Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Life's a Beach! (Sorry, couldn't resist...)

"Check yourself before you wreck yourself...", the lyrics of a popular 80s pop song advise me, as I type this post over a "family size" Victoria cerveza at a patio outside of a convenience store with an internet connection.  Sounding dodgy?  It's actually a paradise of a work space here in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico.  "Where are the peanuts?" asks Harold, as I hand him the popular chili and lime flavored snack purchased last night at a Spanish supermarket chain.

We have been looking forward to coming to Puerto Escondido for about two years, ever since we started planning this trip and decided to make Mexico our first stop. It all started when we informed Harold's dad of our plans to visit this tourist destination popular among Mexicans and some Europeans.  Aware of our budget-consciousness, he advised us to make the six-hour journey in an Urvan instead of the massive, air-conditioned, TV-equipped bus, for half the price.  "Chido!", we exclaimed.  Awesome! Why pay US$35 when you could pay $15?  Saves us the equivalent of two to three meals out!  But what the hell was an Urvan?  

Harold and I, having spent the last 13, and 8, years outside of Mexico, respectively, are completely out of touch with current modes of transportation utilized in the country, as Mexico is a rapidly-changing, complex place.  Anyway, an Urvan is a diesel Mercedes-Benz van decked out with 16 seats, providing about the same amount of personal space as an airplane.  Our huge backpacks crammed into the tiny storage space in the back/ in front alongside the driver, and our valuables on our laps, we set off to the beach as the only foreigners in the vehicle.  

There are no toll highways to the coast from Oaxaca City, so the old road took us through curve after curve of tiny highland indigenous villages set amid misty mountains and pine forests, often with little indication of the Spanish Conquest.  On this path, some of the thirty percent of Oaxacans who are members of indigenous groups could be observed herding livestock, building ecological cabins, operating rest stops including convenience stores, bathrooms, and showers, and warming up tortillas over open fires.  Birds of prey cruised overhead.  We passed a patch of field burning, traditionally used to prepare the land for the next siembra, or planting.  The bus driver stopped by the side of the road as all of the passengers dutifully got out and peed, one by one, behind the bushes.  

As we decreased in elevation in the last couple of hours of the journey, we passed the turnoff for Juquila, a town housing the temple of the Virgen de Juquila, famous for many miracles granted as a reward for those who make the journey by foot or bicycle from Oaxaca City.  Pilgrims request their wishes come true via clay models representing whatever it is they desire.  Harold requested a truck at age ten, and by golly, it came true (ten years later)!  We just sold the thing, and it never gave us a bit of trouble!  Sold it for a good price, too!  As she appreciates a return visit to give thanks for her favors, we owe Juquila a pilgrimage, which is something else we are trying to make happen on this trip.

Anyway, shortly after the Juquila turnoff, the hours of curvy roads took their toll on my queasy, probably already Salmonella-infected stomach, and I wretched and wretched as I vomited all over the delicious pan dulce we had purchased for the journey, filling the plastic bag with puke. People opened windows and fanned their faces, waiting for the fetid odor, which fortunately never came, as I had managed to avoid puking on any surface of the vehicle or myself!  Now that's a miracle!

We pulled in to Puerto Escondido shortly after 11pm, a couple hours after we planned, and promptly flagged down a taxi to take us to Harold's mom's friend's house, the address of which the driver was unfamiliar.  Awesome!  We failed to identify said house after driving around for a half an hour, so we asked to be dropped off at the Hostal Shalom, which we had been told had camp sites available for $7.  Closed.  Hmmm, what better option than to stay in the "Hotel Hostal"  (Is it a hotel, is it a hostel?  Kept us guessing...), up the street about a kilometer?   After all, I was still queasy and we were both exhausted as the clock reached midnight.   The promising grand entrance led to none other than a refrigeration company, behind which was the dilapidated Hotel Hostal, charging $25 a night for moldy walled, grimy-cornered, stained-blanketed rooms.  Looking like something out of The Addams Family, rotting mangoes graced the poorly kept hotel grounds, a skinny cat rested on some faded chairs, and a few sheep roamed around near the surprisingly sparkling swimming pool.  We were served water in a dirty pitcher.  Daring to use the sink to wash up, we promptly collapsed into bed, rising the next morning to head to the Hostal Shalom.

The Hostal Shalom is about the cheapest lodging option in town, as far as we know.  It has rooms, dorms, cabanas, and campsites, with access to a super-relaxing beach, Playa Carrizalillo, a 2km walk away.  There's a bar, snack shop and wireless internet, with tasty restaurants and coffee shops surrounding it.  Would be perfectly idyllic, were it not for the security factor.  We trustingly had the owner lock up our valuables in the food storage room and left to go swimming.  We returned to find that she had left for the day, taking the only key with her, thereby cutting us off from any money, debit cards, cameras, computers, passports, and medications until the following day.  I decided the best option was to throw a fit.  Harold threatened to break in.  It was a one-two punch that resulted in the owner making a special trip in to unlock the storage area for us.  As if it was such a favor!!! The pothead staff has rubbed us the wrong way, and we will aim to avoid staying here again, even though we did appreciate the opportunity to use our discount backpacking tent, which served us well. 

I leave you with some pictures, with more to come.....

The aforementioned cat.

There it is...

His and hers rotten/rusty lounge chairs.

Harold showcases the ancient air conditioner- worked better than we expected!

Below, caught 'em just as they were trying to escape.  Lil buggers.  Nice rusty tractor in the background.

