Saturday, January 15, 2011


The drive was brief and bumpy, a reminder of how fortunate we are to have the money to use the toll roads most of the time. The most expensive stretch of road we've been on probably cost us $7 putting it well out of reach of the average Mexican. In this densely populated part of the country, non-toll roads mean lots of speed bumps, sitting behind trucks that should have been taken off the road decades ago carrying a hell of a lot more than they were ever designed to carry, men pulling donkeys, ladies hustling their kids, vendors. Everyone takes advantage of the pause in traffic the topes afford to go about their business.

When the signs to our destination disappeared, I jumped out of the van to quickly ask a couple who were eating dinner to confirm that we were heading the right way. The man got up from the table and led me out into the middle of the road to ensure that his directions were absolutely clear. The notion of this country being dangerous gets more and more ridiculous with each passing day. A few minutes later we pulled up to a lovely old textile mill that has been restored and turned into a vacation centre by the Social Security branch of the Mexican government. In the hopes that their employees will use it to holiday outside of Mexico City, the government has spared no expense. The grounds are spectacular. The building itself is a one-story sprawling structure of pale pink and yellow stone, the centre has an indoor and outdoor pool, an extensive play park for the kids, a restaurant, a bar and a beautiful campsite with palapas and stone fire rings — a welcome break from the almost complete lack of greenery that is a Mexican city. We set up the beds and went down for something to eat. The restaurant was cavernous but only two other tables were taken. At the back of the restaurant were a pair of giant speakers that shook the whole place with banda music. Conversation was next to impossible. There must be a lot of deaf people in this country. Our night in the van was as close to perfect as can be. Quiet, save for the train that snaked through the valley below. Train whistles seem to strike a universal chord and the familiar sound got me dreaming about home.

We decided to spend another night to give the kids a chance to enjoy the freedom of some open space. They took full advantage. We spent an hour in the nearby village, finding someone to bleed the brake fluid. A little research online showed that the lack of power was to be expected at high altitude in a diesel, the brakes needing to be pumped was undoubtedly the result of boiling the brake fluid on our first, aborted departure from Puebla.

We spent a couple of hours in the olympic-size pool which was connected to a kiddie pool via four narrow water channels. The place was packed, moms holding on to babies, fathers trying to teach sons how to swim when it was clear they had no idea how to themselves, and, of course, the ubiquitous necking teenage couples. More than a third of the large pool was deeper than 1-1/2 metres and completely empty. This is not is a nation of swimmers. People looked at us in alarm as our kids jumped or dove in to the deep end. After a quick hot shower, we went back to our site and the kids ran around trying to track down a litter of puppies that obviously make the grounds home. Wil put a yummy supper together and I wrote. Bliss. We headed back to the pool after dinner and the kids got their fill. Alice waved me over to the edge of the pool when she stopped understanding a family that was chatting to her. I went over and chewed the fat with them for a while. The conversation took a familiar turn as the dad listed off a bunch of his favourite places to visit in Mexico. The more time we spend in Mexico, the more places on the list we've seen so it's fun to compare notes on cities and towns. He asked me if we'd heard the train. I told him about how it made me think of home. "It just makes us sad', he said, 'when we think about all the people on the train." On the train? No, ON the train. On top of the train. There are so many people from Guatemala and countries further south that ride the tops of the trains trying to make it north to a better life. There is a whole network of Mexicans who live along the tracks who give them water and food on their journey. Tlaxcala is a major train hub and a lot of people jump off here while the train is still going to avoid being caught by the authorities. Desperate parents put their children on by themselves hoping to give their kids a better life. Many, many die on the way." Out the window fly my sentimental thoughts about the train.

After another peaceful night, we got an early start on the drive. We climbed and then coasted down into the high Oaxacan valleys, the soil going from chalk white to deep red, the 20 foot high cactus became pines and then agave and scrub on the rolling hills. At the road's highest point we stopped to make ourselves some lunch by the road. At a tiny little clearing looking out over layer upon layer of hazy mountain, an old man sat in the shade of his little shelter selling refrescos. We spent our lunch wondering just how he got up here with his drinks until Frances looked down the side of the mountain and found a little home hiding in the crook of the mountain below with a well-worn path from there to here.

1 comment:

A Friend Indeed said...

Didn't you spend Wil's birthday in Oaxaca last year? Are you on your way back to commemorate that by celebrating his birthday in the same place? Don't tell me you are not sentimentalists!!