Day 20 - Last full day in Mexico
I can't believe it is my last full day in Mexico and the last full day of this amazing adventure. As often happens on last day of vacation, I wanted to make sure to bring home a little bit of Oaxaca to remember my wonderful time here. Off to the market!
Mercado Albastos is the largest market in the center of Oaxaca and also not often frequented by tourists. As a result, it is not as neat and shiny as the one in the center, but has excellent food to purchase and enjoy. For breakfast, I decided to try mole amarillo, one of the 7 varieties of mole in Oaxaca. It was delicious, though much milder than the mole negro that I made with Señora Soledad. The primary difference among different types of moles is the pepper used to make it. Yellow peppers make yellow mole and I planned to find some to buy and bring them back to Brooklyn.
Yes, I wanted to buy lots of dried peppers. Sure, one can find dried peppers in the U.S., but the selection of peppers available here is unfathomable. There are not even half of what was available from this vendor. I had a list of the peppers that I had used with Señora Soledad, as well as some of her suggestions of other peppers to buy to expand my mole repertoire.
The other item that I needed to make excellent mole was chocolate and Oaxacan chocolate is distinct from what is sold in the U.S. It has a special flavor and often includes cinnamon and/or almonds. I bought some in Albastos market, but was looking for Mayordomo, purported by Señora Soledad to be the best. (You can tell that I have come to rely heavily on Señora Soledad's expertise.) I had to head back into the center to find the superior chocolate.
I expected to have to reenter one of the main markets, but was surprised to find several exclusive Mayordomo chocolate vendors. The one I stopped at not only sold chocolate, but also ground their own chocolate using the same kind of mill that I had seen used to grind mole during my cooking class. I do have to say that the chocolate was better.
The last food that I had read about being a Oaxacan specialty that I hadn't tried was huitlacoche, corn fungus. I know, not very appetizing. When I had Oaxacan food in Los Angeles it was one of the options for my empanada and I had opted for squash blossoms. Though delicious, it is very easy to find squash blossoms and difficult to find corn fungus. After asking probably a dozen vendors all lined up in a market, one of them had huitlacoche (in the back on the left). Yay!
My empanada was made with care on the comal, which I had grown used to seeing but supposed that I wouldn't see for a while. I did feel a bit nostalgic.
My last adventure was to visit Benito Juarez's house. It was a well kept home with a beautiful courtyard and several rooms surrounding it set up as a study, kitchen, bedroom, and dining room. What was most interesting to me was learning about Juarez's background and his political feats.
Benito Juarez was born to two indigenous Zapotec people who sadly passed away when he was only 3 years old. He lived with his much older sisters until they married. Most of his childhood he spend with his uncle who taught him to speak, read and write in castellano, in addition to the indigenous Zapotec dialect that he spoke as a first language. With this education he was able to enter the world of politics at age 25 at the local Oaxacan level. He held various posts throughout his career culminating in his election as president of Mexico at age 52.
('Juarez boy' by Jesus Alvarez Amaya)
Juarez is notable as a Mexican president because he was the first indigenous president and is known for making many efforts to create equality within Mexico. Before Juarez, the Catholic church and military had a huge amount of control, which were limited by the Ley Juarez.
There is so much more to say about Benito Juarez, but too much for a blog post. He is a major symbol of equality and fighting for justice for the Mexican people, especially those from his home of Oaxaca, and is beloved by people bother here and in the United States. There are many statues of him around the province, as well as dozens of Calles and Avenidas Juarez. When I think back to my conversation with indigenous Oaxacan-American members of CBDIO in Fresno, I recognize a yearning for justice and equality that is very much in the spirit of Benito Juarez. I wonder if he resonates with my students from Puebla or if there is another Mexican person whom they idolize. Through conversations and some of my own research, I should be able to learn more and I need to. I need to take more responsibility for helping my students connect proudly to their Mexican heritage.
('Benito Juarez' by Arturo Garcia Bustos)
Today was a funny day. It started out so peacefully as I walked from my hotel toward a recommended coffee shop. Oaxacans pride themselves on their coffee and this particular shop not only sources from a coffee cooperative, but also roasts their own organic beans on site. The place was clearly catering to English speakers in addition to Mexicans. Their menu even featured bagels with lox and New York cheesecake. I would rank the bagels as better than the ones I can get in DC, though not as good as ones in New York.
The roasters were very friendly and let me watch their process. They carry 4 blends: house blend, dark roast, flower power and decaffeinated. Sadly, I could not figure out what flower power was all about, but it did have a very cute label. One worker told me proudly that in addition to roasting their own beans they make everything they serve in house: bread, pastries and all desserts. This stood in stark contrast to the churrerria in Puebla, which outsourced most of its products, from pastries to tortillas. I can see the merits of both.
As I sat and enjoyed my bagel with avocado and tomato on top, I browsed through a magazine, which shared my translated name: La Salvia. Okay, so I am perhaps not 'The Sage', but rather a person named Sage. Either way, it was a great magazine reporting on feminist issues in the province of Oaxaca, including equal rights for girls, violence against women, access to reproductive healthcare and an editorial on what equality really looks like. So often working in Sunset Park I have heard people speak to the limitations for girls in the Latino community. When I used to run a yearly camping trip, I had a lot of trouble getting girls’ parents to let them go. It was frankly explained to me by a fellow teacher who was part of the Latino community that girls just are not allowed to do the same things as boys. I have to say that I have not seen a lot of feminist support in the Latino community, especially among Mexican families. I realized upon looking at La Salvia that I had definitely begun to generalize Latino girls as non-feminists. Appalled at this realization, it occurred to me that what I read as feminist coming from a white, middle class, suburban, educationally privileged background must certainly differ from feminist cultural cues within Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. I then jumped to thinking about how I was not supporting my female students in their blossoming feminism if I am unable to detect it. Ugh. Not good. This is definitely something I need to work on.
My other big plan for the day was to go out and explore a balneario in the nearby village of Villa Hermosa. A balneario is a complex that includes many swimming pools of different temperatures, including water slides. There is also food and drink and it is a very popular place for families in the summer. Only 23 minutes from my hotel by car! It was too good to be true.
Yes, it was. I followed the Google directions that suspiciously ended with ‘make a right and go 2.7 km.’ Make a right where? Well, I knew the name of the town, so I followed the signs and even saw one for the balneario where I was heading so I turned right. It should be coming up on the left. After about 2 km, I reached a fork. Unexpected. I chose right and after a couple more kilometers got into a town with this beautiful church. Oh, great! It must be nearby. I stopped by a store and asked for directions. Up that road to the end. There were two roads so I clarified and followed her directions.
I followed the road to the plaza and saw this beautiful gazebo. It must be nearby! I asked a passerby who sent me down a hill onto an unpaved road. Hmmm… Well, what do I know? I don’t live here.
Following the road for a bit, I came to another fork and had the option to go on two roads with huge patches of mud. I stopped to ask someone else who drew me a map in the dirt. It did take me back past where I had already gone, but the man did seem very confident. As I attempted to turn around, I came across these lovely burros.
I then found myself back at the same intersection where I had originally stopped to ask for directions. Asking a different storeowner, I was told to go on the other of the two roads than I had initially and incorrectly tried to distinguish between. “There are arrows! Just follow the arrows!” said the second storeowner. I tried my best to follow the arrows, but ended up lost several more times.
I began to lose it a little bit and at one point when this dog walked in front of my car, I decided he was some sort of sign and decided to make a turn. After getting lost and talking to at least another half dozen people, a taxi driver finally directed me to the place. I half expected that with my luck it would then be closed for the day, but it was open. The pools were wonderful and I interacted with many wonderful staff and visitors while I was there.
Retelling this story is admittedly cathartic, but it also was an important cultural moment for me. Clearly the way I receive directions does not mesh well with how people were giving them to me. To my credit, I did keep stopping and asking for help and did not give up. Still, it was frustrating! I once again empathized with how some of my newly arrived students feel trying to follow instructions and trying to mesh with a school culture which must at times be baffling.
