Moto Explore Mexico Tour—Day 4, Puerto Escondido To Oaxaca City

Fourth day in Mexico: a return to Oaxaca and some cause for deep contemplation

This has been an emotional day for me, I will do my best to describe how it came to be. I sat this morning at breakfast, enjoying huevos rancheros (my favorite) with fellow riders. Teo, one of our group members, was celebrating his 39th birthday. The group secretly planned a small celebration and, without warning, the entire restaurant staff, our group, and even some patrons broke out in song to honor Teo’s special day. I did not understand the words, the normal “happy-birthday-to-you” cadence replaced with a far more elaborate Mexican equivalent. As I looked on, I saw the raw passion that everyone put in to this kind gesture. Even the wait staff—who, in the US, would sing with all the feeling of bored children—poured its heart and soul into celebrating Teo. It was impossible to not be moved by the effort. Revelry complete, we headed to our bikes. I stopped and haggled with a street vendor for sunglasses, choosing the most ostentatious pair he had (in my experience, the sillier the sunglasses the longer they last). We headed into the mountains, finding what was as close to off-road as we have encountered on the trip. The roads were very poorly maintained, potholes scattered with such frequency there were more of them than tarmac. Some were empty and gaping, others filled with sand and gravel. I switched my BMW R1200GS to the Enduro Pro riding mode and stood, taking the twisties using off-road riding techniques.

mexican dirt hut
A country of stark contrast: Poverty is common in the countryside, with people often living in makeshift huts with dirt floors and no running water.Shawn Thomas

Then things got silly. I suggested that Diego, our videographer, ride on the back of my motorcycle. The roads were smoothing out, and the twisties were sure to make for some awesome footage. If you do not already know this, there is little that can evoke more shenanigans than a group of grown men on motorcycles with a live camera pointed at them. The boys whooped and hollered as we carved, wheelied, and powered along the mountain. I kept my riding civil—that is, until Diego asked to pick up the pace. He needed more dynamic video, who was I to argue? We screamed through the turns, Diego yelling approval behind me. After a couple miles we slowed, stopping at a small coffee shop and letting the others catch up. The walls of the little building had mushrooms painted on them, artwork I had seen on many other buildings. When the group arrived, I asked what they meant. “This area is famous for hallucinogenic mushrooms,” they explained. “Many famous people come here to try them.” This led to a discussion about the effects of such things. (I have never tried them or much of anything other than beer. And mescal.)

mexican child with pink ball
Making her day: A shiny new plastic ball is a cause for celebration among the local kids, most of whom live well under the poverty line.Shawn Thomas

We stopped for drinks, huddled in the shade near some small shacks. A curious little girl caught my attention as she peeked at us around the legs of her mother. I shared a friendly wave, then produced a rubber ball for her to keep (our support truck came equipped with a large bag of kids’ toys, just in case we came across them along the way). She happily took the ball, cradling it like a rare jewel, and disappearing into her home to play. I watched her leave, noting the weathered wood and dirt floors of her home. I thought of my kids and choked back a flood of emotion. I missed them very much in that moment, and my heart ached for this little girl and the tiny roadside shack she called home. I felt silly afterward; so far as I knew, that little girl was the happiest in all of Mexico, maybe in all the world. My standards of happiness are my own and do not belong to anyone but me.

garden sign
Inspiring: Located in a small, fenced-in garden, this sign reads, “If you love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.”Shawn Thomas

Then things got silly. I suggested that Diego, our videographer, ride on the back of my motorcycle. The roads were smoothing out, and the twisties were sure to make for some awesome footage. If you do not already know this, there is little that can evoke more shenanigans than a group of grown men on motorcycles with a live camera pointed at them. The boys whooped and hollered as we carved, wheelied, and powered along the mountain. I kept my riding civil—that is, until Diego asked to pick up the pace. He needed more dynamic video, who was I to argue? We screamed through the turns, Diego yelling approval behind me. After a couple miles we slowed, stopping at a small coffee shop and letting the others catch up. The walls of the little building had mushrooms painted on them, artwork I had seen on many other buildings. When the group arrived, I asked what they meant. “This area is famous for hallucinogenic mushrooms,” they explained. “Many famous people come here to try them.” This led to a discussion about the effects of such things. (I have never tried them or much of anything other than beer. And mescal.)

Our ride continued over the mountain, the roads becoming more and more remote. The roadsides were dotted with animals, some grazing and others scavenging. Many animals were domesticated, horses and mules tethered to rope as they ate. Others looked abandoned or out of their element. I raised an eyebrow as a shaggy dog padded by, its stark white fur matted with dirt and grime. Another dog crossed our path, its bony structure and lumbering walk showing signs of impending death. My heart ached for these animals, a pang of anger and sadness for their plight. I shook it off, willing myself to focus on the ride for now. I would ask my guides about their take on animal welfare in Mexico at a more appropriate time.

We continued down the mountain and into Oaxaca, where we had stayed two nights before. We would stay there again, but in a different part of town. This was fine by me as we had barely enough time to explore the city during our first stay. We found our hotel and settled in, then set out to enjoy some sightseeing before dinner. In Santo Domingo de Guzmán, I was encouraged to explore an old church built in the 1500s. Once through the large wooden doors, I gasped as my eyes adjusted to see incredible beauty around me, the walls and ceilings adorned with stunning artwork in gold, plaster, and paint.

cathedral artwork and lovers in oaxaca
Left: Ornate cathedral artwork: the ceiling at Santo Domingo, Oaxaca. From this giant golden tree, noble people from the church and the government dangle together, meaning a symbiosis between church and state.
Right: In love in Oaxaca: Two lovebirds enjoy an evening together near the Santo Domingo temple.
Shawn Thomas

Outside, a large window lay recessed along the church wall, leaving a stone platform at its base. A couple relaxed in the opening, enjoying the sunset and bustling life around them. My heart swelled for the couple as I saw the love they shared for one another. We continued through the city, heading for food and drink. As we walked a boy approached me and asked for money. He was young, probably 12, his clothes and skin filthy with dirt and muck. My instincts told me that his look was carefully crafted to elicit sympathy, and it was working. I thought of my kids, their ages all too similar to this little boy. My heart ached for them, and for the child standing before me.

I was quiet as we continued toward dinner, my mind swimming with the emotional roller coaster of this day. We sat at a table and ordered mescal, a type of tequila distilled in the region. I downed a glass and tasted the sweet orange traditionally enjoyed with the drink. “Mexico is a beautiful place, no?” my guide, Armando, asked, a hint of sympathy at my crestfallen demeanor. “We love our country very much. And we are working to make it even better. In time, it will be.” I smiled as he filled my glass, and we toasted to Mexico.

We left the restaurant and continued into the town square, stopping at an outside bar for (another) round of mescal. As we sipped our drinks, a mariachi band approached and began to play the now-familiar "Feliz cumpeanos a ti" birthday song for Teo. Armando—an incredible singer—stood with the band to sing along. The celebration continued, our personal band playing song after song with Armando serenading us. I took my leave and walked the streets of Oaxaca toward the hotel, thinking on the ups and downs of the day. Mexico is so beautiful, the lifestyles so different from what I know. It has been hard to wrap my head around.

Tomorrow we will continue into the eastern mountains, where I am told the roads are the best of the trip. I look forward to this and understanding more of the country. Until then…