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The Oaxacan Bus Adventure

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My sister and I took this trip in 1977, by second- or third-class bus. It was a retired US school bus, complete with shrine to la Virgin, Christmas lights strung around the inside, Jesus' cross decal with rays shooting off it on the windshield blocking the driver's view, dingle balls - the whole bit.
Buying our tickets a few hours early got us seats. As the bus went by, I imagine it looked something like this: Mexicans, Mexicans, Mexicans, Mexicans, Mexicans, Mexicans, GRINGOS, Mexicans, Mexicans, etc. We really stuck out. BTW, many of the "Mexicans" were probably Zapotec Indians: dark, and on the short side. As we pulled out of the hot and dusty Oaxaca Valley, we split the rest of the bag of Colombian Red we'd brought into Mexico from the US. By that, I mean we ate it, not smoked it - probably about 2 j's worth each.
After dozing off for an hour or so, we woke up, tripping, hard. As the bus stopped in every village along the way, it kept loading more and more campesinos, until some were riding on top, on the running boards, on the bumpers, standing sardine-like in the aisle. Just about everyone had been to market that day in Oaxaca or somewhere; everyone had large bean and corn sacks full of their purchases. No pigs or chickens, though, I think, (maybe on the top).
As we went from the valley up and over the first range of mountains, the scenery became more and more spectacular. I remember thinking that the bus ride itself was beyond ridiculous, but I'd never seen such intense beauty all around the bus.
Many of the campesinos were dressed in the traditional clothing of the area. For the men: white pants and loose white long-sleeved shirts with light-colored straw hats. Many carried short machetes on their sides. The women wore mostly long skirts and brightly-colored, long-sleeved blouses, with their heads and upper torsos wrapped in rebozos (long, colored shawls).
The bus kept stopping, sometimes in the middle of nowhere, for several more hours, unloading a few passengers, but loading still more. "How on earth can they fit more people!?," I was thinking, but theirs was a different world than mine.
The road got steeper and steeper, the bus going around hairpin turns with the back wheels barely slipping off the edge of the one-lane dirt road. Looking down, sometimes we were a few thousand feet above the bottom of the abyss.
A couple of young campesino men, dressed in white, like all the others, but with a very red, stoned look in their eyes, boarded the bus. We made eye contact; they knew and we knew we were on a similar level of conciousness (read: zonked).
The bus driver, about five feet tall with shoulders about four feet wide, was steady as a rock. I guess none of this seemed strange to him. Did it every day.
Going up one of the steepest grades, one-lane, of course: to the right was a two-thousand-foot plunge. The engine sputtered to a stop. The driver stood on the brakes, bus skidding sidewards and backwards, slightly off the road, toward the abyss. A 12-year-old boy scurried out of the front of the bus and chocked all the wheels with big rocks he found.
The driver got out and opened the hood. The boy found an old paper cup and someone kept siphoning diesel fuel into it from the tank. Someone poured diesel into the carb until, twenty minutes later, the driver got the engine started again. They then used the torn paper cup to scoop water out of the ditch beside the road and pour into the radiator.
By this time, I was coming down a bit and helped all the passengers push the bus away from the long plunge and back onto the road again.
We all stopped for dinner half an hour later, where some entreprenuers had erected an impromptu restaurant, complete with folding tables, tablecloths, broiled chicken, rice, corn tortillas, tomatoes, cilantro, chiles, and, most importantly for me at the moment, cerveza.
We relaxed for an hour or so and hit the road again. As we approached the top of the last range of mountains, more and more campesinos got off the bus. It was becoming downright spacious on the bus. At the very top of the mountain range, the hardwoods changed to pines. There were crude, Swiss chalet-looking buildings at the top. I noticed some blue-eyed, dark-haired people around the bus as we stopped. They spoke with a different accent than other Mexicans we'd run into. It seemed more like Castilian Spanish.
As dusk approached, we were heading downhill, from the cloud-covered pine valleys to hardwoods to intense greenery, and then through banana plantations, finally, to the sea.
About 15 hours after we'd boarded, we arrived in Puerto Escondido, thoroughly exhausted. We found the nearest hotel and slept 12 hours or so. The next day we found some inexpensive cabanas, or palm-thatched huts, where we stayed for a couple of weeks. The beach was white and clean, the palms dreamlike. Paradise, or at least a great place to relax.

Buen Viaje,

February 1996

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