Yesterday we were coming back from one of the villages, and Josafat asked me if I wanted to drive. The roads are pretty intense, windy, rutted, constant up and down, sheer drop off on one side most of the time. But I decided to give it a try. It takes a lot of focus, but actually wasn't so bad, and made me think of the first time I drove in Mexico 2 years ago. Here's an excerpt from my MySpace blog that I wrote in May of 2007 when I was living with Josa and his girlfriend in Puebla doing a teaching practicum:
"Tuesday was my only free day before starting my practicum, and we ended up taking a mini road trip to the small indigenous town of Cuetzalan. Josafat is a masters student in agricultural economics, specializing in rural development. He's currently working on his thesis analyzing and comparing the role of the Food and Agriculture Organization in 3 parts of the state of Puebla. Anyway, there was a meeting he needed to go to in Cuetzalan, a 4 hour drive for a half hour meeting. But it was important, and his girlfriend and I decided to join him. They both have cars, but Josa got a car from his school as his was too "fresa"- literally strawberry, but means rich, snobby, inaccessible- for the countryside.
We were off by 6am in our old blue VW bug- called vochos here- with no radio, ac, or seat belts. Josa and Kari were dead tired from haciendo fiesta the night before, and I wanted to help with the driving. I am terrified of driving in road-anarchic Mexico, and only last month was I comfortable driving stick (called "estandard" here) in Seattle. Pero bueno. I was doing well except for all the topes- speed bumps, a little taller than ours and maybe 3 times as wide. They are everywhere; you´ll be cruising at 40 mph and suddenly a tope. As I was getting those down, we stopped for a delicious breakfast of squash blossom quesadillas and fresh squeezed orange juice.
We only had a hand-drawn map and road signs can be few and inconsistent. As the highway gave way to windy mountain roads, gravel, steep drop offs, it started to feel as if the location of this town was a secret. We got closer only by continually asking in every town if we were going the right way. One time we pulled into a town with a sign for Cuetzalan pointing straight ahead, but then you could only turn left or right! The roads are extremely bumpy and you're always dodging potholes. On top of other driving challenges, we were getting into a cloud forest and visibility wasn´t great. Also, you have to watch for road blocks in the form of señoras and young girls hanging up a rope and stopping you for donations to their saint of the day.
We finally arrived, descending sharply into this stone town. It immediately struck me as what Venice might be like were its narrow, elusive waterways filled with smooth stones and then the whole city stuck steeply and resolutely to the side of a mountain. The roads were so steep you couldn't really see the declivity until you started going down it. "Straight ahead?" I asked Josa. "Si, derecho," he answered, and I started going straight down the hill until we saw that it wasn't really a hill but turned into stairs! We had to back up, but putting the bug in reverse going down hill with the threat of driving down stairs was beyond my driving skills for the day. Josa pulled the emergency brake so we could switch places… and the hand brake pulled right off. "Tenemos un problema grande," he said astutely. There were two good wheel stones right by us- leaving me to believe that we weren't the first ones to drive down that street- so we put them under the tires, pulled what was left of the e-brake, and quickly switched spots. But the grace of the saint of the day, Josa backed up, and we made a note to park on flat ground for the rest of the day."