After some time, we stopped and I was ordered out. We were high above the market place, the maze-like heart of the capital, and the favoured hiding place of all the plotters, rebels and ex-presidents. Then my abductors set off down some steps into the darkness and I found myself following, suddenly afraid I might lose them.
When I arrived at the bottom of the steps, they had disappeared. I plunged forward, hand on the wall to my right. It was utterly black in these tiny cracks of alley ways. I stepped forward, felt only air, then jarred my knee as I hit the ground. When I straightened, there was a disembodied white shirt floating in front of me. I reached out and touched it. A set of teeth gleamed.
"Hey brother," said the teeth. "Cool to cool. Take it."
A hand searched for mine. I understood he was drunk and swaying.
"Take it, man, Billy-Bob. We are inna Babylon, baby. We are inna Babylon."
The red tip of a giant spliff lit his face for a second, creased and shiny like a well-worn funeral suit. The spliff was pushed in my mouth.
"Hey brother, keep it loose. Passss the Dutchie. Par-take of the 'oly 'erb."
There is an aspect of Tropico worth mentioning at this point: everyone knows everyone else's business. I alone was unaware that my kidnapper was actually my host and, as such, all would be well. This friend, a reggae fan like many Tropicannais, was guiding me home with a conversation beachcombed from Jamaican hits.
I never quite got used to the small town's character. One night I got very drunk with a rebel leader at his allotment (mountain lair would be more normal, of course, but Tropico is not normal). This man had stormed the palace twice and his well-kept vegetable garden up in the jungle was a fertile haunt for revolutionary ideas.
Next morning, a stranger accosted me in the market. "Bonjour, monsieur. You are Sr. Prisia, the English who drank three bottles of wine and one of rum last evening before fainting?" (My surname took on many variations while in Tropico, but I preferred this version over Sr. Shabby.)
The rebel-leader-cum-vegetable-gardener is a good example of why Tropico is perennially unstable. Until the revolutionary !che! took over with his utopian Year Zero ideals, Tropico had been a quiet backwater of dishevelled American colonialism based on Marines and bannana plantations. !che! changed things radically: he put teenagers in charge, abolished history and legalised cannabis. But his downfall came through none of these, rather via a French mercenary by the name of Machinegun Pierre, a man he had paid to catch the previous president.
MG Pierre took a liking to the Island and came back, deposed !che! and ran the place from the wings. His mercenary cronies taught the young Tropicannais all about guns, booze and partying, but not much else. The vegetable gardener became Pierre's bodyguard, though they later fell out, leaving the gardener to become yet another rebel.
These corrupt and rotten years have now come home to roost. Guns are easy to get and the island has drifted into a never-never world of clandestine semi-criminality. While I was there, I saw a Chinese freighter arrive, but nothing was loaded or unloaded. People said it was refuelling before taking its cargo onwards. There was talk of strange night flights, too, to and from the supposedly abandoned airstrip.
Not all is hopeless, however. My hosts were horrified when I asked if anyone had been killed in the recent coup.
"Killed?! My God, no."
"But there was shooting?"
"Ah, si! A lot of shooting because everyone has a gun. But everyone is useless at shooting."