Today was more than 14 hours on the road to travel what would normally take 5 hours. Anywhere else but Mexico, and this would have been a hellish day.
It all started in Barra Vieja, a small beach community on the southern edge of Acapulco. The plan was to make it to Puerto Escondido to see the “Mexican Pipeline,” one of the world’s most famous waves, and continue south the following day to explore Mexico‘s best right-hand points just in time for a big swell.
The drive started out too easy, great road conditions and just flying through lush Mexican countryside only to be slowed down by a small town every so often.
If you’ve ever driven the 200 along Mexico's Pacific coast, you know the small towns seem to come every few kilometers, and with each town having ten or so speed bumps it honestly feels like you are driving over speed bumps all day. No two speed bumps are the same, so you have to approach each one with eagle eyes and enough caution to be ready to carefully creep over the bad ones. It makes for an exhausting 300 km on the road.
Sidetracked by speed bumps…where was I? So I make it to the halfway point after some of the best huevos rancheros I’ve ever had, only to find people pulled over on the side of the road for what seems like at least two k’s. But I’d been following a taxi driver for an hour who knew the roads well and the speed limit not so well, so rather than pulling over and asking what was happening, I continued on the taxi’s tail in the left lane as this giant line of people stopped in the right lane just gets more and more dense.
Finally we slow and eventually stop as traffic jams and the left lane fills as well. So now both lanes of this narrow two-lane highway are filled with people heading south. This can’t be good.
People look like they’ve been there a long time, so I leave the car and walk down the road to see the cause of the jam. Expecting a major accident, instead I come upon a car parked perpendicular in the road blocking both directions of traffic with no way around. Draped over the car was writing demanding the release of some Professor Cruz, who obviously in someone’s mind has been wrongly imprisoned. But rather than people (we’re talking around 400, to get perspective) getting upset and lifting this car up and throwing it over the side as would happen in the U.S., instead it’s a midday fiesta complete with all the Mexican food and drink you could want.
People are upset, but rather than getting angry they meet their neighbor and eat enchiladas. The enchiladas were amazing too and only 15 pesos (I became hungry again after about three hours of sitting there waiting for the protest to end).
I ended up meeting a guy from Santa Ana, California (he was Mexican but grew up right down the road – yes, I was the only white boy in the mob of 400), and he told me all we need is a hard rain to move this protest. I thought that shouldn’t be too difficult, considering a major squall had occurred about every few hours since I arrived in Mexico a two days ago.
Sure enough, about an hour later the sky opened up to dump buckets, the protest moved, and the major chaos of a jam slowly figured itself out. I was insanely lucky to drive that left lane for the few k’s behind the taxi as I was one of the first through to the other side (although I did feel like the impatient American, not the confused punk following a heavy-footed taxi).
Now I’m only about an hour north of Puerto Escondido and it looked like I’d make it before the sun went down. I pass a sign for Roca Blanca, which stirs a faint memory of reading about good surf there, but I continue on because the swell isn‘t showing until about 2 a.m.
To my amazement, another damn line of cars in the right lane… And with nobody to follow blindly in the left lane, I decide to pull over, stop the car and walk to see what it is this time.
As much fun as I had hanging out on the side of the road eating enchiladas and meeting locals earlier, I really didn’t want another roadside fiesta and only wanted to get to the hotel before it got dark. I really had no clue if I’d have to walk miles or feet, but people were sitting in their car so my instincts were telling me whatever it was was only a few minutes away.
Well, “it” turned out to be a giant fucking river covering about a half mile of the highway.
Watching a tractor drive across carrying eight people from one side to the next, it looked a solid four feet deep at its deepest point – far too deep for anything but a tractor, and especially too deep for my economy-sized rental.
Apparently this river spilled over only 30 minutes before I showed up (thank you, midday fiesta/protest), and according to the guy carrying a truckload of chickens, two more hours and it’d be gone again.
