Have you ever hit a tope (speed bump) at 40mph in a car with NO suspension? If not, you have never taken a Taxi in Oaxaca, Mexico. Well, I can’t be sure if he was really doing 40 because I couldn’t help but notice that the speedometer was non-functional. I remembered this taxi driver from the other day when my daughter Lauren & I hired him to drive us into the centro from San Andreas Huyapam. Only something was different on this trip… oh yeah, the rug that he had on the floor was gone revealing the HOLE in the floor under my feet.
There are 3 types of taxis in Oaxaca. In the city of Oaxaca you have the regular kind. In the villages you have moto-taxis & “collectivos”. Moto-taxis are small motorcycle engine-driven-hybrid-chariot-thingys adopted from Asia. You can cram 3 people in there, although, I have seen as many as 5, plus market goods, plus a couple of babies. These guys are only in the villages and cannot drive on the “main roads”. Riding in one is reminiscent of those little motorcycle rides for toddlers at the carnival with blinking lights & a squawking horn. In my home base of Huyapam, the moto-taxis seem to have been run out of town by the other type of taxi, the collectivos, who are organized. Collectivos are maroon & white “shared” taxis. They essentially function as tiny buses traveling a set route route between their home town & some other central meeting place. The more people that cram into your collective taxi the better as you share the expense of the fare. They cost 70 pesos to go into the city, which is less than a “regular” taxi (120 pesos) and more than a bus (4 pesos). They have placards in their front windows & signs on their doors telling you where they are from & where they are going. They ONLY go between these two locations , that is unless you are a gringa & you find a driver who will take pity on you. There are thousands of taxis in Oaxaca & the drivers are organized. I see several taxis with signs in the back saying something like “Sr Gobernador extijimos retiro de copetes y diademos” the literal translation means un-do the law requiring taxis to have bangs & headbands….. WHAT? I roll down my window to ask a passing driver with such a sign what it means & he points up to the “TAXI” light on the top of his vehical…… ooohhhhh…. they don’t want to be required to have those. I imagine it is expensive to have one installed, but they sure do help you to spot an on-coming taxi!
In Huyapam there is a single taxi stand where you wait your turn to enter a collectivo. Most often you wait with a group of abuelitas with large baskets of goods going to market. These ladies are shrewd collectivo-seat-grabbers. Their uniform consists of long braids with ribbons that tie them into a ring on top of their heads and the ubiquitous Zapotec apron which comes in various levesl of quality & decoration depending upon the occasion. Assume that you will be the last person in the Que to get a seat. And so, you wait.
Everyone knows that gringos will want something special, and drivers will take you to places off their route if you know how to ask & make it worth their while. I set off on one such mission to buy a bag of grout for my mosaic mural project. I already know that the only building supply tienda in the village does not have it. So I am in search of a driver who is willing to tolerate my poor command of Spanish & no real idea where I am going, to take me to buy the stuff. I find my guy & ask him to drive me to such a place & to wait for me for a return trip. I tell him I saw a place near the entry to Huyapam, he knows the place & off we go!
I fear for my life as Jose Andretti makes GREAT time down the cobblestone street, my teeth rattling in my head, & onto the main road, full of ginormous potholes that dwarf even those of Philadelphia. It goes without saying that there are topes every 400 yards are so. One has to ask “what is the Mexican fascination with speed bumps”? They come in all shapes & sizes throughout Oaxaca and there are home-made ones in front of even the tiniest adobe homes in the villages. The idea, according to Florencio, is to force people to slow down…. which helps a lot in keeping the dust down & out of your casita. I don’t know, my guy does not seem to fear them. His suspension is already non-existent & the hole in the floor of his car bears witness to the number of times he has “bottomed-out” on these things. And so, he pretty much flies right over-them. His taxi is a virtual death trap, but I can’t be too hard on the guy, he did willingly agree to enter in on this disaster of an errand.
All traffic signs, laws, and courtesies are optional in Oaxaca. Blaring your horn is as mandatory as it is ineffective. People make their own lanes, run red lights, put horses into the backs of pick-up trucks, you name it & they do it. I am always amused when i see a sign that says: “obendeza las senales” (obey the signs, they have signs telling you to obey the signs). I love that!
I survive the ride & we arrive at tienda numero uno, no success, they have mortar but no grout. Luckily there is another place across the street…”dame suerte” (give me luck) I tell the driver on my way in, but return empty-handed. WHAT? He figures I do not know what I am looking for & decides to come in to help me…. still a no-go. “Donde puede comprar”?, he asks. “Los Picos! (duh!) they reply. Meanwhile, I am deep in thought trying to figure out why every one of these places ALWAYS sell mortar but never grout??? Back in the cab! By this time I have recognized that my driver is a saint because he volunteers to take me to this place, Los Picos, … god knows where. I enter the joint & ask for my lechada, the guy looks at me like I’m crazy, but my driver confirms that YES, this deranged gringa wants TWO bags of grout. I had decided I had better buy extra fearing a second trip through hell. I guess these guys don’t have as much experience with middle-aged DYI housewives as my friends at Lowe’s, but he stamps the receipt & sends us to the yard. The guy loads 2 bags of grout into my taxi, laughs, his co-workers laugh & then he asks me What? No pegazulejo (mortar)? I inform him proudly that I have already completed the installation of my tile. He smiles “God help her husband” he says as he pats my driver on the back.
All-in all I accomplished my mission in a mere 40 minutes. Not bad for a gringa with “solo un poquito Espanol”.