Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Cross-Eyed Colombian Coke Dealer

by Scott

One way to get attention in Mexico, beyond just being a gringo, is being a gringo parked on the side of the road with the hood of your truck up. Most of the time, it's just friendly locals, including the police, checking to make sure everything's OK. Sometimes, it's local mechanics hoping to score some work. This time, it was all of the above, plus a cross-eyed Colombian cocaine dealer hoping to sell some blow.

After the environmental disaster that was the removal of the radiator (see previous post), I told Juan Jose that I'd take care of putting it back in on Sunday, and that he could help on Monday if I had any problems. After already being interrupted by a bunch of other people, a short, cross-eyed twenty-something hombre walked by and started chatting me Spanish.

At first, he asked if everything was OK. When I reassured him that it was, he moved on to more important if I wanted to buy some cocaine. I said "no gracias". As if he didn't hear me, he gestured to his backpack and said he had 2 kilo's if I wanted it. I reiterated that I wasn't interested. Naturally, he suggested that he could get me some organic marijuana instead. Again, I told him I wasn't in the market, and that it would be very dangerous for a gringo to be buying drugs in Mexico. He was shussing me before I even finished my sentence. Some other people were walking past the truck, so he picked up a wrench and started pointing at things under the hood that I was not working on.

After they passed, he got all serious, looked me in the eyes (with his good eye), and said, "tu sabes nada, tu dices nada". Translation: you know nothing, you say nothing. We then did a multi-part handshake, something we would continue to do every few minutes or so.

A motorcycle cop stopped in a vacant lot a block away and started watching us. I lied, and told him the police stopped by every day to check on us. In reality, they'd only stopped once, but I was trying to get rid of him. I said that it would be really bad for me if the police showed up and found 2 kilos of coke in his backpack. His reply was that I shouldn't worry, as he'd vouch that I had nothing to do with it. That made me feel much better. After all, if I can't trust a Colombian drug dealer I met 10 minutes ago on the backstreets of Chiapas, who can I trust?

So, we continued Spanish. He asked where I was from. I asked where he was from. He said he was from Colombia. When I asked if he wanted to go back to Colombia, he burst into tears. Real tears. Sobbing, he said he could never go back to Colombia. He ran his index finger across his neck, saying that his parents were killed in Colombia because of his drug dealings. Clearly, he needed a hug, but with 2 kilos of cocaine in his backpack and now 2 police officers watching from the corner, I just shrugged and said "lo siento" (I'm sorry).

He cried even harder as he told me about his girlfriend waiting for him in the states. From what I understood, some people think she's a "puta" (whore), but he says she's totally not. He also said something about the mafia. When I asked about that, he broke into song. Heather was in the truck, so this was the only part of our conversation that she heard. He said that "The Mafia" is a Mexican band, which may be true, but somehow, I don't think that's what he was talking about.

He finally ran out of steam, tears, and lyrics, and said adios, but not before yet another one-eyed stare, multi-part handshake, and reiterating, "tu sabes nada, tu dices nada". Smiling, but trying not to laugh, I wished him luck. As he turned the corner, the 2 motorcycle cops rode past the truck. I don't know if they were following him or what, but they never came by to ask me about him, which was good, because I know nothing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Our Assault On The Environment in San Cristóbal, Chiapas

While we were "parked up" in San Cristobal for a month, Scott started on his long to-do list with the truck.  One of the things on the list: take out the radiator and clean it.  Our camping spot for the month was next to an autoshop. Scott had planned on doing it himself, but we decided to throw our neighbor a bone and pay him to remove the radiator.

Our parking spot outside of town, near Juan Jose's "autoshop"

Juan Jose at work with Scott supervising
His name was Juan Jose.  The morning he started the work, Scott asked him about "reusing" the radiator coolant.  Over a year ago, we had bought expensive, 150,000-mile coolant that Scott had hoped to reuse since we had only traveled 12,000 miles. After chatting with Juan Jose, Scott got into the truck and said, "I think he said something about 'tierra' which means, I think he's going to drain it onto the ground". Both of us shuddered at the idea of draining 3.5 gallons of radiator fluid onto the ground, which eventually would make it into the nearby stream. We both secretly hoped that Scott's Spanish interpretation skills were bad enough that maybe Juan Jose really didn't say that.

As we were eating breakfast in the truck, we heard a gush of something draining onto the "tierra".

A mixture of our coolant and transmission fluid flowing down the street

Juan Jose took the radiator to the nearby shop to have it cleaned, while Scott spent all day cleaning the fins of the air conditioning condenser, which is normally hidden by the radiator.

Cleaning the air conditioning condenser

Later in the day, Juan Jose asked for $5 to go to the nearby hardware store to get coolant to put back into the radiator. A little confused, we handed over the money.  Within moments, Scott realized that Juan Jose was going to put crappy coolant back into the radiator. Scott walked to the nearby AutoZone and bought expensive radiator fluid (the same 150,000-mile Prestone coolant he bought a little over a year ago for half the price) and $15 of distilled water.  Apparently, the only use for distilled water in Mexico is for auto batteries and not radiators. We ended up having to buy 12 small 500 ml bottles. Another assault on the environment thanks to us!