Yeah right, guy with chickens – you see how much water that is?! I was thinking more like two days, but then I look closely and I see coconuts all floating away from the road. Maybe this guy does know what he's talking about, so I wait patiently and meet the neighbors again and watch the tractor do its rounds.
Eventually someone gets the balls to take on the road with their pick-up. May have been smarter to put it in neutral and push the thing with the engine off, but he just goes for it and fails miserably. The truck dies in the middle and lucky for him about twenty kids run out and help him push his waterlogged truck to the other side, where it will probably sit for a much longer time than it’d take for the water to recede.
But to my amazement, this guy’s display of stupidity only motivates others to try. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing…here are visibly poor people absolutely destroying their vehicles with huge smiles on their faces when the thing dies in the middle, waterlogged above the side view mirrors!
The water kept receding, and delivery trucks, buses and about half the SUVs and pick-ups were making it through now. But it wasn’t receding fast enough. I started to get nervous as the sun went down, so I asked the chicken guy after his two hours went by and he responded with three more hours. But I look at the coconuts and they’re no longer moving.
The river is at a standstill, and any more rain would just set it back further. Luckily, the sky looks clear, but it’s still going to make for a long night and a dark river crossing. So I bring out my iPhone – which I’d loaded up with maps for the drive the last time I had a wireless signal in Barra Viejo – and point to an alternate way east to get around the river.
It looked like about three hours of driving, but at least it’d be better than waiting for a river to maybe recede. Chicken guy tells me my alternate route goes through a mountain town that just had a giant landslide from all the rain, making the route also impassable. Literally no way to make it south any time soon.
As a last resort, I ask the group of kids how much they’d charge me to push my car across (I figure it’s a rental and as long as I don’t turn the car on, maybe put a plastic bag over the intake and computer, I should be okay). They tell me only 50 pesos! Five bucks for ten kids to push a car 30 minutes across what is now waist-deep water is a killer deal.
But then I wonder if I’d have to push too. Not that I mind the physical labor, but it’s now dark and walking in waist-deep water for 30 minutes in a river that looks like it could easily have crocodiles may sound fun to ballsy Mexican kids, but not to me.
Then I also think about the fact my seats would probably be wet for weeks, and as excited as the kids were to help, I had to let them down saying it probably wasn’t the best idea.
Then I remember passing Roca Blanca about 30 minutes earlier. I ask chicken man if Roca Blanca has a hotel, get the thumbs up and head back north.
I turn off the main road towards Roca Blanca, and hit dirt for a while before I reach water over the road again. It doesn’t look too deep, but before hitting the gas I think about the situation: 10 p.m. on a dirt road in the middle of the woods in Mexico. Getting stuck or worse probably wouldn’t be the best idea right now.
Then my luck changes as I see a guy walking from the direction I want to drive. I ask him if my car can make it to Roca Blanca, and he shakes his head yes, but is pointing at the water trying to explain that I have to drive through at a certain angle to make it. Sketchy.
So I pay the guy to walk ahead of me so not only do I know what direction to go through the large pools, but can also make sure it’s not too deep before taking the plunge into each section of water. I make it to the other side and give the man – fisherman actually – 10 pesos, which looks to have made his day.
I finally make it here, Roca Blanca, where I grab a small grass-roofed cabana for 120 pesos and write a journal entry before crashing.
One of the most exciting things as a surfer is to arrive at a break at night. You can’t see anything and can only hear waves crashing, so you sit in bed wondering what the setup, quality and size of the waves are. You listen closely, thinking you can hear whether it’s a point or beach break, whether it’s barreling or mush, whether it’s 2 feet or 20.
But eventually you give in to sleep. And you don’t need to set an alarm because on these days you know the second the sun breaks, your mind will be screaming at you to get up and get that first look at the surf.
Hope it isn’t too big… I think I’m the only tourist and surely the only surfer from here to Puerto.