Thursday, May 17, 2012

Our time in Oaxaca has come to an end.

cross at the aqueducts

It has been a busy four weeks with our usual array of new friends and good memories. As always I find this last blog to be more fragmented as I try to organize unorganizable events. Cultural differences and similarities fascinate me. Some of it has do with how they interpret etiquette and responsiblity. Proper manners such as never coming to your restaurant table with the bill until you ask. Don't get up from the dinner table and leave without asking permission. Their desire to please is very Eastern, therefore if you ask for directions they will give them to you . . . even if its incorrect. Its better to see you smile with happiness than to see that lost frustrated look on your face. The solution is to use a map. 
Another strange thing wasn't so apparent at first (but now I finally get it), has to do with language. One day during class, the teacher corrected me because I wrote "I forgot to put gas in my car yesterday." Hugo said "No, your car forgot to put gas in itself." He laughed at our incredulous expressions. I asked my conversation partner (a Mexican lady who is an English teacher) how do you say "typo"? You know, like an error on a menu or something. She said "Error del dedo", which literally means "error of the finger". Hugo says this is common in suppressed cultures where being at fault could be painful. He pointed out that Americans tend to take credit for everything; "I broke my ankle." Really? Did your take a hammer and break it yourself? I guess all language has its idiosyncrasies
The street band during the day

I remember walking with Joe downtown on one of the pedestrian cobblestone streets. It was dark and somewhat crowded. We heard Santana’s ‘Black Magic Woman’ playing. A band had set up on the sidewalk, so of course we sat down on the opposite sidewalk and enjoyed the little concert.

A couple from our school, from Canada, have been traveling around the world for two years! Can you imagine that? Liz writes a travel blog that is very interesting. They started in Asia and worked their way to Mexico. They have two more months and they go home.

We discovered a hot dog cart by the cathedral. We staked it out for about a week. The guy always had a crowd lined up waiting for their dogs, so we finally mustered up the courage and got our dogs for 13 pesos apiece. They were fantastic! Loaded up with all the goodies like salsa, relish, mustard, and catsup. We ate there every chance we got.

cross at a hotel
 A major issue here is the lack of water. The region reminds me of Yreka, California. It is a high mountain valley, about three or four thousand feet. They have a reservoir, but they bring the water for human use to the houses by trucks for some reason. Apparently the amount the city is able to provide through the pipes isn’t enough, so people have to pay the trucks to top off their huge rooftop cisterns. The water for the house (remember, this is a very nice house), stinks to high heaven. No one drinks the water from the trucks or the pipes. They only drink bottled water. When we took showers we always put a bucket under the water as it warmed to save as much as possible for the garden. This morning, on our last day, the water just stopped. Not a drop came out, so to use the toilets we had to go outside, fill our buckets with dirty water from the garden barrel, and fill the toilet tank in order to flush. Ironically, it rained so hard two nights ago that the streets turned into flash flood rivers. We got completely drenched.

Our Mexican conversation students
 A frequent sight was the parking police walking around with license plates under one arm and a screwdriver in the other hand. We questioned this oddity at school. They said the police simply took your license plate if you parked illegally. So then what? They had to go down and buy new plates for about 150 bucks. The ticket for driving without plates was even higher. People were always trying different tricks to avoid this. Some welded their plates to their cars. Joe suggested making them magnetic so you could just remove them and take them with you. Devious mind.

Well I’m signing out until the next adventure. It’s been fun traveling with you as always, Heidi and Joe.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Que Chido!

I love the unique cultural stuff like que chido! Meaning how cool! The vocabulary for saying nice things is extensive here. In Costa Rica the style was all about the diminutive . . . everything was referred to as little; “Look at the cute little dog with the little lady walking down the little street.” Here it is “Please look at the sweet-pleasant dog with the amiable-kind lady politely walking down the enjoyable-lovely street.” You think I’m kidding? It’s true, this is the nicest city I’ve been to. During communion at the Cathedral, the Boy Scouts stand at the steps to assist all the ladies and the elderly. All meals finish with lavish praise to whoever cooked it or served it, followed by “Buen Provecho” (which basically translates to ‘It’s for your providence/good health’).

