Saturday, October 6, 2012

Bumps on the Road in Oaxaca



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.

10 comments:

  1. There's literally never a dull moment south of the border. Good thinking to hang a quick U-turn!

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where the preferred mode of blocking traffic is with bicycles.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, even after all these years, I find it always interesting around this place. As for the turn...after the first roadblock we were ready...no choice.

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  2. I understand Morelia also had some problems with students trucknapping corporate vehicles to protest the proposed employment law reform. Coincidentally I am just finishing another history of Mexico book. Many of the tensions that have existed within this society are still there. As they are in most societies. This juat seems to be a rather self-defeating exercise, though.

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    Replies
    1. I don't know much about the situation there, and will not express an opinion. However, the exercise in this case did seem to draw some attention. If that was the motive, it might have been a success.

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  3. Chiapas is currently having some issues around the elections as well:

    http://mexfiles.net/2012/10/04/ahh-get-outta-town/

    http://mexfiles.net/2012/10/01/is-chiapas-burning/

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the links. I hadn't heard about this. This shows the importance of doing your homework before heading into unfamiliar areas. The Chiapas situation probably would be no menace to a foreigner passing through, but it's good to be informed of possible problems when heading on the road. I visit Oaxaca a lot, and for that reason keep an eye on the local news there. I have witnessed many demonstrations over the past few years there, but I keep my distance, and never felt unsafe or uncomfortable. I have friends, though, who've been in nerve-wracking situations there.

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  4. Here, in the US, we experience similar backups. It's not because of a manifestación, but rather too many cars all trying to get to the same place at the same time. We all know that if someone here tried such a demonstration, they would end up jailed, rather quickly. Don't interfere with commerce! Not here.

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    Replies
    1. Good point. With the philosophical shifts and paranoia about "security" in the "land of the free" in recent years, it very well may be that there is more actual freedom to demonstrate in Mexico now than in the states.

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  5. Ah, there's nothing like annoying hordes of motorists to get even with Pemex. That'll teach that darn Pemex.

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  6. Good luck to the fishermen taking on Pemex. Talk about fighting city hall. What's sad about so many of these protests, including the nearly daily ones in Mexico City, is how little is accomplished. People scream and yell and call the president a mf and his wife a slut, then go home and that's it. Almost like getting something off your chest with little chance of real redress of your grievances.

    al

    ReplyDelete

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