April 3, 2019
Moving to Mexico: USAdios.com
Chapter 36: Why I don’t drive from Cancun Airport to Tulum: The Mexican Police.
This article is going to feel very heavy in the beginning and then like a commercial in the end. I have tried to rewrite it for weeks. I guess the reason it is the way I deliver it to you now is because I want to be very honest. It is really just a problem, backed up with a story that ends with a simple solution. Let me know what you think.
You may be wondering why I have not written much about our move to Mexico lately. It’s simple: we are in the middle of prepping our house for sale and it’s a monster job. We have to take a home we have occupied for eighteen years, raised our son and lived our lives and collapse it into a de-personalized, model-home-looking clone of what it once was and make it drip with “escrow beige.” The contractors are making repairs, the landscapers are beautifying the yard, the staging company will be here soon to fill our home with their furniture and artwork, the photographer will take the pix, the agent will sell it and we will be moving in around 75 days. It’s a blur of activity.
During all of this, our son will go to the Senior Ball, have his last Spring Break with us, graduate high school and turn eighteen. Life goes forward even when you’re tripping over cardboard boxes.
Now…on to our story.
I have been shaken down by Mexican police several times. I wrote about it in a previous article. See Chapter 20: Tired of explaining and tired of the police.
If your experience is different in a good way, I’m happy for you. If not, I sympathize. No amount of “You should have”, “You could have” or “You’re just a sucker” is going to make a difference to me so don’t waste your time. I have heard it. And guess what…you were not there with me listening to the cop as he berated me, spoke in rapid-fire Spanish and intimidated me, my wife, my family and my clients.
You were not with me that day, after a long ten day vacation in Tulum, as we were heading to the Cancun airport to catch a flight home when that cop pulled me over. He said I was speeding. I was certainly not. We were in deadlocked traffic. In broken English, he invited me to “settle it at the station” which he assured me would make us miss our flight in a well-rehearsed delivery. I was sure he had performed this act many times. I was positive it was his goal to insure we missed our flight. That was why he hunted tourists near the airport. It was his leverage, his threat and fully within his corrupted power. Ironically, that is criminal behavior.
I have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating here: As a child, we moved a lot, my parents divorced a lot and subsequently we were poor. Divorce and having kids before you can afford to take care of them can be expressways to poverty.
Moving a lot made me realize something: children on playgrounds, despite their outwardly angelic appearance, can be hideously cruel. They are this way without remorse because they do not yet understand what they are doing. Their actions are reflexive, instinctive and totally normal. We have to teach them to be “human” and compassionate members of society. They are not born kind and thoughtful of others. They are groomed to be this way. We are all born animals. Think, Lord of the Flies.
I did not show my teeth for years. Too many cavities.
The kids at school teased me for my clothing, mocked my unkempt hair and teeth, humiliated me for my lack of style and cool and ultimately beat me for my cowardice. This drove me down into a dark, lonely and self-conscious hole for years.
I began to emerge around age nine or ten when I began to play a sport. It was a brand-new sport called, “soccer”. Where I lived, no one had ever played this game. It was being introduced to us for the first time in the fifth grade. We literally learned how to play by watching old Pele’ movies. *He juggled a ball with his feet! Wow! Since no one yet owned these skills or knew the rules, the playing field (literally and figuratively) was level. I decided to join. I had learned how to run fast from bullies, and this helped me in soccer. I did well and stuck with it. Confidence began to bloom.
As we sat and waited with traffic flying by us, we were just about two miles from the Cancun airport. The traffic cop walked back and forth from my vehicle to his motorcycle, looking official. He called another cop who walked up to me menacingly and fired off some more machine-gun Spanish. I just shook my head and tried to explain. He walked away as I was mid-sentence. His intention was not to hear me. He explained that I could avoid missing my flight by paying the fine there and then. I knew it was a scam, but there were four of us who would miss flights. I pondered my options.
I stood a little taller at age ten. Soccer got me noticed. A kid who was not used to seeing me exhibit any confidence noticed that I was getting some attention. He decided to trip me in the hallway. As I fell, he shoved me hard. I lay on the cement, and he and his cohorts laughed. For the first time, I fought back. I stood up, attacked him and actually beat down my first bully. I (accidentally) put him in a rear naked choke hold as we rolled around on the concrete. I lost my sense of time but remembered that I held him from behind, one arm around his neck, and pounded at his stomach with my other hand until he went a little limp. A teacher separated us, and we were brought to the principal’s office. My parents had to be called on that one. The teacher thought I was intentionally violent and cruel. I explained how the fight began. As we sat in the classroom, my step-father snuck a reassuring look at me. I smiled inside. The beast was awake and that bully never looked my way again.
I completely blossomed in sixth grade when I humiliated the #1 bully in a schoolyard fight. He had stalked me and belittled me for weeks before I asked my father what to do. We had just moved to another new school and I was terrified of this kid. He mocked me every single day in front of everyone. I wanted to fight but had fallen back upon my fear. Because it was a new school again. No one knew about my fight in fifth grade. And this school did not have soccer.
My father taught me some skills he had learned in the Marines and trained me hard. He instructed me to challenge the kid, curse at him, spit, scream, whatever it took to shake his confidence and then fight him. I did as I was told, shaking in my shoes and the kid accepted. We fought in front of everyone after school. It was clear they all bet on me to lose. They lost their lunch money that day. I whooped that bully good and then walked home with my one friend, triumphant.
Do I carry baggage from this experience? You bet your ass, I do.
The two dirty cops kept walking back up to my window to ask for more paperwork, identification, etc. They were stalling and using intimidation. He wanted money and asked me for $400.00 USD. I had been told my two friends who were natives of Playa Del Carmen to keep only a $500 peso note in my wallet, pull it out and offer it when these shakedowns occurred. I followed their advice and it did not work, not even a little. The cop was adamant.
I looked at the clock on the dash, we were going to be late to the airport. I figured that the area around the Cancun airport must be a target-rich environment for these crooks. We were just unlucky fish caught in their net. I was numb from anger and frustration, entertaining thoughts where I could face both of these men on equal ground. My anger grew. I stared at the cop and he stared back. I kept my hands on the wheel to be safe. We could not communicate, but we could read each other’s minds. The only thing between him and being knocked out was his badge and gun. I hate being robbed.
I know many men who have never been in a fight. I can only ask: What was that like? Most of my young life was a fight. I had to fight to keep my lunch money, to get to school and back home, to be accepted, and even to surf certain beaches. I had to fight to live.
My father was a violent man with a temper, the Chicano kids where I lived were ruthless and the surfers in my town were not the stereotypical pot-smoking, peace-nicks. They were more like rubber-suited rednecks, narrow-minded and mean, more like the bad guys in “Point Break.” OK, they also smoked a lot of pot. Being the constant new kid and having no respite at home kept me on guard. It also toughened me.
In the Army, I excelled. Order, rules and physicality worked for me. Being the only soldier in my unit from California…again I had to fight. In my platoon, whites were a minority, so I had to fight. I listened to New Wave music and skateboarded after work every day so guess what…I had to fight.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Gee Tom, you’re a violent guy! You probably brought this upon yourself.” And you would be half right. I can honestly say that I have never started a fight, never, ever, not once, never. I fought back.
My problem was that I grew to have zero tolerance for B.S. from other men. If they disrespected me, I went silent, stared at them and waited. If they challenged me, I did not wait. I did not get into shoving matches. If they got in my personal space, I just hit them. I tried walking away and got hit in the back. There is a moment in confrontation beyond which there is no return. I learned to recognize that moment and hate it. I loathed it.
I did not win every time, and sometimes fear got hold of me and I didn’t fight as well as I should have. I got hurt and went to the hospital several times, but I showed up and win, lose or draw, I fought back.
Staring at the traffic cops, I knew there would not be a fair end to this shakedown. In the end, they would wear me down and I would have to pay. There was no fighting this situation and it inflamed feelings of helplessness I had not felt in decades.
As I age, fortunately these situations have gone down to almost zero. Thank God! I hate fighting. I am not the violent man my father was. I truly love most people and never want to hurt anyone. The times I have been in fights, I would cry afterwards, knowing I had hurt someone and hating the whole situation. Why did it have to be this way?
Now…I loved sparring in my Karate, Aikido and Krav Maga classes. That was fun. But I truly hated real fighting because no one won. All involved lost.
In Martial Arts, I learned that the purpose of Self Defense is to get away, not to win. The goal is to survive. This is not the UFC. There are no points, no time outs, no judges, no prize money, belt or title. No one will win anything. The main goal is to get away and live. It’s that simple. Most people don’t comprehend or practice that tenet. I do.
“So that one may walk in peace.”
-Imi Sde-Or (Imi Lichtenfeld)
Founder of Krav Maga
Hopefully, you can see why abuses of power by Mexican police rocked me to my core. When an officer holds me up and robs me like a highwayman in a Western (he has the gun, right?) I feel like that helpless little boy that I once was. I feel completely defenseless. There is nothing I can do. The bully is back, he wants my money and he will get it.
