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Some cities you just can’t sleep in and Oaxaca is one of those for me. I wake up Sunday morning on my second restless night of sweaty half-sleep. The rings under my eyes are dark and deep. I’m exhausted, but ready for the road to Tuxtla Guiterrez and possibly San Cristobal de las Casas. Before starting our climb back into the Sierras, now lush and green, we pass by Matatlan which the sign in large type over the road tells us is the “Mezcal Capital of the World.” It’s a sleepy dusty town with houses converted to storefronts selling bottles of mezcal.
“They should sell shots at each tumulo, (speed bump)” Brad says stating the obvious fact that we’re not on an autopista toll road. We’re on a curvy libre winding in and around the mountains. Sundays are great driving days in Mexico and Guatemala, no one is on the road and whoever you happen upon they’re not in a hurry to get anywhere. I imagine I am back in California headed to Big Sur. I scrawl the words at 45 degree angles as Brad rounds the corners adjusting to less speed, less ground. He loses patience fast. There’s no rushing through this terrain. Two hundred twenty two kilometers of this and I can see why we have a nine-hour day of driving ahead of us.
We go through three military checkpoints and are asked to go through a full inspection during one of them. Brad turns on my phone camera and keeps it on throughout the inspection. Where are you from? Where are you going? What’s in the back of the truck? Why are you crossing to Guatemala in La Mesilla and not Tapacula? You’re a student? Journalism? Yes, journalism.
Tehuanatepc 187 KM. The Sierra de Juarez is diverse – alternating from fertile green to dusty burned soil, both remote, raw and uncompromising. The guys in military fatigues with guns bigger than the length of their bodies, stare me down. I am direct and don’t chitchat. I prepare for the Guatemalan soldiers who have no sense of humor. I ask how long to Tuxtla Guiterrez, they say nine hours and I feign disbelief. They smile. “Depends on how fast you drive.” I can drive fast, as long as I don’t have any mezcal.
They smile big and nod. “Have a good trip, ma’am,” they tell me. We drive. That’s all we do at this point, drive and drive past desert, mountains, brush, vast swaths of agave, orange trees hugging tight turns, making sudden stops for tumulous at small towns where often it’s just one person writing for who knows how long until the next bus to take them to their destiny. We’re close to the Pacific, Puerto Escondido, Bahias de Huatulco. We’ll be leaving the state of Oaxaca soon and entering Chiapas. Brad starts a Devo playlist on his iPod, the complete opposite of what’s outside. We eat lunch at Mojades, in a small restaurant run by women cooking up fried fish fillets, tortillas and tamarindo. There’s a baby sleeping in a hammock in a tight little knot of hands, feet and head tucked into itself.
We sit on plastic lawn chairs watching the random car drive by, the neighbor across the road sweeping her one-room home and porch. The sun is so bright the dog at the bottom of the stairs squints in our direction.
A camioneta (bus) with “Oaxaca” pulls up next to our truck and the waitress comes out of the kitchen to warn the little boy playing with the soap bottle, washing the dirt: “Alli viene tu papa.” He timidly smiles and throws himself in the hammock. Out of the bus hops the ayudante, the helper, who lifts his son, kisses him, strokes the baby now in another woman’s arms, grabs a big bottle of tamarimdo juice, hops back on the bus where arms dangle out into the heat. and waves back to his son, nods his head and says “¡Provecho!” I sprinkle big grains of salt on my tomatoes and cucumber salad, squeeze two lemons on it. There’s a simple way to live. But not necessarily easier.
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