A Travellerspoint blog

THE DRIVE FROM OAXACA TO PUERTO ESCONDIDO

And to Puerto Ángel, mazunte, Zipolite, Pochutla, etc.

Alvin Starkman, M.A., LL.B.

Travelers to the state of Oaxaca frequently inquire about the drive from the City of Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido and other coastal destinations, expressing concerns about the length of the trip, quality of the highways, and the overall advisability of driving versus flying or bussing. This essay speaks to the doubts tourists might have regarding the journey using their own or a rental vehicle.

We’ve driven the three main routes on a number of occasions over the past several years, at different times of the year. I’ve written elsewhere about highway 190 to Huatulco. That road, the easiest to navigate, takes you at least a couple of hours out of your way, south, and is therefore not the most advisable unless of course you plan to visit Salina Cruz or Huatulco anyway. By contrast, highway 175 through Pochutla, and then north on highway 200 to Oaxaca, takes about 6 hours (I tend to drive fast, and stop about 3 times during a trip) and is the most interesting and a relatively easy drive. Highway 131 is the most direct and quickest route, albeit with its downsides.

I will provide details of the 175 route driving to Puerto, and 131 by way of return route, in terms of what to expect regarding landscapes, towns and villages, and highway characteristics. A schedule of times and distances between particular towns appears as an appendix, providing a quick-and-easy summary of road conditions for each segment of the journey. However, for this trip we stopped more than usual along 131, so keep in mind that without any lengthy stops it should take about an hour less.

PREMIMINARY ADVICE

Sixteen years of traveling these routes have been incident free, attributable in part to following four simple rules:
1) Drive only during daytime. While the roads are paved and generally good, and in fact many of the bridges are freshly painted white, lighting is an issue. More importantly, there’s much more of a risk when driving at night of encountering inebriated drivers and pedestrians, and animals.
2) Start out with a full tank of gas. While there are gas stations en route, and signs advertising mechanics and gasoline along the roadways, by not having to make a stop to fill up, you have an opportunity to make other stops along the way, more productive than stopping to simply top up. The trip to the coast takes well less than a tank of gas.
3) While stating the obvious, make sure you’ve had the mechanical fitness, and oil and water levels of the car checked before leaving. Brakes, tires and steering are the most important for negotiating the portions of highway with mountain switchbacks.
4) Regardless of time of year, take a jacket, sweater or sweatshirt since you’ll be climbing to about 9,000 feet on route 175. If you tend to be susceptible to motion sickness, take along anti-nausea medication.

ROUTE 175

Oaxaca to Ocotlan: Takes about 40 minutes, initially with urban sprawl out of the city, and then gently rolling hills with a few strong curves, vegetation predominantly agave and corn under cultivation. Passes by the villages producing black pottery (San Bartolo Coyotepec), alebrijes (San Martin Tilcajete), and cotton textiles (Santo Tomas Jalieza). In Ocotlan, noted for its Friday market, you’ll find clay painted figures of the Aguilar sisters, the workshop of knife maker Angel Aguilar, and tributes to artist Rodolfo Morales…his home and foundation, mural at the municipal offices, and museum featuring his and earlier works.

Ocotlan to Ejutla: Takes about 25 minutes, with long easy straight-aways and occasional curves and gentle hills. Once again agave and some corn, with a number of outcrops of carriso (river reed used for making ceilings, roofs and fences). Known for its Thursday market, with sale of animal skins. You can easily avoid going into Ejutla by taking the well-marked bypass.

Ejutla to Mihuatlan: Takes about 35 minutes, with more pronounced curves and hills, and easy-to-navigate peaks and valleys through similar vegetation and some mixed brush. Good idea to take your Dramamine or Gravol about 15 minutes into this portion of the trip. While there is no specific bypass, it’s not necessary to enter the main downtown section of town. Just keep going straight and the highway takes you out of the city.

