Oaxaca – nice, colonial city, but just a touch too big. The turning point seems to be when the streets are wide enough for buses, and all the noise and exhaust fumes that brings. My first night in Oaxaca I stayed in a kind of divey hostel. I had my own room (about 6 x 8) but the walls didn’t actually go anywhere near the roof so sounds (and smells) were still easy enough to share. Unfortunately it turned out that my next door neighbour was a guy I couldn´t help but notice earlier. He was in a wheelchair and looked like one of the dysfunctional Vietnam vets in Mexico in Born on the 4th of July. Which, in itself, was no reason to dislike him. Hearing him talk for 5 minutes, however, definitely was. As if his obnoxious personality and racist comments weren´t enough (he seems to really hate Mexicans for a guy who seems to spend a lot of time in Mexico), the fact that he smoked and made snorting noises until 4am, then finally went to sleep and starting snoring like a chainsaw put it over the edge.
It was like sleeping with an ashtray under my pillow. Needless to say, I moved in the morning.
Went on a kind of neat tour one day, starting with a really big tree (which they falsely claimed to be the biggest in the world), a village where they make those colourful carpets you always see associated with Mexico, then a kind of fossilized hot springs/waterfall, more ruins and then the closing ceremonies at a Mezcal factory (oh yeah). Hierve Agua (Boiling Water) was definitely the highlight, although there was some competition from the American girl in the short shorts crouching her way around the 3 foot high tunnels of Mitla. Lonely Planet´s description of Hierve Agua used a somewhat bizarre choice of words that created some rather disturbing images that were difficult to get out of my head. Once you see the pictures of the frozen, white formation hanging from the side of a cliff you´ll understand why “bubbles out of the ground, depositing its load on the steep hillside” seems just a touch inappropriate.
There was a weird moment near the end of our lunch stop, which had somehow deteriorated into a mass confusion of wrong and/or missed orders and ending up taking much longer than planned. As we were leaving we noticed one of the ladies from the restaurant actually crying so we asked our driver what the problem was.
He responded, “Oh, no problem. She just gets sad sometimes.” Very convincing.
After a couple days it was time to move on again, now to San Cristobal de las Casas via 12 hour overnight bus. After arriving at the Oaxaca station I came across something a bit humbling. Over the years Laynni and I have had many comical encounters with cockroaches, pretty much always ending with Laynni screaming “Kill it! Kill it!” and me chasing it with a sandal, trying to be tough but still skipping around like I´m actually battling some type of deadly cobra.
Well, as if that image isn´t ridiculous enough, it got worse when I saw the two little Mexican kids capture a nasty looking roach the size of my big toe using just their hands, and then proceed to fight over which one got to play with if first.
Anyway, these night buses have a bit of a reputation for theft and armed robbery so the bus companies have gone to great lengths (it appears) to increase security. Unfortunately, as far as I could tell, the “metal detector” wasn´t actually very good at detecting any of the numerous metal objects either on my person or in my backpack. I kind of suspect we were just walking through an unusually small doorway with no walls around it.
After we got through that, though, at least they ran the hand detector over and it definitely worked, beeping like crazy several times (watch, belt, change, roll of nickels). Of course, it didn´t really mean much since they didn´t bother to check any of this out, choosing rather to simply nod and wave me on. Foolproof system. Their final level of “security” was actually the first part of this whole circus that legitimately made me nervous. A lady came onto the bus right before we left and went up and down the aisle videotaping all the passengers. Um, this struck me as a bit odd, and try as I might, I was unable to think of any way this exercise could actually PREVENT us from being robbed or hijacked. On the other hand, I could think of several ways this might come in handy in a hostage situation, for instance, or maybe when trying to identify the bodies.
But…I´m writing this in San Cristobal so obviously there was nothing to worry about after all (except maybe the food at our 3am rest stop). San Cristobal is a beatiful little city and, although I am disgusted with the clockwork afternoon rains, I´m ecstatic that I was able to actually watch some football yesterday (real football, with oversized helmets and tights) even though the Giants lost, their D looked brutal, and half the team got hurt.
Off to the Mayan ruins of Palenque tomorrow, and sometime after that I´ll get caught up on everything that happened, and got drank, in San Cristobal.