I Moved To Oaxaca

Monday, November 15, 2004

The place we call our own
Gone, gone, gone!
Is no longer our own
It's going, going, gone.
Gone, gone, gone!
There is no place where we come from.
We're gone!
We're gone!
We're gone!
There is no place that we call home.
—The Hi-Fives, "Welcome To My Mind"

Goodbye, Oaxaca.

I don't know what else to say.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Roadtrip Day 6 updated, folks. And of course, a fun little adventure for the day, even though we're back home.

This morning I went across the street to the estacionamiento to get Vivani's heating pad–oh, that's another thing, in a minute–and noticed that the right front tire was pretty flat. Like, flat flat. So I collected G, we put on the spare, and we asked Juan Carlos, our landlord, if he knew of a tire-repair place close by. He said sure, just down the street from ADO (the first-class bus station).

Like most directions down here, "just down the street from ADO" is about as specific as it gets, but doesn't necessarily mean "just down the street from ADO." Juan Carlos didn't have an address for the place, or the name of the shop, either–also SOP.

But what the hell, we drove slowly and carefully (the spare was a little light on air) up to Chapultepec; no tire shop. Keep driving ... nothing ... there! A pile of tires on the sidewalk next to a pile of monos de calenda, the giant puppet people. We parked and walked over. Sure enough, in what looked like a 10-by-10 cubby was a tire repair shop/mono de calenda manufacturing center. They were very friendly, grabbed the tire and took it over to a big drum of filthy water to find the leak. But does the guy dunk the tire? No! He looks at it, takes a handful of water and dribbles it on the tire, and sure enough, dribbled it right on the leak. Damn! While the owner introduced us to his two daughters and showed us his photo album of his son's graduation from military medical school in DF, the repair guy trimmed a plug, popped it in the hole in the tire, then sealed it with some gunk ... then found a second leak and fixed that, too.

How did he know?

So this owner guy and I were getting into the photo album. He was showing me pictures of the state orchestra, the band that plays in the zocalo, the ancient pipe organ in the church in Tlacochahuaya, Special Olympics groups and Teleton outings. G started to get a bit impatient, but I really dig photo albums. We chatted and joked while G paid for the tire repair and while the guy put the patched tire back on Little Jumbo. The repairman gave me the nails that he pulled out of the tire; maybe I'll box 'em up with G's tattered Spanish-English dictionary and our worn-out pants.

Oh, and it was 40 pesos to fix the tire.

Okay, the other (small) adventure for the day: when we woke up we couldn't find Vivani. I was surprised she wasn't on the bed because it was so cold, and she wasn't on our dressers or in her crate, either. (She actually likes sitting in her crate.) So G says, shake the food bag, and I did, and we heard a put-out meowing coming from ... outside the back door. Looks like she followed G out the door on one of his nightime jaunts to the bathroom -- probably heading for her heated nest box, which was in the bathroom along with her litter box and food. Only now they're in the house, and the nest box is without heat. Good thing she has fur now instead of baby fuzz or she'd have frozen.


Even with nine days on the road, we had to pass by a lot of stuff. Maybe if we'd had another two weeks, though it seems to me that for every one site I check off my list I add another two. Or three.

Goodbye Oaxaca Roadtrip: Day 9 Tlaxiaco - Oax-town

As cold as I'd been the previous evening during dinner, it was even colder the next morning! Vivani spent the night under the blankets, and when I put my glasses on I noticed her food bowl was untouched. What's up with that? As soon as my feet touched the linoleum I realized: the floor was too cold for her. Poor cat! I mean, for someone born in July, in Oaxaca, the cold must have been mind-blowing. So I moved her bowl to the nightstand and tried to warm up.

Back at the Rincon el Gon, G ordered the wrong thing, and ended up getting toast with cinnamon and sugar instead of French Toast. I took a risk and ordered something I'd never heard of, a dish with a Mixtec name. It turned out to be really good: a tortilla cooked on one side, with a rub of herbs on the other, then balled up and toasted some more. Three of those with a piece of tasajo. And really bad coffee.

