Tehuantepec: Mujeres Fuertes

13.08.2009 – 16.08.2009

Tehuantepec: Mujeres Fuertes

The ride from Puerto Escondido to Tehuantepec went fairly well. It was a beautiful and tropical easy road with no traffic. It was a bit hot but not quite overwhelming until I got closer to Tehuantepec. Still had some fever and mild delirium, but it wasn’t quite so debilitating that I couldn't ride. My host at the villa recommended a turn-off to a toll road that would save me a little time, which proved correct this time.

I’d read about how the region around Tehuantepec and Juchitan has a long history of women being in charge and a complete matriarchal ruled culture, but I really didn’t believe it’d appear much different in present day. I was wrong! The strong female vibes were palpable and noticeably evident as soon as I rode into town. As you enter the main “Centro” part of the city, you first see I giant, towering metal goddess, shining in the sun. She emanated complete femininity as well as the strength of a warrior.

Upon arrival you don’t see that many men around at all. Don’t know the official demographic figures, but it looked like the women out-numbered the men at least 5 to 1. I’m sure they were there hiding somewhere, hanging out in the bars, or perhaps working in Oaxaca city. They definitely weren’t visible as I rode around looking for a room. There was an occasional traffic cop, the fellas driving the motorbike taxis, the handful loitering by the cantinas, but mostly women.

The first hotel I came to seemed decent enough, but was a little expensive. Thought about splurging for a more comfy option since it was really hot and I still had a pounding headache accompanied by fever, but my dough was getting low so I decided I better keep looking for something cheap. The kind ladies at the first hotel suggested another place that had an Arabic name. Seemed odd for the area, but there were other signs of Middle East influence here and there as well. Perhaps because the region is the narrowest part of Mexico from the gulf side to the Pacific side and has a long history as a convenient trade route?

It took awhile, but I finally found the middle eastern place. Didn’t look like there was anywhere secure to store my bike, and looked really shoddy. Wasn’t planning on staying that long, so as long as it was cheap and I didn’t have to haul all my gear up three flights of stairs in the balmy heat with a pounding headache and fever, then I was going to call the search over.

A really creepy fellow with shifty eyes and acting very nervous appeared behind the counter. Asked if he had a room available for one person. He looked at me, and then my motorcycle outside the entrance, then back at me and said “no”. I asked if perhaps he might have a room a bit later in the afternoon? He again said “no” and walked away. I followed after him because I really didn’t want to keep looking for another hotel in the heat and asked if I could have a double then. He still said “no”.

Eventually, a man and women walked in, asked for a room and the clerk took them directly to a single. Couldn’t figure out why gave them a room but he wouldn’t give me a room. Was curious enough to wait around until he came back to ask him if he had a problem with gringos, or bikers in general. He finally came back and I asked him why he gave those other people a room, but not me. Asked what the deal was and if he had a problem with renting to gringos or something. He leaned toward me and whispered, “I only rent rooms by the hour, not by the day.”

Ahhhhh… I finally got it! He then quickly gave me the brush off and guided me back out onto the street.

Finally had to take a room that required hauling my gear up three flights of stairs in the balmy heat. To add insults to injury, the room was painted the brightest HOT pink color and I couldn’t get the ceiling fan out of slow first gear. So, I stripped down out of my riding clothes as quickly as I could and stood in the shower to try and cool down my fever before I passed out. Once I got the ceiling fan control to do solid hurricane speed, all was right with the world again.

At first I was fascinated by the idea of women being in charge, and the change felt good. Hey, I’ll admit men haven’t done such a swell job managing world affairs or even domestic ones over pretty much all written history, so I was curious what it’d be like if men took more of a secondary role and let the women call all the shots for awhile.

As I walked about the town, I was wondering where they were keeping the rest of the men. I’d see them driving the women around in these funky motorized motorbike taxis, and directing traffic. Or, I’d see mostly men who looked kind of beaten and drunk on a street corner or in the park, but mostly women everywhere you looked.

Also noticed many of the women were attractive and the strong nature they exuded was kind of sexy to be perfectly honest. That could also be because the hotel I was staying in was decorated with semi-nude warrior women with gold Indian headdresses, spears and shields. Found myself studying most of the paintings for a good while longer than I normally would have studied typical hotel artwork. Dominatrix fetish anyone?

Another oddity noticed, was that a few men I did see where obviously some hybrid transsexuals they call "Muxe". Some with partial women’s attire, and others wore normal male attire but with feminine-styled hair and make-up. They somehow seemed different from the other transvestite and transsexual men I’d seen in other parts of Mexico. These feminine men were working alongside the women and appeared to be accepted as one of their own… as if they were equal to women. It’s hard to describe, but it seemed like these men had been completely accepted and raised as if they were indeed women and equal to women since a very early age, and nothing exhibitionist about them at all. There wasn’t anything they were trying to hide or exhibit, there were simply “women” without the specific biological hardware, or I guess “software” might be more accurate.

After a couple of days the positive feeling waned a bit. Embarrassed to admit that feeling of being “secondary” didn’t feel so comfortable. Wondered if this is how women feel in general, or basically tolerate in the modern male-dominated societies? It really became increasingly less comfortable there in Tehuantepec after just three days and I was ready to move on... out of the awkward heat and up into the much cooler mountains. Not just because of the heat, but if began to feel like I was wandering around in some gigantic women’s clinic. Maybe it was all that thick estrogen that was rubbing me wrong for some reason, but I soon understood why men were a bit scarce in the area. I’d still like to return to Tehuantepec at some point and spend more time learning about how this completely unique culture developed and how well the community functions with women in charge. For the time being I wanted to get the Hell out of there muy pronto. 

I’m told the women also share political power there, about 50/50 with the men and that it seems to work out very well. The women simply don’t do much of the menial labor and call most of the shots for everyday business affairs. Next time I think I’ll spend some time in the nearby and much larger city of Juchitan as well to see if that female power thing is still as palpable in a much larger and more populated setting.

Tehuantepec is definitely a fascinating place that I'll visit again one day, but for now I’d had enough of the balmy, heat of the Oaxaca coast and still had a bit of fever to squash. Fever in a hot climate is doubly painful and was causing me pretty severe headaches after the Tylenol wore off. Definitely improving though, and felt up to doing the ride up into the mountains. The non-stop dramatic hairpin curves that take a good two hours to ride, is easily one of the most dramatic rides in Mexico.

Hydrated, dosed with Tylenol, and focussed... next stop, the psychedelic Mecca they call San Jose del Pacifico!