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.


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…

Angels Protect the Young and the Foolish?

One year, I had the bright idea of taking my two eight-year-old grandsons to Ireland, Scotland and England. (We all survived, despite the odds being against that!) The cousins were amiable enough and were good travelers.  Then in Ireland, I went into the shop of a line so expensive that I only had one piece of their famous dishes.

Right away, I knew I’d made a big mistake.  The first clue: there were no other children in the shop.  Other parents were smarter than this grandparent obviously was. The second clue was that the two boys suddenly appeared to have grown, not just in height, but in width.  The latter quickly became a slight problem, since the aisles were somewhat narrow.

The third clue was a combination of things:  a clerk became visibly aware of “the Matt and Zach.”  A second clerk joined in that awareness.  I was blissfully roaming through the shop, greed, jealousy, and avarice (worse greed) finding a home in my emotions, until I noticed two clerks were trailing us.

Then the ball fell.  I knew what the problem was:  my two boys.  Just their physical presence, even if they stood absolutely still with their hands in their pockets, was enough to worry clerks in this store. (I am deliberately leaving out the name of the store.  Just think of the most expensive one in which most of us dream of shopping.)

I caved first. “Boys!  I’ve seen enough wonderful things, so let’s leave now and drive on in to Dublin.”  The sighs of relief that were almost obvious told me more than loud shouts would have—that my decision was the right one. The boys, who hadn’t been even slightly interested in counter after counter of beautiful trays, bowls, glasses, dishes—ran for the car.  Yes, for the car that had been new, but now had lost one outside rearview-mirror.  I wondered if it had the same reaction when the boys approached as had the store clerks. And I didn’t blame either faction.

It’s a wonderful thing to expose children to broader fields than the ones here at home, but one should really “pick one’s fight” in choosing which field to plow.

Traveling Celebrations

When I decided to take three grandsons to Canada via the great car ferries that ply the coast from Washington State to Alaska, I realized that one grandson would have a birthday while we were on the ship.  I’m not very brave, but decided to “give something a try.”  So, I bought (and brought) a box of cake mix, a dozen eggs, and some icing packets.  And candles. And paper products for a birthday.  I didn’t mention it to the birthday boy; I did contact the cook, who thought it “great fun” that I was doing this, and agreed he’d be delighted to bake the cake.

Cruise Ship

Alaskan cruise ship

So, without mentioning birthdays at all, we gathered for lunch in the dining area.  I kept looking for the cook…and he appeared, with birthday music playing, with a big grin on his face as he carried the cake, candles flickering, into the room, announcing who the honored guest was. I’m not certain how my Zach really felt, but he had a big grin on his face, too.  People clapped, of course, and after Zach was served, the cook—in full birthday attitude—gave everyone in the room a slice of cake. (I certainly suspected that he’d added considerably to the box cake fixings I’d brought aboard.)

The reason I mention this is because if you or someone in your group will be celebrating a birthday away from home, give the cook a try.  Oh, you may run into a Grinch cook, but I didn’t. I hope you won’t.  And the birthday boy got to visit the captain’s position…may be harder to arrange that these difficult days….but it worked for Zach. (He’s now in law school, so he survived!)  Besides birthdays, there may be other special times for you and/or your group…just ask.  It never hurts.

Don’t Try to Be Funny at the Border

It’s never smart to try to “be funny” while dealing with border patrol personnel when coming back into our country.  I’d picked up two visiting grandsons, added one local grandson, and we ‘d taken a great trip on one of the car ferry boats from Bellingham (I think it was) to Fairbanks, Alaska.  The trip had gone well.  When we landed again in Bellingham, we were so close to the Canadian border, that I wanted to drive into Canada to show them the beautiful border structures. So, we zipped into Canada; now we were in line to enter the U.S. The border agent peered into the car, spotting the boys.

“Are these your children? Where did you get them?” What an odd question, I thought, so the inner-clown within me stirred awake.  “I just found them back a ways on the road, and am giving them a lift.”  I grinned up at the man who was glowering at me. Instead of joining in on my obvious joke, he leaned forward.  “Lady, when you are through trying to be funny, you can hand over their identification, then you may proceed.”

