Colors of Mexico 5: Rainbow
The sun is beating down in Oaxaca. The temperature borders on 35 degrees Celsius, along the swimming pool. My best friend and I are desperately seeking to cover our bodies with tree shadows. The sweat is running along our white and pale chests which hadn’t received that quantity of sun rays since last summer. We enjoy these resting moments after a long journey on the bus which took us from Mexico City to Oaxaca in 6 hours through many mountain roads. We unwind, the clear water makes us forget about the sun heat as soon as we plunge our feet. Yellow sun rays reflect and warm the blue of the water. My body feels surrounded by warmth, exactly like when we wrap up in a smooth plaid in winter. I feel each and every drop of water skimming my fingers and my hair. As I dive a second time, all the stress washes away and gratitude is the only emotion left. We are alone, just a lonely bartender wanders behind the bar desperately waiting for a client. Birds are singing on the branches and mosquitoes are bored in absence of target. An astonishing silence is reigning all around us, just the distant racket of cars sometimes appears, but water’s noise always ends up outperforming. The world is locking down and tourists have disappeared. The hotel is practically empty, there is nobody but us and a British couple who magically landed here in the middle of Mexico. Hotel’s staff confesses us their boredom. At the hotel’s restaurant, we try the hot chocolate which, to our great surprise, does not taste like the one we usually drink in Europe. I can’t precisely describe the taste but it is less creamy and more peculiar. Oaxaca region is an area where a lot of cacao is grown, which is considered one of the best in Mexico. Then, we grew accustomed to drinking hot chocolate every night, like a dose of warmth before going to bed.
We head to the city, whose downtown is part of UNESCO World Heritage. It is a 20-minute walk to reach the center. In this American-like crisscrossed city, each building has a specific color, there is not a single black or grey or white property. Streets are like rainbows, a place where rain and sun mix up to bring out the most beautiful. These concrete rainbows are just as ephemeral since frequent earthquakes destroy the city’s life. However, buildings have always surfaced stronger and prettier, like a tiny three-leaf plant growing through ruins. Paved streets compel vehicles to slow down, creating a peaceful atmosphere of calm. After a few right turns, we arrive at the main square. The atmosphere completely changes and we see many people jostling because it is market day. We hear the noise of hustle and bustle. The market seems huge, tens of sellers are aligned, selling everything you can imagine. Some Mole (a typical sauce made with chocolate), some tuñas (a green and round fruit looking like a kiwi), some magueys (a cactus’ fruit), some queso oaxaqueno (a local cow’s cheese) and many other specialities. We walk through paths and we are amazed by the colors, and arts and crafts. Many merchants are hand-making what they offer in front of our eyes: they paint a hat or a cup, they sew a T-shirt, they prepare some culinary specialities, etc… I buy gifts for my family and myself, especially a wonderful notebook which will become my Mexican diary and would allow me to write down my adventures and experiences. We stop by some mezcalerías, which are shops selling mezcal, a type of alcohol made with agave. We were told that it was a local speciality, so we want to buy a bottle. Sampling after sampling, I must admit we start to feel a little bit tipsy. Midday sun does not help out to clear up our ideas, and we decide that it is the ideal time to return to the hotel and cool down along the swimming pool. We buy a tiny bottle of mezcal as a souvenir. On the way back, we pass by the cathedral, which is similar to Mexico City and Taxco’s ones. A bicycle is abandoned and leaning back against the wall, like in an old postcard. An old lady sells painting on the ground and I buy one. Some cacti show off their spines, visibly not bothered by the sun’s heat. After another 20-minute walk, we reach the hotel and the feeling of we laying down on the bed is amazing.
While searching for an activity or a landmark to visit, we sadly find out that archaeological sites of Monte Alban are closed because of the pandemic. It is an ancient Zapotec city, a pre-Columbian civilization. In the same way, the majority of touristic places are closed to the public: museums, archaeological sites, natural sites, … We would have liked to visit the natural site called Hierve el Agua, 60 kilometers away from Oaxaca. There are what they called “petrified cascades”, cascades of white salt, and natural jacuzzis. Natural pools of turquoise water embellish the landscape. However, we spend two days by the swimming pool, and it turns out to be a good idea because we needed rest. After urgently moving within a few days from Santa Barbara to Mexico City, I just needed to rest and relax. These two days are very pleasant and resting, despite the little regret of not being able to visit everything the region has to offer.
At the end of these two days, we want to continue our trip as long as we can. Rumors of an imminent lockdown in Mexico are more and more shared. Our goal is to reach the ocean, specifically the Pacific Ocean because going to the Pacific Ocean is mythical. The other side of the world, the turquoise water, palm trees, etc… We finally decide to head to Puerto Escondido, for the only reason that it is the closest beach to Oaxaca, just a few 12 hours away. We give back our room’s keys and leave the same night, confident and excited to discover new lands, without suspecting what was expecting us.
We leave the bus station at around 11 pm, we ride the highway and while the city lights are slowly getting further I feel sleepiness taking me over. I am falling asleep, looking forward to waking up the day after. No more than two hours later, I feel thrown against the window of the bus and I wake up. I feel strong nausea coming and the bus keeps shaking from left to right. I try to find back my senses and figure out what is going on. Luckily, we picked the front row seats so I can follow the road. I find out that Mexico has only a few highways, and the rest is two-way roads. It is two in the morning, and we are going through a harsh mountain road, continuously turning. Two opposite phenomena fight in my body: sleepiness makes me close my eyes and lean upon my best friend’s shoulder, nausea appears as soon as I close my eyes. The bus stops for a little break and I ask the driver how long this horrible road is going to last and he tells me the worst answer I was expecting: until the final destination. I wonder how I am going to restrain myself from vomiting and I give up my will of sleep, my whole body regrets this night journey we picked. I turn on some music to try to distract my mind but there is nothing I can do: my stomach is struggling. By dint of staring at the road and announcing every turn in my head like “now we are turning left” or “now there is a roundabout”, I manage to somehow control my nausea. We are unbelievably still climbing like this mountain is endless. I now understand why the bus needs twelve hours to go from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido, even if it looks somewhat close on the map. When we finally reach the summit, we instantly start to descend through the same hairpin bend. By some miracle and without even realizing it, I finally fall asleep.
I wake up a few hours later when the sun has already risen. It would be a lie to tell you that I slept in one go. I basically woke up every half of hour, but my body refused to live again the hell of the beginning of the trip and instantly fell asleep again. I feel relieved that I managed to sleep a little bit because I will be able to enjoy the coming day without being exhausted. Puerto Escondido is now two hours away, the end is near. My best friend and I agree that this is our worst trip ever. Even though we took many night buses before, this one was particularly awful and we have never felt so glad to get off a bus. We are now ready to discover the Mexican Pacific Coast, and I will take you guys with us in the next chronicle. The only thing we are sure about is that we will take the plane to return to Mexico City!
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