The small white stucco church sat at the edge of the zocalo, the town square of Puerto Morelos. The church marked it as a legitimate town. I don’t know if it was a Catholic church, or a Pentacostal one, as an increasing number of the Mayans had become Pentacostal these days. Molly and Luis Felipe took me to Puerto Morelos for dinner on one of my early visits. At that time Puerto Morelos was nothing more than a sleepy Mexican village, unlike Playa del Carmen maybe twenty minutes to the South. Playa already boasted some good restaurants and small hotels that attracted mostly a European clientel. Characters walked around town with parrots on their shoulders and drinks in their hands on the way to the beach. In Puerto Morelos, on the other hand, there were only two or three low stucco buildings other than the church, no houses, no businesses, no construction as a harbinger of things to come, although on Saturday nights there was at least a paseo happening in the zocalo.
A paseo was a ritual gathering of teen-agers, single men and women in their twenties who paraded around the square under the watchful eyes of older people and the church itself. Boys walked in one direction as the girls, in pairs or groups of threes walked in the opposite direction, trying to attract each others’ attention with their sultry glances as they passed. The air hummed with sexual desire. If a girl responded to a boy’s advances, the couple would leave the circle together or make arrangements to meet. The stylized refinement of ritual has by now mostly faded from contemporary Mexican life, but when I was first in Puerto the paseo was still a thing happening in small towns. I could have stayed forever watching.
It was already dark outside at the cantina when we got there. We sat at a table on a patio trimmed in yellow, green and red lights strung overhead and ordered from a hand-written menu with a few simple selections, including hamburgers and french fries. Luis Felipe and Molly knew the owner of the place who was from the U.S.. He came over to say hello while we were eating. Tom Ford was a robust-looking, affable guy wearing a t-shirt and jeans. He said he’d been in Puerto Morelos for a bunch of years. We chatted for a few minutes and Luis Felipe asked about Tom’s girlfriend who was cooking in the kitchen. Tom winked and said she was good as ever. I was curious about why a US citizen would have chosen Puerto Morelos as a place to live and to set up a restaurant.
When Tom walked away I asked Luis Felipe why Tom had moved to Puerto Morelos. ”He’s hiding out here,” he said, chuckling. “Nobody from the US will come looking for him here and Mexicans don’t care about your past. They like Tom. He fits in. Maybe one day he’ll leave, or maybe he'll drink himself to death here. But he seems happy for now."
I didn’t ask any more questions about their friend. I’m not even sure that Tom Ford was his real name. He had the distinction of being the first fugitive I met while I lived in Mexico, but certainly he was not the last. AS FAR AS THE I CAN see is crawling with them.