August 06, 2006 GMT

"Sign here and you're finished. Welcome to Mexico." With those simple words, and a similarly simple process, I am through customs and into my final latin american country. The process is prophetic: travelling in Mexico is so easy I feel I am somehow cheating.

The Mexican pavement is in great condition, I marvel at the luxury of road signs, everywhere there are indications of construction and industry. The American Big Three re-emerge. Oversized Chevy, Ford and Dodge trucks are everywhere. How inappropriate they now look to my eyes. However, the countryside remains truly beautiful. Katie and I just cruise along enjoying the scenery.


Rising fuel prices means everyone is looking for a way to get a few more kilometers to the tank. Service stations have found their own way of helping their taxi driver customers: simply put the taxi on a ramp and pour more in.


Even though I am surprised by the beauty of the state of Chiapas I know this is an active area of civilian discontent with the government. Revolts, protests and mischief towards highway travellers. I see it, watch it on TV, hear talk but luckily am not affected. When I leave the charming city of San Cristobal de las Casas and cross the Istmo de Tehuantepec I am, officially & geographically speaking, in North America. Katie and I move onto Oaxaca where political activity begins to bare its teeth.

Nominated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, Oaxaca has retained some of its heritage charm since its founding in 1521. As the Footprint Handbook states, "It gracefully combines its colonial and native roots; fine stone buildings, churches, arcades and airy patios speak for its importance during the colonial period, while its markets, crafts, dances and feast days point to a more indigenous past."


Teachers, unhappy with political progress, or lack of it, staged fairly active protests before I arrive. Riot police responded, violence and arrests resulted. When I tour downtown Oaxaca, residual emotions are spray painted on heritage sites, tarps are strung across the streets and barricades interrupt vehicular traffic. An unhappy standoff remains.


Meanwhile, life goes on all around. On sabado, at the venerable Iglesia Santa Domingo (opened to the faithful in 1608), a bride and her maids excitedly pose for last minute photos before the big ceremony. What exquisite surroundings to be married in!



Blocks off el centro, where traffic flows without pause, the other symbol of venerable Mexico thrives, the Volkwagen Beatle. The bug is everywhere. Doing duty as family car, teenage hotrod, pizza delivery, moving billboard, or dressed bright green as a taxi in Mexico City, they are as commonplace as catholic churches and tacos.


Another kind of bug is famoso in the state of Oaxaca. Highly decorative and imaginative paper mache bugs. Just one more item for sale on a sidewalk near you.


Speaking of bugs for sale, how would you like to pick up a bushel or two on the way home? Grasshoppers, ants and some other little buggers I can't identify are all roasted and waiting for some hunger customer. Not me, thanks, but mind if I take a picture? My tastebuds are still a bit off from the guinea pig lunch.


Leaving the city of Oaxaca with its lovely climate moderated by being 5100 ft asl in the mountains, Katie and I hitch a ride with the local KTM dealer. He's on his way to pick up a load of new motorcycles. I can come along and see 20 million strong Mexico City from the luxury of a truck window. Considering this berg is the biggest in the world and much bigger than Los Angeles, I think this is too good to miss. And he will drop me off at the north end of the city, from where Katie and I can make an easy escape. The downside? We leave Oaxaca at 2 a.m. Turns out there is one more downside...

Posted by Murray Castle at August 06, 2006 06:57 PM GMT

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