It was three weeks ago that we arrived in Oaxaca. Since then our collective memory has faded a little. Furthermore, I lost an SD card with pictures from the two weeks there (I am still pretty bummed about it). So these are just highlights of our time around this wonderful city.
First, on the toll road there, pilgrimages were taking place on the road for the Virgin of Juquila.
Several members of a community or organization come together, each with their own petitions for the Virgin. They run, walk, or cycle to Juquila, a city in southern Oaxaca state, passing a torch from one to another in relay fashion.
Behind them drives a truck carrying the other relay runners, and a small (or not so small) shrine displaying a doll-like replica of the virgin.
Sometimes it takes them several days, but all of the runners look really happy. This communal spirit seemed infectious.
Besides being caught behind a group of pilgrims, the road was very nice. And finally we got a view of Oaxaca city:
We only planned to stay a week at Overlander Oasis, a campground run by a Canadian couple named Leanne and Calvin. They live on the property, and there’s only space for a handful of vehicles.
Their place is in Tule, a small village just outside of Oaxaca, famous for having the world’s widest tree. It was a pleasant, clean village, with tourists coming in by bus and filling the restaurants and market in the weekends.
Edd and I loved El Centenario bar, where a local couple insisted that we try Mezcal de Sedrón, a smoky, cinnamony mezcal with sprigs of the sedrón herb inside. It was served with plenty of oranges, worm salt, and roasted peanuts, which around here are mixed with dried onion and garlic skins.
The couple joined us. They had had several beers. We started chatting and I asked the woman about the pilgrimages for the Virgin of Juquila. She was very enthusiastic.
“Listen”, she said. “In Mexico City, they have the Virgen de Guadalupe. Here in Oaxaca, it’s the Virgen de Juquila. If you want anything, really, anything, you just ask the Virgen de Juquila for it, and she will grant it to you.
“Do you want to get married to a specific man? If you ask the Virgen de Juquila, you will marry that man.” In one fluid motion she kissed her thumb and her forefinger and then pointed at the sky.
“But you have to mean it with your heart; you can’t ask her in vain,” she added. I had to wonder what I would ask the Virgin for.
A 10km-long cycle path connects Tule with Oaxaca. So we usually cycled in. The city is easy to walk around and is not very congested. And like other colonial cities, there are several plazas to rest when your legs get tired!
One night we lingered in the zócalo, where protesters were camping out. Edd had his boots polished over a beer.
The easiness of the city quickly convinced us to stay a second week. Edd decided to enroll in a Spanish class! Several language schools in Oaxaca allow you to pretty much turn up on a Monday to start a week-long course. He chose one called Oaxaca Spanish Magic.
Starting Monday morning, Edd cycled into the city for his class with Claudio, a Zapotec Indian who had started learning Spanish at the age of 12, and had since studied English, French, and Law! Edd really enjoyed his classes, and I was so proud of him.
Every morning I would stay in the van making Christmas cards next to our little heater (it was near freezing some mornings).
A couple of hours later I would ride in to meet Edd for lunch. Cue the food pics:
A couple of days I stayed in the city to do some shopping. La Casa de Artesanías was one of my favorite shops for Christmas gifts. The market was also an amazing place to find a huge selection of papel picado bunting. And bags!
One time it took me an hour to get back to Tule on the bus because of a strange parade, which I later found out was a demonstration. Apparently the moto-taxi unions (travelers in Asia know them as tuk-tuks) want permission to enter the city, where the collective transport (colectivo) sedans and taxis now control.
Back in Tule, we were making friends! First of all, the Swiss couple from Teotihuacán were there when we arrived. There was also a cute Dutch couple named Alex and Julia traveling in their Land Cruiser. And a Quebecois family: Karine and Louis, with their two adorable kids, Romy and Zach.
Leanne and Calvin first invited us all out to dinner at their favorite hamburger place in town. That was pretty cool.
We also had a couple of late drunken dinners in Karine and Louis’s Class C camper, the biggest of all our vehicles.
On the second Friday we all met up for dinner at an Indian restaurant called Taj Mahal, run by an extremely kind Pakistani man and his wife. The food was great, and they even brought a special dish to our table.
The also sell Pakistani-made scissors in crazy shapes and sizes, apparently very coveted by Westerners. We had no idea.
Then we all went to a baseball game at the big stadium, nicknamed the “Temple Bélico”. The Oaxaca Guerreros were playing the Mexico City Diablos in the finals of the Pacific League’s winter season.
I lost all my pictures from the game! And the Guerreros lost. But with the constant thump of reggaeton that blared in the stands at full volume, the chants of “culero” at the umpire for bad calls, and the confetti and balloon animals, we had a blast.
A cameraman kept panning to our section to project up on the big screen, and the two kids really hammed it up.
All of our new friends left the next morning, but an older Danish couple named Niels and Ranwei arrived.
The Dutch couple had plans to be in Guatemala the following week! They had gone from Baltimore, across Canada, through California and Mexico in only three months. Here we were, coming up on our fifth month in Mexico alone.
Louis and Karine would be traveling to the coast. We promised to meet up with them there!
On Edd’s birthday morning, we took one of the collective taxis and then a bus to get to to Tlacolula’s famous Sunday market. It was bustling with locals, tourists, and lots of moto-taxis!
Leanne and Calvin had invited us all over for a special dinner for Edd. We made chili from our market veggies, and a batch of tortilla roll-ups that my mom used to make. The Danish couple made a jícama salad, Calvin barbecued peppery chicken wings, and Leanne made a carrot cake. Edd was happy!
I got Edd a new Detroit Tiger’s hat (thank you Amazon), a wallet, and a bell for his bicycle (I think the last was his favorite, if not the most useful).
Two nights later was Niels birthday, so we had yet another potluck dinner!
Our van is getting older too, so we gave it a little makeover! Our sofa cushions had been unraveling at the seams. Leanne and Calvin’s upholstery guy, Victor, made the new ones from some fabric that we’d held on to since Mexico City.
We didn’t stop there. Leanne and Calvin recommended a workshop for quality handwoven cotton tablecloths and blankets. Edd and I picked out a striped tablecloth and Victor made it into seat covers! Our home has a little punch of color now.
Calvin also let Edd use several tools and bits of wood for some minor aesthetic repairs. All of the changes made for a morale boost.
What would we have done without Leanne and Calvin! They treated us like we were at home. No wonder their place is so popular.
We had to get our brakes looked at before we left, and ended up staying yet another night.
I have to confess that we didn’t visit any museums or cultural centers in Oaxaca. We missed seeing the mighty Monte Albán ruins and the petrified springs at Mitla. We feel guilty about not exploring the surrounding mountains or valleys.
But we did take Spanish classes, drink mezcal, and make friends. And maybe after nearly nine months on the road, a little community is just what we needed.
Alex and Julia’s blog: projectdeviation.com