A Vancouver man vacationing in Mexico has a harrowing tale to tell after a bus he was travelling on was seized in an apparent political protest near the town of Oxchuc in the state of Chiapas.
Bruno Huber, 65, says he and his wife Elizabeth, 62, were going from San Cristobal to Palenque — a major tourist destination — when the chaos broke out.
"The bus was stopped," he told CBC News over the phone. "We didn't know what was going on but...all of a sudden there were these young people with sticks and face masks, and there was a lot of screaming going on.
"They told the bus to go sideways across the road — there were four buses, two on either side — with these barricades with burning tires and rocks across the road, and people running up and down screaming, telling us to stay on the bus, get off the bus. It was all pretty chaotic."
They were screaming people will be dying
Huber says it wasn't clear what the hostage takers wanted, but that they didn't demand money.
"They said they need us to call our embassies and people we knew, that they want to get the world's attention," he said. "We were basically taken hostage for their cause."
"They were screaming that if we don't listen to them people will be dying. At the moment you just think, 'Keep your head down and do what they say.'"
"I didn't see any guns but I saw machetes and sticks. They beat on the bus as the army was coming in from up the road. Then they herded us off the bus and then next thing we know it was on fire."
"They threw gas on the bus and torched the whole goddamn bus." he said.
Tear gas and blocked roads
Huber says the group of 16 tourists, which included seven Canadians, were then led through town "half running" by police, dodging tear gas and blocked roads.
When they got to the other side, they were loaded into a pickup truck and driven to Palenque.
Remarkably, no one was hurt.
"By that time the helicopters were out and the Mexican army. There was tear gas thrown everywhere," he said. "This had nothing to do with drugs or narcos, but was no less dangerous."
Huber said he tried to call the Canadian embassy but it was closed. He and his fellow travellers are being put up in a hotel in Palenque and authorities are helping them.
Huber says other travellers need to be alerted about the situation in the area.
"That is not a safe place to travel for tourists that stretch of road," he said. "We were lucky to get out of there."
Huber and his wife plan to stay in Mexico until Jan. 13 as originally planned, but have lost all their belongings save for the items they had in their backpacks.
Global Affairs Canada was unable to provide comment.