“Olinala to Juxtlahuaca”
‘La Gigante y la Poderosa: The Giant and the Mighty One’
I’m always learning new things about myself. And in no small way that is a lot of what I love about big adventures; getting to know myself in new environments, away from my day to day life at home. Right now, I’m learning that I need goals. That sounds like a given, I know. But what I’ve learned is that while I do set time aside to be empty, relax, meditate, and just chill …when that time passes, I need to move, to challenge myself, to have a goal and actually achieve it. I need flow, rhythm, and balance; I need to push the edge, and then go further, and then… stop to watch the sunset.
After climbing ~8000 feet to reach Oilinalá I was feeling like Wonder Woman, She-Ra, or one of those other popular and powerful cartoon characters from when I was little. It was amazing to move again, and push myself a little the last few kilometers, racing against the daylight hours. It was energizing! I felt like I could fly. The next day, Neon told me that some locals had stopped them on their ride into town to say they had seen me riding in the day before; they said I was GIANT! I imagined myself surfing the landscape on my bike, racing down the mountain, rain jacket flapping behind me like a cape …a warrior princess and her dragon; the giant and the mighty one!
We left Olinalá at a reasonable hour, making it to the top of the big climb by mid-morning.
We turned off onto a dirt road midday, then stopped for lunch. I was immediately struck by how clean it was, almost zero trash, and the landscape pruned and tidy.
A short ways later we reached Coachimalco. A sign on the school read “bilingual”. We were entering Mixteco country now, where Spanish is a second language.
We made it to Tlapa de Comonfort by early evening, a perfect day’s ride. The small city was bustling with activity, and a little rougher around the edges than any city we’d ridden into yet. There was more police presence here than I had seen in some time, cops wandering about in body armor, sporting machine guns. Rundown cement apartment buildings clung to the hillside. The place was hopping with cars and people. We pulled off the road to check our map; a car pulled up beside us. At first I thought they were trying to be helpful. Neon assured them we knew where we were going, but they were still insistent, pulling forward to block us in. I stood there for half a minute before calling to Neon, backing up my bike and riding around the other side of the car. I called back to Neon. We proceeded with our route. The car passed a little while later and yelled out the window to Neon to be careful.
The traffic was thick. We weaved around the streets, like rats in a maze, between cars and people before finally reaching our hotel. I looked inside the door and my hackles immediately lowered. Palm leaves graced the entrance, and a pool shimmered inside. We were dripping with sweat, and that pool was just the oasis we needed. We settled into our hotel and didn’t venture out until the next day.
The streets were quiet in the early morning hours, but by mid-afternoon they were bustling again. I don’t know if the town is always so bustling, but it was Cinco de Mayo weekend. The streets were set up with markets, people flooded the market stalls, and taxis squeezed through between the pedestrians and the produce. Perhaps eventually I’ll get up the nerve to take more photos in town, but right now, most of the time, it still feels somewhere between invasive to stick my camera in people’s business, and a good way to get my camera stolen.
We took a day off in Tlapa to relax before the next big climb, and before venturing into an even more remote area.
We got an earlier start leaving town, since we knew we had a hard day ahead of us, with the biggest climb at the end of the day. Even at 7:30 am it was hot, and the streets were already full of traffic.
We made it to the top of the first climb, then raced downhill effortlessly, stopping in a small town for more water.
A man walked by, his eyes low, his lips pursed, muttering “gringos” as he passed. Rap music played from several homes. A few dogs barked. We took a small dirt road back to the highway.
We continued to climb higher and higher into the mountains, stopping several more times as the day grew late, before deciding we weren’t going to make it to the next town, and needed to start looking for camping.
We found a great campsite down an abandoned road, perched on the side of a hill.
I had brought an extra dinner and breakfast, but not enough for how much further we still had to the next town. We still had a lot of climbing to do before dropping down into San Vicente Zoyatlán. After a slow morning, without food, I struggled up the climb as the morning was already growing late.
It started to rain once we reached the top; the road became sticky and slippery, caking my chain with mud. My chain came off several times during the descent. We finally reached Zoyatlán midday. We bought food and water, and stopped for lunch on the edge of town.
We passed through a small village after Zoyatlán. Several little boys were playing in the road. We said buenas tardes as we passed. A few moments later a rock hit me in the back. I turned and glared at the boys. The little boy in the street was standing there staring with his mouth agape. I just stood there staring. The boy pointed at the other little boy running up the hill. I gave a good, long, stare before deciding to ride on. A little while later a man stopped in a car; he had the usual questions: where are you going, where are you from, but he also wanted to know “Why are we doing this? Why are we here? …and on bicycles instead of motos?” A short ways later three guys stood atop a hill watching us for quite some time. Shortly after that, two guys shadowed us, sometimes following on the road we were on, and sometimes taking shortcuts through the landscape where they’d sit and watch us for a while.
We had planned on camping shortly after Zoyatlán, but after all of this we decided it was best to get some distance and ask for a secure place to sleep in the next town, Santiago Petlacala. We were directed to the Comisaria (a police station of sorts).
No one was there, and we were told that they wouldn’t arrive until dark. Some giggly girls kept us occupied from the nearby school. After a while one of them said the lady at the tienda was offering to make dinner for us, so we ventured down the hill to the small store. All the little girls, and a few other town folks gathered around while we sat for dinner: the best frijoles I’ve had in all of Mexico, scrambled eggs (for the guys), and tortillas. The little girls played with my hair. We learned how to say “hello” and “good bye” in Mixteca: “cuahan hey” and “cuahan” (though this seemed to vary from village to village).
After dinner we wandered back to the comisaria to ask the comisario about a place to sleep. He said he was leaving again, but would be back later. He pointed at an unfinished building, with no doors, and said we could sleep there. It was already getting dark or I would have taken a photo of the room in the building we slept in. The floor was rough dirt and rocks, a few boards leaned against a wall. We laid out our ground sheets and sleeping bags for the night. Locals hung out in the basketball court outside, dogs raced back and forth growling and fighting outside the open doorway. The rain started. The comisarios came in to chat in the middle of the night. Startling loud announcements blared over the town loudspeakers near midnight. More dogs growling and fighting, sometimes trying to enter the room. The rain poured, dripping through unfinished parts of the roof. I sat awake for large portions of the night, watching the comisarios, armed with machine guns, patrol the town square, while listening to the rain and the haunting growls of the dogs.
We left at first light, before eating or coffee or anything. We just wanted to put some distance between us and the sleepless night. It was still raining as we rode away, clouds tumbling over the mountains. The cool mist was refreshing.
After a few kilometers we stopped for breakfast. The rain stopped for a few minutes while we ate. The sun came and went throughout the morning. We stopped a few more times before making a long, and fast, descent to Santiago Juxtlahuaca.
We stopped briefly in San Sebastián Tecomaxtlahuaca to check out the most colorful church we’ve seen so far in Mexico.
We made it to Santiago Juxtlahuaca by early evening.
The next day the streets surrounding our hotel, for several blocks in every direction, had been transformed into a street market–full of clothes, shoes, tools, electronics, chiles, dried fish, meats, and more produce than I think I’ve seen in any market yet.
The streets were quiet and empty after the street market was gone.
We spent three days in Juxtlahuaca, resting and eating–enough time that I was able to catch up on this blog.
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