April 27, 2006--One day in February, Oaxacan Celestino Bautizo Lazo cycled down a mountainside with me. We wooped, shouted, and cawcawed seven miles down the dusty mountain road that starts in the most beautiful place on earth, Benito Juarez, to his village, Teotitlan del Valle. I was on a rented bike, he on an old steel Mexican version of a 1950's pre-Target bike. We rode until his 5,000 pound (slight exaggeration) rusty lunker with broken hubs, and broken rims, literally broke in two. It was his first day on a bike, and his first experience riding with a crazy New Yorker. Formerly training tobe a priest, that day breathing heavily and with a huge smile on his face from the excitement and relief that he didn't plunge 7,000 feet down the side of the mountain when his bike broke, Celestino saw the light and caught the cycling bug.
But things are expensive in Mexico, and his family struggles to make a living. So he is seeking donations to buy a bike in Mexico, which costs about $400. Here is his text, barely edited by me, an indication of how smart and how driven Celestino (on the right in dark blue),who is studying accounting, and his brother Samuel (on the left),who is studying engineering, really are. The two brothers speak Spanish, Zapoteca, their original Zapotec Indian language, and English. They also help in the family business, and are fully automated with dial-up Internet from their half-outdoor kitchen, and wield a sharp humour you would hardly suspect coming from two boys brought up in the wilds of Oaxacan countryside. Here is Celestino's story told in his own words:
Hello, my name is Celestino Bautista Lazo, I'm 19 years old and Iive in Teotitlan del Valle in the state of Oaxaca-Mexico, I’m studying for my bachelor's degree in accounting at the Autonomous Benito Juarez of Oaxaca University.
My family and I make and sell rugs to make a living. I ride the bus to and from Oaxaca city to go to school every day, but many times it never comes or comes too late so I have to look for a taxi.
That usually doesn't work in the morning and is very expensive. But now I discovered that there is a trail between the neighboring towns to get to Oaxaca City approximately in one hour by bicycle, about the same time that it takes by bus. I'm very interested in biking, because I will be able to get some exercise. Between my studies and my job at home, I don’t get much. Besides, I can help the environment with my bike because one more bike is one less car and one less car is less pollution, and I would like to race in the future especially on a mountain bike because around where I live there a lot of mountains.
But I only have one problem, the most important -I DON'T HAVE A BICYCLE (mountain bike). The family business is not going very well due to the competition that exists in this handcrafts business, I don't have enough resources to buy one. That’s the reason why I'm writing this to explain my problem and to ask for help to buy a bicycle to do this trip.
(Photo above right of brother Samuel and father Mario holding rug they made to order called Tree of Life made only from natural dyes).
And if you come to Oaxaca I can show to you some special places where you can ride your bike (guide you). And I invite you to visit my workshop to see every thing that we do here , the weaving process and the natural dyes that we use to get the colors, and you can learn more about our culture.
Thanks for your help,
Celestino Bautizo Lazo.
A suggested donation of $10 would be great: then all Celestino would need is 40 people , like you, who care that he is riding. Please make checks payable to: Jennifer Benepe, with "Celestino Bautizo Lazo" in subject line, to the following address: Celestino Lazo Bike Fund, Care of Jen Benepe, 2157 Center Ave., Suite One, Fort Lee, NJ, 07024. This will avoid the difficult process you would have to go through to send the check directly, which requires an extra payment (Mexicans cannot accept U.S. checks). If instead you have a bike we can send, we may be able to arrange for it to be brought into the country (importation is very difficult).
Now for some reality check: the mountain biking near Celestino and his family is absolutely incredible. Benito Juarez is noted to have more unique species of plants than anywhere else in the world. The climb from Celestino's town to Benito Juarez winds past pastures, a lake, and a steadily increasing, breathtaking view of the valley below. Ten miles later you will reach the top. Even in a car it seems to take hours. The higher you get, the cooler it becomes, until you are virtually surrounded by a soft mist, and the swish sound of wiind whistling through the fir trees.
(Picture at left depicts lake close to Teotitlan del Valle, on the way up to Benito Juarez. According to local lore, anyone who bathes there never makes it out.)
If the family likes you, they'll invite you to stay at their place for far less than the hotels charge in Oaxaca City, some 20 miles away. If you're really nice, they'll feed you real Zapoteca homemade food too. His mother Leonor, father Mario, and brother Samuel are hysterically funny, and always smiling and laughing. They work their butts off trying to make a living selling rugs, which you can also get from them at good prices. You can also have one made for you to your order, which I did. (See photo above). For more information and to confirm that I am not putting your money in my own pocket, email Celestino at: email@example.com