On our second day in Oaxaca we decided to hire a car and explore the nearby towns, in true Korean style we rock scissor papered to decide who would drive and I won (or lost depending on how you view driving on Mexican roads). We escaped the city without too many problems and were surprised to see the amount of speed bumps Mexican roads have, they literally stick them everywhere, even out of the cities on long straights with no houses nearby. These are not the amiable small speed bumps you see in England, but bigger, meaner and even more concerning, they seem to be cunningly camouflaged which resulted in us hitting a couple of them at full speed, which luckily due to our 998cc engine was about 70kph – only a small take off was achieved. Our first stop was nothing less than the largest tree in the world; with a trunk diameter of 11 metres, height of 42 metres and age of at least 1500 years old it was certainly impressive.
It looked almost like several trees had been stuck together (maybe a con by the tourism agency to increase notable sites in Mexico?) and housed hundreds, if not thousands of small birds which buzzed around. This was a good tree, even the birds who lived there were exceptionally happy, Enid Blyton would have loved this tree. Nevertheless, it was just a tree and after 10 minutes of saying “my, that is a big tree” we left and set off to our next destination.
We drove on for around 45 minutes up the most windy and steep road ever (or so we thought naively at that point) only to realise that our fuel reserve light was on, deciding it would not be best to be stuck in literally the middle of a mountain we drove back down the windy and steep road, got some more fuel and then drove back up the very windy and steep road once again, it was tiring and dizzying work. After some more driving around in circles the tarmac road came to an end and led onto a bumpy road leading to seemingly nowhere. From out of nowhere appeared a rope which was tied across the road to stop cars passing through, I nearly crashed into it but luckily saw it at the last minute and skidded to halt.
Three older Mexican men walked from a hut and conveyed to us that it was necessary to pay an entrance fee of 20 pesos, curiously the same amount it would cost for three elderly gentlemen to buy 3 beers, a co-incidence no doubt I’m sure. We pay the fee and continue along our merry way. Finally after much more bumping we arrived at the waterfall, only to meet a man at the gates informing us that we need to pay 15 pesos each to view the waterfall. We told him we’d already paid some other men for entrance and he reliably informed us that was road tax and this is waterfall tax, silly us for asking, we pay the waterfall tax and also some sun, tyre and gringo tax to complete the package. I get the feeling that this is the way things work here, an ex-pat was telling us that when he drives down from the U.S. with his foreign number plates he gets stopped all the time and told he has broken the law by having two eyes, or for wearing a hat of illegal dimensions, or for driving with 4 wheels and that every time he will be told that he has to pay a fine or go to jail for at least 21 days. On one of these occasions he decided that he would to go to jail, on hearing this the policeman gets flustered and suggests instead that he gives him the pot of spare change he has on his dashboard, amounting to about 4 dollars. He agreed and was allowed onwards. Law and order at its finest. We eventually got to see the waterfall, which was petrified and very stony. It was beautiful but after all the taxpaying and bumping we had done maybe something more spectacular was required!
That night back at the hostel we met a Swedish couple, Martin and Laila, who were also at the start of a year away. We went out for a meal and drinks with them which was great. We got on really well with them and it turned out that they were both heading off to NZ next for a year so we will no doubt meet up with them again then. Over several mescals (a Tequila esk drinl) Martin and I chatted about loads of things including a bike ride he had done from Sweden to Africa, through Holland, France and Spain, stopping off to live in some caves in Spain for a bit which sounded very impressive. I regaled a tale of when I had once ridden to Bacton Woods (a whole 4 miles), but then got a bit tired and called my mother to pick me up in the car. Naturally, he was impressed. After the bike riding he had joined a local paper as an apprentice photographer for a few years. Several mescals later we decided bed was in order (not together) and that we would meet the next day. The next morning we all met up and Martin was excited because the paper he worked for in Sweden had asked him to get some photos of the dreaded swine flu. I decided to go with him and see what I could get, with the possibility of selling some of the photos to a paper in England. Christy went off with Laila to look around a local temple and we set off into the flu. We got loads of photos throughout the day and I learnt a lot being with someone who has worked as a photojournalist before, mostly about being brave and just taking the photos whether the subject is bothered or not, then running away before they beat the crap out of you. We got photos and did a few interviews with some locals. He sent his off to his paper and I contacted the EDP (possibly the biggest newspaper in the world for those of you who don’t know) who brought them from me and added me to the front page, along with a headline quote that I definitely did not say, “I saw Swine flu unfold”, there was no unfolding in front of my eyes, that sounds gross. So that was my few minutes of fame, if some other big news happens along our journey then I’ll be sure to get loads of photos and try my luck again! Is hoping for a national disaster so wrong?
