I Moved To Oaxaca

Monday, August 30, 2004

I'm surprised to hear myself say this, but I'm glad there's a teacher development session at school tomorrow, because after two road trips in two days, I'm a little tired.

Yeah, with a free day ahead of me I decided to scrutinize my map and go somewhere solo (G had class in the morning). I decided to look for the mystery ruins listed on only one of my three maps, and not mentioned in any of my books: Danguilac, apparently next to the pueblicito of San Juan del Rio. (It's in the top middle third of the map on the left-hand edge.) I know it doesn't look like much, but that's ten miles of dirt road. So take a look at Soledad Agua Blanca, or San Juan Lechixtla, in the middle of the map and on very tiny roads, and imagine what it must be like to get there. Not possible by car, I'm sure!

So in yesterday's blog of my Sunday Drive, where we ended up in Yucunama and it was like a ghost town it was so quiet, that was only three miles or so up a graded gravel and dirt road. San Juan del Rio, like I said, is ten miles up and has no big town anywhere close on the paved road. Except for the stray satellite dish peeking out every so often behind a plank or cane house, it was like going back in time. Especially when I got to San Juan and ... once when I was visiting my friend Dale at his house in Elgin, Ill., he took me out for a ride on his Harley, and in the course of driving around we ended up in the middle of some little town's 4th of July parade, waving at the people lining Main St. Pulling into San Juan was kind of like that, in that everyone stared at the site of a strange car (very, very few cars in evidence), driven by a red-headed guera. Oh, people were really friendly, returning every smile and wave with an equally enthusiastic one of their own. But they were plainly shocked to see me. And nobody was speaking Spanish except when talking to me -- they were all speaking (I think) Zapotec.

I ended up giving a couple of campesinos a ride into town, then chatting with the municipal secretary and his amigos at the presidencia. The ruins are just outside of town, and now I have the town phone number to arrange for a guide when I return. And they were very curious about my tattoos, too.

And I will go back! G has GOT to see this.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Sunday roadtrip. Again. I'm getting so predictable. And I even went back into the Mixteca, just like last Sunday.

G-man and I decided independently that we should try to find the ruins in Yucuita, which we had failed to find on our first visit. Driving there today, I don't know what we were on last time that we missed them -- they're right on the road. Though probably a year's worth of experience picking this shit out of the landscape helps, too. Our guidebook says there's a community museum in town, so we headed there first. It was closed. Not unusual. So we start asking around to see if someone can open it up for us, but apparently the guy with the key was down in Oax-town. We wandered around the little plaza for awhile, taking photos of the carved stones scattered about, and the presidencia municipal with its Quetzalcoatl-head downspouts and chatting to a local who'd lived in LA as a child. His English had an Angeleno accent, too! Then back down the road to the ruins.

I'd read this in the guidebook, too, but had forgotten, that you can either walk up the small rise to the ruins, go up the stairs, or crawl through a stone tunnel. So of course we went for the tunnel. It reminded me a lot of the water tunnel in Grand, only this water tunnel -- smaller versions were everywhere -- was dry. No scorpions, no snakes, but Greg rousted a very surprised bat from its nap. It bumped into G's shoulder, then my shins before grabbing onto the wall and staring at us. I'm surprised I didn't deafen G with my squeal.

But aside from the fun tunnel and some stairs and retaining walls, there wasn't much to see at Yucuita other than piles of unreconstructed buildings, pottery sherds, and cornfields. So we walked down the stairs to the car and headed to our second stop, the community museum in Yucunama.

Back to the guidebook again, which says that Yucunama's musuem has a 14th-century bark-paper document detailing tribute payments. And while there are doubtless ruins about, they aren't excavated or open to the public. So we drive up to the Hwy 190/Hwy 125 split and take the gravel road up the hill. A couple of miles later we're in Yucunama, a cute little town. And a very, very quiet little town. No car noise (other than us), no pedestrians, nothing. As quiet as a ghost town. We drive to the plaza and park, then wander around. Not unexpectedly, the community museum is closed. Somewhat unexpectedly, the one abarrotes, the one miscelanea, and the one cafe in town are also closed, and we're pretty hungry and thirsty at this point as Yucuita had nothing in the way of refreshments.

So we're wondering what to do while G starts to bonk, when we see a woman walking by the church. I ask her, The museum's closed; who has the key? She says, Two blocks down is La Unica (the little abarrotes), ask in there. Thanks, I say, and walk to the store. It was closed, just like 10 minutes before when I'd driven past. I saw a gaggle of small kids eyeing me, and I asked them about the key to the museum, and they said I needed to find Don Antonio, and pointed to the open gate to the house next to the abarrotes. I could hear a woman in the little outdoor kitchen making tortillas, so I knock and say Disculpe! and out she comes to open the store. Inside is a woman who, when I explain why I'm there (like there's any other reason), she agreed that Don Antonio was the guy with the key, and that I should go back up to the cafe and knock and ask for Don Antonio there. I bought a coke and a bag of peanuts for G -- both doctor-forbidden foods, but my choices were limited as I didn't think he'd much care for the Bimbo snack cakes also for sale -- and headed back up the hill. We knocked, and an old man came out and introduced himself as Don Antonio.

He took us inside the musuem and explained the exhibits to Greg, who tried to catch as much as he could, while I wandered around the dusty single-room museum taking photos. They had fossils, a collection of smashed brass musical instruments, two early 20th-century typewriters, a diorama of traditional Mixtec life in the pueblo, and a collection of artifacts from the Pre- to Postclassic. A full skeleton. Murals on the wall depicting Mixtec legends and writing. Pretty darn interesting, really. I think we were in there a little over an hour!

Near the end of our visit, while I was perusing the museum's register (the entry before ours was August 1), a family came in. The woman seemed to know Don Antonio (which we later confirmed; she'd been a student of his) and when Don Antonio asked everyone if they wanted lunch, we all said yes and headed across the plaza.

I don't know if the woman's husband got spooked or what, but they ended up leaving before lunch, while Don Antonio was bustling about in the kitchen of his little cafe. The walls were crammed with knick-knacks, so we had plenty to look at while we waited. He brought us a pitcher of agua de tuna, one of my favorites, then brought us a bowl of squash-flower-and-cheese empanadas. I thought, well, he'll probably bring us a bowl of stew or soup next, and after our little lunch we can be on our way to the community museum in nearby Teposcolula. But he didn't bring out stew or soup, he brought out a big bowl of spagetti. Then a bowl of nopal (cactus pads). Then a bowl of squash. Then a bowl of chicken in vegetables. Then big handmade tortillas. Oh my lord! Four or five people could've had a big lunch with the food piled on that table. We ate til stuffed, and chatted with Don Antonio while he ate lunch with us. He asked us if we wanted dessert or coffee, and G groaned and said, Oh no, please no. But I said, Sure! I have such a sweet tooth. And so he disappeared into the kitchen and came back with little plates of ... something green. Que es esto? I asked, What is this? He said it was a Prehispanic sweet, made with maguey hearts (where the sugar is) and a local herb. It was ... it was strangely good. Yummy in its own way, though fibrous and slightly fermented. As we ate we talked about the traditional medicine that is still a part of many pueblos, and about the ruins near Teposcolula. Don Antonio knew Ron Spores, the archeologist who got Tony, the guy we drove to Pueblo Viejo with months and months ago, to come to Oaxaca, and from whom we haven't heard from since. But Don Antonio said Spores is working the site. I hope so, as I'd like to see it restored, and to see what they find there.
But we finally finished the meal, and started winding down the conversation. We waddled up to the car after giving our thanks and saying goodbye, then drove out the dirt road toward Teposcolula, but we ended up passing it by. We were completely full with good food, a good musuem visit, and as much Spanish conversation as our brains could hold, and we didn't want to pollute it with another experience. Some other time.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Another roadtrip? Yes indeedy. This month our school schedule gives us both Tuesdays and Thursdays off and I'm sure it won't last so I want to take advantage of it while I can. So after this morning's tea we headed out to Huajuapan to see Cerro de las Minas, an early Urban Mixtec site. If that means anything to you.

The ruins were ruinful; the little community museum cute as a button. It's housed in a new building with a lot of fun details and well-displayed artifacts and documentation on the revolution and traditional life in the area. For instance, the signs for the different rooms (administration, the bathrooms, the main exhibit hall) have signs in both Spanish and Mixtec, illustrated with evocative Mixtec glyphs -- like a seated man pointing used on the men's room sign. Or footprints on the ceiling, looking like the walking glyphs in Mixtec and Mayan. Well worth the 5 pesos admission price.

In all, we were in Huajuapan about three hours. It took us five hours to drive there and back, and that was partly on the cuota, or toll, road. The toll roads are expensive -- today's jaunt cost us $112 in tolls -- but can really be worth it, because I still have trouble driving on the shoulder down here. Why would I do that, you might ask. Other than the cuota, which is in a class by itself as far as Mexican roads go, the roads, primary and secondary, are one lane in each direction. A center line, yes, but no passing lanes, reflectors, lights, guardrails. There are some exceptions, of course, but most often it's exactly like driving on Grizzly Peak Rd, except I don't expect to encounter livestock on Grizzly Peak.