We loaded up the car and noticed that the right front tire was almost completely flat! Eek. We hustled to a Pemex station and filled it. I'd hate to pop a tire out there, and it would be so easy on those roads.

We had a couple of choices as far as objectives for the day: visit the oracle at Achiutla, visit Maestro Antonio at Yucunama, visit Sr. Ramos at Yucuita and see if he'd show us the ruins in the next town over, or drive out to Tilantongo and see what we could see. Now, Tilantongo was the capital city of 8-Deer Jaguar Claw, a famous Mixtec king. (He's famous because through some quirk of fate many of the Pre-hispanic codices that survived the Conquest were Mixtec, and most of them related the exploits of 8-Deer.) Our various books said that the archeological zone was off limits, that the museum in town is only sometimes open, etc. And it's a long haul down a dirt road. But Tilantongo was the place G really wanted to see, so we decided to give it a try.

It was startling to find ourselves on familar roads again shortly outside Tlaxiaco. And on roads that weren't horribly twisty. Or mostly missing. Although still populated with lots of farm animals.

As we drove through Teposcolula I remembered that on our last visit the Casa de Cultura had been closed, and that there were supposed to be artifacts on display inside, so I suggested we stop. The town was buzzing, with trucks and guys in hats lining the road–looked like a cattle auction was about to begin. So parking was tight, but we found a place in the shade and went into the Casa de Cultura. Nada! Oh well. On the way out we saw that in addition to the auction a tianguis was going on just off the plaza, so we took a stroll through that. Lovely mounds of fruits and vegetables, toys, pirate cds, clothes, the usual. One of the toy stands had a bunch of plastic horses, cows, and cowboys, and the vendor had set up little plastic corrals for the plastic animals with the plastic cowboys riding herd. I stopped to take a picture then noticed some of the plastic steeds were giraffes. The vendor even had little toy-sized wood yokes and plows sized to fit the plastic oxen. Damn cute. Oh! And a tiny old lady selling baskets. Hmm. These were palm-frond baskets, square base with round sides, with an attached palm-frond tumpline. If you drive around the state you see lots of people hauling goods in them, with the tumpline going around their little shoulders. The señora noticed our interest and showed us a couple of baskets. Toys, really, about the size of a quart jar. G said, Hey this'd make a great hat, and put it on his head with the tumpline going around his chin like a strap, which set the old lady and her daughter laughing pretty hard. I picked up a printer-sized basket and the old señora started saying what sounded like "veinte" but I wasn't sure, so her daughter shouted to her, "HOW MUCH?" and it was veinte. Twenty pesos. You've got to be kidding!

Now, if any of you weave you know that while palm isn't a difficult material, you've still got to gather it, size it, then weave the darn basket. I didn't even make a pretense of bargaining, and just handed the señora a $20. I can't wait to go collecting fruits and nuts with it in the California woods.

Back in the car, and down the road. Our Oaxaca guidebook says the road to Tilantongo is in one place, but our roadmaps say it's in another, so we went with the maps. Just past the beautiful old church at Yanhuitlan we turned off the highway on a blacktop road toward Santiago Tillo. Since we'd lucked out at Nopala and had had paved road all the way into town, I was hoping for another Hermes miracle, but the pavement ended four miles later. That left 16 miles of dirt and gravel road, through a series of little towns of mostly adobe and stick houses, all with beautiful bright churches on a hill. No signs of course, except for the ones announcing the town name, so we frequently would pull up beside somebody walking along the road, or plowing their field, or herding their goats or cattle around, and asked if we were going the right way to the next town on the road to Tilantongo. Yes, yes, and yes. On and on and on.

