I can’t even say how long I have desired the opportunity to explore Oaxaca City. Back in my days working for Mexico Unlimited, we somehow never made the trip, truthfully probably simply because we tend to head to Mexico’s beautiful beaches. That fact didn’t keep me from dreaming of this place, not so far away in miles, and yet seemingly out of easy reach.
This all changed as we drove south from Mexico DF, our goal to finally experience this amazing and historic valley for ourselves. Now, we rarely fight, but we disagree regularly when it comes to the taboo subject of toll roads. The majority of overlanders, when the topic comes up, heartily declare they “never” take toll roads. Well, I call bullshit. If the truth be told, nearly everyone I’ve ever met has, at one point or another, taken a toll road, even if only occasionally by accident. We try not to, with myself fighting for the free roads, and Jim tending more towards a “lets just get there…. and avoid the topes” attitude. I will say I generally win the fight but if we’re being honest… we check the GPS and if a long driving day is 5 hours with toll roads or 7 ½ on the free roads, yep, you’ll find us cruising the freeway. Thus, we hit the road and headed south.
But, I digress. As previously stated, even though we are, in fact, on an epic road trip which will cover tens of thousands of miles, we really don’t enjoy driving days, as such. We switch drivers every couple of hours. We take Aspen out for a break and pee walk. We stop for lunch. If we have a driving day of more than 5 hours we all get antsy. Even Aspen, an exceptional traveler, gets to about hour 6 and starts making loud sighing noises from her princess pad in the backseat.
So there we were, a mere hour or so from our campground, when traffic came to a halt. The long line up of semi trucks, their drivers mostly wandering about or stretched out under their trucks in the shade, didn’t bode well for our journey. Thinking it might just be a checkpoint for commercial vehicles, we drove slowly to the front, only to be blocked by masses of protesters.
We thought we had it made. We had been concerned with roadblocks and protests further south, but in no way planned for them north of the city. We were, of course, aware of the ongoing problems between the teachers union and the government, but naively didn’t realize we were now sitting in line in the very town where the greatest violence occurred.
Luckily for us, the protesters weren’t actually concerned with us, and guided by some kind locals taking advantage of the stoppage to sell peanuts, we made our way through town, past partially blocked roads, debris, and multiple burned out vehicles and on to the free road.
Our one hour turned into a 2 1/2 hour interlude, winding through hilltop villages, navigating endless topes, and two more roadblocks before we arrived into Oaxaca, this magical city of my dreams.
And I didn’t like it.
Stuck in terrible traffic, something in weeks to come we were to realize is a constant here, I gazed around us, desperately wanting to find something intriguing or beautiful. I didn’t. I realized that we were not in the historic center, always the loveliest part of any town, but it was just…disappointing.
Oaxaca City wasn’t ugly, per se, but it was also not charming. The bus drivers, and especially collectivo drivers, were reckless assholes, cutting us off at every opportunity. The intersections were a mass of lanes merging in from seemingly all directions. At one point the lanes became a braided pattern where each block we changed from the right side to the left side of the street, apparently done to slow down crazy drivers. To say our first impressions of this frequently touted city were not the best.
We weaved our way through town, finally arriving at our quiet campground in the valley, and heaved a huge sigh of relief, although plans of a month working and eating our way through the area seemed a lost dream.
What would the next few weeks bring? Only time would tell….