Road to Puerto Escondido – Part 2

The solitary hotel we’d noticed earlier was not listed in any travel book/magazine. After we crossed—via planks—two open sewer ditches in the courtyard, the cautious owner put us in the new section, with a minute railing along the three-story open corridor. That added fillip to our stay, as we hugged the wall to prevent any accidental slipping to the hard ground below.

But the dining room was the highlight. A very small room off the kitchen, it was also the office and bar.  Card tables, centered with glasses filled with paper napkins, provided the only furnishing.  My younger son found a live rooster in the kitchen (things were a bit informal) and ran around with it, through the dining area, out over the two sewer ditches, and back through the kitchen.  Two turkeys wandered through the dining room and the handsome rancher seated next to us cheered me up.  (It’s better to laugh—and flirt—than to cry.)

The next morning, another decision—return to the “toll bridge” (AAA, how could you?) and hopefully drive on to the two Puertos, or defeated, drive back to Acapulco and Mexico City, or cut across what the map showed as a black line of road to the junction with the Pan American Highway, then go on down to Oaxaca.

Backtracking steps is not my favorite way to travel if there is an alternate route. Pinotepa to Oaxaca it would be.

That decision was problematic. The first few miles were blacktop, made of triangle-shaped metal beams placed alternatively. I failed to see how the tires could ride between the ridges or on top of them.  A government truck, the back filled with workers, stopped behind us. The men, rather gleefully, I suspected, urged me on with “pase, pase.”  My cheerful spirits hit a rapid low.  I yelled back, not diplomatically, “I’m not going to ‘pase’.”

With forced dignity, I climbed down from the VW and walked over to inspect this bridge. The workers jumped from the truck to help, but only succeeded in deepening my embarrassment.  I was absolutely terrified to go over the bridge.  They were late for work.  But I refused to turn back.  I looked around the group of men, picked the one who looked the most capable, handed him my keys, and said “you drive it over.”  He did.  No problem.  I had trouble even walking over the metal struts.  My 15-year-old son apologized later for not helping me. “You understand, mother, I couldn’t help you in front of all those men.”  The macho idea doesn’t take long to pick up.

This all happened about 9 a.m.; by late afternoon, we’d seen exactly three cars. Sometimes, I could only go 8 mph, slipping into ravines, then crawling out, only to find another ravine in a few hundred feet. It was the longest stretch of “bad road” I’d ever driven. And despite having driven the old Alaska Highway and the McKenzie Highway, this one was “difficult.” The Mexican government promised to build a wonderful highway across the stretch.  I’ve not gone back to check.

But, as usual, we found fun adventures also. One was to drive into three small villages where women were making attractive colorful long dresses unlike those we’d found anywhere in Mexico.  A dress cost about $12 in the villages; later I saw the same dresses in a shop in Mexico city’s Zona Rosa—the dresses were $70.  But this drive was a hard way to find a bargain.

There may be a new road by now. If not be certain to get gas in Pinotepa, because there was only one station along the bad road and not one from the Pan-Am junction to Oaxaca. Last word is that the toll bridge on Hwy. 200 is again visible, operative, and all the good words, but prior to leaving Acapulco for the two beautiful, but under-developed ports, be sure to check.

You would prefer NOT to take the road less traveled by.

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Road to Puerto Escondido – Part 1

Two roads parted and we, like Frost, took the one less traveled. And it made, as he promised, a terrific difference.

Most people fly or bus from Mexico City to Acapulco; a few rent cars, even fewer have their own autos. So our California plates attracted attention long before we reached the resort.  Many Mexicans think all tourists come from California—and they’re nearly right.

In Acapulco, our two-toned VW bus caught some curious stares. (VW buses made in Puebla, Mexico at that time were in solid colors), but when we began our drive on the southern third of Mexico’s Hwy. 200, we became a real rarity.

Few Americans travel this relatively new road, preferring to believe the bum raps given to the twin destinations of Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel. From Oaxaca, the road to these future little Acapulcos fade out to scattered dots on the map, but it showed the road from Acapulco as a strong black line.

We filled up with gas at every Pemex station—not too many nor too close here—and were doing great until we were stopped by a federal patrol, looking (we found out later) for a bandit who had kidnapped the man who later became the governor of the state. With the soldiers was an elderly woman.

“Would we give her a ride?” “Certainly.”

She climbed in and we took off in a welter of Anglo-Mexican good fellowship. That faded after nearly two hours of driving. (Attire and woman hadn’t been bathed recently.)  I worried that we had passed her town, but that she was too polite to tell me that.  But she kept yelling “Acoma,” which meant nothing to me. (Turned out to be the name of her village.) My Spanish, which had seemed adequate in the rest of Mexico, hit rock bottom along Hwy. 200.  Every question I asked her received the same answer—loud prayers and hand-wavings, all directed towards heaven.

I was beginning to feel like Hitler with a kidnap victim, when a small sign indicated we were somewhere near her village, at least from her excited mutterings. I stopped the car, invited her to leave it, and wait for another ride down the dirt road to our left towards a small town.