We finally pulled up toward a town and asked a guy on horseback, Is this Tilantongo. Si! We headed toward the church and parked at the presidencia, which was thronged with farmers and their wives. Packed. And I knew what was coming: we stepped out of the car and about two hundred heads swiveled toward us and stared. We could see that a town meeting was going on, with the men in hats heading into the plaza in front of the presidencia, and the wives hanging around the margin, sitting and talking ... in Mixtec. Everybody was talking in Mixtec. No traje except modern-style, though. A little guy came up to G and started chatting away in I think a mix of Mixtec and Spanish. G later said the guy reeked of mezcal and, when he had shaken his hand, had used the Secret Mixtec Handshake ... as well as sticking his finger in G's armpit! We're not sure what that was about.

We walked into an abarrotes next to the shady spot we'd parked in to ask if it was okay to park there, and ran into some luck: the shop owner had lived in Fresno and California for four years, got his stake together and had come back home to open the store. His English was great, so while his two daughters and I smiled and made faces at each other G asked him about the mural, the museum, and the ruins.

Despite what our books said, there was no community museum (bummer) but the ruins were open to the public, and we didn't need a guide (rock on!). We took a look at the church, wading through the crowd of frankly curious locals, then, as the presidencia with the mural was full, we hopped in the car and drove another 7 miles up the mountain to Monte Negro, the archeological zone.

We didn't know what to expect from the ruins, so when we pulled up and saw not just piles of rubble or dirt-covered mounds but actual buildings, we were stoked. We put the car in the shade, fixed Vivani a bowl of sopa de Whiskas, and took off. We were on the top of a mountain (3414 meters) with a great view of the valley and ruins all around us. Plazas, temples, staircases, pillars, residences. All over. Fantastic. Not much pottery, and no carved stones–I expect they remove those to foil looters–but pretty well preserved and easy to imagine what it must've looked like when it was occupied.

Then back down the road. The tire seemed fine, most fortunately, and in town we returned our soda bottles, checked out the mural, and headed back toward the carretera.

A little ways outside of town we saw two small ladies and their burro. The burro was loaded with firewood, and lying down in the middle of the road. We pulled up and G asked if they needed help getting their burro up. They enthusiastically nodded yes, so we hopped out and, while one of the ladies held the halter rope, G and I grabbed the ropes tying the wood to its back and hauled it to its feet. It wasn't any bigger than the old lady who owned it, so it wasn't too hard. The burro kept trying to lie down again, but I propped it up with my leg while G and the señora (just one now, the other had taken off like a shot up the road) readjusted its load. Then the señora asked us where were from and when we said Oaxaca, asked us if we knew a woman who lived on Monte Alban who was from Tilantongo. We regretfully informed her that we did not. She thanked us for helping her, shook our hands, and we were off.

We spent the night in our old bed, back in Moderate Shangri-la. I think we broke our thermostats, too, because we were freezing. We went around the corner for tlayudas at El Chepil all bundled up, but everybody else was in shirtsleeves. And I'm really noticing, too, how many tourists there are in Oax-town! And that nobody stares at us here. Whew.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Goodbye Oaxaca Roadtrip: Day 8 Putla - Tlaxiaco

We got to one community museum today out of a possible three, but what a one! We were quite a disruption in town -- guess they don't see too many red-haired, tattooed gueras -- which I'll tell you about in a bit, as Greg is chomping at the bit to my right. Makes it hard to concentrate.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Goodbye Oaxaca Roadtrip: Day 7 Pte Escondido - Putla

I've got a painfully slow connection here, so I'll just put the bare bones for today and save the filling in for today and the last two days for a better line.

Puerto Escondido is very ... resorty. Not to the degree of Cancun or Acapulco; more like a Kona. Anyway, after almost a week of back country Oaxaca it was a bit of a shock. Our hotel room was, uh, basic and considering the area (we were down near the beach and pedestrian walkway) pretty cheap at $250 for a two-bed room with tv and hot water. But still over our preferred price range. So was dinner, at just over $200 for the two of us; quite a shock, but it was really, really tasty: we split a seafood-stuffed fish fillet, a mixed-green salad, and shrimp tacos -- which turned out to be shrimp-filled chimichangas. I normally don't like chimichangas, but these were exceptionally good, with a yummy, chunky guacamole to go on top. Some beers and a pitcher of naranjada, mmm. But the internet cafe was $20 an hour! Outrageous!

