Olive and Blossom were two very characterful women. They explained to me that they had been life long friends. They had never married and had lived together as companions since they were in their twenties. My instincts suggested that these two striking and confident women, with neatly trimmed and greying hair, were probably Partners but frankly that didn’t matter, either way. If they were a couple, then they were a wonderful couple. If not, then they were simply great friends.
They told me they had grown up in a rough part of Chicago. Olive’s father had been a pianist in a jazz bar for many years before his death and her mother had been a Seamstress. Blossom’s father had been a Taxi Driver for his entire life, in Chicago, and her mother had worked in a variety of roles including Cleaner, Waitress and Singer in the jazz circuit. Olive and Blossom’s parents had met through Olive’s father and Blossom’s mother being in the same jazz band together. The two families had then become life long friends. Olive and Blossom had decided to spend their fifties, and onwards, dedicated to travelling the world and so here they were chatting with a twenty-something guy from London in a coach in Mexico! As ever, our dear Queen Elizabeth was a source of conversation and fascination to them. Wherever I have travelled in the world, people always ask me about the Queen. I wonder if they think all English people know the Queen?
We continued to chat about our different home lands and lives until we were interrupted by a sudden flurry of what was clearly gunfire. I felt my heart pounding, as I realised what the sound was. Our driver swerved hard and then put his foot down, as we suddenly sped up. Some of the passengers gasped and squealed, as the coach lurched around. The coach shook hard as we made a speedy dash across increasingly bumpy dirt roads. We had left the main road we were on and our driver started yelling out that we were under fire from Bandits! I couldn’t make out most of what he was saying in incredibly fast Spanish, but other travellers near me translated and it was clear we were being targeted by a small truck with gun wielding Bandits, aiming to stop our coach. I could hear the sound of fellow travellers escalating their gasps into screams as we continued our efforts to escape.
Everyone bowed down low in their uncomfortably hard seats to avoid bullets but I decided to stand up to see what we were facing. A little way behind was a small open-backed truck. It was orange, red and white and clearly rusty. It was kicking up dust much like the orange colour of the truck and sometimes came too close to our coach, that it would be lost in the cloud of dust our own vehicle was making. There were two guys in the cab of the truck and two guys in the back of the truck, standing and holding on tightly, with large shot guns held by straps over their shoulders. They were visible over the top of the small truck cab. They were smoking. I don’t know why, but I noticed that and thought it looked so surreal. As one of the men in the truck reached for his gun again, I ducked down for cover.
I am not one for panicking. I knew that would be a mistake. I thought that either they wanted to rob a coach full of tourists; like some Mexican version of the English Highwayman, Dick Turpin or that they were, in the worst case scenario, thinking of holding some or all of us hostage. The latter concerned me greatly, for hostage situations don’t often end too well. By now many windows of our coach had been shot out, we were getting covered in the dust of the richly coloured, dry Mexican earth that formed the road we were on and our Driver was still yelling. I was feeling rather sick; whether that be fear, the twist and turns of the driving or both.
Without warning, our Driver swung the coach round into almost a complete U-turn and he hit the accelerator hard. There was a scream from the front of the coach as I suspect passengers there could see us narrowly missing our assailants. There were clouds of dust everywhere, inside and out. Passengers on this coach journey into chaos were coughing as the dust filled their airways. Within minutes, the coach stopped and the Driver opened the door by his side and yelled at us all to get out, run and take cover. For a split second, I wondered what to do. This felt risky. Almost on auto-pilot, I found myself hurrying out of the coach and jumping down onto the dusty earth and I turned to help Olive and Blossom down. There were many clumps of trees, rocks and shrubs and so I signalled to Olive and Blossom to follow me and we ran to a nearby copse among the beautiful, large plants and bulky rocks.
It was difficult to see exactly where my fellow passengers all ran to, but it seemed like quite a few minutes before the Bandits arrived. I looked between the trees and rocks to see what was happening. The Bandits drove their truck, at high speed, around our coach a few times, firing bullets into the air and at the coach, shouting obscenities about the USA as they carved out an increasing depth of tyre tracks amidst billowing clouds of dust. I made out the sound of traditional Mexican music coming from their radio and then, without explanation, they turned and left. One of the men threw a bottle at the coach as they departed and I watched it shatter into hundreds of tiny pieces. They were gone. The cloud of dust rose into the air, behind their speeding truck, almost like a trail of smoke from a fire was heading away from us. An occasional gunfire into the air could be heard, as they drove away; the sound of the music of a Mexican Fiesta celebration gradually diminishing with them.
After what seemed like many minutes, the weary and very hot group of travellers that we were, made careful and cautious steps out from our hiding places and back towards our coach; the Driver yelling again as we went. Fortunately, he deemed the coach tyres to be in good order and he stood by the coach door to welcome us back and assist everyone back on board. He was an overweight, sweaty man and he was very stale smelling, as I passed him to get onto the coach. As soon as we were all seated; having cleared as much dust and glass from our seats as we could, we set off and a spontaneous applause filled the bus and echoed it’s way through the surrounding terrain.
I leant across the aisle to make sure Olive and Blossom were okay but, before I had chance, they both reached out a hand to me. I held onto both of their hands and gave them a squeeze. We looked at each other, Blossom shook her head, with a few tears rolling down her face and Olive said “Thank you Lord”, as she looked up as if through and beyond the roof of the coach into wherever she felt the message was to be directed.
We continued our journey, increasingly passing more traditional stick houses; suggesting that we were getting closer to Valladolid. I knew that it would soon be time for me to disembark and say my farewells. I took this snapshot of one of the traditional stick houses, through one of the windows that had not been shot out by the Bandits, as we continued on.
As we drove back towards the road that we should have been on; heading towards the city of Valladolid, I felt a very long way from home. I smiled. I had wanted an adventure and I chuckled to myself about the drama we had just been through. This experience enabled me to reflect over my own personal strengths. Reflective thinking helps us evaluate what we do well and what we could do better. Taking the time to reflect, meant that my understanding of myself developed; something that still benefits me to this day.