I Moved To Oaxaca

Monday, September 15, 2003

Hey, it's Monday. Where have I been?

Wednesday. The plan was to go to Immigration with Adam ... but we weren't yet ready. Postponed until next Wednesday. Bummer.

Thursday. After work we found a note from our neighbor Oscar saying to come meet him at the zocalo for a beer. While we sipped our bebidas and chatted, people who look like they came in from the surrounding areas were busy staking out booth space. It looked like they were prepared to sleep there, too, to keep it. Even in the drizzle. Lights are up and it looks like things will be hopping down here through the upcoming holiday. Street Food Update: afterwards, we wandered south of the zocalo looking for something to eat. We stopped at a busy fonda and got tlayudas, big tostada-like creations the size of a dinner plate. These had black beans, meat (we chose carne asada), aguacate, Oaxaca cheese, a muy picante salsa, and shredded cabbage. Yummy.

Friday. That morning at school Andrea mentioned that the arthouse cinema was showing "Rear Window" that evening. When we got home from school, Oscar, Greg, and I went over for the 8pm show (Marlys met us there). We met Andrea and her son Tilman coming out of the 6pm show. The cinema is free -- donation requested but not mandatory -- there is no concession stand and the movie is projected onto the wall. I've got their schedule as published in the English-language Oaxaca Times newspaper: they show movies in their original language with Spanish subtitles. This month they're playing movies from the US, Spain, Japan, Mexico, and France. Each movie only plays one night.

Wow! The zocalo is humming with activity: in addition to the usual considerable hub-bub of sidewalk cafes and vendors (most notably the aero-globo vendadores) the streets are now packed with tianguis booths selling all sorts of crafts, music cds, dvds, food ... and kiddie rides. Just like San Gabriel's fiesta days when I was a kid. Marlys, another neighbor, came down directly from work and met us, too. We were pestered -- that's a bit strong, really -- by little kids selling bracelets, rebozos, etc., while we sat and had our beers (Greg and I have come to like sueros). I got a woven bracelet. This one girl tried really hard to get Oscar to buy a bracelet, and when he wouldn't, said "Look over there!" When he did, she smashed a hollowed-out chicken egg filled with confetti on the back of his head! Pretty funny. We all had confetti in our hair and clothes, as we'd bought some earlier and smashed them over each other.

After the beers Oscar and I went to ride the mini-roller coaster in front of our cafe. A thing about this fiesta: while we were walking around, we almost had our heads taken off by a low-flying ride. No barriers or anything to keep us back; this is Mexico! So the red-and-gold dragon roller coaster track was propped up on bricks. Greg and Marlys didn't want to ride it, but Greg paid for about six of those little vendor kids to ride. It was good to hear their squeals of delight. It was a fun ride, and I've got the bruises to prove it. And it went on forever and ever -- partly because the two young guys running the ride decided to ride on it and showboat for the gringa, me. More squeals when I told them I was from California.

Along with the kiddie rides the fiesta has several games of chance, mostly for the smaller set -- and with pretty crappy prizes, if you ask me. One, a shooting gallery, has no prizes: if you accrue a certain number of points, then the figurines in various dioramas dance around while music plays and lights flash. Big whoop. But when we took a closer look at the dioramas, we saw that some of them look like regular ol' marionettes dressed up as rock stars and cowboys ... but apparently they ran out of the regular kind, because about half of the dioramas are populated with Ken and GI Joe dolls. They, too, are dressed up as rock stars and cowboys.

We snacked on pancakes with jam and jimmies (Greg and I) and bimbo dogs (Marlys and Oscar). While they look good, all dressed up with Mexican condiments, the hot dog part of a bimbo dog looks repulsive: it is bright pink. Not a good color for meat.

Saturday. After class we hustled home because we had a Plan: Greg, Oscar, Claire (a woman Oscar digs; she works at another school in town, Harmon Hall), and I each grabbed our mochilas (backpacks) and the guidebook, and got into Little Jumbo. Road Trip!

We drove out of town on Hwy 190, not too far, maybe 30 minutes to the turnoff for Teotitlan del Valle, a little village famous for its tapetas, or rugs. But we weren't going for the rugs. We drove through the village, which is just off the main highway maybe 2 or 3 miles, until we hit dirt road. Then we kept going, past the last of the houses, past the little dam and lake, and up, up, up into the mountains. We went for about 12, 15 miles on the dirt road -- oh, so much fun to drive! I had a blast. We past a herd of goats and Oscar got out to chat with their owner. Then up, up, and up to the top of the mountain, about 9,500 feet, to the little village of Benito Juarez. The guidebook says population 1,000. Oscar had called the tourist board the day before to see if there was space in the village's tourist yu'u (I think that's the Zapotec word for hostel, which is what a yu'u is), but it was fully booked, but she said if we came up we could ask around and most likely find someone with a room or cabana we could rent for the night. Okay! We parked the car and Oscar went in to ask about accomodations. From where we were in the center of the village we could see: the tourist building, the lone comedor, the bus stop (I am amazed that buses get up that dirt road), the fleet of mountain bikes that the tourist concern rents, and a little empty-looking miscelanea. Oscar came out and said someone had a cabana they'd rent, but it wasn't ready for us to see yet. So we decided to go up the last mile and a half to the mirador, or lookout, above town. Greg took the car, I took the umbrella and started walking up the road. Claire and Oscar also decided to walk but, being smokers, we didn't walk together very long before I left them huffing and puffing behind me.

