Spears across the border

It was too good a deal to pass up. I had met two American gringos, clean-cut types actually, at the zocolo and they had a problem. They were due to leave San Cristobal de las Casas in the morning and said they had a quarter pound of marijuana they didn’t get a chance to smoke. Could I help them out? I guess I looked like a doper.

I wasn’t in the market for more smoke…I had enough from Palenque to get me to the border and didn’t want to carry any across the frontier. “Not really,” I said, “I’m good.”

“$15 dollars,” the tall one offered. “Maybe, let’s see,” responded I.

Followed them out of the plaza up a steep path to the Colonial-era chapel overlooking San Cristobal’s red-tiled roofs and cobbled streets. The sun was lowering in the western sky, birds chirped in the background. We sat on a low bench in the last rays of golden sunshine. They passed me a wrinkled paper bag. It smelled quite pungent.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had hit the jackpot. On my lap were eight of the biggest, juiciest, stickiest Oaxacan Spears that I’d ever seen! Indeed, I didn’t know anything could ever be that beautiful. A revelation. I was in doper heaven.

“What do you think?” they asked.

“Maybe, I guess. How about $10?” I offered.

“We’ll take it,” the tall one quickly agreed.

Handed them the cash and kept the bag as they made a hasty exit. I had a quick flash of ‘set-up’ and half-expected to see the federales pop out from behind the bush, but no, it was all legit. I was now in possession of a cornucopia of the most primo dope on the planet.

But what to do with it all? I was riding south tomorrow, towards the frontier guarded by itchy-fingered weapon-toting conscript guards. Might as well get stoned and figure it out later.

It became immediately apparent why these guys had eight big spears left over. One toke, sweet sensation. Second toke, memory lapse. You literally couldn’t smoke more than a couple of hits and still function. Amazing.

Managed to stagger back to my hotel and pack for the next leg of the journey, across the border to Lago Atitlan in Guatemala. Decided to risk it. Pulled off the seat of the bike, wrapped two buds in duct tape and stuffed them into the frame. Covered it with some mud, bolted the seat back on. Shouldn’t be a problem. But I still had six spears left minus four tokes.

‘Might as well hang onto them ‘till I’m closer to the border.’

Spent the next couple of days riding leisurely down the Panamericana smoking big fat cigar-sized doobies rolled from aerogram letter paper. Past Teopisca and it’s tiled Zocolo and then out to Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebello where I camped out in the pouring rain and mud. Didn’t matter. I had unlimited dope, waterproof matches and the rain kept the bugs away.

The next day, though, the Panamericana started to descend out of the highlands towards the Guatemalan border. And I still had four big collas. What to do? Easy, smoke another doobie.

The nice thing about smoking really good pot is that it distils your thoughts so that you can concentrate on the truly important things. Like ‘why would I ever jettison such good weed?’

So I unpacked the bike, wrapped the last four big buds tightly in duct tape and stuffed them into my neoprene dive boots. Rolled them up with the mask and fins inside my skeeter net and tarp. Tightly packed everything back up, tied it down and coasted the last few kms down towards the border. I now had a bike stuffed with weed and even more buds jammed inside my gear. What could possibly go wrong?

Getting out of Mexico was easy. The affable aduanas dudes briefly checked my passport and tourist card, looked me over and waved me through.

Guatemala was different. In the midst of a 30-year slow-burning insurgency in the very highlands I was riding towards, the young guards were well-armed, nervous and highly suspicious of everyone, especially a long-haired mud-encrusted gringo on a vintage bicycle.

“What is your business in Guatemala?”

“Tourist, I’m riding to Panama.”

“Where is your bicycle permit?”

“What permit?”

“Step over here, we have some questions.”

“What are you carrying? Contraband?”

“No, of course not, just a few clothes, tools and some dive gear.”

Their eyes lit up. Evidently there was a duty on importing dive gear into Guatemala.

“You are trying to smuggle a bicycle, dive mask, fins and snorkel into our country. You are under arrest! ” He grabbed my arm and pulled me aside. “I want to see this dive gear!”

Dive gear smuggling? These guys were toting M-16s, latest issue! Then I got the hint. In spite of their martial bearing and massive firepower they were still just corrupt border officials shaking down any and all. ‘Whew. And I thought I was in trouble!’

I diverted my gaze, nodded at them and quietly asked, “How much would a permit for my bike and dive gear cost? Can I buy one now?”

Their demeanor instantly changed. “No mucho for you, amigo,” the older guy wearing a pearl-handled revolver grinned. “$10. Do you have cash?”

“No problemo, here you go.” Handed over a ten spot (same price as the dope).

Pearl handle guy whipped out a couple of pro-forma papers, scribbled in a few illegible scrawls and stamped my passport and tourist card. I was now ‘official’.

Big grins all around. “Panama? Oh hombre, that’s a long way. Be careful, it is dangerous.”

I learned some important lessons that day. Keep US dollar bills handy at the border. Always ask for a permit to buy or duty to pay. Don’t look wealthy. And keep smiling.

Turns out my impulsive drug-fuelled smuggling adventure (primo weed, not the swim fins!) was a master stroke. My next destination, Lago Atitlan, was totally dry. No weed nohow, everyone was too paranoid to bring any across.

Not only did I have more than enough world-class bud to keep me plenty toasted until Honduras but I found that making friends was all of a sudden very easy. Got invited to stay at a lakeside villa for a couple of weeks, my mates bought me beers and I had the best pick-up line in town. New Year’s Eve was a total party. And all because of the evil weed!

Published by Phil Parent

Phil Parent is a geographer residing in Queenstown New Zealand.

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