Like the man said, “you’ve gotta stay for lunch!” So I did. Uri’s kind charm and Augustine’s great “ceviche,” (a shrimp dish “cooked” with lemon juice) hard to resist, though this does make for a rather tardy departure of 3pm! Not only that but the first thing I must do is find a welder to fix my rear rack! Completed I must go to the “mercado” and stock up…and then finally, 20 miles down the road from Uri’s, look for camp!
|Receiving a free tire!|
Needless to say; it was a long ride to Oaxaca that had me contemplating if all my time in Mexico wasn’t actually too much time….and money. But things change fast and soon new exciting glimpses of culture are popping up; a strange market, kind people, more freebies including a free tire in Oaxaca from the great peeps at Maxima Motos (mentioned in more detail in a previous post).
With the guys there having tipped my ever biased balance of good and bad (discussed in Mexico Part two) I head off with anxiety, eyes flitting left and right for signs of trouble, trouble finds me three minutes after leaving the garage, in the form of a puncture. Well, look on the bright side, the balance is levelled….or is it?
|Fixing punctures in the shops light|
It’s a little after 4pm and people come to their doorways to watch the gringo repair his bike and I sit in one shop chatting with the owner as I frantically do battle with the tire and tube anxious to get to a camp spot….and in a rush I make the novice mistake of pinching the tube with my tire lever….and then I do it again, and again and, just to confirm that yes, I am a novice, I do it again.
And just once more.
|Samuel tucks into his dinner|
Making for a total of twelve holes and lots of tire removals and refits and pumping. Finally at 9pm I think I have it sorted and the shop owner heaves his own sigh of relief that he can now go home for the night. However, all is not finished, the balance is still tipped towards “Good,” with a tire pressing gently on “Evil”….I can’t seat the tire. No problem, there is a tire repair shop nearby and ride over gingerly and ask Samuel, the owner, if I can use his compressor. Samuel has spent 30 years fixing tires and by the looks of it it is taking its tole, he flits from one job to the next and I fear that the vulcanizing fluids and rubber cement have destroyed a few brain cells. A long story but at 12am I am in his van on the way to dinner, he stabs at the dash looking for a button to turn off the hazard lights, beeping his horn at all passing vehicles, and then blasts out some music and tells me we’re amigos. Then, after a great dinner of giant Oaxacan tortilla whose name I’ve forgotten, I am slipping into my sleeping bag below his bed in his dog filled, pee stenched home of one room.
“Just hit the rats off your face if they come…” he mumbles as he rolls over to sleep. I lie there with a look of grim reality etched on my face, trying to fall asleep, to the sound of his three dogs; Van Gogh, Anne Frank and Berk (the blue plastercine fella from the infamous British kids TV show “The Trap Door“) going potty, wondering where the rats are….feels like a prison, and I contemplate that it’s not the prison that makes you crazy but the other inmates….what with Van chewing the lower part of his left ear lobe, Anne just sitting silent in the dark and Berks booming inner voice and strange bark with a Cornish accent…..umm, maybe this joke needs more thought.
Regrdless, I got naff-all sleep.
In the morning I help Sam feed the dogs, tossing the food down on the ground as one feeds birds, alas in ones house and then walk up the street to fetch water from a dank well for a “shower.” The water from the well is blacker than a gorilla’s armpit and after “washing” my hands, I thank Samuel and him farewell.
|Oaxacan streets, hammocks for sale|
I spend some time in Oaxaca, a nice place with busy plazas and clean streets and nice templos and iglesias, as well as the archaeological site Mont Alban and with a good camp nearby I’m able to visit and leave daily to camp.
One evening on my way back to camp, I notice a small stadium set up in one village and stop to ask what’s going on. I speak with a member of the band, he plays a ginormous bass brass instrument that curves over his head and goes BOMM, Bomm, BOMM, Bomm…..he tells me in-between bomms that there is a rodeo on afterwards and after buying a tasty bun I sit inside with a hoarde of sadistic Mexicans drinking moonshine from a upturned cut off coke bottle top, watching silly fellas get pummelled by big dopey looking cows, top stuff.
|About to get pummeled….|
|Jilberto, a local farmer|
I then headed to the mountains nearby for a hike in the Pueblos Mancomunados, where I was greeted by the fabulous Zava, who bought me bread and went beyond helpful in putting
up with my “I really don’t want a guide” requests. Zava gives me a walkie-talkie, just to make sure I don’t get lost and with his two big hunks of bread I head off in to the rural villages, mountains and valleys and talk to locals like Jilberto, who grows potatoes and maize and likes it there as it is safe and there is no music!
|Duncan awakes at camp|
The next day I descend back down the mountains to meet with Duncan whom I had previously met at Garry’s in Mexico City. Duncan and I had planned an exploration of Chiapas and we start the day looking at our respective maps and bits and pieces we’ve scribbled on them, Duncan pointing out a few things from his guide book and me pointing out a few roads of zero note and zero tarmac. And with that, we head to the dirt where we meet local mezcal brewers….
|Mezcal mule, grinds down the roasted piña|
Mezcal is an alcaholic drink produced in a similar way to tequilla, using the piña (very large bulb) of the blue agave plant. After a few sups of the nasty stuff we hit the road again and head into the cloud of the cloud forest, thick fog, damp mud and small villages the order of the day, where people come to gorp, run away, dropped jaws that sort of thing. In one sleepy village, where the only past-time seems to be watching it pass Duncan and I chat with the locals.
