BootsnAll Travel Network

Off the Beaten Path in the Yoda Van, Literally

We were on our way to Tapachula (the last town in Mexico before the Guatemalan border) and we were making pretty good time.  A passing car flashed his brights and motioned for us to slow down.  We had about a third of the way down when traffic came to a stand still.  We had already waited about 20 minutes when we found out the reason  – a group of students were holding a demonstration on the Mex 200 and had already been blocking the road for the last 2 hours.  This is a common occurrence these days in the state of Oaxaca.  There are lots of teacher strikes going, and evidently, students strikes as well.  There was no telling how much longer this would continue and seeing as how we still had 300 km ahead of us, Matthias started talking to others around us for alternative routes.  There were no alternative routes shown on the map, but a local walking through the line of cars tipped off the people in front of us on how to get around the demonstration. The guy jumped in the back of their car and we were told to follow behind them.  They pulled off the side of the road, we drove through a garbage pile and then crossed a soccer field.  That is when it started to get weird. 

The terrain is hard to describe, but it really didn’t resemble anything I would call a road.  It was really just a bunch of dirt overgrown with bushes and trees.  It would probably make good testing ground for Hummers, but a road it was not.  There were spots where the right tires were driving on ground that was easily 18” higher than the ground the left tires were resting on.  And it was steep at times – a good 3 feet incline from the rear tires to the front.  It was extremely uneven – huge dips and rocks and mud. 
This all happened so fast and I started to get really nervous.  We were off the main road, were at the mercy of this guide, and after seeing this path we had to traverse I didn’t think our car would make it.  To top it off it was about 95 degrees (and I could no longer roll down my window since the handle broke off just as we were pulling off the side of the road) and it was extremely humid.  Have we mentioned how humid it is on the coast these days?
The guide got out of the car in front of us and suddenly 3 other Mexicans with shovels and machetes in hand descended on the scene.  We kept following the car in front of us.  They seemed to make it ok and Matthias said “If they can make it ok, we can make it for sure.”  He had a point and there really was no turning around at this point anyway.  We continued on for a short while until we reached a point where our tires were just spinning.  The ground was so soggy from the daily downpours, and it was so uneven we just couldn’t get any traction.  The men with the shovels moved in and started to dig us a trench.  One guy with a machete started pounding the ground flat, and the other started chopping branches off trees and laid them down over the mud.  They had evened the ground out enough so that we were able to get over this patch.  I honestly thought that at some point along this road we would end up on a big patch of dirt with neither sets of tires touching the ground. 
Eventually we came to a closed gate.  The leader was standing in front of the gate asking us “So you want to go through?”  He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together (the international sign for money).  We gave him 50 pesos (about 5 dollars) which we felt was a bargain.  We would have been in a real bind if they hadn’t been there to help us. 
We paid our money and he pointed us on our way.  From the way he was waving it appeared to be obvious how to continue, but really the road was even more overgrown and nearly as steep and uneven as before.  But now we were alone and eventually our road ended.  We backed up and tried another path through the shrubbery.  We crossed a mud field and then we came to another closed gate.  The only good thing about this was that the terrain was starting to even out.  Matthias went up to the gate and was able to open it.  There were about 4 or 5 kids sitting there as we drove through the gate.  This put us on a road where we had 3 options – right, left or straight ahead.  We had completely lost our orientation, we couldn’t see the main road and had no idea how to continue.  A truck pulled up behind us and he didn’t know either.  The kids seemed to know, they all jumped in the back of his pick-up and we followed them. 
Things seemed to be going smoothly.  The road we were on was a rough, but a well-defined gravel road, not like the one we had just came from.  We followed this pick-up for a few minutes when the road became quite steep again.  We followed him down and we stopped at the bank of the river.  At first I couldn’t believe it, but we were supposed to drive across the river.  The man in front seemed a little skeptical of this plan as well, but the kids leaped out of the car and scoped out the shallowest points to cross at.  Once they had the route, the man hit the gas and gunned it across the river.  His pick-up struggled in some points, but he made it.  I really didn’t want to drive across the river but we had no choice.  What were we going to do?  Turn around?  Try and find our way by ourselves?  That just wasn’t an option.  So Matthias made his way to the edge of the river and hit the gas.  We struggled in some spots too, ran over a huge rock, but we made it.  I really wish I had been able to take some pictures along the way.  But honestly my hands were shaking so badly, I’m sure none of those pictures would have turned out.
The good news is that the road was still blocked by the time we made it back out onto the Mex 200.  I would have felt like a real dope if it had all been cleared by the time we made it back.  All in all it cost us 8 dollars, a bucket full of sweat and our window handle to get through this.  In Tapachula Matthias noticed that the right corner of our front bumper was missing, so I guess we have to count that, too.  We must have lost it along this piece of road. 
Looking back we asked ourselves why these guys were doing this, and we think they just wanted to earn a couple of bucks by re-routing the traffic.  We were lucky these guys were there to get us through.  And if we had gotten stuck in the water I would bet money that somehow the Mexicans in that town would have found a way to get us out.  Granted, I’m really glad that it never came to that, and I’m not sure I’d try one of these off-roading adventures again in the Yoda Van, but the good thing is that we made it. 
After we were back on our way we were wondering if there was any major damage to the Yoda Van.  I felt that if we didn’t have a break down within the next hour of driving we will probably be able to make it to the Panama Canal and back to Seattle.  We made it through that hour and the rest of the way to Tapachula by way of countless topes, 3 separate thunder storms, high winds, and a group of independent contractors offering their services to cross the Guatemalan border for a “nominal” fee (a good blog entry in itself).  We’ll see if we actually make it back to Seattle in this vehicle, but I do think this car has some good karma.


One response to “Off the Beaten Path in the Yoda Van, Literally”

  1. Sue and Dave Carroll says:

    Hi there neighbors!

    I’ve been ejjoying your blog and travel notes for the past few months. The pictures of the boys are delightful. You have beautiful children!!!

    I have to tell you that when I read about the “off-road” adventure it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I traveled Mexico some as a single, (naive) young woman in my 20’s. I did some things that looking back could have ended badly. You were lucky you got out of this in one piece and with only $5 out of your pockets.

    Take care…godspeed…and we look forward to your safe return home. You are in our prayers.

    love, Sue & Dave

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *