Updated: Dec 1, 2021
Live by the coin, die by the coin.
A month ago, we found ourselves crossing the border into Mexico at the Tapachula crossing at 1:00AM. This was a necessary step for us to renew our 90-day visas to remain legal here in Guatemala. However, the duration of the stay was up in the air. A few days before leaving, we noticed that the women running the kid's club could probably benefit from us being away. We love being hands-on and involved in the club, but we see that growth outside of our influence is crucial to the project's long-term sustainability.
Faye grabs a quick nap on the floor of the Mexican immigration office at the Tapachula border crossing.
We have also been fixing up our house. As a family of 7, a two-bedroom house with a leaky tin roof during the Guatemalan rainy season wasn't doing us any favors. In fact, when we left our house to go to the capital to renew our visas the first time, we came home to a situation where it had rained for 5 days straight, and we lost most of our bedding to mold due to the heat and moisture combo. Shortly after that, we decided we would ask our landlord if we could build an addition and do some fixing up to suit the property to our needs. He approved and since then, due to the dangers of the construction, we have been out of the house.
Fortunately for us, both construction and rent are incredibly cheap in Central America. For the first 2 months out, we negotiated a deal with a hotel owner to rent us a lovely suite on the lake that included a kitchen, dock, and ample space for the kids for just over $200 a month.
Since we would need to remain out of the house and we had heard that rent was even cheaper in some parts of Mexico, we decided to head north for a month that would, in theory, actually save us money.
After talking with some Mexican and other traveling friends, we crunched some numbers and figured that we could get by quite comfortably in rural Mexico as a family with five kids for under $30 a day, rent included.
Let me break that down for you again; $4 per day/person, rent and food included.
Part of that deal was us needing to accept a fair amount of discomfort during travel. We mostly used public transit, and our chosen destination was 26 hours away by bus from our home in Guatemala. It cost us roughly $1.50-2.00 per person/hr of travel on public transit. However, at one point halfway through the journey north, we could no longer find any buses available and decided to bite the bullet and share a taxi with a Belgian girl named Laura that we had met on the previous bus. We taxied for 14 hours in a 1996 Toyota Corolla-sized car with 8 passengers plus the driver. Just think about that for a second, now look at this ridiculous picture. Mexico road trip 2021, baby!!!
We drove through the night along the Mexican southeast coastline. I sat in the front with 2 kids on my lap in a seat that did not recline while Christina shared the back with our new Belgian friend and other 3 children of various ages and sizes. I chatted with the driver non-stop to keep him awake. It was long and complicated, but it is also now a cherished memory I would think twice before trading for another. Walter was his name. Walter had these little chili candy cartridges that pushed up a candy goo with the consistency of gel deodorant through tiny holes when twisted to then be licked off the top of the candy dispenser. He was a jolly guy throughout the journey and we shared stories about our weirdest experiences in life, ambitions, faith, and politics. 14 hours of chatting later, we would each have a decent picture of the person we had the pleasure of dealing with.
The drive would have gone a lot faster had it not been for the 20-25 (this is not an exaggeration) heavily armed immigration check stops we went through. We were repeatedly asked for passports and why the heck there were 7 Canadians, a Belgian woman, and a Mexican man packed into a tiny car driving through the night to Oaxaca. "To get to know your beautiful country." I would reply.
"You have such nice kids with corn-colored hair. Welcome to Mexico, and be careful!" (My favorite response.)
During the 14 hour drive, we made but one stop that lasted more than 2 minutes. At 9:00pm we pulled into a town with a bunch of bouncy castles set up in the city square and street food vendors all over. "Ouuu! Can we please go on the bouncy castle dad?!" Simon asked.
"Let's flip a coin. Heads you guys can jump, tails you can't."
*Coin being flipped.
The Mexican bouncy castle in the middle of a 14-hour drive lived up to the children's bounciness standards and they bounced until close 20 minutes later. I wish I could remember the name of the town, it had a beautiful vibe, and the crepe vendor, David, was especially kind to all of us. He gave Walter safety tips about driving in the region and we were again on our way, right after Walter stocked up on deodorant-shaped-chili-candy-dispensers from the bouncy castle vendor's candy table.
When we finally made it, our butts felt like they would never regain their pillowy shapes from the pancakeness that they had become. Everything was sore. There was a crunch to get to that area since my sister booked an Airbnb for us in Chacahua. A place for us to land at and explore from to find a cheap monthly rental upon arrival. We arrived in the main city of the area, Puerto Escondido, with one night to spare before our reservation. We said our goodbyes to our new old friends Laura and Walter. Naps and a magical long family walk along the beach ensued. An evening crafts market where we met a couple named Allie and Jason from Red Deer in Canada and more corn-on-a-stick street food sealed off the night. We would go to bed talking about our final destination in excitement and anticipation of our arrival the next day.
