I was rolling up my blankets the next morning when Pablo came out. "Leaving already?" he asked.
"Yeah," I told him. "I've seen the city. Now I am going to Xilitla."
"Oh," he said. "Xilitla... very beautiful."
"Have you been there?"
"No, but I've heard about it."
As usual, I did a little research on Google Maps to see what neighborhood was best to hitchhike out of (Los Gomez), and where I could catch a ride (highway 70). But there was no central website with bus information. Pablo let me know where all the buses left from: a major plaza a few blocks away.
I walked to the plaza but found no timetable or anything. I just had to ask the locals, who were willing to help. Unfortunately, everyone knew what bus they had to take, but nothing about the other buses. Something I've learned about asking directions is to ask multiple people, because people will confidently send you the wrong way. I crossed from one side of the plaza to the other, getting new instruction at every curb there. Eventually I saw a bus that said Los Gomez and got on.
When the bus came to the last stop I still wasn't at any highway. So I went to a corner store and got more directions. But I had another problem: nobody knew about highway 70: everyone referred to it as "the road to..." Xilitla wasn't a big town, and I didn't know any cities in that direction, so it was hard to find someone who knew where I was going. I did a lot of walking and It took hours before I was finally traveling in the right direction.
One driver looked like Cheech, and chain-smoked joints like him too. I couldn't keep up with him, so he gave me one to take with me. We stopped at a restaurant and I tried to use my laptop, but it was completely dead, even when I plugged it in. Now it was just dead weight.
On the road again, we came around a curve at the crest of a hill and saw two wild horses in the road. I thought they were majestic, but Cheech had a few choice words to describe them.
"Dumbass horses! In the middle of the fucking road! Just standing there like they have nothing to do. That's fucking dangerous, you know?"
I slowly traveled out of the desert and into lush forests. The weather was absolutely fantastic. The sky was blue, the temperature was perfect, and the mountain air was crisp and fresh.
There's no freedom like hitchhiking long distances. I have no car or even bike. Just the backpack. If it starts raining, or gets cold, or night falls, I'll be prepared for it so long as my backpack is with me. I hoped to finish the trip with the same backpack. If I lost it, all would be lost.
The sun started to set and I was still not in Xilitla. I began to consider where I would be spending the night. I got a lot of short rides with locals. One was in the back of a pickup truck. A fellow with a broad hat and his lady sat in the front. The view from the back of the truck was amazing. We were surrounded by tall mountains on all sides, and the view changed with every turn. Shadows crept up the mountains, but I wasn't concerned: if I made it to Xilitla tomorrow, it would make no difference. I'm on vacation, right?
The driver dropped me off in El Lobo, a small town. He introduced me to his wife and daughters and asked about my trip. He said if I needed anything, I could find him here in his hardware store. I considered asking for a place to stay the night, but so long as there was light in the sky, I felt like I had to try.
I walked to the edge of town and continued hitchhiking. There were a lot of people there waiting for buses, including one who had lived in the states and was eager to speak English with me. He told me that there was a bus coming, which would go to Xilitla. If I didn't get a ride, I could always take it. There was also a mariachi band in full costume. They were particularly pessimistic. "Nobody will stop," one told me. "Just take the bus." But when a guy in a beat-up pickup stopped, and I got in, the entire band rushed over and crowded along the window. It was one of the funniest sights I'd ever seen: the four guys with instruments trying to lean through the window. The guy wasn't going all the way to Xilitla so they left, discouraged.
The guy dropped me off in an even tinier village: just a few houses. By now, it was getting dark and I could hardly see. But I kept my thumb out, figuring the bus would stop for me. But a young man named Juan stopped and gave me a ride. His English was good, better than my Spanish, so we spoke English. He had a good sense of humor, and grinned constantly. He was going to Xilitla, but had to stop in a village to pick up his girlfriend. I politely moved to the backseat. It was Friday night and they were going out on the town.
When we got there, Juan found an empty lot to park in, and we walked to a restaurant. The night was warm and the cobblestone streets were bustling. Lanterns hung between windows overhead. We chose a nice place to eat and sat down.
The girlfriend was nothing like her boyfriend. She didn't speak much, and never smiled, even when he told her he loved her. Maybe she wasn't as interested in him as he was in her. Or maybe she was just shy. Before the food came out, the waitress brought out our beers and a little dish of green peppers. I like spicy food, so I asked what they were. Juan said "try one." I'm no fool; I knew they'd be hot. I picked one up carefully, smelled it, and very slowly... threw the whole thing in my mouth. I enjoyed watching their eyes go wide.
"Are you OK?" Juan asked. "Do you want some beer?"
"Nah," I said. "Why?"
"Isn't that hot?" he asked.
"Nah. Not really," I said. "You want one?"
I tried to trick him into trying one but he wasn't fooled. I like spicy food, but it was still a risk, to throw an unknown Mexican pepper in my mouth. But it was not so bad; comparable to jalapeños.
After the meal, Juan asked where I would sleep that night. I said I had a hammock and would find a place to camp. He asked the waitress if there was such a place, and she said that there was a free campsite at Las Pozas. I said I could find it, but Juan, always eager to help out, insisted on driving me down there, asking for directions a few times along the way. Eventually we found ourselves on a rocky, one-lane road.
We passed a fenced-off lawn. It looked like private property, but I told Juan that must be it and that he could drop me off here. To be honest, it was hard to convince him that I didn't need any more help, because he didn't seem to believe that it was the campsite either. But he finally let me go, possibly because the road was poor. After he left, I proceeded down the road, because it definitely was somebody's house.
It was pitch black and my flashlight wasn't working. Good thing I had a backup flashlight, a small LED keychain. I held it in front of me to keep from tripping over the rocks. I couldn't see far and kept wandering off the path. Soon I began to hear the sound of drum and bass music and saw lights appearing from the jungle depths.
There was a little bar, which was painted with psychedelic colors. Some people sat around tables talking. I got myself a beer and sat down. There were two girls there from Canada, who spoke excellent Spanish as well as French. And there were a few people who worked there. There was no free campsite, but there were teepees I could sleep in. They weren't expensive, but I politely declined. I could set up my hammock somewhere else for free, after all. I don't like to pay for things if I don't have to.
I found myself talking to a local named Juan, who was visiting some friends working at the bar. He was studying to be a doctor and living in Xilitla as a part of the program. He explained that in Mexico, medical students are required to do an internship at a clinic in a remote village. It seemed like a good program, to supply medical treatment to rural areas, and give students some real world experience.
Juan asked about my trip and I told him about it. We talked about how dangerous people thought Mexico was. He said it was not so bad, depending on where you were. "It's the south," he told me, "where you really have to be careful."
We also talked about couchsurfing. He said he'd heard about it, and wanted to do it, but never had the motivation to make a profile. I jumped at the opportunity. "Now is your chance," I said, "if you'd like to host me for a few days." He said that'd be cool, if I didn't mind sleeping on a hospital bed and waking up at 6AM. That's when the clinic opened and the first patients arrived. It was fine with me, of course.
The clinic had a room labeled 'STUDENT' where Juan was staying. He had a little bathroom, fridge, and microwave. I stayed in an adjacent room.
< 01/24 01/25 01/26 >