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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Savant


Updated: Dec 7, 2020


Having slept like a baby - possibly induced by the residual pot in the air of my room - I took a shower in the shared bathroom, feeling fully as if I'd just experienced the showers of a Mexican prison (minus certain scenarios, I might add). I scrambled for my gear and grabbed a quick organic veggies-type pastry from the hip coffee shop next to the apartment, scarfing it down on the way to the plaza.

The lively night before made it seem eerily quiet as folks walked quickly to work across the main plaza. I wandered into the big church again and then around the homeless camp in the adjacent park.

There were some comments that the Independence Day show was not going to happen other than an official ceremony - some said due to the teacher protests and others since it might seem inappropriate with the major earthquake still affecting the region - of which there seemed to be no major damage in Oaxaca City. My arrival in Mexico had coincided with a hurricane and major earthquakes in central and southern Mexico.

Charlie popped up on the plaza in search of a money exchange, having had no luck at several banks who would not exchange US currency. Weird. He finally found one that required his passport, so he headed back to his hotel to grab it and we agreed to meet again in an hour.

I wandered past some hardcore special forces guys with trained dogs and fierce faces. They were prevalent around the area and amidst the mercado I was wandering through. The market was, as usual, a scene of whirling motion and smells, shouts and suspicious stares. I circled amidst it and finally stopped at a butcher's counter that specialized in internal organs. She was happy and showed me all the parts and pieces, naming them in Spanish. She was happy to pose for a picture and I blew her kiss of thanks which made her burst into laughter.

Back on the streets, the heat was rising as was the presence of additional police and military forces - of which there seem to be an endless variety. I was told that due to the occupation of the park, the usual festivities might not happen. Considering how festive Mexico is, I had figured it would be like July the 4th on steroids, however about the only indication of Mexico's Independence Day were the ubiquitous carts selling flags and souvenirs.

Charlie had returned in triumph after getting some cash and wanted to head out for Hierves del Agua, a calcified waterfall formation a few hours away. Our bikes were too much of a hassle to get, so the plan was to catch a cab to a small town and board a pickup for the final stretch to the falls. The official Oaxaca tourism kiosk was manned by an English speaking girl, who informed us of prices and how to get to Hierves, showing us on a map that we needed to walk a long ways to the city stadium where we could catch a cab.

On the way I tried my luck at getting a shot of some of the special forces policia - a pointless exercise I knew - but hey ya never know. The group we approached only allowed me to shoot pics of their dog while they watched in their black boonie hats, Oakley sunglasses, black outfits and body armor, swinging collapsible stock H&K G3 battle rifles and Colt M4 carbines. They were some ruff hombres.

A thirty minute walk later we were sweaty and standing in the heat, as a river of buses and cabs passed, stuffed to the gills with people and no signs of "Mitla", our destination. After an hour of trying to find one, we instead nabbed a bus for 20 pesos and launched into an hour and a half nauseating ride, standing most of the way. But hey, it was way cheaper than the $550 pesos one cabbie had asked.

Jumping off the bus in the tiny town of Mitla we both needed some car-sickness recovery time. We then found the truck for the 45 minute ride on a rough dirt road that switchbacked up the steep mountainside. We shared it with another couple to save a bit of money.

The "falls", for lack of a better term, are calcified formations from sulfur springs and over time shallow pools were formed on the tops. At some point one was modified to create a large infinity pool deep enough to swim in. After settling down from the bus and truck ride, the vista and waters did their trick. We'd left much later in the day than planned due to the cab and bus fiasco, but wiled away the time relaxing and watching the other tourists.

Canuck Charlie!

Realizing it would be late getting back to town, we finally wandered back to catch one of the last pickups back down the mountain to Mitla. We shared it with three other backpackers who chose to sit in the truck bed. Charlie and I scored the back seat and were watched by the beautiful little niña in front with her mama and papa. She was in love with Charlie and full of personality, scoring a slab of chile covered watermelon from his fruit snack cup. From the rear tarp covered pickup bed, waves of pot smoke billowed from the passengers in the party section.

The high road back to Mitla late in the day was awesome, and our return by cab to Oaxaca was interesting to say the least. The cabbie would only take us if we could get five in the car. Needless to say I was in the front seat with Mr. Canuck buried under a couple hundred pounds of backpackers in the back seat. Yep, six passengers total in a late 80's Nissan Sentra - seven since I count as two. I couldn't even see Charlie for the first 30 minutes.

The ride back to Oaxaca Centro was long and crazy in the dark. Of our sardine can companions, one of them spoke English, living in California but having grown up in Mexico. She was very helpful and when I shared about the two "ufo/signs in the sky" I'd seen, she said it was very common here, especially near any of the Aztec sites. When Charlie told her we'd walked to the stadium to catch a cab as per the tourism center's advice, she laughed out loud and said the place to catch a cab to Mitla was right next to plaza where the tourism kiosk was. She said we needed to ask at least 7 people where something is before you'll really find it. Charlie and I just laughed. Mexico. The cab cost each of us 25 pesos for almost two hours ride time, which was roughly $1.50. I don't know how in the hell they even pay for gas, much less make a living.

It was 9 pm by the time we got out of the cab and onto the streets in a desperate search for comida. A flank steak and cheese quesadilla from a street vendor served as an appetizer followed by second course from another vendor - an ear of corn slathered in mayonesa and cheese plus chile powder. We wandered the dark streets back toward the plaza, stopping to eat our corn on a deserted street cordoned off by the police. A moment later whistles began blowing and the cops got active. We sort of froze, the barricades were quickly moved and a black Jeep Grand Cherokee came racing around the corner and stopped in front of us. A white suburban following closely slammed in behind, the doors flying open and secret service type personnel pouring out and around the black suited men who were getting out of the Grand Cherokee. Apparently we had a private, front row seat to the arrival of the governor of the state of Oaxaca with his security detail.

The extreme presence of all the military and special forces now suddenly made sense.

With sleepy yawns, we wandered to and then waited in the plaza for the official presentation, and unlike Mexico, it came directly on time at 11 pm with a short, strong statement from a government balcony, preceded with trumpets and the national anthem sung a by a soprano. That was it, no fireworks or celebration and the crowd began dispersing. From the plaza we saw through a window as the governor stood for photos in the chamber, illuminated by flashes as guests swapped in and out aside him.

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