Pan American Trails | Oaxaca

Meeting hunger, thirst and the rigors of precipitous burro trails. Bright plumaged birds, relics of a mysterious civilization and scattered tribes of Indians in the little known Mexican State of Oaxaca

By Jose Porta, Photography by Jose Porta

From the March 1936 Issue of Motorcyclist magazine.

The deeper Jose Porta Progressed toward Central America, the wilder became the country and the greater his physical hardships. This month we read about his journey in Oaxaca

The Presidente and his gang must have been fast asleep when I left the village the next morning, since I didn’t meet a living soul. The road was rough as usual and the mountains were superseded by endless deserts.

Water was very scarce in that region and both of my canteens were smashed up and almost useless, not holding more than a quart of water between the two of them. The heat was unbearable and my supply of water was all gone as I saw a ranch in the distance, surrounded by green trees. I reached it only to find out that it was a deserted building with a few iguanas running loose on its shattered roof. There was no water to be found in the premises, the well being dry, but I soon found something much better than water. It was an orange tree. A real to goodness tree, full of ripe, juicy oranges.

I parked myself under that tree and picked out all the oranges and made orange juice out of them. Thirsty as I was I must have squeezed about a hundred oranges. I drank my fill and with what was left of the juice I filled my canteens.

I traveled the rest of the day under a scorching sun and occasionally I would take a sip from my canteen. All went well for a while until the heat fermented the orange juice and turned it into a bitter concoction. I was too thirsty to mind the bitter taste and before I realized it I turned out to be cock-eyed drunk. All I remember is that I rode around for a while, unable to steer straight and then I must have laid myself down to sleep somewhere, because when I came to I found myself freezing in the middle of the night, laying alongside a bunch of cacti.

It is remarkable how cold it gets to be at night in the desert. It is on account of the rarefied air that the change in temperature is so sudden and so radical. The thinness of the atmosphere is not enough to break the sunrays in the day time which strike the soil at full blast, burning everything with a maddening heat. After sundown again the thinness of the atmosphere is once more responsible for the sudden change in temperature brought about by its inability to retain the heat acquired during the day. Such a change from the highest to the lowest temperatures will cause the hugest rocks to expand and contract daily until they crack and crumble, transforming themselves at last into small particles of sand.

It is the noonday heat which is to be feared the most by the unaccustomed traveler. The natives themselves will stop all activities and crawl to a shady spot and lay down for a few hours during the time that the sun is in its zenith.

But I was not always that fortunate and I had to travel incessantly, hopelessly looking for shelter, and still more hopelessly wishing for water, for my throat was parched and my lungs were hot.

The sand was deep and I had to push the motorcycle while the rear wheel was spinning without advancing. I would push until exhausted, then I would kill the motor and stop to catch my breath. I had exhumed all the moisture from my body, the hot air was burning my nose and my wind pipe and it was torture to breathe. I had lost my way and I knew not where I was.

By Jose Porta
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