Hievre el Agua Sunday 26th July, 1998


Hierve el Agua translated means where the water boils. It is the name of some sulphur springs near Oaxaca, Mexico that I wanted to visit. I awoke at 6am one Sunday morning to get across town to catch the 8am bus to Hierve el Agua. After waiting awhile I discovered that Sunday was the only day the bus didn't run. I returned to the hotel and had breakfast with several other guests at the hotel.

These springs were on everybody's wish list but most hadn't yet visited. Some of the guests were students staying in Oaxaca for several months. Knowing their way around a bit better than the rest, one mentioned that we could get there indirectly by catching a later bus to the town of Mitla, then rent a minibus to take us the rest of the way. A group of about six of us, travelled there during the morning.

After negotiating the market near the entrance we walked down to the springs. The place is very pretty and well worth the trip. Limestone and sulphur formations encrust the emerald green pools. The spring itself is set high in the mountains. We spent the afternoon enjoying the place.

I wanted to take one pristine shot of the biggest pool without any people bathing in it. There was a nice dead tree on the edge of the pool. Unfortunately, there had been a non-stop train of people bathing in all the pools all day. At 3pm it rained. Remarkably, every bather got out of the water and took shelter in the refuge. Were they afraid of getting wet? I did the same to protect my camera from the rain. As the rain stopped, I ran out to the pool and took my shot before any bathers returned to the water.

Because the rain made the road slippery, the last two buses didn't come and we were left stranded at the springs. By 5:30pm we realised that it was hopeless and we began to walk out to the highway where we hoped we could hitch a ride on a lorry. The road was made of clay, too slippery for car tyres yet sticky to those of us unfortunate to have to walk it. We had to pluck each foot from the sticky surface with every step. There was 10km of this road ahead of us. After walking about 3km, a large blue pickup truck came in the opposite direction. The road was a dead end. The truck was going to pick up the market workers.

We jumped in and a few minutes later were back at the markets. After loading up the truck headed back to Mitla. Along the way we joked with the marketeers, sang songs and truck surfed as the truck swayed along the slippery road. Passing through one small village the driver lost control and we all ducked as the eave of a house passed just over our heads.

Finally we arrived back at Mitla at 8:15pm. This town was halfway back to Oaxaca. A public bus runs hourly to Oaxaca. As we waited for the 9pm bus, I stupidly said, the hard part is over now; it's all smooth sailing from here. We got on the empty bus. Michelle and I sat at the front near the door. The bus travelled 1-2km up the road stopping outside a bar. 40-50 incredibly drunk Mexican men and women began pushing their way onto the bus. What really caught my eye were two prostitutes trying to scratch each other's eyes out as they climbed into the bus. There were so many people on the bus that they were standing three abreast in the aisle with their bodies bulging over the seated passengers. An old man standing near me took a liking to intermittently patting my curly hair. After the third time, I was ready to punch out his lights. The prostitutes were 3-4 people away from me but their hands weren't idle. She wasn't looking for small change either. The bus stopped again. More people got on. The old man got pushed further down to molest some other poor tourist but, oh no, the prostitutes were closer. As the bus began to move so did the prostitutes. One of them snaked her arm between the masses of bodies to reach inside the trouser pockets of the guy standing next to me. After massaging his buns and getting no response, she began stroking my shoulder and the nape of my neck. I still couldn't see her nor could she see me. I said to Michelle, " I may need your help soon." Michelle said," I think you've got a date for the night." I said, " Right, I need your help now." She replied, "What can I do?" "This," I said as I put my arm around her cuddled up to her. This didn't phase the Pros at all and they continued. Michelle said," This is the bus ride from hell, what else could go wrong?" A hint for the unwary traveller, never, never, never tempt the gods by saying something as stupid as this for they will most certainly oblige. On this occasion they did so almost immediately as the Federalies stopped the bus at gunpoint

The corporal at the army checkpoint ordered everybody standing to get off the bus with machine guns pointed and ready. They were looking for Zapatista separatists from Chiapas. They walked through the seated passengers. When they saw our passports, it was obvious they were not interested in us. They told all the tourists to stay on the bus while they finished checking the Mexicans.

The locals got back on the bus. My new friends manoeuvred themselves so they were next to me. One continued stroking my neck while the other positioned herself so that I couldn't miss her cleavage. Michelle said, "You definitely have a dinner date if you want one." I quipped back, "I don't need to go out for dinner. I can breast feed from here!" After six gruelling hours we finally arrived back at Oaxaca totally exhausted.