Oaxaca -- I know it's a lousy photo, but it's the only one I managed to grab in the situation.
I went on the road a couple of weeks ago, leaving Mérida by bus and passing through Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas. There I changed buses and went on to Oaxaca, where I spent time with my friend Victoria in Juchitán.
One day we decided to drive through Tehuantepec and up to Salina Cruz, about an hour away, for a seafood lunch. We were nearing the port when abruptly traffic on our side of the four-lane highway was stopped behind several large tanker trucks blocking both lanes of the road. At least a hundred vehicles were inextricably caught in a jam.
People from vehicles ahead began jumping out and waving at the rest to back up, and started chaotically shuttling cars, making three-point turns and driving back down our side of the divided highway, against traffic. Accustomed to the tactics of civil disobedience in the area, they didn't want to waste time and chance getting stuck in the blockade. The backed-up traffic and milling people, what we'd first thought was an accident, was in fact una manifestación, a demonstration, and everyone not involved wanted to get out of the area as quickly as possible. We maneuvered the car and followed the others, with lots of flashing of headlights and honking of horns, back against traffic flow.
We drove with the rest onto unpaved side roads in an improvised bypass around the blocked area. At one point a man had placed a log in the rutted dirt track, apparently trying to charge a toll. Choking on dust, we tail-gated a pickup as it blew right past the guy. Eventually we emerged again onto the highway, just beyond the far end of the roadblock, and continued on our way to the beach.
Suddenly a similar sight loomed ahead. Large rocks and more large trucks in the highway formed another blockade, this time with a good-sized crowd milling around. We pulled into a U-turn niche in the median and sought advice from some men standing there. "We just want to go down to the restaurants on the beach," Victoria said with a calm smile. They nodded and pointed us to a side road that took us away from the highway and down to the sand. "As long as you don't want to head down the highway," they said.
On the way home, we had similar adventures as we again passed the blocked areas. Interestingly, no police were visible at any time during the afternoon. One friend said it was probably a move on part of the government to avoid any excuse for a confrontation, given recent history in the region, but it left ordinary folks who happened to be caught in the situation in a no-man's land as far as law-enforcement was concerned. However, the whole situation seemed calm, with volunteers directing traffic, and the general public taking the situation in stride.
Even so, I decided to ignore my instincts as a one-time photojournalist, which hollered at me from within to record this event. I left the camera out of sight. No sense getting more involved than I wanted to. Taking out a camera meant running a risk that someone might think I was taking pictures that could be used by authorities to identify participants. I grabbed the shot above as we sped by one of the roadblocks, with the milling crowds safely behind. There was little point in messing with an otherwise pleasurable and interesting day. We had a very nice, long lunch and I dipped my big toe in the Pacific Ocean here in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
We later learned the demonstrations were organized by local fishermen who are in conflict with Pemex, the Mexican national oil company, which has a large tanker-loading operation in Salina Cruz.
There were more bumps in the road on this trip, but I'll save them for a future post on traveling by bus in Mexico.