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Published: November 7th 2010
Soon to be 34 eh & hardly a possession to my name, but look at what I've achieved!
Okay, so I'm a little light on achievements (in the conventional sense) too. My only real possessions may be a rucksack & a motorbike (rucksack under bed in Wembley, bike knackered by the time I get home) & yes I might be skint yet again when I do make it back & may (family & D&B replace 'may' with 'will') need somewhere to crash whilst I sort myself out, but surely I can't be the only 34 year old you know of in the same situation?
I read an apt John Lennon quote recently that said 'if you enjoyed wasting time, then your time wasn't wasted'.
As I accept the need to mature, you'll notice this blog becoming a lot more infomative & serious, less of my ramblings if you ignore the above, more of a broadsheet travel supplement...
So I finally managed to build up the required motivation to leave Mexico City & Pension Amigo & hit the road. As my bed in the Japanese hostel was about 47 years old (the mattress was a mere 25) it
had been nicely worn in & despite looking like it was about to collapse at any moment, it was ridiculously comfortable. Fourteen hours of continuous sleep came night after night & that doesn't include my mid afternoon siesta. Absorbing all this culture is more tiring then I expected.
Coupling how comfortable the bed was with my unwillingness to deal with Mexico City's police (there are four different police forces here - Traffic, Tourist, Federal & Municipal plus the army are on the streets too) meant I was happy where I was in the company of good people & a little reluctant to get back amongst the insane traffic & the heavy smog of the largest city in the world.
However, I'd originally planned on staying two or possibly three nights at Pension Amigo & had in fact stayed nine, so it was time to get moving. I settled my bill (£32.34 - bargain!) & headed south.
Saburo offered to ride with me to the edge of town as he'd been off the bike for over a week too & wanted to get his bearings for when he eventually leaves. I also suspected he wanted to make sure
Drinks, sweets or cake?
I got out okay. Ahhhhhhhh...
Despite it being a Saturday morning the traffic was as chaotic as ever & after only a few miles I told Saburo to turn back & so we shouted our goodbyes as we dodged & weaved through traffic. I'll hopefully next see him in London in a year or so as he continues his 3 years on a motorbike world tour & I'm busy choosing curtains, or whatever it is responsible 34 year olds do.
I persevered with the traffic & after covering the best part of seven miles in what must be a Mexico City record of an hour & a half, the traffic slowly started to disperse as the road climbed up through the smog & out of the city. In fact the road kept climbing to over 10,500ft where it was cool & clear & Mexico City was a distant memory. Bliss.
I thought perhaps I'd been unlucky & misjudged the City's Police, they couldn't all be corrupt a#*eholes, but a couple of days later I received an email from Saburo who'd been stopped twice during the 6 mile ride back to Pension Amigo & fined once. They did
try to fine him a second time but after the first stop he had no money left. Told you, they're a@"eholes!
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a huge celebration in Mexico when the souls of the departed are said to return & are honoured with gifts. The souls of departed children return on the first night followed by adults on the second and so the gifts change from toys to booze & fags, possibly why they departed in the first place.
The heart of the celebrations is a town called Oaxaca & so I thought I'd head there. For once I'd tried a little preplanning (see, I am getting old) & emailed a few places & people on Couch Surfing asking if they had any room. All said they'd been booked for months & therefore I returned to my usual 'turn up & see' philosophy. One Couch Surfer did say although their place was full they'd happily to show me around, all I had to do was get there.
The first part of the 285 mile ride from Mexico City wasn't fun with some huge pile ups to dodge, some so fresh the
drivers had yet to get out of their cars making me wonder what if I was a little further down the road? After about 150 miles the road opened up & I was a lot happier, traffic eased & I passed by some beautiful snow capped mountains & countryside. At one point it looked like it might actually rain, I haven't seen rain for over two months & thought a downpour would be good as it might wash some dirt out of my riding gear. It never materialised & so until it does my riding gear will remain as it is, covered in dirt, dust & grime.
On one mountain pass there was a queue (Americans read 'line', I found out when I was there the word queue doesn't exist in the their vocab) of traffic for road works & so I had nowhere to go for about 15 minutes. As I waited the car behind pulled alongside & offered me a drink. When I told them I was good, I was given sweets instead. Traffic queues often have food vendors plying their trade & the chap in the car bought some sugar coated cake & passed it to
me. I broke off a piece & went to hand it back but he told me it was a gift from him & his family. I know never accept sweets from strangers but as I'm nearly 34 I thought I could make an exception.
