Pinotepa Nacional (pop. 50,000, 90 miles/145 km west of Puerto Escondido, 157 miles/253 km east of Acapulco) and its neighboring communities comprise the hub of an important coastal indigenous region. Mixtec, Amusgo, Chatino, and other peoples stream into town for markets and fiestas in their traditional dress, ready to combine business with pleasure. They sell their produce and crafts—pottery, masks, handmade clothes—at the market, then later get tipsy, flirt, and dance.
So many people asked the meaning of their city’s name that the town fathers wrote the explanation on a wall next to Highway 200 on the west side of town. Pinotepa comes from the Aztec-language words pinolli (crumbling) and tepetl (mountain)—thus “Crumbling Mountain.” The second part of the name came about because, during colonial times, the town was called Pinotepa Real (Royal). This wouldn’t do after independence, so the name became Pinotepa Nacional, reflecting the national consciousness that emerged during the 1810–1821 struggle for independence.
The Mixtecs, the dominant regional group, disagree with all this, however. To them, Pinotepa has always been Ñií Yo-oko (Little Place). Only within the town limits do the Mexicans (mestizos), who own most of the town businesses, outnumber the Mixtecs. The farther from town you get, the more likely you are to hear people conversing in the Mixtec language, a complex tongue that uses a number of subtle tones to make meanings clear.
By Car or RV: Highway 200 connects west to Acapulco (160 miles/258 km) in an easy 4.5 hours’ driving time. The 89-mile (143-km) eastward connection with Puerto Escondido can be done safely in about 2.5 hours. Additionally, the long 239-mile (385-km) Highway 125–Highway 190 route connects Pinotepa Nacional to Oaxaca City, via Putla de Guerrero and Tlaxiaco (136 miles/219 km). Although winding most of the way and potholed at times, the road is generally uncongested. It’s safely driveable in a passenger car with caution. Nearing Oaxaca City, at Nochixtlán, exit Hwy. 190 and follow the cuota autopista, toll expressway. Allow about eight hours (under dry conditions) at the wheel, and seven hours in the reverse, downhill, direction from Oaxaca City.
By bus: From the new Camionera Central (Central Bus Station), about half a mile west of downtown, several long-distance bus lines connect Pinotepa Nacional with destinations north, northwest, east, and west. Dominant line Estrella Blanca (tel. 954/543-3194), via subsidiaries Turistar, Elite, Futura, Gacela, and Flecha Roja, offers several daily first- and second-class buses passing through): west to Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Lázaro Cárdenas, and Mexico City; and east to Puerto Escondido, Pochutla (Puerto Ángel), Bahías de Huatulco, and Salina Cruz.
Other independent, mostly second-class lines also operate out of the same terminal: Fletes y Pasajes (tel. 954/543-6016); Estrella del Valle (tel. 954/543-5476); and Estrella Roja del Sureste (tel. 954/543-6017).
A welter of local buses connect with dozens of nearby towns and villages, from a streetside terminal downtown, north side of Aguirre Palancares, half a block north and half a block east of the plaza churchfront. Destinations include Jamiltepec, Huazolotitlán, Pinotepa Don Luis, San Juan Colorado, Cacahuatepec, San Pedro Amusgos, and many more.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition