T: Erik and I have many creative ways of meeting up when we arrive in a new place after a travel day apart. Nine out of ten times Erik arrives first. The bus drivers in Mexico tend to be a tad optimistic with their estimated arrival times and most often I get to the station when the cheaper and much slower bus is departing. The buses that run the most frequently, stop at EVERY single town en route and take twice as long as a bus that is 3x more expensive but leaves maybe twice a day. However unlikely, somehow, we always manage to find each other without much struggle. Ideally, we’d have the address of a Couchsurfing host, friend or hotel. The more thrilling experiences, however, come when we plan to leave it up to chance. Erik would rip around town to find a hotel and I arrive hours later, at any number of bus stations, search for an internet café to check for his email, and then go hunt him down. Villahermosa was quite different from the laid-back vibe in Palenque which we’d just left. We figured it would be interesting since everyone whom we told we were headed there gave us a crumpled, disbelieving look. On first impression Villahermosa is not the beautiful city its name claims. It is a dirty, run-down, gritty place filled with prostitutes, tough-looking cowboys and the bars and brothels in which they patronize. I made my way out of the bus station, grabbed a tamale from a lady on the street and slipped into an internet cafe. I scribbled down the cross streets in Erik’s email and set out to find him before the sun faded. I showed my piece of paper to multiple oddballs on the street, none too eager to help me, which was a first in Mexico. Most of the time, everyone wants to help and would rather point you in any direction than admit they don‘t actually know where something is. I find it very endearing, but unfortunately not a quality that many Villahermosans possess. So I wander, ducking under clothing racks and weaving thru the plastic furniture surrounding tacos stand after taco stand. I’m exhausted. Finally I spot the Zocalo and eye up a free bench, but before I can reach it, Erik emerges from a grimy restaurant up ahead, patting his belly and smiling. These are the best times. Such relief, happiness, excitement! He relieves me of my pack and explains that he found us the best hotel in town. He searched all afternoon and it was not an easy feat in this crazy city.
On our short jaunt to the hotel, we passed a number of flashy pink or red pay by-the-hour hotels and it became clear what he’d meant. At first glance our hotel seemed different. The lady inside the tinted glass box who checked Erik in had been kind enough to let him park his bike inside the tiny front lobby. Our room was located at the end of a winding hallway as far from the dusty street and other suites as possible. Our bed was a bit of a surprise; the mattress made of a plastic material and our sheets, sort of a silk nylon blend. Black and red… a bit different. We figured beer and tequila would be a good way to endure the seediness of this particular locale so we set out into the dark, rowdy streets to pick some up. We didn’t have to go far; there seemed to be a place to buy booze or women every few feet. Rather than get into trouble, we opt for spending the night with our drinks, lounging in comfy leather chairs in the hotel entrance right beside the bike. We’re shooting tequila and plowing thru beers having a riot, when a Mexican couple walks in. They are very bizarre-looking couple. A couple, we realize, not in the traditional sense. The man behind the glass discreetly sells them a room for one hour, hands them a key and they disappear down the hall carrying a plastic bag full of beer. Twenty minutes later, they’re done. The man walks briskly past us, putting his head down and peels out in a fancy car. The lady, a few minutes behind, flashes us a toothy grin as she steps foot into the street to find her next gig. We had been duped! But it was too late to change hotels and the tequila was begging us to sit tight and watch the show. We obeyed and wide-eyed, we observed a variety of pairs as they ducked into a room and popped back out, sometimes a quick ten minutes later, but always with a smug grin. So this is why, Erik confesses, the lady behind the glass was confused at his request to check in for the entire night. We’re about halfway into our bottle of tequila and coming up on a beer shortage when three fairly well dressed men show up looking for a room. Also, for the whole night! They’re mighty friendly and get a kick out of the fact we have taken over the entire lobby with our spread of booze and huge motorcycle, so we offer them each a beer. They accept and instantly we are shootin’ the shit with these Mexican guys who, as it turns out, are heading to work on the oil rigs in Poza Rica the following morning. One of them runs to the store and comes back with a bunch more beer, really getting the night underway as we exchange stories and snap photos. Erik states his extreme hunger pangs, which normally at this hour he’d have to suck up, but the guys feel for him and attempt to order us a pizza. When this finally fails, everyone fancies a ride in a taxi to the nearest Domino’s and we jet into the unwelcoming city night with three extremely baracho Mexican dudes whom we’ve just met. But the guys continued to be super hilarious, directing the cab driver to rip around to several closed pizza shops, finally getting us to a Dominos which is still open at 3am. They didn’t even flinch when the cabbie asked them for 150 pesos for the ride. Clearly they just wanted to enjoy their R&R. When we got back to the hotel, the party moved from the lobby to the large room the guys had rented. We were all having a time but then it was late so we called it a night eventually finding our room in the hallway maze. The Mexi-oil workers did not call it a night -they we‘re just getting started.
Tossing and turning on our strange plastic bed, we were not quite to sleep when someone knocked on our door. Erik, always quick to his feet, cracked the door to find out what was up. It was one of our “buddies“, apparently very sad that we had gone to bed and even more upset that we had taken our last two beers with us. Erik tells them that we are sleeping and again bids them goodnight. A few minutes later, another, much louder pounding on the door and Erik is on his feet in an instant. He flings open the door to tells these guys to piss off. They are insistent on having our last two beers and start threatening violence. Erik, only wearing boxers, steps out to reason with these belligerent idiots. I always have faith in Erik’s ability to reason with others; he seems to effortlessly outsmart the other party without involving violence, but this was a tough scene. It’s 5am in dingy hotel in an even dingier city, going up against three wasted Mexican blue collar workers –it isn’t exactly the kind of situation you want to find yourself. Erik does not take the threats lightly. As I listen at the door, armed with a knife and bear spray once again, I hear the voices trail off. Erik, barefoot in boxers, marches out into the street to a police station, fortuitously right across the street from the hotel. One of the drunkards realizes what Erik is doing and follows him outside to try and mitigate the damage. Two greasy-looking, ‘bad lieutenant-type’ police officers are sitting on either side of the big overhead door leading into the station. They’re both smoking cigarettes and have sub-machineguns resting in their laps. Erik walks straight up to the menacing duo ready to complain about the trouble at the hotel, but their reaction stops him cold in his tracks. Despite Erik’s attire, the officers don’t seem concerned or phased in the least. They barely look up and when one of them glances in Erik’s direction, he merely offers a sadistic, taunting sneer. Realizing the officers may be more of a hindrance than help, Erik stands wordlessly in front of them assessing his options. The guy from the hotel, the one Erik is trying to escape from, passively edges up behind Erik and in a terrified voice whispers over Erik’s shoulder, “You be better off with us then with them, Cabron.” Erik quickly sees the truth in this remark and the two of them hurriedly cross back to the hotel to deal with the situation in-house. The other two troublemakers are hiding in the lobby peeking pensively through the windows and seem incredibly relieved that Erik hasn’t returned with the policia. They all assure Erik that it’s over, that they were just acting drunk and they’re happy to squash it. Erik gladly accepts the conditions of the truce and everyone returns to their rooms. We didn’t hear another peep from the guys and they were already gone when we woke up the next morning. This situation proved a good example of the helplessness of Mexican’s who are victimized and the only people who they can turn to for help are likely to victimize them even more.