With news of the piggy flu building to gargantuan levels, and the threat of humanity being wiped out and the world being taken over by swine we did the only thing we could sensibly do, go to the beach and drink ourselves stupid with tequila. So we set off on a bus journey we’ll never forget, we’ve since been told that the route between Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido has 3000 curves, I think by the end we could have guessed something around that figure. For most of the journey, the bus literally drove 10 metres forward, did a hard left, went 10 metres forward and then did a hard right, and so on for 6 hours. I wished the Romans had been to Mexico and I wished the bus driver hadn’t played so many Sega rally car driving games in the early 1990’s.
Finally we arrived in Puerto Escondido which is a reasonably small fishing town which boasts a legendary surf break known as the Mexican Pipeline and lots of surfing types walking around saying things like “whoa dude, did you catch that surf?”, “bodacious” and “narly”. We made our way to the hotel we were staying at and where we still are now. We are actually staying in a cabana rather than the hotel, which is a hut outside the hotel. It’s basic but nice, and at night-time the local wildlife comes out to play. On the first night I saw a big black scorpion walking along the side of our room, giant ants in the bathroom and of course the mandatory colony of geckos. We agreed that the geckos could stay but that the rest of them were quite frankly going to have to leave. Unfortunately they haven’t taken any notice of our polite requests. Thankfully we have a mosquito net which makes us feel a bit more like we won’t get stung, bitten or eaten during the night and so far only my feet which rest against the netting have been chomped upon.
It turned out that because of those naughty sick piggies, tourism has dwindled massively and everyone has run (or surfed) away. We are the sole guests of Hotel Ben Zaa, and the town is also pretty empty, not a “duuuude” in earshot. This has benefits such a swimming pool all to ourselves and the undivided attention of the owners Steve and Maria, every cloud has a silver lining. They are both really nice and have made us feel at home, we have been at their bar most evenings drinking the largest margaritas (4 shots of tequila per margarita, for 1.70, niiice) and rums you have ever seen and chatting about many things. It’s been great and more like visiting a relative than staying at a hotel, and the food is great too. Steve took us down to his friend Jose’s house on our second day and we went horse riding with him.
We took a route down lots of dusty country roads to a river where we went for a swim. Jose was really nice and calm and put up with us practising our Spanish on him and our complete horse ignorance and “how do I get it to reverse?” type comments. Neither of us has ridden a horse for years but it was a great experience. The horses were really good and didn’t throw us off even once. On the way back we felt more confident and built up to a canter and even a gallop. I will make a cowboy yet. Afterwards, over a nice cold beer, Steve translated a story which Jose was telling which I thought was worth sharing. It was about a friend of his who had accidently cut off his finger with an axe, that would be painful enough but the story gets better (better for the gore loving listener, not for the man). So, his finger is chopped off and because he doesn’t have any money he tapes in back on again and then bandages it up, hoping it just fixes itself. A month later he takes off the bandage and realises that in the blood and the pain he has taped his finger on the WRONG WAY, with the nail facing inwards! He then had to bite the bullet and go to hospital where they had to chop it off again and stick it back the right way. Ouch. We found out later that our guide Jose had been involved in a hit and run car accident and had his legs broken, he couldn’t afford to go to the doctors so he set them himself and had to sit at home until they mended, by which time he found out they hadn’t set right and he couldn’t walk. Luckily after some fundraising at the hotel they raised enough money to send him back to the hospital to get his legs re-broken and reset. I will never moan about the NHS again. Ever. Probably.
