Never Drive at Night: Overcoming Blockades and Protests in Oaxaca, Mexico

The first rule of driving in Mexico is to NEVER drive at night. Yet here we were: nearly 2AM as I blasted down the dark and lonely road – the windows down as the smell of salty, warm air wafts into the cab.

No other cars in sight. My eyes burned and cried out for sleep.

Driving at this time of night certainly wasn’t by choice.

We had quite literally been held against our will.

Don’t Drive at Night

Driving at night in Mexico is full of potential danger:

First and foremost you’ve got to be mindful of animals or even people walking along the dark and lonely roads.

Then there’s the speed bumps that pop out in the middle of nowhere and often without warning.

There’s the threat of drunk drivers taking advantage of a sometimes lawless land, trying to make their way back home.

Then, of course, there’s always the possibility of bandits or thieves that pray on solitary vehicles on the road at night.

A Plan Derailed

The plan that day was simple: after a lovely morning exploring the mangroves of La Ventanilla, we would start heading east along the coast toward Salina Cruz. It was only about a three or four drive.

We were about half way through the trip, passing through a small, dusty pueblo, when traffic suddenly came to a standstill.

Andrea and I sat in the truck for awhile as we waited for traffic to clear up. People were all over the side of the road, looking ahead. It seemed like the whole town came out.

I turned off the truck and we walked up the road to see what was going on.

At the end of the line of cars we saw a giant board laid across the road with a group of men sitting there, preventing anyone from passing.

mexico never drive at night-1

Oaxaca Blockade

We got to talking to other drivers held up by the blockade…

One guy told us “they were letting cars through occasionally. They aren’t asking for any money or posing any danger.”

He explained that they were protesting the fact that their mayor was stealing money and then just up and disappeared, supposedly.

They were trying to get the attention of the federal government in Mexico City for a little help.

And here we were caught up in it along with a few hundred others.

Making Friends

I was mostly surprised that no one was arguing or putting up a fight. Everyone just seemed to accept the blockade and sat back to wait.

Another guy told us yeah “Oaxaca is a beautiful place, but the protests and blockades are the only bad part.”

“After Oaxaca you shouldn’t have any more problems like this,” he said.

(But how wrong he would turn out to be…)

One hour bleed into another.

We walked around, bought some junk food from the mini market to eat for dinner since we didn’t want to bust out the stove and cook if they would open the blockade without warning.

At least it was an economic boom for all the little stores.

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Darkness Falls

It also served as entertainment for the town, everybody sat along the edge of the road and watched the blockade and all the nothing that was happening.

The sun set. It grew dark.

Two hours bled into four, then five.

Rumors flew that they wouldn’t open the blockade until morning.

We figured we would be spending the night camped in the back of my truck while parked in the middle of the road.

Andrea and I walked over to a little restaurant got a more substantive dinner.

A Very Long Night

Then we returned to the cab of the truck and started watching an episode of Game of Thrones.

This was going to be a long night.

One episode ended and we put on another…

Then all of a sudden I saw people running back to their vehicles and the red glow of taillights emerge ahead of us.

Cars started creeping forward.

I slammed the laptop shut and started the truck and inched forward toward the blockade, hoping that they wouldn’t hold us up.

We drove past and relief washed over me, we were finally free: more than 7 hours after we were first held up, it was now 1:30am.

And we still had no idea where we were going to spend the night.

Toward Salina Cruz

I barreled down the now empty road but there was nothing here, no hotels, nowhere to spend the night.

We drove for nearly an hour and arrived in the city of Salina Cruz as the people staggered out of the bars.

I drove around aimlessly trying to find a hotel, but we couldn’t seem to find any.

The sign for “La Gran Via Hotel” caught my eye, it was now almost 3am. We pleaded with the attended for a reduced price but he wouldn’t budge on the 650 peso price — somewhat expensive.

We had nowhere else to turn. We worked over the 650 pesos and crawled into our room — which was surprisingly nice — and tucked in for the night.

Andrea managed to bargain over a later check out time, at least, so we got a late start the next day, trying to catch up on sleep.

The next day we pushed ahead toward the state of Chiapas with great expectations, but only made it as far as the town of Arriaga before calling it a night, a combination of a late start, little sleep, and not wanting to get caught at night again.

Arriaga, Mexico

We found a modest little hotel (Hotel Maria Eugenia) for less than half the price of what we paid the night before and set out to explore the town.

Arriaga is a little nothing, nowhere town. It was grimy, dusty, and depressing.

The only town in the entire country that I found to be devoid of anything interesting.

I hoped Chiapas would hold better luck for us soon, it’s a state that we had heard so much about and looked forward to exploring.

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The first rule of driving in Mexico is to NEVER drive at night. Yet here we were: nearly 2AM as I blasted down the dark and lonely road – the windows down as the smell of salty, warm air wafts into the cab.  No other cars in sight. My eyes burned and cried out for sleep.  Driving at this time of night certainly wasn’t by choice.  We had quite literally been held against our will...

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This is part of our Road Trip Central America series on our overland journey.

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Author, Writer, and Head Honcho at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, and wanderer. Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out living in his pickup truck and road tripping across the American West. Since then he backpacked through Colombia, drove across all of Central America, and also wrote a best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget. Right now you can find him driving his old truck across all of South America -- support the adventures by visiting the D2D Shop. Follow the adventures on social media or read more.

Comments 2

  1. I enjoyed reading your posts. I want to retire to Guatemala from Missouri. I had hoped to drive through Mexico with some friends, one of which is Guatemalan and the other is Mexican and lives about 5 hours from Guat. We were told not to do it by others we know in Guat. Something about some new gang that is robbing and then killing the victims. Have you heard anything about that? I feel like you do but now my riders are backing out.

    1. Post

      Hey Mark, I haven’t heard any chatter in the overlanding groups about this, nor when I passed through Guatemala awhile back, so I can’t really comment. I’d just try and dig into the local news and see what details you can unearth. It could be overblown, but I’m not saying it’s impossible (things like that have certainly happened in other Latin American countries). It could have been an isolated incident (a robbery that went wrong) or it could isolated to a particular corner of the country. Other questions: Are they robbing private cars, large intercity buses? Are they robbing at night or in broad daylight? If it has happened a couple times, it helps to know details, and then you can avoid the problem area if you believe it is warranted.

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