A Voice from Oaxaca
It’s the impact that the storms have on electricity that is stunning, both while the skies are thundering and for perhaps 12 hours after the last bolt of lightning has illuminated the cerros.
From May until well past summer’s end, Oaxaca can be subject to extreme weather patterns. While we’ve all experienced torrential downpours and damaging winds, here in southern Mexico the region’s utility delivery systems – which at the best of times have lacked quality control and are now (mostly) outdated – make for storms that affect most of us in ways we have seldom, if ever, experienced. Whether you’re at an internet café, in the comfort of your hotel room or home, on the road or in a restaurant, Oaxaca’s meteorological marvels will impact you in new and different ways.
Rain waters may wash out roadways in lower-lying areas, and as a result you may experience traffic delays. Road closures and virtually impassable conditions may dictate that you make alternate plans for or perhaps just delay a couple of days that anticipated trek up to the Sierra for a weekend ecotour. The sheer volume of precipitation flowing down steep inclines in a brief period of time coupled with the clogging effect of debris are contributing factors.
Depending on wind direction, occupants of homes, offices and retail establishments may find themselves mopping up. The use of weatherstripping is the exception rather than the norm. So be patient if the level of service you expect is not forthcoming when climatic conditions curtail the ability of your waiter or salesperson to attend to your needs. Oaxacans tend to “go with the flow,” after having endured months of draught and the resultant periodic shortages of water for daily predominantly commercial consumption, and challenges to maintaining crops and gardens. It’s part of the cyclical nature of life, and we quickly become stoic about tolerating and adapting to such temporary natural occurrences… even the minor earth tremors (something different to tell the folks back home).
But it’s the impact that the storms have on electricity that is stunning, both while the skies are thundering and for perhaps 12 hours after the last bolt of lightning has illuminated the cerros. One television may be out of commission while another in the same household may be working, but without sound. The computer may not come on after the fireworks have subsided, yet the lights are on. Some bulbs may be operating at full capacity, while others are not… they may function at a reduced candlelight level, or may simply flicker. One phone may work, another not. The refrigerator may be operating but not the microwave. Causes? For one, Oaxaca lacks a sophisticated regulatory framework that might otherwise control matters such as gauge of electrical wire and overloading of circuits. While ” obra suspendida” notices (stop work orders) are not uncommon, they result more from a failure to submit basic drawings to the authorities, than from the substance of the construction.
Your reward for tolerance and understanding is the knowledge that soon all will return to normal, and when you are able to get out on the road you may be blessed with a triple rainbow… it’s all part of the magic of Oaxaca. The city will appear fresh, ultra clean, and have a green tinge to it, many buildings having been constructed of pale green cantera stone mined from local quarries, the cantera taking on deeper tones after a rain. Oaxaca has been called the City of Jade because of this phenomenon.
Rains and their temporary effects on services ought not to put a damper on one’s Oaxacan travel plans for this time of year. The color of the hills and mountains changes from nondescript beige to brilliant green, the temperature range is pleasant at both extremes, and the fiestas are plentiful and filled with unmatched pageantry. Keep your vacation itinerary intact and you won’t be disappointed. For $1 you can always pick up a rain poncho on the street. Most of my pre-residency Oaxaca travel experiences were throughout the summer, and yet here I am, a Oaxacan looking forward to whatever comes my way.