Today I had the pleasure of spending the day with Señora Soledad, a former instructor at the Casa Cultural de Oaxaca who now gives private cooking classes in her home in Moctezuma. The class began at 9 am in front of the cathedral. Having been referred to Señora Soledad via a chef friend, I had only spoken to her on the phone. I was greeted by a smiling, elderly woman who was definitely shorter than 5 feet tall. Being in her 70s did not slow her down. After some greetings, we walked to the local market to buy ingredients for the mole negro we planned to make.
At the market we first went to the chile vendor and bought 4 kinds of chiles: pasillas mexicanos, chile mulatos, chilhuacles, and chipotles mecos. She felt the young men running the booth were over charging her so she did a little early morning bartering. From the chile booth, we went to buy tomatoes, tomatillos, a plantain, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, chocolate (sold in round balls), mint, almoraduz (comparable to marjoram), oregano, onion, garlic and ginger. We planned to eat breakfast together so she stopped at an artisanal bakery stand to select sweet breads which would accompany our chocolate and coffee for breakfast.
One last stop before leaving the market, she chose an entire chicken (head and legs attached) and sat by as the woman vendor prepared the chicken into skinless breasts, thighs, and legs. The woman would ask Señora Soledad about various preferences as she cut the chicken and removed the skin, nails and other unwanted parts. It was a very elaborate process.
We then caught a taxi to her neighborhood, near Monte Alban, to begin the cooking lesson! As Señora Soledad prepared our coffee and chocolate, I deveined and removed the seeds of all the dried peppers we made. They had to be toasted on the stovetop until they turned black (a very slow process). There was plenty more to cut up: garlic, onions, ginger, and nuts. I also removed leaves from all the dried herbs, which we had bought still on their stems.
While the chicken began to cook, the tomatoes boiled, and the chiles toasted, we stopped to all have breakfast together, including her granddaughter, Carla. We discussed Señora Soledad’s 30 years in the neighborhood and how much more populated both her zone and the city as a whole is than it was back then. She spoke of her 2 marriages that brought her 4 children and several grandchildren. One daughter and granddaughter live with her, which brings her great comfort especially after her husband died 6 months ago. Her honest and earnest telling of her life really set the tone for the day and I found myself sharing much more of myself than I would have normally to someone I had known for such a short time.
It would be impossible to explain in this blog every step of the mole making, but I will mention some highlights. Many ingredients were toasted and then added to a big pot. Another pot held the boiled tomatoes in some of their juice. Along with a neighbor, Alberta, who was assisting Señora Soledad, I went down to the molinero to grind up the contents of the two pots.
When we arrived, the molino was being used for corn, so we had to wait for several people to have their corn ground up before the molinero went through the arduous process of cleaning the mill for our grinding needs.
The grinding itself took about 10 minutes with two passes through the mill for each pot. The molinero worked quietly and efficiently. Upon completion, I asked how much I owed him: 15 pesos (approximately $1.20). Despite having spend almost as much time cleaning the mill for our grinding, after he was finished with us, he closed the mill for the day.
Back in Señora Soledad’s kitchen, it was time for the mole to cook all together (about an hour-long process). While that happened, we prepared rice containing carrots and mint as well as horchata, made with rice, almonds, sugar and cinnamon ground up in a blender and then strained through cheese cloth. As we were cooking, two children arrived with tortillas that Señora Soledad had asked to be delivered to her from down the street.
At around 2:30 pm, the time had arrived to eat! Wow. The mole was so complex and was perfectly paired with the rice and horchata. We were joined for lunch by two of her children, a friend of her daughter’s, and her granddaughter. Everyone agreed that it was delicious, made even more so by the care and collaboration put into making it.
My day began bright and early thanks to my 19 month old who decided that sleeping in was not part of the plan for the day. So, where to go at 8 am in Oaxaca city? Monte Alban! A short 6-mile drive from the city center is one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica. It used to be a Zapotec hub from approximately 500 BC to 500 AD when it was abandoned. The name Monte Alban is hypothesized to be related to the Zapotec word 'Danibaan' (sacred city), but it is hard to confirm since there are no written sources from that time. Not to compare archaeological sites, but this one was a bit more extensive then the one in Cholula. To be fair, I had no opportunity to have a claustrophic attack walking through any of these pyramids. Instead, Dante and I had to settle for climbing atop several structures and seeing breathtaking views of Oaxaca's city and countryside.
Later in the day, I hiked up the hill from my hotel to Oaxaca's impressive open-air auditorium for the Guelaguetza festival performance. There were 15 groups representing different regions of Oaxaca with theatrical acts and dances performed in vibrant costumes. After each performance, the performers would throw small gifts to the crowd of specialties from their region: woven baskets, sweets, jewelry, flowers, and even tiny jugs of mezcal. People went crazy for these gifts. One of the best parts of the show was when one group asked everyone to be quiet so that their instruments could be heard. Unable to shout their approval and appreciating a familiar song, the crowd waived the straw hats we had all received upon entering back and forth to the music. (Video upload to follow). Everyone was so joyful and proud. There were many instances of performers calling to their Oaxacan, Mexican and worldwide brothers and sisters to celebrate the Oaxacan cultural past. Speakers, singers, actors and dancers ranged in age, gender, aspect, and agility, but all were thrilled to be part of the show. This performance was an opportunity for Oaxacan people from all over the province to connect to their indigenous roots and celebrate their history and how it connects to their present. Furthermore, they were given the opportunity to perform for an enthusiastic crowd in a gorgeous space with an incredible view of Oaxaca as their backdrop. It was magical and I felt incredibly grateful to be there.
Today I packed up and said goodbye to Puebla after what was a beautiful visit. On my way out of town, I spotted a Churreria and decided to stop for some breakfast. They were just opening when I arrived. After watching a man deliver the day's milk via bicycle, I asked how long until they had churros. Ten minutes, they said. So I waited. I bought a coffee and relaxed. After about 15 minutes, I noticed a man lighting the oil to cook the churros. Hmmm... I asked if the churros would be done soon. "Ahora mismo!" This literally means 'right now' but functionally means 'very soon'. I didn't really have anywhere I HAD to be, but I was anxious to get back to Oaxaca. Ten minutes after that I had my churros, which were warm and delicious. This experience reminded me of how different time is experienced by distinct groups of people. In my white suburban household, if I said I would be down to dinner in 10 minutes, I was expected to be there no later than 10 minutes, preferably 8 or 9. I have noticed at my school that meetings which are set to begin at 5 often start at 5:30. My current school is really smart and offers pizza and soda before PTA meeting and then starts after about 30 minutes. The food encourages people to get there on time and allows latecomers to not miss the meat of the meeting. It is challenging to think about how I can be sensitive to time differences within the rigid class period schedule that is present at most NYC public schools.
It is amazing what a single exposure will do to normalize an experience. I was literally terrified driving to Puebla because I didn't understand certain norms on the highway and was a little unnerved by the huge cliffs right next to the road with only a guardrail between me and them. The drive back was not exactly zen, but I was much more relaxed. People passed each other at times that seemed insane to me, but I was able to focus on the amazing views during the 4 hour trip.
I arrived in Oaxaca just in time for afternoon comida. Since it was Sunday, many restaurants were closed. I decided to try a slightly fancier seafood joint called Marco Polo. My partner, son and I arrived around 4 and were asked if we would be comfortable sitting in the kids section. We weren't really sure what this meant, but said okay. It was AMAZING!! There was a room with a bunch of play equipment and foam mats on one side of the room with the tables right nearby. Kids could play and then periodically come by the table to munch on food. Dante was so happy! The one unusual thing was that a woman started following Dante around helping him climb the slide and talking to him. It seemed great at first, but then I noticed that this woman was only paying attention to Dante. He was one of the youngest. Maybe that was why? Does she work here? After consulting with a waiter, I discovered that she was another example of an informal laborer who was hanging around offerring her babysitting services. Although I didn't request the service, it was nice to have Dante entertained for a moment while Amber and I ate. I tipped her upon leaving and Dante happily waived goodbye.
After too much delicious seafood, I decided to take a nap. When I woke up, I heard a lot of noise outside. I asked the Posada innkeeper and he told me that the villages were parading into Oaxaca to begin the Guelaguetza. Where? A half block from my hotel! I ran down and snapped this shot of one of the many groups of people wearing indigenous dress and dancing through the streets. There were also giant paper mache objects, flowers, musicians, and people of all ages. It was truly a joyful scene.
What impressed me most of all was that when I was walking back to the hotel, before the parade had ended, I noticed a line of cars farther than I could see whose way had been blocked by the festivities. I was reminded of a similar scene at Critical Mass (a bike demonstration where cyclists take over the streets to increase awareness surrounding cycling). The main difference was the demeanor of the Oaxacan drivers. I can't say they were thrilled to be stuck but they weren't honking or yelling. They were sitting in there cars or standing next to them, eating peanuts or drinking a soda. It was what it was. I think this connects back to a sense of fluidity about time. So they are a little late. There is nothing to be done and really it probably isn't that big a deal. I admired the tranquility and acceptance that I saw. It also explained a lot to me about why my students sometimes are so truly befuddled about why I care if they get to school at 8:45 or 8:55. Is it really that different?
Ok, so I took a video of the parade because I felt like still photography didn't capture it. Unfortunately, the internet is not cooperating. So, I will try to add the video to this blog post tomorrow. =/
Saturday is a bustling day in Puebla. Many plazas and pedestrian thoroughfares are transformed into artisan markets. It was a pleasure to walk around amongst largely Mexican tourists and some locals and chat with vendors about the wide array of food and crafts that are made here. One woman explained to me why I kept seeing Sapos (toads) in art and also on street signs. They are a sign of good luck!
I noticed many schools both private and public as I walked through Puebla today. This sign on one public school particularly caught my eye. It is advertising the collaborative efforts made by parents and members of the teachers union to defend public schools. After doing some research on the internet, I discovered that in Puebla they are seriously considering privatizing the public schools. There is a lot of backlash from lower and middle class families as well as public school teachers. This reminds me of a different yet also pressing issue of high-stakes testing in the U.S. and the joint struggles of parents, students and teachers in the face of these assessments. Also, I wondered if one of the reasons that all of my Mexican students are from Puebla is this issue of privatization of education.
In the afternoon I decided to explore the Museo de Ferrocarriles, where one can see trains both past and present and even climb on and inside them. In addition to steam engines and passenger cars, there were mail cars and even a car that was used in a movie. This museum really reminded me of the fantastic Transit Museum in NYC. I appreciated that there was no charge for students, teachers or children. The outdoor museum was clearly trying to cater to young people and provide an educational space for students and teachers. Growing up in DC, I was spoiled by the presence of free museums, but now realize what a privilege it is to not have money stand in the way of having an educational adventure with your students.
My final outing in Puebla was a little challenging but a great learning experience. With the recommendation of my guidebook, I decided to trek out to Mercado Carmen to try the best cemitas in town (overstuffed sandwiches of fried and deli meats, cheese, avocado and chiles- AMAZING!!). Walking into the bustling Cemitas Poblanitas, I could tell that this was no tourist destination. All of the tables were full and people were standing around. I asked the person closest to the door if they were in line and they said no. I waited for two men to finish their meal hovering over their table to signal that I wanted the table next. As the men left, before I could sit down, I was surprised as an older woman brushed past me and took the seat. It confused me and made me angry. I tried again at another table and a man did the same thing. There was clearly a system I was not understanding. At this point, I was too hungry to figure it out and was relieved when a young man took my order to go.
The whole experience was challenging and frustrating, but it is by no means unique to have cultural confusion. Earlier that day, I went to a store and tried to pay for an item. The woman took my item, printed me a receipt, and told me to go to the caja. I walked to where I thought I was supposed to pay and a nice man told me I was in the wrong line. Eventually, I paid for the item and got a stamp on my receipt: pagado. Only then could I go back to the first woman who had by then bagged my item which I could retrieve by showing her the stamped receipt. Both of these instances made me feel stupid and inept. I thought of students of mine who were frustrated in my class at not understanding expectations that were easy for students who had been in the country longer or who were born here. I try to not only teach my content but also help students who are new to the country transition to the cultural routines and expectations. Still, I can't anticipate everything. I felt very sympathetic today and for that I am grateful.
A view of Puebla from the top of the Cholula pyramid site.
Today I left Pueblo Centro to explore the nearby town of Cholula. Thanks to the recommendation of my former co-worker who studied abroad in Cholula, I knew of its charms AND its pyramid! Only a 30-minute drive from my hotel, I decided it would be a nice afternoon adventure.
