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Police encounters

Thursday, June 12, 2008 | 2 comments

Read the first part of this blog entry in Velvet mites and cactuses.

Large cactuses growing on the slope of an arroyo.
Large cactuses growing on the slope of an arroyo.

We climbed up a sandly slope and had a good view of our surroundings. In an arroyo to our left Esme spotted a rabbit. We kept looking for an easy way to walk in western direction. After several minutes we noticed a police car standing on a ridge in the distance. We didn't give it much thought, and kept exploring our surroundings.

A woodpecker resting on a cactus stem of a prickly pear (Opuntia sp.).
A woodpecker resting on a cactus stem of a prickly pear (Opuntia sp.).

I spotted a woodpecker, at least that what I guessed the bird to be, resting on a cactus stem of a prickly pear (Opuntia sp.). I carefully took several photos using the zoom funcionality of my Canon A640. Because I had no tripod with me, I used a nearby cactus to rest the camera on. After I had taken several photos we tried to go down the slope. Suddenly we were called. It was a young police officer who signalled us to come over to him.

Surroundings near Ajalpan: cactuses and shrubs.
Surroundings near Ajalpan: cactuses and shrubs.

So Esme, carrying Alice, and I clambered down the sandy slope, looking for a good spot to cross a dry ditch in order to reach the police officer, who himself was coming down a slope as well, to meet us halfway. When we reached the officer he asked us what we were doing. Esme explained that we were just walking, and taking photos of animals and the surroundings. The police officer explained that he had received a call that people were walking around with a baby, and that the location was used to have casual sex, do drugs, and drink alcohol. Hence they had to follow up on each phone call they receive. After he had written down our names, address, and some related information Esme asked if it was safe for us to continue our walk. The police officer said that it was safe, and after he had given us a page out of his notebook with the local phone number of the police on it, and the name of the arroyo near to which we were walking, we could continue our walk.

Close-up of a young cactus stem of a beautiful cactus species.
Close-up of a young cactus stem of a beautiful cactus species.

Shortly after our police encounter we were back on our way in western direction. I found a pile of what looked like discarded roof tiles, and checked underneath each for scorpions. But no luck. Soon after we saw a beautiful blueish green cactus with a nice feather like pattern on the larger stems. I took a close-up of a small stem growing from a larger one.

The sky had gotten more clear. And we saw more and more grey colored lizards. We both hadn't seen this species before. They ran so fast that it almost looked like they were flying away from us. Way too fast to take a good photo of, or so I thought at that time.

Close-up of a scorpion (Vaejovis species).
Close-up of a scorpion (Vaejovis species).

We had arrived on the flat part I had seen earlier before, and had a great view looking down on the sand hills, (dry) ditches where we had been walking. We kept walking in a southern direction. I spotted a large "stone"; several bricks cemented together. When I rolled it over, I found the first scorpion of that day, a scorpion beloning to the genus Vaejovis.

The photo below shows the soil originally covered by the stone - if you look very close you might be able to spot the scorpion in its burrow - and the stone I rolled away. After I had taken a few more photos, I rolled the stone back into place. There was no risk of accidentally crushing the little scorpion because it had hidden itself in a hole in the ground.

Exposed scorpion burrow (Vaejovis sp.) and microhabitat.
Exposed scorpion burrow (Vaejovis sp.) and microhabitat.

We continued our walk. When we looked into the direction of Ajalpan we noticed a police car, with a light flashing on top. Not giving it much thought, I kept looking under stones, while Esme slowly followed me. When we looked again into the direction of Ajalpan we noticed to police officers running towards us down a sandy slope, each a rifle in one hand. They jumped a ditch, and clambered up the sandy slope towards us. We just stood there, looking, our mouths probably half open. In the mean time, the police car had driven around, following a dirt road, and came towards us from our left.

One police officer was a bit faster, so after he had caught his breath, he asked us what we were doing here. So Esme explained that we were taking photos of animals. To which the police officer replied that there where no animals here. Esme explained that we had been taken photos of small wild life, and cactuses. And she mentioned that we had been through this already, earlier today. She handed the officer the piece of paper we had received about an hour ago to confirm that part of our story. He, and his colleague, who had joined us, checked out the note.

In the mean time the police car had parked, and it turned out that the man walking towards us was the commander. He checked the note as well, and listened to the police officer who had handed him the note. After a short while the police commander handed the note back to Esme, and told the officer to take down our details. So we went through it another time, and shortly after were on our way again.

Surroundings, looking east towards the town of Ajalpan.
Surroundings, looking east towards the town of Ajalpan.

After our second encounter I said to Esme that I wanted to walk to the south for just a little, to take a nice photo of the surroundings, looking towards Ajalpan, and we would walk back to the main road. Two police encounters were enough for me, even though it was just handing over our details. Also, we had been walking for over two and a halve hours on quite rough terrain.

Aspidoscelis sacki (Reeder et al. 2002).
Aspidoscelis sacki (Reeder et al. 2002). (large)

On the way back we decided to follow the sand road the police car had taken, because it looked like it went straight back to the main road. We kept seeing grey colored lizards running away, finding shelter under the low bushes that were growing everywhere. However, when I noticed a very large specimen of this lizard - later I would learn that it was an Aspidoscelis sacki - walking slowly, I managed to get quite close without disturbing the animal too much. Trying to hide my eyes behind my digital camera, which is not an easy thing to do with a Canon A640 P&S, I slowly, slowly moved closer. Now and then I paused and carefully took a photo. When I couldn't move closer because of barren branches in the way, I took several more photos.

Aspidoscelis sacki (Reeder et al. 2002).
Aspidoscelis sacki (Reeder et al. 2002). (large)

Finally I had good photos of this lizard species that we had seen most of the time running away from us at very high speeds. At the time of writing I had learned that a common name for this lizard is the Blue-bellied Racerunner. A well-deserved name if you ask me. In the above photo you can see some of the light blue scales on the belly of the lizard.

After I had my photos, we continued our walk, following the sand road. We came upon a house, and several dogs came towards us, barking loud. Since we saw no one to call back the dogs, we decided to stop following the sand road and walk back the way we had come, first to the east in the direction of Ajalpan, then climbing up and down sandy hills.

When we arrived on the main road to Ajalpan I told Esme that I preferred to walk to Ajalpan instead of waiting for the bus near the bridge. Just a minute or so after we had crossed the bridge we saw a bus coming from Ajalpan towards us. And indeed, it was going to Tehuacán.

A group of cactuses. In the background the Sierra Madre Oriental.
A group of cactuses. In the background the Sierra Madre Oriental.

At the hotel we discovered that we should have put on sun block even though most of the day it had been cloudy. We both knew that clouds don't stop someone from getting sun burn, but during our hike we somehow hadn't been thinking about it, maybe also because after our first police encounter we had other things on our mind besides the beautiful landscape.

In the evening we took a taxi to Centro Comercial El Paseo, a large shopping mall located in Tehuacán (30 pesos from our hotel, 25 pesos back). Esme bought an umbrella at Liverpool, because we had left ours at home in Xalapa. After some browsing in other shops we had dinner at McDonald's. Alice had a lot of fun at the toddlers section of the PlayPlace. Despite the rain at the start of our hike, and the police encounters, we had had a wonderful day.

Also today

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