It hailed as we drove through the Sierra Madre Sur headed to Oaxaca – first small white pepples of rock and then bigger white stones straight to earth and onto the truck windshield as the sky turned an atomic red. We landed on Mars. We stopped underneath an overpass and watched the stones bead on the black asphalt and then turn to droplets again.
It’s more rural, poorer here and Southern Mexico starts to look like Guatemala – unpainted gray cinder one or two-room houses surrounded by raw nature. It’s a beautiful drive on a two-lane toll road reminiscent of Highway 1 in California with the Pacific on your right like a still painting. Here it is the sudden drop-off into the bosom of the Sierras. We take it in, but we’re tired. It’s been a tough driving day. Morning rush out of San Miguel Allende resulted in our leaving our two prized Keetsa pillows among the general cotton ones on our friends’ luxurious kind-sized bed (oh the pain!); reaching Mexico City, Brad makes an emergency pit stop as we’re about to take the outer loop skirting downtown Mexico City and we’re stuck taking Lazara Cardenas all the way through the Zolcalo, into Lagunillas where we are in bumper to bumper in flea market traffic until the cop cars roll in and our truck is surrounded by a large group of protestors who slap and shake our car, “¡Derechale!”
We finally reach the toll road to Puebla, speeding along to reach three full-on construction roadblocks past Orizaba. The best social hour was two miles before we got on the toll road to Oaxaca and everyone got out of their cars to chat with the sudden entourage of street vendors. We waited for the machine laying down asphalt on the freeway to amble along. Then came the hail.
Now the sun is disappearing all too quickly behind the gray and we still have 90 Km through curvaceous terrain. It’s been a hard day and I am reminded of why we skip Oaxaca on our drives down. Southern Mexico prepares us and it feels like Guatemala too soon before Mexico ends in our minds.
There is still no doubt that Mexico’s toll roads are the best south of the U.S. border and north of Panama. At every construction stop the vendors pop out from the freeway shadows, an opportunity missed being worse than an unlaid road. I pull out my book and wait. Nothing, we’re still stalled. I take out our Guía Roji, our road atlas through Mexico, which has seen many a coffee spill, multi-colored highlighters, tears and yellowing from dog-eared pages. I trace Sunday morning’s route with my index finger.
Tomorrow, May 14, is Brad’s birthday, a traveling one at that and an auspicious entry into 37 exploring new roads and unknown cities far beyond the red mountainous horizon. Thirty-seven. At restaurants they still call us jovenes, young people because we have no children. Do children age you or keep you young? Do they, as mi abuelita tells me, help you mark the passage of time? Abuelita always wonders how we measure time since we don’t have children. I scoff at this narrow definition rulers for time, feeling more evolved because I use Google Calendar on my cellphone to remind me of everyone’s birthdays one week ahead of time.
As I push towards 35, I’m starting to understand what she really meant, this process of ripening, a fruit falling from the tree and that moment when it breaks from the branch as the knowledge of its own ripening, whether known or understood, saber or concur, to know or to experience it. To be so present in that moment in time that shapes what comes after. How will we measure time I wonder.
A falcon flies between the mountains, floats above the treetops ever so lightly. The air is moist outside and we descent into Oaxaca right before nightfall as the rain starts to fill the evening rush-hour streets.