We arrived in Merida in the afternoon. We were met by a representative from Veloz Renta de Autos, a local company. We completed paperwork in the airport parking lot and Abby and I were off. I was quickly reminded that 1) I had not driven a car with a manual transmission in many years 2) that driving in a Mexican city differs a bit from my Ohio driving style. Abby agreed that I would get a pass on my language while operating the VW Gol. She also learned how to roll windows up and down.
Our hotel, Luz en Yucatan, was lovely! It is said to be the old convent for the Santa Lucía church. This meant it was a few steps from the Santa Lucía square which was surrounded by restaurants and shops.
Stairs to our lovely room
We put our things in our roof top room that had its own patio and headed to the pool. We swam, relaxed, and talked to a few other guests about easy, close dinner options. We especially enjoyed chatting with Pat and Tommy, a couple who has retired to Belize. They quickly became friends over the next couple days- I had afternoon, poolside conversations with Pat while Tommy and Abby entertained one another.
We decided to walk to the nearby square and found an Italian restaurant that suited Abby’s taste for buttered pasta while I enjoyed Marsala ravioli and a glass of red, Mexican wine. Oh, how I wish I’d gotten the name of that wine! Abby was serenaded with an authentic version of La Bomba.
After dinner, we went to ki’Xocolatl (Choco Story) for a cup of coffee and a chocolate treat. It was time to get some rest before the next day of adventures!
For my trip south this year, Abby joined me. We explored the northern Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, visiting the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo. Abby was such an amazing travel partner! She was enthusiastic, brave, and full of life. She tried new things, ate new foods, and met new people. I thoroughly enjoyed her company on this wonder-filled trip!
Itinerary: We flew directly to Merida where we rented a car. After exploring Merida for a few days, we headed to Isla Holbox near the northeastern point of the peninsula. From Isla Holbox, we went to Valladolid from where we could easily make some day trips. Our last stop was in the area between Coba and Tulum with an eagerly anticipated trip to Xel Ha. We spent our final night back in beautiful Merida.
For Spring Break, we traveled to Panama with Steve’s parents and his brother, John. It was fun to share this adventure! I have grown to so love this country. While I always enjoy new places, there is comfort in returning to favorite spots and seeing great friends!
We flew to Miami and met up with the rest of the Roaches. From there, we continued on to Panama City for a night. We stayed at the Albrook Inn, a lovely, local hotel with a swimming pool and restaurant. It is conveniently located near the regional airport, making it the perfect spot to relax before we headed to Bocas del Toro in the morning.
My last day in Oaxaca City. I had a bittersweet breakfast with my host family. They had generously agreed to let me leave my pack until the evening when I planned to move to a hotel. I said my goodbyes to my new found friends at the morning coffee spot and headed to school. After my first class, we celebrated graduation with cake and certificates. My conversation teacher decided we’d take my second class on the road and visit a traditional market.
Oaxaca has markets in different locations most days of the week. The six by three block area was filled with people shopping for a little bit of everything. There were a few booths with traditional handicrafts, but most offered modern day necessities and fresh food. Unfortunately, I failed to take a picture. It was a bit overwhelming and crowded, in the best possible way. I had relayed my desire to get to Hierve el Agua to my teacher, so we parted ways a little early and she pointed me in the direction of the baseball stadium/taxi depot.
I waited for a taxi to Mitla, but found a bus first. I asked the conductor if there were many stops and he said no, we would arrive in Mitla quickly. Four blond, young ladies were already on the bus speaking German. I guessed they were probably headed to Hierve el Agua, as well. We arrived in Mitla and they confirmed they were also seeking a ride to the petrified falls. The five of us loaded up in the back of a pick up truck and waited. Eventually, the driver approached us and told us if we were willing to pay a bit extra (the equivilant of $2 instead of $1.50), he’d be willing to take the 5 of us. We all agreed.
The ride up the dirt road was rough and dusty, but a fun experience. After about 45 minutes, we arrived at the entrance to Hierve el Agua.
There were little booths selling rum laced coconuts, beer, and typical food. From the ‘retail’ area, you walked down hill to the mineral pools. Families and friends from Mexico and all around the globe swam in the main pool, passed around mezcal, and relaxed in the sun. It was a festive, yet tranquil atmosphere. Because the trip to the falls is not an easy one, it prevents this amazing, unique area from being overly touristy. From this spot, you could see where another set of pools spilled over the hills. The water, heavy in minerals, creates petrified falls.
The last trucks back down the hill left at 6:00, so about 5:15, I cleaned up and headed back up the hill. One thing I’ve learned traveling is to stop and look back every once in a while.
I grabbed a beer and waited for a truck to carry me back down to Mitla. Since it was the end of the day, the truck was packed. The passenger compartment was full. The four girls with whom I rode up were in the covered bed of the truck, as well as two girls from Argentina, and a drunk Mexican fellow who lives in California. I sat on the floor with my back against the tailgate, hoping it was well latched. The fellow, who had obviously consumed a good amount of mezcal at the pool, was pure entertainment on the way back to town. He played pop hits that the girls referred to as ‘hostel music’ on his phone and did embarrassing dances. He flirted pitifully with the adorable girl sitting next to him. All this while eight of us road in the bed of the pick up down the dusty, bumpy hill.
The road the Hierve el Agua
It was dark when we made it back to Oaxaca City. The taxi driver took us to the main hub near the Zocalo. It was Friday night and main square was hopping. I was able to find a local taxi driver who was willing to go to my home stay to pick up my pack and drop me at the nearby hotel. Casa del Sótano was lovely, but I didn’t get to fully appreciate it. I had to repack and prepare for my early morning flight to the coast!
After school, I planned to go to Mitla and then on to Hierve el Agua. I returned to the collective taxi corner near the baseball stadium and found one with ‘Mitla’ in the front window. Again, I ended up in the middle of the front. Obviously, the locals had this figured out better than I did. Timing is everything!
When we arrived in Mitla, the taxi driver indicated the corner from which the camionetas leave for Hierve el Agua and then dropped me in the center of town. By now, it was after 2:00 and I was hungry. I went in to the nearest restaurant and ordered a tlayuda and a coke. I got the Real Thing!
After lunch, I decided to walk up to the corner to find a truck to Hierve el Agua. I spoke with a driver and he told me that he does make the trip. He also told me he needed 10 people to do so. I waited and chatted with the camioneta drivers, watching for tourists to get off the bus. After about an hour, the driver told me that it was growing too late in the day and he felt it would be a waste of my time to wait any longer. I appreciated his candor and still had time to visit the ruins and walk around the town. I found a mototaxi/tuk-tuk to take me up the hill.
Mitla was the religious center of the Zapotec culture, while Monte Alban (Tuesday’s trip) was the political hub. We soon arrived at the front gate. I paid my entrance fee and set off to see the elaborate, geometric carvings on the ruins that make Mitla unique. I was bombarded by women showing me beautiful textiles and tried to explain to them I had no space left in my pack. They suggested I purchase a woven bag from them to carry my textiles… sales professionals! I managed to politely escape empty handed. It was field trip day and school groups swarmed the area. The students had impeccable manners and we talked as we waited in line to climb down into the tombs.
Carvings on Ruins
Temple facing Courtyard
Entrance to Tombs
Stairs to Tombs
Tomb with Carvings
Example of Geometric Patterns
As I left the ruins, I found a nieve stand and ordered my new fave- burnt milk with tuna. The views as I started back down the hill toward town were amazing!
I walked back past stores and restaurants to the taxi stand on the corner. I was greeted by drivers melodically calling ‘Oaxaca’ and I knew I was in the right place. I affirmed that I wanted to go back to the city and, you guessed it, was motioned to sit in the front seat to wait for the fifth passenger. I was off on another @$$ grabbing ride! This driver obviously did not feel fourth gear was awkward. As we neared the city, he handed me his phone and asked me to put my number in it. I paused, and instead handed him my phone so he could add his number. I failed to save it…The backseat passengers had already been dropped off, so when the other front seat passenger got out, I decided I would do the same. I found a bus stop, paid my 5 pesos, and rode back to my homestay in the Historic Center of Oaxaca.
I grabbed my laundry and walked to the laundromat near my beloved Cafe Nuevo Mundo. Once I’d started the washer, I went to the school to wait for my housemate to finish her evening classes. We went to dinner at Nuevo Mundo. By now, they knew me there and I felt very comfortable and welcome. After ordering my huarache and limeade, I went to put my clothes in the dryer. Linda and I had a pleasant meal and interesting conversations. We stopped at the coffee shop in the front of the cafe and I ordered my usual- a café con leche latte for me and a café con leche Americano for my friend at Las Golondrinas. Linda accompanied me back to the laundromat, I folded my clothes, and we went to see Patty for the nightly intercambio over coffee and panque naranja.
Severa made another wonderful breakfast and I walked to class, via the park for a café con leche. I reviewed the subjunctive and conditional tenses with Monica. Betty and I had an interesting conversation about the Mexican vision of the United States versus the reality. She was very surprised by the not so shiny, less than metropolitan side of the States and had no idea areas and cultures like Appalachia existed. She had read news stories about how awful American prisons are based upon the experience of El Chapo. I truly enjoyed our conversations and how much they expanded my vocabulary and perspectives.
I went to a little restaurant and enjoyed a torta and fresh lemonade before walking up the hill to the baseball stadium. Two blocks beyond the stadium, the collective taxis that head out of the city pick up passengers. I waited, watching all the buses and taxis, until I saw one with ‘El Tule’ posted in the front window. I waved it down and climbed in the front seat. As I started to put my seatbelt on the driver wagged his finger at me and pulled over to pick up the fifth passenger. Three across in the back AND in the front. Needless to say, fourth gear was a bit awkward!