That elicited verbal nuclear reaction from her. She refused to budge.  Reluctantly, not knowing how far this detour would be, I turned the VW onto the dirt.

My son commented that we couldn’t go too far because of the worsening road. I gritted my teeth, and informed him we would likely go anywhere our still-shouting passenger wanted to go.  (I’m an ideal study of the non-assertive personality.)

Things went from dirt to rock to gullies, and finally we jerked to a stop in a tiny plaza. After I gave her five pesos to buy a drink, she climbed down from the car, and without a backward glance tottered off. She was easily the most memorable hitchhiker I’d ever had.

Farther down the main road, we went through Pinotepa, rattling over the bumps. I noticed one tiny hotel and two non-restaurants. Less than an hour later, we came to what my AAA map indicated as a toll bridge.

The only evidence of a bridge was a timber piling on the other side of the wide Rio Verde. Two buses, several cars, and a dozen cows were ahead of us, all apparently waiting to cross.

It was unbelievable what they were waiting for—three canoes lashed loosely together with a few planks crosswise. On top was a car, driver steering precariously with tires threatening to slip off.  Men on our side vigorously dug at the sand, trying to make a landing incline.

Despite the noisy confusion, we discovered the bridge had disappeared some time ago and been replaced by a government ferry, which now had broken down and was off somewhere being repaired.

Motor-driven canoes pulled the cows, protesting, across the river. I looked at the water-sloshed planks.  Did I dare drive down the crumbling, steeply-pitched sand onto the planks?  I kept thinking of Puerto Escondido.  I really wanted to see this fantastic, uncrowded resort my Mexican friends said was so great, I shouldn’t miss it.

The bus passengers had crossed long before; finally the cows were across; but now the “ferry” decided to close down for the night. We had to choose—camp on the bank, sans any facilities, hoping for a quick repair of the government ferry.  (I heard later that it took several weeks to repair.) Or we could go back to Pinotepa.  Recalling the loose cows and horses on the way down, I didn’t want to get caught on the highway after dark, and the sun was already the deeper color of approaching sunset.

I bit the bullet. Return to Pinotepa we would.  And we did…

Part 2 to come…

Mexico: Check the Friend in Your Hotel Room

In Mexico on another trip, when we checked in to a famous hotel where the pool is covered with a floating garden of white flowers—gardenias I think—the children and I were looking forward to a peaceful evening.  Tired when we reached our room, I didn’t at first notice the truly huge black thing with 100 (okay, maybe six or eight) legs that hung on the wall.  I knew this didn’t bode well for a peaceful night, as I’d valiantly defend my children from this awful thing.

Frantically, I called the office—which must have been a fun conversation in my poor Spanish and the clerk’s poor English—which took time.  Finally, a consoling voice in response to my rambling said, “Ah, yes, tarantula—no problema, Señora.”

No problema, my foot!  Even my bad Spanish recognized the name—tarantula is exactly how it sounds, even if one changes the stress on the word.  The voice finally agreed to send someone to take care of the little (“little”—ha!) bug.  The thing on the wall grew larger each time I looked at it. Within a few minutes, a semi-sympathetic man appeared with a large broom that he used to sweep the wall, attacking and killing our threat.

I didn’t sleep too well that night, perhaps waiting for angry relatives of Big T to avenge his death. Instead, I looked at the pool below, where the lights still showed the lovely flowers, and thought about Cortez, the conqueror from Spain, who traveled this way from Veracruz hundreds of years before.  I wondered if he’d run into tarantulas, too.  (The fourth novel in my Briana Fraser series, which won’t be out for months, is titled Mexican Marimbas. We’re working on book three, China Caper, now! )

Mexico – Mi Amor

Como se llama?  Don’t try that question, but enjoy the wonderful appealssensory, climate, people, children especially, churches of beauty, a land of history (and much of it connected to the U.S.)—in this land so near.

Confession time.  I’m a self-identified (to use a popular new “word”) basket lover—and the best place to find a plethora of baskets at rock-bottom prices—is Mexico.  One day after jolting around southern Mexico in my VW van (lots of room for baskets—and one’s children—note the order listed!), we stopped in a local hotel for the night.  I couldn’t leave the baskets in the car, so the two children were tasked with helping me make several trips to get the baskets to our room.

The next morning, we reversed the action; children carrying baskets down to the lobby, one staying to “supervise” that no one took our baskets. And I making certain that we didn’t leave any in the room, and that no precious baskets were crushed.

On the final trip, when I came to our pile of baskets, a very nicely dressed woman came up to me, asking how much I was charging for the lovely baskets. (My children, who had objected to all the bags to begin with, gave me Teenage Disgust Looks, and tried to pretend we weren’t related.)

Perhaps you wonder how safe I felt driving around southern Mexico; I felt just fine.  Today, things may be bit dicey, but if I could “get around” a tad more easily, I’d go in a heartbeat.  After all, I need some new baskets!

One of the many nice things about driving in Mexico is that Pemex is the gas conglomerate, so the price of gas (at least when I was there over several years) is the same—at a tourist spot, in a city, or in a small town . . . every place in the country.   (Very different from the U.S. where gas prices fluctuate depending on location.)

