I Moved To Oaxaca

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.


  • Do you happen to know Don Antonio's (of Yucunama) last name? My wife, the former Isaura Martinez Mendez, was born in Yucunama and hasn't been back to the village since 1984. It doesn't sound like much has changed in 20 years. Tom Smith, New Windsor, NY (firesmith@hotmail.com)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:36 PM  

  • Hi,
    I am the daughter of Ronald Spores and I can tell you that he is down there, right now, working on the sites in Teposcolula. In fact he is going full strength at the moment.
    If you would like to contact me, my email is lisajoe23@comast.net

    Lisa Spores Sanchez

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:57 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home