So because it's one lane, there is often a half-lane shoulder used as ... well, lots of things. As a breakdown lane, as a place to park (!), a place to walk or ride your bike or wait for the bus or herd your livestock along. And as a passing lane: when you want to let someone pass you, you pull onto the shoulder as far as you can and the car or bus or truck goes around you. But since it's half a lane, the passer usually ends up with a good part of their vehicle in the oncoming lane. And people will pass anywhere here, double-yellow lines, curves, hills, no problem. If I see a truck up ahead coming toward me, I watch for people trying to pass the truck so I can get out of the way and avoid a head-on collision. A lot of people just drive on the shoulder all the time to stay out of the way of passing vehicles, but like I said, it gets pretty crowded not to mention times when chunks of pavement are missing. Keeps the drive interesting, to say the least.

But if you pay the big bucks you get to drive on the cuota, with two lanes each direction, sometimes a divided highway, a shoulder, safety features. Pretty cush. Although about half the time I drive on the cuota in Oaxaca I end up either slowing waaay down or stopping for animals on the highway. Still, better than a head-on with a bus, right?

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

San Jose Mogote, Take Two!

No school today, so I woke up determined to find the elusive San Jose Mogote ruins we missed during Sunday's excursion. I checked both my paper maps of the state, but neither listed a San Jose, San Jose Mogote, or a Mogote anywhere near Oax-town. Although one map did have the pyramid symbol floating between a couple of town names, which was intriguing but ultimately unhelpful. So after dropping by the post office we strolled over to the Tourist Office to ask them about San Jose Mogote. It's on their tourist map, and with some directions from the information officer, we felt like we had a chance to find it.

(For those of you with the Moon Handbooks: Oaxaca guide, you head north out of town on the free (libre) road, and turn left on the road to Nazareno -- signed, and the first possible left after the El Padrigal baleanarios. About a third of a mile later, you turn left at the bus stop shelter with the big Community Museum sign, and by that time you'll see the ruins on your left.)

We could see a crew working on some of the ruins as we drove into the center of San Jose Mogote, a tiny, tiny pueblito: the bus stop, one street, and the museum. Cement block and adobe brick houses for the most part; a couple of wood or carrizo. They don't even have their own church; it's a pretty little blue-and-white building up the road in Guadalupe.

We walked up to the museum and waited while the municipal president's wife went and got her son to open up the museum for us, and while we waited we chatted with a backpacker also waiting out front. Damian from Austin had just seen the museum and was fixin' to catch a bus back to Oax-town, but hung out when we offered him a ride back after our visit. It's a nice little museum, with a section on the finds at the site -- Olmec-influenced pottery figures, Cosijo urns, some carved stones, a pair of anthropomorphic jade figures, and a big cinnabar-colored brazier that looks awfully devilish. The second part of the museum details hacienda life in San Jose during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Then scooped up Damian and walked behind the school to an excavated pyramid. As usual, pottery sherds were everywhere underfoot. The pyramid didn't have any of the carved stones that make other pyramids so impressive, but the view from the top was lovely (and I remembered my hat this time), and the architecture was interesting: big fatty boulders on the bottom of the structures, and a modified talud and tablero (it looked to me) building style. No scapula, no jaguar mouths or milky way representations, but a couple of cool narrow stairways to the right of the main stairs. Lots of pretty flowers -- and people's houses. The site is smack-dab in the middle of the pueblito, so people's houses are on top of mounds and right next to the excavated pyramid. It was a bit like taking a tour through people's backyards.

We then walked toward the bus stop to get a look at the ballcourt. Turns out that's what the crew was working on, though they're still on the structures fronting the court itself, which was just an I-shaped mound of plant-covered dirt. The more of these we see, though, the easier it is to imagine what it looks like underneath.

But that was the whole site; maybe we were there an hour, including the museum visit. And Greg got to stuff Damian with as much pre-Hispanic history as he cared to hear. So we drove out the roundabout way, seeing the little blue-and-white church and grabbing some soda and water, then hit the highway. Ooh! Pollo asado! So we pulled over and got a grilled chicken and tortillas lunch and chatted with Damian, who spent a couple of years in Africa in the Peace Corps, and is on his last day of a two week vacation to Oaxaca. Very enjoyable. We drove him back to the Centro and said goodbye, then ducked into Moderate Shangri-la just in time to see Ana Guevara's 400-meter race -- and Mexico's only hope for a medal these games. She came in second, so everyone will have to settle for a silver medal, but still, better than nothing. And now we're here at the internet cafe, and we have the whole afternoon and evening ahead of us for mischief-making.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

It's Sunday, and you know what that means: roadtrip!

We decided San Jose Mogote was a worthy destination, as it's an important Pre-classic site, and less than 10 miles from Moderate Shangri-la. So we grabbed the guidebook, the road atlas, and our book on Mexican archeology and zoomed off.

Now, our guidebook, while sometimes overly florid or just plain out-of-date, is usually pretty accurate with directions. But this time we just could not find San Jose Mogote: no roadsigns, no tell-tale ruins, no village of San Jose even. And of course it's not listed in the road atlas. We ended up cruising through suburban Oax-town on a combination of paved and dirt roads before being thwarted in our search by some rough patches of road requiring high-clearance 4WD. Or burro. Without either, we changed plans and headed south to Lambityeco, another set of ruins we haven't yet seen.

There's not a whole lot at Lambityeco, so it only took us about 20 minutes to explore, if climbing a small pyramid and circumnavigating the off-limits tomb complex can be called explore. As it made for a short day of sight-seeing we stopped in San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya -- you see why sometimes my brain hurts -- to see their supposedly lovely 16th-century church. Only we stopped by during siesta time, and it was closed. On a Sunday!

We did, however, manage to find a really good chicken place over on the Atoyac frontage road, near the turn for Atzompa. So it wasn't a waste. The plan now is to go to the tourist office in town and ask them how the heck to get to San Jose Mogote, via car or bus, not by burro. Tuesday, I think, I'll try it again.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Basketball powerhouse Puerto Rico beat the U.S. mens basketball team. And now Lithuania. Just keep drafting 'em out of high school, boys!

In Moderate Shangri-la-related news ... we are no longer sleeping on the floor or eating off plastic chairs. Yes, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and I don't just mean the seasonal merchandise crowding the aisles in Sam's Club. Yesterday G and I went to the Abastos to get us some furniture. The abastos, always an adventure! The big day is supposedly Saturday, but Friday was awfully busy, too. We worked our way down Taxi Street to the entrance to the furniture section, and started browsing. Except for the plastic housewares and plastic tarps, it's an all-around third-world experience: men and women sitting on the ground with their produce, piles of it; mounds of pottery, including huge green-glazed bowls for tejate; live animals like turkeys and chickens, and pieces of animals hanging up for sale, along with that ripe odor. A hoot, in other words!

We stopped at a booth with a couple of pieces that caught our eye; the proprietor was ready, or at least knows his gringos. Instead of starting with his optimal price and haggling down, he gave us a price, then immediately said a second, discount, price. We looked, we asked, we hemmed and hawed (me, mostly -- I got to play Bad Cop, because everybody in Oaxaca knows the women hold the purse strings), got a little more of a discount, then arranged for a truck to haul our pickings home: two dressers, a desk, a bookcase, another bookcase to use in the kitchen, and a bed with drawers underneath. Six pieces of furniture, USD$320. Another $8 for the truck and the guy to help me unload everything.

That only left the matter of a stove -- which we were still without. Damn! It's been a week of Juan Carlos saying, yes, it's coming, my amigo is bringing it, and so on. So yesterday, when we realized 1)no stove forthcoming as of Friday evening, and 2)an early-morning wake-up Saturday without the prospect of a hot beverage to send us on our way, G told Juan Carlos, in his best pidgin Spanish, Look, if your friend doesn't bring that stove by the time we're home from school tomorrow, we will go out and buy our own, then take the money we gave you for the stove off the rent.

Now, Juan Carlos caught a raft of shit from his wife last month when he borrowed, in small amounts during the month, the entire rent. And he's getting close to it again this month. So I don't know whether it was fear of his wife's rage or what, but hey! we now have an estufa. We're eating at home tonight!

Thursday, August 19, 2004

My friend's new car was stolen off the streets of San Francisco, so he and his girlfriend went out and stole it back. Really.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

As of yesterday we again have hot water for the shower, and Juan Carlos says that sometime today we should have an estufa, too, which is good because I am out of denatured alcohol for my backpacking stove and haven't been able to make hot water for tea for coffee since Saturday. An estufa, for the folks playing at home, is just the stove top, the burners. No oven. I just don't feel right buying a whole stove/oven combo if we're not staying here, and since everything is up in the air ... the estufa will do for now.

Took G to the hospital Monday morning* to get some medication. He's now up and about, though still woozy with infection. But he's on the mend.

Time's up!