Mihuatlan to San Jose del Pacífico: Takes about 50 minutes. Leaving Mihuatlan you’ll see the impressive mountain range in front of you, which you quickly begin to climb. You’ll note the temperature change quite readily, as you witness the dramatic change in vegetation. In addition to deciduous trees including scrub oak, you’ll see an abundance of conifers, mainly pine. The agave changes from espadín under cultivation, to very different and impressive wild varieties along the side of the road, growing from rock outcrops, some reaching an immense size, with stock (chiote) shooting up from its core dwarfing many of the surrounding trees. This segment of the trip, and the next with descent to Pochutla, are characterized predominantly by significant mountain switchbacks. You’ll see roadside eateries, booths with alebrijes for sale, and small cottage-industry lumber and firewood producers. San Jose del Pacífico is noted for the sale of locally harvested hallucinogenic mushrooms, in particular during the rainy season, and therefore you’ll come across roadside workshops selling hand-made wooden mushrooms as well as other hand-crafted products. You can rent a cabin if you wish to break up the trip and spend the night. Clean accommodations, with private bath, start at about 300 pesos. There’s well-marked signage alongside the highway. Some are more modern and advertise satellite TV and other facilities. There are a few restaurants, grocery stores, bakery, etc. It’s a relaxing way to spend a few hours, perhaps hiking up the dirt roads where most residents tend to live.

San Jose del Pacífico to Pochutla: You’ll continue to climb for about another 10 minutes until you reach El Manzanal, then begin the descent. This portion of the trip takes about two hours and 25 minutes. The ride down is initially quite gradual, and then more pronounced once you reach San Miguel Suchixtepec, a picturesque village with large impressive church, and homes strung out along a few hilly mountain roads. You’ll begin to detect another significant temperature change, depending on the facing of the portion of mountain you are descending relative to the sun. At different portions of the stretch you’ll pass by a couple of waterfalls and three or four smaller rivulets spilling across the highway, goats and donkeys, home construction of wood, pine cones on the roadway, brilliant orange flowered bromeliads, wild orchids, large expanses of boston-like ferns, and perhaps one or two patches of fog. For several kilometers you’ll encounter a sweet smell similar to that of maple syrup. Because of the steep descent, you may even detect the smell of burning rubber, but don’t worry, it’s likely a truck up ahead having brake problems. At about four hours into the trip you’ll begin to hear tropical insect and bird sounds and calls, and see bananas and sugar cane under cultivation and for sale, with coffee and honey also offered at roadside stands. On the approach to Pochutla the roadway will then gradually straighten out, with curves much easier to navigate. Tropical grasses predominate the roadside landscapes. An indication that you’re getting closer with be blown sand encroaching part of the roadway, and finally a sign stating “Iguana Hunting Prohibited.” A short while later you’ll see the sign pointing to the right for the Puerto Escondido bypass.

Pochutla to Puerto Escondido: Takes about an hour. Highway 175 ends at a “Y”, so veer to the right and you’re on highway 200, following along the Pacific. However, you won’t be able to see the ocean for about 40 minutes. You’ll pass by the exit to Puerto Ángel, Mazunte and Zipolite. The entire final leg of the trip is basically straight and flat. For the last half hour or so you’ll see mango, papaya and coconut under cultivation.

ROUTE 131

Aside from the fact that this route should be quicker than 175, and is about 50 km shorter, there are other differences to note, in addition to similarities:
1) While 175 is predominantly a single ascent, and then descent, 131 consists of several hills and valleys which must be negotiated, on a couple of occasions arriving in a town at the bottom of a valley, and then again beginning to climb. This may contribute to the roller-coaster effect on your stomach.
2) The road quality is inferior on 131, in particular for about an hour in the approach to San Gabriel Mixtepec and thereafter, with potholes, poor attempts to repave, etc. However, until around the end of 2006 it was far worse. Now there are long stretches of fresh, new tar, and improvements continue.
3) Immediately upon leaving Puerto you begin an ascent, so there is no gradual departure from the tropical climate.
4) Much of the vegetation found on 175 is the same along 131, although it is less defined, in part because you do not climb to same altitude as on 175, and there are really no significant micro-climates which manifest in extremes of vegetation and particular commercial enterprise. Waterfalls are abundant, and landscapes are impressive, perhaps less so than on the other highway. There is much more livestock along the sides of the roadway than on route 175, predominantly donkeys and mules, so be a bit more vigilant.

