Claude Walker | Bicentennial-By-Buttons

Winner of Chicago Sun-Times Travel-writers' Contest

Theme: "Dangerous Journeys"

A thousand-mile drive around Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The perfect trip. Until - en route to Chetumal near the Mexico/Belize border - I drove into dusty Felipe Carrillo Puerto.

Home of the "Cult of the Talking Cross".

Entering the zocalo (town square) on a Saturday night, I had missed a tiny hand-made one-way arrow sign and was promptly pulled over by Felipe Carrillo Puerto's finest. Four unsmiling teenage cops with submachine guns, shiny helmets and mirrored sunglasses piled out from their jeep and surrounded my rental car, which had a run-on engine and wouldn't turn off.

I was ordered to empty the trunk and frisked by two different cops, even though I was wearing only a wet, mildewed bathing suit and my Cubs cap. A curious zocalo crowd gathered as I unpacked my dirty laundry, books and snorkeling gear.

The police began arguing about my fate in rapid-fire Spanish. The crowd was getting rowdy. A tiny Chicklet seller was exploring my glove compartment. TheĀ  rental car's engine continued to grind and wheeze.

Then, from the growing crowd came an elderly man, also wearing a Cubs cap! He walked right up to me and pointed to the one-way arrow sign. Grinning, he wagged his finger at me and said, "No, no, no!" He tugged at my Cubs cap and draped his arm around my shoulder. The crowd started laughing, even the policia.

I "settled up" with the cops and Chicklet kid, threw my gear in my coughing coche and SLOWLY drove off.

Visiting Felipe Carrillo Puerto? One-way, no, no!

Claude Walker, Chicago, June 1997

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