Friday, October 31, 2008

Puebla to Oaxaca Mexico

Enjoyed breakfast and the Internet service at CityExpress, then packed up for a 3.5 hour ride to Oaxaca. Leaving Puebla I looked for a bank, low on peso and gas... Santaner is the Mexican partner for Bank of America, so that is the preferred institution, no transaction fee. The edge of town passes and no Santaner bank was to be found.

I can see a fairly large town ahead on the GPS and made a detour. Aztec Bank won't change Amex Traveler's check, so I change all the dollars in my wallet. Getting back on the highway I fail to notice the difference between Route 150 and Routa 150d. The "d" indicates the toll road. The other is the local roads which take significantly longer to get anywhere. My goal is to get miles behind me and the tolls aren't exorbitant, but first you need to get on the road.

About 20 kilometers later, after crawling through traffic backed up to deliver flowers to a huge market and as mountains approach, it become clear that I have missed the turn to the toll road. Studying the GPS I resolve to turn around…back into the traffic. That is how a 3.5 hour trip turns into 6.5 hour trip.

Four shotgun toting traffic cops approached me as I was taking the photo of trucks lining up to enter the market.

"Who are you taking these pictures for?"
"Just for myself"
"Where are you from?"
"New Jersey, I'm riding to Oaxaca."
"I lived in Norristown, PA..."

The conversation turns into small talk and I excused myself to get back on the road. Why traffic cops need shotguns is beyond me, but I am sure the drivers all listen to cops directions!

Another 10 kilometers and I'm back on toll road. Now flying along to Oaxaca. The warm late afternoon light is raking across the fields as I pass workers harvesting flowers for the Day of the Dead, loading them high pick-up trucks and donkey draw carts. A few miles ahead I will have a new experience in Latin highway behavior.

I am riding on a two lane highway that has what know as "breakdown lanes" or shoulders on either side. Going up a gentle incline I notice a car passing a truck ahead of me. The truck has partially pull over onto the should, but the passing car is taking up the middle of the road and the distance is closing between your's truly and himself. Not one to stand on formality and with more than a touch survival instinct, I navigate to right side of my lane. "Crazy Mexican drivers" is the first thing that comes into my mind. Short after I see the same event, but in the direction I'm traveling. I soon realize that this is how people drive here. A slow vehicle will pull over a bit to let faster cars pass, and pass they will, even with oncoming traffic. It sounds hairy, but it works. Everyone understands the technique. Passing cars usually put their blinker to indicate their intention to pass. Blinkers have a lot of meaning down here. You have to pretty much guess what the driver is trying to tell you, pray and pass.

Sorry, but I didn't take photos of a few interesting thing that I which I had stopped and captured. One was seeing several groups of high school girls waiting for rides on the toll road. I was not clear to me if they were hitch hiking or simply waiting for their ride. I have never seen clusters of young girls hanging out on a toll road. It was very strange to me. Later, riding through the mountains I saw cactus, as tall as telephone poles. At first there were a few, then soon they were everywhere. I was looking for the perfect vista and didn't find one before I ran out of the zona cactus. I will be passing thought the same area on my way to Belize and will take cactus photos next time.

The tank bag had come partially open when riding through the mountains and I think the only think I lost was turn by turn instructions to the apartment. Before leaving Puebla I copied a Oaxaca street map image Kelly, my niece, had emailed to me to the GPS. When I got to Oaxaca I was able to view the map, zoom in and more it around, on the GPS. After a while I figured out where I was and had an idea of where to go. I got pretty close, then stopped at an Internet cafe and called Kelly. Her wonderful landlady drove the few blocks to pick me up.

I'm now staying in an apartment of a large compound on homes, in a spacious room with private bathroom, just around the corner from Kelly. I quickly settle into my new living quarters. Her boyfriend, Abraham arrives and we go out for dinner.

The next morning Kelly takes me for a walk up a long staircase to a hill that overlooks Oaxaca. We get there just a sunrise, in time to see the night fog before it burned off. After coffee and breakfast breads we head to largest market in Oaxaca. Kelly calls it the crazy market and swears that she always gets lost within the maze of stalls.
We pass a church where people have laid out flower alters on the ledges for their loved ones that have passed on. We would see dozens and dozens of alters, prepared to welcome and honor the dead that come to visit during this time of year. Food, water, candies, photos, candles, and other items are provided for the dead to enjoy. Read more about the Day of the Dead on Wikipedia.

In the market we see specially prepared bread that is baked for the Day of the Dead celebrations that has small faces embedded. Indeed the market is a crazy place, disorienting for a tourist. Low hanging ropes and other obstacles keep my six foot, three inch body vigilant. I really stick out, towering over locals. I'm tall, but now I feel like a giant.

In the market Kelly is buying things for the alter to be prepared in her apartment. I bought a toy race car for my father, who loved auto racing. A guy passes by with a bundle of sugar cane. Later I understood that the sugar cane is used to build an arc for the alter. Flowers are placed in attached to the sugar cane. In another market I took a picture of sugar confections.

We repaired to the Zopola, the central square, for a bite to eat and beers. The local snack is salted peanuts with lime juice -- delicious!

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