But I said I'd wait on P.E. Back to today. I'm very, very happy to report that Hwy 200, which runs along the Oaxacan coast and up in to Guerrero, is very well maintained, thanks to all the cash it brings to the state. You know, tourists driving down from Acapulco. Because Acapulco has a jet airport, and is connected to Mexico City via a cuota, so it's easy for the rich tourists to drive all the way down to Huatulco if they want. Not a pothole in sight.

And when we turned off onto Hwy 125 north, our roadway luck held. It was nothing like Hwy 131, The Ugly Highway. Oh, well yeah, in a couple of parts there were some car-eating bights in the roadway, and two complete washouts that had been built up again with loose fill and gravel, but mostly it was solid if twisty driving. Thank fucking Hermes.

Now, the only stop we had planned was a quick detour into San Pedro Tututepec to see what our guidebook said were some carved stones scattered around the plaza in front of the presidencia. A lot like our stop in Santos Reyes Nopala the day before, on our descent out of Juquila -- drive in, snap some photos, drive out. Only, surprise! Tututepec built itself a community museum. Well!

We parked in some deep shade and set Vivani up with some sopa de Whiskas and water, then went in. Nice new building with nice new (and informative, for a change) signs describing the local pre-hispanic artifacts: lots of big carved stones in the shapes of jaguars, feathered serpents, and caimans; stunning, gorgeous polychrome bowls with jaguar and eagle-head feet; lots of little clay figurines; some codice reproductions painted as murals on the walls. I was snapping away like crazy, despite the No Tomar Foto sign on the wall untill I got busted by the custodian. Fortunately, I got most of the pieces photographed, though unfortunately no the collection of pottery molds and paper preparation tools.

We had the custodian explain to us some of the exhibits, especially the town-founding story, and the story behind the codice-reproduction murals. She was extremely patient with us, and it turned out to be a very, very cool visit.

(They also had extremely cool t-shirts that looked like they were for sale, but she wasn't parting with them. Too bad!)

So back in the car we hopped, and sped on our way. We ended up staying at the museum for two hours, so we were a little worried that we might have blown our driving plans for the day, but we got to Putla by 5pm. Our guidebook describes two hotels in town: the nice one, and the okay one. They're around the corner from each other, so we took a look at the okay one -- it had burned down! The hulk of the building was still standing, blackened timbers and all, and the Hotel No. 2 was in a run-down building next to it. We took a pass and went to the nice one. Yeah, it is nice, too -- and back in our price range: $180 with parking, cable tv, and hot water, though I gave up waiting for it to get hot and just showered anyway. And a balcony, though we can't use it because it's not cat-proof. But Vivani digs the tile floor, as she can scoot and slide around on it with her hat.

We then went looking for chow, as between breakfast and checking in to the hotel we'd only had one small car snack. We found one of the restaurants recommended in the book just as we were about to double back to the taco stand, and took a seat. Mmm, comedor familiar: Greg had the chicken breast enchilada, I had the meatballs. He got beans and some queso fresco with his, I got sopa de arroz with mixed vegetables with mine. We both got pickled carrots and jalapeños, a big stack of tortillas, and a pitcher of guava agua fresca (and a second pitcher when we drained the first). Oh! and a plate of sliced apples with honey for dessert. Greg's full, and I am absolutely stuffed, so much so that I'm taking a pass on a post-drive beer back in the hotel room.

How much was dinner? $54 pesos for the both of us.

I'm so glad I'm back in real Oaxaca.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Goodbye Oaxaca Roadtrip: Day 6 Sta. Catarina Juquila - Pte. Escondido

Oh, how refreshing! Our hotel room in Juquila, at the maze-like San Nicolas, had the best mattress we've slept on anywhere in Oaxaca. Sure, the pillows were bricks, but who cares! And at around 7500' in elevation, it was cool enough in the evening to need the blankets on the bed -- a welcome change after the sweltering coast.