*Update: This is for everyone who's ever gone to Kaiser or their local HMO without an appointment for anything other than a gunshot wound. I drove G to the hospital and dropped him off, then went up to school and told them he wasn't coming in to teach. Then I drove back home, dropped off the car, took a quick bucket shower, then walked over to the hospital with a book to sit down and wait for G. I was figuring on a couple of hours, easy. But Greg was standing out front, waiting for me! It took him about half an hour, tops. So while yes, I agree that national health plans have their downsides, dropping into the emergency room for treatment of a flu-like ailment isn't one of them.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

So I guess when it rains, it pours, and right now poor G has a whoppin' storm cloud overhead. Four days after starting his new blood-pressure medication, he came home after his first day back at school, lay down on the air mattress, and hasn't gotten up since.


Jonathan, one of the teachers at work, had scheduled a little after-work party at his house, but after I mashed up a tub of guacamole -- mmm, non-watery California-style guac, with tomatoes and onions and cilantro -- I realized G-man didn't just lie down for a nap, so I dropped off the guac and beer, picked up a thermometer at the farmacia, and came right back home.

I spent yesterday and today keeping quiet around the house, ducking out for an occasional break, and keeping G supplied with chopped-up watermelon, juice, Tylenol, and water. Puffing up the bed. Changing pillowcases. Turning the music on, turning it off. I am so glad it's not me who's sick!

But the watermelon eventually ran out, and as it's Sunday and the usual host of chopped-fruit sellers are at home enjoying their day off, I took Jums out to Gringolandia to buy a whole watermelon. And see a movie, too. I wanted something without a substantial amount of Spanish, so I passed on A Day Without Mexicans and that new Denzel movie where he blows away a bunch of DF kidnappers -- that should be well-received down here -- and chose one I hadn't heard of, but decided what the hell, it's got Toni Collette in it. Carla and Something.

Whoa. It's Connie and Carla, and I really wasn't expecting a movie about dinner theatre performers who hide out in West Hollywood from a drug lord. And as his goon searches for the pair in has-been venues across the country, they end up as the starring performers in a drag show. I must say, it takes a lot of guts to be willing, as an actress, to say, Yes, I do look like a man in this makeup and wig. Then Debbie Reynolds shows up! I was fully expecting John Waters to saunter onstage for the finale. He should have. Anyway, it beat Garfield by a long shot, I'm sure.

But then I walk out of the movie, that part of my heart that lives in California all warm and glowing, and into Soriana for that watermelon. I don't know what was going on, but the store had set up big speakers in the produce department, Gigante-style, and was playing ... disco music! Born to be alive! What tha'?! My head's still spinning.

Friday, August 13, 2004

The furniture is gone.

I came home yesterday to see Greg sitting on a little mattress on the floor, surrounded by a couple of small piles of our stuff.

We borrowed Jorge's Sam's Club card and picked out a mini-fridge. Not the hotel room mini-bar-sized fridge I was eyeing, but a big one -- about the size of a kitchen trashcan. It even has a little space for an abbreviated ice-tray.

Osvelia said she got her really nice mattress at Sam's, but we didn't see any really nice mattresses, only mattresses from unheard-of manufacturers, and of dubious quality. We detoured to the lawn furniture section to pick out some plastic chairs in order to give ourselves a chance to think. But next to a lovely selection of plastic tables and umbrellas we saw a display of air mattresses, and wouldn't you know it, being the cheap bastards we are, we are now the proud owners of a Wenzel queen-sized air mattress. No frame yet, so it's set up on the floor, with the little mattress as a headboard.
"Well, how did I get here?"

How did I get here, to a partially-enclosed house with intermittent running water, sleeping on an air mattress? Editing career in the toilet. Thirty-nine years old and still without a clue as to what I'm going to do for a living next year (if I make it that long), when I flee back to the States. Or even where I'll live when I get there? Would living out of my car be a step up or a step down? And instead of making me sad or depressed or angry, I'm just shrugging it off with a laugh at this point. I mean, if the last two years have taught me anything it's that there's no telling where I'm going to be -- where G and I are going to be -- in six months time. I'm just glad I have company.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

I'm pretty sure that today Osvelia and her crew of hearty men will come by and remove the furniture. Not certain, mind, but likely. So we're off, tarjeta in hand, to Sam's Club to get a mattress and some fine plastic chairs.

While we explore the dark heart of Gringolandia, maybe you, if you haven't already, go out to see I, Robot. It kicks ass! We had a great time. Great sci-fi, a cat, Will Smith, pie ... a very enjoyable B. If it's still in the theatres down here next week I'm gonna see it again.

And, I made a couple of little QuickTime movies of our summer roadtrips. The first, smaller (2.4MB) file, which you can download here, is dedicated to all the restaurant signs we saw depicting animals serving other animals as food. Delightfully disturbing.