Most nights are pretty magical here. We often walk down to El Centro. One night, as we were walking, we came across a group of teens. About fifteen of them got up and came towards us. In the back of my mind I thought of all of the warnings about how dangerous Mexico is, even though I knew better. I was a bit embarrassed when they lined up facing each other and started dancing the traditional dances of Oaxaca. We sat and watched them practice for awhile. We saw this spontaneous dancing occur several times throughout our stay here. The traditions are so important to them. 16 distinct languages are spoken and they even have a huge fountain with statues of the 8 major old religions practiced here. It’s a surprisingly diverse place, but the Virgin Mary is everywhere. My favorite is the painting of her on a tree on a street corner.

But let’s go back further in time to about 500 years before Christ. A community of scientists and religious leaders began to form on the top of a mountain in the valley of Oaxaca. They became incredibly powerful, ruling from this complex city of 40,000 for 1,200 years. What drove them off their mountaintop remains a mystery. I’m guessing it was drought. Now it is called Monte Alban. As you approach the ruins the usual playing field is the first stop. From there the city is barely visible, but it beckons to you. As you step to the rim of this majestic man-made valley the history feels as though it is surging upward and wrapping itself around you. The archeologists did a good job of clearing the massive field where the market would have been. The palace and the bizarre boat-shaped astrology building are beautifully preserved. Joe and I sat under a thick tree in the shade and imagined the bustling community, the light glittering off the glossy walls of the palace, the pyramid-like steps leading up to the temples, and the ever present vendors set up on the grassy fields. After climbing to the other rim we could look down on the humbler dwellings of the surrounding city ruins.

Back at Oaxaca City we stayed at a small hotel with a pool and air conditioning. We stayed in the pool or the room for 24 hours! A large family from Puebla dominated one end of the pool, and we had the other end. That didn’t last long. The family ring leader, a 4 year old little girl, named Frida, came straight over to us and made the introductions. “That’s my cousin, and that’s my other cousin, well they are all my cousins except my parents and sisters.” She sat on Joe’s lap and petted his arm as she talked. Finally she told him he was going to be her pony and made him turn around so she could climb on. Her family was in hysterics. So after speaking Spanish to her for 30 minutes, she says “How come you don’t speak Spanish? Are you from China?” Ahh . . . out of the mouths of babes. By Sunday evening we were refreshed and ready to go again. Monday morning we were back to school to try to learn Spanish J

Monday, May 7, 2012

Street Smarts

As we walk about this town we realize you have gotta keep your wits about you! Danger lurks everywhere . . . not the people, they are sweet beyond belief, but the sidewalks for example have holes in them. Some holes are big enough for a foot, others are big enough for a person. Three inch pipes stick out of the sidewalks in a seemingly random manner. Windows with beautiful ironwork stick out over the sidewalk above the heads of the locals, but not above our heads . . . it's more like eye-level for us. You also need to step over the occasional inert form of a sleeping drunkard.

If you survive long enough to get to El Centro, then you have to watch out for the ever present little old ladies and old men who beg. Have you ever seen Shrek II, the one with Puss-n-boots? He would look at his prey with big soft brown eyes until their defenses dropped and then he would attack! Take them by surprise. Well these little tiny old cutie-pies do the same thing. They gaze up at you with their hands out with big brown eyes pleading . . . all day long. Thank goodness I’ve seen Puss-n-boots at work J   Also when someone says ‘buen precio’, meaning good price, it isn’t a good price. A tall scruffy looking young man works the crowd pretending to be selling an ugly ratty old doll, but he’s actually selling drugs. Joe was looking the other direction one day and he made lewd gestures towards me. By the look on my face he realized his mistake and made a quick escape.

We were looking for the Mercato de Artesanas the other day and stumbled across a different type of artesian. Joe alerted me to the ladies lined up against the wall by the motel, and nervously ushered me to the next street.

Our room has drain covers in the sink and the shower . . . don’t remove those covers unless you want cockroaches visiting at night. Speaking of bugs, there is a sound here that I couldn’t identify at first. It sounded like a Muslim call to prayer, or an air-raid siren. Since no one was ducking for cover or kneeling towards Mecca, I searched for another answer. It is a beetle!