Argentine Assignment now available for purchase

The first book in the Briana Fraser series, Argentine Assignment, is now available for purchase as a Kindle book on Amazon.com.  Information on how to purchase the paperback will be provided soon.

The first in the Briana Fraser series

This is a suspense novel that puts intelligence agency courier Briana Fraser in situations of intrigue and danger. She explores the beauty of Buenos Aires and Mexico City in her desperate effort to complete her secret assignment. Also included in the action is her fellow cohort, Derry, who provides some light romance in the midst of the turmoil.

Follow Briana as she tries to distinguish friend from foe in her dangerous trek through a South American nation’s political upheaval. And, as she encounters those wishing to do her ill. You’ll never think of a knitting needle the same way again!

Mexico: One Aspect of Good Manners

Americans are free and easy with shaking hands upon meeting a new acquaintance, and the “firmer the handshake” the better.  In fact, it seems as though some new friends try to outdo everyone else in the “firmness” of that handshake.

But other countries aren’t quite in the John Wayne Manners Corner, so here’s how that’s different in Mexico. (And perhaps in other countries.)  Handshakes there, except by Mexicans who have had previous experience with U.S. visitors, are “soft.”  Gentle might be a better word.  Might even be considered “flabby.”  Go with gentle, and whoever is shaking hands with you will appreciate your thoughtfulness.  And shaking hands, at least when I was living and traveling and teaching there, was the usual way to greet a friend or neighbor.

Some friends of mine there, would chastise me for how visitors would crush their hands. I pled ignorance, and apologized for my fellow Norte-Americanos, and then changed the subject.  When I lived in Puebla, Mexico, I was close to the headquarters of Volkswagen in that country, which was handy, since I could get my cranky vehicle fixed when it stopped running.  This plant was owned by Carlos Slim, who for years was the richest man in the world…yes, the world.  Now, this year puts him at second richest man in that same world.  He also owns the string of restaurants I recommend for clean and safe and relatively inexpensive meals, Sanborn’s.  There the water and ice cream is safe…or has been in my experience. I always had the same thing….something like a sliced hot dog bun, with beans and cheese slathered on it, then I added salsa….muy delicioso.  And cheap.

A fun place to eat in Mexico City, besides a Sanborn’s on every corner (considerable exaggeration there) is the place that had a huge wild and wide variety of hats dangling from the ceiling.  I think the restaurant was called Anderson’s, but I will have to check further to see if someone has dared to re-do it and drop the most fun at hat-matching that a diner can have while waiting for the food to appear.  A more special place is the Chalet Suizo, which has a Swiss theme, of course.  If you read Carolyn Hart’s novel placed in Mexico City, you will see this restaurant mentioned. I took my visiting children there for dinner and lunch.

There are so many things to cover when speaking about Mexico City, that it requires another entry. Or ten. Or twenty.  So, soft hands when shaking; good appetites when eating at Sanborn’s; and satisfying “looking around” at all this wonderful city offers.

Let’s Talk Toilets and Paperbacks

Let’s say you are traveling in China, Mexico, or No. Africa, and have checked in to your modest or very modest (okay, cheap) hotel room.  (This advice probably (note the shifty word) doesn’t apply to elite or posh accommodations.)  One of the first things you will want to do is to use the bathroom, where a small basket, often woven, sits next to you.  That basket is to receive the used toilet paper…..do not flush it down, because the little basket tells you that the plumbing system is not quite up to par.  At least our par.

When I was in Mexico last, I thought Mexico City at least had upgraded the plumbing–wrong.  The city sits on a wobbly (in an earthquake) sub-system of questionable plumbing in porous dirt…and if everyone used a flush toilet as designed, the results wouldn’t be desirable.  SO, when in the areas I’ve mentioned, just note the little basket.  And use it.  The same is true in many restaurants, stores, etc.  And, sometimes there is a nice young man (men’s room) or nice young woman (women’s restroom) to hand you a hopefully adequate amount of toilet paper. And usually, one leaves a modest tip, very modest. And don’t make fun of the facilities.  We’re there to have adventures, right?  So, just consider it a toilet adventure…

Oh, by the way, paper products are very, very expensive in most countries, so be gentle with the amount you buy/use.  Have you ever bought a paperback book in England or Mexico or Australia?  Well, even if you can find a good selection from which to choose, the price sticker may give you a shock.

If everything worked in these places as well as it usually does here in the U.S., what would be the fun in traveling?   Suggestion:  Carry your own paperbacks, and plan to “dump them” for the maid or a new friend as you finish reading them.  Another suggestion:  check the languages in which the paperbacks in foreign stores are printed.  Since most countries, not the U.S., have so many international travelers, they have books written in those languages.  You might be unhappy, after paying an exorbitant amount for a paperback, to find the novel is written in German or French, etc.

You’ll usually want to do some reading; many countries “roll up the streets” when people are home from work for the day.  Now, in Spain, that might not be true…..somehow those towns come back to life after “siesta”–although one doesn’t notice that as much as in the past; many countries are trying to accommodate American or western “tastes.”

Just watch for the little basket!