The next morning we drove through the narrow streets of Mexico City for the last time, making our way to the freeway that would take us to Puebla, out next stop. Just on the outskirts of Mexico City Bill noticed that a policeman on a motorcycle was following us, his lights were flashing. Because he was sure he had done nothing wrong Bill kept driving, out of the blue the bike was up next to us and the siren blasted. The policeman wore a full-face helmet with tinted visor, a heavy khaki uniform belted over his ample waist and knee length black leather boots over riding jodhpurs. Using his PA system and pointing he said, "Pull Over!" We did immediately. He positioned himself right in front of us, stopped and got off his bike. As he came towards the motorhome he pushed his visor up and we could see his craggy face, black eyes and bushy brown mustache. Bill met him at the door with our passports and driving permits. He stood back about five feet and asked Bill to step outside. Bill asked what he had been doing, why were we pulled over. The policeman told Bill that "trucks" weren't allowed on the freeway. Bill explained that we weren't a truck and showed him on the paperwork (from Mexico) that we were classified as a car. The discussion continued, the policeman insisted we were in the wrong. Bill insisted we weren't. Voices started to get louder. The cop told Bill to get back in the motorhome and follow him to the judge to pay a fine. Bill said fine, no problem we would be glad to follow him as he turned and started to get back inside. This seemed to confuse the policeman and he changed his story. Pulling on his moustache he said maybe we would just like to pay the fine to him and not have to go to judge. Politely and with a smile, Bill said no, we would go to judge. Then the policeman got very insistent that Bill should simply pay him the money and then we could get on our way. Even his demeanor had changed. He became more belligerent, he moved closer to Bill and stood with his legs spread, one thumb hooked in his belt and the other resting on his gun. Again he said we needed to pay HIM the fine. As Bill stepped back into the doorway he said No again. But this time with a few embellishments. He had realized that the man only wanted mordida (a bribe) no laws had been broken. Bill made a few comments about the man's intelligence and job then offered him 50 cents to go buy a beer. The policeman got the message that this Americano could not be intimidated. With a glare, he snapped his visor back down and got on his motorcycle and roared away. For a few miles Bill was livid, he went on and on about bribes being a way of life below the U.S. Border. And how only uneducated people got jobs as policemen because that was the only job they could get. Eventually he calmed down and laughed about the whole encounter.
This part of the Pan American Highway was pretty good; we were mostly going down the mountains now, back to the lower farming country. We only went as far as Puebla 101 miles south. There we stopped at a once famous hot springs resort called Agua Azul. The large hotel and adjacent buildings were built of gray rocks, with a black tile roofs. The driveway from the highway led us through large lawns and past big trees. Behind the hotel were two enormous hot springs pools. We parked and went into the elegant lobby. The floors were polished black marble, the furniture and reception desk were made of dark carved wood and glass chandlers hung from the beamed ceiling. The old man behind the desk, dressed in a faded but elegant brown uniform, was very efficient. He informed us about the rooms, the hot pools and the hotel dining room. We requested and got two first floor rooms. One for the kids and one for us! Our room had a bathtub! The old fashioned kind, very deep and long. It even had claw feet. We brought a few things in from the motorhome then went down to the dining room for dinner. The dining room was bigger than the lobby. The tables were set with white linen tablecloths and napkins. Crystal goblets and silver marked off each place setting. The slate floor gleamed and the windows were covered with heavy once gold velvet draperies. We were the only people there. The service was excellent, one waiter for each of us. I had chicken mole, didn't like it too spicy. At least I tried it once. The rest had steak and salads.
After dinner we all went to our rooms. Throughout the meal I had been dreaming about soaking in a nice hot tub. As soon as we got into the room I went into the bathroom to fill the tub - there was no plug! No problem, Bill stuffed a washcloth in the drain to hold the water. Then I turned on the hot water faucet - a stream of luke warm water about as big around as a piece of pencil lead dribbled out. I turned the faucet as far as it would go, no improvement. I tried the other faucet, same thing. I finally managed to get about three inches of kind of warm water in the tub. In the time it took me to have my "bath" Bill had crawled into the big bed and was sound asleep. I should have gone out to the hot mineral pools, but didn't think of it till morning. I dreamt about hot baths and food that night.
I missed cottage cheese, good salami and cold, cold milk. The camper refrigerator keeps things cool but not real cold. Randy says he misses "real live food" I guess that means Alpha Beta wieners. Brown sugar is hard to find so is ground black pepper and margarine with salt and grape jelly (they have every other kind.) But we can buy Welch's grape juice. Meat is plentiful and good so is the produce. Apples are very expensive. All I could find in the supermercados is mayonnaise, which I didn't (and still don't) like, couldn't find salad dressing.
Gil was finally eating meat and biscuits. We still had a few boxes of Coco Puffs left - when they were gone - oh well. We had just finished the first big can of peanut butter, had a couple left but had seen it in markets here.
After a good nights sleep in real beds another early start.
We had originally planned on going to the Gulf coast to Vera Cruz, but gave up on that idea after spending so much time in Acapulco and Mexico City. Also money was tight.
So Oaxaca was our next stop. It was another long, slow drive through a changing landscape. Here the Pan American Highway went through the Sierra Madre a North/South mountain range that cut through the Southern part of Mexico. The dirt and rocks were different shades of red, from almost pale pink to deep rust, a nice contrast to the green fields and trees. The winding road rose to 7400 feet before we started down towards the city. There wasn't much traffic but because of the twisting climb we couldn't make very good time, about 30 miles per hour was all. We had to cross several bridges over rivers and ravines, they were all very narrow, just a little more than one lane. If someone was coming from the other direction the game of the Biggest was played, sometimes we won, sometimes we didn't.
We passed through several pretty little villages with long names: Izucar de Matamobos, Huajuapan de Leon, and Tamazulapam to name a few. Their one thing in common was each had a big church and a plaza. Also several of the villages had flea markets next to the road to sell their local handicrafts: pottery, natural straw hats, and brightly colored hand loomed cottons.
From time to time along side the road were little shrines with statues and flowers, didn't know if they marked deaths, graves or were just there to give weary travelers faith.
John pointed out to me that we were passing lots of signs with what looked like names of towns or villages on them but no buildings, except for maybe one single house. We finally found out they designated bus stops. The bus lines won't stop to pick up or let off passengers except at the signs.
We realized how far away from home we were when we came upon a small flour mill. The method of threshing the wheat was quite primitive - there were four horses harnessed to a movable pole. The pole was attached to a stake in the center of a dirt circle. The wheat was thrown on the ground in the circle and the horses walked around and around separating the grain from the husks. Would have liked to stay and watch but didn't.
Finally we reached the high point on the highway, approximately 7,500 feet high. There was a beautiful view of the volcanic peaks in the distance. The road followed the ridge for a while then we began going down into the semitropical valley where Oaxaca lies. After an hour or so the road began to straighten out and we were out of the wicked curves.
Oaxaca was a good-sized city about 160,000. We located a campground with hook ups and showers. It had a "pull-through" space and room for the trailer. But that was about all I can say for it. It was ugly! No grass, just dirt and rocks under tall trees. As soon as we were settled in, we ate and hit the sack - all inside again. We were too tired to even walk into town to sight see.
The next morning was warm and rainy and Bill stayed in bed all day sick with a terrible cold. He was the last one to get it but he was the sickest. A lot of it probably had to do with the dryness and the altitude. Randy and Gil both had nosebleeds (even without me touching them!) I have felt pretty good; the boys say I'm so mean the germs are afraid to get near me. What ever works.
Ah, Mexico, the rain causes the electricity in the city to go out. That meant we had to run the generator if we wanted light, also meant John Mc had to go out in the rain and fiddle with the switch to change the refrigerator from electric back to propane.
The boys were out wandering around between showers and they met a couple with a camper/van conversion, they just came back from spending a year driving around South and Central America. They claimed they didn't have any trouble and that the roads were pretty good. The people they met were helpful and friendly. They were leaving that day for the north so we didn't get much information from them. I wished we could have talked to them some more.
I don't know why but I really had problems with showers during the trip. The boys had all taken showers and reported no problems, nice hot water and clean. Well when I got to the ladies shower, it was clean and dark because of the power outage and again there was NO HOT WATER. I decided I better learn to like cold showers. I guess that by the time I got to the showers the water was cold because the electricity was out and the water heater ran on electricity.
Next day Bill was feeling human again so we unhooked trailer and went downtown to buy groceries and to renew our Mexican auto insurance.
Driving there was very easy all the streets were one-way and well marked. The town was very nice; its Zócalo (central plaza) had enormous shade trees and lots of flowers. The streets surrounding the plaza were for pedestrians only. All the central walkways were covered with latticework with flowering vines on them. Most of the buildings were very old and beautiful.
We located the insurance office recommended by Sanborn's Guidebook. The office was open but the agent wasn't there. A sign on the counter said he would be back by 4:00 - the whole town shut down from 1 to 4 in the afternoon for siesta. We walked around to take up the time and looked in shop windows. Oaxaca produced beautiful black pottery, hand woven and dyed carpets and serapes, leather belts and silver goods. It is also famous for the machetes, swords and knives made in a little factory on the edge of town. Engraved on every blade is a proverb or saying in Spanish.
Everyone we met was very friendly and interested in where we were from and how we liked their country. A little before 4:00 we went back to the insurance company and waited in the office for Señor Jorge Gonzalez to return. True to his sign he came bustling in right at 4:00, he seemed surprised to find us waiting.
He was short, about 5'4" and rather stout. His hair, eyes and moustache were black. He was wearing a loose white cotton shirt with embroidery on the front, brown slacks and huaraches (sandals.) He shook hands with Bill, the other hand on Bill's elbow vigorously pumping his arm up and down. He led us into his office where he offered us chairs and tea. After exchanging pleasantries Bill finally got a chance to tell him that we needed to extend our auto insurance, as it would run out that day and we still had to drive to the border. He was very interested in where we had been, our experiences and where we were going. We spent quite a bit of time there talking with him. He told us he also performed marriages, helped people with their immigration forms and buying houses. He was a very busy man but acted like he had all the time in the world to talk to us.
After we had purchased the insurance we bought groceries and packed up ready to leave in the a.m. - Yes, I finally did get a HOT shower. After the electricity came back on I did laundry in warm water and showered and washed my hair in HOT water.
Stopped by Police for driving our Motorhome on the Wrong Road in Mexico City. On our way to Oaxaca.