocoLoco told us that this was not a calibre 22 as the Mexican police had told us, but a much bigger calibre to be able to cause such damage. They also told us they believe that it is practically impossible to shoot through a tire under pressure when the vehicle is moving. Now, if one of you readers knows more about this topic, we would love to hear from you!

As funny as this story may sound, in real life it isn't! To pass on a little bit of the feelings and the fear, of our defiant will to escape, is very difficult. So we'll leave it with this try.

Despite this experience, we want to say explicitly that in the 22 months we have now spent in Mexico, we have never had any problems with crimes as is the prevailing opinion in the US about the dangerous state of Mexico. We believe that Mexico is a land full of excitement, dramatic beauty and kind people. Of course, the big cities have the same problems with crimes as all the other big cities of this world. But in the countryside where we normally travel, live the simple, trustworthy and peace-loving people with whom we love to spend our time.

P.S.: We apologize for not showing more pictures in this travel report. At the time of the crime we worried about other things than taking pictures.

P.S. 1 (October 2003): We're still in contact with the representative for tourist promotion. He assured us that the real culprits sit behind bars in Hermosillo for a long time.

July 2002

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen