The Tale of Cuatro Gringros and the Oaxacan Curse

We reunited with Joe and Kylee of Patagonia or Bust in San Miguel Allende after spending a few days stretching our legs in the windy, hilly streets of Guanajuato.

Streets of San Miguel de Allende…pictures courtesy of Joe and Kylee (aka patagoniaorbust)

After spending two lazy days catching up, updating our blogs, and exploring San Miguel we all headed to Cholula outside of Mexico City with the goal in mind to climb the pyramid and explore the churches of nearby Puebla.  Instead we were spooked by the ghostly empty, tagged up walls of Las America’s RV Park and ducked out after one night.  Our goal was Benito Juarez National Park 10 km north of Oaxaca where we planned on camping for the night in the clear air of the mountains before parting ways again.  Amazingly we found, or so we thought, the park relatively easily with only a few wrong turns.  As we inched our way up the dirt road on the side of the mountain, we marveled at the valley spread before us crammed with houses, people, and smog.  ‘Those suckers,’ we thought, ‘we are going to be sucking in the fresh air in no time!’  At the peak of the ridge as the mountains opened up before us, there was a lone gatekeeper’s house in front of a chain stretching across the road.  Forewarned by his two fierce guard dogs, who promptly wandered off to sleep, the gatekeeper came out to greet us a skeptical smile on his face.  We struggled to make ourselves understood, all we wanted was for the chain to come down so we could proceed up and camp undisturbed.  He mumbled something about permits under his breath and reached for his cell phone.  In rapid fire Spanish he spoke to some unknown higher up, all we could catch was ‘cuatro gringos’ and a couple of ‘buenos.’  We thought we were in!  As he hung up, he glanced over at us, shook his head and said ‘no permiso acampar,’ and retreated to his shack.  The last thing we wanted to do was head into Oaxaca at rush hour on a Saturday night to try and find a hostel, so we resolved to find a perfectly hidden pirate camping spot on the long dirt road we had just driven up.  As we descended, we spotted a rutted road headed up into the  trees.

Headed to pirate camping outside of Oaxaca

Our scouting mission was cut short by the tuk-tuk that came barreling down the road.  The words from numerous blogs came to life in front of me.  “When we had reached what we thought was the limit of our 4WD rigs, a crappy 2 wheel drive car would inevitably come cruising past us in no apparent distress at the conditions of the road (loosely adapted).”  We decided that this spot would work.  Ken gunned Suzie, she seemed ready to tackle the uneven terrain.  As we traversed the ditch, Suzie became airborne.  Rather one wheel left the ground and she seemed to teeter to a stop, balanced on her front axle, leaning towards the passenger side.  A million things happened in the space of a second.  I assumed we were not only high centered but about to go over so I leaped into Ken’s lap inadvertently grabbing the steering wheel.  Ken locked eyes with Kylee, noted the expression of horror on her face and hit the gas.  Somehow, miraculously, the other three tires grabbed and Suzie jumped out of the huge hole that Ken had accidentally driven into.  Joe and Kylee did not follow our example and managed to safely negotiate their truck into a ‘hidden’ nook next to us.  We cracked some beers and watched the sunset over Oaxaca.  After a delicious meal of chorizo, potato, peppers, mushrooms, rice, and squash, we started doing some dishes.  I was in the camper scrubbing away and saw some headlights approaching up the road.  We assumed they would continue past us considering we were so well hidden from view.  Instead, they stopped at the bottom of our illicit entrance and five separate lights approached us.  ‘This is it,’ I thought to myself, ‘Ken’s mother’s prediction is about to come true.’  I considered grabbing the bear spray, but instead stepped from the camper.  Ken and Joe nervously bellowed “hola” in a very friendly, nonthreatening manner (at least I thought so).  Soon five gauchos were milling around us.  After initial greetings and queries we were able to determine that we were not in fact camped in the national park, but were in fact camped on the town of San Pablo’s public grazing and farming land.  When the gauchos realized we were harmless, clueless gringos, they loosened up considerable and made us promise to not leave any basura (trash) behind.  Relieved that we weren’t about to receive harm to life, limb, or wordily goods we offered them all a cerveza and enjoyed a bit of awkward half conversation as they taught us some new words, warned us of the dangerous plants, and admired our vehicles.  As they left we all looked at each other with ear splitting grins, this is exactly the reason why we were all doing this trip.  Sure it was not the smartest or safest move to pirate camp outside a major city, but if we hadn’t we never would’ve experienced these men and their way of life.

Trying to get some dishes done

The next morning we woke up still high from the previous night, packed up and headed into Oaxaca for a day of city exploring and hot showers.  We found the Hostel Casa de Sol, got into the room and hopped into the showers.  We were excited to have soft, real beds, internet, and hot water for a night and we had even scored parking directly in front of the hostel.  Less then an hour after we had gotten there I asked Ken to get something from the truck.  He came back a few seconds later, pale, and announced, “I think someone broke into our truck.”  Our worst nightmare.  We knew before we left that we did not have the most secure locks, and intended on installing a car alarm at some point in Mexico, we just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.  Sure enough the lock was popped on the driver’s side and the thief had made off with our phone and three bags of stuff that we kept in the crew cab of the truck.  Initially we were not too upset.  The thief had stolen a bag of books (including our Central and South America guidebooks), air compressor, sunscreen, bug spray, first aid kit, and a lot of contact solution and tampons.

Video evidence from the hostel camera. The thief’s head is barely visible. Couldn’t see the license plate on the get away car either.

No items absolutely necessary to continue our journey.  The owner of the hostel was very apologetic and helpful, even arranging and guiding us to the locksmith to get the lock repaired.  As we were waiting for the repair, we began cataloguing the items stolen and figuring out what we needed to replace.  That is when we realized that our camera had also been in the back.  Then the anger and depression really set in.  Everything else that had been stolen was not vital, a camera is vital.  On the bright side, I have been lusting after a new camera body for quite a while, now I can with a clear conscience buy one.  It seems that the oaxacan curse is still in full effect and determined to make recent overlander’s experiences here difficult ones (see Home on the Highway and Drive Nacho Drive’s accounts of Oaxaca).  Again we learned lesson numero 1,000 of the million we will learn on the road, albeit a harsh one, and are getting a car alarm installed tomorrow.  We are thankful that nothing of vital importance was stolen including our truck and after a few tasty fried grasshoppers and some mescal life is looking up again.  After all we are still on a trip of our lifetime, with many more miles and incredible experiences ahead of us.