It felt so good to be out and walking for a change, in the cool, clean mountain air. I could hardly see any vistas because the clouds moved in and it started raining lightly, but everything was so green and ... quiet ... that I didn't care that I couldn't see or that I was getting wet. I had on my cotton capris and hiking sandals, and my long-sleeved wool shirt over my t-shirt, so I was fine. Up, up, up, past plants both familiar and new. I recognized agaves, penstemons (orange and red), lupines, a tree that looked an awful lot like a buckeye, and others. Pretty soon I was looking down on Benito Juarez. I passed a man bringing his oxen down the road, and a family waiting out the rain in the cab of their truck, and an old woman with a bucket. She stopped to talk to me (in Spanish), asking me if I was walking up to el mirador. She seemed pleased that I was walking and not driving. She asked about the car, and I explained that that was my husband, that we were from California, and had been in Oaxaca two months. She shook my hand and continued down the road.

When I got to the top Greg was there with two strangers, a man and a woman from Paris who he'd given a ride to -- they had been huddling under a rock to avoid the rain. Together we all scrambled the last hundred yards to the top, to see a stunning view of ... clouds ... along with a fire-tower and a disused yu'u. We hung out for about half an hour or so, watching the clouds and listening to the thunder, and watching the hummingbirds. As they drove back down (I walked again, this time with Xavier and Marie for company) they met Claire and Oscar coming up, with Oscar singing opera in the rain. Appropriate somehow. Greg made up a poem on the spot about the mountains rejoicing to hear song again after 500 years of silence.

When we were all together again, we went into the comedor and had dinner, a choice of trout either steamed in paper or fried. We all chose steamed, and while the paper turned out to be tin foil, it was one of the best trouts I've ever eaten. These little truchas were about 10 inches long, and were steamed intact, with sliced tomatoes and onions and some leafy herb stuffed into the body cavity. Truchas, ensalada of lettuce, aguacate, tomatoes, and lime, and beers, with fresh apples for dessert. Perfect.

Then a young man of the village got in the car with us to show us where the cabana was, way down another dirt road. I felt a little bad that he'd have to walk the mile back up the hill to the village, but maybe he lived there and we gave him a lift. I don't know. In any case, our cabana was three rooms and a bathroom whose toilet had no seat. No kitchen or heat source. Tin roof. I like the sound of rain on a tin roof. We all huddled under blankets -- remember, we're at 9,500 feet -- and chatted. Claire asked Greg what a role-playing game was, and instead of defining it he said, I'll show you, and we ended up playing a scenario he made up on the spot. Lots of fun and a good way to pass the time. Better than the deck of cards I brought!

We went to sleep about 11:30. Now, in Oaxaca we sleep nekkid, with part of a sheet over us and sometimes the fan. Here, we slept in clothes -- fleece jammie pants, socks, and a t-shirt for Greg, socks I borrowed from Greg, a t-shirt and my wool shirt for me -- and under the two blankets on one bed AND the two we took from the extra bed! I used my fleece vest to cushion my pillow. All the pillows were pillowcases stuffed with rags. I think they weighed about 10 pounds each! And the mattress had metal springs inside; I know because when I made a "mmm" sound the springs vibrated. But, we slept well. It rained all night. It was still raining when we drove up the hill to get breakfast, so we decided to go down the mountain somewhere else instead of going back up to the mirador or to the cascada or another village up high.

We drove another dirt road down to the highway for a loop trip. On the way we passed a woman and her daughter hitchhiking and gave them a lift. At Oscar's prompting she sang a beautiful local song. She and I were both surprised that we were the same age. Country life is hard on a person, that's for sure. We dropped her off at the busstop down in another village, and continued on to see the Sunday market in Tlacolula, said to be a big one. It was! Everything from cds and batteries and plastic kitchenware to pottery and wooden kitchen implements (I finally got a chocolate stirrer, a molida? not sure of the name, but it is the best tool for making hot chocolate.) and clothing both city and country style, live animals, farm implements, tack for horses, oxen, and burros, etc. Greg and I also picked up a couple of excellent rattles. Good sound, good carvings on the gourds. Can't wait to try 'em out in a sweat. Great market fun, though a pack of about five or six thieves was working the market, cramming down an aisle in a pack and, in the resulting press of bodies, going for wallets, purses, etc. Oscar's quick thinking and hands kept his wallet where it belongs. We left, got lunch at Teotitlan, and started the drive back into Oaxaca. On the way we came across some stopped traffic. Usually it's because there's a speed bump, or tope, which in Mexico are killer high and usually unmarked in any manner but this time it was a dog. One of Mexico's pathetic street dogs had tried to get a meal out of a plastic jar and gotten his head stuck in it, and was in the road, trying to shake it off. I pulled over and walked across the highway toward the dog, which was now standing in the middle of the road. But as soon as it saw me approaching, it took off like a shot down the road, because why would anyone want to get close to it except to hit or kick it? A hugely sad event for me, to see the doomed dog running away.

It rained all day yesterday, all last night, and it is still raining now. The highway was partially flooded from all the rain as we drove into town, so it was slow going. Pretty different from the polite afternoon/evening rains we've only experienced since we've been here. Really glad Little Jumbo has AWD.


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