Puerto Escondido to San Gabriel Mixtepec: Takes about an hour, with switchbacks and the climb commencing almost immediately. Take your meds as you leave the coast. As suggested earlier, there are peaks and valleys along this portion of the route. The patchwork of road repairs becomes apparent rather readily. Roadside coconut stands predominate initially. You’ll then begin to welcome the maple essence, in fact off and on for three or four hours as your journey continues. The village is quaint, with grocery stores, a major pharmacy and several restaurants.

San Gabriel Mixtepec to Cerro del Vidrio: This portion of the trip, just over an hour, is a net incline, not without several ascents and descents of mountain passes. At km 55 you’ll pass the exit to a well-known coffee plantation, Finca Las Nieves. Just before arriving at Cerro del Vidrio you’ll start a gradual descent, arriving in the town after about 10 minutes. This is where traffic turns off to go to Juquila (about a 45 minute detour), famous for the appearance of the Virgin of Juquila. Cerro del Vidrio developed much more rapidly once Oaxacans began making pilgrimages to Juquila. In fact along the entire 131 route you’ll see vehicles with gladioli tacked onto the front on either side of the license plate, along with a framed image of the virgin. Right at the turn-off you’ll encounter several vendors of fruit and memelitas filled with beans.

Cerro del Vidrio to San Pedro Juchatengo: Takes about 40 minutes, and terminates at the bottom of the largest valley you’ll encounter. Switchbacks. Upon arrival you’ll begin to see corn under cultivation, as well as some agave. The town boasts swimming in El Rio de Las Flores, as well as an ecological preserve.

San Pedro Juchatengo to Sola de Vega: You’ll continue negotiating strong switchbacks, initially following along the banks of the river, then deviating, and finally climbing until the pinnacle, “El Mirador,” where a small restaurant, rest stop and mezcal outlet are situate. You will have already begun to notice three different types of agave under cultivation, for mezcal production. You’ll then descend to Sola de Vega, arriving after about an hour and twenty minutes, now encountering some corn, and even banana trees. Sola de Vega is noted for its mezcal, and historically for its occupation by the French during colonial times.

Sola de Vega to Oaxaca: This final leg of the trip takes just under two hours, initially marked by climbing, albeit much easier to navigate, and then again peaks and valleys, much softer than during the first couple of hours of the return route. At km 181 you’ll see the cutoff to San Sebastián de Las Grutas, 13 km off to the left, where there are a series of caves you can hike. By km 190 the road will have straightened out, and for the balance of the trip, another 60 kilometers, there will be rolling straight-aways, the agave fields diminishing in number as corn becomes the predominate crop, with outcrops of carriso, some cactus under cultivation, and roadside stands selling sugar cane. By now the temperature will have risen and stabilized at typical Oaxaca valley climate. Your approach to the city will be marked by the same urban sprawl as when you left.

CONCLUSION

I highly recommend driving these routes. Consider taking an extra day so you can stop at some of the sites and villages, perhaps at a couple of mezcal operations, or just to get out of the car and take a stroll. Spending one overnight will help you to get a feel for rural Oaxaca, and add immeasurably to the totality of your vacation. San Jose del Pacífico gets my vote since it’s seemingly a bit more geared to ecotourism than the other towns and villages en route, although there are other quaint, interesting stopovers, where tourists don’t normally stop for the night, which might lead to even a more interesting sojourn. .

APPENDIX

ROUTE 175

Oaxaca to Octotlán, 40 min and 33 km; Ocotlán to Ejutla, 25 min and 25 km;
Ejutla to Mihuatlán, 38 min and 40 km; Mihuatlán to San Jose del Pacífico, 50 min and 36 km; San Jose del Pacífico to Pochutla, 145 min and 100 km; Pochutla to Puerto Escondido, 55 min and 69 km.