It was certainly an interesting archeological site. The pyramid had been constructed in phases one on top of the other but was then covered with earth and a church was built on top. Approaching the site you only really see the church, but then when you get closer there is a small patch of pyramid steps. Most of the pyramid is underground at this point, but your entrance fee to the site also affords you the opportunity to walk through the pyramid. How? Well, you process with other tourists through an incredibly narrow tunnel, which induced claustrophobia in me, a person who doesn't usually have trouble with small spaces. It was something that was easiest to appreciate after I had exited the tunnels and could see the sun and breath ample amounts of oxygen.
After making it out of the tunnel, I returned to the front of the ruins and climbed up the pyramid steps. It is pretty amazing to think of such massive structures as this being built at a pre-industrial time. Also, it is wonderful that the people of Cholula have maintained this important historical site. The Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Tlachihualtepetl (meaning 'artificial mountain'), is the largest pyramid in the new world.
Although it had been a pretty full day, when I returned to Puebla I decided to head out to the Noche de Museo--a monthly night when the Museo Amparo opens it doors to free entry for all who would like to visit the collection of Mexican art over the ages. I was not able to photograph within the museum, but did get this shot of the Cathedral at night from the museum rooftop terrace.
In addition to a gorgeous building and a interesting blend of contemporary photography and religious pre-Hispanic art, I was impressed with the guest supports the museum offerred. Many visitors were carrying around sheets that not only included explanations but also prompts to sketch and reflect on certain pieces. There were places in the museum set up for art work, mostly for children but open to adults as well. All of these additions made the museum very interactive and welcoming for a variety of ages. I am wondering if something similar could be incorporated to PTA meetings or special events at my school to make them more engaging for parents and families who attend.
My day began early in super-gringa style. Why? Well, I decided to go for a run in my shorts and t-shirt and definitely did not blend in. Despite the slight awkwardness of my workout, I had a good run and worked up an appetite. I decided to stop by a tamale cart in a plaza near my hotel for a little breakfast. The man operating the cart positioned himself next to a park bench for added comfort to his customers. As I sat eating my mole tamale and atole (a chocolate rice drink), I expected to have a silent breakfast. Instead, the vendor struck up a conversation with me about where I was from and the differences between Spanish and English. He wanted to know if English was hard to learn. I said that I thought all second languages were difficult but English in particular because of the pronunciation challenges. Spanish, I admitted, is differently challenging for English speakers because we don't have the subjunctive. It was pretty awesome having this linguistic conversation and it definitely wouldn't have happened if it was up to me. I consider myself pretty friendly, but I don't normally engage with strangers who I am not likely to see again. It seemed to me that the vendor could not help but engage with me. As if to let me eat in silence would be rude. If this is a cultural norm is yet to be seen.
Later I went out to see the famous Puebla zócalo, which is truly gorgeous. It is situated right next to the Puebla Cathedral and is well-maintained, featuring fountains and statues. Within the zócalo, families gathered to have a walk or snack. Teens sat together sharing beverages or holding hands. It was pleasant and peaceful.
I stopped for coffee in a lovely little place that not only had great coffee but also neat Mexican cultural artifacts about. As you can see in the photo, behind the counter there were chalk drawings featuring skeletons (a standard Mexican motif). There were also different artisanal crafts, including mini-dioramas of skeletons doing various things. I had to get one and decided on a diorama of skeletons doing Lucha Libre (Mexican masked wrestling). As I was about to buy it, I saw another diorama of one skeleton teaching other little skeletons math. It's me in skeleton form! So I bought two.
My main goal for the day was to go to the local hotel/restaurant/cooking school to take a class to learn to make the delicious food of Puebla. Unfortunately, the chef was at a competition in D.F. (Mexico City) and would not return until after I planned to leave Puebla. Nevertheless, I decided to stay at the Mesones Sacristia for comida or a large late lunch. I was not disappointed. The squash blossom salad with cilantro dressing was refreshing. The cactus and fava bean soup tasted great.
