We finally said goodbye to Oaxaca after 6 weeks of school and sedentary living. We had settled in to a great schedule of 4-6 brisk 15 minute walks a day and city living. We left Saturday, March 8th, at noon alter a morning of goodbyes to our housemates and set off South on the Pan American Highway. Things were going great until the road was blockaded by “las maestras” 10 miles north of Tehuantepec. It is a very complicated story and I don’t want to minimize the importance of the schoolteachers’ dilemma or demands but road blockades have been adopted as a bargaining tactic by the teachers’ union and everyone is thus included in their struggle. Anyway, we were directed on to a dirt road at the military checkpoint if we wanted to avoid being stuck on the highway for 24+ hours and we decided to just follow other vehicles they had already diverted that way so off we went. It was a very interesting detour down an ever-narrowing dirt road with many interesting turns and ruts, which got even more interesting as night fell. We finally came to what looked like a dead end at a river some 50 feet wide but watched the lights of a pickup truck as it crossed it and they didn’t go underwater so lumbered after him with the trailer in tow. We felt like we were part of an old wagon train- just needed a cow tied to the back bumper to make it authentic. Anyway- finally made it to Tehuantepec at 9pm and crashed at the Calli Hotel. Birded in the grounds and around the pool the next day and then headed out at noon for Ocozocoautla (outside of Tuxtla Gutierrez) and the Hogar Infantil.
Day one at the orphanage was spent looking closely at the popup and getting organized again for living in the trailer. We were surprised to find that the back section of the trailer had separated from the body and there was a 2-inch gap of air leading in to the inside- not good for tropical climates! After much thought, we decided that Duct Tape was definitely the treatment of choice and proceeded to wrap it tightly alter removing the spare tire. It looks like it may work for a short-term solution and will see how it does on the highway. Anny was so impressed it got her to write a poem-she really applied herself!
Sima de los Cotorras
We heard through some friends who had preceded us that there was a great birding place close to the Hogar that we should check out. We drove out some 12-14 miles on a dirt road following signs for the selva and the sima and finally arrived at a huge limestone sinkhole some hundred yards across and several hundred feet deep surrounded by scrub trees and filled with huge trees on the bottom. Several thousand birds-mostly green parrots or “Cotorras”- roosted in the Sima (sinkhole) at night so we waited there until nightfall far the nightly return. We were not disappointed as groups of parrots started returning at 5pm as wave after wave came in for the next 2 hours. They made quite a racket as they flew in and settled in along the cliff edges and tops of trees. Cassidy and I were so impressed that we got up at 5:30 the next morning to be there at sunrise as they came out. We left with it still quite dark and arrived at the sinkhole before grey light. We heard some great bird calls in the dark so turned the car off and waited. We were surrounded by Buff-colored and Paraque Nightjars who have a wonderfully eerie call and they came quite close to us as they hunted insects in the night. We just sat there in front of the car for 10-15 minutes until it began to get lighter then proceeded to the sinkhole. It was very quiet in the Sima when we arrived with an occasional parrot call echoing around the hole. Then, as light came, wave after wave of parrots, 20-30 in a group began spiraling their way out of the sinkhole. They called continuously as they rose, seemingly calling others to join them, and then flying off in different directions for the day’s activities. This went on for close to 2 hours as we watched and listened and was quite a treat. After most of the parrots had left the sima, we walked the scrub area around the sinkhole and came across groups of noisy Chacalaca, Black-headed Saltators, Altamira Orioles, and a Squirrel Cuckoo, which is one of my favorites. We finally left at 10am and returned home.
Tuxtla Gutiérrez Zoológica
We went to Tuxtla that night to get groceries and visit the Zoo, which we had read great things about. Cassidy has a great description on his Blog-see under Links. The zoo was amazing- one of the best I’ve ever experienced- as it is a large reserve filled with large trees and scrub on the side of a mountain with several streams running through it. Almost all of the animals and birds were residents of Chiapas and there was actually more wildlife outside of the cages than within them as hundreds of birds-Chacalaca, MotMots, Guan and Curassows flew in to the park for feeding and some seemed to have taken up residency. Large rodent-like creatures the size of large cats-Agoutis-wandered the zoo’s grounds by the hundreds and the air was filled with the cries of many parrots and other birds. Spider monkeys could be seen in the tops of trees as one walked through the park- we did not know if they had escaped their own enclosure or had come to the park on their own. We walked on a great 4-5 km path that wound its way through the park over 2+ hours and as we were leaving, we were treated to a loud penetrating growl of a black panther that reverberated through the park several times. It made one think of dinner-in many different ways.
San Cristóbal de las Casas
We left on the 12th de Marzo for San Cristóbal and moved in to the Bonampak Hotel trailer park, which is quite comfortable for 4 nights before continuing on towards Palenque. San Cristóbal is a wonderful city in the midst of the highland Maya region that is unique for many reasons. The Zapatista uprising happened here in the 1990s and the area is still in flux with many communities close to here that actively support and align themselves with the Zapatista movement and others who side with PRI or other government groups. There continues to be a large military presence and harassment of Zapatista followers and sympathizers and history continues to be made as this struggle continues. The overall feel of the town is also very different with its architecture reminding one more of Guatemala and Central America than Mexico and the narrow rough cobblestone streets making even Oaxaca seem very “modern”. The tourists are mostly European---Americans are definitely outnumbered--with an interesting smattering of more “earthy” types sporting native dress and the less showered look-our kind of people! We hope to get out of the town to surrounding communities before we head out but also plan on returning for a longer visit on the return trip if money allows. Anny and I both love this place and want to explore its riches. Unfortunately, other foreigners also share this feeling as Century 21 is in business advertising new homes in gated communities, which is a little distressing. Anyway- more to come.