I bought a pack of cigarettes today. I quit smoking a little more than a year and a half ago.
The drive to San Cristobal was incredible- once you get into Chiapas State, it's like entering a little jungle. Absolutely beautiful, and good roads too. I thought nothing of today's drive- it was all on cuotas (well maintained toll roads) and I only had about 7 hours of drive time to reach San Cristobal de las Casas.
However, once I was spit out of the jungle, I came over a hill, only to see that there were miles of semi trucks backed up. I was able to sneak around them, and as I came to a police officer with a road block, and asked him if it was ok, he happily waved me on.
I knew as I drove on that something was definitely not ok. There were no other cars. For at least three miles. I came over another hill to see a tree laying across the road, with a small fire burning next to it.
Teachers in Mexico strike almost every year, right about this time. I was in Mexico City about three years ago as they protested in the Zocolo. But this year is different, especially here in Chiapas and also in Oaxaca, and the protests are just as, if not more extreme than they were ten years ago.
But, wait, in this story, I'm still in my car, next to a downed tree, and a fire. So I wait for another car to come, and then I follow it. Just about everyone else in Mexico, has a better idea of what to do in this situation so I just follow them.
I follow them down dirt roads, with people waving old t-shirts, to guide the way. I give an old lady 10 pesos, and ask if this is the way to San Cristobal. She says yes and wishes me a safe journey. I drive my Subaru through a small river, making the sign of the cross before doing so. I finally, end up on the highway, right where I'm supposed to be.
But, no, the story does not end there. Another five miles down the road, I meet another roadblock- this one not guarded by police telling me that it's ok, but by an angry man who tells me to turn around.
"Perro, Yo neccissito a San Cristobal...."
He laughs, and says no, not today.
Part of me wants to say, "Yo soy una maestra," like the fact that I'm a teacher might make them part like the sea. Or the police would overhear and come beat me down.... Instead, I turn around and start driving back into the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I don't know what to do, other than stop and cry. And I can't do that. So instead, I buy a pack of Marlboro Reds. I smoke one, and try to think. I search for a hotel. Holiday Inn Express? They might speak English, and have a better idea of what to do.... I enter it into maps, light up another Marlboro Red, and start driving.
Clearly, this was not a good choice, as I can immediately tell the main protest is in the heart of the city, just a few blocks from the Holiday Inn Express. There are tents set up for blocks, people have graffitied nearly every sign, with things like down with the reform, etc. Again, I light another Marlboro Red, and I turn around.
I pull over at then nicest hotel I see. I pay 700 pesos for myself, and an additional 300 for Nilo. I take Nilo out for a walk, buy 3 beers, and bunker down for the night, where I am currently typing and waiting for some tacos to arrive.
I feel better after a beer. All feels normal inside my little hotel room, and I can now focus on what to do tomorrow. I've been in contact with my air bnb host, who has given me a twitter link to the protests and road closures. She gave me two alternative routes, one of which is the "libre", a toll free, but poorly maintained road, but I assume that it is also blocked. And another route that would take me four hours out of the way.
I honestly think that things will probably escalate tonight and that the "federales" will bust up the protests. From what I've read online, the protests have already caused a gas shortage here in Tuxtla, but also in San Cristobal and Palenque (which makes me hesitate to take a back road, if there is no guarantee of gas), and I know the government will not tolerate that.
It makes me think about the sacrifice that these teachers are making in the face of an unjust system. They are risking their lives to be heard. Would I do the same?
I'm going to smoke another Marlboro Red, take a swim and call it a night.
Say your prayers that the teachers and federales can make peace, and that I can get to San Cristobal tomorrow without incident.