I heard snickers from the seat behind me, did as he said, took back the identification, and drove on south.  So, my advice to everyone, under any circumstances….don’t try to be funny!

Alaska Highway Trip

“Did I hear that you are taking your four kids and driving the Alaska Highway?”  The red-faced, obviously angry man stood spraddle-legged in front of me, indicating he was going to stop whatever I’d planned. (This was 41 years ago, when the Alaska Highway was almost seen as a death drive; today, it’s more like a piece of cake.)

“Yes, why?”  We were standing outside the local school credit union; I was on the board, so didn’t want to offend one of our customers.

“Someone should take those kids away from you.  You’re not a fit parent!” I’d never met, even seen, this teacher before, but based on my summer plans, he felt I’d become unfit.  I didn’t want to get in a fight on a public street, so I just nodded, walked widely around him, and carried on into the credit union.

Two weeks later, my four children and I, loaded to the gills in our VW bus, went right ahead with our plans.  We plastered signs on the outside of the vehicle: Alaska or bust was the largest.  Horns cheered us as we tracked our route up I-5. We took a ferry from Bellingham, WA to Haines—even that was an experience.

With four children, one needs a laundromat, so while Pete, my oldest at 17, began “decorating” the VW, I did laundry in Haines.  There I overheard some women clucking like hen
s: they’ll never make it.  Who in the world drives the Alcan? That car will be a wreck before the first day is over.  No spare tire on top; tsk tsk.

I scrunched down, not wanting to admit that I knew the lad who was using flattened box cardboard to protect the sides of the car.  He also put cardboard halfway up the front and side windows, to prevent flying rock from causing damage.  (It made it interesting to look out and over.)  We didn’t put the spare tire on the roof of the car, as we noticed others had done. Enough was enough.

But we were into Canada, and our twisting, beautiful drive up to and along the Alaska AlaskaHighway rewarded us with sights and sounds of animals not seen outside of a safe zoo enclosure. Deer, bear, foxes, and other unidentified animals were part of the show.  This road also periodically had a sign that said, “Watch for landing planes.”  (With tall timber on both sides, there was nowhere else a plane could have landed.) It was “fun” driving across at least two rivers on our way north, with our four tires clinging to two single logs as we went across.

When we reached the Alaska Highway proper, work crews were doing some repairs on the road; later one of the flag girls was killed by a heedless driver. Everyone waves Alaskan waterwhen passing or meeting; evidently only “fools” took this road, and so needed cheering-on. The lakes are that cold blue of the north.

And then the VW stopped moving. Pete, certainly no car expert, checked to see what the problem was: a loose spark plug, which he jimmied back into its holder…and we went on.

So far north, nightfall seems never to come, so one continues driving, thinking it’s four o’clock when it’s really nine!  Children’s stomachs seem a better judge of time.  We ate “stuff” that was packaged and easy to prepare.  When nightfall comes, it comes with a vengeance—talk about not being able to see one’s hand in front of his/her face!  And the sounds of night are fun—or worrisome—but one is safe in the car. With five of us, a tad cozy, but safe.  Until we heard an escaped murderer was last seen along the highway.

Now this will seem eerie or thoughtless, but the cemeteries that are found in most towns, no matter the size, are a fascinating study in the history of the place.  From dates, it’s obvious when a disease swept the little town, because so many people died during the same time period.

When we finally reached our destination—safely, no flat tires, no broken windows—we first went to a car-wash.  Our blue VW had been a pale brown for days. At one overnight stop in a real motel, I went for a walk with my dachshund, Popeye.  Then I lost him; I was certain a bear had grabbed him when I wasn’t looking.  I was desperate, then I noticed something moving on the asphalt walk ahead of me.  It was Popeye, completely covered with little gray flying things.  Covered! So, in the north, one uses what’s called in Australia the “Aussie Wave” or the “Royal Wave” or whatever name is currently popular…or unpopular, to keep the bugs away.

The other highway (in the North) I’d recommend driving is the splendid Cassiar, a north-south route that connects the Alcan (to use the old name) and “civilization.”

But we were forced back to civilization; school called us. And we survived just fine. Try it, you’ll love it!

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.)