Small plastic bottles full of distilled water,
along with the $20 containers of Prestone coolant and the $5 juice-container coolant

Monday, February 11, 2013

San Cristóbal de Las Casas and Spanish Classes

"Camping" spot in San Cristóbal for the month
As we blasted down the Oaxacan coast (without surf in the forecast), we realized that we had tons of time to "kill" before my parents arrived in Cancun to meet us for the last week of February. We made a last minute decision to sign up for some Spanish classes in the highland city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. We thought maybe we would take 2 weeks of classes but we ended up taking 3.5 weeks. I had overestimated my ability to learn Spanish or maybe just underestimated what we already knew.  You don't know what you don't know.

One of the many picturesque churches in San Cristóbal
San Cristóbal is in a valley at 7000' elevation surrounded by 8000 - 9000' "hills". It was a great place to hole up for a month and try to learn Spanish. The days were crystal clear and sunny (usually). The highs were around 70° and the lows were a perfect 48°. I couldn't ask for a better climate. We ended up parked on the street about a 15-min walk to class. The police stopped by one morning to ask us what our deal was, but after we explained we were taking classes, they were cool.

We took classes at a place called "Tierras Mayas". It is perched above the town about 3 blocks from the main square. Spanish classes were a bit rough for me. Not to worry, I have adjusted my expectations accordingly, and am now satisfied with one good communicator in our family.

Other things we liked about San Cristóbal were the french bakery (El Horno Magico) that we visited almost everyday after school and the fancy pizza place that we went to more times than we should've (since it was expensive).  San Cristóbal doesn't have as much inexpensive street food as the other colonial towns we've visited.  There are a lot of tourists (mostly European), so the prices are a bit higher across the board.

Fruit at the lively market and an evening balcony picture of us at Pizzeria El Punto

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sumidero Canyon (Cañón de Sumidero), Chiapas

More than 3000 of my feet to the river below
As we headed inland from the Pacific side of the isthmus (see map at the bottom) we made a pit-stop in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Right outside of this large city is a national park containing a 3000'-deep river canyon (Sumidero Canyon). There is a road that climbs to the top of the canyon that we explored via bike. The canyon was so spectacular from above, that we decide to shell out a few bucks ($9 each) for a boat ride through the canyon the next day. It was a cold and cloudy day, but it was still spectacular, and worth the money. Since it was cloudy, our pictures don't do it justice. But, we DID get to see some crocodiles. Our first wild crocodile sighting.

Crocodile in the Sumidero Canyon

Sumidero Canyon, Chiapas, Mexico

We passed through Tuxtla on our way to San Cristobal de Las Casas where we spent 4 weeks taking Spanish classes.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Too Windy to Drive on the Tehuantepec Isthmus, Mexico

As we traveled along the coast of Oaxaca, we anticipated driving across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.  This is the narrowest part of land between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean in Mexico (see map at the bottom).  The geography of this area lends itself to some crazy winds.  During the winter, gusts are so strong they can knock over semi-trucks.  We had read about this happening, but hoped we would not be toppled as we drove through the area.

Unfortunately, the winds were so strong and gusty that we decided to stop driving and hang out in the nearby city of Tehuantepec.  As windsurfers and kitersurfers, we have chased wind in the Columbia River Gorge, Baja California, Western Australia, and in New Zealand's roaring 40's, but we'd never experienced anything like this. It was truly scary.

There wasn't much for us to see or do in Tehuantepec.  Although, interestingly, it has a reputation for being a matriarchal society, hence this cool statue (below) at the entrance to town.

Statue of La Tehuana in Tehuantepec, Mexico

Tehuantepec, Oaxaca and "the isthmus"

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Guerrero and Oaxaca Coast, Mexico

With the taste of delicious new foods still in our mouths, we left Patzcauro with a bag full of mole gorditas, and headed back to the coast via the same route we had driven before.  As usual, we were chasing waves.  We were hoping to catch surf at La Saladita, and then make our way south. It was pretty much a bust  The waves were non-existent the entire week, as we drove from north of Zihuantanejo, past Acapulco, all the way to Barra de La Cruz. We covered a LOT of ground. This was the fastest we had moved since our Mexico travels started 15 months ago.

Camping at Playa Ventura

Despite the lack of waves, we enjoyed a few different beach camp spots along the way.  We found a large turtle floating near the beach at Playa Ventura.  We're not sure what happened to him but he was very fresh.  I hope he died of old age, but I'm doubtful.

Turtle washed up at Playa Ventura

Near Playa Ventura, we found a better, more secluded beach at Bahia Agua Dulce. We spent a few nights parked at Urbano's restaurant.  One of Urbano's chickens kept jumping on our box, trying to hide under the bike cover.  Both of us love eggs, so we really wanted her to stay. Unfortunately, she wouldn't stop scratching the box that we had meticulously painted. Scott had a few sparring matches with her as he tried to get her out from under the cover.  It's too bad the picture (below) is so blurry.  Otherwise, you would see the defiant look in her eyes.

Pollo Bravo at Bahia Agua Dulce

At the end of our 10-day blast along this coastline we got some surprise surf at Barra de La Cruz. The waves were small, but after the long drought, we both enjoyed the fun, friendly waves. We met a couple from England who are traveling Mexico and Central America for the next 5 months.  He must have a really nice camera because he got some crystal-clear photos of us surfing from the rocks high above.  Thanks Gaz. We never take pictures of each other surfing (who wants to be the one not surfing?), so these will probably be it for the next few years.

With no waves in the forecast, we made a last-minute decision to spend a few weeks taking Spanish classes in the highland city of San Cristobal, Chiapas.  I'll save that for another post.

This map is for Dad, since he says he wants to look up all the cities we mention
on our blog, but probably never finds the time.