31. 2-24-13: Oaxaca – On the Edge

Finally in the great city at the foot of three valleys!

This side of the Sierra Juarez is much cooler than the Veracruz side – thank god! We are surrounded by mountains and valleys.  There has been a strong wind and a bit of rain, but the sky has made up for it with gorgeous sunsets and huge, beautiful clouds.

The drive to Oaxaca, over the breathtaking Sierra Juarez, was long and very difficult. Of the 200 or so clicks from Tuxtepec to Oaxaca, almost 150 go through the mountains. Of those 150, 100 or so you ride in 1st or 2nd gear, the other 50 in 3rd. The east side of the mountains was covered in a heavy fog for a good portion of the ride. The hairpin switchbacks gave no quarter of shoulder, rail, speed indications, or reflective posts. A mind blowing mix of trees and vegetation of the cloud forest rose into the mist on the left, as the unprotected cliff dropped off on the right. I wish I could have stopped to gaze on what looked like to be a magic forest – something out of a fantasy book, but the turns were blind and any car, coming from either direction, would have run me over with no more than a second notice.

This brings me to a continued observation from Veracruz, in which I noticed that cars in these two states pass in the oncoming lane with an air of propriety which forces those in their rightful lane to move over to the shoulder, if there is one. Basically, there is no right of way. With cars it’s one thing, but when semis do this, and they do this often, I fear the end of my days. When 2 walls of steel are coming at you, and the shoulder is but a dream, there is little you can do but pray. On relatively straight stretches of road, where there is warning, it’s one thing, when this happens in the mountains… At least 3 times I came around a corner to discover some 150,000 pound asshole trying to pass another semi – on curvy mountain roads!! I saw this in Baja as well, but it was never this close. In the last 4 months I have now had 15 close calls, in which a moment’s difference could have ended my life, or worse, put me in a wheel chair. New York was very dangerous, and I thought Mexico could never reach its heights, but it’s getting there. What’s worse is that I remember a great deal of the close calls I’ve had on my bikes over the last 10 years. It is scary how sometimes flashes from almost 100 instances of near death or possible paralysis come up from the subconscious. Every time I’ve had to stop and allow my heart to return to its rightful place in my chest is burned into my memory. For that matter, every freezing and/or soaked ride I can recall with incredible vividness as well.

But, as is the case with most days on the road, the tribulations are often soon forgotten for the triumphs and joys which abound. After being introduced by a fellow Mexican biker a few months ago over Skype, I’ve finally met Jayne and Phil – a brother and sister making the trek from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego (ultimateride.ca). We’ve been writing to each other and trying to cross paths for months now. Jayne and Phil are like friends of old. Our stories and conversations flow like the cascades of Angel Falls. It feels so good to have finally met up with them. I don’t know why there has been so much anticipation, but I think I see why now. They are wonderful, happy people, who share my passion for travel and the motorcycle. And burners to boot – an instant understanding of so many truths.

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I’ve been alone for so long, but now, not only do I have Ida to share a little bit of my journey, but Phil and Jayne have also decided to throw in their lot for the next few weeks – we are a veritable caravan!

We began at the world’s biggest tree, in Mitla. It is awesome to contemplate how a single tiny seed can produce a living organism which weighs over 400,000 tons and grows 31m tall and 14m wide! Then to calm our awe we proceeded on a tour of the local Mezcal producers… with plenty of tasting. And just to be sure we are well rounded and not just Mezcal slugging philistines, we took a 2 hour scorching hike up Monte Alban in order to sneak into the UNESCO protected ruins found at the top. This center of the Zapotec empire is majestic and grand… and so very hot. As fascinating as it was to trace with our fingers the works of masters past, it was shade and ice cream which we truly sought, and got by way of hitchhiking back to the city.

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Ancient library
Ancient library

There are many things for which I have my mother to thank, not the least of which is my gift of gab. So much of my journey, so much enjoyment and open doors, have all come as the result of my ability to talk to people and to get along with them. That I can approach complete strangers and start up conversations has put me in contact not only with interesting people, but also those who have helped me along the way. My ability to get along with almost anyone has ensured that my experience staying with other people has been fulfilling and informative, as people open up and I am able to learn from them about their lives, countries and cultures. It is a gift for which I shall be forever grateful.

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After spending a few days on a dank mattress in a dirty house with a dirtier bathroom, Ida and I found our way (thanks to Jayne and Phil) to the immaculate home of a military helicopter pilot. He invited friends to meet the lunatic bikers, we made ceviche and passed the long night in song and laughter. The following day Jayne, Phil, Ida and I left for the mountains and the relaxation in hot springs, followed by the adventure of finding lodging and riding through random mountain dirt roads which brought us to places white people rarely get to see.

 

30. 2-20-13: Oaxaca - Contrasts
32. 2-26-13: Oaxaca - Another World

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