31 March 2007
Maybe its not in my nature to take the easy way when it comes to physically demanding activities. I wish it was sometimes. I wish I took the same line I used to take with maths homework. “Show your working” it always said. By that I chose to assume it wanted what I punched into the calculator – the most direct way from A to B….maybe thats why I never got past the 3X table at school….
Either way, I have reached Juchitan from Puerto Escondido – both on the pacific coast – via the state capital Oaxaca. This involved crossing the high sierras, and then re-crossing them. Silly me.
The last few days on the coast with my latest partner in crime, Lauren, were dream-like. A couple of short days, braving the suffocating heat between the scarce patches of shade on the low lying scrubby hills, reliably rewarded with a beautiful sandy paradise, caressed by the powerfully refreshing waves of the Pacific. Leaving the coast and my new-found friend was as hard as ever, as I forced the salty memories into the limited filing space of my cerebellum, to make way for new ones as I headed inland.
However, the old adage “you get out what you put in” came into full force as I left the dreamlike and suspended life of Mazunte behind and pointed Achilles once again toward the hills. Scrub was replaced by coconut palms, which in turn made way for small broad leaved trees, and after three days of constant hill climbing I found myself in the stunted pine forests of the mountains, where the air is fresh and cool, and the stray dogs are as irritating as usual.
It was on one of these evenings that I might be found eating honeycomb from a nearby tree with an old lady in her simple wooden home, as she prepared the chiminea to make the next day´s tortillas. Or perhaps, I might have been quietly eating tacos while watching an enthusiastic local basketball match between what must have been two of the shortest teams in the world. Skills however, were not lacking in this game, the highlight of the San Jose del Pacifico Fiesta, nestled high in the hills and bathed in the cool, blood red evening light.
My repertoire of animal sightings – dead and alive – also took a step up on this stretch. I saw, and indeed relocated a tortoise sitting quietly in the middle of the road. After I witnessed the creature relieving itself on my handlebars, I placed it below a steep embankment on the side of the carriageway. As I left, it poked its head slowly out of its shell as if to say “wha- oh shit! The other side man!! This is where I came from!!”. Oh well, it´ll get there in the end. It always does.
After a three day struggle, the hills graciously let me pass, and I whistled down long open descents into a new land, an arid patchwork of earthy red, Maguey plants and in the distance the white cities of Ocotlan and Oaxaca.
On the last of the small but debilitating hills before the dry plains I stopped at a lone store selling nothing but the necessities in life here, water, coke, beer and coconuts, not necessarily in that order. Sitting with the owner while resting from my ongoing showdown with the sun, we got to talking about Mezcal, the especially strong alcoholic beverage of the region.
Go on, guess what happened next, with hindsight its easy. Out of his shed he produced a ten gallon jerry can, a siphon hose and half a dried fruit skin to act as a cup. It was good, very good, and allowed the remainder of the afternoon to pass in a haze of dehydration and pleasant but sweaty incomprehension….I won my play-off with the sun that day. It made him angry, and he burns hotter than ever now.
The city of Oaxaca is as beautiful as people say. Old colonial architecture, bearing the scars of the very recent history of political unrest. Graffiti here, broken windows there, but tranquil, friendly people as far as the eye can see. Only on the edges of the city does one realise that Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico. Money does not seem to reach the drunken chequerboard of corrogated iron rooves and dusty, chicken-filled alleyways.
Hills guard this city on every side, so I was not breathing easily for long, as I left the city and took on three more days of hills. Different this time, with huge orange and grey limestone escarpments guarding the peaks and setting my now wasted climbing muscles tingling, and at night I dreamt of scaling the rocks, while sleeping in one of a few plazas in the pueblitos on the road.
Back at the coast for what will be the last time in Mexico, I can reflect on my surroundings and thoughts once more, from the safety of a small comedor (eatery), water in one hand, chocomilk in the other, presented to me by a local zapoteca woman.
I miss home now – no, not home, but the memories I associate with a home or platform. However, I don´t seem to miss the ´things´ I once ´needed´ much anymore. Across the street I see four grown men on a tiny two-stroke motorbike. Needs are relative. You get more of them as your wealth grows I guess….a big shiny SUV rolls past, one man wearing gucci sunglasses inside. Wants? Needs? Easily confused perhaps. If I were a Mexican, I´d be able to get five people on my tandem, not two….
You can breath a sigh of relief people. I´ve finished this, my last post from Mexico. Wait, that is, unless I take another detour….he he! Take care of yourselves.