Oaxaca to San Cristobal

I have finally extracted myself from Oaxaca. I’m pretty glad to be back on the road. One thing I found in Oaxaca that makes me happy (but most of you won’t understand) is VI for windows. That means I can write this using VI!! VI, those of you not in the know ask, what is vi? It’s a Unix text editor. Anybody remember Word Perfect back in the day when you didn’t have a mouse. It’s kind of like that, but more primitive. What I like about it is that it’s fast, fast, fast, and I know it better than any text editor I know of. As a System Administrator, it’s very important to know as it’s on every system ever made, and it’ll always work, unless something is really, really wrong. If there any any emacs people out there, I say – get a life. To Summarize.. I’m a geek.

I left Oaxaca later than planned. The partially English speaking daughter wanted to go to breakfast, and I’m a sucker for speaking English lately. I needed to do a few errands too, such as go to the bank, etc. It was just about 1 p.m. before I left. Initially I wanted to make San Cristobal de las Casa Sunday night, but in retrospect, it’s a pretty far journey, too much for one day, even a long day.

The roads, as you head south of Mexico City get worse, as do rail connections (I’ve been reading up.) Southern Mexico is the bastard stepchild of Mexico. It never had a ton of wealth to exploit (oil may change that), and Mexico has tended to look towards the US, it’s largest trading partner, rather than Central America. It’s this history of neglect that lead to the uprising in Chiapas, including San Cristobal (where I write this.) There are other factors too, such as 45 people massacred by anti-zapatista paramilitary groups in 1997, mainly women and children. These are what Ronald Reagan called freedom fighter in Nicaragua, and broke the law, selling arms to Iran to finance. But to his credit, he never did get a blow job from an intern.

OK, off my soapbox. For now. Leaving Oaxaca. Right. OK, the road out of Oaxaca was OK, but only OK. Oaxaca, like most of Mexico, sits in mountains. Leaving was a windy, curvy, slow journey. Once you got out of the mountains, and closer to the coast, the road becomes flat and straight. You also get into the coastal climate – palm trees and flat ground. It’s hot and humid, but since I’m going 70, it’s hard to notice. I decide to spend the night in Salina Cruz, which appears to be a coastal town, and it’s right about halfway on my journey.

I find the town easily enough, and find the first hotel, but they don’t have parking for mi moto, so I go to another place. The second place doesn’t have parking, but I ask if I can park in the lobby. I talk to the girl behind the counter for a few minutes, and figure out that I can, but between 10 and 11 p.m. Sounds fair to me. The room was 230 pesos, or about $20/US. Air Conditioning was extra $10/US, but since I’ve been cool for the last couple of weeks, I figured now wasn’t the time to splurge. Need to get used to the heat.

After everything is in the room and I’m changed, I head out to eat, since I’ve had neither food nor drink since early this morning, and I’m starving. I _head_ (head – remember that for later) to a seemingly popular roadside food stand. These are everywhere, and I’ve eaten at a ton of them. I look to see if they are cooking the food while I’m there, and that there is a bit of a crowd. In halting Spanish I ask for three tacos. What kind, I think they ask. Tripe was the first one, so I say in proficient enough Spanish “no tripe.” On the next question I go, sure. I don’t know the name for what I’m eating, but from the consistency and taste, I can tell I’ve had it before. I’m sitting there enjoying my mystery meal, when I look over, and on the grill that my food was cooked, was the partially chopped up head of a pig. I was two tacos into my three tacos when I realized I was eating the parts of a pig head. Now, I’ve eaten a few things in my life that have given me cause to reflect on what I’m eating. Three to be exact – blood sausage in Ireland, fried rocky mountain oysters at the Testicle Festival in Montana, and now this. I finished what was put before me each time, but it was hard fighting my gag reflex.

I was still kind of hungry, so on the way to my room, I stopped at a small bakery and got a slice of cake. Pan Comido is a slang term for “piece of cake” or so I was told. I made the girl behind the counter smile with my Pan Comido joke. I consider that a pretty big success. Usually I’m getting laughed at – it may have been the highlight of the day.

The room was nice enough, and the mattress was great. This place also had cable, which was nice (cable usually has some English somewhere. Once it was What Not To Wear – the British/original version.) Tonight, it was a Steven Segal movie – Exit Wounds. It even had a plot twist I didn’t see coming, which was a pleasant surprise. Other than that, it was a pretty bad movie, down to the conversation with the rouge cop, telling him he’s out of control. The best part of the hotel room was the bathroom. The toilet was right next to the shower, and there was no shower curtain. I can assure you that someone killed two birds with one stone this morning.

When 10:30 rolled around, I went downstairs to put my bike in the lobby. There was a six – eight inch step I had to go up to get to the lobby. The guy that owns the place wanted us to lift it, and push it. I was OK with it, but skeptical until he got two other people to help us. Then it was a piece of cake. My bike likes being indoors. It makes it feel special.

After getting up reluctantly – it was a pleasant sleep – I head out the door at 9 a.m., which a nice and early start to the day. It was a long day of driving. Initially, I was on pretty good highways (Salinas Cruz has a PeMex oil refinery, and had five large oil tankers out in the water), but that ended pretty quickly – 30 miles or so. The rest of the journey varied from great, new roads, to crappy roads in need of work. Salinas Cruz is on the ocean, so it’s pretty flat. Eventually, you hit mountains and head up again. Where the road is hugging the coast, it’s flat, but not real fast, as it tends to be pretty heavily populated, and grass, etc. grows up to the road on both sides. Once you head up into the mountains, it’s 30 – 40 MPH the rest of the way. There was a stretch of about 30 minutes where I was in first and second gear most of the way. Hard to get anywhere going that slow. Fun though.