We went back to the church the next morning to take some pictures, but as the inside was again full of worshippers (some approaching the altar on their knees) we really didn't want to start snapping photos, so we just got the exterior, then looked around at the tianguis.

It was pretty small, as Sunday had been the big tianguis day -- more on that in a minute. But we did see a pair of little Chatino ladies selling some embroidered blouses (perfect for the potato-shaped) and some embroidered cloth napkins and tablecloths (perfect for those with a home) ... and some of these local-style bolsas, a type we've seen only in the little Chatino section of Oaxaca. We asked the pair of ladies, How much for the bags? 150 pesos. Hmm, how about 125? Nope, 150. Your ultimate price, señora? 150 pesos.

Okay, if they're not gonna bargain, we could always try somewhere else, so we walked away. We went to internet. We got breakfast at the place we'd eaten the day before. We walked around town some more. Then we conferred. We both know one of the cardinal rules of Oaxaca is, If you see it and you want it, buy it then, 'cause there's no telling when if ever you'll find it next time. Like the New Zealand butter, here one day and gone the next. So we went back into the plaza in front of the church and eyed the scene. A few more vendors had set up, and it looked like a couple of them were selling bolsas. As we planned our course of action, I noticed that the older of the two original sellers noticed us and was smirking. Well! We'll show her, I thought. Then the younger of the two came over to us, and said, Still want the bags? So we walked over to her pile of stuff on the ground, only this time her elderly mother was there, too, and the old lady said, Bolsas are 170. I looked at the younger woman and said, Oh really, they've gone up? The woman quickly said, No, no, 150, so G and I each got one, and now we are really styling. (I'm glad we did, too, because of course once we left the plaza we saw nobody else selling them.)

We loaded up the car and drove a few miles outside of town to El Pedimento, an auxilliary Juquila shrine. Yes, she has two! Only at this one you can go up and touch her, pin milagros to her vestments, kiss and wipe your brow with her dress like I saw several people do. The ceiling of her little chapel was covered with murals explaining her story, there was a great view of the valley and a huge pile of extra offerings out back, banners and crosses and mementos tied to the trees surrounding it. And people taking pictures and movies, so I joined in and took some photos of the place. Then while G worked his way through the dozens of roadside shacks selling Juquila recuerdos–souvenirs–I sat in the car with the cat. Most people who make the pilgrimage buy a picture of Juquila and fasten it to the grill of their car. We will, too; I just need to get some metal eyelets in order to tie her on. He also got a litle picture of her in a wood box with a red Christmas light and plug. Groovy.

Then we were off and back down that horrible highway. Good Christ. We blew off checking out San Juan Lachao Pueblo Viejo–the name of a town with ruins if I ever did hear–just to get away from Hwy 131. Down in San Gabriel Mixtepec, where the road was still bad but not quite so curvy, we took a detour because our books and maps indicated that the town of Santos Reyes Nopala, 7 miles down a dirt road, had carved stones in its plaza and possibly a community museum. We were ready for the improved driving conditions that a dirt road would bring. But surprise, surprise, the road was newly paved. And, as we approached the bridge into town, festooned with street lights. Another photo op for the governor, I'm sure.

So we drove into town and parked at the presidencia. We could see big carved stones embedded in the walls of the presidencia, and one of the bored cops standing around kindly unlocked the gate to the second floor for us so we could see all the stones. But no museum, so after photographing the stone at the entrance to town we drove back out to San Gabriel Mixtepec and, damn, back onto Hwy 131. Where I quickly got carsick.

G was sure we could make it to Jamiltepec, or even Pinotepa Nacional, but I mentioned Puerto Escondido as a possible stopping place for the evening. When he seemed unconvinced of the town's charms as a stopover–no ruins!–I increased the level of my whining until he gave in and headed to the hotel zone.