ROUTE 131

Puerto Escondido to San Gabriel Mixtepec, 60 min and 42 km; San Gabriel Mixtepec to Cerro del Vidrio, 70 min and 38 km; Cerro del Vidrio to San Pedro Juchatengo, 40 min and 24 km; San Pedro Juchatengo to Sola de Vega, 80 min and 50 km; Sola de Vega to Oaxaca, 120 min and 93 km.

Alvin Starkman together with wife Arlene operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com ). Alvin received his masters in social anthropology in 1978, and his law degree in 1984. Thereafter he was a litigator in Toronto until taking early retirement. He and his family were frequent visitors to Oaxaca between 1991 and when they became permanent residents in 2004. Alvin reviews restaurants, writes about life and cultural traditions in Oaxaca, and tours couples and families to the villages.

Posted by titosarah 14:00 Archived in Mexico Tagged automotive Comments (0)

RULES OF THE ROAD IN THE CITY OF OAXACA

Do they really exist?

Alvin Starkman M.A., LL.B.

Give one example of an oxymoron. You guessed it. But just when you think you’re comfortable driving in this city, apparently without hardfast or enforced regulations, there you are, transito (a traffic cop) waving you over, giving you a ticket, removing your license plate or towing your vehicle. Watching and learning what other drivers do does not provide any comfort or assurance that you won’t end up paying a fine, perhaps with your car having vanished, or being honked at by other motorists. All I can do is offer some understanding and explanation, and the rest is up to you.

Let’s start with the premise that this particular local government employee isn’t paid all that well, and therefore has limited “resources,” in the multiple sense of the word. I’ve been told he earns about 6,000 pesos per month, and also that he earns about 2,000 pesos per month and relies on making the balance of his wages “on the street.” Keep this is mind, or search for your own statistics. One thing for sure is that he probably earns less than the average Oaxacan (about 65,000 pesos annually according to most recent statistics)…not like the law enforcement officers we know who retire in their fifties with good pensions to then start a second career in the security field.

I’m convinced that no one knows the traffic laws and that whatever is being enforced is done so haphazardly or on a whim. The point is that even when you think you’re doing the right thing or know the law, you may still be pulled over, fined or bear the wrath of irate motorists. What follows is a smattering of assistance for would-be Oaxacan drivers, constituting acceptable driving practices, not necessarily the law…nor what will keep you out of trouble. But over the past fifteen years I’ve only been pulled over three times…once for a u-turn in a major intersection, another time for driving without plates, and recently for simply not knowing what to do in the middle of a weird-looking intersection with even stranger traffic signals (to date not a single fine).

Keep in mind that frequently lanes aren’t clearly or at all marked, and lights aren’t always working, at least for one direction of traffic. When you see two or more transito directing in an intersection, do not assume that they’re working in unison. I recently saw one officer clipping his fingernails while apparently directing traffic. If it’s sunny and hot, a lone officer might seem invisible, and your only indication he’s around will be the sound of his whistle blowing…he’ll be out of the intersection, watching and directing traffic from under the awning of the building on the corner, in the shade.

WHO HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY?
Many intersections don’t have yield or stop signs, or lights. Most up and down big streets have the right of way, as do most major cross streets, but it’s a matter of learning over time which street is which, what constitutes a big or major one, and even once you’ve done so, being cautious upon entering every intersection because you don’t know if the other guy knows. At traffic lights, green has the right of way, but not immediately. You’re probably accustomed to driving in a jurisdiction where there’s a delay of a second or two between the other driver getting the red, and you getting the green. No so in Oaxaca. Before proceeding, edge out carefully to see how many drivers will be speeding through the red. They say that semáforos (traffic lights) are suggestive only, so at times there will be drivers stopping and then proceeding through a red. Though illegal, this is not an uncommon or unaccepted practice…it just happens, and I bet those going through reds in this context get into less accidents than drivers proceeding immediately upon seeing a green, or those going through unmarked intersections.