If I was to add up the time I've spent stuck in traffic in London it would total a month with ease, but never once have I been offered anything other then a few swear words from a fellow motorist. I might try it the next time I'm on route to my sisters & the M25 comes to a standstill. I'll let you know how I get on &/or if I need bail money.
I arrived in Oaxaca & the streets were packed with revellers & the party was well underway. I parked the bike outside the cathedral in the centre of town & sat & watched the world go by for a while. I was pleased so many people were in fancy dress as for once I didn't look like such an idiot in all my biking gear. (Once in four months - Hurrah.)
I then tried a couple of hotels, the
first was packed solid but the second said yes I could have a room for $200 Mex (about £11) & it wasn't safe to leave the bike outside so to bring it in. I'd heard those words before but as they didn't have an ornamental fish pond I thought I'd give it a go. I weighed up the size of the kerb & the one large step into reception & calculated the amount of momentum required to climb said step & kerb & when I'd need to slam on the brakes so I wouldn't go crashing through reception. Perhaps I could have eased it in one step at a time but the bike is far to heavy to balance & the clutch wouldn't be happy. I'm pleased to report I got it in without breaking anything & even squeeeeeeeeeezed it passed reception, through a doorway & into the courtyard directly outside my room. I had to show my brother in law on Skype where it ended up as he is a master of maneuvering motorbikes & ask how the hell was I supposed to get it out?
Whilst I think of it - my Skype connection hasn't been great
& so keeps dropping calls or not connecting. Something to do with the bandwidth at the places I stay (Mr Sper, where's someone with an $120k education in computer science when I need one?) but when I do get a decent connection I will say hello. I've even had to resort to using internet cafes which has made me smile, ahhhh the good old days!
Oaxaca had a nice comfortable feel, entire families were out in fancy dress and the whole town was packed with people partying on the streets. Andrea, the Couch Surfer who offered to show me round told me where to meet & introduced me to fellow travellers from France, Spain & Canada. So within an hour or so of finding a bed I was being shown round town by a local. Andrea is from Oaxaca but has spent time in France, Italy & Spain. She has also traveled to London & stayed in... wait for it... Dollis Hill! Small world eh? She seemlessly switched between English, French & Spanish & still had Italian in reserve in case someone from there turned up too.
After walking around town dodging through the parades, street art &
artists we hit a bar where the majority of people were in fancy dress & looked as though they'd sourced their costumes from Hollywood. They take fancy dress very seriously in these parts!
Lots of people were saying hello & I realised I stand out a little more then I thought as everyone spoke to me in English. It doesn't make it easy to learn Spanish but does have the advantage that I can say more then hello, how are you, what time is it, can you tell me the way to, can you fix this, fill the tank please, I'm hungry & I'm a professional wrestler from Japan. None of which (apart from the Japanese wrestler line, obviously) are much use in a social environment.
I was introduced to yet more people including a number of witches, wrestlers, fairies & nun working the bar. God I love traveling! I also met Audry (that's how they spell it over here), she was born a raised in Oaxaca but lives in Montreal so speaks fluent French & English. Coincidentally, I speak fluent English too.
Audry explained what I hadn't read in the guidebook about the festival & celebrating
life as oppose to mourning death & as I was more then a little dubious she invited me to a cemetery the following night. I don't usually spend a lot of time in cemeteries but from memory the ones at home don't have funfairs, live bands or people laughing & dancing around. Families were visiting the graves of loved ones to pay their respects & give gifts but none of it appeared sad, it was much more of a carnival atmosphere. To an ex altar server (4 years solid service) like me who chooses not to hang around such places especially at night, it took some getting used to. Without doubt it was the first time I've ever enjoyed visiting a grave yard. Thank you Audry!
People in fancy dress were also wandering around & one dressed as the Grim Reaper was particularly disconcerting, but as Audry wasn't bothered neither was I, much. I did point out it could actually BE the Grim Reaper as it would be a perfect night to go about his business but my protests fell on deaf ears. I wasn't worried, I was purely concerned for Audry & insisted she walk ahead so I
was able to keep an eye on her as we made our way past the gravestones in the dark.
All things considered I like the idea of celebrating life & not mourning death, although I realise it is so much easier said then done. After years of practice Mexicans have it down to a fine art.
