Curbside Shout-Out in Puerto Vallarta.

No problema,” the concierge says and we hop into the hotel van for the half-hour ride into Puerto Vallarta. Our hotel is on the north shore of Banderas Bay in the fast-growing resort community of Nuevo Vallarta. PV is around the curve of the horseshoe bay just across the border of the neighboring state.

Two states, two municipal governments, too much bureaucracy.  The separation of powers creates political problems tourists seldom see. That night we got a firsthand lesson of curbside politics in a third-world country.

We were told that hotels in Nuevo Vallarta could take us into PV but not pick us up. The taxi drivers have a lock on delivering tourist back to the hotels. A city ordinance prohibits hotels from providing the service for free.

Our hotel driver drops us off at the curb in front of Tequila’s Bar and Restaurant, a popular spot for sunset drinks. We ask him about getting a taxi back to the hotel. He thinks for a moment, probably considering his tip for providing the long ride back. “Be on the curb at 10 and I’ll pick you up.”

We join the tourists, romantic couples, and exercise fans and stroll the Malacon, the popular promenade along the shoreline. We shop the markets and stores for souvenirs, folk art, and jewelry, and enjoy a dinner of seafood fresh from the bay prepared with Mexican flair. Come 10 p. m., we gather on the curb and exchange tales of our adventures. Several cab drivers ask if we need a ride. We decline. We’re all set we blissfully think.

Right on cue, our hotel driver pulls up to the curb. Before we can load up one of the taxi drivers pulls in front at an angle and blocks the van. Another squeezes in behind. The two drivers rush the hotel driver. The shout-out begins. Then the shoving. Just when the confrontation starts getting nasty, a Traffic Police car with flashing lights screeches up and the officers restore order.

Almost. Not being fluent, I miss the intricacies of the conflab, but one thing is obvious when the officer radios for back up: It’s going to be a long night. Soon a Tourist Police car with more flashing lights joins the confrontation. Now, the taxi drivers, and police argue about jurisdiction while the cuffed driver sits in the back seat of the first police car.

Another call for back-up. The Municipal Police arrive, lights flashing. At least we’re spared sirens. We huddle in the corner waiting for our turn to sit in the back seat of the police car. Finally, the parties reach some sort of agreement and the municipal policeman approaches.

“You have three ways to get back to your hotel,” he informs us. “You can walk.”

Yeah, 15 miles on the shoulder of a highway with speeding trucks, chicken buses, and these gentlemanly taxi drivers.

“You can swim.”

The lights of our hotel look like a distant galaxy on the opposite shore miles across the black, and I imagine, shark-infested water.

“Or you can take a taxi,” the officer concludes.

“You gotta be kidding,”  a woman with us says, but no one is smiling.

As we load into two accommodating taxis, the police car leaves with the driver and a city tow truck disappears with the hotel van. We get the message: Don’t mess with established, well-greased relationships with City Hall. The income stream flows from the tourists through merchants, street vendors, bars, prostitutes, drug dealers, and even taxi drivers into the wallets of City Hall, and doom and gloom to anyone who dares interfere.

But that is not the end of the story. The mayor realized that our small group were travel journalists covering Puerto Vallarta on assignment for U. S. publications and had witnessed the underbelly of how a third-world country operates. A few days after I return home,  the fax rings and a page with the official seal of Puerto Vallarta rolls out. The mayor sends his apology for the “unfortunate misunderstanding” and his assurance that such incidents will not happen again. Order is once again restored in the universe.

Multiple choice: Bad decisions make travel an adventure.

Different cultures make us look stupid.

Con artists and crooks love tourists.

Taxi Wars

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Tequila’s Bar &  Restaurant