I not only felt intimidated by the cop, but frustrated. I am just over six feet tall, 250 pounds and trained in many ways to take this tiny man down and it’s all useless. He has me because I am following the rules and he is not. It’s embarrassing, belittling and (to use a modern word) “dis-empowering”. It shows me how some women must feel in the “Me Too” movement, powerless, disgusted and abused by someone in charge. I get it. I have been there.
My military-minded rulebook goes on tilt. This is not normal and there are only two ways to move forward: escalate the situation (which will not end well for anyone) or submit. I had to choose submission and from my brief explanation of my upbringing, you can see how this was extremely difficult for me. It doesn’t take a trained shrink to connect the dots here.
In the end, the cops would not accept my paltry $500.00 peso offering, as my local Mexican friends had assured me. He demanded $400.00 USD. I did all I could to avoid this theft, but failed. I know, I know…could have, should have, etc. Forget it. You were not there. Give me a little credit as you don’t know me: I am pretty intelligent, educated and speak fairly decent Spanish. This guy was not budging, and the clock was ticking. He had me in rear-naked choke and the tunnel vision was creeping in, so I tapped. He had me. I paid him and told him to “choke on it” before my lips could slam shut and keep that comment inside. He turned and looked at me, not understanding what I had said, then left.
Years ago, while traveling in the Bahamas, about $4,000.00 USD fell out of my pocket in a taxi. I had collected a debt and we were on our way to a distant island in Eleuthera to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary with a dozen friends. That money was going to help pay for the huge party we were having. I agonized over losing it, searched everywhere and finally realized it was gone. In the end, the only way I could find peace was to realize that the world took that money from me and gave it to someone who needed it more. Imagine the look on that cabbie’s face when he found my loot. He could buy his son a used car, his daughter may have needed rent money and his taxi may have needed repair. Perhaps he bought another used taxi and began a business, employing another person and growing the family purse, something he could leave to his kids, a leg-up I never received. This thought process brought me peace and even a little joy, certainly more than four grand could ever buy. I let it go.
I did the same thing with this cop. $400.00 USD may have been the equivalent of exactly what he needed for his family, or perhaps he was in debt. His car or home may have needed repair so he could support and house his family. Who knows? I let it go…sort of. While my loss in the Bahamas was ten times the amount the cop stole from me, it hurt less because it was a simple loss. The cop stole from me. If he knew me, he would know that I am exceedingly generous and have helped strangers in the past. I would have given it to him, prayed with him and parted feeling good. But the world does not work that way, so he had a need and chose to steal from a visitor. Or perhaps he was just a junkie needing a fix or just a thief feeding on a stranger. Bad on him and bad on Mexico.
So, what do I do now?
I avoid the situation altogether and don’t drive to or from the Cancun Airport, ever.
It’s simple. And here is how I do it:
I hire a driver. I know there are buses you can take cheaply, but here is why I choose not to use them at this time:
- They are not parked near the airport exit.
- They will not drop me off at my doorstep.
- They will not make courtesy stops to pick up supplies, use the bathroom or hit the ATM.
- We have just traveled half a day so it’s nice to stretch out and have our own driver.
- I have luggage…Betty usually has lots of luggage.
- I like to spoil my wife.
- All we want to do is get to our house and relax.
Fernando at Adosa Travel makes airport transfers to Tulum quick and easy.
I have tried hiring local cabs at the airport, but they are small cars, usually pretty dirty inside and very expensive. I searched and tried several different car services and found a good one:
Fernando Dominguez at Adosatours
I found him here on FaceBook:
You may reach him at 9984206926 on WhatsApp.
He is VERY responsive, 100% on time (actually early, which we appreciated), and he does tours, too. We booked online, he sent us a confirmation and we paid him when we arrived. It was simple and he delivered everything we expected.
His van is a newer Nissan, showing just a little wear but clean and totally safe. The AC blew icy, the seats reclined and he was an excellent driver. According to Fernando, his van can hold up to fifteen people, eight to ten with luggage. If you have more people, they have bigger vans.
Here is the cool thing: his price is the same for up to six people. His fee for our trip was $2,800 pesos round trip, or about $147.30 USD. So, if you have six people, you’re each going to spend $466.66 pesos, or about $24.55 USD each for a private van, courtesy stops, door-to-door service, etc. And remember: that fee is for a round trip. In my world, that is good VFM.
The only negative for us was that he rents cars, nice cars at a fair price, but you must pick them up in Cancun which is a no-go for us. It could work for you, so check it out. We will definitely be using his service again soon.
Once in Tulum, we usually rent a car to drive locally which has not been a problem so far. Renting a good car for a good price has been an issue. I will discuss this in an upcoming article and I will explain why we will never use Europcar again.