Oaxaca city is a great place. It’s the first large city I have visited where I would consider coming back to relax, write, code, make art, or just waste time. The downtown area is quaint, well kept, has a feel of a colonial town, and a prolific art scene. What’s more, you can hear live music in the evenings floating it’s way through the streets while you sample restaurants which still incorporate traditional flavors. The food of Oaxaca is unique. Grasshoppers, moles, mezcal, and thick hot chocolate from a bowl are native to this area. I have been getting more and more tired of the usual Mexican grease and Oaxaca afforded me a selection of alternatives other than just the usual sandwich.
Monte Alban is a short drive from the City, on a hill overlooking the Valle Centrales. The complex is large, in my opinion, but a little produced in places. I could see fiberglass poking through on some of the rock relief carvings. Either some of the sights are reproduced or these people were way ahead of their time.
Leaving Oaxaca City, the road became wide; an anomaly in Mexico. A shoulder popped up and I even saw some racer-type cyclists out enjoying the less confrontational construction of the highway. We were able to see some more ruins in Mixtla and take a bumpy truckride into the mountains to see a mineral-fall, or a waterfall-like structure made of minerals.
The road then rolled downward towards the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a very flat, hot, extremely windy area which few gringos stop to visit. At one small town, a schoolboy noticed me and shouted for his friends to come join him. He ran to meet them as they rounded the corner, then doubled back towards me to arrive just before them. He bowed with an outstretched hand in my direction as if to say: “As promised, I give you … the gringo.” Moments later, while having lunch another man stopped his tractor outside and beckoned for me to come chat with him. Dirty, teeth missing, one eye, and very friendly, he had to stop to say hello and practice his English. Being a gringo in Mexico can mean you are a spectacle of sorts in some areas, but the jovial nature of the culture ensures this is never threatening.
Another section of the Ithsmus brought winds that often topple high trucks. I rode through them for a few hours, able to keep the bike pointed in a generally straight line despite having no shoulder and heavy traffic. When I saw the windfarm in the distance I knew I wouldn’t get a break. Eventually the gusts became too great, catching the surfaces of the front pannier and causing my wheel to inexplicably skid sideways toward the steep ditches. Having left early in the morning I walked the remaining distance; a difficult task in and of itself in such winds.
We entered Chiapas just as the remnants of Tropical Storm Arthur passed through the area. Ushering in what would be a very hot, wet next two months through Central America. In the town of Tuxtla I became solo again, my friend Amy finishing her vacation. The road led upward into the pines of the higher elevations, juxtaposed next to banana plants and rolling green farmlands. Small valleys and passes nearing 7000′ screamed by in miniature. Eventually, I dropped into the central depression and headed across to the border. I found Chiapas to be one of the most scenic, picturesque, kind, and generally best, states of Mexico I visited. I reminisce and smile about my cautiousness about riding through this area before I arrived. I had heard reports of cyclists having issues, the local uprising of years gone past, and general distrust of the region from many people to the north. I found none of this, other than a few dissenting t-shirts. I am always careful by my own subjective standards nonetheless.
Mexico is a beautiful country, but I feel only saw a glimpse of what it has to offer. Baja I remember with fondness, already romanced to be larger than reality itself. Aging like the warmth of the Anejos of Jalisco. The magic I found in those lands will linger forever, and that is a great part of the fun. The mainland might as well have been another country altogether. Different in culture and landscape, but those same genuine Mexican smiles persisted. Several times a day I would here a whistle, a honk, a yell, all so that I would glance in the direction of the producer to receive a smile, a wave, or a peace sign. In an America where some try to pretend that we are all alone, even when surrounded, we could learn a lot from the friendliness of Mexico. I regret not seeing more of it, but I am sure I will be back and that there are plenty more sights to come.
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