Best of all was the chile en nogada, a pepper stuffed with what seemed to be raisins, squash, tomatos, and chiles covered with a creamy walnut sauce and topped with pomegranate seeds. It is known to display the three colors of the Mexican flag and is only available a few months of the year. Lucky me! One noteworthy thing about the dining experience and others in Mexico is that the waiter will never ask if you want the check. You have to ask for it as offering the check is seen as rude. Interesting.
My final noteworthy moment of the day came at a time when I was certain I would not need my camera and thus have no picture to capture it. I went out for a light dinner and inadvertently ordered a pata tostada instead of a papa tostada (foot instead of potato). Unfortunately, I just could not make myself eat it. Minus one point for me in international coolness. On my walk of shame back to the hotel, I stumbled upon Musa, a neat cafe/gallery/music space, where they had vegetarian sandwiches! After ordering one, I sat and waited and admired the paintings on the wall and the mix of people at the cafe: young, old, couples, single people. I asked the waitress if this was a popular place for teens. She said that every kind of person came here but that yes, teens did seem to like it. I could see why. It was spacious, featured hip art work, and had a relaxed, young feel. The waitress invited me to a jazz concert tomorrow. Maybe I'll go.
After a leisurely morning exploring the northern part of Oaxaca's historic district, I said goodbye for now to my posada in Oaxaca to head toward Puebla. As I left the posada, I tried for the third time to clarify when I would be able to come back into the hotel. The first conversation involved someone explaining to me that I should just call that day to see when the room was ready. The second conversation was slightly different stating that as long as no one rented the room for the 4 nights I would be in Puebla, I could probably come whenever. Finally, this morning, I was told that I could come anytime after noon. This way of zeroing around an issue getting clearer and clearer in many conversations is a communication style I am unaccustomed to.
When I asked at a cafe how to get to Puebla, I received directions that were not based on roads but more on landmarks. Go down this road to the main road, then go left. You will pass a hotel and go around some curves and then see a sign for Puebla. Go there. Keep following the signs to Puebla. No problem. With my phone deactivated and no Google maps, I had to rely on those directions. The truth is that the directions did get us there but not having any sense of distance between directions made me a little anxious. I get it, though. Many of the streets are not named or have tiny little street name placards that you would have to be standing next to in order to see. It does, for sure, explain a lot about how I have received directions in Sunset Park.
To just give away the ending, I will tell you that I did make it to Puebla. I mention this because the ride there was crazy. With majestic views of mountains and canyons comes the sense that you could at any point careen off the mountain. This sensation is not tempered by the single lane in each direction and what seems to be a Mexican obsession with passing regardless of whether it may mean certain death. After an hour or so, it got less scary, though maybe I had just been numbed. Either way, it was beautiful and eventful and everyone made it out okay, even the dog that tried to run in front of our car.
Maybe it was the fear that brought on an intense hunger midway through my drive. I stopped in Tehuacán for lunch and enjoyed cactus and steak tacos on the side of the road in a makeshift open-air restaurant. Instead of a menu, the chef asked me what I would like to eat and then mentioned food that might meet my fancy.
Her children were sitting in the restaurant nearby watching TV. When my toddler son approached them, both children smiled and one kid gently caressed my son's cheek. Despite him trying to take their toys, sit in their chairs with them, and generally poke them constantly, they were incredibly patient with him and their parents watched on, smiling through the entire interaction. It is such a pleasure to not feel like your child is a nuisance.
Well, the word of the day was bicycle. As a bike commuter, I am particularly attuned to bike awesomeness. During my lunch stop in Tehuacán I noticed that people had their bikes resting on the sidewalks which were slightly taller than the standard U.S. versions. They didn't need kickstands! Amazing!
Later in the day when I arrived in Puebla, much to my surprise I saw bike lanes. Not shared lanes, but real bike lanes with little dividers so that if a driver starts to swerve in the bike lane he or she is alerted. Now Puebla is a place where the water is not potable and yet there are protected bike lanes. Sounds like protected bike lanes are pretty important. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, United States of America.
My first impression of Puebla is a good one, even during a rainstorm. It seems more cosmopolitan than Oaxaca city and reminds me of Malaga, Spain, where I used to live. I can't wait to go out tomorrow and explore the city!