TURNING
You’re not supposed to turn right on a red after stopping if it’s safe to do so, unless there’s a sign with an arrow. Breach this one and you’ll be honked at more than for going straight through a red! Sometimes right lanes are reserved for right turns only, so watch for them, or understand why the guy behind you is honking when you obey the red light…there’s probably a green arrow somewhere telling you to turn right. The car on your left might also want to turn right. Regarding left turns, the same holds true. But more often there will be two or three lanes of traffic wanting to turn left, including you…but before making your left turn, ensure the driver to your left also plans to turn left, and not go straight. Buses seem to be allowed to turn whichever way they want from whichever lane they’re in, and because they’re bigger than you, be careful, if you can see them through their exhaust. Unless you plan to turn, the safest place to be and to avoid angry motorists is the middle lanes. On occasion you might even happen upon a far right lane reserved for left hand turns! But wait. Beginning in May, 2006, road “improvements” on the main east-west thoroughfare in the city, Niños Héroes de Chapúltepec, started to reach completion. Instead of there being the usual left hand turn lanes, we now have, a block before an intersection, traffic signals directing you to veer to the far left hand side of the roadway, cutting across oncoming traffic lanes. Then, when you reach the intersection where you want to turn left, there are additional traffic lights. It’s hard to explain the concept, the chaos and the danger to both drivers and pedestrians. Think of it as driving along a North American roadway, and then all of a sudden you have to become a British driver, but just for a block and a turn. The government placed officers at these new intersections to familiarize drivers with these new lanes, which is admirable…but these instructors of insanity are now gone, after the powers who be decided that Oaxacans are now familiar with the grid pattern, so what happens to non-Oaxacan drivers, such as tourists. Will Hertz now double its insurance premiums?

PARKING
You’ll learn to double park, even though you loathe those who do so and create the traffic backlogs. Sometimes tranisto blows his whistle, sometimes he starts giving you a ticket, or removing your plate, and sometimes he does nothing. Pick your spots, keep a passenger in your car who knows where to find you, and be quick. The vehicle you’re blocking will on balance be patient, since the driver was probably double parking an hour earlier. When parking close to a corner, the key is to do so on a street where cars can only turn in the other direction so there’s no chance of you getting clipped. You’re not supposed to do it, but most often it’s overlooked. However, if you’re close to the corner of a street onto which bus traffic turns, watch out because the bus won’t be able to make the turn, and transito will do whatever he can to remove your vehicle. Don’t worry much about barely making it into a parking spot, because Oaxacans seem to have a knack for getting out of small spaces. Watch for driveways since sometimes they’re pretty hard to see. In parking lots, take note of early closing hours.

SPEEDING
I don’t know the city speed limits, nor do the vast majority of Oaxacans. Topes (speed bumps) will dictate your speed, as will the driver behind you. Regarding the former, sometimes they’re marked and sometimes they’re not. Notice the number of repair shops for tires and springs, and signs for alignment and balancing. Attack the topes slowly, and if possible on an angle. Highways often have speed limits marked, but gauge your speed as you would in the city. While the toll-road warns of radar in operation, the only place I’ve ever seen it is on the road from Acapulco to Mexico City. However, you can be pulled over without radar, the fine is very stiff, you’d better have cash on hand, and recall that there’s no presumption of innocence.

AND REMEMBER
In Oaxaca to get a drivers’ license there is no road test or eye exam. You either take a written test or pay someone a bit of money, a very common practice.

Alvin Starkman received his Masters in Social Anthropology in 1978. After teaching for a few years he attended Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, thereafter embarking upon a career as a litigator until 2004. Alvin now resides in Oaxaca, where he writes, leads small group tours to the villages, markets, ruins and other sites, is a consultant to film production companies, and operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (http://www.oaxacadream.com) .

Posted by titosarah 13:57 Archived in Mexico Tagged automotive Comments (0)

MEXICO CITY TO OAXACA

The drive

Alvin Starkman, M.A., LL.B.