Well, the place was a lot bigger than I expected. Much bigger than Puerto Angel; more like a Pochutla. A foreign-tourist-infested Pochutla. We asked about prices at one hotel and were told 400. Whoa! Keep driving. But looking in our guidebook we feared that that would be the norm. So then we started looking not for American-friendly hotels, but local-style hotels. We pulled into a place called the Hotel D'Carlos, perfectly fine though a bit scruffy in the Mexican hotel sort of way, and got their last room for $250. But hey, it was right on the beach: walk out door to our room, across the lobby, across a small lot, and onto the sand, crowded with frolicking Mexican families playing in the water, and fishing boats, and buckets and palm-frond mats of fish.

We got dinner, also expensive by our standards, but tasty, did some too-expensive internet, then wandered back to the hotel. No ruins!

Goodbye Oaxaca Roadtrip: Day 5 Zipolite - Sta. Catarina Juquila

You can read about something, but ... okay. I've driven around a lot of Oaxaca, yet still I looked at the map and thought, oh sure we can drive from Zipolite, stop in and see this museum, look for this unexcavated site, get to Juquila and see the church, then drive back down to, oh, Jamiltepec or so. We're talking about 250 miles or so. Well, the road along the coast wasn't so bad, but as soon as we got to Puerto Escondido and turned inland, oh my hell. I think there was as much pavement as dirt and sand, but let's just call it 50-50. A road so bad that if I was ever to scout locations for a post-apocalyptic movie, I'd say: Hwy 131. G figured it out; we averaged 15 miles an hour!

Needless to say, we scouted out no ruins, saw no museums, just endured and finally reached Juquila, the town of Oaxaca's supreme Virgin (out of three). The whole town is crammed with places for pilgrims to stay, all of it down-home. And a lot more expensive than we're used to in Oaxaca. But we found our room, found some comida, then set off uphill to see the church and little Juquila. She's a very native looking Virgin: short, with dark skin and black hair. And sitting in her golden case in the middle of a riot of flowers and candles (and a large blue teddy bear) at the front of the church. Which started filling up. Hey! It's time for mass. So we stayed for mass. The pews were completely full, and people were standing (or kneeling) in the aisles, the space between the pews and the altar, and at the back of the church.

We didn't do a whole lot else, as we were full of comida and worn out from that ugly road. We went back to our room and watched Mexican TV while Vivani played with her cookie wrapper and hat.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Goodbye Oaxaca Roadtrip: Day 4 Zipolite Beach

We sweated. We swam. We showered. Repeat.

Really, though, it is hot, hot, hot. Even in November. We spent most of the day passed out under the ceiling fan. This does not bode well for further coast explorations.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Goodbye Oaxaca Roadtrip: Day 3
Tehuantepec - Zipolite

Yes, we're back in Zipolite one last time. We just ate a fish dinner, sans shoes (and for Greg, sans shirt).

We started off the day by hiring a motocarro to take us to the cueva above town. Motocarros, three-wheeled motorcycles with little flatbeds on the back for people and cargo, are the way everybody gets around in Tehuantepec. And the cueva is a large cave with a shrine inside, high up the side of a hill overlooking the town. The story goes that tunnels inside the cave lead all the way to Guiengola, so since we'd seen the ruins we figured we should see the cave, too.

So after another early breakfast off we went. It was quite a huff up the dirt track to the cave, but once we were up there we had a great view of the city and the coastal plain, all the way down to the Pacific. The shrine inside seemed to be dedicated to JC, and had lit candles and fresh flowers, but not much to really see, so after a short visit we walked down the hill and through part of Tehuantepec we hadn't yet explored. Because while there are taxis and motocarros in the part of town nearest the plaza, there aren't any in the area near the cave. So we walked, past the church, through the neighborhood, down to the river which cuts the town in two, and to the city dump. Yes, a fine way to end one's tour of Tehuantepec, scuttling past feral dogs and rooting pig families and herds of goats searching through a town's burning garbage, down to the river only to find the footpath washed out. So we improvised a route back up to the metal bridge and across and back to the hotel. Whee.

