“There is no crime in Posada.”
That's what Manuel, the sleepy-eyed manager of the Baja Inn, told me when I asked him for a key to the room my wife Abby and I would be staying in for the next two nights. I started to protest. I mean, sure, you can tell me there is not much crime in this little fishing town on the Baja strip in Mexico. But to say there is no crime? It's not within human nature for there to be no crime, no matter how peaceful a town might be. To suggest that there could be a place where nobody needed to lock any doors, that couldn't be right, could it?
But maybe I really didn't want to argue this point or fight the ways of Posada. Abby and I had begun our trip in a horrible tourist resort in Cabo, thanks to some poor advice given to us by a travel agent back in Washington, DC. At the resort we were surrounded by other Americans, most of them loud-mouthed and tacky in their dress and behavior. And everybody spoke English, including the Mexican staff. We didn't come to Mexico to be in that kind of atmosphere. We chose to come to Posada because we hoped we would have a more authentic experience of being in another country than what we found at the resort. I shrugged my shoulders and went to the car, where Abby was unpacking our things.
Our first night in Posada could not have been more enjoyable. After a walk around the town and a good, genuinely Mexican dinner out, we returned to the Inn and made an evening of sitting out on the patio there, with some of the staff and other guests. There were picnic tables out there, and a communal refrigerator filled with beer, sodas, and other beverages; you just took what you wanted to drink, and at the end of your stay you were supposed to pay Manuel one dollar for every drink you took. The other people on the patio were a combination of locals and Americans, and the Americans were smarter and more decent than the ones who had been staying at the resort in Cabo. We made friends with a couple from L.A. who had arrived that evening, and we let them go off and have dinner by themselves while we played cards with their two kids out on the patio.
When we got up in the morning we were greeted by a bounteous spread of food set out on the picnic tables. We drank good coffee and munched on fresh fruit, cereal, and eggs, while looking at the fisherman starting their day out on the water.
After breakfast, those of us who were going on the daytrip organized by the Inn got together all the things we needed and walked down to the marina and got on a boat. Those who wanted to go diving remained with the driver of the boat and a dive master, and the rest of us were dropped at our own little islands. Abby and I spent about five hours out on the lush Sea of Cortez, looking at the amazing fish through our snorkeling masks, kayaking around the waters, sitting on the little beach and admiring the scene. Never once did I think about our wallets, which we had left in our unlocked room at the Inn .
The second we arrived back at the Inn , though, my first thought was to check our wallets. Abby got in the shower and I pulled our two wallets out of the dresser drawer where I put them before we left for the daytrip. Our wallets were still there, but there was money missing from both of them. The thief had not taken all of our cash, and had not removed any of our credit cards or drivers licenses or any other materials. He or she or they had simply taken a combination of dollars and pesos from each of the two wallets, totaling about half of the money that had been in them. Then they put the wallets back where they found them.
After talking things over with Abby for a few moments, and trying to remain calm, I went to Manuel's room and knocked on the door. When he answered, in his usual, half-asleep way, I told him what had happened, fighting the temptation to say something along the lines of, “So, there is crime in Posada after all, huh?”
Manuel got about as flustered as he probably ever gets, which is not much. He asked me to tell him three different times where our wallets had been left, exactly how many dollars and pesos had been in each wallet before we left for the daytrip, and how much was in each of them when we returned. It was like a police investigation, where the cops try to wear down a suspect by making them repeat their story several times over. Finally, Manuel seemed satisfied that I was telling him the truth.
“Please go back to your room. I need to talk to some of the staff, then I will come to your room to resolve this.”
About forty-five minutes later, and after the cook and the maid -who had both finished their work for the day and gone home – had been called back to the Inn to be questioned, Manuel came to our room. When I opened the door and welcomed him to come in, he looked down and said, “Please come to my room.” The feeling was that this was a matter to be discussed between us men, in private. We went back to Manuel's room.
“I have spoken with the staff and I am satisfied that they were not the ones who took your money. They did not see anyone going into your room, but someone could have come in from the street when they were working in other rooms. Your room is the closest to the street, so it makes sense that the thieves came there first. None of the other guests had anything taken from their rooms.”
This last statement of Manuel's almost made me think that he was suggesting I was lying to him about the money. The staff members were innocent, the other guests had no complaints; Abby and I were the only ones having a problem. But just when I was about to plead my case, to insist that money had indeed been taken from our wallets, Manuel said, “Please tell me once more how much money was in each of the wallets before you left this morning, and how much was there when you came back.”
I did as asked, and when the numbers matched the ones I had given to Manuel earlier, he nodded his head, then went into a desk drawer and pulled out the amount of money we were missing, all in dollars, and handed the cash to me. He didn't apologize for the incident, didn't defend Posada or his staff; he just handed me the money and sent me on my way.
All of the staff and guests convened on the patio after dinner that night, but the atmosphere out there was not as pleasant as it had been the night before. Everybody had heard about the crime, but nobody was talking about it. I knew instinctively that I shouldn't mention it to anyone. Manuel and the other staff members didn't talk to Abby or me that night, and the other guests did, but in a strained way. The couple from L.A. and their kids had gone into a neighboring town for dinner and wouldn't be back until late. I felt isolated, and like I was the criminal, rather than the victim.
When I was checking out the following morning I said to Manuel, “You know, we don't have any hard feelings about what happened yesterday. And we appreciate the fact that you resolved it so quickly. We've really enjoyed ourselves here.” It wasn't that I felt I owed him any kind of apology or explanation; if anything, it was Manuel who should have been giving one or both of those things to us. But I suppose I was trying to create an opening for him to say something that would bring a friendly close to the episode. We were heading back to Washington that afternoon, and I wanted to feel like we were leaving Posada, and Mexico , as friends, no harm done.
Manuel gave me no such satisfaction, however. After listening to my spiel lazily, he merely accepted the money I paid him for our room and the daytrip, handed me a receipt, then turned around and sat down and got on his computer.
wwords: Brian Greene, North Carolina
photo: Dorothee Lang, Germany (oil on copper)