Oaxaca city traffic sucks…just had to throw that out there. We found a secure parking lot for our first night in town and hoofed it to the town square, or zocalo.
At a cafe we people-watch, and are watched in return, while sipping on micheladas and margaritas. A single scan across the plaza includes a mobile shoe shine station, balloon vendors, and men selling hats stacked in a curve to the sky a la Dr. Seuss. Raspados or “icee” pushcarts feature massive frozen blocks to be hand-shaved into cups and topped with savory or sweet flavors…olive, lime, pina, chamoy; my taste buds aren’t ready.
Children make their rounds as well; each item for sale bundled with hard to resist smiles and gringo guilt. We have little room for extras in our camper but mounds of money in comparison to these kids. It’s easy to become annoyed with the constantly approaching vendors and we’ve learned to reflexively reply “no gracias” well before the pitch. Another sip of my beverage and a quick dose of reality has me better prepared for the next. She’s maybe eight years old, dressed in traditional clothing, and will never drive a Barbie-mobile, or have the luxury of debating the sexism of such a comment over cocktails and ungratefulness; but nevertheless she smiles bright-eyed as I buy a wooden comb. Three more children approach, sensing the opportunity, and Jenna buys something…anything. There are dozens more in this square alone and suddenly my drink tastes superfluous and sour. Jenna asks if I want ice cream, breaking my gaze. “Ice cream? Of course…let’s go.” And so it is…
The markets in Oaxaca City are well known and a maze of sights, sounds and smells. A wrong turn can leave those with a weak stomach begging for an exit. Head-to-tail is no understatement; meat hanging and scattered in every form. Textiles from surrounding villages are flanked with baskets of insects. Within fifty feet I could fulfill a robust grocery list, grab some mezcal, buy shoes, pick up a new A/C unit for the casa, and round out my purchase with a massive sword. It’s the type of place that has everything, but can leave you wanting nothing but pictures of the scene, fresh air and less choices. On our second visit we put away the camera, grab some produce and find what we came for…chipolines! These fried crickets will be protein for later 😉
Hierve el Agua
Oaxaca was an interesting and vibrant city but didn’t give our group the warm and fuzzies, and after two days we were ready for less smog, and more space…much more space. At Hierve el Agua we set up camp and had the mineral waterfalls and pools to ourselves after the park closed.
We were also long overdue for some hiking/camping and the Pueblos Mancomunados, Zapotec mountain villages, were within a days drive.
John Muir once said “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
And Cindy Ross once said “Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.”
It appears that Cindy better knew this group, than did Muir. We had spent months doing nothing more than sitting on beaches, drinking beer, and overindulging on the delicious unhealthiness that is Mexican food. Our puzzle pieces had turned into unshapely soggy cardboard, and we were definitely unprepared to “go home.”
Next up…Up Down Up Down With friends