Puerto Angelito fishing fleet and swimmers.

Downtown fishing boat.

Same ol' @#%^, says the dog.

The less manicured part of Puerto Escondido.

Chacos!  A little taste of Portland in Oaxaca.

Mexican cola- the best!

Note my attempts at sun protection: whitish cast to face, floppy hat.

Beach where we swam today.

Getting vitamins via a jugo fresco in the market eating area.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gettin' high in Oaxaca City

High, as in elevation!  Y'all know we are clean-living folks :)  You'd think elevation might be a basic fact one would know before visiting a new place, but no....  We just realized we're a mile high, here in Oaxaca City!  Considering we lived in sea-level Portland for years, that might explain the severe headaches during the first few days of our stay (thought it was coffee withdrawal), and our shortness of breath after our six hour hike in the 90-something degree heat and humidity.  Yep, that'll do it.  

Winding our way through small plots of farmland on our way to San Jose el Mogote, a small archaeological site north of Oaxaca City, we reflected on the toughness of the elderly men tilling the fields by hand and plowing with horses.  Stunning Brahma bulls obstructed our path at one point, as hummingbirds and falcons pulled our gaze upward.  Members of the farming communities shouted greetings and requested to be photographed, as they pointed us toward our destination.  A traveler's dream!  We couldn't help but feel spoiled as we strolled through the countryside, stopping to admire colorful graffiti under a bridge, remark at a Vans sneaker stuck in the mud, or marvel at two dogs' cooperative hunting skills as they captured a squirrel.  It was such an idyllic day that I even drank half of a certain ubiquitous cola beverage without worrying about the sugar or carbonation for more than about a half hour (is that an achievement?).  

Anyway, on to the photos:

The fundamental grain to Mexican cuisine: maiz.  First cultivated here about 6,000 years ago, most corn consumed by modern day Mexicans comes from the American Midwest, as a result of free trade agreements that made it cheaper to import many food products than to subsidize them here.

Below, Harold observes a group of falcons passing overhead.


A man works his parcel of land manually, his horse grazing nearby.  Below, a tunnel leads to another farming community on the northern end of Oaxaca City.

Above, the colorful graffiti beautifies the underpass on the way to San Jose el Mogote.

We pass a man driving a horse trailer, and we ask for directions for a third time.

More uncomfortable-looking manual farm labor, complete with altitude, heat and humdity.  
Kudos to these guys!

A horse shows off a brilliant coat and mane for us.

Prickly pear blossoms.  Leaves from this cactus, known as the nopal, form part of a delicious salad consumed as part of a vast Mexican cuisine, largely unknown in the United States.  The fruits, called tuna (yep, you read that right), are sweet and seedy, and frequently consumed in frozen desserts.

Some sort of wild chili pepper we were unable to identify.  Hundreds of varieties of chilies, fresh, dried, ground, whole, are used as the basis for Mexican cooking.

Village of San Jose el Mogote.

Another village scene.

Amusing faces on Zapotec containers.  The site we visited was once a prominent Zapotec town in around the tenth century AD, and later became a hacienda subsequent to the Spanish Conquest.  The museum contains Zapotec artifacts, as well as information regarding the owners and employees of the hacienda, resulting in a short, sweet, well-presented museum experience.

The Zapotecs incorporated clay figures in dramatic productions.  Not sure what is going on here....

 This is where we are in Mexico!  Just one state away from Guatemala to the south.  Oaxaca is much-loved among artists, both Mexican and foreign, and has a strong artisan craft tradition.  Gastronomy is a prominent part of the culture here, and though it is among the poorest states in Mexico, the affordability and quality of food is overwhelming.  We've spent a good amount of time stuffing our faces!
 In the middle of the state is where we currently are, about six hours to Mexico City by bus, and six hours to the coast, which we have yet to visit....

I love burros!  Not a burro will go unphotographed by me.

Reaching the archaeological site, much of which remains to be excavated.  This area, and much of Mexico, is full of non-touristy ruins such as these.

Giant blooming cactus.

The ice cream man passes through the farming communities.

The view from San Jose el Mogote.

El mogote.

According to my taste, one of the tackier houses I've laid eyes on.  Pepto-bismol comes to mind.

Hacienda San Jose el Mogote.

Adobe/dung bricks.

Heading back with sore legs and a serious appetite.... I think the neighborhood Zumba class will have to wait till tomorrow.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Harold's return to the homeland: Oaxaca City, Mexico

A few moments from our first days in Oaxaca City after Harold's thirteen year absence......

Harold tries on a traditional coastal hat from Huahutla, Oaxaca, Mexico, as we present various gifts to the family and begin to catch up on the last 13 years of Harold's life.  How sweet is that face?

Harold's mom, Lupita, aunt Consuelo, dad Hugo.

Los hombres Avendano: Harold, uncle Ariel, cousin Brian, dad Hugo.

A gringo-ified Harold discussses travel with cousin Brian.

La guerita in the Oaxaca City Zocalo, where I slept on the street while backpacking ten years ago.

Harold discusses sound equipment and possible movie ideas with cousin Carlos.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Los Globesters: the journey begins!

Busting out the blogging  gadgets at the Portland airport, getting ready to board our first flight to San Francisco, where we will spend the evening with our close friend Caitlin before taking off for Mexico City! Tomorrow it's off to Harold's homeland of chocolate and tlayudas (more about those later...), aka Oaxaca!!!