Blog 9 Who IS in command ?

                                                                 21 December 2012 [surreptitiously  added 22 Dec]

Leaving San Cristóbal early morning, as you have read, was a good idea. We took roads south & east toward the Pacific Coast, where we thought to stay 3 or 4 nights before going to Oaxaca. To rest, hang out, chill.

David is so very good. He looks at maps,, Lonely Planet -- all to learn, a/ is there really a road to this pueblo?;  b/ what to do in the pueblo; c/ accommodations?  And tech-y Linda has a Verizon cell phone with the Mexican plan (cell to cell calls are not international). David has found a small lodging on the coast with fans & mosquito netting & a good restaurant. We call, make a reservation, are told that it’s a 6-hour journey. For 300 kms ?

We hop into the car. Take off. Wow! There is a toll-highway out of San Cristóbal. Too bad we can only see it and don’t know how to get on it. So we chug along the regular highway. The traffic’s not bad and we make okay time (i.e., about 40 kph with lots of those traffic-calming topes in the numerous villages). Out of the valley, over the mountain, and heading down to the coast we get on a fast highway and it’s level terrain so I don’t have to worry about passing trucks on curves. We zap into our destination village, Puerto Arista, in an unthought of 4-hour journey. A small, sandy village right along the beach -- pelicans!! -- .

We search for our hotel. Ask at the gas station : Go left down the 2nd road about 5 minutes, we’ll find it easily. We do that. We drive down the sandy road for 15 minutes, until the road ends at the water’s edge. There have been a couple of cabañas with hammocks, but no, um, lodging with roofs. We turn around, drive back to the “center” of town. Ask a taxi driver. Oh, that hotel, go down the 3rd road for about a mile. You can’t miss it. It’s just outside the little village on that road. We find the 3rd road. We drive to the village (Santa somebody). Topes every 100 meters. We drive for a while. No hotels at all. No lodgings. We ask some nice folks at a store. Remember, we’re in the tropics now, there are no doors or windows . To ask someone who is just entering the store gets you an entire conversation with everyone in the store, all 7 of them. Consensus: Ha, ha, ha. Not here. No, in fact, says a customer, it’s nearer Tapachula, 3 hours distant. Ah, yes, they all say. There are lodgings around here, but they are one the 1st street…..

Time for command decision. We both decide that 3 more hours of driving , and driving east when ultimately to get to Oaxaca we must drive west, well, no way. David thinks to drive further along this 3rd street because he thought he understood that there might be lodging… We drive on a bit. Topes. Sand. No ocean view. Second-in-command decision: Try the 1st road to see what we get. We find a semi paved street boulevard with what look to be lodgings with roofs, pools, parking.

Second-in-command [s-i-c] points to a place: “There, let’s try there.” So we go in. A beautiful interior patio with 2 pools, cabañas, hammocks hanging under leaved roofs. A big palapa where food is served. Air-conditioned rooms. “Here,” says the s-i-c. “Here.”  We can’t haggle over the price, so we plop down our cash and crash. A couple of hours later we’re sitting in the cabaña, ordering dinner listening to wild ocean waves.. And the next morning, back to the cabaña for breakfast, watching the myriads of pelicans and frigate birds cruise overhead as we sip our coffee.

The next day, we decide to head off -- although in his early walk (before I deign to call it “morning,” David had spied all sorts of interesting birds (raptors, orioles). A headache has him less jovial, but still perky enough to load the car. We’ll go east, he’s decided, and stay in a cabaña on the beach at a place called Puerto Angel. “Look, here’s the description in Lonely Planet.” As  s-i-c reads the descriptions, she figures the writers about that village must have had plenty of company: mosquito netting and window screens got main play in the summaries. Um. Two pages earlier, LP describes another village called Huatulco, a planned vacation community with hotels of various categories dotting a landscape for kilometers . A service village with lots of restaurants. Air conditioned rooms. Hmmmmmm.

We drive a kilometer away from the beach and s-i-c spies something out of the corner of her eye. Screech to a halt. In a roadside pond: a roseate spoonbill, ibis, herons; birds, birds, birds. Photo shoot. Off we go again.

We turn onto a major highway with an extremely fast (110 – 120 kph) bypass around the 2 big cities – well, okay, extremely fast around 1 city --. The bypass around Tuxtla Gutierrez is sorta like the one around Morelia: it’s a commercial boulevard with, ostensibly, 2 lanes on each side, though lanes are not marked here and sometimes, especially at the stoplights, the 2 lanes can become 3 or 4, depending on how many motorcycles there are and how much in a hurry the taxis are. Signage? Ah, yes, there is some, so we get lost only twice, enabling us to cruise along some interesting minor streets of the capital city.

By now David’s headache is worse. The fact that we’re using a 5-year-old map makes trying to find toll highway difficult which gives us a couple of tense moments at crossroads. But we make the right choices and enjoy a smooth ride for 2 ½ more hours. Break time. We stop at a Pemex (gas station), buy a couple of small bottles of yoghurt. The sales clerk says that the toll road now goes all the way to Puerto Angel. That makes us both smile. Back behind the wheel again, air conditioning on in the car, David snoozing, and I cruising. Only 200 kms to go, maybe 2 hours. Good thing, cause David is getting downright punky looking.

Now, if all you have as a definition of “Mexican planned beach vacation area” is Cancún, there are both pros and cons. The pros are for the driver, who feels comfortable thinking about the ease of arriving: flat land, vistas everywhere, 4 lane roads, signage, marked road lanes….. So, using my American deductive brain, a toll road to a government-planned vacation area is great. Puerto Angel is only 45 kilometers beyond Huatulco. A short trip and we can look around there for a perfect place [s-i-c mental note: ignore the “with mosquito netting” listings].