The cooling breeze stopped pretty much once we left Tehuantepec, and the usual brutal sunshine took over. So not only was Vivani bummed to be back in the car, but she quickly got hot, too, so we turned on the AC for her. Our only stop en route to Zipolite was the little town of San Pablo Huamelula. Now, shortly after G and I came to Oax-town, we saw an exhibit at Santo Domingo on magical spots on the coast. Huamelula was one of the towns featured. And back then, we pronounced it "who-ah-muh-lula" instead of "oa-meh-lula." So we were stoked to finally visit Huamelula, even though our guidebook said there really wasn't anything there except for a candy-colored church.

And the church certainly was candy-colored, pink and red and green, and after we took some pictures we drove back through town -- and saw a Museo Communitario in the plaza! So we stopped, but since there was no shaded parking, we carted Vivani along with us into the presidencia to ask about the museum. The kids playing soccer in the plaza went nuts to see the cat, but the adults contained whatever they felt about it while we sat and waited for the guy with the key to show up.

It wasn't much of a museum, only about a 20-by-20-foot room, mostly filled with library books and dance costumes, but the curator did play a cassette tape for us of their festival music while G looked through an English-language book and asked the curator questions about their fiestas.

After that it was a quiet, twisty stretch of highway until we got to Zipolite and plunked our stuff and the cat in a room. I thought she'd be happy to be out of the car, but the roar of the Pacific freaked her out. After a quick dip in the water we went back up to the room with a bag of beers to sit and watch the surf and say,

Sure beats having a job, don't it.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Goodbye Oaxaca Roadtrip: Day 2
Guiengola Archeological Zone

Yeah, we're in Tehuantepec to see Guingola, one of the few remaining, Open To The Public ruins in the state we have yet to see (the other's Tilantongo, and I'm not sure that one is open). Because of the time change, we were up and ready to go at 7am, but nobody else was, and as we wanted breakfast and needed water, we walked around plaintively, looking for anything open until a pair of street tree trimmers took pity on us and directed us to Restaurant Scaru, which they assured us was open. It was, so we sat down and ordered.

Now, inside this restaurant the walls are covered with brightly painted murals of Istmeño life, some standard, some kinda bizarre. Pictures soon. Breakfast turned out to be a bit pricey and just okay, but it was food and we knew we'd need full tummies before hiking up to Guiengola. We gave Vivani food and water, and knotted up a few empty cookie wrappers (her favorite toy, along with her palm frond hat, which we brought with us), and set off.

The ruins aren't too far outside town, and our guidebook says that you pick up a guide at the Comedor Gema, at the turnoff from Hwy 190. Well, on our last abortive attempt, the folks at Comedor Gema said, no, there's a muchacho up there already, go ahead. This time the comedor wasn't even open, so we drove past and down the dirt road. The directions in our book are awfully vague, but we figured, how hard can it be? And the road this time was nice and dry. When the road forked a sign indicated the proper direction -- pretty damn rare in Oaxaca, signage -- and we hadn't gone very far up the fork when a guy popped up from the brush at the side of the road. Our guide! Can you imagine that for your job? Sit in the shade at the side of the road (after walking there from where the bus drops you off on the highway) waiting for tourists to show up. Or more likely, not. He said the road was no good for cars, though it looked okay to me, so we parked and set off up the road, up the hill. His name was Feliciano Gonzalez, he spoke Spanish and Zapotec, so we used our crummy Spanish. G did pretty well too, quizzing Feliciano about the site's history, local stories, and the like. And Feliciano was more than willing to spill, including telling us about a series of dreams he had, where he imagined himself in Guiengola when it was a living city, meeting Cosiojeza (Cosiopi's dad) and having the king tell him that he needed to be here to be a guide and guard the site. We were all definitely on the same page.

