Feb. 7th to 9th, 2010
Our Oaxaca City experience was an odd one. Our reasons for being there were three-fold. First, we (meaning Roz) wanted to experience the rich cultural aspects of the city. Second, we were waiting for Mountain Hardware to send us a set of tent poles to replace the ones we had broken in Novillero, over a month ago. And finally, we wanted to fire off another blog entry of our naked adventures on the south coast. While we did score with some interesting cultural touring, our tent pole and blog writing efforts fell flat. Mountain Hardware’s shipping department and FedEx couldn’t find Oaxaca City (??!!) so the poles never left the States. And bad internet connections made for painfully slow uploads to our blog. But in the end, I suspect I just wasn’t that keen to be in a big city – especially having just come from a beach full of sizzling naked flesh. What can I tell ya? I’m a lecherous Philistine.
But beyond wanting to get out of a big city, I think Roz and I were keen to leave Mexico too. We had been in Mexico for over two months and our itchy feet were ready for something new – something like Guatemala. We left Oaxaca with excitement and drove southeast towards the coast. Along the way, we stopped at some great places.
First stop was El Tule, about 20 minutes outside of Oaxaca, to check out the world’s largest tree. It’s over 2,000 years old and supposed to be the largest bio-mass in the world. In less scientific terms, it’s friggin’ humungus!
A few miles down the road, we stopped in Tlacolula, which has one of the biggest markets in the Oaxaca Valley. As it was Sunday, the place was packed. We scoured the stalls for grilled chicken and in the process, I found and bought a leather satchel. No, it’s not a purse, it’s a satchel. Or it’s European, but it’s not a purse. Screw it! It’s a purse, but I like it. I’ll post a picture of it later and you can tell me whether you think it’s a purse or murse (man purse).
Next stop on our busy day was the town of Mitla, to check out the small set of ruins there. There wasn’t much left of them as the Spaniards had disassembled most of the site to build a church, which still stands nearby. At least the Spaniards left some of the mosaic stone work intact, which was impressive for its intricate, detailed work.
Our final stop of the day was at the intriguing Hierve el Agua. The natural spring waters contain minerals that, when hardened over time, give the appearance of ice. Hence, what looks like a frozen waterfall in the photos. The water was cold, so we skipped a swim there, but a number of local families were enjoying it. We rented a cabin for the night and in the morning, sipped coffee while taking in the breathtaking views of the valleys below.
It was difficult to leave our tranquil cabin, but the border was calling us so we carried on. But before leaving the state of Oaxaca, we stopped at one of the many shops selling Mezcal, Oaxaca’s infamous hootch, and sipped some samples. Like a good scotch, it warmed our throats like angel piss, so we splurged and bought a bottle of the 10-year-old vintage (which a cynical Canadian told us was usually only 3-4 years old). A few hours of winding mountain roads later, we were once again at the Pacific Ocean, in the skinny curve of Mexico known as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. During this stretch of curvy road, we saw five different touring motorcycles going north – mostly BMW dualsports. For a moment, I got sentimental about riding, but then as we hit gale force winds on the coast road, I was glad to be sipping a beer in the comfort of Yuki, with a happy Roz beside me. As we followed the coast, we passed a number of wind farms. It was good to see someone taking advantage of all that free power.
That evening, we rolled into Tonala, a hot and humid town near the coast. The place was busy and the hotel prices were stupidly high, but for the first time in our trip, I was grateful for air conditioning. The Hotel Galilea also had wi-fi, which allowed us to post another blog entry. We slept so well that night in our cool room that, the next morning, I proposed we never leave. We could just steal pictures and text from other blogs and pretend we were still travelling. Unfortunately, Roz didn’t agree with my devious plot (ROZ: But I shared his love of the AC) and instead, shoved me into the sweltering, sticky furnace outside to continue our journey south. Oh well, I tried.
