Mexican Negotiating Skills 101
Riding South from Oaxaca, Mexico on another blazingly hot day, I came across an astonishing site. It had been noticeable in my travels how few sources of renewable energy I had come across. Despite the almost constant sun in SW USA, there were few solar panels to be seen. I recall seeing only a few wind turbines.
A week ago, I passed through the narrowest part of Mexico. It's known as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Pacific Ocean. And the major effect of this isthmus combined with a dip in the mountain range is wind. Lots of it. One of the towns I rode through was called La Ventosa, literally ‘the windy place”. The wind was unusually localised; over the space of 3 or 4 miles it picked up; lasted for 15 to 20 miles; then died down again over another 3 to 4 miles. I rode through on a fairly calm day, but it was still a fight to keep the bike upright and not get blown across the road into the path of any oncoming trucks. When it really blows it rips the roofs off houses and topples buses over. And, it blows all year round. The Government of Mexico have turned this freak of nature to their advantage and have installed, literally, thousands of wind turbines. Along both sides of the road, for as far as the eye can see they stretch out to the horizon. This is all background knowledge for what I came across about 30 miles down the road from La Ventosa.
As I rode over the crest of a hill I saw a line of stationary cars, trucks and buses that stretched far, far into the distance. It being only on my side of the road, meant I was able to use the left hand lane to ride to the front of this queue, some 15 miles.
And here was the cause of the tailback
The road was blocked by about 50 villagers, with another couple of hundred or so milling around on the periphery. They were protesting about a number of issues around power, land reform, wages for farmers, but at the heart of it from what I could make out was the effect this enormous wind farm was having on the local economy and their ability to work the land. They had been there since 9.00AM that morning and were going nowhere till they heard from the Oaxaca State Government that their issues would be listened to. I still had another 130 odd miles to ride to a hotel I’d booked in a town close to the Guatemalan border. It was 2.00 in the afternoon, and I didn’t want to be spending the next 6 hours or however long it was going to take stuck here.
I talked with several people in the blockade about what was going on, how sympathetic I was to their argument but it that it wasn’t with me, I wasn’t Mexican jut a guest in their country. Thye were adamant - there was to be no one allowed through that day. It wasn't aggressive, but a lot of the men sported large machetes, and they weren’t moving for me or anyone else.
Then I spotted a group of women sitting off to the side of the road in the shade. They’d be watching me intently since I’d arrived and were obviously fascinated by this strange creature in their midst, particularly the bald head shaved the previous night. Lots of pointing, giggling and laughter at el gringo loco. So I wandered over and said “ Boy a Argentina; quien quiere venir conmigo como mi novio?” Spanish speakers have already noticed I’ve asked who wants to come with me to Argentina as my boyfriend; which led to much hilarity and pointing at several men in the blockade who they thought might be good candidates. Correcting the gender (novia) we were having a good laugh and passing the time.
One of them calls a man from the centre of the blockade over – her husband, who I was told was 'el jefe' – the boss. A fascinating man, he had worked in construction on the French speaking part of Canada, before coming home to the family farm a few years ago. In a mixture of French, Spanish and English we talked about government corruption the plight of the farmer and that this protest was their last resort. I asked if there was anything I could do on a practical level to help, and we agreed a contribution to the village water fund might be in order. So $10 lighter and 20 minutes more discussion later, I was allowed to wheel the bike through the very edge of the blockade. It was important not to start the engine or put the helmet on, so there was no loss of face on anyone's part.
Maybe it’s something to do with 12 weeks on the road, but what would have had me incandescent with fury at my plans being messed up became an opportunity to practice my Spanish and find out some more about what life is really like for Mexicans.
And everything’s negotiable if you start from the looking for an outcome where everyone feels they’ve got a good deal……