“Mi Amigo Esta En Prison”
My mate Conor and I had been on the road for a couple of weeks. We bought a Jeep from a custom car shop in LA that our man Miguel happily pimped out with an Alpine system and fat tyres. “Oh yeah, you boys be rolling,” he hollered as we pointed it south.
After trekking the length of Baja, Cabo San Lucas comes as a bit of a shock. It’s like an American version of Bali, full of Hard Rock Cafes and Hooters, and girls away from home seemingly willing to do, well, anything.
It was about nine o’clock on our second night in Cabo and we were in the bathroom of a tequila bar. Reaching for a towel, Conor knocked his beer bottle off the sink and on to the floor, smashing it everywhere. Simultaneously, two police men walk around the corner, and arrest us.
As we’re chicken-winged through the bar, the staff and patrons we’d been drinking with arc up at the police in Spanish, but this only stiffens their resolve to take us downtown. Thrown in the back of a pick-up truck, our next stop is the local lock-up. After arguing for a while over our sentence, a fine is agreed upon, but we have no money. The police are more than happy for one of us to run to the bank, and let me out, keeping Conor as a ransom.
For all I know, I might still be a fugitive in the world’s most populated Spanish-speaking country. But I don’t speak Spanish.
When I return from the ATM, I attempt to explain that I have to bail a friend out. A friend called Conor. “No Conor,” is the reply.
I have another crack at telling the tale in Spanglish, and again, “No Conor,” is all I get back.
Mierda. This goes on for a while, until I realise that even if they do have a Conor, I’m not going to get him. Assuming Conman has talked his way out of jail too, I return to the bar to either find my lost friend, or drown my sorrows. I’m welcomed back a hero, although Conor is nowhere to be seen.
“From jail back to us, we have an amigo. Chris, you are very good man!” I drink for free for the rest of the night, and have a fine time with a couple of young American lasses who are impressed with my war story. Stumbling home, I check in at the prison.
I determine he must be back at our hotel and head for my bed.
The next morning, I shake my mescal-stained brain into action and return to the jail. Surely there’ll be fresh staff on who’ll right the situation and set our trip back on its righteous course.
I go to a net café and email Conor, and send a futile text to his Australian mobile. And I worry. A lot.
At two o’clock in the afternoon, I get a phone call in our hotel room from the US Embassy. Some Americans who had just been bailed out told the embassy about an Aussie who was stuck with no one to call.
“But I’ve been to the lock-up a dozen times,” I tell the diplomat.
“Yes, but Conor has been moved to the State Prison,” the man explains.
I drive an hour out into the desert, and into the set of a movie. Red dirt streaks everything, the sun turning mud to clay; vultures pick at roadkill on the side of the road. The prison is a barbed-wire-ringed compound, with floodlights and gun towers reaching for the sky. I turn my phrasebook to the closest appropriate page I can find, and enter the gates.
It turns out that Conor has been mistakenly recorded as Patrick in the log books, so while the police did indeed have Conor, I needed to be asking for Patrick to have got him back. This satisfies my mind, but it does not satisfy the shell of a human I find in his concrete cell, alone save for a half-dozen of the scariest-looking Mexican banditos you’ll ever see, sitting on a floor covered in shit and piss.
Conor wants to kill me. I left him in jail, while I went and got drunk. I dare not tell him about the American girls.
As well as bailing out Conor, we buy out a Mexican guy for an extra few thousand pesos. He spoke English and had helped stave the baddies away from Conor during the small hours of the night. He had been locked up for peeing on a tree while walking home with a Swiss girl he picked up at a bar.
“Man, one minute I thought it was going to be the best night of my life, the next it was the worst,” he spat later.
I explain over and over to Conor what had happened, and although he clearly still seemed to want to kill me, his rage slowly dissipated. Until four days later, when it was my fault we were in the back of another paddy wagon. But that’s another story.