Monday, June 19, 2006

Bus trips, baseball and umbrellas

Saturday me and some of my fellow compañeros in the study abroad program decided to go to Hierve del Agua (means boiling water or something like that anyway) which is a bit outside of town for a day of bathing in some natural springs. Incidentally the water isn’t hot at all but bubbles up from an underground spring, hence the name. The spring is about two hours out of town, one hour to the town of Mitla then another in a collectiva (van taxi basically) to the spring in the mountains on a windy road. We got up very early as our information packet provided by the school informed us that the bus left at 8am and that was our only chance to get to the spring that day. Saturday morning we woke up and met at 7:30am to find the bus station with plenty of time to spare. It was a good thing we did have time to spare because we walked all over looking for the bus station and finally discovered that we were not looking for a station at all but rather a stop on a corner. Around 8:05 or so we were standing in the appointed area and our bus came along a few minutes later. According to the bus driver the buses to Mitla run all day long about every twenty minutes. Good thing we got up so early.

The bus is a “second class” bus which sort of serves as a commuter bus taking people from neighboring towns into Oaxaca for work and then transporting them back home again. We paid 15 pesos for a 60km (I think) ride which is a little less than a dollar fifty. Very economical!

At the town of Mitla we get off the bus and the money collector on the bus waved us in the direction of what we assumed was the area to catch the collectiva to the spring. Walking about fifty feet down the street we encountered a shop that displayed some very attractive Mexican indigenous style shirts (hand made of course and one of a kind, funny how many places you can find that) and of course were compelled to shop a bit before finding the collectiva. During the course of conversation with the shop keeper we find out that Hierve del Agua is closed. Apparently there is a conflict occurring between two villages who both claim to control the spring and the revenue it generates. Conflict seems to be the order of the day in Oaxaca, every town, location or venue we go to seems to be embroiled in conflict, perhaps it is following us. Anyway, the road up to the spring is closed as well due to construction so our plan to either bribe our way in to the spring or hike around the surrounding mountains was foiled as well.

After a bit more shopping, some walking around the Saturday Mitla market and negotiating on our next course of action we hop into a Nissan Sentra taxi to take us to Yagul which houses some archaelogical ruins circa 450AD to 750AD. There were six of us in this little car, including one 6’3” guy, but the cab driver took it all in stride and didn’t even blink an eye when we scraped pretty badly going over speed bumps. He was from Chiapas and kept pointing out landmarks as he drove to the ruins. This was slightly disconcerting as we were on the highway, which in Mexico is a wee bit scary anyway, and he would point out the window at landmarks and look at all of us to see if we were noticing the correct feature. Each time he did this he kept one hand on the wheel but he would look away from the road for what felt like several minutes. I was sitting behind him and would look over his shoulder at the oncoming buses and semis and think about the horrific car accident we had passed on this very road only 45 mintues ago. Needless to say when we got to the ruins I was totally awake. The taxi left us at the ruins and told us when finished with our visit we could just walk the two kilometers back to the highway and flag down the bus. I wasn’t really sure this would work but I wanted out of that cab so I decided to believe him.

After the ruins at Yagul we did indeed march down the road to the highway, saw a dog jump out of a truck and break its leg along the way, and flagged down the bus with the help of an 80 year old woman with a blanket atop her head.

We took the bus to Tlocula (I think), a small town which apparently has a great market but not on the day we were there. The most exciting thing about the town was, well, I guess nothing really. Actually, the beer was cold which was exciting and we watched the Czech Republic Vs. Ghana soccer game. After lunch we hopped back on the bus to Tule which is the home of the second biggest tree in the world and the biggest in the Americas. It was big, they don’t lie. Of course how long can you look at a big tree when you know there is cold beer and a soccer game waiting for you nearby at a local restaurant.

We found a restaurant across from the tree plaza to watch the United States Vs. ?, um I forgot. Anyway, they made us pay two pesos each (20 cents) to watch the game. Actually the two pesos each was just to turn the TV on, I don't think they really cared what we watched and the people who came in to watch the game after we paid to get the TV on didn't seem to care that we had paid for this service. I guess they were smarter than us, they wait until some sucker pays and then they benefit. The restaurant had a large center area that was open to the floor above and a rooster looked down at us from the second floor ledge the whole time. This experience with nature was complimented by a goat being butchered about 20 feet away in the butcher room (what would you call that?) of the restaurant. They had a goat tied up outside the room waiting for its turn and the son of the butcher guy was holding the spine of what was evidently the first goat and cutting away every last bit of flesh from the skeleton with a large knife. I had a perfect view of the whole thing, flies and all, from my seat. Several beers later and a tie by the United States and we left to return to Oaxaca and escape the smell of freshly slaughtered meat.

Walking back from the bus stop we passed the baseball stadium and decided to go to a game. The Oaxacan Guerreros were playing the Tigres (can’t remember where they were from) and were kicking the shit out them! I am now a big fan of baseball games in Oaxaca, beers are about a buck fifty each and they bring them right to you. We also had some peanuts dipped in chili powder with some lime juice dripped over them and to top it all off a bag of microwave popcorn! Some of the vendors walk around with one or two bags of microwave popcorn and sell it to you then go back downstairs and pop some more! It really is quite the money maker if you think about how much microwave popcorn costs and the treat is very popular. It took us a long time to get a bag as they would sell them before they got to our section! They also sell donuts at the game which caused one of the guys we were with to remark “you can’t sell donuts at a baseball game!”. I don´t know, they looked pretty damn good to me and if he hadn’t said that I might have gotten one to compliment my Corona.

The other curiousity of the baseball game, beyond the donuts, was the presence of cheerleaders and the occasions in the game the crowd chose to make a lot of noise. I had seen cheerleaders at a baseball game before in Venezuela however they were unofficial and merely stood in the stands. These were highly organized, named the Guerreritas and took the field I think a total of four times. To help the cheerleaders out there was a very racuous (sp?) cheering section behind the catcher complete with drums, noise makers of all kinds and metal sticks they would beat on the seats. They produced this terribly annoying noise when their own team was batting but not when the other team was batting. I guess they found it more useful to distract the pitcher than the batter.

Tomorrow we are headed to the ruins of Monte Alban outside of Oaxaca. I decided to use my umbrella to shield me from the sun at Yagul and I think I will do the same at Monte Alban as our instructor has informed us that it is very intense. I think using an umbrella to protect myself from the sun officially makes me really old. Oh well, at least I won’t be old and crispy like fried chicken.

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