Then, the toll road disappears. We find ourselves on the old highway. Two very narrow lanes. No pulloffs, no passing lanes, and what do I spy? A semi doble remolque (meaning a semi truck pulling 2 long trailors). Constant curves. Even more interesting is that we’re going straight up or straight do

wn. What happened to my envisioned beach highway?

Do you remember Bill Cosby’s famous description of driving in San Francisco?: As he reaches the top of a hill he can’t see anything , “Where’s the land, for crying out loud?”

Here the answer is straight down with 2 big busses coming up at us, one passing the other. It’s lucky we’re only travelling about 5 kph on the hill, because otherwise everything would be a blur and you wouldn’t be reading this. David manages a snore as we all thread our way around each other. Another 30 minutes and I’ve got the graffiti on the back of the truck memorized, I’ve watched two flowers bloom, and am wondering where I can pee. Looking around I realize that I haven’t seen the ocean shore for the last hour. Whoops, here we go down – the truck picks up speed. Then slams on its brakes (thank goodness his brake lights work) as he rounds a particularly sharp corner and up a mountain again. But this time I get the chance to pass and do so. Zipping right up to 30 kph I almost become dizzy. Maybe that’ll be the only truck on the . . . . Okay 2 tailgating busses going my way.

David opens his eyes and murmurs, “I’ve been asleep for a while. Have I missed anything?” Can I choke him?

A big land rover cuts in front of me. Fine. Let him go. As we’re approaching a village, I realize that he will show me where the topes are by slowing down (no signs mark the places). Great. He turns off. I slow down to see the topes.

It seems to me like I’ve been driving for hours. Wait, I have been. I’ve seen trucks (Coca-Cola outnumbers Pepsi 2 to 1 on this road); Corona, private trucks hauling everything from people, horses, a cow, trash (?). Women walking up the mountain with loads of wood on their backs. Men walking down the mountain with machetes in their hands.

What I have not seen are billboards announcing hotels, vacation resorts, restaurants. I also continue not to see any ocean. Where are we?

Several hours. 395 kilometers. And then I see it: a sign to “Bahías de Huatulco.” When I push on the turn signal, David wakes up, “Shouldn’t we go on the other 45 kilometers to Puerto Angel? If we don’t like it we can always come back.”

It’s 4:30, another hour of light for driving. I smile (sweetly? ferociously?) and turn toward the Bahías of Huatulco. “We’ll see if we like it here. If not we can always drive on.”

The first 6 kms aren’t anything to crow about. Still the same narrow highway, this one with potholes. No more “Huatulco” announcements, no bill boards. Then the 2-lane turned into 4-laned mostly paved, with roundabouts and sidewalks and people cutting and clearing the already beautiful foliage. Ah-ha, I thought, we’re coming into it now!!!

“Now” ultimately means 9 more kilometers of down, down, down, and still no views of the ocean.

And then, bit by bit, every ½ kilometer or so, there’s a fancy well constructed gorgeous gate: Hotel Celeste, “Posada Azul,” and we pass another road with a sign marked to “Private Yachts”. Ah ha. Maybe this is it? We may have arrived, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t bring an armored truck filled with enough cash. Down, down, down even more. We get to a big roundabout with signage: Santa Cruz, Huatulco, La Crucecita, Tungalunda.

No clue. Time to pull into some shade and look at Lonely Planet ‘s map. By carefully studying, we realize that this whole humongous area

is made up of 5 sections (the 5th, as I understand it, is the several kilometers of privately ensconced hotels). It appears that the “town” is La Crucecita, maybe it is where the cruise ships land (groan from David) and where restaurants and decently priced hotels might be found.

So I head the car in that direction. David’s head is hanging off to one side. I still have to pee. Did I mention only a yoghurt for lunch?

We find a fairly large -- ah, but very tastefully landscaped – area of stores, a gas station, hotels. [Think senior villages in Florida]

I cruise into La Crucecita. It has a sweet little plaza, lots of people strolling around…..

I stop the car, David looks around. Too late. I’m out of the car and into Hotel Plaza Conejo, where there is an interior room, with a/c & internet and it’s not sold out and it isn’t even as expensive as last night and it’s only 1 flight up and the car is parked in the shade. And we move in.

Aha, s-i-c did gooooood . David is already passed out on the bed before I get to the bathroom [remember, I had to …]

I stroll around town, talking to store people, getting a Teotitlán weaver’s guided tour of wool, dyes, and weaving large blankets. I taste a lovely freshly-made pastry. I gawk at silver, amber, turquoise, and other wonderful goodies. I go back to the room to find David willing to try dinner. I take him to a place I had spied. An interior courtyard, discreetly lit, beautiful blues and oranges and yellows. Lovely tablecloths. Candles. No loud music. Fantastic food (large shrimp in garlic sauce & a shrimp cocktail). Lovely, almost romantic if David weren’t cradling his head in his arms.

And as we nestle in for the night, I think, okay, s-i-c, you did okay. This is good. Really good. And David can recuperate and you can have fun in the stores and whoopee.

And today I have gotten up with the worse headache in years and a ominously bad cold, and David’s already gone off looking at birds.

So, if you haven’t figured it out already, Command Central is Mother Nature. She calls the shots, all of them. From where the good birds are, to where we’ll get fresh orange juice & shrimp cocktail, to the weather (humid hot on the coast, cold in the mountains). And to the driving. Oh, definitely, to the driving.

Linda (& David)