It can take as little as 4.5 hours and be traffic and problem free, but just as easily you can be met with congestion and road repairs, extending the trip to six hours or more. On the other hand you can elect to increase the length of your journey by taking in a few select sites and some interesting scenery, including a snow-capped volcano near Puebla and another peak near the Orizaba / Córdoba cut-off.

The first leg of the trip is from Mexico City to Puebla. The main problem you will likely face is leaving the nation’s capital, along a thoroughfare known as Zaragoza. Unless you happen to be starting out very early, or late at night, there will be congestion, so much so that vendors of soft drinks and water, snacks, freezees, and an array of other foodstuffs, will be walking ever so slowly, meandering through the lines of stopped traffic, plying their products. And therefore, arriving at Puebla can take anywhere from one to three hours, the latter applying particularly during extended rush hours and on the weekends. The name of the game is patience, plain and simple. And if you’re picking up a rental car at the airport, ask your attendant to draw a map, and regardless of its quality, at every opportunity ask other motorists and pedestrians how and when to turn onto Zaragoza. Once on this “highway” your only difficulty will be getting off of it. To give you an even clearer picture of the congestion on Zaragoza, in 2004, while driving a three ton cub van on the roadway, the police wanted to pull us over (for who knows what reason), the cruiser several vehicles back with siren blaring. We elected to simply ignore the command and continue, hoping the traffic would never allow the police to catch up and they would eventually give up. It worked.

Virtually the entire roadway from Mexico City to Oaxaca is well-marked and -paved toll road. Signage is large and clearly lettered. However, a few key pointers are in order. You want to be where it says “cuota” and not “libre,” the former being the toll road and the latter the much slower, single lane highway. “Autopista” is invariably the toll road. En route to Puebla you’ll see signs directing you to the city, and then from Puebla, the signage will indicate Oaxaca. The highways are either two lanes each way, a lane and a half, or a single lane. However, custom dictates that cars going slower move to the right and onto the paved shoulder when they see you coming, so regardless of the type of highway, most of the time you should be able to go at the speed to which you are accustomed. There are, however exceptions as with any rule. Sometimes, for example, large tractor trailers are too wide to move over enough to let you pass. But when they see that the roadway ahead is clear, they’ll put on the left-hand signal, telling you it’s okay to pass on the left … assuming you trust them. A solid center line tends to be suggestive only and you’ll quickly learn that with cars moving over to the right for you, you can pass notwithstanding the solid line … except when there’s a significant curve, peak or valley up ahead. There are many gas stations along the entire route, most of which now have “The Italian Coffee Company” franchises alongside, with clean washrooms. Credit cards are generally accepted for filling up, and now as well at the many toll booths … except when the system has broken down.

Leaving Mexico City you’ll pass through a number of stretches of comedors along each side of the highway. You’ll gradually ascend, through a number of easy curves, leaving the smog of the valley behind. The scenery is nothing special, but the ease with which you’ll be able to negotiate the curves at a reasonable speed will more than make up for the non-descript landscapes. The curves and valleys will become more dramatic, to the extent that there will be a red line on the pavement demarcating how vehicles with failing brakes should proceed, leading them off the pavement and onto a roadway ending at a soft a embankment of straw.

You will see at least a couple of exits to downtown Puebla, marked as “Puebla Centro.” Puebla makes for a great stopover for a day or two, if you’re in no great rush to get to Oaxaca. It’s large and sprawling, but the downtown core is quaint, small and full of interesting shops, crafts, restaurants and clean, inexpensive hotels. Within a couple of blocks of the zócalo are good hotels, an extensive pedestrian walkway with many shops, and Los Sapos, a few streets filled with crafts, antiques and collectibles. Arrive on a weekend and there’s an open air marketplace. On Sunday there’s an even larger series of temporary stalls selling crafts, plants, etc, two blocks down. In the same area is the area known as Parián, and the Barrio de Artista, both not to be missed. Of course there are nearby ruins and other sites, but for a brief stopover it’s the downtown that’s the “must see.” For a splurge spend the night at Mesón Sacristía (written up in a coffee table book about the 1,000 best inns in The Americas) in Los Sapos. For economy, stay at Palas or Palace, on 2 Oriente, a block from the zócalo and about four blocks from Los Sapos.

