I have safely returned from Oaxaca, land of the seven moles! (That's the chocolate and chile sauce, not the burrowing animal.) I had a wonderful time and I hope you enjoyed learning more about the food, culture, and craziness that is Mexico. I apologize for the hiatus while I was recovering from my illness; I simply wasn't able to write during that time. I'm feeling MUCH better now, however, and will now return you to your regularly scheduled mixing it up!
One of the wonderful things about travel is that it can really push your boundaries. In Oaxaca I've had the chance to face one of my fears which is of being underground. I'm a bit of a claustrophobe, and additionally I'm made terribly nervous by the idea of tons of rock over my head. (I suppose it's only natural, really!)
However, I haven't been about to let a little fear stop me from trying new things, so I have been jumping into tombs left and right! I went into two shallow ones in Zaachila, and two fairly extensive ones in Mitla.
I won't lie; crawling through damp rock tunnels and breathing stuffy hot air was still unpleasant. I don't think I'll take up spelunking any time soon! However, my desire to see the beautiful wall carvings in the tombs was a good incentive to go underground when otherwise I would have completely avoided doing so. Thanks to traveling in Oaxaca I've been able to face a long-time fear. What a wonderful way to mix it up!
One thing you hear people talking about often is the attitude of the people living there. New Yorkers are stereotyped as being rude, folks from the South have a reputation for being hospitable, and I sometimes hear that Seattleites are standoffish.
The spirit of Oaxacans, however, is incredibly kind, generous, and open-hearted. So far I have yet to meet a native (or even a visitor!) who has been anything but amazing. In the market people offer you tons of free samples, and then (wonder of wonders!) sit back and chat with you rather than pushing you to buy. I have seen only ONE beggar -- people would rather be doing something for their community or their family. Everyone I have asked for directions, advice, or information (gracias Señora Panchita para su información de los frijoles!) has immediately offered it in a friendly and honest fashion -- including our taxi driver Humberto who told us how to take the bus!
It is easy to be overly critical of humanity -- I'm guilty of it myself -- and to feel that our societies are losing their basic goodness. In Oaxaca, at least, that is soundly refuted. I cannot imagine a more inspiring experience.
I have always been pretty skeptical of ebook readers. I love the heft of physical books, the smell and feel of paper, and the color and art of the covers. I like how reading a book in public can be an invitation to an exciting conversation, and I am deeply satisfied by a well-organized bookshelf. So until recently I never felt the need to bother with any of the various ebook readers.
However, my trip to Oaxaca is 12 days long, and I was determined to only take carry-on bags to avoid the fees and dangers of checking luggage. Luckily on the clothes side of things, the place we're staying has a washer and dryer. However, there was no way I could possibly pack enough books to keep me entertained (I read very fast, and have been known to go through as many as six books in four days).
So, I took the plunge and downloaded Kindle for iPhone onto my phone. There are TONS of free ebooks to be had from Kindle; both copyright-free ones such as Alice in Wonderland and specials from current authors (often romance and mystery novels, but I happened upon a free e-version of Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon). Of course you can also buy ebooks, but I still have a hard time justifying the purchase of a book that I can't put on my shelf. So I picked up several of these to keep me occupied. I also downloaded a free app that contained the entire set of Sherlock Holmes stories.
I have to say, I'm rather hooked. I still am skeptical of the utility of a single-purpose piece of tech like the Kindle or Nook -- I'd rather use my smartphone for as many jobs as possible -- but for people who travel I think ebooks are totally the way to go. Generally you can change the font size (and sometimes even the font) to make your story easier to read, and with baggage fees going nowhere but up it makes complete sense to "pack" your books on your phone rather than take up valuable luggage space. By bringing along most of my reading material on my iPhone (I still brought a couple of physical books!) I was able to pack so lightly as to be able to still have room for souvenirs!
So next time you travel, mix it up and consider using ebooks to keep yourself entertained!
(As always, I am not affiliated with any products or companies I mention here!)
As you might imagine, there are a TON of churches in Mexico. I imagine I'll go to many more, but I've been to three so far.
The first was Santo Domingo in Oaxaca City. It is immense and gorgeous and almost entirely gilded inside. It definitely seemed to be more of a tourist attraction than a commonly-used church. I actually felt a little strange about it; it's weird to see so much wealth when right around it are shacks built out of corrugated metal and crumbling bricks.
The second church I went to was in Zaachila. This church was much more simple, with white-plastered walls and simple wood fixtures. There were mannequins of various Catholic figures in niches along the walls dressed in elaborate and rich clothing. This church was definitely more in use, and it was a comforting place to sit.
The third church was by far my favorite, both for its looks and the story behind it. (The photo above is of this church.) The Ex Convento de Cuilapan was built around the 1500s, and it was so over the top and so over-budget that the bishop actually ordered construction to cease. Although unfinished it is now classified as a national treasure, and draws visitors from all over Mexico and beyond. The stone work is absolutely amazing, and even more incredible; there were hardly any barred doors or velvet ropes. I was able to wander freely around the building and up various stairs and into assorted rooms. Right nearby the church was a school, and it was also cute to see all the high school sweethearts trysting on the basilica grounds! Definitely worth the bus ride out to see it!
Transportation in Mexico is very different from America. Cars are just as prevalent, surprisingly! According to our taxi driver, this is because about 30 years ago many major car manufacturers began offering very low down payments and very low monthly payments. So everyone here jumped on the car bandwagon. I'm very glad to not be driving here, however. Cars supposedly drive on the right, like in America; however it's more of a guideline really. People swerve around each other all the time, and there aren't actually any lines painted on the streets. Oaxaca itself is a morass of tiny one-way streets and only occasionally-working stoplights. On the highways, there are no speed limits. Instead, there are speed bumps every mile or so.
Probably the most prevalent car brand in Oaxaca is Nissan. All of the taxis are Nissans, and many personal cars as well. After that is Ford and Chevy (and a bunch of VW Beetles for no good reason because VW has a factory in Puebla). Those four account for perhaps 80% of the cars I've seen so far. The rest is a smattering of Seat, Peugeot, and Renault. I've seen very few other Japanese cars here -- maybe one or two each of Toyota, Honda, Suzuki, and Mazda.
Besides walking, the other major way to get around in Mexico are the buses. The way buses seem to work is a man wakes up one day, buys a bus, decorates the holy heck out of it, and makes up a route. Then he drives that route whenever he feels like it, stopping at unmarked and seemingly random points along the way to pick up and drop off passengers.
It's kind of a neat way to do things, when you think about it. Routes are completely determined by supply and demand. If there are lots of people who need to get from one village to another then many buses may drive that route. If there are only a few, then a bus driver may only drive by that way once or twice a day. They are completely independently owned and operated (as far as I can tell), so the government doesn't have to pay for them and the incentive for the drivers to do a good job and have useful stops and hours is making their living! When my parents and I went to Zaachila (and a few points in between there and Oaxaca) we took several buses, and they were always clean, rarely overcrowded, and almost always stopped exactly where we wanted to go.
Of course I know that transportation is different in different countries, but I never would have thought that the very basis of the bus network would be interpreted in this fashion! What a fun way to mix it up!
It's Alice Waters' favorite restaurant in Oaxaca, so I guess it stands to reason that I would enjoy it too! Itatoní was a bit of an adventure to get to -- my parents and I didn't rent a car in Oaxaca so we braved the city bus system (at 4 pesos, 50 centavos bus fare was pretty easy on the pocketbook) and managed to get there with surprisingly little fuss.
The waiter was very helpful, and we ended up with some insanely delicious food -- tetelas which are kind of like the Mexican samosa, and memelas which you can see in the above picture. I also had orange/pineapple juice that was straight out of the fruits. What a tasty opportunity to mix it up!