It smelled like corn tortillas and chicken cooked in tomatoes and onion and chili. It smelled like earth. I was heading from Pochutla to Oaxaca the same way I’d come. I looked around the van and inhaled the mixture of scents, happy to be returning to Oaxaca. But most of all, I was just happy to be in Mexico and reveling in the simple beauty of passing moments. In Mexico, I often felt overwhelming undertones of connectivity, even if I didn’t speak to people around me. It was just enough to be human together, breathing the same air and heading in the same direction.
Before reaching the windiness, we stopped in a few villages. A few passengers hopped off and new passengers hopped on until we had a full van of people to take to the sharp turns ahead. I was half dreading it and half excited for it. The weather was clear that time around, enabling a whole drive’s worth of inspiring views.
Two small children acted like the drive was a roller coaster ride. As the driver sped around the tight curves, they giggled and shouted, “Whooooa!” in unison. Their youthful excitement needed no translation. As the curves in the road tightened and our bodies had not choice but to give into the constant swaying and sliding, the children quickly and inexplicably fell asleep.
My stomach had endured on the way over, but this time I felt nauseous. Maybe it was because I now knew what to expect. Maybe it was because that time around, I was not distracted by the terror of flooding, mud and rocks on the road and had more of a capacity to feel the road’s effect on me. I tried to divert my attention from my stomach to the brilliant landscape.
When we’d left Pochutla, my large backpack did not fit into the almost non-existent trunk of the van. It sat in a space near the van door, invading the leg room of the man sitting next to it. He refused to allow me to rearrange it to give him more leg room and take away from mine, and as people hopped in and out of the van, he held onto it just in case it might slide out. He also kept his hand on a large cooler placed in front of me so it wouldn’t roll onto to my feet as the driver navigated the windy roads. It was the genuineness and culmination of these small gestures that left me enamored with the parts of Mexico I visited.
Tropics and banana trees faded into rivers and pine trees. We ascended mountains and passed through clouds and descended into territory where cacti and succulents reign. We halted as we reach the outskirts of the city, our relatively quick drive slowed by city traffic. Back at the van station, I saw the driver I’d had on the way to Mazunte. He smiled at me and helped me catch a cab.
I went back to the same hostel I stayed at when I’d arrived in Oaxaca. I’d spent only three days there before, so didn’t anticipate the surge of hominess I felt when I walked in. There were several faces I recognized. And before I’d even left Mazunte, I’d already made plans in Oaxaca for that night. It amused me that considering how solitary and dramatic I’d felt when I arrived in Oaxaca, I already had friends to meet up with there.
This second arrival in Oaxaca marked the beginning of a slow build towards staying and absorbing triumphing over the power of leaving and accumulating. I settled in and let the days pass.