The drive from Puebla to Oaxaca, without stopping other that for a couple of pit stops, takes about three and a half hours. However, during 2007 and at least well into 2008 there are two or three road construction sites which will slow you down. Again, be patient, turn off your engine, and see what the vendors have to offer. And at the toll booths there will be even more offerings, from uniquely Poblano sweets known as camotes, to wholewheat tortillas, to puppies. Two lanes become one and a half, as you approach the turn-off to the right to continue on to Tehuacan and Oaxaca. You’ll see the breathtaking snow-capped peak as you look ahead towards Orizába (but don’t take that road or you’ll end up in Veracruz).

Next there are two recommended stops, unless you also want to spend time at Tehuacan. The first is at the onyx / marble village of San Antonio Texcala. Take the second Tehuacan exit (after the Tehuacan toll booth), onto highway 125 leading to Huajuapan. After 6 km you’ll arrive at the village, with five or more factory outlets where you can by almost anything into which these stones can be shaped --- tequila sets, plates, sinks, lamps, tables, bowls, boxes, unicorns, fish, hash pipes, and of course a number of diverse ornaments with religious imagery. Prices are about half of what you’ll pay elsewhere.

Next is the Museo de Agua, or water museum, actually a misnomer because it is so much more. Take the well-marked next exit after your return to the autopista, for Sangabriel and Chilac. There will also be signage for the museum. You’ll be given a tour (in Spanish) in the main building, and of the outside surrounding landscapes. You’ll learn how progress is being made to teach villagers in desolate regions where water is scarce and soil fertility is lacking, to conserve and recycle water; to use compost, worm culture and other techniques to enrich the land; and to grow and market nutritious produce such as amaranth.

In terms of the land and townscapes, near Tehuacan you’ll see long narrow white-topped buildings where poultry is produced and then trucked throughout the state of Puebla and further abroad. There will be a couple of locations demarcated as stops for tourists to pull over and appreciate and photograph the deep valleys and high mountaintops. Long well-marked expansion bridges serve to showcase the valleys and mountains. You’ll pass over a geological fault. There will be several kilometers of impressive “telephone pole” cactus. Close to the approach to Oaxaca you’ll see vendors on each side of the highway selling brightly colored miniature wooden trucks.

The last toll booth is called Huitzo. About 15 - 20 minutes further you’ll approach Oaxaca. A few minutes after entering the city, you’ll be given two opportunities to turn to the left (one of the signs is difficult to interpret), but unless you’ve been provided with specific instructions to get to your hotel or B & B, and know it’s in a northern suburb, best is to just keep driving straight, eventually entering onto a one-way street which will lead you to the core of the downtown area and the zócalo.

Until 1995 when the toll road opened all the way from the capital to Oaxaca, for much of the route you were required to travel along secondary roads and highways, pretty well doubling the length of the drive. Now you have the benefit of a much shorter and definitely a safe trip along quality well-marked pavement, with the added feature of the option of getting off the main highway and venturing into some villages to take in additional sites, scenery and local culture. The only cautionary note is to not drive outside of any major urban center, and in particular on the highways or even toll roads, at night, unless absolutely necessary. Lighting tends to be lacking or insufficient, and laws regarding impaired driving are rarely enforced.

Alvin Starkman together with wife Arlene operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com ). Alvin received his masters in social anthropology in 1978, and his law degree in 1984. Thereafter he was a litigator in Toronto until taking early retirement. He and his family were frequent visitors to Oaxaca between 1991 and when they became permanent residents in 2004. Alvin reviews restaurants, writes about life and cultural traditions in Oaxaca, and tours couples and families to the villages.

Posted by titosarah 13:54 Archived in Mexico Tagged automotive Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 8 of 8) « Page 1 [2]