Because of the breeze, and because it's November and the trees still green, what could have been a brutal 3km walk up the hill in the tropical sun turned out to be very nice. Pretty vegetation, vistas, and soon the start of walls indicating houses. Then we were on top of the hill, standing in the middle of Guiengola, looking at the plazas and pyramids and trying not to be blown over by the breeze, which was now a respectable wind. It did stagger us a few times, that's how strong it was.

Feliciano took us up the pyramids, showed us traces of the original painted decoration, an adobe brick with a child's footprint, a cave wall with paintings, the rich people's residence, houses, tombs, a large round tina (a bath), everywhere. He told G he couldn't take us to several interesting features because it was too dangerous. This was after he led us into a cave -- the hill on which Guiengola sits is limestone, and it's riddled with caves -- without a flashlight, and with several side caves that seemed awfully big and awfully deep in the feeble light coming from my keychain flashlight. I mean, the kind that you could fall in and seriously kill youself in. Hey! It's Mexico.

Pictures a'coming, folks. It was a pretty damn cool day; we were there from 9:30a to about 2:30p.

Now, we hunt for garnachas.

Goodbye Oaxaca Roadtrip: Day 1
Oax-town - Tehuantepec

Uneventful drive, which in itself is news: Vivani was a sweetheart, no problems. And she actually fits in the half-size airline carrier.

We got to Tehuantepec early, so we got a room at the Oasis, a popular hotel in town. Yeah, the pillows are rags stuffed in a casing, and the shower in the bathroom ... well, I didn't think there was any hot water until G pointed out that the knobs were reversed, and the showerhead aims directly at the toilet, but it's clean, it has windows on both sides of the room to catch the breeze, and grills over the window so we can leave them open without Vivani escaping. All for $130 pesos a night. Not bad, not bad.

After a really yummy comida at Comedor Perla across the street -- G's pork was so good he wouldn't even let me try it, the bastard -- and a nap we set off to examine the church founded by Cosiopi, the last Zapotec king (his dad was king when Cortes came marching through) and an early Christian convert (later burned at the stake by the Dominicans -- thanks, guys!). Our guidebook says that the church and convent Cosiopi built is probably the only church in Mexico funded by a native. Anyway, it still has a lot of the original frescos inside, including a great fresco of JC on the cross in a field of magueys. Upstairs in the ex-convento, now the Casa de Cultura, they have a little museum of local costumes and archeological finds. And, of course, what everyone did in the Revolution. It's actually a very pretty building, and it was crammed full of kids taking classes, everything from regional dance, guitar, Zapoteco ... and karate! And all sneaking glances at the gigantes.

I wondered out loud why on this, our second visit, the town seemed so much more pleasant. I mean, for one, the weather: last time we were here it was oppressively hot and humid, and this time there's been quite a breeze, so it's nice and cool. Then G reminded me that the last time we were here Izzy was dying and we were arguing over what to do. Oh.

We were too full from our excellent, $60 for two comida to eat dinner, so we just got a jamaica from a vendor in the plaza and watched other people chow down on garnachas. But tomorrow, garnachas for sure!

Blogger ate my post about Election Night.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

In the spirit of globalization I present to you this photo from the cemetary in Santa Maria Xoxocotlan:

Monday, November 01, 2004

Gringolandia. Some call it a blight on the Oaxacan landscape, but no matter what you think sooner or later you smash yourself on its treacherous rocks looking for a fast-food fix, or bulk groceries, or a dozen-count box of blue Bic pens.

Lately somebody or other has been trooping through the streets with a pair of banners railing against the creeping globalization of McDeath. Myself, I feel pretty ambivalent about it. Is an Extra Value Meal #3 wrong, but a ice-cold coke from the corner miscelanea right? Is calling Domino's for home delivery wrong, but buying imported New Zealand butter right? Starbucks bad but 7-11 coffee good? I mean, bad coffee must have its fans, because it's still around and going nowhere as far as I can tell. Or those awful Bimbo hamburgers -- Ronald McDonald has simply been unable to drive little Bimbo from the streets of Oaxaca.

It's one of those paper-or-plastic questions with no right answer. So while you're thinking about that, take a look at this.