I Moved To Oaxaca

Friday, October 24, 2003

I realize it's Friday afternoon, and that the last time I updated this was last Saturday; sorry. I just really don't like blogging at work, and now that I have a 8pm - 9pm class I don't go to the Internet cafe after work. But in any case ... what have I been up to?

First of all, Greg and I signed our contracts today -- our part-time contracts. Guess we'll stick with this for awhile!

Wednesday, I hung out with Timothy and Marcos while Marcos ran around downtown doing errands. Among the sights was an aisle off the Benito Juarez market where the vendors specialize in grilled lunches: you walk up, pick out your meat (chorizo, beef, pork, or colorado), they grill it and give you tortillas, then you garnish it with guacamole, salsas, pickled vegetables, and the like. Think I'll try that next week for lunch. We also visited a store that sells candles -- good to know what with Day of the Dead coming up and all -- and another that sells leather goods, including saddles if I were so inclined, boots, and Western wear. We went into a two-story candy store, too. I was hoping for some items to add to our evil-candy collection, but nah. Although I did see strawberry-flavored elote-shaped lollipops with a chili coating. And these cute-as-hell little party favors: clay pots decorated with paper to look like little piƱatas. They had Bob Esponja and Patrick the starfish, bats, clowns, and jack o'lanterns. Lastly, we went into a chocolate factory, which was right next door to another chocolate factory. The store, La Soledad, sold mezcal and tequila, moles, and chocolate. The chocolate, which is mixed with cinnamon, sugar, and almonds, you can buy pre-packaged in bars, or freshly ground and sold loose in plastic bags, or powdered -- you can even buy whole roasted cacao beans like Timothy did. I bought a box of the dark chocolate, and Marcos bought a bag of the loose stuff. But before we left he had Timothy and I sample some of the fresh-ground chocolate, pre-additives, as it was coming out of the molido. We each took a little plastic spoonful, like the spoons you taste ice cream with. Whoa! It felt like the top of my skull was floating about three inches above the rest of my head! And before the Europeans, that's how they used to eat the stuff. Intense. I don't think I'll do it again!

Oh, and I've updated the links on the left, too. "Los Gigantes" is the name of the rock band Greg and I decided to form in Oaxaca. Not that we play any instruments or sing, mind you. But still, everyone should have a rock band. And ours is Los Gigantes, the gigantics. And those are the songs we have so far. "This Is A Fucking Pen" is a cover of a Ikky Biskit song (that's Adam, one of our fellow teachers) and comes from teaching an older version of The Berlitz Method, where an early lesson consisted of holding up a pen (or other common object) and repeating ad naseum, "This is a pen. Is this a toaster? Is this a car? No. This is a pen," until the students were practically screaming, "Teacher, we know! It's a pen!"

Okay, so, what did we do last weekend? Surely we did something, right? Indeed we did. Nothing much on Saturday other than hang out and people-watch in the zocalo. But Sunday I was finally feeling up to doing something involving traveling further away from the apartment than a ten-minute walk. On Saturday, Manuel told us that the Tule tree town would host a leather-crafts festival Sunday, and not that we're big leather fans or anything, but it was a destination, so we drove out to Tule Town, about half an hour away. Lots of cars parked along the roads, so we found ourselves a spot and strolled around. I humbly apologize for my maligning words about the runtiness of the Tule tree in previous posts; when we were there before we saw the wrong tree! This time we saw The Real Deal, sitting in front of the very pretty little church dedicated to Santa Maria. It's not a particularly tall tree, but it is awfully big around. It is indeed A Big Tree and, I can believe, the biggest in Latin America.

The crafts fair was pretty much a bust for us, filled with styles and sizes of shoes, belts, and jackets neither to our taste or dimensions, so we wandered around town for a bit, then stopped to get lunch. The lunch spot we chose was a big warehouse filled with individual antojitos (finger foods) stalls: Antojitos 'Pati', Antojitos 'Carmen', Antijitos 'Anibel', etc. We picked one that had people at it and got a couple of flor de calabaza and queso quesadillas -- not quite as white as you might think! Quesadillas are very popular antojitos down here, though there's not a burrito place in sight. Very yummy quesadillas, too, with which we split a Fresca refresca (soda). I must say, Greg has gotten a lot more comfortable trying these random food places. He hardly ever winces or bats an eye now when I say, oh, let's try THAT! And after the quesadillas I said, oh, let's try THAT and headed over to the nieves stand. Nieves is sort of like gelato. They make 'em in all sort of fruit and vegetable flavors, though this stand was pretty firmly in the fruit camp. So I got one to split, half mamey and half tuna. Mamey is some mystery Mexican fruit we haven't seen yet, but often shows up as a nieve or refresca flavor. It's used as a color word, and whatever the fruit may look like, at least part of it is salmon-colored. It was an interesting flavor; not bad, though we both like tuna much better.

It was still pretty early, about 2pm, and we weren't ready to head back home. Without another destination we decided to do the Angeleno thing and just drive around. We went up Hwy 175, which we hadn't been on yet. For a major highway, 175 is awfully small: it's one lane each way, very twisty and curvy, with no lights, no shoulder, no cats-eyes, and plenty of potholes and ruts. Good thing we weren't in a hurry. The road was pretty empty, and quickly climbed up into the mountains. I was driving so Greg took in the vistas. At almost the crest of the mountains we passed a hand-lettered sign hanging from a tree: Hoy! Barbacoa Conejo! Ooh, rabbit barbeque. Well, not exactly barbeque. As Gilberto, our Spanish teacher explained it, barbacoa sounds a lot like luau, or meat cooked underground. Mmm. We went on though, up to the crest, through some little villages, tooled along for awhile, then turned around and headed for barbacoa. Poor Greg: gelato made from hopefully clean water and fruit, and roadside barbacoa, all in one day. Yeah, let's try THAT!

So we pulled off the road onto a pullout in front of the plank-and-blue-tarp shack and wandered over. There was one other customer just finishing her meal, and a woman buying some of the produce also sold at the shack. One of the two women running the place motioned us to sit down and tried talking to us. We were all game, so we carried on a conversation even though our Spanish stinks and she spoke no English.

It's pretty cold up in the mountains, so when she asked us if we wanted some atole we were only too happy to say yes. She served it (it's a boiled corn drink) in painted gourd bowls, traditional-style. Oh, and it was good. She had sugar on the table so we could sweeten it to our taste, and while we sipped the atole (not the atole colorado served in Benito Juarez, fortunately), she asked us a question that we just could not understand. At all. Finally, she fished a piece of meat out of this big metal pot and said, "Piernas" or something like that. Ah, leg, shoulder, or back? We both chose legs. So it wasn't as tender as I would expect luau-style meat to be, but it had a -- guess what? -- chili rub, and was good if a little tough. And she served it with white bread and these crispy tortillas, hot red salsa, and a bowl of Oaxaca-style refried black beans: soupy and cooked with bits of epazote, a local herb. Yummy.

So we ate our barbacoa and beans, had a second bowl of atole, chatted with the proprietors, and wondered if it was really rabbit or came from one of the several stuffed foxes and squirrels decorating the shack. Too big for squirrel and too small for fox. Then we asked if we could give the bones to this dog that was hanging around. I'm not sure if it was a stray or a pet. But she said sure, even seemed a little amused that we'd think of the dog, and called it over. The dog took the bones in what I want to say was a sullen or hang-dog manner (sorry), then walked away. Guess he wasn't used to it, either.


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