There is an odd system of parking here (odd to an American). Most streets are one way and you can parallel park on the left side. If the parking is all taken and you think your errand is short, you can park in the lane next to the parked cars (the fast lane). During busy times of the day the fast lane will be full of parked cars and the inner cars can’t get out. However the quick stop cars really do come and go quickly, but it’s still odd to me. By-the-way, don’t trust the pedestrian crosswalk signals, they may prompt you to cross during a green light for four lanes of traffic . . . you’ve gotta keep your wits about you! And another thing . . . everyone here talks about taking a Suburban for group taxis or tours. I’ve seen two Suburbans since I’ve been here and one is sitting on the side of the road with weeds growing around the tires. It took me three weeks to figure that out that Suburban is Spanglish for a van, so now I don’t stress about finding the “Suburban”.

Well my time’s up and I’ve got to get ready to head back into town to meet friends for dinner. I’ll try to write one more time before we leave.

Hasta luego, Heidi and Pepe

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Happy Birthday spelled out in flower petals
Hierves el Agua
It's been one big party around here for about 4 days. It started with Joe taking me on an all-day tour to Hierves el Agua, Mitla, El Tule, a textile house and of course the obligatory trip to the mezcal factory (aka tequila). Later he took me to our favorite little B&B, Las Bugambias. He booked the best room, and took me to dinner at La Olla. We opened a bottle of Petite Syrah from Modus Operandi. Did I mention it was for my birthday J Que romantica! Unfortunately we were so exhausted from our day that we passed out in our air conditioned room on our giant, soft king sized bed. Air conditioners are a great invention.

 Hierves el Agua (boiling water) is an amazing place with a "waterfall" of calcified salt.The “waterfall” is hundreds of feet tall and appears frozen in space. Several cool pools of salt water are nearby with cool water "boiling" out of the springs. Mitla is an ancient town that is still occupied. The massive, beautifully intact ruins are part of the community. El Tule is a ginormous tree . . . biggest circumference in the Americas. Estimated to be about 2,000 years old.
Joe standing about fifty feet in front of El Tule

On Sunday we went to mass at the capital Cathedral. Lots of kids being baptized that day, probably because the following day was Dia de Los Ninos (Children's day), April 30th. The children got the day off of school, so the Zocolo was packed with clowns, balloons, real fireworks and musicians on both Sunday and Monday. (I say real fireworks because this town has an obsession with the fireworks that just make a loud BOOM and flash white. This goes on day and night like a war with cannons)

Palace at Mitla
Monday was my birthday and first thing in the morning Vicki gave me a gift, a little trinket box she painted by hand. At school they bought me a chocolate cake and sang the traditional Mexican birthday song and followed that with English, German, and Japanese. We went to one of our favorite pubs to study, and the owner bought our beers as a present. Joe bought me a traditional Oaxacan dress and we went home. At home they had a little party for me with homemade carrot cake and sang to me again. That night we went back to town to El Olivo, a fancy Spanish bar we like a lot, and the bartender, Antonio bought appetizers (tapas) for us and discounted my glass of wine!

Wait! That’s not all. Tuesday was Mayday. Mayday is Mexico’s Labor day/ Protest day. It was mayhem in El Centro. The dump trucks, followed by the garbage trucks and then the gas and water trucks and more trucks went for a mile, bringing Oaxaca to a standstill. Thousands of people wearing matching union shirts marched in an orderly fashion to the Zocolo (state government seat). When we finally managed to get back home Vicki’s family and friends came over for a late lunch. They brought vodka, Red Bull, whiskey and beer (don't panic Mom, I had half a glass of wine). Joe and I just sat back and tried to keep up with what was being said, or shouted. Three of them are lawyers and one is an economist. The good-natured arguments were really fun to observe. They finally packed up and left with big hugs and promises to return. (Vicki is one of 8 children, 6 are lawyers, 1 is a doctor, and Vicki was a teacher—a very affluent family).

So today is calm, and I am glad. I’ve had enough craziness for now.

Heidi (and Joe)