Eventually you come to Tuxla Guiterrez, which is a pretty darned big city. I wished I could have spent some time there. It seemed prosperous, but a too big for my taste. Going out of T.G., there are a couple of toll roads, one taking you to Mexico (as Mexico City is universally called) and the other taking you to San Cristobal. I’m curious what route the road to Mexico takes, and how much it is. It’s not on my map, as many other roads aren’t. The road I took was top San Cristobal. In the distance you can see the something cut into the side of the mountain above T.G., but I didn’t imagine it was the road. It was. It starts as a toll road, but then stops short (as I’ve seen happen a few times.) The toll road, as usual, was fantastic. It climbed a LONG ways. I probably climbed for 25 minutes before I saw my first downhill stretch. That’s got to be a design flaw. If you get a large truck going down that hill, it’ll never stop. Anyway – that toll road was a pretty aggressive uphill stretch until it ended. Then you get onto a two lane road where you stay in second and third gear for most of the way.

It started looking like rain, so I saw a picturesque place to pull over and dropped my bike again. As with last time, I was stopped. I started moving to the left and the bike started going that way, I put my foot down, and my foot slid out from under me, and the bike was down in the middle of the road. I’ve dropped my bike more on this trip (4750 miles) than in the previous years I’ve owned it (21600 miles.) Hoping off, and cussing, as it went down, I was glad to be on a desolate stretch of road. I took off my helmet, gloves and jacket and tried to decide what to do. The official way to pick a bike like this up is to lock the steering wheel to one side, put your butt on the seat and walk it upright. That didn’t (and hasn’t) worked for so many reasons. Foremost is that I’m too tall. When I get low enough to get my butt to where the seat is, I’ve got no leverage. Secondly, it’s too wet – my feet slip. So I did what I did last time – put my arms under the seat and pretend it’s a tackling dummy. It’s worked every time I’ve tried it, but I do expect someone to find me in the middle of the road someday unable to move because I’ve snapped my spine. Anyway, this time I did do a little bit of damage – I broke my right turn signal. I used a little super glue on the amber lens, putting it back in one piece, and used my clear duct tape to put the amber lens back in the holder. I think it makes my bike look more manly. I was able to do this before another car came upon me. Whew!! I took a couple of pictures of the beautiful countryside (which don’t do it justice) and suited back up.

Looking my bike over, I noticed it’s about time to get new tires for my motorcycle. This made me nervous, as I was on pretty wet, crazy curvy, and generally bad roads. You are only one tar strip away from going down. These tires should be good for 6-8K miles, and I’m right between there. I think I’ll try and get tires in Costa Rica or maybe Panama, if either has a BMW, or other large motorcycle dealer.

A little later on, I stop for gas (7 something pesos for a liter – anybody know what that is a gallon?) and this little boy comes up to me and he shakes my hand. It was another one of those few incidents where someone love my motorcycle. Oddly, I’ve seen more of it in Chiapas than I have since Juarez. I wished I had the foresight to let him sit on the bike or something. At least I know to not let him run around with scissors in his mouth.

Back on the road, it’s windy and curvy, and I’m worried about my tires. The scenery though, it’s amazing. It feels like I’m in a different country. The people are darker and smaller – not that they weren’t dark and small in the state of Oaxaca. The people dress differently – more vibrant colors, and I’ve seen a lot of women carrying wood on their backs using their head (hard to describe.) The land these people live in is harsh – it must be what it was like when the Spanish came. Corn growing on hillsides that I can’t imagine anyone climbing, houses on those same crazy steep hills. It’s like stepping back into time.

Eventually, I get to San Cristobal de las Casa. It’s very high up, I think 6500 feet, or 1000 ft higher than Denver. Once again, I’m in the mountains. It’s a nice town, but, well, I’m getting kind of burnt out on Spanish Colonial towns. Finding my way, is once again, difficult. I find a hotel recommended in my Rough Guide, and they have parking!!! Score. Come to find out, parking means a garage that is just about big enough for my bike – I almost didn’t fit through the door, but it’s still parking.

My room is up the side of the hill – it’s a three minute climb. That’s when I remembered that I’m so high up – I’m pretty winded when I get here, as is the women showing me my room. Then again, she’s about four feet tall, so it’s got to be that much harder taking each step. It’s a “nice” room, especially for the $11.82/US I paid. I’ve got some sort of kitchen, a fireplace, hot water (agua calliente), and a pretty decent bed. Oh, and parking. Granted, the toilet doesn’t actually have a seat. I don’t mean lid – I mean seat. I’m hoping dinner tonight was healthy. The door to the bathroom has eight panes of glass. I guess privacy isn’t that important here, eh? San Cristobal is pretty cool – it’s August 30th, and I wished I’d had a jacket on when I was out. As a result, I’ve got all the windows closed. It will be my first mosquito free night in a long time, and it should be quiet too. The hotel itself is gorgeous. There plants growing everywhere, and flowers, more plants. If this was in Guanajuato, I’d probably book a room for my Mother and Meryln today.

Tomorrow, I’m heading to Palenque, which are supposed to be the greatest ruins in Mexico. I want to be there when they open (photographers curse), so I’m going to stay in the town of Palenque, which is about three hours away from San Cristobal. After the ruins, which take a whole day, I’m heading to Guatemala. I think I’ll need to come back to San Cristobal, but if I can, I want to head to the border. Someone told me you should only figure on doing one thing a day when traveling, be it mailing a package, changing tires or crossing the border. So I want to dedicate a whole day to crossing the border, and maybe getting away from the border towns, since they are supposed to suck.