From Costa Rica and beyond

Saturday, September 24, 2011

From Morelia to Oaxaca

Hola Amigos!  Greetings from Oaxaca in south central Mexico.  It is a beautiful day in a lovely city of quaint buildings, bustling town squares, and colorful markets.  Good friends have also been a big part of this day. 

I left Morelia with the goal of getting to Oaxaca without going through Mexico City.  My plans to go there did not pan out and the daunting scale of that metropolis compelled me to find a way around it.  That is not easy.  Like Paris, all roads lead to and from the capital city.  Determination and lots of stops to ask for directions made it happen though.  This path took me up into the highlands south of Mexico City.  The nicely paved roads reminded me of country highways (Landstrassen) in Germany.  The difference was the multitude of curves.  Usually, such treacherous curves are labeled "curvas peligrosas", but here there were so many they didn´t even bother.  The scenery was spectacular.  Sheer drops down many hundreds of feet to verdant valleys and then steep climbs up other nearby mountains with equally verdant summits.  The air was lovely and the population sparse, especially considering the propinquity to the capital.  One closed tourist building declared "El Mejor Clima del Mundo" - the best climate in the world.  I could not disagree.

The next day took me through more of the same.  Finding the way that morning was really tough.  My method is to stop, ask someone, drive a bit further and ask again to make sure the answers are the same.  Again, very twisty roads and lots of hills.  What a surprise to find a big white factory in this rather rural area - it was a Mercedes/Freightliner assembly plant!  I emerged in the city of Cuernavaca.  As I drove down to the city, my rear brake gave out.  Damn!  I motorbraked and feathered the front brake to come to a stop.  Directly ahead of me were signs for a brake mechanic!!  I turned into his drive and then paid handsomely for his 15 minutes of service - a simple fix. 

That afternoon, I stopped in the very hot little city of Ataclan.  I asked a young "elder" mormon missionary for directions to a hotel  (There are quite a few mormons proselytizing here in Mexico.)  I found a hotel and then explored the town.  I was charmed by the nice little town square where all the school kids gathered still in their uniforms as dusk set in.  Near the square were lots of food booths.  I chose a good one and got a couple very tasty tacos.  I was also intrigued to find walls painted red with yellow PT initials.  The workers´ party.  Yes, there are communists here - no surprise given the poverty.

The next day, after sleeping in and then watching a really sappy German romance program (with Spanish subtitles), I pointed my bike to Oaxaca.  Tenting was high on my priority for that night - a good way to save money.  The outskirts of Oaxaca confirmed that I should drive through and out of the city to camp in the countryside.  The traffic was terrible, the roads were worse.  However, as I penetrated the old city, it´s architecture and charm convinced me to stay.  I found a hotel and then started exploring.  One of the first things I found was another KLR in a hotel courtyard.  I waited there to meet the owner (a woman rider and writer), but first heard another bike arrive.  It was my Swiss friend, Andrew (Andre)!!

Together we found Oaxaca´s plazas, churches, and street life to be excellent.  Bands were performing in the different plazas, there were even classical dancers performing to Vivaldi.  Arts and crafts, especially from the local native Americans, were on sale everywhere. 

Andrew planned to go to Puerto Escondido for the next two nights.  I joined him.  The drive there took us high into Pyrenese-like mountains and on roads both good and horrible!  Landslides were being cleaned up in many places.  Towns were few and poor.  Exhausted, we arrived in the very hot and humid ´lost port.´  Mercifully, it was not tourist season, so it was easy to find a Cabaña for cheap.  We had two beds, a nice shower, a ceiling fan and a covered porch with a kitchen.  We went to the local supermarket (Super Che - Imagine Che Guevara in tights!!) and bought food for two days. 

The next day we awoke to rain.  How depressing.  We schemed about what to do, but then the rain quit.  We walked to the beach and then toward town on the beach. Puerto Escondido´s waves are famously labeled the Mexican Pipeline and they are indeed impressive.  We waded into the water and found the currents to be fierce.  A lifeguard told us to swim elsewhere.  We did and had a great time fighting these 5 meter monsters.  After school was out, there were also quite a few local boys out on their bodyboards. 

We returned to Oaxaca the next day on a different route, starting at Puerto Angel.  Again, curves, mountains, etc.  There were more towns here, though, and they appeared less poor and more like (nearly) idyllic alpine villages.  Life looked wholesome and not so downtrodden.  We came across two barriers.  One was a brief police check.  Later, our route was blocked by peasant farmers protesting something.  We and other capable vehicles were diverted to a dirt road to circumvent the protest.  It was fun to put our riding skills to the test in really dusty, rocky conditions.

Back in Oaxaca, Andrew and I reunited with Mark and Maggie, the Swiss Australian couple.  They were with two other Aussie bikers they had met up in Canada. The latter, Wade and Phil, are raising money for the Make-A-Wish foundation and hope to cross both the Arctic and Antarctic Circles with their motorcycles. Today, we all walked the city, explored the very colorful markets (with highlights such as dried grasshoppers - I tried one and don´t think they´ll ever replace popcorn), visited a famous chocolate factory where we enjoyed some delicious chocolate milk, and sampled some Mezcal, the local version of Tequila.  We happened upon a wedding in one of the main churches here.  The interior of this church was extremely ornate with an impressive altarpiece.  I was halted by a live singing of "Ave Maria".  How sublime.

Yes, there is violence here.  Mark and Maggie were just in Veracruz where unbeknownst to them, some 30 bodies were dumped right in the city by the narcoterrorists. At one of the plazas, there are mothers protesting the loss of their sons (and daughters?).  If you didn´t read the news, though, you would never know it.  Life is normal here.  Tourists are lucky in that the terrorists are not interested in tourists; they are interested in a society being compliant with their demands.  They target those who oppose them.  There are literally hundreds and hundreds of bikers around here.  None have been ensnared in any troubles that I know of.  There are thousands more tourists from all around the world.  We are not looking for danger or getting a rise out of taking chances.  We are tourists and explorers enjoying what Mexico has to offer, no different than traveling through Canada.

Please click on the link to the right (pics from Baja to Morelia) to find new photos in my album.

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