If you go to Mexico, don’t forget to some of the smaller churches. They dot the neighborhoods and are among the most colorful and welcoming.
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One problem with hitchhiking. In a metro area of 3 million (in this case, Puebla) without subways, you’re going to lose the first couple of hours trying to get to a decent spot beyond the edge of the city.
I was lucky enough to get a ride to the main (and quite hectic) bus station. After several well-intended misdirections, I found the gate for a bus to a (presumably) good spot on the road to Oaxaca. I bought my ticket. “The bus leaves in 50 minutes,” said the ticket guy. I didn’t want to lose another hour, so I walked out to the buses and asked a few drivers from the same company. “Leaving right now,” said one, and I boarded. I find this rather typical in Mexico. Everyone is incredibly kind and eager to help, but it is difficult to help with much clarity because the whole world is winging it. It ain’t Germany (though I love both equally – and both are great for hitchhiking).
The bus dropped me right at the toll booth of Hwy 150D. The toll takers were busy, so I just walked through the gates. Like everyone else. Yes, inside the toll booth of what we (in the US) would call a “controlled-access highway,” there is a mini human ecosystem on the shoulder: tables set up selling tacos and jugos, guys with flags offering to change tires, hitchhikers (me), people walking around selling M&Ms, toll workers on break, and some people just hanging out.
It took me 5 minutes to get set up, getting my highway info out so I could stuff my daypack into my backpack, get my OAX sign ready, stake out a spot at a safe distance from the vendors and such. Lots of big trucks coming through in the right lane, making it difficult. But in just 15 minutes, someone risks life and limb to cut through the trucks. A fiftyish couple, Lalo and Erika, heading from Xalapa to … yes, to Oaxaca. One ride. Hitchhiking is too easy in Mexico. Going through Guanajuato state and then here, I have never waited longer that 20 minutes for a ride, the people on the side of the road were all helpful (none of the hawk-eyed judgement leveled at hitchhikers in the US), and my drivers all relaxed and friendly, including couples more often than not (as opposed to the US, where it’s almost all single, blue-collar men that pick you up).
At Tehuacán, we turn right and go into the mountains. Lalo and Erika speak almost no English, for which I am grateful. My hitchhiking immersion strategy is working. The flora changes dramatically from agave and organ pipe cactus to big trees. Then we slope out into white sandy, rocky terrain dotted with individual trees standing dark and green in relief. Then red clay terrain. Then fully green mountains again. We are getting near Oaxaca.
“Watch out for the negra,” says Erika. “The yellow mole and the red one, the one they call ‘coloradito,’ are great. But the negra, the negra is spicy. Really spicy.”
I doubt anyone can beat the dark, chocolaty mole I had in a middle-aged woman’s home in Puebla, but since I’ve been in Mexico, half the people have told me that Puebla has the best food and half say Oaxaca. I would find the negra not spicy at all, but in any event, I took Erika’s comment under advisement.
(One final note about the people of Oaxaca — and my new friends there can reply as needed. They are among the nicest, friendliest, most relaxed people I’ve met, but put them behind the wheel of a car and it’s like their hair is on fire. Visitors beware when crossing those streets!)
ON THE ROAD
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Leaving Guanajuato from Paseo de la Presa, first you have a 10-minute walk through the tunnel that shoots out from the Escuela Normal.
Then there’s a big shoulder and it looks like open road. This is deceptive. The road winds back into the city before leaving for San Miguel de Allende, where Beat icon/Merry Prankster Neal Cassady died beside the railroad tracks in 1968. Luckily, I got a quick ride with a fiftyish middle-class guy who took me to the big traffic circle. Hitchwiki recommended starting here anyway. I walked to one of the topes (speed bumps), which are everywhere, even on highways. Great for hitchhikers, since cars slow to a crawl, size you up, and usually have a place to pull over. At this tope, I got another quick ride with a thirtyish couple. Now it was really open road through Bajío country.
I’m starting to think hitchhiking Mexico might be as easy as Germany or Belgium or Poland. Yes, there were warnings about highway crime but not on this route. I suspect that crime is more concentrated but less ubiquitous here than in the US. This may be naivete. It certainly feels safer here (although the edgier hitchhiking environment in the US has its quirky rewards too).
Fabrizio, the driver, grew up in San Miguel de Allende. His girlfriend and passenger, Marta, is from the more industrial city of León. Both are now at the University of Guanajuato. We stop for gas and the car dies. It won’t crank. I eye the pancake cactus nearby.
The March weather is nice but the sun heats up quickly in the afternoon here in the high desert. I grab my bag. Then the car cranks and we are off. They drop me at the edge of San Miguel, and I find a local bus to the centro for about 35 cents.
But enough walking. I finally stopped for a quart of water and a hamburger from this fine Mexican lad and his Swedish girlfriend.
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