“What’d he say?” asks Duncan as I return to put on my helmet.
“I think he said the road’s closed.”
“Yeah, but the kid reckons we can do it on the bikes no problem.”
“Oh, okay then.”
“They always say that though, they think the bikes are magic carpets or something.”
|Duncan, up in the cloud drenched forest|
We continue on, carving a path through the thick fog, the strip of red dirt road immediately out front all one can see beyond Rudolf’s red nose, to the sides the mountain drops sharply into errie misty depths giving a sense of claustrophobia….a desire to get out of it before camp.
In the next village our fears are somewhat confirmed.
“The road is closed,” says a local couple who come out to see what the noise is on the street (two gringos on bikes), “but,” he continues “you’ll make it on the bikes. He also mentions something about “derrumbes,” and “mucho” and I ask Duncan if Derrumbe is Spanish for “magic carpet,” it’s not, it means “landslide”.
|Beaten…or are we…?|
The road turns to thick wet mud which claws at the wheels and feet as we paddle our way through, no people or homes now, no vehicles, no tracks even, save one motorcycle tire tread which gives us hope and we call the rider “Mad Max.” We cross some minor landslides and with each think “this is what the locals must have meant,” but it only gets worse, and we have huge puddles and mounds of sticky red mud to navigate and dig to make a path, until eventually at the end of the day looking for camp we reach a huge obstacle, a tall powerful waterfall that has washed away the road.
“Well, we’re not getting across that!” I say, and start setting up camp right there on the road, safe in the knowledge that they’ll be no other vehicles coming this way.
In the morning, contemplating our position and the thought that maybe we can just make it across the waterfall, all whilst hovering over my freshly dug toilet, I am greeted by three men; an old fella wielding a machete and his two sidekicks Smith and Wesson (odd names for Mexicans I know), who were wielding rather large shiny rifles.
“No passer!” says the old fella.
“No kidding,” I say.
“There are landslides!”
“How far is the town?”
“Ooooooh, it’s very far!”
“Possible on the bikes?”
He thinks for a moment, “yeah.”
“No problemo then!”
And he trots off to hunt jaguars or something else he shouldn’t be.
Packed up Duncan and I set to work on the rocky falls and carve and chisel away a path across, we carry our gear over and with a bit of help from each other, get both bikes across.
“Let’s just hope THAT was what the locals were talking about!” I say.
|Duncan navigating one of many “derrumbes.”|
We follow the huge channels cut by the torrent of water down the track, around the corner to another derrumbe. Get off the bikes, inspect it on foot, make renovations where necessary, walk back, ride it, walk back, help Duncan by pushing him and holding him as he has me and Rudolf.
Ride another 200m, repeat. I ride along terrified what the next corner might bring, will we have to turn back….surely not, all those derrumbes we’ve crossed, all that mud and fog….but again we find a way through and again. And so on, until eventually at 12pm, having covered a glorious
1 mile ,
we reach an impassable derrumbe, a huge landslide with a gaping void of infinite depth barring the way to the other side and with the village within earshot, we must give up, and return. Not before a ruddy good marmalade tortilla. “The booby prize.” I say to Duncan, “The Marmalade of Defeat,” just in case he wasn’t feeling downbeat enough.
|The booby prze, a marmalade tortilla.|
Then we have to ride all the way back.
We decide to then head to Puerto -escondido, where Duncan’s brother and sister are staying for a short while, taking a beautiful route through the agave field strewn mountains, getting interrogatted in one village by an angry mob of drunken men and their village President on a Sunday afternoon – making a sharp exit.
|Nick and Rudolf, dominate the dirt….|
From Puerto Escondido we head east along the coast, where I’m a little ill and we camp out on the beach for a few days to recoop. I spend my time fighting a losing battle to get shade whilst Duncan whittles his time away walking the 5miles of empty beach looking for egg laying turtles, finding only dead ones and nests emptied of their eggs by local poachers. Though we did see one live baby turtle scampering into the heavy surf at Puerto Escondido, a magical sight I must say!
|One of many lovely people we met along the way|
From here, visiting markets and fishing villages, great people, great photo opportunities and crazy towns make for interesting days before we reach the coffee plantations of Chiapas where we meet even more fantastic people, all happy to pose for pictures, laughing and joking as they work, a happy place to be it seems.
|Get my coffee! Punk!|
With Duncan’s drive chain starting to fall to bits it was time to call an end to our time together, he heads back to Oaxaca and I will head into Guatemala in a day or two…..once I’ve updated this pesky website!