This is where it really gets good...
The following morning, the Airbnb hostess kindly gave me directions over the phone. "Ok, you are in Puerto Escondido? When you get a cab, tell the taxi to go towards the Community of the Deer. When he crosses the San Isidro Bridge, he will need to take a left soon after, and you will see hundreds of coconut trees. Write this all down because when you get there, there will be no cell service."
I took my written directions to a taxi, he assured me that he knew where the Community of the Deer was and that he would have my exhausted bunch of kids, wife, and all our luggage there in less than an hour. We agreed on a price, and off we went. Side note, temperature around this time was 38 degrees, and no working AC.
We turned north towards Chacahua.
San Isidro bridge. Check.
Left hand turn to the Community of the Deer. Check.
Plantation with hundreds of coconut trees. Check.
Turn in to this sweet deal of a place? ...uh...
We drive up and down the dusty roads in the scorching sun, asking locals about the existence of a specific guest house while our 1-year-old cries and my 3-year-old and 5-year old squirm and fight. Royal, my 8-year-old, was on my lap, creating a sticky pool of sweat between us. The driver was understandably losing his patience. I thought he was being a jerk at the time, but now that I write about it, I can understand why he was getting fed up with us.
We could find nothing. We eventually resolved to go to the nearest town with wifi and call the hostess back for better directions.
Cacalote, Oaxaca, Mexico. Oct. 27, 2021.
We arrive at a tiny town called Cacalote and I ask if there is anywhere with internet or a public phone. Yes, payphones still exist in Mexico. We are directed to a store said to have both. I am sold a unique wifi code for 10 pesos or .50 cents, and while I enter the code into my phone, I tell our story to the shop owner. "Are you sure you aren't looking for the Community of the Deer that is SOUTH of Puerto Escondido?" She says.
"Yes, are you looking for the Community of the Deer, or is it a place close to it?"
"We are actually looking for Chacahua, and there is a guest house we need to find," I reply.
"Is it the National Park Chacahua or the little Chacahua?" She says.
"There are two Chacahuas," she continues, "one most people don't know about. It is tiny, and you wouldn't be going there. There is nothing in that place, just mosquitoes."
When looking up an Airbnb for Chacahua, I would have never imagined there being two towns with the same name. I had sent my sister the exact link for to book and she had been kind enough to book it for us.
Pause. Panoramic view: 1-year-old Columbia pulls chips off the store shelves while 3-year-old Katie rolls around on the ground in a very 3-year-old way demanding water. Another complaint or two is being registered with the Dargatz parenting department from some of our other kids. Christina guards our bags that have been taken out of the trunk by the driver and set on the road. He can no longer wait with us because he has "another appointment" to get away from this insane gringo family!!
A few minutes later, after finally getting through to the hostess over the phone, I came to realize 3 things:
There is a San Isidro bridge on both the north and south sides of Puerto Escondido.
There is a Community of the Deer on both the north and the south sides of Puerto Escondido.
There are 2 Chacahuas one north, one south, and the one we had booked was not the nice one. Kind of, sort of scammy and a very grey Airbnb listing at best.
Oh... and we were past the point in time where we could cancel and have the booking refunded.
For the sake of clarity, I think I need to recap. We could not believe the coincidences within the directions that led us astray. However bizarre, it was true. There are two places called Chacahua in the Mexican State of Oaxaca. One is a national park known for its beauty, bioluminescent lakes, surfing, and wildlife, and the other is known for its mosquitos, not being on the beach, and its lack of things to do. In fact, it's not really known at all. Only those that do know of it, know it for those things. Airbnb does not disclose the specific directions to locations until a booking has been paid for. My sister back in Canada making the reservation on our behalf obviously didn't know the area.
"Let's not even bother, that's a 2-hour drive from here now, and it sounds miserable. Let's just head back to Puerto and find a place there."
We pile back into a new taxi, ask if we can be taken back to Puerto, to the place we had slept the previous night, off we go.
Seeing my children frantically rolling the window handles in vain, the driver exclaimed, "You'll have to forgive me, but my back windows don't work." --It is absolutely incredible how normal these conditions are here.
We start chatting, he tells me about the fantastic surfing in Cacalote, he tells me about all the cheap places there is to rent, he tells me about the seafood and how we can go to the beach every morning at 9:00 to meet the fishermen and buy fresh 5-8lb fish for 50 pesos.
45 minutes later, by the time we hit Puerto Escondido, he nearly had us convinced. I nervously looked back at Christina and the kids through my sweaty (or teary) eyes. "Dare I ask?" I thought.
"Should we go back?"
She didn't even blink. "Let's flip a coin." She said.
Simon, age 11, starts to cry.
To be continued.
Ps. Mexico Road trip 2021, baby!!!!
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