That night when we were in the bar we heard a samba band playing loud from somewhere near the hotel, it’d actually been playing since 6am when it woke us up. No one knew exactly why they had played all day but they thought that it was possibly in tribute to an old lady who died a year ago; apparently she was a bit of a party lady and used to regularly hold 5 day parties. Fuelled by super cocktails we decided to sneak around and see if we could spy on what was going on, peaking around the corner we saw a big band plus over 200 people sitting around a courtyard with people dancing in the middle. We were spotted and pulled into the party by a sweaty Mexican man, who gave us beer followed shortly afterwards by a full meal. They wanted dancing foreigners, unfortunately I don’t do dancing especially in front of 200 people, but Christy was brave and went and had a dance providing a spectacle for the locals to photograph. A few of the local kids joined her and decided that she was the best blonde haired Barbie ever and proceeded to pull her about even after the dancing had stopped. Overall an interesting night!
Yesterday Christy and I got a collectivo, a taxi bus, to drive us to where we went swimming in the river. I took down my camera and got lots of photos of the colourful birds which zoomed all over and entertained us.
At lunchtime Steve had suggested we walk up to the village and ask for a woman called Martina who would cook us some lunch. So we turn up, find her and she obligingly cooks for us, but seemed a bit flustered. Whilst eating lunch outside in her garden we chatted to her in our broken Spanish and from what we could work out she didn’t normally cook for people and wasn’t actually a restaurant, just a women with a house, a cooker and a frying pan. Either way she didn’t seem to mind and seemed happy with the company. When we asked her how much she wanted for the food, she got all flustered and refused any payment, we didn’t let her get away with that. Along with the meal we also got a mini tour of all of her menagerie, including 20,765 big turkeys (including a baby turkey just 1 day old), a million dogs and a parrot (numbers may have been enhanced for reader benefit) which her six year old son was keen to handle in a way that the RSPCA wouldn’t approve of, notably holding it upside down, shaking it like a maraca and petting it like he would a full sized Rottweiler, which would have been fine but it was only the size of his hand. I tried to suggest not sticking his fingers in its eye sockets but he just grinned and laughed a lot, he seemed like a very happy boy and was genuinely oblivious of any discomfort the parrot was going through. Out in the country there aint no animal care and I guess animals are for eating or shaking, luckily the parrot didn’t seem all that bothered and the boy got bored so it escaped. After lunch, an afternoon back down at the river watching the vultures swoop around was called for and we lazed about some more in the shade of a tree whilst a girl tried to catch fish, some cowboys charged around and a boy herded his goats around us and across a river using an ingenious way of getting the goats to cross the river which was mainly taking hostage one of the baby goats and walking across with all of the mothers and families following bleating away.
All very idyllic and it was nice to see some rural Mexican life. After, whilst waiting for the collectivo to pick us up a shopkeeper let us sit on some chairs in the shade outside her shop and gave us a free ice lolly, then a drunken man rolls up and tells us his name is Yinny. He jabbered to us in Spanish for quite a long time, btought me a beer and then sat patting his pot belly whilst telling us he was happy and talking some more, oblivious to the fact that we didn’t understand anything he was saying, even though we are saying “we don’t understand” in Spanish. He didnt seem to mind and we didn’t either. It seems that overall the Mexican people are nice (excluding some police and road tax collectors), especially the rural ones and that the sun is shining and that we are both having a good time. It looks like this entry has turned into a bit of an essay, I’m going to quit before my computer explodes and go for a swim in the pool instead! Tomorrow we´re going sport fishing for tuna, sailfish and marlin, fingers crossed!