The second, larger (6.1MB) file combines our three summer roadtrips into one: north into the Papaloapan, south to the Isthmus, and way north to Texas and back. I think we put about 3,000 miles on Little Jumbo this summer. But now she's got all four windows again! She still squeaks, but when you get a look at what we drove over, you'll see that a little squeak isn't so bad really.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

For a lot of people, mezcal is pretty much synonomous with blackouts and bad hangovers. Or is that tequila? But Mexico is trying to give it some respectibility, and finally got an appellation for mezcal, which means for it to be called mezcal it has to be made in Oaxaca and must be 100-percent agave. But for all the aged mezcals in their fancy bottles there are an equal number of mezcals bottled in recycled, usually hand-painted bottles -- or mezcal sold by guys carrying it around in plastic gasoline cans.

So yesterday, while waiting for Osvelia, Greg starts chatting with Roberto, one of the artists with stuff in Osvelia's shop. They decide to walk over to Ceviarem and wait for her there. And while they're sitting on the curb and chatting, a guy with a blue plastic gas can walks up and asks if they want to buy some mezcal. G and Roberto show just enough interest that the guy gives them a taste using the plastic cap on the gas can. Roberto says, It's pretty good, but I don't have a container. The guy looks around and picks up a discarded water bottle but says, It's dirty, then spots another one that meets his cleanliness standards. He fills it with mezcal and tells Roberto, This much, 30 pesos. Well, says Roberto, I only have 15 pesos. The guy says, This much, 15 pesos. Roberto buys the mezcal and the guy wanders off.

G and I drove out to Gringolandia yesterday to see King Arthur at Cinepolis. Let's just say that Excalibur is still the best Arthurian movie made. Okay, let's not: what a piece of crap! A 'D' for sure.

(If you plan on seeing the movie, stop reading right now.)

I'm not some hoity-toity Arthurian purist -- Sarmatians, Germanicus, the Pelagian Heresy, bring it on. And an abbreviated number of Round Table knights is sensible in a movie, otherwise it's just too overwhelming. But Dagonet? Come on! And if you've got to kill off your knights, Mister Fuqua, next time start with Galahad. And don't kill Lancelot before Arthur and Guinevere get married, especially if that's how you end the movie. Geez. And why did you have to make my favorite knight, Tristan, the only one without a personal stylist? Surely Lancelot had enough grooming products to share.

G and I talked about the best parts of the movie (short conversation) and the worst (much longer). Then we wondered which characters we'd choose for our six companions to Arthur. Me? I'd pick Tristan, Ywain, Gawain, Dinadan, Palomides, and Pellinore. How about you?

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

This Associated Press item is too good not to share:

(08-10) 06:31 PDT BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) --

A Belgian airliner made an emergency landing after an agitated passenger -- a cat -- got into the cockpit and attacked the co-pilot, the airline said Tuesday.

The SN Brussels flight from the Belgian capital to Vienna, Austria, had been in the air about 20 minutes Monday when "it was noticed" that a passenger's pet had escaped from its cage, "although it is not yet clear how," according to an airline statement.

"Once free, the animal proceeded to wander around the cabin," slipping into the cockpit when meals were being delivered to the two-man flight crew, it said.

"At this stage the animal became agitated and nervous," it said. An airline spokeswoman added that the cat scratched the copilot's arm.

The pilot decided to return to Brussels as a precaution, and the 58 passengers departed once more two hours later on another flight.

The cat had been checked in Oslo, Norway, in an internationally approved "flight transport bag," but the airline said it may end up changing its procedures for pets in the cabin once it concludes its investigation.

"At no time throughout the incident was the passengers' security affected in any way," it said.

Oh, to be back in a city where I don't drip sweat standing still! Yeppers, I'm back in Oax-town, drinking a coke and typing away in my favorite, DSL-equipped internet cafe.

Let me recap my adventures from my last blog entry in Thomasandcharlie. One, I wrote down the real name of the town: it's Tamazunchale. I was a little put off at the price of the Hotel Tamazunchale, a tad over 600 pesos, but the AC was worth it, as was the seemingly unlimited hot water and real towels and sheets. Plus, the hotel restaurant makes a damn fine plate of chilaquiles. We hung around town long enough to eat those chilaquiles, or half of them anyway, as it was an awful lot of food, then waddled around their Sunday tianguis. Got some interesting bowls in the local style and a bag of peeled tunas to snack on in the car. Our only real stop of the day was in Ixmiquilpan to see their 450-yr-old church and to use a sanatario. As we walked around the zocalo, Greg noticed that the big statue of the Aztec archer was naked. And had breasts. We took a closer look and realized it was a big naked Diana. I don't know why this little colonial town has a huge statue of a Greek goddess in its zocalo; maybe you can figure it out.