It did also cross my mind with all the gang violence over drugs, now would be a good time to 'pop a cap in someones ass'. (Mum, that's American slang for shooting someone). The noise of the fireworks would mask any gun fire & you could easily carry the coffin through the streets (lots of people were) without a second glance. The day prior to my arrival two gangsters had been shot & killed outside a church & I initially thought the bloodstains & the chalk marks around where the bodies must have laid were part of the festival until I was told. Someone was obviously taking this day of the dead thing a little too seriously.
After soaking up the festivities it was time to metorphorically push a camel through the eye of a needle or in other words, get
the bike out of the hotel. Surprisingly this was done with only minimal rearranging of furniture & pot plants & I was soon on the road heading south towards the Pacific coast.
Not far out of town the road split in two & I could see from the map (thank you Rich) both routes eventually got to the coast. As the sat nav wanted me to take the route on the left I opted for the road on the right, the road less traveled.
What I didn't notice was the solid black line on the map changed about half way down to an intermittent black line meaning it's the road less traveled for a reason. Enormous pot holes, speed bumps (usually hidden in the shade under a tree with a warning sign directly beside it, not much use when you're approaching at 60mph) dogs, donkeys, landslides & road closures all had to be contended with. I did think my sat nav knew I'd choose the opposite route to the one suggested & did it on purpose.
It took hours & hours & hours & I had one oh so very close call with a bus. On a
motorbike when you hear your front tyre locking you know it's going to be close & when I opened my eyes again the bus had passed so it must have been. I came round a tight right hander only to find a bus on my side of the road dodging potholes on his. We turned hard & luckily as I pulled hard right, he went hard left (my left, not his left, thankfully) but there was very little in it. A special thank you to St Jude for my escape on that one.
Eventually I descended out of the mountains & into Puerto Enscondido where I found a beachside cabina for £7/night, sat on the beach to watch the sunset (which is where the first picture from this blog was taken) & the stars come out & then slept for 15 hours straight beating my Pension Amigo record set less then a week prior, despite the return of the heat & humidity. Not only is age maturing me it also seems to be making me soft, I'd only covered 161 miles.
I've subsequently discovered a bridge on the main route had collapsed meaning I'd chosen the right route
after all, leaving the score tally between the sat nav & I at about 63-1. Sat nav 63, me 1.
I then rode along the coast & headed to a town called Barra del la Cruz for a couple of days enjoying the surf & the sunshine. There were a few Aussies & Kiwi's in town too as apparently it is one of the best surfing spots on the planet. I realise I'm going on a bit (again) so I won't go into too much detail about the town only to say a family circus was passing through consisting of a husband & wife & their 3 kids. It cost 50 pence to get in & although they were unable to skip a rope which was act 2, but could dance badly, act 3, they did have a full size Lion! How they feed it, where they got it from etc. etc. were all questions we asked ourselves. To be safe I made sure I always kept a child between me & it, just in case. On the walk back through the town in the dark I saw my first taranchula too. Luckily the Aussie I was with saw
it first & she alerted the rest of us so there was no need for me to scream & scream & scream as a warning to the others & I just managed to muffle it in time.
Whilst I was in Barra I took the time to look at the map & decided against heading north up towards Cancun as without Greg, Pat, Declan, Matt & Anthony it just would be the same & I dare say it has changed a little in the last 13 years. Instead I'll cross into Guatemala, find a language school for a week & perhaps head north up to see the ruins at Tikal (Culture - another sure sign of old age) along some of those intermittent black line roads I'm so fond of. Under no circumstances do I want to go anywhere near Guatemala City, all I have heard has not been good. As ever, all is dependent on how the road treats me.
I received an email from a Kiwi biker who is a little further ahead detailing what happened to an Aussie biker he was riding with in an accident just after he entered Guatemala. He explained how the
Guatemalan health care professionals wanted to pop what they thought was the Aussie's dislocated knee back into position when it turns out he had a badly broken leg. Nice! When they eventually all agreed his leg was broken they wanted to operate then & there, in a cow shed.
After reading about the rest of the Kiwi's adventures through Central America I'd appreciate your prayers.
Hopefully this time tomorrow I'll be in Guatemala my fourth country in four months, 2997 miles & six weeks since crossing into Mexico. Despite all the bad press (including the discovery of a mass grave this morning containing 30 tourists kidnapped a month ago) I wouldn't hesitate to return. An entire country shouldn't be judged just on what you see in the news, especially when that country has given Lucha Libre to the world.
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