The Way to Oaxaca
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Leaving Cholula that morning, I thanked mama and her family, giving the girls a hug which made them burst into giggles. I retrieved the bike from the secure lot around the corner, loaded up my gear and hit the tollway south for Oaxaca. It was a wild, fast ride to get through Puebla, but the crazy traffic and dangerous rush is also addictive.
The tollway south ends up in amazing landscape, going high in the mountains and across impressive bridges. An hour away from Oaxaca I passed a Pemex station packed with police trucks and black clad men, a foretaste of what lay ahead. The highway goes into beautiful hills and forests of saguaro-like cactus, going up and down through some great terrain. At one point a couple of bikes passed me at probably 120 mph, waving as they did. Mexican motorcyclists waste no time on the road and ride faster than any place I've yet traveled.
The road is littered with semi's chugging slowly up hills and attempting to pass each other, and traveling with any speed on the bike required threading the needle between them as well as passing on blind curves to beat the lines of vehicles stuck behind them. Amidst this, a huge convoy of police trucks lay ahead. Overall there must have been about 100, spread in clusters, some going slowly and some quickly. One by one I picked my way around each, always feeling a bit weird passing law enforcement at high speed, through blind curves and over double yellow lines. They couldn't care less.
The road came to a screeching halt for a bad crash, a double semi trailer rig having flipped over and off into a shallow canyon. They had drug the rear trailer out, but the remaining trailer and cab lay upside down, no doubt the driver dead.
Rain was forecast for Oaxaca, and around me in the mountains were thick rain showers almost sheer white in density. I somehow managed to skirt the edges of the rain dumps with only a few spatters, finally making Oaxaca and the interminable traffic on the outskirts.
I'd booked a cheap place on AirBNB, whose owner said he had a BMW GS and a place for me to park right in the center of town. At the address, I waited with flashers on in a no parking area for a while until the owner sent his maid to open the place for me. It was an "interesting" place to stay, rooms with only metal doors requiring padlocks. The shared bath and kitchen seemed like some place in Afghanistan, but what made it worthwhile was the roof deck overlooking the city.
My room reeked of weed, so much so that I thought a neighbor was puffing away. Instead it was from the previous guest, as when I sat on the bed, a fresh puff billowed up.
The owner arrived to tell me of his F800GS Adventure, and also that the nearby parking garage of his friend was full. Instead we'd need to park "nearby" at his other rent home that had secure parking. I followed his scooter as he zoomed through traffic and tight spaces that made me squirm trying to get the big GS through. It culminated in crossing major traffic on a narrow pedestrian walkway, barely getting the GS between posts, people in cars laughing and pointing at the antics. Finally able to get across, we raced up pedestrian only streets and between barricades until I was completely lost.
We stopped at a nice home and he opened the gates, showed me his F800GS and where to park, then hopped on his scooter and took off quickly leaving me standing there. I had no idea where I was, and a bit bewildered, I googled my hotel address and found it to be 2.5 km away. I had a nice, long 37 minute walk back in the heat wearing all my motorcycle gear, boots and helmet.
(I have the full 34 minute version of this video if you'd like to see it)
He'd made it sound like his apartment with parking was just around the corner so I assumed parking would be a couple blocks away...
As I neared a set of steps in the centro, I swear I passed the actor Nick Nolte, almost bumping into him. He was walking with a guide and grumbling something like "let's go this way." If it wasn't him, then he's got a serious twin with the same voice.
Drenched with sweat and tired, I unlocked the gate, climbed the stairs to my room, changed clothes then climbed a rickety metal staircase to the roof deck and enjoyed the great views of the city.
A Canadian motorcyclist had contacted me online when he saw that I was traveling in the same area of Mexico as he. "CanuckCharlie" texted me that he'd arrived in Oaxaca and we agreed to meet at the plaza for dinner. As I got close to Plaza Zocalo, I could hear the music and a lively crowd. A cultural dance was in progress with a lively drum band outside the large cathedral. I watched a bit, mesmerized by the color and music as daylight turned to dusk.
Across from the plaza of the cathedral, the adjacent park was quite different. It was covered with homemade shelters made of tarps and cardboard, speakers blaring as orators shouted about things unknown. What a contrast to my last visit to Oaxaca, where the park was the typical traditional family gathering place and full of green grass. Now it felt like a homeless tent city, with dirt and trash about. I watched and walked carefully, not feeling in any danger just not knowing who felt what about a gringo photographing a political protest. When I asked about it, I was told the teachers union had "occupied" the park to protest on the upcoming Independence Day. It's a shame that they were there trashing the park, as the city is a beautiful, hip and vibrant town.
Charlie texted me that he had arrived at the plaza. It was great to meet him and walk the streets, talking about the similarities of experiences, solo motorcycle travel and what lay ahead for each of us. Charlie had been born in China, but his parents had immigrated to Canada. Charlie was an electrical engineer, now employed by Ford in Detroit. He'd been given a one year sabbatical and he'd decided to ride to South America and continue on to Europe afterwards.
I was enjoying Oaxaca. My previous time here had been lost in a hazy memory from the fatigue of having ridden too hard for too many days before arrival. Now I had time to take it in.