We also drove through Actopan but didn't stop as it may cause drowsiness.

Thumbing through Sanborns didn't reveal any hotels nearer Teotihuacan than Sahagun's Hotel Plaza Motel, so we went there again. Besides, it gave us a chance to eat another fabulous dinner at Restaurante Santa Lucia. We knew the ruins of Teotihuacan were big, but as the only Mesoamerican ruins I've seen so far have all been in Oaxaca, plus Tulum out in Quintana Roo, I was picturing something Monte Alban big. We left early and made the short drive and got to the pyramides between 9 and 10am.

Well, they're big alright. Huge. Gigante. And very, very impressive. We started with the pyramid of the moon and worked our way down the avenue of the dead to the pyramid of quetzacoatl, a little over two miles (!) away. I didn't get as close a look at the pyramid of quetzacoatl as I would have liked, as it was aswarm with archeologists, but even at a distance the carvings decorating the sides of the pyramid were still interesting. We left around 4pm, sunburned and tired and happy we stopped. Too bad we missed Zempoala and Tula!

Because we spent longer than we anticipated at Teotihuacan (and because we got a little lost around Puebla), it took us a lot longer than we anticipated to reach Tehuacan, our stop for the night. And because we were on the cuota, there wasn't anywhere else to stay. (It's the opposite of the US, where the major highways are cluttered with hotels and Macaroni Grills and the local routes are desolate -- here, there's nothing along the cuotas until you reach a town or interchange.) We didn't get to Tehuacan until a little after 8pm, in the dark, so we took the first hotel we came across, on the outskirs of town.

Our Sanborns guide mentioned the place and its Arabian Nights-themed decor. What it didn't mention, or what perhaps changed between editions, was the nature of the place. We drove into the inner courtyard to see a row of closed garage doors, and the one under the blinking 3 slowly opening. We drove in and parked, and an attendant rushed over and started to close the door. The door had a little hole in order to pay the attendant, and stairs inside the carport leading up to the hotel room. It didn't dawn on me until I saw the folded towels with their packets of shampoo and packet of condoms that I realized the Taj Mahal is a love motel. Again, like in San Antonio, images of Disneyland flashed through my brain. After a shower and a rest we drove into town to find a restaurant -- I guess a love motel doesn't need one -- and ended up eating at a taqueria a few doors down from the Hotel Monroy, where I think I'll stay next time I'm in Tehuacan. We continued the theme of the night by dining on tacos arabes.

And now we're back, Roadtrip Verano 2004 at an end. Pictures as soon as I can, though it'll be tough as there are a lot of movies playing at Cinepolis that I want to see. I think you'll like the collection of animals serving themselves for dinner, though.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

News flash! Greg just got an e-mail from Berlitz:

"I would really appreciate it if you would call us as soon as possible about
your classes starting Monday August 9..."

Sorry, Charlie! These tunas are on the road and unavailable for school before the 14th!

Hola from Thomasandcharlie!

That's not really how you spell it, but that's about how you say it according to our copy of Sanborn's, and that's all I can remember at this point.

Our trip south so far? We liked San Antonio so much we decided to do it again -- back to the Menger. We didn't leave SA until about noon, but when we did, when we sat down in Little Jumbo and got ready to leave, sweat was actually pouring off our faces and bodies in rivulets and streams. We finally turned on the AC. And stopped by a Chicken Express for two gigantic teas. We should've gotten the gallon of iced tea, but I thought (incorrectly) that that was a little extreme. So yeah, it was hot and I was sad to go, but I love being on the road so it was okay. We didn't get any gizzards, and why hasn't McDonalds customized their menus for Texas by adding McGizzards to their menus?

We got to the border in good time, and got our car insurance renewed and picked up two more Sanborn guides for the trip. We then asked about what we needed to get over the border and were told the standard line, tourist visas and car permit. But, we said, we have working visas and we already have a car permit. Well, we don't know; you'd better just go in and ask them. Yeah, right -- I want to wait in those interminable border lines sweating like a pig and watching the clock. So I said to G, you know we have everything we need, let's just drive across and not stop. Which we did.

Now, when one of the many military checkpoints along the highways actually signalled for us to pull over, and they asked for our paperwork, well then I started to sweat. And I really started to sweat when one of the eight or so cops surrounding our car started messing with Greg about the validity of his FM-3, but then they handed back all our papers (and they checked everything: passport, visa, registration, insurance) and waved us away. Oh, my, we needed the air on for a while after that.