The road to Tapachula near the Guatemalan border was straight and fast. We stopped for lunch and then decided to spend the night there so that we could cross the border early the next day. But the hotel prices were too high, so we drove to the nearby village of Talisman right on the border and found a more reasonably priced place. While driving through the village, we were approached by a half dozen “helpers” who, for a price, offered to facilitate our border crossing. I’d already read about these guys, so I firmly told them I wasn’t interested, but they still chased us down the street. They charge a ridiculous fee to run around to the various offices at the border getting stamps, photocopies and vehicle permits, but you don’t really need them if you are patient enough to figure it out for yourself. As one blogger wrote, these guys aren’t really there to help you – they’re just there to help themselves to your wallet.
We had other experiences with similar “wallet helpers” on this leg of the journey. While on the highway, we approached what looked like an old toll booth. Most of the vehicles ahead of us went around it, but the taxi in front of us went through it, and so did we. A young guy standing by the old booth tried to sell the taxi driver some fruit in a bag, but the cabby waved him off and drove away. Then when this guy saw Roz and I pull up, he puffed up his chest like an official and demanded money for a ticket to pass. I quickly assessed that this guy didn’t have a uniform or a gun, so I politely told him no thanks as I gave him the finger and sped off. He yelled at me to stop, but I didn’t. I wonder how often that trick works on gullible gringos?
A short time later in Tapachula, we parked near some vendors by the central square. I don’t know if it was legal, but we fit between some stalls so cars could get by us. After eating lunch, we returned to the truck and as we were about to leave, this old guy approached us carrying some plastic device in his hand. He said we had to pay him to park there. I saw that he was dressed poorly and that the device was actually an old remote control from a TV or VCR. I told him that I wasn’t going to pay. He then took his remote control and punched some buttons on it like it was a phone. He put it to his ear and said we had to pay or there would be trouble. I smiled at him as I pulled away. What the fack?! Do these tricks ever actually work?!
Finally, at the Talisman hotel, this fellow named Carlos was hanging around while the lady showed us our rooms. He spoke to us in English about places in the U.S. that he’d lived in, while seeming genuinely interested in us and our travels. I thought that he worked at the hotel because he was with the owner. Later, when I looked at the card he had given us, I noticed that it didn’t include his last name. Instead, it simply said Carlos “El Negro”, the black one. Under his name was the Spanish word for negotiator. A bell went off in my head. In the morning, Carlos was waiting by our truck and my suspicions were confirmed – he was another “helper” trying to get our business. Damn. I don’t mind doing business with people, but I hate someone using deception to get it. As we drove away from the hotel, he said he’d meet us at the border a few hundred meters away to help us. I told him that it wouldn’t be necessary. Roz added that it should be easy as that’s what he told us the night before. He suddenly changed his tune and and said it was actually very difficult to cross and that we’d need his help. We waved him off as we sped to the border. I don’t know what it is with frontier towns, but they seem to attract the worst of scoundrels. (ROZ: On the other hand, Carlos did us a great service by informing us the night before that we had to drive back to Tapachula to cancel our Mexican vehicle import permit. We had assumed that there would be an office by the border where this important paperwork would be dealt with, but that would have made too much sense. Instead, the inconspicuous glass booth was located next to the highway a good 30 minutes before the border. Had Carlos not told us about it (and that it was open 24 hours), the next morning would have been spent trying to figure out where the hell we had to go to ensure we weren’t charged for leaving our vehicle in Mexico.)
While these guys left a sour taste in my mouth, they are not representative of all of Mexico – just of the border towns. Roz and I still love Mexico, but the place has changed a lot since we first visited there almost two decades ago. It’s not as cheap as it used to be and the dang place is full of Canadians these days – sheesh! What’s a Canuck got to do to get away from these guys?! But seriously, Mexico is a wonderful place to visit. Don’t believe the hype of the H1N1 virus (or whatever flu scare they’re promoting this week), narco gang violence or any other drivel some State Department hack is creating to keep their citizens’ vacation dollars at home. Mexico is like any big country – it’s got good, it’s got bad. You just have to use a little common sense (unlike us) and you’ll have an amazing time.
Hasta luego Mexico!
End of Part 12