We arrived in Tule and I was pointed in the direction of the biggest tree in the world- it is rivaled only by the redwoods in California. I visited the park that surrounds the tree and includes a beautiful church.
I had spoken with a girl who told me that the best place to buy mezcal was on the corner near the market. I explored the handicraft market and bought a few small things. I then found the little mezcal store. The friendly woman invited me inside the open air stall and the gave me a personal mezcal tasting and lesson. Like most good booze, the older the better. Good mezcal clings to the side of a sifter. Mezcal does not contain the throat burning chemicals that tequila does. The seven year old version was incredibly smooth and the three year old version was quite good, too. She spinkled some salt on my hand and I tried it. She then explained it was sal de gusano- worm salt. I had another type of salt with chili that made my eyes water. She poured me a shot of flavored mezcal to cool my tongue. I finished my three sifters of mezcal varieties with some chapulines. It wasn’t until later that I found out you are supposed to pull off the legs prior to consuming them. Novice!
I really enjoyed Tule. It was a small, friendly town that beckoned me to stay longer and explore more. I went in to the local food market and bought a large cup of agua de jamaica- water brewed with hibiscus petals and sweetened with a good amount of sugar. There were stalls with prepared food and others with goods for sale. It was a bit overwhelming to the senses and I must have looked out of place because three older women summoned me to their table. They were very animated and their quick speech challenged my Spanish skills. It was great fun!
I walked around the town some more and received smiles, greetings, and brief conversations. Such a warm and lovely place! Eventually, I bought some nieve (snow) which is similar to ice cream. I was encouraged to try a combination of leche quemada (burnt milk) and tuna. Sounds awful, huh? I was reassured that the bright red nieve was made from the fruit of the nopal cactus and not fish. It was delicious!
Tuesday after school, I walked through the market to the Hotel Rivera del Angel, which offers shuttle van service directly to Monte Alban. The market south of the Zocalo is not as touristy. Fruit, vegetables, shoes, cell phone accessories, chapulines (grasshoppers), and many other items are sold from small stalls. I grabbed a torta and a mezcalini for lunch. Mezcal is produced in Oaxaca and I thought I’d break myself in easily.
On the shuttle, I met a very nice young woman from Veracruz. She is a chemist for a water company that supplies pure water for the production of mezcal. She was great to talk to, not only because she was a fun person, but also because she patiently corrected my Spanish and taught me new words.
Monte Alban would be my next set of Zapotec ruins after Cierro de Jaguar in Lachatao. Monte Alban was the capital of this culture from 500BC-700AD. The series of pyramids, agricultural terraces, and stone staircases was built on a mountain top overlooking three valleys, most likely for defensive purposes. There are amazing carvings, both on the pyramids and on display inside the museum.
The Ruins at Monte Alban
Carvings on Display in the Museum
We returned to the city as the sun began to set and I headed back to my Oaxacan home.
I met my host family and house mate Sunday evening. One of the house rules was to leave a bucket under the shower until the water warmed up. They would use it for the plants. How smart!
Monday morning I was off to school. It was about a ten minute walk and a lovely one. After breakfast, I would leave a bit early so I could grab a café con leche and drink it in the park.
I had two hours of grammar, a short break, and then two hours of vocabulary and conversation. My teachers were great- young and enthusiastic!
After classes, I decided to spend the day exploring Oaxaca City. I stopped in the square near one of the churches and enjoy a tlayuda and a Corona for lunch. I spent quite a few hours exploring little markets and pretty streets. And then I found the most dangerous place in Oaxaca- La Casa de Artenasias. It is a cooperative market that sells all sorts of Oaxaqueno arts and crafts. I will never admit how much time and money I spent there!
I spent a lazy day in Lachatao Sunday, drinking hot chocolate with sweet bread for dipping and people watching. Oscar took me on a tour of the museum which was small, but impressive. There was a 3 o’clock bus that would take me all the way back to the city. Oscar walked me to the bus stop near the tiny corner store. When the bus came, we hugged like old friends and I cried a little. Sad to leave but eternally grateful for the experience!
Hot chocolate with dipping bread
The Corner Store
Good Cooks and Lovely Ladies
Oscar- My Guide
Children in the Tree
On the bus, everyone was so incredibly friendly. Everyone also felt the need to give me fruit. I received two guayabas and a mandarin orange. I reciprocated with chewing gum.
The bus stopped at the Mercado de Abastos. This is a multi block market that sells all types of produce, meat, clothing, shoes, cleaning supplies- you name it you can find it here. We were there for about half an hour and during that time, the bus helper brought my pack up to a seat. Apparently, they were taking quite a few supplies back to the pueblos. I couldn’t venture far from the bus, but I did get out and purchase elote- corn on the cob on a stick smothered in mayonnaise, lime juice, chili pepper snd Oaxacan cheese. Yum!
The driver agreed to drop me at the Zocolo, the city center of Oaxaca. It was after dark and a wee bit overwhelming, but I quickly found a taxi to my host house.