Our first night back in Mexico we stayed in a little hotel just south of Monterrey. Not bad. We went into town and cruised the zocalo looking for a spot for dinner. As tempting as Los Japones was, they were blaring music so we picked Melvins because of their frog mascot and took a plastic seat. The basic menu was carne asada, arrachera (?), and moleta -- yes, gizzards! -- in tacos, piratas, and tostadas. I'm still not sure what a pirata is, even though I ate three of them; tasted like fried wheat tortilla taco with cheese and meat and yummy grilled onions to me. Greg had the same. Then we grabbed some beers from the convenience store across the street and headed back to our hotel to veg.

We actually got an early start this morning, and hit the road after breakfast, just before 9am. A pretty drive. In the afternoon Greg, reading the Sanborn, said Hey wanna see some surrealistic jungle house just off the road? And just then the turnoff came up, so off we went to Los Pozas, or Edward James' house, a genuine Mexican roadside attraction. So in the 60s this English guy moves to the jungle and has some local contractors build forms and pour concrete according to his drawings. Until I get the pictures up, the best I can do is, combine the Swiss Family Robinson with Mad Mark's Castle on the Albany bulb and you'll have a good idea. And as fun as it was to roam around the remains of this guy's house, he built the whole thing on the mountainside along a waterfall, which has been built up into a series of pools for wading and cooling off in the jungle heat. We didn't realize from the book just how much fun this place would be, so we ended up just wading around and dunking our heads in the water -- ahh! -- before vowing to come back and spend the day swimming and snacking and swimming again.

We were probably at Los Pozas for about an hour and a half or two hours, easy. So with it inching on toward 6:30p, we decided to stop for the day in Thomasandcharlie. We checked in to the hotel and set off in search of food and internet. We found internet first. And maybe after we're done here I'll grab a raspado and we can stroll around the zocalo, see the church, and get us a roast chicken or some tacos. Just hold the moleta.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

It's been a 36-hour meat orgy here in central Texas, at mom's house. After spending the day before yesterday talking about possible future plans, I was told to put my money where my mouth was, so I made a big pan of meatballs and a cherry pie. G certainly didn't go to bed hungry that night. The next morning my cousin Joanne came over with two kids she's watching, and somehow the subject of bbq came up and the next thing I know we're loading up the minivan and zooming down Hwy 14 to get lunch at Wright's. Pork ribs and brisket! (Kirby's was open -- surprise! -- and to judge by the amount of cars parked out front, still had meat. And the only reason that's of note is because apparently Kirby's has good bbq but keeps erratic hours, so I've never been able to sample their 'que for myself. And sometimes when they are open, they don't have any meat. Whatever.) But my cousin was right and Wright's was the right choice. We grabbed a box of ribs for Joanne's husband Steve, back working at the ranch, and headed over to Teague to hang out.

Now, when Joanne came over to my mom's house in Mexia with 10-yr-old Dalton and his sister, Leighann, at first the kids wanted to 1) watch The Cartoon Network, 2) play their gameboys, and 3) play with Maggie, the gigantic Shepherd-Husky puppy my mom took in and is trying to find a home for. Because it was almost a 100 degrees the puppy play petered out pretty quick, and instead the two kids latched onto G and me for entertainment. Which I take as a compliment -- being preferred over cable TV. Much to my mom's horror, we played table hockey at Wrights before moving onto the trading of cheap rings and bracelets and, at Joanne and Steve's ranch in Teague, making swords out of sticks and practicing our killer kung fu moves in and around the tree fort, all the while looking out for snakes ("Copperheads and water muksins," Leighann said) and "poison trees." Ah, to run around and be a goof! We had a good time, and the kids were genuinely bummed when it was time for us to go. But now I have a set of the Mexia Dollar General's plastic wrist bracelets, and Leighann has one of Oaxaca's finest blue aluminum rings.

Since my running around in the oppressive heat after a bbq lunch didn't finish me off, my mom decided to break out the big guns and grill a trio of J&S t-bone steaks. Good Christ in heaven! I haven't eaten a whole t-bone steak in years. It tasted so good, I'm a little shocked at how good it was. I didn't touch my potato or salad until the steak was down to the bone. But I got my revenge by keeping my mom up late with tales of life in Oaxaca. And after she went to bed G and I settled in to watch a little HBO. We caught a little Bill Maher and Da Ali G Show, which had us in horrified stitches at song lyrics like "Throw the --- down the well!" repeated by (hopefully) blythe bar patrons.

Sometime today I'm going to say good bye to the land of family, plentiful food, air conditioning, and American political humor tv and head back to Oaxaca for the start of school. And I think that my time in Mexico must be drawing to a close, because I'm so happy to be here, even in a land where everyone assumes I moved to Mexico to do missionary work. Talk to you again from the road, y'all.